The release of Aether Revolt and the latest ban list shook up Modern. The removal of Gitaxian Probe weakens some decks and completely eliminates others. The removal of Golgari Grave-Troll cripples Dredge, but it might still have some life left. Fatal Push opens up some interesting possibilities with the addition of a powerful black removal spell.
So what are some of the winners and losers of the adjustment to Modern?
Death’s Shadow Zoo
Death’s Shadow Zoo is the biggest loser of the bannings and the addition of Aether Revolt. Without Gitaxian Probe, it’s going to be extremely difficult to consistently grow Death’s Shadow as fast as you’d like for quick kills.
The addition of Fatal Push was already going to be a huge problem, even with Gitaxian Probe. Death’s Shadow Zoo typically didn’t play protection spells for its creatures other than Mutagenic Growth, which was a big reason the deck held up against Lightning Bolt decks.
Fatal Push may move players in the direction of playing fewer Lightning Bolts and other colors in their decks altogether, such as Jund players playing straight B/G and replacing Lightning Bolt with Fatal Push entirely. Death’s Shadow Zoo simply can’t hold up with both the addition of Fatal Push in the format and the loss of Gitaxian Probe.
There may be some life left in Death’s Shadow though. Death’s Shadow Jund is a new direction the deck could take as we saw this past weekend in the MOCS. This version is less focused on combo’ing the opponent and has the ability to play a longer game with removal and disruption. Death’s Shadow may survive, but Death’s Shadow Zoo as we know it is no longer a contender in Modern.
I don’t think Dredge will cease to exist. But the loss of Grave-Troll decreases the consistency of getting the desired cards into your graveyard throughout the course of the game. The difference between a Golgari Thug and Golgari Grave-Troll dredging through your deck will end up in more “misses” with a turn-2 Cathartic Reunion, ultimately slowing down the deck on average. It may survive, but I don’t think it will be able to hold up as well as Infect will after the latest bans.
The biggest gain for Dredge after these bans is that people will respect the deck less, meaning less graveyard hate in sideboards. Is this enough for Dredge to stay on top of the metagame? Maybe, but even if it does, once the graveyard hate comes back, it will have a much more difficult time getting underneath the graveyard hate like it once could with an explosive Cathartic Reunion.
I’ll lead off by saying that Infect isn’t dead yet. Still, the loss of Gitaxian Probe is a huge hit because of its ability to turn on Become Immense quickly, as well as check if the coast is clear to go for the kill. This makes Infect a weaker deck, and it’s not the only thing that went wrong for Infect players.
The release of Fatal Push doesn’t only make removal more efficient and generically better against Infect—it also pushes people into playing with the new card earlier in the format. I suspect we’ll see more copies of Fatal Push in the early weeks of the format both in established archetypes and newer brews, and the decks playing Fatal Push will generally not be great matchups for Infect. So not only did the Infect deck get weaker, the metagame will likely shift to a worse spot for Infect. I’d avoid Infect until the metagame is more appropriate, but I do think that Infect will eventually find a spot to break out again if decks like Tron and Scapeshift become more popular.
Storm was a relatively fringe deck anyway, but with the banning of Gitaxian Probe, Storm may go from fringe to non-existent. The emergence of Dredge led to an uptick in graveyard hate, which already gave Storm fits because of its reliance on Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames. While there will be less graveyard hate, the removal of Gitaxian Probe may be the final nail in the coffin. Already losing Rite of Flame and Seething Song, the loss of Gitaxian Probe is a huge blow to turning on Pyromancer’s Ascension, leading me to believe the Storm deck will finally rest in peace.
B/G/x includes decks like Jund, Abzan, straight B/G, and could even be argued to include a deck like Grixis Control. Why is this archetype a loser when you get the addition of Fatal Push? This may be a more controversial stance right as you get this extremely valuable removal spell for the archetype, but I think when you analyze the direction that the metagame will move as a result, you have to consider the B/G/x decks as losers.
Infect and Death’s Shadow were both solid matchups for these decks, and with the ban of Gitaxian Probe, I would expect to face a lot less Infect. When you remove a high percentage of these decks from the metagame, the naturally good matchups for B/G/x decks are few and far between.
I do think a lot of people will sleeve up B/G/x decks as they are excited about Fatal Push, which gives you a chance to target these players with your deck choice. B/G/x decks are solid—I just think the shift in the metagame, at least early, will be an issue.
Here’s an example Ad Nauseum deck list similar to Andrea Mengucci’s list from the WMC:
Ad Nauseam won a Grand Prix this past year and has slowly picked up in popularity since. I was a strong advocate of Ad Nauseam prior to testing for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch because it was a reasonably consistent combo deck without much of a target on its back. My team and I eventually found the notorious Colorless Eldrazi deck, so the work on Ad Nauseum ended abruptly.
When I showed up to test Ad Nauseam, I found one card I definitely did not want to play against. That card was Inkmoth Nexus. Angel’s Grace can save you from losing to damage, but won’t help much against being poisoned to death as you will just lose immediately once you pass the turn. Inkmoth Nexus will see a decrease in numbers with the removal of Gitaxian Probe and addition of Fatal Push. Ad Nauseam doesn’t have a terrific matchup against B/G/x decks, but it isn’t exactly bad either, so playing it is still a fine choice if you expect B/G/x to be one of the more popular archetypes. Ad Nauseam is also one of the few intact combo decks that remain after a long cycle of bans slowly removing combo from the format. Ad Nauseam is certainly in a better spot after the bannings of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll.
