In the same vein of Huey Jensen’s article a few weeks ago, I wanted to take a look at the top decks in Modern at the moment. In addition I’ll throw in my top three decks at the moment and a few thoughts as to why. Let’s get started!
What is Affinity?
A winner. Also a pile of artifacts loosely connected by some cards that are borderline broken. Think Mono-U Devotion with better “I win” draws and fewer sweepers running around to ruin your day. Although Ancient Grudge is still a legal Magic card…
Why Play Affinity?
Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager aren’t fair. Affinity has one of the best plan Bs against mass removal thanks to all the manlands and Cranial Plating. Not much to say, except it’s one of the best decks forcing opponents to “have it” in Modern.
How good is Affinity?
The entire Affinity plan is built around hitting Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager early. While other hands can win, these are the only two that don’t just pack it in to the normal removal packages of many decks in the format. Either card can also function without a large board presence, something Steel Overseer and Master of Etherium are limited by.
Affinity as a whole is constrained by how much sideboard hate players plan on packing, while it can easily take down a PTQ and beat slow hands that are anchored by hate cards, there’s no denying how bad Ancient Grudge and Creeping Corrosion are for you. You take a big risk just by picking up the deck in the first place.
On the flip side, you have the most free wins in the format and there’s a noticeable jump in percentage as you grow with the deck. There’s a big difference between a random with the deck and someone who has been playing Affinity for months/years. For some this is a benefit and for others a major drawback that should be noted, as you will lose games by making calculation errors. I’m fully aware of my shortcomings with the deck and wouldn’t play it, but if you are familiar with the deck, then the tipping point will simply be how much hate you expect from the opposition.
Jund by Willy Edel
What is Jund?
Jund is built on the concept that everything either needs to be a one-card threat that kills the opponent, something that has a high percentage of messing with the opponent’s strategy, or buys incremental card advantage. Every single card in the Jund deck fulfills at least one of these roles and there’s a mix of all three with an efficiency that other decks in the format have a hard time matching. Almost all the disruption is 1-2 mana and the few card choices that aren’t can potentially net multiple cards. That’s a Legacy-level disruption curve in a format where a lot of decks are linear strategies with compact Plan B options. It also makes for a very deep and solid sideboarding game where you can streamline your deck and your opponent can’t specifically target your “good stuff.”
Why Play Jund:
That’s the best reason I can come up with for playing Jund or Pod in the format. You aren’t the fastest or best at anything, but you have tons of disruption options to severely hurt opposing plans after sideboarding and can recover from mana or mulligan issues better than nearly any other deck in the format. Part of that is because the incremental draw engines are low-key and force opponents to ration their removal awkwardly. The other reason the incremental engines of Dark Confidant, Courser of Kruphix, Chandra Pyromaster and Liliana of the Veil are so good is because the discard lets you pick and choose your spots. In Standard the common situation is that you jam your engine and hope nothing happens to it unless we hit the end-game. In Modern, you have a realistic chance of knowing the opponent’s full range of options and roughly how threatening your engine looks to them.
How good is Jund?
Honestly two weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought much of it. However the more I see the Jund deck from Willy Edel at work, the more I think the wide range of answers and threats is one of the best things you can do right now. This is especially true for open metagames and ones where there aren’t as many Twin decks running around, which was likely my original bias against Jund thanks to Magic Online. There’s all sorts of decks you could see 5-6 rounds deep in a Modern tournament that wouldn’t necessarily be on your pre-tourney radar that Jund can plow through.
Against Jund the odds are good that even with unfavorable game ones, you can turn it around for the post-board play. If you like having the edge against other creature plans, then you’ll want to pick this up. Decks that can survive the early discard and aren’t weak to Abrupt Decay are probably the worst matchups in the metagame for you. For example, Tron definitely beats you up and steals your lunch money. Again, it helps that about half of any given field is helpless against the arsenal of Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, Anger of the Gods, and Liliana of the Veil. If you want to play a deck that’s not terrible against anything and has amazing sideboard plans then pick a Jund deck up.
Melira Pod by Nathan Holiday
What is Melira Pod?
Originally Pod was a midrange Rock deck with the ability to win the game instead of playing even longer games against opposition. Once Voice of Resurgence was printed, suddenly it became far easier to transition into winning the game quickly with massive Elementals and being able to cash in mana creatures for real threats. In fact, over the past year it has become commonplace to cut down on combo pieces and instead focus on being a really good midrange deck with the bare minimum of combo pieces.
Why Play Pod:
Much like Jund you have one of the best post-board games in the format with tons of one-of answers that are complete game-changers. To top it off you also have multiple ways to tutor for them, making it almost assured you’ll be able to see them if you survive the first couple of turns. It also remains one of the strongest midrange plans in the format with enough creatures and removal effects to go toe to toe with attrition strategies in the format. You’re also able to accelerate and build a massive board presence in a short period of time with an active Birthing Pod and a small amount of mana.
