The Road to Finding the Best Humans List in Modern

Coming into Grand Prix Madrid, I teamed up with Reid Duke and Lukas Blohon. I was under the impression that figuring out which Modern decks we would play wouldn’t be hard. I’d had success online with the Knightfall version of Humans, which I said early on would be my choice. It was that easy!

Or was it?

Humans Knightfall

Having a Thoughtseize and Fatal Push deck seemed like a natural choice and I told Reid that he should play it, given that he has countless years of experience playing variants of Abzan and Jund.

But finding the third deck to combine them became a problem. None of us were high on Affinity and I felt like Eldrazi Tron was the most hyped thing in Modern since Nahiri, the Harbinger. Ruling those out, I knew that Lukas liked playing fair decks, such as U/W/R and the B/G/x decks Reid was looking into. We tried U/R Storm, U/R Breach, Valakut, and hell, we even thought about playing Elves! After plenty of testing, Lukas started to really like U/W/R and I started second-guessing the Humans Knightfall list with the number of removal spells going up. I felt like I had to go faster. Most importantly, it relied on having Path to Exile, which of course U/W/R can’t play without.

The natural solution was to explore the new Vial version of Humans that barely took any cards from other decks at all.

Vial Humans

And I wasn’t impressed, for two reasons. First, it flooded out too often. When they could stop your early interaction, you had too many synergy-based cards that didn’t impact the board enough. The second issue I had was that some cards, like a single Dark Confidant, felt out of place, and Mayor of Avabruck didn’t seem strong enough to include, but I couldn’t find good replacements.

With the other two decks pretty much settled, I set out on my own quest to find our third deck. I tried a ton of options, even a deck like a modified version of Grishoalbrand, or Valakut without Lightning Bolt. I kept looking, but couldn’t find anything. One day, my friend Marcus sent me a link to the latest Modern challenge to show me another list, but what caught my eye was Sam Pardee sporting Vial Humans.

Vial Humans

Sam Pardee

When I saw it, I thought to myself that this solves every problem the current Vial version has. Phantasmal Image was a brilliant way to get additional effects from the same great cards you already have and works wonders with Aether Vial. It basically works like a Snapcaster Mage, where you get additional copies of the cards that are good in the matchup, whether it’s Reflector Mage, Meddling Mage, or Kitesail Freebooter. It can also be proactive, copying something like a Thalia’s Lieutenant when more copies of it can dominate the board. As icing on the cake, you can Vial it into play in response to a removal for your Thalia, Heretic Cathar to have another copy when a deck tries to Through the Breach you. Phantasmal Image has all of these synergies, and that’s before even considering what it can copy from your opponent!

To solve the issue with flooding, Sam was running the full 4 Horizon Canopy, a card I loved when playing the first version. I settled on this deck, and I wanted to make sure that Reid and Lukas could play whatever card they needed to make their decks as streamlined as possible and hoped that this deck was going to be good enough.

I started playing the deck more online, and I definitely liked it better than the first version. I was winning a good amount on Magic Online, enough to feel like it was decent choice. Later in my testing, the same day as it was time to leave for Madrid, I felt like something was out of place in the deck, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. There was something that made it feel awkward. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head as I was boarding my plane. Somewhere between Stockholm and Munich—where I made a pit stop—I realized that it was Aether Vial that was bugging me. Whenever you have Aether Vial in your deck, it has to be amazing, because whenever you draw multiples or if you draw it later in the game when it’s basically a dead draw, it’s a huge drawback. But I didn’t feel like Aether Vial was as powerful in this deck. There are a few things that make Aether Vial worthwhile:

  1. You want to cheat on mana to amass a force in in the midgame, such as the lords in Modern Merfolk.
  2. Putting your creatures into play at instant speed is a huge deal, such as in Legacy Death and Taxes, ModernHatebears, or the Eternal Command deck Shouta Yasooka once played at Worlds.
  3. Your creatures are slow but give you back the card advantage lost from playing Aether Vial, such as Eternal Witness or Hostage Taker.

