With Modern PTQ season getting into full swing, I thought I’d write a primer about some of the decks you could expect to face in the coming weeks at a PTQ near you! For each deck I’ll give an overview of the strategy of the deck as well as a deck list of the archetype that has done well at a recent major tournament. Most of the lists will be from Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Grand Prix Minneapolis and Grand Prix Richmond.
Jund (or B/G/x)
Jund by Willy Edel
B/G “Rock” by Reid Duke
Different versions of Jund or B/G/x have been popular in Modern for a very long time now. However, the strategy of the deck has remained the same. Use cheap and efficient discard spells in combination with cheap and efficient removal spells to make way for cheap and powerful threats. Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant are two of the most powerful things you can do on turn two in Modern. With a turn one discard spell that can either make sure Dark Confidant will survive, or make sure that Tarmogoyf will be a 2/3 or 3/4 if someone has cracked a fetchland, Jund can sometimes put a game out of reach very quickly.
Right before Jund started dominating nearly every Modern event, Deathrite Shaman was printed. This allowed Jund to have both a mana-fixing accelerator and potent threat in one card. Before Pro Tour Born of the Gods, it was banned from Modern. Since then, there hasn’t been nearly as much Jund at the top tables as there was. Another effect of the banning was some people returning to a more basic G/B shell, and not splashing the red. Part of the reason for this is that the mana bases got a bit worse without the inclusion of Deathrite Shaman. Also, without opposing Deathrite Shamans, Lightning Bolt is slightly less important than it was before, although obviously still a great card. I’d still expect B/G/x to be well represented going into any Modern tournament, but not the overwhelming most popular deck in the field like I used to expect it to be before the banning of Deathrite Shaman.
U/R Splinter Twin/Tarmo Twin
U/R Splinter Twin by Jamie Parke
Tarmo Twin by Patrick Dickmann
Blue/Red Twin is one of the more traditional combo decks in Modern. The goal of the deck is to get a copy of either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite into play and then use Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in combination with them to make infinite copies of those creatures and attack for infinite damage. Twin is particularly interesting because in addition to being a good combo deck, it incorporates a lot of qualities of a good control deck. Snapcaster Mage can gain a lot of value, particularly being used to chain copies of Cryptic Command, Remand, or Lightning Bolt. This can allow even the “pure combo” version of Blue/Red Twin to win the occasional game simply by attacking with a finite number of 1- and 2-power creatures.
Tarmo Twin is very similar to UR in that it has the Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite and Splinter Twin combo, however, it is less combo focused and contains both Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze. Although it might seem out of place, Tarmogoyf actually serves multiple purposes in the Twin deck. First of all, it could often be difficult for the Blue/Red Twin deck to deal with a quick 4-power (and thus unable to be killed by Lightning Bolt) Tarmogoyf from the opponent. Having its own Tarmogoyfs provides a somewhat reliable way to not get run over by the opponent’s. Also, against a deck with a fair assortment of creature removal, Tarmogoyf often demands an answer. Due to the fact that the cards that kill Tarmogoyf, for the most part, could have been used to break up the combo, that’s one less card to worry about when the Tarmo Twin player goes for a combo victory. The Tarmo Twin deck tends to play longer, grindier games, in which the combo is more of an option than it is a primary strategy.
The Twin decks tend to have access to Batterskull in their sideboard, both to have a way around random sideboard cards, as well as additional threats against control decks. Cryptic Command does provide a built-in out to random, unexpected cards, or format staples like Torpor Orb. Splinter Twin decks will without a doubt continue to do very well throughout Modern PTQ season.
Storm by Jon Finkel
Storm is probably the most powerful deck in Modern. Undisrupted, it is rare that Storm is unable to defeat the goldfish by its fourth turn. Storm uses cheap cantrips, and ritual effects (cards that generate extra mana when they are cast) to generate a lot of mana, cast more spells, and either win by casting a lethal Grapeshot, drawing through its entire library by getting an active copy(s) of Pyromancer Ascension, or filling up its graveyard and casting Past in Flames.
