When looking at the current modern metagame and how to prepare for Star City Games Regionals, I decided to do a little digging on what was finishing well,and see if I could develop a plan to attack the meta. My results are…inconclusive, as one might conclude for the modern format, but here’s what I was able to collect and deduce.
Using all the data from the past few weeks of large modern events (SCG Opens, GPs, SCG Classics), I compiled a list of all the decks that finished in the top 32 of these events to see if I could get a picture of modern at the current moment. Here is every archetype and the frequency it appears in various tournaments in a list from most common to least common at the top tables.
Jeskai Control: 12
Mardu Pyro*: 5
Hollow One: 4
Death’s Shadow (Grixis+Mardu): 3
GW Company: 3*
Blue Moon: 2
UW Control: 2
Amulet Titan: 2
UR Prison*: 2
Eldrazi Tron: 1
Eldrazi Taxes: 1
UR Pyro: 1
Ad Nauseum: 1
BW Control: 1
RG Hollow Vine: 1
So looking at the data, we have 26 different archetypes. 26 distinctly different decks that have all shown the ability to win. Welcome to modern, this is pretty much how it has always been. Some people love it, others hate it, but one thing is for certain, there is a large swath of powerful decks that can lead to a positive win percentage and put you into a top 8. This is also why modern can feel like a matchup roulette and many players feel that matches are won and lost at the pairings board. But this is all old news. What can we gain by knowing this information? What can we figure out about the format?
First there should be a couple things to denote about this list. Any deck with an asterisk next to it is a deck that won one of the events…except for GW Company, which only has an asterisk because 2 of those 3 results are Todd Stevens. That deck is likely not great but Todd Stevens is so take that result with a grain of salt. Mardu Pyro put on a clinic by winning an Open without breaking so much as a sweat, while Humans is likely one of, if not the best deck in the format, winning the following SCG Open. Storm took down an SCG Classic in the hands of Caleb Scherer, perhaps the most well known storm pilot and Columbia native (although he possibly travels too much to claim Columbia as home anymore, but I digress). Lastly, the other SCG Classic was taken down by UR Prison. So, if you want to win an SCG Classic, just play blue/red. You can thank me when you win the next Classic based off of this advice.
On a more serious note, surely there is a best deck to play when expecting a meta like this one…right? Well that’s what I hope to find out. With Regionals around the corner, I hope to not only help others find how to attack the format, but also figure out what deck I’m going to play! I recently reached the finals of an SCG IQ with Jund, convincingly going 4-0-2 (double intentional draw) in the swiss and cruising to the finals where I met Eggs and Jordan Lidsky. Jordan is a good player and we had a sort of comical match, as we’re both friends, but ultimately it’s a tough matchup that I couldn’t win without a strong dose of luck. That didn’t happen, but the deck felt really strong. You can find my list here. So here’s the big question, if it isn’t broke, why fix it? Why not just make a change or two and run it back? Perhaps that’s a good decision, as Jund isn’t just showing up because of me, it’s been performing fairly well at large events as well. There is a multitude of reasons that I don’t actually love Jund at the moment, and here they are. 1. The presence of Jeskai. It’s not a good matchup. Winnable, yes. I beat it round one in the IQ, but it was super close. I cheesed game 2 with a well timed Choke, and won game 3 because my opponent kept a risky 1-land hand. I had multiple good hands and know how to navigate that matchup, so it went well but I wouldn’t want to face that deck multiple times a tournament with the trimmed out discard package that I was packing. 2. I’m not certain the Humans matchup is great. It feels like it’s probably okay but there is only so much removal that I could pack, and Freebooter plus Meddling Mage can cause a couple issues. I don’t really want to be caught with a bad humans matchup. 3. I also don’t think that it’s incredibly well positioned against some of the decks currently being played, a la Mardu Pyro and TitanShift. Honestly I’d be okay if I never saw a Primeval Titan anywhere near a match I was playing again (sorry Peter!). It is because of these reasons that I am likely not playing Jund at SCG Regionals this weekend. So then where does that leave us?
