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2016 EVOLUTION OF MODERN JOAO CHOCA 21/12/2016

2016 has been a very interesting year for Modern lovers. The format has changed so much that some might even forget Splinter Twin was still legal at the start of the year!

 

After the Treasure Cruise ban in early 2015, Modern actually stayed reasonably stagnant for the rest of the year. Grand Prix (GP) Pittsburgh was the last Modern GP of 2015 (in November) and the Top 8 consisted of three Twin decks, two Affinity players, a Valakut deck, Grixis and White Weenie. This gave us a decent slice of the metagame - Twin at the top and a combination of aggro, control and combo underneath it. The next eight decks contained Affinity and seven different archetypes, showing that the format was healthy, to some degree.

 

As we cautiously emerged into 2016, completely unaware of the fact it would be a year known for the deaths of (too many) loved personalities and terrible political decisions, some of us were trying to work out where Modern was supposed to go. Amulet of Vigor, Goryo’s Vengeance, Simian Spirit Guide and Mox Opal were all mentioned as possible bans, and many suggested Splinter Twin due to its dominance, but surely Wizards wouldn’t ban the safety valve of the format, right?

 

… Right?

 

The January Banned and Restricted Announcement

 

Summer Bloom is banned and everyone rejoices! Some people were joking that Splinter Twin got banned, but they were very obviously joking. I mean, there’s no way this would happen! At some point, we had to check the announcement for ourselves to confirm this madness.

 

 

Oh.

 Social media exploded that day as one of the biggest shocks in Modern history hit us. Suddenly Modern was wide open, the possibilities were endless and even the Twin players were happy to explore this new format, if a little begrudgingly.

 

January Set Release: Oath of the Gatewatch

 

Except this new format got new toys. And these new toys didn’t want to go unnoticed:

 Thought-knot Seer  Eldrazi Displacer  Reality Smasher

 

What we thought would be a healthy format quickly devolved into a format dominated by the most broken deck of our era, as the Eldrazi reared their ugly heads. The colourless version of Eldrazi that did so well at the Pro Tour was good, but it had nothing on UW - UW felt like playing a Legacy deck in Standard.

 

UW Eldrazi - Kayure Patel - Grand Prix Bologna 1st Place

 

4 Adarkar Wastes

4 Eldrazi Temple

4 Eye of Ugin

3 Flooded Strand

2 Cavern of Souls

2 Hallowed Fountain

1 Caves of Koilos

1 Ghost Quarter

1 Island

1 Plains

1 Vesuva

1 Wastes

4 Drowner of Hope

4 Eldrazi Displacer

4 Eldrazi Mimic

4 Eldrazi Skyspawner

4 Reality Smasher

4 Thought-Knot Seer

3 Endless One

1 Phyrexian Metamorph

 

4 Path to Exile

2 Dismember

1 Cyclonic Rift

Sideboard

2 Hurkyl’s Recall

2 Rest in Peace

2 Spellskite

2 Stony Silence

2 Stubborn Denial

1 All is Dust

1 Dismember

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

1 Gut Shot

1 Pithing Needle

 

 

UW was ruthless, fast (turn two/three kills were possible) and had the late-game engines to keep up with anything thrown at it (Eye or Displacer). It held 50% of the metagame comfortably and claimed a huge number of GP Top 8 slots in a very small amount of time.

 

Modern was in a dark place, despite attendances spiking further than before. Players wanted bans, they wanted unbans… They wanted something and fast and Wizards were ready come the April announcement.

 

The April Banned and Restricted Announcement

 

Eye of Ugin is banned.

 

Never has a Modern-related sentence been praised with such fervour as this one. Wizards apologised for basically their worst mistake in recent years and made up to us by throwing control players a couple of bones - Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision came off the banlist, leading to the excitement they actually wanted in January!

 

There was much excitement about both unbans, leading to some brews around Sword which never came to fruition. However, Ancestral Vision took off faster, particularly due to the printing of a powerful planeswalker.

