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Modern Power Rankings – Year in Review

Welcome to a special, year-end edition of the Modern Power Rankings. I’ll start with our normal, weekly rankings before moving into a review of Modern in the year 2020, and a celebration of some of the most memorable decks that came from it. 

 

Header - The Rankings

15. Burn

Simple, effective and classic, there’s a lot to like about a strategy that ignores what the opponent is doing and dedicates all of its resources to a single game plan. Namely, lighting people on fire. 

 

14. Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron is a quality deck that can play roles ranging from midrange to ramp to prison. Chalice of the Void is one of the most powerful cards in Modern, and Eldrazi Tron is one of the very few decks that can use it effectively. 

 

13. Colossus Hammer

The Colossus Hammer deck uses its namesake card paired with Sigarda’s Aid and Puresteel Paladin to make a massive attacker as early as the second turn of the game. The gameplay resembles that of Infect. You play mostly cheap cards, suit up a lethal creature, and sometimes even protect it with Giver of Runes. Puresteel Paladin and Stoneforge Mystic are excellent cards which contribute the combo but can also allow you to win a “fair” game. Lurrus of the Dream-Den provides additional staying power as well. 

 

12. Sultai 

Amidst many different decks powered by Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Sultai is proving itself as one of the best. Compared to other color combinations, Sultai lends itself to more of a well-rounded, midrange game. The black answer cards like Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay and Assassin’s Trophy are highly flexible, meaning that Sultai has solid game against just about everything.

 

11. Mill

I’ve always considered U/B Mill to be a gimmick deck – something that people played mostly because it’s fun. With Zendikar Rising providing Ruin Crab and Maddening Cacophony, the results are forcing me to reconsider my position. Mill is also one of the few strategies that can boast a solidly favorable matchup against Omnath. It might be time to consider a one-of Gaea’s Blessing in your sideboard!

 

10. Temur

Temur has come roaring back onto the list after posting great results over the last two weeks. This deck maintains most of the power for the four color Omnath decks while sporting a tamer mana base that’s more resilient to Boil

 

9. Charbelcher

Charbelcher is a one-card combo that seeks to activate Goblin Charbelcher in a deck that uses only Zendikar Rising double-faced cards as lands. Fast mana like Simian Spirit Guide and Desperate Ritual accelerate the combo, but can also be used to power out devastating permanents like Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void. 

 

8. Dredge (or Crab-Vine)

Dredge has been one of the best decks at a number of times in Modern’s history. Most recently, it was a menace in the first half of 2020 after the printing of Ox of Agonas. Well, Dredge is making a comeback, which it has a way of doing when players start forgetting to bring four to six graveyard hate cards in their sideboards. An alternative to the traditional Dredge deck is Crab-Vine, which uses self-mill like Hedron Crab to fill the graveyard instead of the dredge mechanic itself. 

 

7. Death and Taxes

This week saw major shake-ups in spots number 10 through 15, but one through seven remain set in stone. I see a distinct change as we move from number eight to number seven on these rankings. Decks number eight to 15 (or even into the 20’s if we were to extend the list that far) make up a clear “Tier 2.” The frequency of top results from these top seven decks is much, much higher. You can’t go wrong choosing any of these seven, and if you want to do some targeted practicing for the Modern format, I recommend playing against these decks, as they’re the ones you’re most likely to face in a big tournament. 

Death and Taxes has started falling a bit out of favor after being one of the huge decks after the release of Zendikar Rising. In my opinion, the main story here is players finding other (sometimes more powerful) ways to use Skyclave Apparition. In particular, a lot of players who might have enjoyed Death and Taxes two months ago are now choosing Heliod/Ballista instead. 

 

6. Oops All Spells

Along with Charbelcher, this is the other combo deck featuring the double-faced land/spells. It uses Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer to target itself and dump its library into its graveyard. From there, Creeping Chills drain the opponent while Narcomoebas and Swords of the Meek hit the battlefield, which facilitates the casting of Salvage Titan and the returning of Vengevines to deal the finishing blow. 

Compared to Charbelcher, you get eight “I win” cards instead of four, and you only need to assemble four mana instead of seven.

 

5. Red Prowess

Amidst an infusion of new cards from Zendikar Rising and a lot of sweet strategies putting up results, Red Prowess is still a great deck. It even won the trophy in the first installment of the 2020 Magic Online Championship Series. The density of strong red cards that cost one and two mana (or zero mana, for that matter) just makes this strategy so effective. 

While traditional Burn gets a headache from even the first three points of life gain from Uro, the Red Prowess decks unload massive damage when their creatures go unchecked and can sometimes ignore the Titan. You get out ahead and punish people while they sculpt their hands and lay tapped lands on the battlefield. Sprinkle in some well-placed graveyard hate or a Boil off the sideboard and you have a rock-solid deck that happens to be a good choice against the other strategies on this list.

