The 5 Most Successful Modern Decks of 2017
For better or for worse, the year that just ended consolidated the current Modern meta. But who were the kings of the season? Meet the five decks that placed more consistently in the Top 8 of Modern events during 2017, while scoring victories at the largest tournaments.
Happy New Year, Modern! January is typically the time to take stock of what happened in the previous twelve months, and it feels especially relevant for the Modern format, which is currently sort of stable, but also sort of not entirely satisfactory, at least according to some analysts. For instance, Jeff Hoogland has recently wished for radical changes on the Modern banned list. The next banned and restricted announcement was indeed due on January 15, 2018 from DCI (Wizards of the Coast), so chances are, while you're reading this, you'll be already able to verify if something has already come in or out of the list.
The future stems from the present, though, and the present is built upon the past. So, before we begin to look ahead, we must first be sure of what Modern is right now, starting from those current decks that are most likely to cause frowny faces from across a table or in front of a screen. What follows are the five main format-defining decks of 2017. Together, they amount to a whopping 38% of last year's meta. (NOTE: All data collected from mtgtop8.com).
1. Death's Shadow: The One to Beat
Mattia Rizzi, 1st Place at Grand Prix Copenhagen
|19Lands||16Creatures||25Instants and Sorceries|
|2Blood Crypt||4Death's Shadow||3Fatal Push|
|4Bloodstained Mire||2Gurmag Angler||2Inquisition of Kozilek|
|4Flooded Strand||4Snapcaster Mage||2Kolaghan's Command|
|1Island||4Street Wraith||2Lightning Bolt|
|4Polluted Delta||2Tasigur, the Golden Fang||4Serum Visions|
|1Steam Vents||2Stubborn Denial|
|2Watery Grave||4Thought Scour|
|1Anger of the Gods||3Ceremonious Rejection||2Collective Brutality|
|1Engineered Explosives||1Grafdigger's Cage||1Izzet Staticaster|
|1Liliana, the Last Hope||1Nihil Spellbomb||2Stubborn Denial|
Aliases: Grixis Death's Shadow, Esper Death's Shadow, Jund Death's Shadow.
The Numbers: 589 decks in a Top-8 placement (10% of the meta), 4 major finals: 1st place at Grand Prix Vancouver, 1st place at Grand Prix Copenhagen, 2nd place at Grand Prix San Antonio (team event), 2nd place at Grand Prix Madrid (team event).
The Deck: The key to the success of Death's Shadow is its sheer efficiency, due to an extremely low curve paired with the potential explosiveness of its early plays. One of the goals is to enable the titular 1-mana creature through the loss of life, in honor of the Suicide Black tradition. Even someone who plays Modern occasionally knows how easy it is to end your first turn at 15 life, thanks to a perfectly reasonable and potentially advantageous start of fetchland into shockland into Thoughtseize. That's still not enough for Shadow to rise, but the backup delve finishers are as lethal and almost as easy to cast. The archetype, which started out as more combo-oriented (involving Angel's Grace to stay alive while powering up the Shadow for a deadly alpha strike), survived the loss of an important piece in Gitaxian Probe, which was banned at the beginning of 2017 and replaced by Street Wraith. Its current incarnation incorporates more control elements, essentially playing like a faster Dimir version of The Rock, either splashing red for Terminate, Lightning Bolt, and Kolaghan's Command or white for Path to Exile and Lingering Souls or even green for Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald.
2. Eldrazi Aggro: The Critical Mass
Joe Soh, 1st Place at Grand Prix Kobe
|23Lands||16Creatures||16Instants and Sorceries||5Other Spells|
|4Caves of Koilos||3Reality Smasher||1Collective Brutality||1Ratchet Bomb|
|4Concealed Courtyard||1Shriekmaw||1Dismember||4Relic of Progenitus|
|4Eldrazi Temple||4Thought-Knot Seer||2Fatal Push|
|1Fetid Heath||4Tidehollow Sculler||3Inquisition of Kozilek|
|2Godless Shrine||4Wasteland Strangler||4Lingering Souls|
|4Mutavault||4Path to Exile|
|2Blessed Alliance||1Cast Out||1Disenchant||3Fulminator Mage|
|2Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet||3Stony Silence||2Surgical Extraction||1Thoughtseize|
The Numbers: 529 decks in a Top-8 placement (9% of the meta), 1 major final: 1st place at Grand Prix Kobe (the second largest Modern event of the year with 2802 players).
