The Modern it is a Changin’
Reigning in the broken.
Before the ban, I would have considered both Dredge and Infect the “Big Dogs” of Modern, and the restrictions have clearly taken those decks down a notch. To be fair, Dredge and Infect were the two decks that I played competitively up until the ban.
When Push comes to shove…
Aether Revolt also brought Modern a powerful new tool in the form of Fatal Push. The card is a big deal. Modern is primarily a “creatures matter” format and a 1-mana removal spell with very little drawback is huge.
I cannot stress enough how important these two changes have been to the formation of the new Modern metagame, on top of which sits Jund Shadow—the new best deck in the format.
What is a Best Deck?
To say a deck is the “best deck” carries a lot of weight. Such a statement will inevitably spark certain reactions from a reader or listener. So, allow me to be a little more specific about what I do and don’t mean when I throw around a term like “best deck.”
Let’s talk about what I don’t mean first.
When somebody says a format has a best deck, the first irrational leap that a listener might make is to assume a best deck is an unhealthy thing. When we talk about best decks in a format, the conversation tends to slide quickly into a discussion about whether or not cards need to be banned.
I’m not interested in having that discussion. Today’s conversation is about how things are and not a suggestion for how they ought to be in the future.
Secondly, Modern is a gigantic format and there are a plethora of great options for tournaments. The problem with “best decks” is arises when they stifle diversity by virtue of being too much better than the alternatives. In Modern, there are so many powerful options that, while I believe Death’s Shadow is the best deck, I don’t think it is by a wide enough margin that it’s prohibitive.
I would argue that when it comes to talking about “best decks,” there are two important qualities they tend to have.
- The deck is proactive, powerful, and capable of stealing games. The “best deck” tends to give a player a lot of opportunities to win.
- The best deck tends to be universally understood to be excellent. In that sense it sees a lot of play and tends to reshape the metagame around it.
Basically, when I talk about a format-defining best deck, I’m thinking about a deck that is really powerful, sees a lot of play, and its presence warps the metagame around it.
I also don’t believe that having a best deck is necessarily a bad thing. There is always a best deck, regardless of whether the metagame is healthy or unhealthy. The extent of the warping thus becomes the bar by which we measure whether the format is a success or failure.
During Modern Eldrazi Winter it was clear that Eldrazi was the best deck. But it was also obvious that the degree to which the Eldrazi decks warped the metagame was unhealthy. The format was Eldrazi versus anti-Eldrazi strategies. Eldrazi was so good and so popular that playing decks that were not inherently good against them was a mistake.
Jund Shadow hasn’t had that kind of effect yet. At this point I would argue that it is a net positive to have Shadow as the boogeyman.
What Makes Jund Death’s Shadow the Best Deck?
The reason I would argue that Jund Shadow is the best deck is that it does a really great job of meeting my first (and most important) qualification of what a best deck is and does.
It is powerful, proactive, and gives players the opportunity to win a lot of games.
Jund Death’s Shadow
The list comes courtesy of my Ann Arbor teammate Andrew Elenbogen, who has put in a ton of reps with the deck. His list is really finely tuned. He was also kind enough to loan me the cards so I could do a Jund Shadow video:
Jund Shadow is so good because it does the thing that every busted deck does—it cheats on mana in a unique way.
Trading life for mana.
Death’s Shadow decks generate mana advantage by paying life for things that normally cost mana. And when has that ever been good?
Mana is the first and foremost constraining resource in Magic. Everything has a mana cost and mana generation is “fixed” to “play one land per turn.” Cards are also weighted based on how much mana tends to generate an appropriate effect.
For 1 mana, you get a 2/1. For 2 mana, you get a 2/2. For 3 mana you get a 3/3, etc. Obviously, in Constructed MTG you play with the cards that have the best mana efficiency.
The Death’s Shadow deck really plays with the concept of trading life for efficient mana production.
Jund Shadow really only plays 8 main-deck threats—’Goyfs and Shadows—and tutors to make sure you find them.
The rest of the cards in the deck quickly fill the graveyard up with all the card types and pay life to dig for threats. It is easy to have truly gigantic creatures on the battlefield by turn 2 or 3 while also interacting with the opponent’s hand (discard) and board (removal).
It is also convenient that because the creatures are so huge, they end the game quickly, which gives the opponent few draw steps to get out of trouble.
If you were wondering what has changed in Modern over the past few months or where we were headed, this is it. There are obviously other flavors of Shadow that attempt to shore up various weakness by adding or subtracting colors. But the Jund Shadow is the flagship Shadow deck.
Powerful, straightforward—and deadly effective.
Interact, trade cards, and end the game in a couple of swings. Seems great! Whether you are playing Shadow or fighting against it, make sure you have a plan for decks like these because they will only continue to become more popular in the coming weeks.