Storm is definitely one of the two best game one decks in Modern. The biggest problem with the deck, however, is that if an opponent wants to be well equipped to beat a Storm player, it is very easy to do so. Cards like Ethersworn Canonist, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Rule of Law, and Rest in Peace are all extremely difficult for Storm to beat. There are different things a Storm player can do to try to combat the various strategies, but none are exceptionally effective.
Most Storm decks feature Empty the Warrens in the sideboard with the goal of making eight to twelveGoblins after sideboard before the opponent has been able to draw and play any of their high impact sideboard cards. Beyond that, a Storm player is often forced to guess what kind of hate a player will have in the sideboard. Due to the fact that red and blue can’t do much about permanents, and especially not enchantments, Storm is forced to sideboard a card like Echoing Truth in order to have a chance to beat Rule of Law. Aside from being a very narrow and temporary answer to problems, putting cards like Echoing Truth in a Storm deck causes other problems. Storm is a very focused deck that uses all of its card to accomplish a very specific goal. Having cards in the deck that don’t mesh with that strategy can make things considerably more difficult. Because of its inconsistency against diverse sideboarding strategies, I wouldn’t expect Storm to be a major player in PTQ season.
Melira Pod by Nathan Holiday
Melira Pod is another deck that contains an infinite combo (or two). By combining Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Viscera Seer, and either Kitchen Finks (to gain infinite life) or Murderous Redcap (to deal infinite damage) a Melira Pod player is essentially able to win the game on the spot. Some players also choose to play with Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder, which together are another infinite life, and infinite +1/+1 counters on all your creatures combo. Despite only having one copy of some of the combo pieces, they are made easy to find by using both Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling.
Although the deck has plenty of potential for game-ending combos, the deck is powerful even without them, thanks mostly to the card Birthing Pod. Birthing Pod allows the deck to play plenty of “one-ofs” that will be prime search targets in various situations. Especially important to the one-of strategy is the sideboard. Having a single Ethersworn Canonist or Kataki, War’s Wage, for example, in the sideboard, can drastically increase the chances of winning a matchup against Storm or Affinity, respectively, because of the ability to find the creatures you need with such consistency. Also, the Melira Pod deck itself is very difficult to sideboard against. There really aren’t a lot of cards that shut down every angle of the deck. I expect Melira Pod to continue its great run as one of the best decks in Modern throughout PTQ season.
Scapeshift by Jun Young Park
Scapeshift is another of Modern’s premier combo decks. The notable difference in Scapeshift and other combo decks is that Scapeshift only needs to cast a single card, Scapeshift, to win the game. Often times, because dealing damage to yourself with fetchlands and shocklands is at the core of Modern, an opponent will have inflicted themselves damage and the Scapeshift player will only need to resolve Scapeshift with seven lands in play, in order to deal 18 damage by searching for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains. Once the Scapeshift player has eight lands in play, the amount of potential damage doubles to 36.
Because Scapeshift needs to reach those number of lands to actually do lethal damage, it is a fair amount slower than a lot of the other combo decks in Modern. Also because Scapeshift knows it has to play somewhat longer games, it often contains more countermagic, and even sometimes plays cards like Firespout or Anger of the Gods in the main deck.
Scapeshift doesn’t have a lot of specific cards that it is very vulnerable to after sideboard. Slaughter Games is probably the most powerful, as it can remove all copies of Scapeshift from the game, forcing the Scapeshift player to win with something like Snapcaster Mage, or maybe something like Wurmcoil Engine, Batterskull, or Obstinate Baloth out of the sideboard.
U/W/R Control by Shaun McLaren
U/W/R has been a staple of Modern ever since Shahar Shenhar piloted it to a victory at the World Championships last year. It uses the formula that has been used by many control decks over the years: Cheap removal spells, counterspells, and late-game threats. Especially in Modern, having cheap spells like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile is very important. Lightning Helix provides some life gain while also providing cheap removal. Electrolyze really shines in the current metagame featuring decks like B/G with Dark Confidant, Birthing Pod decks with Birds of Paradise, and Affinity decks with tons of 1-toughness creatures.
