Modern is undergoing the biggest shift in its entire history, and last weekend we brought you coverage of the first major Modern tournament from MagicFest Dallas. While Hogaak has dominated the Modern discourse–at this stage a ban seems inevitable and just a question of when rather than if–there was a lot of other extremely cool innovations in Texas this weekend.
Modern Horizons has been the headliner, naturally, when it comes to new tech in Modern, but perhaps more so than any other Standard-legal expansion in recent memory, War of the Spark has also profoundly impacted the format. Between these two sets and an atmosphere of endless possibility, we saw some really sweet decks making deep runs into Day 2 last weekend. Here are some highlights!
The Best Modern Decks You May Have Missed
The fishfather himself, Corbin Hosler, would be jumping for joy after the incredibly strong performance put up by his beloved Merfolk this weekend in the hands of Kyle Larson. Larson fell tragically short of a Top 8 appearance, bowing out in a round 15 win-and-in. All the same, it was a stellar effort that helped to put an underappreciated archetype back on the map (and I’m not just saying that because I know Corbin will edit anything negative out anyway).
Merfolk by Kyle Larson
1 Cavern of Souls 4 Faerie Conclave 9 Island (335) 4 Mutavault 1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds 1 Waterlogged Grove 4 Benthic Biomancer 4 Harbinger of the Tides 4 Lord of Atlantis 4 Master of the Pearl Trident 4 Merfolk Trickster 2 Mistcaller 4 Silvergill Adept 4 AEther Vial 2 Echoing Truth 4 Force of Negation 4 Spreading Seas Sideboard 4 Ceremonious Rejection 2 Deprive 2 Dismember 1 Grafdigger's Cage 4 Relic of Progenitus 2 Tidebinder Mage
Compared to Merfolk lists of yesteryear, this deck has some significant departures from the previous orthodoxy. Gone are Cursecatcher, Merrow Reejerey, and even Kira, Great Glass-Spinner–recent pickups include Merfolk Trickster, Benthic Biomancer, and the brand-spanking-new Force of Negation.
Broadly, the deck’s gameplan remains unchanged: spew a bunch of Merfolk into play (with the help of Aether Vial), buff them up with various lords, and make huge unblockable attacks thanks to Spreading Seas. In a vein similar to Humans, this list plays a good deal of interaction that’s stapled onto its creatures (Merfolk Trickster, Harbinger of the Tides) and also has access to card draw and filtering with Silvergill Adept and Benthic Biomancer.
Force of Negation is perfect in this deck–not only do you always have blue cards to pitch to it, it’s a great way to fight off everything from point removal to sweepers to game-ending combos. Merfolk can be a fast deck with the right draw, and Force of Negation allows its proactive gameplan to remain on-track while still providing meaningful interaction.
Martyr Proc–so named due to its marquee cards, Martyr of Sands and Proclamation of Rebirth–has always drifted around the fringes of Modern, but picked up a couple of new pieces of technology with Modern Horizons. There aren’t many decks that have a better lategame, and Martyr Proc’s weird angle of attack sometimes makes the deck a tricky one to dispatch easily.
Martyr Proc by David Cordeiro
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin 4 Field of Ruin 4 Godless Shrine 4 Marsh Flats 9 Plains (331) 1 Swamp (339) 1 Kami of False Hope 4 Martyr of Sands 4 Ranger of Eos 4 Ranger-Captain of Eos 4 Serra Ascendant 2 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord 3 Anguished Unmaking 1 Cleansing Nova 4 Orzhov Charm 4 Path to Exile 1 Proclamation of Rebirth 1 Settle the Wreckage 1 Wheel of Sun and Moon 2 Winds of Abandon Sideboard 4 Castigate 1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant 1 Hex Parasite 2 Kambal, Consul of Allocation 4 Rest in Peace 2 Stony Silence 1 Winds of Abandon
Using Martyr of Sands, the aim is to gain a bunch of life, then either leverage Serra Ascendant for a quick win or use any number of long-term, lategame engines to grind ’em out. Most of these engines involve graveyard recursion with Sorin, Orzhov Charm, and of course Proclamation of Rebirth.