 

Midrange/Control Spring

 Nahiri, the Harbinger (247)

 

Nahiri gave Jeskai Control the edge it needed to function as a removal/counterspell-heavy control deck with the capability of ending the game quickly against matchups it was unfavoured against. Having some of your removal spells/card filtering double up as a suspend 2 ‘I win’ button (due to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn usually ending games in a single hit) allowed the deck a whole new angle of attack.

 

GP Los Angeles was the first GP of this iteration of the format and was heavily skewed towards the slower/fairer decks of the format - Jund, Nahiri Control and Bant Eldrazi. There were two Affinity decks in the Top 8, but the unfairer end of the format was currently stifled and Modern was enjoyable. GP Charlotte followed, again with midrange/control posting the better results, but with Ad Nauseam claiming the title and Death’s Shadow Zoo showing up in the Top 8 as the more linear strategies found success. Sam Black, who piloted the Death’s Shadow deck to the top 8, claimed it to be one of the best decks he had ever played, earning the deck a major breakthrough after a year of moderate online play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death’s Shadow Zoo - Sam Black - Grand Prix Charlotte Top 8

 

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Windswept Heath

2 Verdant Catacombs

1 Arid Mesa

1 Blood Crypt

1 Godless Shrine

1 Overgrown Tomb

1 Sacred Foundry

1 Stomping Ground

1 Wooded Foothills

 

 

 

4 Death’s Shadow

4 Monastery Swiftspear

4 Street Wraith

4 Wild Nacatl

3 Steppe Lynx

 

4 Gitaxian Probe

4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Mutagenic Growth

4 Temur Battle Rage

3 Become Immense

3 Thoughtseize

2 Lightning Bolt

Sideboard

3 Hooting Mandrills

2 Inquisition of Kozilek

1 Ancient Grudge

1 Dismember

1 Forest

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

1 Lightning Helix

1 Natural State

1 Phyrexian Unlife

1 Pyroclasm

1 Stony Silence

1 Tarmogoyf

 

 

Death’s Shadow Zoo was particularly revolutionary as it marked the first successful ‘48 card deck’ in Modern. The idea is that playing full sets of Probe, Wraith and Bauble allow you to cycle through your deck for ‘free’ quickly so you get to your relevant spells faster. This concept was attempted many times, but this deck utilises both that and the fact the mechanics involved help you get below 13 life to make a coherent deck capable of killing as early as turn 2, but also somewhat consistently on turn 3.

 

The first WMCQ in England showed an unusually high number of Infect at the top tables and this was the first sign that the meta was about to change, at least for us Brits. With no bans in June, the unfair decks were allowed to thrive and reclaim the larger share of the metagame at the expense of more reactive strategies.

 

Triple GP and Metagame Shifts

 

The end of August marked a trio of Modern GPs on the same weekend - Lille, Indianapolis and Guangzhou. Funnily enough, each was a story of its own:

 

In Europe, aggro-combo decks took to the main stage with Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo both getting their breakout performances. Due to this, Jund saw a resurgence (as it boasts reasonably good matchups against both of these decks) and linear combo finished 9th and 10th (Ad Nauseam and Amulet Titan), showing that the speed of Modern had increased since the previous GP.

 

In the US, RG Breach had a very good weekend, with aggro-combo decks claiming half the Top 8 slots. Adding Simian Spirit Guide to RG Valakut turned the deck into a turn three/four kill deck, which again demonstrated the need to be fast in this format.

 

China was a very different world, with Burn doing very well and six other different decks joining it in the Top 8. These decks included Delver, Jund, Pyromancer Storm and Goryo’s Vengeance Reanimator, showing that the format required either an extremely high level of interaction or the ability to end games on turn 3. Modern was no longer a turn 4 format.

 

As we started seeing Kaladesh spoilers, the meta was mostly topped by Death’s Shadow Zoo, RG Breach, Infect, Jund and Affinity. You needed a very good reason to not play one of these five decks for England’s final WMCQ based on results alone. Nahiri went from tier one to very far behind the times as Modern quickly adapted to the much faster environment.