The Deck: It's a family of aggro builds based on the absurd, semi-broken value brought to the table by the midrange colorless Eldrazi, printed in the Battle for Zendikar block. The list has shifted throughout the year, the common denominator being the powerful Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher, plus of course Eldrazi Temple to better accelerate into them. Soh stormed Kobe, piloting an Orzhov version with only Wasteland Stranger and off-tribe Tidehollow Sculler as additional board presence, fully exploiting in-color removal, disruption and sideboard options, and boasting a full set of maindeck Relic of Progenitus, a choice reminiscent of Tron. Other successful builds feature a larger tribal base, allowing for the use of Cavern of Souls: critters like Drowner of Hope, Eldrazi Displacer and even Eldrazi Skyspawner have been a common sight last year. A few versions of the deck even implemented a green shell to further accelerate via mana dorks and to take advantage of Ancient Stirrings.
3. Creatures Toolbox: Keeping the Pod's Flame Alive
Adrian Ramiro Cano, 1st Place at Grand Prix Madrid
|22Lands||30Creatures||8Instants and Sorceries|
|2Forest||4Birds of Paradise||4Chord of Calling|
|2Gavony Township||4Devoted Druid||4Collected Company|
|1Godless Shrine||3Duskwatch Recruiter / Krallenhorde Howler|
|2Horizon Canopy||3Eternal Witness|
|2Overgrown Tomb||4Kitchen Finks|
|2Razorverge Thicket||1Scavenging Ooze|
|2Temple Garden||1Selfless Spirit|
|4Vizier of Remedies|
|2Abrupt Decay||1Eidolon of Rhetoric||1Ethersworn Canonist|
|1Kataki, War's Wage||1Loaming Shaman||1Orzhov Pontiff|
|3Path to Exile||1Qasali Pridemage||1Sin Collector|
Aliases: Collected Company, Collected Chord, Abzan Company, Vizier Company, Bant Company, Bant Knightfall.
The Deck: There are two different builds under the Creature Toolbox umbrella. Both decks share many elements and play similarly, being essentially heirs to the old, glorious Birthing Pod decks. Just like the Pod, they're creature decks trying to assemble a built-in endgame combo through digging or tutoring. The key spell, in all cases, is Collected Company with Chord of Calling and/or Eldritch Evolution as a more dedicated backup in the Vizier Company battleplan. This aims to drop Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid, then dump the resulting infinite mana into Duskwatch Recruiter to find and cast an immense Walking Ballista. It's a combo that's extremely hard to disrupt once the first two pieces are on the battlefield. The Druid can answer any removal by just untapping itself and starting a new cycle of mana production with the removal on the stack. The second CoCo combo in this deck involves Vizier of Remedies again, as well as Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer. This time, the Vizier enables infinite life gain by abusing Finks' persist ability. The other option, somehow less popular but still worth first place at Grand Prix São Paulo, exploits the interaction between Retreat to Coralhelm and Knight of the Reliquary, culminating in a gigantic knightly assault. The blue splash also favors the inclusion of the terrific Spell Queller.
4. Affinity: The Everlasting Threat
Mani Davoudi, 1st Place at Grand Prix Las Vegas
|17Lands||26Creatures||4Instants and Sorceries||13Other Spells|
|4Blinkmoth Nexus||4Arcbound Ravager||4Galvanic Blast||4Cranial Plating|
|4Darksteel Citadel||2Etched Champion||4Mox Opal|
|1Glimmervoid||2Master of Etherium||4Springleaf Drum|
|4Inkmoth Nexus||2Memnite||1Welding Jar|
|3Spire of Industry||4Signal Pest|
|2Ancient Grudge||2Dispatch||2Etched Champion||2Ghirapur Aether Grid|
|1Grafdigger's Cage||2Rest in Peace||1Spell Pierce||2Thoughtseize|
|1Wear // Tear|
The Numbers: 365 decks in a Top-8 placement (6% of the meta), 2 major finals: 1st place at Grand Prix Las Vegas (the largest Modern event of the year with 3264 players), 1st place at Grand Prix San Antonio (team event).
