Modern: How U/W Stole the Crown

It’s safe to say that Modern has been trending a certain way over the past several months. I know that one PT (and a team one at that…) doesn’t lock the metagame in stone, but to that effect the decks that ended PT 25th Anniversary at the top of the standings were exactly what I would have predicted going in.

I know it is kind of sketch to say “I knew it all along…” after the fact, but my preparation for Modern Team Unified, which started several weeks ago, began with the statement: “Humans, KCI, Hollow One, and U/W Control are metrically the best decks in the format and we’d be foolish to not play three of the four.”

The most recent MTG Top 8 data reveals that the winner’s metagame agrees when it comes to the Top 8 decks:

U/W Control: 12% Trending up
Urzatron: 7% Trending Up
Humans: 6% Trending Down
Affinity: 6% Same
Burn: 6% Same
KCI: 5% Trending Up
Hollow One: 5% Same

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the above list. I’ll be referring back to it throughout the article.

The single most important takeaway from this list is that U/W has been trending way, way up and Humans has lost points recently. These two trends are directly related to one another, as U/W Miracles is the natural predator of a Humans deck:

U/W Miracles

Rene Aquino, 1st place at the PPTQ

It’s not exactly brain surgery to see why U/W Control has become such a force in Modern. It got a lot of powerful new toys over the past year:

Not only is this a lot of new playable cards for any deck to gain, but these cards are all absurdly good. And! Not only are the cards extremely good, but they are a natural strategic trump to the Humans deck, which I would argue has been the trend shaper since it emerged last fall.

It is also worth saying that while Modern is built on scary linear decks that are coming to get you, U/W breaks the mold. If Modern is a deck full of terrifying nightmare decks, U/W is the real Ghostbusters.

It largely achieves this by having a plethora of effective hate cards at its disposal.

Most linear decks focus all of their resources and deck slots toward being able to hit a critical mass strong enough to end the game. Inversely, after sideboard, U/W Control loads up on single cards that essentially “turn off” opposing decks and backs them up with counterspells.

Sometimes, the best offense is a strong defense!

Sometimes, a good offense is just good:


Spiderspace, 1st place in an MTGO Challenge

Despite the recent downtick in action, Humans has been and continues to be a shaping force in Modern.

I recently wrote an article lumping the deck in as a combo deck. It’s more of an aggro deck, but it is kind of tricky to define what it actually is because it does many things well. Personally, I always feel like I’m playing against a combo deck when I face off against Humans. It pressures hard and is built on wacky synergies and interactions between creatures.

Legacy Goblins is clearly an aggro deck, but it also has some combo elements as well and I approach Humans in the same manner. Every time you add to the board, you are creating more triggers and value, which gives the deck incredible power, redundancy, and utility.

The other neat thing about Humans is that it has several ways to interact with problematic matchups built right into the shell:

These cards are all going to work out favorably for Humans and take away options from the opponent. Being that Humans are vulnerable to sweepers, removal, or faster combos these cards help ensure that the opponent has roadblocks to navigate through while the Human army swings away and seals the deal.

These cards are like playing main deck Duress in a Storm deck, but with the upside of playing into the Human synergy theme. They can be used to systematically eliminate an opponent’s ability to interact, and/or stop an opponent from executing their primary route to victory.

The rise (and ensuing fall) of Humans has dramatically shaped the format. There were a lot of decks that simply fared poorly against the outstanding Humans deck and were pushed out. The deck that could compete with Humans rose to the surface. The deck that crushes Humans, U/W Control, has now taken over.

With that being said, it’s way too early to dig a grave for Humans. The deck is simply too good to get too dusty. Don’t forget that the deck earned its way to the top for a long time on its own merits and it took a literal “WRATH OF GOD, THE DECK,” to knock it from best deck to one of the best deck status.

It seems fairly straightforward to me that the percentage points Humans have bled away have literally been transferred into U/W Control’s till, and then some.

The real question is: What predator will emerge in the night to hunt down U/W Control mages?


Brandon Ayers, 16th place at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary

Tron is up for a very simple reason… it’s good at beating U/W Control decks that are full of Path to Exiles, Terminus, and Supreme Verdicts that simply don’t matter. Tron ticking up in the metagame is 99% savvy players trying to capitalize on U/W being the most played deck in the winner’s metagame.

I have a few other observations about Tron’s position in the metagame. While its winners percentage is up, there may be a “fool’s gold” element about what those numbers tell us. First, the majority of sample deck lists are from small events where Tron did not win or have many finals appearances.

Tron is obviously a Modern trooper and mainstay, so no disrespect to anybody who plays it, but despite being up it may not be the greatest place in the world to justify gravitating toward it. It’s a great deck, and if you are a master with it, by all means keep helping me out by picking off bandwagon U/W mages.

While U/W Control is up (and that is a net positive for Tron), the way the rest of the metagame will gather to combat U/W will likely be hostile for Tron (Burn, Affinity, and Infect) as the proactive decks reset to become faster, less clunky, and less vulnerable to being repeatedly wrathed.

Whether you are staying true to your Tron roots or attacking the metagame from some other angle, I strongly suggest pondering the majesty that is Pithing Needle. Obviously, it’s a liability against decks like Humans and Hollow One, but it’s straight up amazing against U/W Control planeswalkers, KCI, and Affinity (which is always in the equation).

The rest of the top tier is exactly what you would expect it to be. It’s the same decks that are always good because they are fast, consistent, and linear:

While U/W may be the trendy deck of the month the question is whether or not it can survive the metagame becoming hostile toward it. All of these decks have had the big bullseye on their back at some point or another, and have all lived to fight on become legitimate Modern archetypes.

U/W Control, and various Jeskai Control variants, have been around and survived in Modern for ages. The question is: Is the current U/W Control deck so good that it can sustain 12% of the winner’s metagame as the opposition conspires to toughen up against a Miracles deck? Only time will tell, but one way or another the big question on my mind is whether the surge of control in Modern is: a reaction, an overreaction, or a sustainable best deck.

Only time will tell.


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