 

Kaladesh and Today

 

Then this happened:

 (109) Cathartic Reunion

 

When this card was spoiled, the team basically stopped whatever they were doing and immediately went to Dredge as the top dog of the format. Both events in London before the spoilers - the MKM series and the WMCQ - were won by Dredge and the deck was about to get a card capable of discarding dredgers and putting up to 18 cards in the graveyard on turn two added to its arsenal, allowing for a whole new level of consistency. Dredge has, in fact, lived up to the hype and we have a reasonably good idea of where Modern stands right now.

 

The format is dominated by turn two/three aggro-combo decks. The top decks in the format are Infect and Dredge - they are both capable of killing you on turn three (Infect sometimes even on turn 2) and will almost certainly kill you by turn four even through some interaction. A horde of other linear decks follow closely behind, such as Affinity, Death’s Shadow Zoo, Kiln Fiend Combo or Burn, all of which are capable of obtaining turn 3 kills or, in the case of Burn and Affinity, sacrifice a little speed for resiliency (Etched Champion, Arcbound Ravager) or powerful hate cards (Eidolon of the Great Revel).

 

Control decks without a combo aren’t good. Traditional control decks with plenty of countermagic and removal are simply too clunky for this format and won’t get the job done. Unless you are very experienced with one of these decks (Jeskai Nahiri, UW or Grixis), you need to have very specific good draws to be able to compete. Being reactive in this format is very hard as you need to have the correct answers very early, since the linear decks are all capable of turn three kills. If you build your control deck to beat the top three, it’s unlikely you can also boast a good matchup against the other decks - and since the top decks are usually around 50% at most, that leaves you cold to the other half of the format.

 

If you want to play combo-less control, you need hard locks. The closest things to control the format has are Lantern and Sun and Moon, which both rely on permanent hate pieces to lock a game up - be it Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon or Lantern of Insight and Ghoulcaller’s Bell, both these decks have the ability to stop their opponents from playing Magic.

 

The Metagame at a Glance

 

Dredge

Dredge - Henry Channing - RPTQ Aether Revolt Top 8

 

4 Wooded Foothills

3 Bloodstained Mire

3 Copperline Gorge

2 Blood Crypt

2 Dakmor Salvage

2 Mountain

2 Stomping Ground

1 Mana Confluence

1 Steam Vents

 

 

 

 

4 Bloodghast

4 Golgari Grave-Troll

4 Insolent Neonate

4 Narcomoeba

4 Prized Amalgam

4 Stinkweed Imp

1 Scourge Devil

 

4 Cathartic Reunion

4 Faithless Looting

3 Conflagrate

3 Life from the Loam

1 Darkblast

Sideboard

3 Thoughtseize

2 Nature’s Claim

2 Ravenous Trap

1 Abrupt Decay

1 Ancient Grudge

1 Collective Brutality

1 Darkblast

1 Destructive Revelry

1 Golgari Charm

1 Gnaw to the Bone

1 Lightning Axe

 

 

Dredge is very explosive and aims to, well, Dredge a lot. It is capable of producing 6-12 power on turn two reasonably consistently and eight of the twelve main threats are recursive. The deck also has a powerful ‘sweeper’ in Conflagrate and a way to grind games via Life from the Loam and massive Golgari Grave-Trolls.

 

Dredge usually wins the first game, then struggles through hate in games two and three. Typically, Dredge can punch through the first piece of hate (through cards like Nature’s Claim or Thoughtseize), but the second piece poses a lot more problems. Thankfully the format contains a lot of powerful weapons to contain the menace.