The Vial Humans deck didn’t have any of these things going for it, and most importantly, I realized that Aether Vial made up none of your nutdraws. Whenever you had a great draw, such as Noble Hierarch into Mantis Rider, Noble Hierarch into Champion of the Parish and a 2-drop, or perhaps Champion of the Parish into two 2-drops, Aether Vial wasn’t a part of it. Whenever you start with Aether Vial, your draw slows down and you instead try to amass a board in the midgame. But since most of our creatures don’t have evasion, it’s easy for your opponent to set up in time and even chump a couple of times to get into the later stages of the games where they grind you out. Most importantly, you don’t actually run any removal, and with less interaction, you need to be as proactive as you can and rely on your fastest nutdraws, which Aether Vial actually doesn’t let you do!

I started thinking about what you could do instead and the choice seemed clear to me. Why not just play Collected Company instead? From my experience playing Bant Knightfall, Collected Company was not only your best card to grind people out, but it was also a part of your nutdraw, absurd with Thalia’s Lieutenant, Reflector Mage and alike!

The issue at this point was that if we were to lean on my gut feeling, we had to rebuild the Humans deck into a new brew, since not only did you need to cut Aether Vial for Collected Company, you couldn’t play Ancient Ziggurat and Collected Company in the same deck. This meant that we had to rebuild the mana base completely and think about some other choices for the creatures.

I shared my idea and concerns with them team, given that it was close to the tournament. I started by saying; “I’ve been thinking. I have a feeling that CoCo is better in the Humans deck than Vial. Whether you play Path or not.”

Green light. As I took off for Mardid, I started brewing the deck list on my phone, and the transition was rather easy at first. Given that you don’t have Path to Exile, going up to 4 Reflector Mage was an easy first choice and Avacyn’s Pilgrim became useful now that you wanted to ramp into Collected Company. Phantasmal Image could be cut since it doesn’t interact too well with Collected Company.

But there was one glaring issue. The mana base. We had 5 rainbow lands in Cavern of Souls and Unclaimed Territory, but losing Ancient Ziggurat and Aether Vial for further mana fixing meant that the rest of your mana base would have to be a fetch-shock composition. You want enough sources to have white and green on turn 1. You then want blue and black on turn 2 for Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage, where if your first play is a green 1-drop, that land has to produce white or blue to go with Meddling Mage. Additionally, you need red on turn 3 for Mantis Rider, so your first green source can’t be a basic Forest, since then it won’t help you cast Mantis Rider. This issue wouldn’t have been much of a problem normally, but since it was Team Unified Modern, Godless Shrine, Overgrown Tomb, Temple Garden, Marsh Flats, and Verdant Catacombs were taken by our Abzan deck and Scalding Tarn, Flooded Strand, Hallowed Fountain, Steam Vents and Sacred Foundry were taken by our U/W/R deck.

Once I got to the Airbnb in Madrid, I, Reid, and Lukas took it upon ourselves to figure out the mana base. It took us some time to figure out the details on how to work it all out. Whether we should, for example, play 2 basic lands without a way to fetch the Plains (since Windswept Heath wasn’t great), or play Horizon Canopy instead. After about 1.5-2 hours, we came up with a mana base where I took both Temple Garden from Reid and Sacred Foundry from Lukas, the 2 least necessary shocklands for both decks. Since there wasn’t any point for Reid to run Marsh Flats anymore, given that he didn’t have Temple Garden, he could run any black fetch since the Abzan deck didn’t run a basic Plains. I could have the Marsh Flats. This was our final list.

5c Humans Company

I tried the deck in a Competitive League on Magic Online as soon as we were done, and managed to 5-0 instantly. The deck felt great! After much deliberation, we finally settled on our decks and went to bed.

Going forward, where you don’t have to think about what cards to share between teammates in a Team Unified Modern event, the deck looks a bit different. With better options for the mana base and access to cards like Path to Exile and Stony Silence, this is my current list.

5c Human Company: Updated

I wasn’t too impressed with the Tireless Tracker at the GP, since you seldom want to spend mana on it early in the game and getting back tempo from cracking Clues is hard without good removal in your deck. It gets a bit better in this list, but with access to 4 Path to Exile post-sideboard, I felt like I wanted more for the grindy matchups. I added 2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to go along with the Collected Company. If I was to play Humans in future Modern events, this is what I would be playing!

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