Humans is likely the best deck, but I don’t have the cards for that deck or a spare $500 to accrue them, so that is not an option, but even if it was, I am not sure I’d be into it. Again, the amount of Jeskai is concerning and it’s just not my style anyway so I wouldn’t consider it either way. Humans seems well positioned for any of the combo decks, and is (I think) easily the best aggressive style deck for the meta. I think it’s a very strong option but is weak to things like Jeakai (wraths and infinite kill spells), Blood Moon decks (have you seen that mana base, hot damn), and tron (I think at least…this is more speculation). I don’t love being weak to these things, but it’s certainly one of the best decks despite these weaknesses.
Jeskai is interesting because it’s so interactive and just got a new toy in Teferi. I’m not sold on the five mana walker but the format appears to be in a good place for him at the moment, so it’s worth it to play right now I think. Jace is still the most powerful walker ever printed so I would probably look at a 1-1 split, even though I’d love to find room for an Ajani Vengeant instead. But given that this format seems to be about going wide (Humans, Mardu Pyromancer, Affinity, Hollow One), I’m not so interested in the big cat right now. He was much better in the death’s shadow era, when decks were generally playing big threats and bolt was down in numbers. I do like Electrolyze right now, as it’s built in 2 or 3-for-1 is huge game at the moment. People going wide are going to hate it and it does a good job of shrinking an opponent’s life total when you need it to while replacing itself. Search for Azanta, while it is a do-nothing two drop, is pretty powerful once you get it going, so the prospect of that is kind of nice, though it is slow. Jeskai has good matchups against a decent swath of the format it would seem. Humans and Jund being good matchups make this choice particularly appealing. It’s also decent against Pyromancer, Burn, Affinity, and storm. Jeskai just might be the best fair deck in the format at the moment in the hands of a skilled pilot, and something that I’m very interested in sleeving up this weekend. It’s weaknesses come in the forms of Tron and decks that are playing a lot of discard or combo that it doesn’t have enough interaction for. Ad Nauseum, Tron, and Mardu Pyromancer’s best draws are going to be hard to fight. Jeskai can handle most of the nonsense of the format as well as it has removal and counters, giving it a myriad of answers to any problem your opponent can present (Cryptic Command is a hell of a card, huh?). One of the problems that Jeskai has in my mind compared to Jund is its lack of ability to close the game. Jund at least has a Tarmogoyf, which can clock opponents once you disrupt their gameplan. Jeskai has…Snapcaster Mage? Eh? It ain’t great is what I’m saying. Still, Jeskai is one of my favorites for Regionals.
What about something that goes over the top of all this? There isn’t anything too aggressive or low to the ground happening. Burn is not that popular, neither is Infect, two natural enemies of Tron. Tron is seemingly very well positioned, which terrifies me but it’s true. Tron is poised for a resurgence and it won’t be pretty. Its natural predators suppressed, and it’s positive matchups doing well is all tron could ask for. The deck has so many 80/20 and 20/80 matchups that it really is a deck that wins or loses at the pairings board (or so it feels like), and if you can get out of the first few rounds, tron looks well positioned to do well at the top tables. That said, Tron is a trap you won’t see me falling into, as I’ve been burned too many times by that deck…and my Chromatic Stars and Spheres are currently loaned out. So there’s that. This deck also has a fail rate that I don’t particularly enjoy. You need the right mix of cards and if that doesn’t come together, you’re not doing anything powerful anytime soon. I think Tron is a bit of a gamble (it always is), but this time it has a pretty big payoff.
Looking at what Tron does, other big mana decks are also kind of appealing, especially ones that are less reliant on assembling a certain amount of very specific cards. TitanShift and BreachTitan are on that list along with Bring to Light Shift and old school RUG Shift. These decks all have a tough-ish time with Meddling Mage, but are very powerful options for the current meta. They crush Jeskai, Jund, Tron, and have a reasonable win condition for the rest of the “nonsense decks” of the format (let’s face it, someone is going to show up with a brew containing Fateful Showdown). I’m less convinced with Valakut decks unless they contain a Titan or four, but I don’t think that blue Scapeshift decks are necessarily a bad choice right now. The amount of discard would be something that concerns me but those decks tend to be slow enough that a top deck Scapeshift will win the game in short order. As discussed previously though, I’m not thrilled with this idea with the amount of Blood Moons running around, in the main decks especially. Mardu Pyro or just Blue Moon decks can be more than annoying and make this less appealing.