The deck is, clearly, all about recurring small one-drop creatures, none of which are new from Modern Horizons or War of the Spark. This deck has still received a significant upgrade, however, in the form of Ranger-Captain of Eos. Having eight tutors for Martyr of Sands or Serra Ascendant gives the deck much more consistency and allows it to do its thing much more regularly.
Martyr Proc has a powerful gameplan, can kill quickly with the right draw, and has powerful pre- and post-board interaction. White offers many key tools in the current format, from unconditional removal like Path to Exile to industry-standard graveyard hate like Rest in Peace. I also love the inclusion of Winds of Abandon to fight off decks like Hogaak and Dredge!
Protect the Queen
This deck appeared a few times on camera over the weekend, and provided endless entertainment thanks to its off-the-wall throwback to the old days of Nahiri/Emrakul. Mardu decks are invariably sweet, and this one is no exception–top-tier removal and high-impact threats result in a hard-hitting, powerful deck with an incredibly sweet win condition.
Protect the Queen by Benjamin Krantz
4 Arid Mesa 4 Blackcleave Cliffs 1 Blood Crypt 1 Godless Shrine 1 Isolated Chapel 4 Marsh Flats 1 Mountain (343) 1 Plains (331) 1 Rugged Prairie 2 Sacred Foundry 3 Shambling Vent 1 Swamp (339) 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn 4 Lightning Skelemental 1 Ajani Vengeant 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 3 Nahiri, the Harbinger 3 Anger of the Gods 2 Collective Brutality 2 Fatal Push 3 Inquisition of Kozilek 2 Lightning Bolt 4 Lightning Helix 2 Nihil Spellbomb 4 Path to Exile 2 Thoughtseize 1 Wrath of God Sideboard 1 Anguished Unmaking 2 Engineered Explosives 4 Goblin Rabblemaster 2 Nevermore 2 Nihil Spellbomb 1 Runed Halo 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Stony Silence 1 Wear/Tear
“Protect the Queen” probably gives you a reasonable idea of the deck’s Plan A: Nahiri, the Harbinger has an ultimate that should, in most cases, win the game then and there. There aren’t many Modern decks that can survive an attack from Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, so defending Nahiri until she can use her -8 is the name of the game.
This is done with removal, hand disruption, and other planeswalkers. Ajani and Chandra both act as removal spells, but Chandra also offers a welcome source of card advantage. Having a plethora of main deck exile effects, too, is perfect for the state of the format–Anger of the Gods, Path to Exile, and Nihil Spellbomb are all positioned very well indeed right now.
The only weird inclusion, in my view, is the playset of Lightning Skelemental. Almost everything else in this deck is based on grinding out small edges with removal and planeswalkers, and keeping a Nahiri long enough to “go off.” Lightning Skelemental doesn’t really plan into that plan. I could be way off-base with this analysis, but I feel like this deck would prefer more interaction rather than a weird one-shot effect like Skelemental, sweet as it is.
The unbanning of the Thopter/Sword combo a few years ago failed to make too many waves in Modern, but that might be about to change thanks to Urza, Lord High Artificer, which enables an infinite combo alongside Thopter-Sword, and along a few other sweet Modern Horizons cards, we’ve got a new artifact-based combo deck on our hands!
Thopter Sword by Justin Porchas
Primarily, this deck seeks to get Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, and Urza, Lord High Artificer on the battlefield together, from which point the deck can go infinite. Urza allows Sword of the Meek to tap for mana, as well as Thopters generated by the Foundry, meaning each Foundry activation nets one mana rather than costing one. That excess mana can be dumped into Urza’s activated ability, which effectively means you can play any card in your deck (eventually).
Assembling this combo is made a lot easier thanks to Goblin Engineer, who acts as a walking Entomb for Sword of the Meek. On top of that, Whir of Invention provides another artifact tutor, and explains the presence of silver bullet cards like Ensnaring Bridge, Pithing Needle, Nihil Spellbomb, and Grafdigger’s Cage (all of which, incidentally, are excellent against Hogaak).
There’s even a plan C with Sai, Master Thopterist. He can provide huge amount of value without needing the graveyard and offers ridiculous synergy with Urza–you can play an artifact, generate a Thopter, then tap them both to pay for the draw two ability. Overall, this deck was both impressive and convincing, and I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see more Thopter/Sword/Urza nonsense soon.