Modern has changed a lot over the past year, but the current top tier metagame has remained stable for a while now. Everybody knows that there's a handful of decks in Modern that solidly towers above the rest. Today, I want to break down the characteristics of these decks.
Usually, with increased mana cost there is increased power level. While this will most often hold true, nowadays there are a ton of powerful cards that can be thought of as undercosted. If we look at the top dogs such as Hammertime, Blue-Red Murktide, or Burn, there is a very quick conclusion—the curve ends at two mana. Both their threats and reaction are contained within the range of zero, one, or two mana, which makes it very easy to multispell. These decks will match up favorably against opponents who spend two, three, or four mana on their spells. As soon as turn four rolls around, the slow Jund opponent will cast one or two spells, while our top decks cast two with regularity and sometimes cast three or four. This efficiency and velocity make them difficult to battle. Our aforementioned Jund player will just die with cards in hand due to their high mana cost. One cannot keep up if two-mana removal spells have to deal with one-mana threats.
Another example is Elementals. On paper, they seem to be the clunkiest deck imaginable. However, we must go beyond and look at actual play patterns. Both Solitude and Fury can be cast not for five mana but for zero. Omnath, Locus of Creation generates a ton of mana off a simple fetch land. While the deck is still classified as midrange, the fact that it runs zero-mana spot removal and zero-mana mass removal in the form of Incarnations gives the deck the much-needed efficiency to compete with other low-to-the-ground decks.
This point might be surprising to some older Modern afficionados. For a long time, interaction has been mocked and laughed at. Sad Cryptic Command players like myself had to fight against the odds. The main reason is that Modern's diverse metagame very often makes your interaction line up poorly against the threats that you are presented with. However, enter Modern 2k21.
First, a lot of big mana decks are gone. It's one of the macro-archetypes so it being gone changes the landscape significantly. In addition, creatures dominate the format. While the utility and purpose behind these creatures vary, they are still creatures. Yes, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Risen Reef, and Puresteel Paladin all play different roles. But they all die to the same Doom Blades of the world.
Blue-Red Murktide is arguably the current king of interaction. It's a strategy that plays similar to Delver or Blue Moon, depending on the matchup. It runs eight copies of removal and at least a playset of countermagic. All in all, its main deck usually includes twelve to fourteen interactive spells.
Elementals play eight copies of free Incarnations plus Ephemerate to reuse their effects. However, they found some cards annoying to play against such as Blood Moon, Torpor Orb, or early Ragavans. Now, they've even incorporated main-deck Prismatic Ending and Teferi, Time Raveler, which makes the deck unbelievably interactive.
I don't think I have to even mention White-Blue Control and its plethora of removal. However, this is a tad of a different case, because this deck is skewed toward prison elements with main-deck Chalice of the Void and Rest in Peace.
Temur Cascade Rhinos are basically mono interaction. Most lists run up to four copies each of Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft, Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp, Dead // Gone, Fire // Ice, and Fury. Admittedly, over half of them double up as creatures, but the point remains: The deck intends to interact with the opponent.
This specific aspect has always been true in Modern and every often in Magic at large. It's better to ask questions than to try to answer them. All the decks at the top have a strong plan that they want to enact.
The game will mostly revolve around players making it difficult for the other person to achieve the aforementioned goals, especially as everybody has interaction. It's also why control has taken a more prison-like approach: to be able to have strong proactive plays and have something of its own to achieve rather than try to always have the correct answer to the correct threat.
Usually, the decks with the biggest raw power act on a specific axis, which can be hated upon. Affinity decks of the past were really vulnerable to artifact hate, Dredge to graveyard hate, creature decks to mass removal. In order for such a strategy to become a solid tier one deck, it either needs to be so powerful that no-hate-card draws are literally an auto-win or be able to fight through the hate—be resilient. However, resilience can come in a few forms: Just as a deck can power through hate, it can follow a plan that isn't easy to hate or have an alternative plan B that attacks on a different axis than the main plan.
Blue-Red Murktide actually cannot be hated upon, because it does not have a predominant axis.
Hammer has Urza's Saga in addition to its Hammer plan. While Saga complements plan A, Constructs also work as a plan B.
Temur Cascade can play as a RUG control/tempo deck.
White-Blue Control is difficult to hate out with single cards.
This might be the second new feature of all top decks now in addition to Interactivity. It's connected to resilience, as with card advantage comes an easier way to rebuild and continue enacting your main plan. The thing is that trying to one-for-one most of these decks will fail.
Murktide has access to Expressive Iteration, Archmage's Charm, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, and strong card selection in Dragon's Rage Channeler's surveil. (Because of its lean curve, every land surveiled to the grave after, say, the fourth is like drawing an extra card!)
Hammer's Urza's Saga provides strong, board-impacting card advantage. This one card alone produces two Constructs and finds a card from the deck. Multiple Sagas can bury the opponent. In addition, these decks play Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which is a card advantage machine.
Temur's removal spells double up as creatures.
Elementals is pure card advantage. Every creature does something on entry, which enables disgusting combos with Ephemerate.
White-Blue Control naturally features a ton of card advantage.
As we can see, there are some characteristics that all the best decks have in common. Lacking in one of the areas is not the end of the world but might mean the deck won't make it all the way to tier one. Do you think there are some decks out there that share these features but are not heavily played? Let us know in the comments! And as always—please remember to hold my hand and pass the turn together. Cheers!
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