Red Prowess can come in the form of an aggressive Mono Red, midrange Rakdos and an Izzet build in the middle. All three options are very strong.

 

4. Heliod/Ballista

Modern is home to many creature-based combo decks, including ones built around Devoted Druid plus Vizier of Remedies or Yawgmoth, Thran Physician plus undying creatures. Another combo that’s been making big waves recently is Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista. In the past month, this combo has gone from a fringe strategy to one of the most successful decks in the format. It also won the 2019 Magic Online Championship in the hands of Michael Jacob. 

 

3. Primeval Titan

Primeval Titan is one of the defining cards (and decks) of Modern. If your deck doesn’t have a plan for beating turn four Titan, then you should probably go back to the drawing board. 

While Primeval Titan still shows up in classic Valakut and Amulet of Vigor decks, lately it’s had yet another home on top of that. This comes in techy creature-based decks that feature some combination of Aether Vial, Eladamri’s Call and Elvish Reclaimer. I suppose having all of those other creatures makes for an effective backup plan if ramping straight to a Titan doesn’t work. 

 

2. Death’s Shadow

Death’s Shadow is punishing to its opponents; the card quality is high, it’s customizable and it really rewards the skill of its pilot. With the printing of Zendikar Rising, it gains access to Scourge of the Skyclaves to pair with its namesake card. This density of powerful threats makes an already-great archetype stronger than ever. Plain Rakdos is the most played Death’s Shadow deck, but you’ll see Jund, Grixis, and even Mardu out there as well. This is likely what I’d be playing if I had a big Modern event coming up. 

 

1. Omnath

I think we can all agree that Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is one of the strongest cards in the format right now. Where Modern players don’t always agree is the best home for it. But right now, Omnath is the most popular, and seemingly the most successful.

This deck features four or five colors of mana, powers out Field of the Dead and uses Omnath, Locus of Creation for some unbelievably powerful turns. 

 

Team CFB Modern Year in Review

Andrea – “I would keep on playing Humans. I played it the whole year and have a blast anytime I choose to do so. General Kudro and Skyclave Apparition were great additions for the archetype in 2020 which have helped it remain top tier from its birth in 2018 all the way until now.”

Gab – Here are just a few of the Modern decks Gab has worked on this year: Azorius Control, Stompy, Erayo Mentor, Blue Moon, Death and Taxes, Boros Prison, Omnath Saheeli, Soulherder, Sultai, Urza, Golgari Rock and Heliod/Ballista. Be sure to check out his channel for video content! 

Luis – “Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is one of the coolest new additions – it changed what Primeval Titan decks looked like. Valakut in decks with zero Mountains is really funny… as is Boil killing two Forests and four non-basic lands which aren’t Islands. At the end of 2020, I would probably play Four Color Omnath.”

Martin – “I haven’t played much Modern all year, but I’d play “The Money Tribe” (I’ve been told that that’s the name for the 4C banned cards deck).” I also find the Charbelcher deck cool and it looks like Skyclave Apparition has been good for the format.” Martin named Modern Oops All Spells as one of his Top 8 decks of 2020

 

Header - The Decks of 2020

15. Lurrus Jund

I wasn’t sure if I should make this a top 5, top 10, or a top 15 list. But then the answer came to me – I’ll include however many decks it takes before I can feature Jund!

When Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths first came out, you didn’t have to spend three mana to bring a companion to your hand before casting it. The companions were absolutely bonkers in Modern, and none was more powerful than Lurrus of the Dream-Den.

Playing Jund with fully-powered Lurrus was the best the archetype had felt since the banning of Deathrite Shaman all those years ago. It’s also worth highlighting how impactful Wrenn and Six has been across a variety of archetypes in Modern. 

 

14. Oops All Spells

Balustrade SpyUndercity InformerAgadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the UndercryptTurntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood

The Zendikar Rising double-faced land spells changed Modern forever. In addition to simply being good cards, they facilitate two combo decks: Goblin Charbelcher and Oops All Spells.

 

13. Ponza

Arbor ElfUtopia SprawlPillageGlorybringer

Ponza has fallen in popularity recently, but this was one of the big decks of 2020. High card quality and punishing land destruction gave it favorable matchups against much of the Modern field. 

 

12. Azorius Control

Stoneforge MysticSupreme VerdictJace, the Mind SculptorTeferi, Time Raveler

Azorius Control has always been good, but in the period just before Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath caught on, it was one of the absolute best decks.

 

11. Wilderness Reclamation

Wilderness Reclamation was one of the most memorable homes for Uro, which is one of 2020’s most memorable cards. This deck took the Mystic Sanctuary plus Cryptic Command engine to a whole new level. This deck was very good and was also memorable to me as being extremely complicated to pilot. 

