Modern Metagame Review: 2018 Summer Edition
Summer is over and the Guilds of Ravnica spoilers have officially begun. While waiting for new cards to improve or create new archetypes, let's review how the Modern format has been performing during the past three months divided into winners, losers, and new brews.
The Summer months are the perfect time to enjoy good weather, travel, and of course, practice our favorite hobby: Magic: The Gathering. At the beginning of October, Guilds of Ravnica will be released, but in the meantime, I want to briefly review the state of Modern based on the recent tournaments, GP Prague and the last SCG Tour.
In general, the format hasn’t evolved that much since Core Set 2019 only contributed a few cards to the Modern metagame. However, it still had more impact than initially expected. Let's start with the tiers of the format:
|4Ancient Ziggurat||4Champion of the Parish||4Aether Vial|
|4Cavern of Souls||4Kitesail Freebooter|
|4Horizon Canopy||4Mantis Rider|
|1Seachrome Coast||4Noble Hierarch|
|4Unclaimed Territory||3Phantasmal Image|
|3Thalia, Guardian of Thraben|
|2Auriok Champion||1Cunning Sparkmage||2Dismember|
|2Gaddock Teeg||1Hostage Taker||1Izzet Staticaster|
|1Kambal, Consul of Allocation||1Kataki, War's Wage||2Reclamation Sage|
|Humans - Théau Mery (GP Prague 2018)|
Human Tribal is arguably the best deck of 2018 so far at least in terms of results and popularity. It has been present in most of the Tops at important tournaments and GPs. In Prague, Humans placed two representatives in the Top 8 and a total of three in the Top 16 in SCG Baltimore.
The deck has found a new ally in Militia Bugler, which allows players to search for the key creatures of the deck with the exception of Mantis Rider. During the second and third games, it even helps to get singletons from the sideboard, like Izzet Staticaster against tokens or Bridge Vine, Hostage Taker, or even non-human cards like Gaddock Teeg for control match-ups, Reclamation Sage, or Kataki, War's Wage for artifact-based decks.
Right now, it seems difficult to end the "Reign of the Supermen" (as in the comics about the red-caped crusader) and within the next set, it is very likely that new allies from the Ravnica guilds can join their ranks.
|3Celestial Colonnade||4Snapcaster Mage||4Cryptic Command|
|3Field of Ruin||2IElectrolyze|
|4Flooded Strand||3Lightning Bolt|
|1Glacial Fortress||3Lightning Helix|
|2Hallowed Fountain||3Logic Knot|
|1Plains||4Path to Exile|
|4Scalding Tarn||1Secure the Wastes|
|2Steam Vents||1Supreme Verdict|
|1Sulfur Falls||1Wrath of God|
|2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|2Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|2Ancestral Vision||1Baneslayer Angel||2Celestial Purge|
|1Disdainful Stroke||2Dispel||1Lyra Dawnbringer|
|1Negate||1Settle the Wreckage||3Surgical Extraction|
|Jeskai Control - Javier Dominguez (GP Prague 2018)|
Control decks have been reborn in the recent months thanks to the presence of Humans. UW/Jeskai Control is a good match against the Humans even though they have the annoying Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls, making their creatures basically uncounterable. However, the deck is full of spot and mass removals and for Human players, rebuilding the board takes a lot of effort after Wrath of God takes effect. Some versions rely on Opt and Terminus to sweep the board during the opponent's turn. As a win condition, we've also been seeing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria become more and more predominant over Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which now seems to be out of the deck's equation and in in Modern overall. Other options to close the game are the best manlands in the format: Celestial Colonnade and a single copy of Secure the Wastes.
Moving on to new additions, perhaps it should be noted that Lyra Dawnbringer has established herself as the best Baneslayer Angel companion in many sideboards. Another contribution from Javier Dominguez's list that I find very interesting is to replace Rest in Peace with Surgical Extraction, a more synergistic card with the deck. Snapcaster Mage can also be played during turn 0 to exile Vengevine and other early graveyard threats.