Cryptic Command is one of the most powerful cards in Modern, and the value of being able to cast them multiple times over the course of a game with Snapcaster Mage can’t be overstated. Being able to rely on lands to win you a lot of games, in this case Celestial Colonnade, is a huge advantage. One problem with having to put high-cost win conditions in control decks is that you sometimes draw them in the early game. U/W/R does not have that problem.
White also has the pick of the litter of the best sideboard cards depending on what has been showing up a lot in the metagame; Stony Silence, Kataki, War’s Wage, Celestial Purge, Wrath of God, and Rule of Law, just to name a few. U/W/R is the clear choice for the best control deck in Modern, which means almost definitely that it will be well represented at any given tournament.
U/W/R Combo Control
U/W/R Combo Control by Shaun McLaren
This deck itself is very close to U/W/R control. It has Restoration Angel which combos well with both Wall of Omens and Snapcaster Mage, and also three copies of Kiki-Jiki, which goes infinite with Restoration Angel. Kiki-Jiki is also capable of extracting value by creating copies of Wall of Omens and Snapcaster Mage. Personally, I’d like to work in another copy of Cryptic Command, as I love that card, but the mana requirements admittedly get pretty tough when you play both Cryptic Command and Kiki-Jiki, in addition to white cards.
I was very impressed with what Shaun McLaren did here. This deck is very close to the deck he had recently won the Pro Tour with. It would stand to reason that his opponents, when seeing a Celestial Colonnade, would naturally assume that he was once again going into battle with the deck that served him so well. This version of the deck, though, is more creature based, and has the capability to play a Restoration Angel and follow it up with Kiki-Jiki out of nowhere. I would imagine he got tons of free wins playing this deck because people thought he was playing the standard U/W/R Control build. I’m not sure if a lot of the metagame of PTQ season will be this kind of deck, but I think it’s a good deck to consider if you are on the fence.
Affinity by Michael Sigrist
Affinity, like Storm, is an extremely good game one deck. The deck is explosive, and I’ve seen plenty of games in which the Affinity player was able to completely empty their hand on the first turn. Cranial Plating can sometimes give a creature up to a double digit bonus to its power, and is arguably the most important card in the deck. Arcbound Ravager makes most combat phases a real headache for a creature deck, since a single unblocked creature is often threatening lethal damage. Affinity doesn’t have to play a lot of colored mana producing lands, because most of the deck is colorless, so it’s able to play four copies of each Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus. This gives the deck a little bit of extra reach, while also providing some insurance against board sweeping effects.
The problem with Affinity, also like Storm, is that it is very vulnerable to sideboard cards. Kataki, War’s Wage, Stony Silence, Shatterstorm, and Creeping Corrosion are all so good that they are nearly game over if cast. Because of the diversity of the cards that people can choose to sideboard against Affinity, it makes proactive sideboarding for Affinity very difficult. That’s why often times Affinity players choose to go with Thoughtseize in the board. The theory is that they can strip the sideboard card and win quickly before another one is drawn. Unlike Storm, I would expect Affinity to be heavily represented at any Modern event. It is very powerful, fun to play, and also, in my opinion, is the best aggressive deck in Modern.
Whichever deck you decide to play, I hope this article helped familiarize you with what to expect at your next PTQ or any other Modern event you might have plans to attend. Modern is a pretty diverse format, with a lot of very competitive decks. I’d recommend picking a deck that you enjoy and fits your style. Try to learn that deck for a little while and see if it works for you. If not, maybe try something else.
As for me, I’m heading to Columbus this weekend for the Invitational. The weekend after that I’ll be at Grand Prix Chicago. On Friday, June 27th, in Chicago, I’ll be a member of the PlanesTalkers Panel, along with Owen Turtenwald and Alexander Hayne starting at 8:00 p.m. The following Friday, June 27th, at Grand Prix Washington DC, Reid Duke and I will be doing a Sealed Deck seminar at 5:30 p.m. If you’re going to be at either of those events, please stop by. Hopefully I’ll see you there!