In essence, the best reason to play Pod is the same as it was for playing Survival of the Fittest: Any type of advantageous board-state is difficult to trump, and in stalemates not only are your topdecks better, but the combo elements force the opponent to take aggressive lines or they risk losing by simply letting you see the right card. Pod is one of the best decks in the format for forcing players into bad situations and good Pod players have been reaping the benefits since the deck was created.
How good is Pod?
Not as strong as it was before Twin got a bump in popularity and Anger of the Gods became a staple for many controlling strategies with red. Pod has the tools to stop it, but it takes up more precious slots and makes the deck weaker elsewhere. At this point nearly every top tier deck has wised up to Pod’s game one plan, and fewer people respect the ability to be killed out of nowhere. It also remains a demanding deck for players, though as the combo aspect is removed the degree of difficulty definitely drops. Instead of drawing combo pieces and trying to figure out how to manipulate them into a winning situation, your cards are better on their own now and more straightforward to use. So if you’re interested in picking up the deck, that’s a plus.
Personally I’ll recommend Pod decks until they ban Birthing Pod or some very significant changes to the metagame come down the pipe.
Twin by Adam Barnello
What is Twin?
A two-card combo deck consisting mostly of blue cards that takes advantage of a few really efficient red cards for good measure. Force opponents into playing around a combo that you may or may not have for multiple turns or risk instantly losing. Meanwhile, your deck just keeps getting to draw free cards because the opposition generally has to respect what you’re doing unless they’re miles ahead on board* or have knowledge of your hand.
Why Play Twin:
You play Magic, so odds are good you like messing with people from time to time. Twin shenanigans are a great way to do so while not playing a gimmick deck. It also has a legitimate backup win condition via Batterskull, Vendilion Clique, and Snapcaster Mage instead of other slow combo decks a la Scapeshift. You have the most interaction for any unfair deck in the format and the most room in which to leverage your counters and removal. You aren’t shackled to your combo and forced to only save pieces of protection to go alongside it, instead you can freely pick and choose what to deal with.
How good is Twin?
Pretty good! It’s one of the most played Modern decks on Magic Online and is a permanent fixture of Modern Top 8s. Variants of Twin have been good since the format was created and will continue to do well. What this means is that unlike Affinity where you can walk into a room and potentially face minimal hate, you’ll almost always be playing against opposition that’s prepared for you. It also means the amount of play time people have against the deck is likely to be higher on the whole.
In other words, while it’s a good deck, there are plenty of angles opponents can take to make your life miserable and it’s such a known quantity that people will actually do it. If you aren’t very comfortable with playing Twin then I wouldn’t recommend taking it up now unless you want to do a lot of grinding. By now the only people still playing Twin are people who are very familiar with it and people who call me to the table to explain to them how their own deck works.
UWR Control by Shaun McLaren
What is UWR Control?
A deck that mulligans badly and lacks any sort of nut draw in a format with decks entirely defined by their ability to do so. In all seriousness, it’s an attrition deck that sometimes can kill out of nowhere, but has to play far more defensively than Twin ever does.
Why Play UWR Control:
Some people just love to watch opposing creatures burn. Plus, control players have access to a plethora of solid countermagic, Snapcaster Mage, tons of defensive creatures, and a handful of other fun things. While you don’t have quite as many options as Legacy, the field being less powerful also lets you play around with your exact numbers a bit more. Essentially, when the deck is firing on all cylinders you get to punish creature combo and Jund/Pod, assuming you aren’t pelted by endless discard.
I could give you the usual spiel about how it lets you take advantage of the skill gap in Magic and show off sideboarding advantages and it’d mostly be true. The problem for UWR players is this is true for almost every top deck in Modern right now. You can gain a bunch of percentage points by being a master with Pod, Twin, Affinity, and even Jund over people with less experience. You also can’t leverage your sideboard options nearly as much because your deck needs a huge chunk of removal just to play against other fair decks.
How good is UWR?
It’s fine. I don’t think it’s a top tier deck compared to other choices but it’ll still continue to do well despite that. Good players can and will succeed with this deck and it has a high enough power level to not just be outclassed against other fair strategies. It also mauls combo so if you play in a field that’s mainly dominated by linear decks you’ll have a great strategic reason to pick up Islands.
That’s all for the known strong strategies in the format. Let’s quickly touch on some of our other options if we don’t like any of top decks.
Why Play Burn:
Because you can’t afford to play Modern or left your actual deck at home, but already drove two hours to the PTQ and want to at least ruin a few people’s days.
How good is Burn?
Pretty ungood. One may even call it bad! Right now the biggest issue with Burn is that other decks are just better at assembling turn four kills out of their opening 10-11 cards and aren’t disrupted nearly as easily. You also get hit by a lot of incidental hate such as the preponderance of Spellskite and Kitchen Finks. Let’s not even talk about the blue decks who will just counter a few of your burn spells, slam a Batterskull and laugh all the way to the bank.