The Oldies: Tron, Affinity, and Burn
No matter how much time has passed, there is always a series of decks within the plethora of archetypes that make up Modern that never fail to make good results. Strategies such as Tron, Affinity, or Burn are classics that can maintain their maindeck almost undauntedly, except in some cases.
I have also been noticing some "techie" sideboard choices during the last months. It's becoming more popular to see Ensnaring Bridge in Burn sideboards, Emrakul, the Promised End in Tron, and Affinity has and always will have a wide variety of options on its side. Right now, Sai, Master Thopterist or Karn, Scion of Urza are being tested against grindy match ups.
No decklist needed here. The one that not long ago was considered as Modern's best-known deck now faces its final hours. In the beginning of the year, the return of Bloodbraid Elf positioned Jund at the head of tier decks once again. However, only a few months later, it’s obvious that the deck has lost favor to other decks like Mardu Pyromancer.
Even though the latest sets have brought interesting sideboard cards for bad match ups (Damping Sphere from Dominaria and Alpine Moon from M19), Jund simply cannot manage so many different archetypes with its current stock list. In Guilds of Ravnica, the Golgari guild may bring something new to the strategy but in the meantime, it will stay within Tier 1.5.
Grixis Shadow is another popular deck, especially back in 2017, that did not seem to reap good results during the first half of this year. (You can read a more detailed analysis here.) Ultimately, it wasn’t Jace's or BBE's unbanning that did more damage to this deck. It was the birth of fast and busted decks, such as Hollow One or Bridge Vine, and the bad match ups against the main tiers, such as Humans or UW, which made Grixis Shadow lose its popularity. Still, the Mishra's Bauble build reaches the Top 8 from time to time, most usual nowadays after GP Vegas. Recently, the deck has started to include Leyline of the Void to combat graveyard-based decks. But despite these modifications, we will have to wait for the new season of spoilers to see if any card from the Izzet or Dimir guilds can help the strategy, since Jump-Start and Surveil seem to be very synergetic mechanics with Delve creatures and Thought Scour.
What happened to this deck? It is one of the most paradigmatic examples of how a strategy can be very successful at a specific moment then months later fall into oblivion in Modern. After the PT Rivals of Ixalan, Lantern Control seemed to be the deck to beat. But now in hindsight, we can see that the current metagame no longer supports this deck. Even Luis Salvatto himself commented recently that he would not play the deck at the moment.
It seems that Lantern's successor as a combo/prison deck is currently KCI. It's a different take on artifact-based decks relying on Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings – two cards in the Banned List’s crosshairs.
The last part of this article is dedicated to the newest decks that have entered strongly into the format, mostly thanks to the new M19 cards that have given the final boost to both Spirits, a strategy that has already existed in the past and Bridge Vine, the ultimate innovation in terms of graveyard-based decks.
|3Botanical Sanctum||4Drogskol Captain||4Collected Company|
|1Breeding Pool||2Geist of Saint Traft||4Path to Exile|
|3Flooded Strand||4Mausoleum Wanderer||3Aether Vial|
|1Hallowed Fountain||2Phantasmal Image|
|3Misty Rainforest||4Spell Queller|
|1Moorland Haunt||4Supreme Phantom|
|2Damping Sphere||1Geist of Saint Traft||3Rest in Peace|
|3Stony Silence||2Thalia, Guardian of Thraben||2Unified Will|
|Bant Spirit - Ondrej Strasky (GP Prague 2018)|
Supreme Phantom is the card mainly responsible for the deck that has climbed several steps in quality and can no longer be considered as a brew deck. It can now compete well against Humans.
Ondrej Strasky reached third in the last GP Prague with a Bant deck, wherein all the blue and/or white spirits were combined with a few green splashes to include Noble Hierarch's acceleration and the almighty Collected Company. There is typically always a debate with this kind of creature-based shells when deciding between the green instant from Dragons of Tarkir and Aether Vial. The Czech pro player actually opted to play both, making room for three copies of the artifact.