 

Good Hate: Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace, Ravenous Trap, Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Leyline of the Void (on turn 0), Anger of the Gods, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

(Grafdigger’s Cage specifically is a lot weaker as it doesn’t stop them dredging or making 10/10 Trolls, which is a legit backup plan)

 

How to Beat: You will want to exile Amalgams or both Narcomoeba and Bloodghasts if you have 1 or 2 Surgicals respectively. Always be aware of how much damage they can Conflagrate for if they have a Loam in the graveyard and remember that neither Bloodghast nor Amalgam (when it comes in) can block. You might need to account for a surprise Narcomoeba as a chump blocker, but otherwise Dredge struggles to find blockers in a timely manner. Exiling the graveyard is better than interacting with Reunion or Neonate through countermagic or discard, as they can still try again in future turns if you don’t take care of the root problem. Post-sideboard Dredge usually has three to five ways of blowing up permanents (Rest in Peace, Leyline, etc) and three to five ways to discard Traps/Surgicals.

 

Infect

Infect - Nicolas D’Ambrose - Grand Prix Dallas Top 8

 

4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Breeding Pool

2 Forest

2 Pendelhaven

2 Windswept Heath

2 Wooded Foothills

1 Botanical Sanctum

1 Misty Rainforest

 

4 Blighted Agent

4 Glistener Elf

4 Noble Hierarch

 

4 Become Immense

4 Gitaxian Probe

4 Might of Old Krosa

4 Mutagenic Growth

4 Vines of Vastwood

3 Blossoming Defence

2 Distortion Strike

1 Dismember

1 Spell Pierce

1 Twisted Image

Sideboard

3 Nature’s Claim

2 Dispel

2 Spellskite

2 Twisted Image

1 Dismember

1 Dryad Arbor

1 Spell Pierce

1 Sylvan Scrying

1 Viridian Corrupter

1 Wild Defiance

 

 

 

Infect barely has enough countermagic to be called a tempo deck, although it has the added capability of explosive kills. The printing of Blossoming Defence has improved the overall quality of the deck, but the deck has been solidly tier one even before Kaladesh.

 

Good Hate: Chalice of the Void, Spellskite, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Dismember (any other cheap removal), Pyroclasm, Electrolyze, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, non-damage spot removal, Ancient Grudge, Melira, Sylvok Outcast

 

How to Beat: You want to block often and force Infect to act first in order to tie their mana up. If you have a damage spell, you should never use it mid-combat, as Infect can use a pump spell to both effectively counter your spell and kill you in one go - in these cases, it’s often better to declare no blocks, take the infect damage and aim all removal at the creature at the end of turn. Infect usually only runs 13 creatures with the namesake mechanic (4 Nexus, 4 Elf, 4 Agent and 1 Corrupter), so heavy removal decks can have a reasonably plan of ‘kill everything until they run out of threats’. Don’t pick a fight you aren’t favoured to win and you should be fine. The key is in making them move first as responding is usually better than initiating.

 

 

 

 

 

Affinity

Affinity - Joao Choca - MEGA GPT Birmingham Top 4

 

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Darksteel Citadel

4 Inkmoth Nexus

3 Glimmervoid

1 Island

1 Mountain

 

4 Cranial Plating

4 Mox Opal

4 Springleaf Drum

3 Galvanic Blast

 

4 Ornithopter

3 Memnite

4 Signal Pest

4 Vault Skirge

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Steel Overseer

3 Master of Etherium

2 Etched Champion

 

 

 

 

Sideboard

2 Ancient Grudge

2 Ghirapur AEther Grid

2 Spellskite

1 Chalice of the Void

1 Dismember

1 Etched Champion

1 Ravenous Trap

1 Relic of Progenitus

1 Sea Gate Wreckage

1 Spell Pierce

1 Thoughtseize

1 Tormod’s Crypt

 

 

Affinity has been around since it was originally printed in Mirrodin and has remained tier one to tier two in Extended/Modern for pretty close to the entirety of both formats. Affinity is tricky to play, trickier to play against and will often punish those who are unaware of how the cards interact.

 

Good Hate: Stony Silence, Shatterstorm, Supreme Verdict, Ancient Grudge, Electrolyze, cheap removal

(notably not Anger of the Gods as Arcbound Ravager and Etched Champion give Affinity ways to make it less of an issue)

 

How to Beat: Similarly to Infect, you should respond rather than initiate, especially if a Ravager is involved. If your opponent has two active Ravagers, you will need several removal spells cast on the same turn to make sure you win the fight. The key cards are Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating, both of which are capable of dealing a lot of damage from nowhere. You also need to respect Inkmoth’s ability to ten you with either of the aforementioned cards. Damage based sweepers are reasonably poor, as they interact badly with both Ravager and Etched Champion.