The Deck: Affinity has ranked among the most successful decks since the beginning of the format as one of the fastest aggro archetypes ever conceived, and almost certainly the fastest in Modern. The battleplan is straightforward: Half the deck is made up of artifacts that can be dropped on turn 1, sometimes all at once. They get bigger and scarier with Steel Overseer and/or Cranial Plating with Arcbound Ravager as a guarantee against spot removal. The composition hasn't changed much over the years. Spire of Industry was the most recent inclusion as a safer version of Glimmervoid. It's an archetype that is easy to hate, (who hasn't felt a sudden surge of Schadenfreude after casting Kataki, War's Wage against a board full of robots?) yet equally easy to succumb to, especially when faced with one of its typically explosive starts. It's interesting to note how the deck is still commonly referred to as Affinity, even though it doesn't contain any instance of the affinity mechanic anymore. "Metalcraft" would be a more appropriate moniker.
5. Valakut: The Last Combo Standing
Larry Li, 1st place at Grand Prix Oklahoma City
|27Lands||8Creatures||21Instants and Sorceries||4Other Spells|
|3Cinder Glade||4Primeval Titan||3Explore||2Khalni Heart Expedition|
|2Forest||4Sakura-Tribe Elder||3Farseek||2Prismatic Omen|
|3Stomping Ground||4Search for Tomorrow|
|4Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle||2Summoner's Pact|
|3Windswept Heath||2Sweltering Suns|
|1Ancient Grudge||1Anger of the Gods||1Beast Within||1Chandra, Torch of Defiance|
|1Engineered Explosives||1Nature's Claim||2Obstinate Baloth||1Reclamation Sage|
|3Relic of Progenitus||1Tireless Tracker||2Witchbane Orb|
Aliases: Scapeshift, TitanShift.
The Numbers: 331 decks in a Top-8 placement (6% of the meta), 4 major finals: 1st and 2nd place at Grand Prix Oklahoma City, 2nd place at Grand Prix São Paulo, 1st place at Grand Prix Madrid (team event).
The Deck: All right, it's not exactly "the last combo". After all, Creature Toolbox is a group of highly successful combo decks, although they can easily take the aggro route if needed. Also, Storm still haunts the format, along with statistically minor but relentless combo archetypes like Dredge or Ad Nauseam. Still, an old school Modern combo that's still effective to this day is casting Scapeshift to fetch two Valakuts and enough Mountains to kill your opponent right away. It dates to the very moment Valakut was allowed into the format in 2012, because it was initially banned as a preemptive measure. It has had little variance since then. Its most recent successes involve a wider use of Primeval Titan as both a secondary source of damage and an alternative way to get to the coveted volcano. The rest is almost literally land-fetching paraphernalia, plus Prismatic Omen to turn every land into a Valakut trigger.
RDW (which includes Burn with a Boros splash or otherwise) has actually achieved more Top 8 placements than Valakut (344 total between all versions), but only one GP final at Birmingham. It's perhaps the most well-known deck in the format, or any format, and is arguably the simplest to counteract. Yet, it is the easiest to lose to when left unchecked.
Tron (both green-based and blue-based) along with its colorless spawn, EldraTron, is still the most representative deck of the Modern format. It is only represented in Modern and to a lesser extent in Pauper. It's a force to be reckoned with, thanks to 267 Top 8 placements this year, yet it had no appearances in the finals of any events.
UW Control has also done well, even better if you combine the results with those of its direct cousins, the UWx Midrange builds. If taken together, they would become the third best performing archetype of the year with 405 placements. UW Control is always a wise, reliable choice and it is the most successful pure control deck.
Junk, Storm, and Hatebears complete the list with more than 200 Top 8 placements in 2017. A solid 37% of the meta was conquered by builds that weren't one of the abovementioned 11 archetypes. Even the byzantine Lantern Control has made an unexpected comeback, taking first place at Grand Prix Brisbane. All in all, the Modern format might have some issues and might certainly use some shaking up, but it feels varied enough for the time being.
NOTE: This article was written before the B&R announcement on January 15, 2018 but was published afterwards.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.