It is still too early to know if the best list for Spirits is UW or Bant, but the deck is very well-positioned for the coming months.
|3Blackcleave Cliffs||4Goblin Bushwhacker||1Collective Brutality|
|2Blood Crypt||3Gravecrawler||4Faithless Looting|
|4Bloodstained Mire||3Hangarback Walker||4Grisly Salvage|
|1Copperline Gorge||4Insolent Neonate||4Bridge from Below|
|1Overgrown Tomb||4Stitcher's Supplier|
|4Verdant Catacombs||4Walking Ballista|
|3Ancient Grudge||2Collective Brutality||1Darkblast|
|3Destructive Revelry||4Leyline of the Void||2Lightning Axe|
|Dredge - Riccardo Picciafuochi (GP Prague 2018)|
The other deck that has taken off this summer is a later iteration of the most avenging Vine of all time. Of course, we are talking about Bridge Vine. We have seen several versions trying to cheat Vengevine into play as early as possible in the past, alongside Insolent Neonate and XX-cost creatures that come into play for 0 mana. One was the R/G Hollow Vine that combined Faithless Looting, Hollow One, and tons of cheap creatures. However, the main version was way more consistent, but it ceased to exist.
In Riccardo Picciafuochi's version, two black cards are added to the mix, resulting in an enormous synergy with the graveyard and the deck itself: Stitcher's Supplier and Bridge from Below. The zombie from M19 is one of the deck's key pieces, without which we would not be talking about. The basic principle of the strategy is to put the largest number of Vengevines into the graveyard either with Supplier, Neonate, or Looting then play several creatures, so that they can come back. In order for this to happen, the deck packs up to 26 creatures that cost 1 or less, since Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker can be played at cost 0 thus, returning the Vines to the game. Viscera Seer works as a sacrifice outlet to put zombies into play while Bridges is in the graveyard. At the same time, the Seer helps dodge removal and exile effects like in Path to Exile. Finally, you can pump your zombie army by playing Goblin Bushwhacker with his kicker cost and send the team to victory.
In spite of Bridge Vine's explosiveness, I would say that it is still under the improvement process including cards such as Greater Gargadon or Grisly Salvage. However, it has not yet shown anything by winning a GP or an important event, so only time will tell.
|1Blinkmoth Nexus||4Arcbound Ravager||4Ancient Stirrings|
|4Darksteel Citadel||4Arcbound Worker||2Animation Module|
|6Forest||4Hangarback Walker||1Evolutionary Leap|
|2Horizon Canopy||4Steel Overseer||4Hardened Scales|
|4Inkmoth Nexus||4Walking Ballista||4Mox Opal|
|1Pendelhaven||2Throne of Geth|
|1Phyrexia's Core||3Welding Jar|
|1Ruins of Oran-Rief|
|4Damping Sphere||2Dismember||1Grafdigger's Cage|
|2Karn, Scion of Urza||4Nature's Claim||2Surgical Extraction|
|Hardened Modular - Lauri Pispa (GP Prague 2018)|
Speaking of GP winners, here we have the successful archetype of the most recent months. The cards are not new, and there are no important additions, although it should be noted that Animation Module was the last inclusion that made the deck's quality jump up.
Actually, Hardened Scales decks started showing up shortly after Walking Ballista was printed in Aether Revolt. At that time, some players took the deck as a joke. Today after becoming victorious in Prague, the joke is over and everyone should take this deck seriously. Consequently, this has caused a huge price boost on Hangarback and Scales.
Hardened Scales employs, yet again, another strategy that abuses Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings, proving that they are two of the most powerful cards in Modern. This makes many of us wonder if they will soon be banned or in the case of the Mox, reprinted due to its high demand – it is played in Affinity, KCI, and now in Hardened Scales as well as other marginal decks, such as Puresteel's Combo and Lantern.
The strategy itself deserves its own in-depth analysis to be able to see all the interactions between its many counters as well as the amount of utility lands it has, thanks to being an artifact shell with a light green splash for its two main cards.
What's Next in Modern?
All in all, this has been my summer review for Modern. Personally, I hope to continue enjoying such a varied format wherein many decks are one or two cards away from a surprise. With a bit of luck, Guilds of Ravnica may contribute to improving the format.
As always, thanks for reading and I looking forward to your comments.
Until next time.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.