You aren’t faster than other combo strategies and aren’t good against any dedicated hate, so what’s the point? Learn Affinity or even RG Beats from last season and go from there. Better still, play an aggro or combo deck with actual disruption.
Bogles by protopic
What is Bogles?
A deck that somehow makes Gladecover Scout a scary Magic card.
Why Play Bogles:
You hate fair games of Magic and want to punish opponents for not drawing one of the 4 cards in their 60 that actually interact. Then roll the dice for game two when that number becomes closer to 10. Unlike Burn, your strategy is strong enough that this can actually happen and you can sideboard in some ways to mess with opposing combo without ruining your deck.
Is Bogles Good?
Surprisingly so. It reminds me a lot of Affinity in that it just gets absolutely crushed by a handful of sideboard cards, but it’s tough to beat its better draws with fair decks.
What BUG Does:
My iteration of the BUG deck without Deathrite Shaman is a slower take on the strategy and instead of trying to be a tempo Delver deck, this is a Snapcaster Mage deck at heart. Abrupt Decay is one of the absolute best answers against the majority of decks in the format and being able to run a full set is a huge boon for this type of deck. It lets me get away with no Path to Exile, and without Deathrite Shaman I only have to deal with a pair of Scavenging Ooze from the green midrange decks, and many Pod decks don’t even have game one graveyard interaction anymore. This makes the ability to kill a pair of their best threats while only spending a handful of mana one of the best things we can be doing in Modern.
Why Play BUG:
My biggest issue with WUR decks is they can’t close a game out or gain such a huge advantage that they’re assured victory. It just doesn’t happen like in Legacy or Standard where you can either set up a soft lock, convert a Stoneforge Mystic or Jace, the Mind Sculptor into an immediate win or cast a Sphinx’s Revelation for 6 cards and the opponent has no opportunity to recover. Single-card creature threats in Modern are scary and manlands mean that even if you clear the board, sticking a followup planeswalker or Revelation for another 5-6 life may not be enough. This doesn’t even take into account the ability for decks to simply win out of nowhere with two-card combos or inevitability of their own like Eye of Ugin.
BUG attempts to solve this problem by giving you the same massive threats that Jund presents to opponents. Threats like Tarmogoyf can end the game in a few attacks and even Vendilion Clique and Creeping Tar Pit can effectively pressure opponents. Basically, you just want to clock early and take advantage of the fact that discard can clear the way for your threats instead of needing to wait until you can play a threat and protect it on the same turn. You also have Liliana of the Veil for attrition mirrors, which alongside a full set of Snapcaster Mage is a good place to be.
How good is BUG?
I don’t actually know. I can theorycraft a lot and I imagine that Pod decks game one are pretty wretched and Tron can largely ignore a lot of what you do, while decks like Affinity and Twin need to work double time to even be in the game. The Jund match feels interesting and a battle of correctly assessing what threats you can and can’t afford to ignore. You actually want to avoid blowing away Tarmogoyf as long as you can simply because the value creatures are the ones that make you lose.
How good is BUG?
This is purely a brew I’ve been cooking up and haven’t had a chance to really test outside of a few proxy games. The massive cost of the deck on Magic Online and the looming beta has me a bit gunshy on dropping money on it and for all I know I won’t actually get to play any PTQs this season. Hopefully I can try it out soon… If I made a bad version of UWR, so be it, I look forward to finding out.
The Wonderful 101
So now that we’ve gotten the overview out of the way, which decks are the best right now? If I had a PTQ or Grand Prix tomorrow I’d play one of the following three decks:
Why these three? Each one has a strong proactive game plan backed by at least one very powerful angle of attack. For Pod decks it’s obviously the card Birthing Pod which changes what kind of Magic you can play. For Twin you have the threat of the combo itself and even Vedalken Shackles/Blood Moon depending on how you want your sideboard to look. Both are very potent cards that are underplayed at the moment and you can take full advantage of them while retaining the combo kill.
Finally there’s Jund, which can leverage a bunch of disruption and run the highest number of card advantage engines in the format. For a midrange deck, that solves the major problem of wrong-half-of-deck syndrome. Jund’s busted element is that it just has a huge collection of good threats and answers that control decks wish they had.
Now for me, I would play Melira Pod simply because I’m familiar with it and if it hasn’t been hammered home yet: Familiarity is one of the biggest strengths you can have. Being able to play your own deck well under pressure and minimizing the amount of thought you need to spend on your own mechanics maximizes your ability to process what the opponent is doing. Think smarter, not harder.
As for other options, if I wanted a proactive attack plan and knew the deck very well I can recommend Affinity as an option. If I needed to pick up a deck with only a day or two to test and wanted to ignore my opponent as much as possible, then play Bogles.
That’s all for this week, next time we may tackle some Vintage Masters… Let’s see if I have any tickets left by then.
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