Tom Ross’s G/W Tron – SCGCOL:
Tron preys on fair decks, and with the printing of Fatal Push, there should be more fair decks to push around. Tron simply goes over the top of most decks trying to win a long game, and resolving just one haymaker like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger is often enough to end the game. Unfair decks, like Infect and Death Shadow Zoo, have typically been a problem for Tron. With the bannings, you have fewer unfair creature combo decks and combo decks to worry about. It is true that Tron had reasonably good tools to fight Dredge in both main-deck Relic of Progenitus and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but the departure of a good matchup is much less relevant than an increase in other good matchups. Tron also greatly benefits from the disappearance of the fast versions of Death’s Shadow Zoo and the decline of Infect. Tron could be a real player in the format moving forward.
Lukas Blohon’s Scapeshift:
Oliver Tiu’s TitanShift:
Scapeshift takes different forms ranging from straight R/G Primeval Titan builds to 5-color Bring to Light versions as you can see here from two different Worlds competitor’s deck lists. One thing remains the same—Scapeshift had real problems with the fair creature combo decks such as Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo, and without a high percentage of those decks around, Scapeshift can prey upon fair decks much the same as Tron does. I think the metagame shift will be largely beneficial for Scapeshift.
Affinity is a huge beneficiary from the addition of Aether Revolt and the recent bannings. As an Affinity player myself, I recognized that the Dredge matchup was really bad. Explosive Dredge starts made it hard to get on the front foot with Affinity, and Conflagrate also made it extremely difficult to maintain a board presence. Dredge would bring in cards to remove artifact-based graveyard hate like Tormod’s Crypt, Relic Progenitus, and Grafdigger’s Cage, so those cards would rarely stick. I soon learned to play Ravenous Trap to avoid that scenario, but the matchup was still not great. Cutting back the number of Dredge decks is a boost for Affinity.
Affinity also got a couple of cards that could help the archetype. Spire of Industry could replace some number of Glimmervoid. Affinity can have awkward opening hands with multiple Glimmervoids and no other mana sources, leaving the deck vulnerable to a removal spell or two at times. You also don’t want to take much damage casting colored spells or moving Cranial Plating, so a mix might be reasonable to mitigate both of these drawbacks. This isn’t a huge upgrade, but it may help.
In addition to that, I could see Hope of Ghirapur finding a spot somewhere as a disruptive cheap artifact creature with flying, shutting off a big turn from decks hoping to cast a card like Shatterstorm, Damnation, or even preventing a deck like Ad Nauseam or Scapeshift on their final turn from combo’ing off. All that said, you definitely want to be able to cast all of your cheap creatures in Affinity, so I’d recommend only testing 1 or 2 to start since Hope of Ghirapur is legendary.
Here’s a list I’d try:
Affinity is also just the most powerful and untouched deck left in Modern. Affinity has remained unscathed since the beginning of the Modern format, not losing a single card to the ban list yet. Mox Opal is always a candidate for the most broken card in Modern, but Affinity remains fully intact. The likely reason for this is that whenever Affinity play picks up, sideboard cards are there to keep the deck in check.
Fatal Push is an excellent removal spell against Affinity, but Affinity does a good job at combating 1-for-1 removal by virtue of its threat density. Cranial Plating turns every single creature and a lot of the deck’s lands into fatal threats. Etched Champion also makes short work of fair decks trying to use spot removal to contain creatures.
Fatal Push will also replace Path to Exile, or the need for Path to Exile, in some decks. What does that mean for the Affinity player? Less white means less Stony Silence, which is the cheapest and most effective card against Affinity.
The big downside for Affinity is that some graveyard hate will likely turn into artifact hate, leaving Affinity to fight a more difficult battle post-board.
The big upside for Affinity? If you take a look at the list of decks I expect to gain the most from the recent changes in Modern, Affinity has favorable matchups against all of them.
Living End/Graveyard Decks
Joel Larson’s Living End from Worlds 2016:
When the cat’s away, the mice will play. With a reduction in Dredge decks comes a reduction in necessary graveyard hate to combat it. This leaves the door open for other graveyard decks. Living End wasn’t quite as powerful or consistent as Dredge, making Living End an inferior deck choice. With a downgrade in power level to Dredge decks thanks to the the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll, Living End may have a chance to shine again.
Living End also has the added benefit of dodging some graveyard hate as well. Ravenous Trap is much less effective against Living End than Dredge because it is usually difficult to spring the trap. Living End is also completely immune to Grafdigger’s Cage, which some learn the hard way.
• If the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll and Gitaxian Probe have the intended effect of reducing the power level of both Infect and Dredge, you will see less of these two decks. Less Dredge will lead to less graveyard hate, opening the door for other graveyard-based decks like Living End.
• Fatal Push moves players into playing and trying more iterations of fair decks, leaving room for decks like Tron and Scapeshift to shine.
• Affinity is the most powerful deck left in the format, putting it in a good spot once again—until artifact hate picks up.
What decks do you think are the big winners and losers? Let me know below!