 

Jund

Jund is the control deck of the format, boasting the best interactive spells (Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize and Lightning Bolt). Jund thrives against creature-based decks and struggles against spell-based decks. In a nutshell, Jund is only interested in playing the best cards at each cost and hopes raw power is enough to get it across the line.

 

Good Hate: Ancestral Vision, Etched Champion, 4+cmc planeswalkers (or noncreature permanents), Sphinx’s Revelation

How to Beat: Jund is going to do much of the same each game - it wants to discard a key spell, make a cheap threat (Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant or Scavenging Ooze) and then keep pointing both discard at you and removal at your permanents whilst the threat shortens the amount of time you have to set up. Liliana is a powerful lock piece and playing off the top is something Jund enjoys, as the average card in Jund is so much more powerful than the average card in other decks. You want either card advantage or to successfully go under/over Jund - so either kill them very quickly or have a strong late-game.

(153) Tarmogoyf

 

 

Bant Eldrazi

Bant is the modern version of UW Eldrazi, where you replace Eye of Ugin by Noble Hierarch - a replacement which is somewhat similar in function, but easier to interact with. Bant Eldrazi is similar to Jund, except it changes a lot of interaction for more threats. It’s ‘god’ draw of turn two Thought-Knot Seer into turn three Reality Smasher is still a strong ‘get out of jail free’ strategy that is hard to interact with and ends the game quickly.

Good Hate: Blood Moon, Path to Exile, Terminate, other hard removal, fast combo

(227) Eldrazi Temple

 

How to Beat: Bant Eldrazi has a weak manabase and struggles against Blood Moon as well as when you kill their Noble Hierarchs. You need to approach this matchup as a Jund deck, except you can see the interaction coming, as it mostly comes in the form of Spellskite, Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope. Eldrazi Displacer is the best card in the deck and a savvy Eldrazi player will often be able to leverage it to win games they have no business winning. The problem lies in Bant shortening your window to draw a timely removal spell by producing discard attached to a 4/4 and 5/5 haste creatures. Do NOT rely on countermagic as the 4 maindeck Cavern of Souls render this strategy ineffective.

 

UR Kiln Fiend

This is a new version of the Death’s Shadow Zoo deck. The deck is very explosive, but fails the same hurdles as Infect. This version can churn through its library faster than the original and so is better at finding the specific cards it needs. The ‘durdling’ aspect is put to better use through triggering prowess and the deck also has advantages over Infect - as you don’t need as high a critical number of pump spells - and Death’s Shadow Zoo - as you can enact a similar game plan whilst keeping your life total higher.

 

The good cards against the deck and the strategy used to beat it are similar enough to those that are effective against Infect that not much more needs to be said. The deck is stronger against Spellskite as a lot of your power comes from Prowess (and ‘Prowess’ from Kiln Fiend) and likewise Chalice of the Void, but needs one or two more spells to get the job done (although they are far more replaceable).

 

Tron

Tron is the primary combo-control deck of the format. It tries to set Tron up by turn three to four and then drops haymakers until you die. It is extremely weak to fast aggro-combo strategies such as Infect, but preys on decks that prey on those (i.e. Tron beats Jund and Jund beats Infect).

 

Good Hate: Blood Moon, Molten Rain, Ghost Quarter, Stony Silence, Ancient Grudge, Remand, Glistener Elf (turn 2 kill enabler)

 

How to Beat: Tron is very bad at solving problems, so your best bet is to make a threat and disrupt them/protect it. For example, the only way Jund wins is by sticking a turn 2 Tarmogoyf with discard spells on either side of it to put Tron off for long enough. You want to beat them quickly or lock them out of big mana with Blood Moon or land destruction.

