Modern Masters 2015 has been out for a while, we just had a pair of major Modern tournaments, and the Modern GP is next week? Time to get ready with a few rules of the format:
1. You Can’t Predict the Metagame
A.k.a.: People can and will play anything.
There just isn’t a whole lot that can be done to metagame against this format. There’s no clear hierarchy outside of a general sense that Twin is the “best deck,” but that’s not a majority opinion and even its proponents admit it’s only by a tiny bit. By Magic Online data, Grixis Delver and Burn are the best performing decks, but they have hardly had runaway success in the real world. A lot of Grixis configurations are popping up with real results, including this past weekend, so it seems to be for real.
Ultimately what you choose to play is going to be based a lot on feel and power versus interactivity. Trying to pick a deck to beat the most popular or powerful strategies is folly because even the most played decks will likely only make up 1/4th-1/3rd of the Grand Prix. There are far too many options and too many people locked into whatever deck they’ve been playing for months to change now. Money may not play as big a role in Modern deck selection as it does in Legacy, but there’s definitely some attachment. Just look locally at how many of your former Pod players flocked to Collected Company Abzan.
Outside of that, even with byes, there’s no rhyme or reason to what two players may run into over the first day of play. You could play against Burn and Affinity all day or it could be Fish, Hate Bears, and Gifts. Even the most basic approach of preparing for mostly linear decks vs. midrange sees too big of a spread to be useful. Last week it seemed like midrange was the archetype to prepare for and now this week you would think decks going over-the-top* like Tron or Amulet Bloom are.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you hit on the most popular decks for your metagame call. Just pick something dictated by power and experience.
*Or even more specifically, “Lands matter.”
2. Red Cards Dictate the Format
A.k.a.: ****ing Blood Moon!
This wide variety of cards effectively defines the extremes of the format, including many of the most potent sideboard cards in the format. Very few cards in other colors can produce the swings a card like Blood Moon, Ancient Grudge, or Anger can in the right matchup. Every player with access to red mana has at least one very worrisome card for nearly every deck in Modern.
Kolaghan’s Command took a little while to catch on, but now it’s easily the most important Command in the format. Seriously. In a deck like Grixis Delver or Jund, KC is the equivalent of a Cryptic Command that costs 3 mana. Not only are all four modes viable options with real impact, but KC can affect the board and nearly always be a 2-for-1. If anything, people aren’t abusing this effect enough with Snapcaster Mage and Fulminator Mage at their disposal.
Meanwhile, Lightning Bolt, Splinter Twin, and Eidolon are staples of arguably two of the best decks in the format.
If you aren’t playing red in your deck, you lose out on some of the best cards in the format, which is fine if you want to play a deck with a very high inherent power level like Infect or Affinity. If not, think long and hard about why you want to pilot your particular archetype.
3. Your Sideboard Contains the Most Important Cards in Your Deck
A.k.a.: Which decks do you want to lose to?
Consider this the corollary to running the swingiest sideboard cards in Modern. No deck has a good game 1 against everything in the format, with the closest being Affinity and Twin. As a result, the deck you can become against your bad matches post-board is suddenly going to have the biggest impact on your success. Modern is a format where you can turn a 30/70 matchup favorable with enough of the proper board cards.
If you’re going into a GP-level event or just a local PPTQ, you should ask yourself how much space you want to commit to each matchup. Giving up on a matchup entirely isn’t unreasonable if you have a poor game 1 and need narrow sideboard cards to make up the gap. One of the nicest things about most of the red sideboard cards and Spellskite is that they tend to cover multiple decks, while something like Leyline of Sanctity, Kor Firewalker, Ancient Grudge, or Relic of Progenitus is far more narrow in scope.
Make the most of your sideboard cards and write out a sideboard plan for every deck you can think of. While this is obvious, I can’t stress how much time it saves and you never run into situations where you brainfart on the last card you wanted to cut.
4. The Less Linear Your Deck, the More Knowledge You Need
A.k.a.: Infect and Affinity only care about cards, not decks.
I picked up Jund and played a double Modern PPTQ this weekend after a two-month layoff during which I mostly played casual games and a few MTGO Dailies with Elves and Grixis Delver. In the matchups I had played in the past, Scapeshift and Twin, I had a much better idea of my plan. Against Abzan Company, where my familiarity was limited to decks where I could easily overpower them, I had no idea what I was doing. I made horrible decisions based on assumptions that I would just win the late-game with no effort, and spewed resources.
With Affinity, on the other hand, I could have zero working knowledge of my opponent’s deck going in and succeed. While this may create potential blowouts post-board, in general the raw power is going to let me get away with the occasional mistake. It doesn’t take 20 matches to figure out that I can easily race with a 7/1 Vault Skirge if my opponent doesn’t have Path to Exile game 1.
But when you play with a deck like Abzan, Jund, or Grixis Delver, specific matchup experience pays off big. Sequencing becomes just as important as it is in Standard and game 1 lacks the massive swing cards to make up for dead draws.
What I’d Play
Kolaghan’s Command and Collected Company have totally reshaped the format in the wake of Treasure Cruise getting banned. Both of these very much help interactive decks and really punish aggro-control or traditional midrange. More importantly, they provide ways to gain resources in non-blue colors. In fact, Kolaghan’s Command is so good that it has been my focus for a deck shell. The format is very hostile to anything with a toughness of 1 or 2, which makes the insistence of those sticking to Delver of Secrets a bit silly.
Here’s a deck I’m quite excited to try out.
Zack Witten just missed the Top 8 of the Invitational this weekend and had a great record in the Modern portion. Other than the out-of-place singleton Young Pyromancer, this has a lot of what I’d like to be doing in Modern. It has a high spell density, it laughs at Bolt and Electrolyze, and can play sweepers and take advantage of the early interactive spells. Without Delver you do need to be able to make non-cantrip plays and between Inquisition, Bolt, Spell Snare, and Mana Leak it can do that nicely.
It also doesn’t need a draw engine, though a Jace, Architect of Thought wouldn’t be out of place here, since Snapcaster Mage with Kolaghan’s Command generate quite a few resources on their own. This Grixis build can also easily jam Keranos if it added another land or two over the Probes. Since the deck isn’t trying to be as aggressive as Delver, I wouldn’t mind a Peek and a 20th land over the pair of Probes either. You care about your life total more with this slower build and you take a lot of damage from the mana already. Kolaghan’s Command renders Electrolyze a little redundant, so there’s another potential cut.
Not having Blood Moon or Fulminator Mage is also a dubious choice, and for me, Fulminator with Command is an easy way to keep Tron in line without forcing awkward fetch decisions. With all that said, I think Zack’s deck is a great baseline for where to take the deck without going heavy into control territory (five delve creatures that can race like ‘Goyf) while taking away one of the biggest weaknesses of Delver (soft to early removal). Up the land count and throw in a Keranos or two and you place the deck as an aggressively positioned post-board Grixis Twin.
That’s it for this week, thanks to everyone who came out to Grand Prix Vegas! The event was ridiculous and a lot of fun, despite the massive amount of work that had to be done. I’m looking forward to running it back in (hopefully!) a few years.