 

10. Mono Red Prowess

Monastery SwiftspearSoul-Scar MageLava DartLightning Bolt

Red Prowess has taken a lot of forms this year. That said, I think sleeving up Monastery Swiftspear, Lightning Bolt and Lava Dart would have served you well in any shell at any point in 2020.

 

9. Heliod/Ballista

Heliod, Sun-CrownedWalking BallistaSpike FeederConclave Mentor

The infinite combo of Walking Ballista and Heliod, Sun-Crowned remains highly impressive to this day. This deck won the Magic Online Championship Series in the hands of Michael Jacob, which was the second-biggest Magic tournament of the year, after the World Championship back in February. It also spawned a headache-inducing amount of debate over how Magic Online players ought to hand infinite combos on the software.

 

8. Death and Taxes

Skyclave ApparitionAether VialGiver of RunesFlickerwisp

Skyclave Apparition is one of the most memorable cards of 2020, and Death and Taxes is probably the best home for it. What’s particularly special is watching a deck full of two mana 2/2s win in a format with Uro, Urza and turn three win combos. 

 

7. Death’s Shadow

Death's ShadowScourge of the SkyclavesTemur Battle RageThoughtseize

Death’s Shadow has been played for a long time in a variety of forms. However, with the printing of Scourge of the Skyclaves, the strategy has been taken to a new level.

 

6. Lurrus Burn

Lurrus of the Dream-DenGoblin GuideEidolon of the Great RevelLightning Bolt

Remember when Burn was the best deck in Modern? Remember when you knew you were going to face Burn in half of your matches, sideboarded five life gain cards and often lost anyway? Lurrus of the Dream-Den remembers. It turns out that when you take an already-great strategy and give it a free, massive upgrade, that strategy will win a lot.

 

5. Primeval Titan

Primeval TitanDryad of the Ilysian GroveCastle GarenbrigOnce Upon a Time

Primeval Titan probably didn’t need any upgrades to remain competitive in 2020, but it sure got them. Castle Garenbrig makes your Titans cost five mana, and sometimes come down as early as turn three. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove lets you trigger Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in your non-red Field of the Dead deck. There was even a period at the beginning of 2020 when you could play this deck with Once Upon a Time!

 

4. Omnath

Omnath, Locus of CreationUro, Titan of Nature's WrathField of the DeadWrenn and Six

Yesterday I read a tweet from Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl which started with, “I accidentally played a format where Omnath was legal today.”

Yes, Omnath, Locus of Creation will surely go down in history as one of the most flagrantly broken cards ever printed. It was quickly banned in Standard and Historic and has remained in the number one position of the Modern Power Rankings longer than any other deck ever has. 

 

3. Snow

 

Don’t forget how strong the snow decks were when Arcum’s Astrolabe was still legal. I wrote the following in an installment back in July: “Writing the Modern Power Rankings has been difficult lately, because decks number two to 30 all feel very close in quality, and it’s difficult to nail down an accurate ranking. However, one thing that’s been easy is ranking Snow as a clear number one.”

Snow got to play an impeccable mana base with access to any number of colors of mana, in addition to Mystic Sanctuary and Field of Ruin. Ice-Fang Coatl punished anybody who was trying to attack with creatures while Cryptic Command and other permission spells punished anybody who was not. 

 

2. Lurrus Red Prowess

Lurrus of the Dream-DenMonastery SwiftspearMishra's BaubleLightning Bolt

Excluding the single best Modern deck of 2020 (which blows everything else out of the water), the Lurrus era was the highest power level that the format reached this year and Red Prowess was the best Lurrus deck. It combined incredible speed with incredible staying power and had virtually no weaknesses. 

 

1. Urza

Yes, it’s a distant memory by now, but at the start of 2020 you could actually play with Urza, Oko, Mox Opal and Arcum’s Astrolabe together in Modern, and all in the same deck no less! Simic Urza was completely broken and led to one of the unhealthiest metagames that I can remember in any format, ever. 

This is a screenshot from the results of a Starcitygames.com Team Modern Open back in January. I particularly like the fifth place team, which simply brought three copies of Simic Urza.

All in all, I’m grateful that we no longer have to deal with Mox Opal, Arcum’s Astrolabe, Once Upon a Time, Oko or unreasonably powerful companions in Modern. I think the format is in a great place going into 2021, and despite Omnath hanging onto the number one spot for a long time now, I truly think that Death’s Shadow, Primeval Titan decks, Red Prowess and Heliod/Ballista can give it a run for its money. 

In the end, Modern is a format that people play in order to get a taste of some of the crazy powerful things that are possible when you combine so many of Magic’s best cards. So even when it comes to cards which are now banned or weakened, we can still appreciate the memories.

Happy New Year!

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