Top 8 Modern Decks - July 2018
Modern is Magic’s most diverse format. As long as you’re doing something powerful, you can compete. In such a diverse format, the decks at the top fluctuate regularly. Some of this is due to Modern’s ability to self-correct, and some of this is because Modern is still being impacted by recently-printed cards. But what’s at the top of the format? Here are my picks for Modern’s top 8 decks.
You can find a more current updating of this article here.
8. Grixis Death’s Shadow
A year ago, prominent members of the community (including LSV) were calling for Death’s Shadow to be banned. A card that had been innocuous in Modern for years was suddenly the cornerstone of one of Modern’s most powerful decks. The banning of Gitaxian Probe didn’t destroy the shell either; instead, it became what we know today as Grixis Death’s Shadow (GDS). GDS is the best Thoughtseize deck in the format, as hand disruption is best when combined with a fast clock. With 4 copies each of Shadow and Gurmag Angler, Shadow kills in a couple of turns once it lands a threat, sometimes even faster with Temur Battle Rage.
The deck fell off in popularity after Modern season last year. People better learned how to play against it, and decks like Mardu Pyromancer (Lingering Souls is rough) and Humans (stealing the disruption + pressure throne) rose to prominence. But people seem to have remembered that the deck is still very good at what it does, and it’s back on the upswing.
I don’t think Shadow ever stopped being a reasonable choice, but I also think that Shadow has a lot of subtle decisions in its gameplay that lead to a reasonably large gap between the best Shadow players and just “good” Shadow players. I think the deck’s ceiling is very high, though most will not play it optimally.
The deck which bears no cards of its namesake mechanic is always a reasonable choice. Affinity is a busted deck that can have completely broken starts. Its power certainly ebbs and flows based on the metagame and sideboard hate, but let’s be honest: what the deck is doing is so powerful, it’s often worth just playing it anyways.
While cards like Stony Silence have picked up again in popularity due to the popularity of KCI, Affinity has also picked up a new tool in Karn, Scion of Urza, which many are running as a two-of. Stony does nothing against Karn churning out giant Constructs. Affinity is one of the decks that I think is rarely a bad choice because the power level of the deck is just so absurdly high.
Tron has picked up in popularity recently, as many perceive it to have a good matchup against Control, which is on the rise. Regardless of whether this is true, Tron, like Affinity, is rarely going to be an awful choice for a tournament due to the inherently high power level of a Turn 3 Karn. Like Affinity, Tron demands specific hate post-board accompanied by a clock, of which the latter of these is too often neglected. The deck will beat up on much of the random jank that shows up in Modern tournaments and its mere presence helps to determine which decks are playable in Modern. Does your deck have a plan against a deck that wants to find and play three specific lands and then cast Karn, Ugin, and Ulamog? If not, best to find a different deck.
While Tron gets a lot of hate for the perceived unfairness and noninteractive gameplay it produces, there’s no real secret about what the deck does or how to attack it. You should come prepared and understand that, sometimes, you’ll still just lose to it. That’s Modern. While the deck has its busted starts, it can also play the long game; in the case where an opponent has the hate, but doesn’t have a clock, Tron will make its land drops, hard-cast its threats, and still win. Like Affinity, its access to unbeatable starts and its ability to play through hate makes it a reasonable choice for any Modern tournament.
5. UW Control
I like to argue that, in Modern, you should really only play decks that have the ability to do something broken. If you can only execute a totally fair gameplan, you’re giving up the free wins that other decks occasionally earn. Hence, it seems strange to include UW Control on my list of top eight Modern decks. UW is susceptible to awkward hands, answers that don’t line up, and starts from opposing decks that are simply too fast. However, with the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor (JTMS) and the printing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, UW Control can now simply drown opponents in card advantage if it survives to get to the late game. And while JTMS is individually not the Modern-breaking force many thought he’d be, he has enabled UW decks to play a card that actually is unfair: Terminus.
While its base case of being a six-mana sweeper isn’t great (always sad to see it in the opener), even in the worst case, it sweeps in the best way. The creatures being wiped away cannot be regenerated, given indestructible, or have their death triggers activated. The card can also not be Spell Quellered, which has been of increasing importance for sweepers as Spirits have invaded Magic Online. In the medium case, Terminus can be set up by Jace, often turn after turn until it’s needed, and that’s alright. It does, however, require you to play Jace, which is a clunky card that you can’t really play on Turn 4. When you do, it’s because you need to set up a Terminus, your opponent knows you’re setting a Terminus, and you fully expect your Jace to die. Which is pretty meh all-around, but Terminus is that good. But often the best Terminus is the Terminus that you can plan around off a Serum Visions and Opt into, or the Terminus that you simply draw luckily off the top of your deck. A one-mana-sweeper is incredibly unfair, and that’s the real power that’s been released upon Modern with the unbanning of Jace: the feel-bad, topdecked Miracle by your opponent. And did I mention it’s one mana?