So what about Mardu Pyromancer? It crushed an SCG Open, and has put up decent numbers across the board in large tournaments. Bedlam Reveler is apparently the real deal. Tied for the sixth most played deck in our list, I think it is at the very least, positioned way better than burn. The discard, pyromancer draws, and Reveler refueling you is a powerful combination of cards and creates a small army of tokens that can overwhelm most decks. Blood Moon also allows for some cheese wins and is something that the opponent will have to play around all game. Kolaghan’s Command is still one of the most powerful tools in the format and it’s no exception here. Getting back Pyromancers and Revelers as well as just being a 2-for-1 is a great baseline, and the ceiling of that card is game winning. Mardu gives you good game vs a lot of the format. Blood Moon can hose Jeskai, Humans, and any other random deck, while Pyromancer going wide is kind of a nightmare scenario for Jund and other attrition decks. The discard spells are great against combo like Storm and help against Tron, but big mana is still a problem for this deck. One of the reasons I’m not sold on it, is just the fact that it can’t apply pressure THAT fast. Pyromancer eventually does a good Tarmogoyf impression, but it’s not ideal. Also, the card advantage engine requires a bit of enabling, which I don’t love but Reveler is pretty powerful. Honestly, if I didn’t dislike the card Faithless Looting so much, and if I had more reps, I would definitely consider Mardu Pyromancer this weekend. It’s a good choice and gives it’s pilot a lot of game. I may not play it, but it definitely gets my stamp of approval for SCG Regionals.
As for combo, Storm is fine, although I think the format is a bit hostile to it at the moment. Occasionally one will sneak into a top 8, or win a Classic, but overall I do not like this as a choice. Having a mediocre Jeskai matchup and a very hard humans matchup is not appealing to me. Storm is still a pretty decent choice, although I won’t be considering it.
Affinity is exactly is as it always has been. Powerful, fast, and pretty hate-able. I think it will always be a fine choice, as it has been in the past. I have played it a few times but Affinity is a deck that I don’t feel that comfortable with. I also don’t love it in the world with Electrolyze and Pyromancer tokens, but all that is pretty beatable honestly. The amount of Stony Silence is down as is Ancient Grudge so maybe it isn’t a bad choice.
Hollow One and Boggles are too high variance for me, I’m not that interested. They could be good but I’m not sold on them. I’m not saying they are a bad choice (well, yeah I am), but there other reasons besides the variance. I think Hollow One is better positioned than Boggles, but they’re both too meh for my tastes. Also a playset of Goblin Lore is $100 so forget that!
Most of the other decks listed are pretty fringe and only a good choice if you are very well versed with them, or maybe not a good choice at all. GW Company? If your name is Todd Stevens, sure play that. Otherwise stay away. Infect? Only if you’re just in love with Blighted Agent and want to show off your Judge Promo Noble Hierarchs. Thinking about sleeving up Death’s Shadow? The sun has finally gone below the horizon, friends, Death’s doesn’t have a shadow anymore. Merfolk? More like Mer-f*%#. I’m kidding but also kind of not. These don’t seem to be good choices, but going rogue has some marginal perks to it. That said, if you’re going to go rogue, you better be doing something powerful (like Fateful Showdown and Griselbrand).
All in all, I think my conclusion is that modern is in a really open space. There’s many fine choices, and plenty of not so good choices that can do well. Good choices for this weekend are probably Jeskai, Humans, Jund, Tron, Primeval Titan decks, and Affinity. I’d be hard pressed to play anything else, honestly, but that doesn’t mean that other decks can’t perform well or even win! I hope this helps readers make an informed decision for Regionals, and going forward, and we here at Dead On Board hope to see you in Kansas City!