Return to Tabletop: Summertime Modern


Modern's metagame has been shifting a lot since last year when Modern Horizons completely warped the format. After the companion fiasco, it's time to test out the tabletop experience adapted to the new normality. Here are some thoughts about recent strategies and about how to play with social distancing.

Hello, friends! Today I am happier than usual since at last I got the chance to play some tabletop Magic again. It was a long pause due to obvious reasons. For this article my goal is to catch up a bit with the Modern metagame, talk about some spicy brews I have been testing, and finally take a look at social distancing in a game store setting. Let's get to it!

The State of Modern

uro, titan of nature's wrath cling to dust conspicuous snoop

As MTG Arena is my only digital link to Magic, I wasn't able to play any Modern tournaments during the lockdown period. So I was extremely excited when I finally got a taste of real shuffling, of taking mulligans, and overall of the whole tabletop experience of playing one of my favorite formats. As the months were passing without any testing, I was keeping an eye on how the format progressed. The short reign of companions didn't last long and now that R&D has changed the rule, it seems like Modern is almost free from Ikoria's beasts.

As a quick recap, this is the metagame's top tier from early July 2020, right after Core Set 2021 became legal:

  1. Sultai Reclamation
  2. Eldrazi Tron
  3. Bant Control
  4. Death's Shadow
  5. Dredge
  6. Goblins
  7. Gruul Midrange
  8. Amulet Titan
  9. Tron
  10. Infect

Here we have quite an interesting list! Gold and bronze medal go to Snow decks, which all share the same Simic core: Arcum's Astrolabe, Ice-Fang Coatl, and snow-covered lands boosted by the almighty Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, the most played creature in the format, just like in like Standard and Legacy. The Bant version packs both Azorius Teferis alongside Path to Exile and Supreme Verdict for the removal suite and now has completely forgotten Yorion, Sky Nomad. Meanwhile the Sultai variant has gained Cling to Dust, the best efficient answer to Uro, and Dead of Winter, a catch-all creature sweeper that doesn't destroy one's own Coatls.

Eldrazi Tron and Tron decks in general haven't changed a bit and continue steamrolling opponents with their ramping effect alongside the Karn, the Great Creator silver-bullet plan that remains intact; if anything, they have benefited from the companion's errata. Death's Shadow builds have also dumped Lurrus of the Dream-Den and welcomed Street Wraith back into the fold again, although you could play the Cat Nightmare main. Cling to Dust is the major innovation to fight Uro. Whether Grixis or Jund Shadow is the best positioned choice remains to be seen.

Although Dredge, Gruul Midrange, Amulet Titan, and Infect don't show impactful innovations, they all remain solid choices in the current environment. Dredge is the degenerate deck of choice for those who want free wins, while Gruul Midrange loves to ruin opponents' fragile mana bases; in the meantime Amulet Titan is all about casting Primeval Titan to win with the combination between Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove; Infect players finally poison as fast as they can.

Interestingly enough, Goblins has escalated a lot of positions thanks to a new card from Core Set 2021. Conspicuous Snoop basically allows the deck to play a tribal aggro strategy with a combo backup plan.

A New Hot Take on Red Prowess

runaway steam-kin

Monored Prowess is one of the cheapest, most affordable strategies to build in the vast Modern metagame; it is able to win games from nowhere and what I like the most, it can include different companions depending on the version you are willing to play:

Take this list as the average example of what the archetype looks like these days. The main deck has been established a while ago, especially the creature suite which always begins with eight 1-drops with prowess in the shape of Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage, followed by either Runaway Steam-Kin or Kiln Fiend.

My main complaint regards the awkwardness of drawing multiples of Bedlam Reveler in your opening hand, since it's a card you never want to see in the early game. The reason why I choose Monored Prowess instead of Burn to return to tabletop Magic is: I wanted a fast deck, which can win games by goldfishing and doesn't need tons of thinking until I feel myself back in good shape for control or midrange strategies.

After finishing my first tournament breaking even with two wins and two losses, I realized Tron wasn't as good a matchup as I thought, especially if your opponent slams turn three Wurmcoil Engine, leaving you without any options to fight back. I needed to come up with an answer …

Entering Boros Blitz! A homebrew to try out what was the most infamous Cat ever printed until it got nerfed as the rest of its friends from Ikoria. Under the new rules, it's harder to abuse, but there are some spots where you can cast Lurrus earlier with some help from Runaway Steam-Kin.

The main deck is pretty much the same as the stock version, discounting the Revelers and extra burn spells, sometimes Burst Lightning or Firebolt. Instead I added Mishra's Bauble that works fine with the prowess creatures and with Lurrus. I also tweaked the mana base a little bit so the double white cost is easy to pay. Thanks to the combination of fast lands, fetch lands, and Sunbaked Canyon, I now have virtually fourteen white sources.

lurrus of the dream-den

Plan A consists of killing as fast as we can with our early threats. Here Kiln Fiend plays an important role since the Elemental Beast can close up the game as early as turn three if you cast a Manamorphose alongside some cheap spells, specially Lava Dart which can double up the triggers for just 1 mana. In case your team gets destroyed or you run out of gas, plan B shows up: you bring Lurrus to your hand so it can revive your creatures or Mishra's Bauble from the graveyard. The Steam-Kin can turbo up Lurrus's arrival if you chain several red spells, so it can pay for the companion tax, enabling turn three or four Lurrus ready for the action.