There’s been a debate recently over whether Jeskai Control or UW Control is the better control deck. Like most others, I come down on the side of UW being superior. Jeskai is too focused on spot removal, which basically strengthens the matchups which are already good for UW and weakens the matchups which are already weak for UW. Jeskai will feel a lot more powerful against decks like Humans and Affinity, but a lot weaker against Tron. If you have the time to get reps with UW, I highly recommend it over Jeskai; matchups will be closer, but you have more tools to win against all decks, as opposed to bending all your answers for creature-based decks against which you’re already favored.
4. Mardu Pyromancer
Mardu Pyromancer finally gave Modern sweethearts Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer a home. Mardu Pyromancer is the new Jund: it has hand disruption, removal, and powerful threats, and it is capable of fighting any deck. Whereas Jund usually attacks with Tarmogoyfs and Scavenging Oozes and slowly accumulates card advantage through Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil, Mardu Pyromancer looks to do everything faster with threats that are harder to answer. Lingering Souls is a powerhouse in the deck and synergizes with Faithless Looting. If a Pyromancer sticks, the game is probably over. Bedlam Reveler is also fueled by Looting, and is usually two-mana for a 3/4 Prowess with an Ancestral Recall stapled on. Additionally, Mardu has powerful sideboard cards in the form of Blood Moon (often in the main) and Ensnaring Bridge, one of the few creature-based decks able to run the card. If you want to play a fair deck that has game against everything, I highly recommend Mardu Pyromancer.
Humans is the deck that Merfolk always wanted to be. Like Death’s Shadow, Humans sat on top of the metagame as the undisputed best deck for several months before the metagame (and players) began to adapt to it. Humans is the deck that does it all. It plays all five colors. It goes wide, it goes tall, it has hand disruption, board disruption, can tax spells, can fly over your blockers, and can replicate whichever cards are the most relevant in the matchup with Phantasmal Image. There’s not much else to say other than that this deck is really, really strong, and consistently so. While the hype around it has died down as decks like KCI have begun to draw away the attention, Humans continues to put up strong results and is still a powerhouse. Smacking around opponents with Mantis Riders while they sit with all their cards Reflected, named by Meddling Mage, or under Freebooter, is just inherently satisfying.
KCI (Krark-Clan Ironworks) is a powerful combo deck that abuses cards frequently discussed for banning: Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal. The deck is consistent, has multiple loops that it can utilize, and is capable of fighting through hate. However, even after taking down tournaments, the deck still benefits from players not understanding it. Players don’t know which cards to Surgical, when to pop their Relics, or even how the central combo works. The only reason the deck is not more popular is because it is irritating to grind on Magic Online and is perceived (probably correctly) to be very difficult to play optimally. But this is a deck that you will absolutely lose to unless you specifically prepare to beat. More than Affinity, this deck is the reason to play Stony Silence. More than Hollow One, this is the reason to play to Rest in Peace. If you come prepared, pack the hate, and understand what it’s doing, the deck is beatable, but, like some other decks on this list, sometimes it will just go off on Turn 3 and kill you. If you’re looking for a deck that plays like a puzzle, rewards tight play, and your opponents don’t understand, KCI is a great choice. If you’re in a meta where people aren’t respecting it with hate, then this is probably the best deck in the format.
1. Hollow One
I know, I know: the deck is called Hollow One, and I’ve used Faithless Looting as the associated card image. That’s because this deck, more than any other, abuses Faithless Looting. It is named after Hollow One because the printing of the card is what made the deck a real contender, and Hollow Ones are what you die to when the deck has its most broken starts, but in reality, this is a Faithless Looting deck. Faithless Looting fuels Hollow One with discard, fuels Angler by filling the graveyard, and sets up your Bloodghasts and Flamewake Pheonixes to come in for free. It can execute all of these gameplans simultaneously, and can use Looting and its other draw/discard effects to specifically emphasize whichever angle of attack is the most effective in the matchup. How do you sideboard against a deck that attacks so effectively from so many different angles? While it’s the best sideboard card against the deck, if Rest in Peace doesn’t come down on Turn 2, it’s often too slow, unless you can sweep the board afterwards. Or they can just play a bunch of Hollow Ones and kill you that way instead.
I’ve chosen Hollow One as the best deck in Modern (for the moment, at least) because it has so many routes to broken starts. It is extremely proactive and is extremely difficult to hate with sideboard cards. People are finally picking up on the fact that the randomness of the deck is overstated, and it will in fact execute some number of its three gameplans consistently and effectively, especially in the hands of a practiced pilot.
What do you think? Is there a deck that I’ve snubbed that should be on the list? Is Bridgevine the next broken “let’s-ban-it!” flavor of the month? Have I completely misrepresented the gameplay of your favorite deck? Share in the comments!
Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic. Make fun of him online through Twitter (@RyanNormandin) and Twitch (norm_the_ryno).
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