 

Valakut Strategies

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is central to three completely different strategies, although one has fallen out of favour. 5-colour Bring to Light is, at its essence, a control deck that is capable of winning by resolving a single spell - the issue arises from the terrible manabase (4 colours and 10 mountains isn’t easy) as well as it not doing a great job at being a control deck as so many slots are wasted by ramp. The remaining pair of strategies are both RG - one contains Primeval Titan and Scapeshift, sometimes splashes for Nahiri or Slaughter Games (in the sideboard) and has interaction on top of a turn four or five kill; whereas the other contains Primeval Titan, Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and uses Simian Spirit Guide to fuel turn three kills at the expense of interaction. Valakut strategies are very strong against midrange and control strategies as they cannot handle the inevitability very well - nor can they easily deal with an easy to set up stream of Lightning Bolts from just making land drops.

Valakut, the molten pinnacle

 

 

Good Hate: Blood Moon, Remand, Mana Leak (and other cheap countermagic), land destruction

 

How to Beat: If you have access to Blood Moon, over half your work is done for you with that card alone. If you don’t, you need to stop them from reaching the critical mass of six lands and Titan or five lands, Breach and Titan. This is achievable through both speed and disruption, although be prepared to die to the correct topdeck if they’re only missing a piece. Be wary of cards like Sudden Shock, Chalice of the Void and cheap interaction coming out of the sideboard, but your aim still has to be to win the game quickly before they can enact their plan, as you cannot interact with it.

 

Closing Thoughts

 

Wizards have stated that the reason why Infect is allowed to exist as a turn three deck is because there exists plenty of cheap interaction to slow it down. The problem is that the decks that would be running this interaction aren’t strong against Dredge or a lot of the slower decks, thus allowing Infect to run rampant. The format currently has a pair of turn two to four decks at the top - and this is made worse by these decks being able to win on turn three even through interaction.

 

There are plenty of offenders in the format - Become Immense, Dredge (as a whole!), Mox Opal, Simian Spirit Guide or the phyrexian mana spells to name a few - and also a few cards in the banlist that would likely have a hard time being good, let alone broken, in the format - such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf. Modern would gain a lot from a revision of the banlist both ways in the January announcement to set the format back to turn four and allow for more diversity at the top tables.

 

For the time being, however, it’s hard to reason not playing one of the linear decks of your choice - they really are very good, even if perhaps a little boring.

 

Bonus Decklist!

 

For the brewers amongst you, this is a concoction I’ve jotted down a couple of times in an attempt to contain Infect, Dredge and Affinity (and little else). I believe the theory to be sound and you should be able to come out ahead against all of Infect, Dredge and Affinity, although you may struggle against all of Bant Eldrazi, Jund and Ancestral Vision strategies. Enjoy!

 

RUG Solution

 

5 Island

4 Misty Rainforest

4 Scalding Tarn

2 Spirebluff Canal

1 Breeding Pool

1 Desolate Lighthouse

1 Forest

1 Mountain

1 Steam Vents

1 Stomping Ground

1 Wooded Foothills

 

4 Snapcaster Mage

4 Tarmogoyf

2 Vendilion Clique

 

4 Ancestral Vision

4 Electrolyze

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Serum Visions

3 Spell Snare

2 Anger of the Gods

2 Cryptic Command

2 Sudden Shock

1 Dismember

1 Roast

1 Vedalken Shackles

 

Sideboard

4 Surgical Extraction

3 Thragtusk

2 Ancient Grudge

2 Blood Moon

2 Negate

1 Anger of the Gods

1 Shatterstorm

 

 

 

About Joao Choca:

Joao started playing competitive Magic in England in 2007 and has been a Grand Prix grinder since then. Joao has retained Bronze status since induction and has been rewarded for his consistent results with a win in Grand Prix Turin 2018. He enjoys thinking outside the box and is one of the more creative team members when it comes to fresh ideas. His approach is one of gradual improvement and he is constantly looking for flaws to fix in his game. His aim is to achieve Silver and stay on the Pro Tour circuit.