Moving onto the sideboard, the white splash is a huge upgrade. First of all, while playing the straight red version, I also experienced a frustrating feeling when facing Uro decks. If they got to resolve the Titan, it was impossible to come back from it. Hence I wanted to make sure it never gets to attack me. That's the reason why most lists are replacing Tormod's Crypt with Soul-Guide Lantern: it's more flexible graveyard hate that can cantrip if needed while exiling just one key card like Uro, a Dredge enabler, or a Snapcaster Mage target. In order to maximize my Lurrus targets, I am playing three Lanterns along with Shrine of Burning Rage, another all-star choice for red sideboards that synergizes with my companion Cat as well.

Finally, Path to Exile is the best removal spell to deal with beefy creatures like Uro, Primeval Titan, or Thought-Knot Seer at a cheap cost. Overall, this is my sideboard guide for the decks I have been playing against at the local tournaments these past few weeks. It is still a work in progress:

Versus the mirror/Monored Prowess:

Kor Firewalker is the MVP here. It only dies to Dismember, other than that it's almost immortal. Since our mana base is more painful, we have to play the defensive role and try to kill every threat they put onto the battlefield, and wait until the coast is clear to play Lurrus.

Versus Snow decks:

Try to move as fast as you can, either with early threats and Kiln Fiend or, if that doesn't work, Shrine of Burning Rage can seal the deal if it stays on the battlefield for a while.

Versus Eldrazi Tron:

Minimize the number of 1-mana spells so Chalice of the Void doesn't wreck you and try to look for an answer in the shape of Abrade or Wear // Tear. Green Tron is pretty much the same discounting the Shrines which are quite slow; instead look for a Kiln Fiend to win on turn three.

Versus Death's Shadow:

Be careful with their life total since Death's Shadow can kill you on the spot, so try to finish them in one deadly attack and reserve your Paths for their Shadows. Lanterns can nullify Gurmag Angler or Traverse the Ulvenwald.

Versus Dredge:

Be aware that winning game one is almost impossible unless you are on the play with a Kiln Fiend. Once you bring in your hate, try to keep a hand with Lantern or an aggressive start and leave the Path for Ox of Agonas and recurring threats.

Versus Goblins:

I haven't played against the new version yet, but is seems like a tough matchup if they go wide and fill up the board. The Kiln Fiend plan seems the best way to win. Abrade is the MVP since it can kill any Goblin as well as Aether Vial. Kor Firewalker can bring back some life, but overall, don't play the long game or they will combo off.

Core Set 2021 Updates

Core Set 2021 has brought even more surprises to the deck. First Chandra's Incinerator shows up as a viable sideboard option for the monocolored version to use in grindy matchups. But the ultimate innovation may be to add blue for Stormwing Entity as a replacement for Bedlam Reveler. This new prowess creature only asks you to play a sorcery or instant to reduce its cost by three mana! In that case it counts as a 3/3 flier for 2 that can be cast on turn two if you combine it with Phyrexian-mana spells like Gut Shot, Mutagenic Growth, or even better, Manamorphose. It also comes with a scry trigger, ensuring your next draws are the ones you need.

The blue splash brings a couple of spicy additions as well: first Sprite Dragon replaces the 2-mana creatures with an evasive hasty threat that features a better prowess effect of placing +1/+1 counter. Last but not least, Of One Mind works as Light Up the Stage five and six, which you can also play for only 1 mana. Looking at the sideboard, blue grants what it does best, counter magic at a cheap cost: Mystical Dispute and Aether Gust are two of the most efficient counter spells recently printed and help against scary threats like Uro or Primeval Titan, improving the deck's matchup against combo and control alike.

Enjoying Tabletop Magic Responsibly

Before you go, I wanted to make a small mention of the new rules for social distancing in order to safely play tabletop magic. Local games stores have put in huge efforts to make tournaments possible: reducing their capacity, changing their rules, and in some cases even readapting their playing area with protection screens in order to minimize the contact between players.


That investment, added to the profit decrease during the lockdown, has to be acknowledged. So my humble opinion is that now more than ever we have to support our local game stores by buying product and attending their tournaments, all in a safe way, respecting the minimum distance between players and viewers so we can keep playing this game in the future.

Thanks to all the Magic stores for implementing the new measures, especially the ones I attend regularly but also all of the others. Keep up the good work — without you, tabletop Magic couldn't exist!


As usual, thank you for reading, I hope you like the content. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below whether about the Red Prowess variants or anything else. You can also hit me up on my shared Twitter account.

Until next time,
Rodrigo Martin

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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