The Post-GP Prague Metagame Breakdown


Although the European Modern scene leans toward control more than its American counterpart, the numbers that W/U Control put up at GP Prague came as an eye-opener for someone like me who expected things to be a lot more linear. Regardless, I want to take a look at the archetype's performance, examine an up-and-comer from the tournament, and wrap things up with a look towards the future. Without further ado, let's jump right into the deck of the hour, W/U Control.

W/U Rules the Weekend

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

With eight copies in the top 32 of GP Prague, W/U Control crushed the tournament even if none of the lists made it into the top 8.

W/U Control by Grzegorz Kowalski, 13th Place, GP Prague

The more the metagame has solidified, the better the control decks have been able to identify which cards need to be played in the 75, and this was definitely the case for W/U Control at GP Prague. The archetype seemed to have identified Humans, the graveyard decks, KCI, and the mirror as the top threats, and the deck lists all incorporate various technology to handle these decks. Terminus is lights out against Hollow One decks because it shuts off the recursive nature of the decks' threats. The standard package of wraths is particularly efficient against a go-wide deck like Humans, and the ability to counter important combo pieces gives W/U Control a solid game plan against the top combo deck of the format, KCI. The W/U pilots obviously identified the potential of their own deck, and the otherwise risky main deck copies of Ancestral Vision hint that players were prepared for the mirror. With some of the best European players playing W/U Control for the weekend, these finely-tuned lists found great success at the tournament.

A New Challenger

Hardened Scales

One other deck I want to talk about is the Harden Scales Affinity deck, an archetype that isn't new but hadn't seen the level of success that it had at GP Prague. Doing one better than the performance put on by Johann Fink at GP Barcelona this past summer, two copies of the deck made it to the top 32, with one of them taking down the tournament. For a deck that more or less came out of the left field, the results from the weekend were nothing if not outstanding.

Hardened Scales Affinity by Lauri Pispa, 1st Place, GP Prague

Hardened Scales Affinity is a deck that relies on counters matter synergy and its namesake card, Hardened Scales. While the deck is an aggressive deck, the modality of counters in conjunction with cards such as Arcbound Ravager, Walking Ballista, and Steel Overseer gives the pilot a wide range of lines to choose from. Like any other aggressive deck in Modern, Hardened Scales Affinity can explode for a ton of damage and end the game in a multitude of ways that aren't quite obvious until you pick up the deck and play it.

One of the strengths of the deck is its resilience to removal, an aspect that is a deviation from the standard version of Affinity. Evolutionary Leap, Welding Jar, and Animation Module blank spot removal in unusual ways, and cards such as Arcbound Ravager, Walking Ballista, and Hangarback Walker recoup some value even if they are dealt with. Additionally, the creature lands demand instant-speed removal and Inkmoth Nexus presents a fast clock when combined with the counter-synergy present in the deck.

Another aspect of the deck that is difficult for opponents to play against is the mechanical nature of counters. If a player isn't prepared to do some calculations for the match, playing against a deck that relies on a ton of counters being added, removed, moved around, and played with is a mentally taxing exercise that can lead to miscalculations and thus misplays. In a GP, Hardened Scales takes a toll on opponents who have been playing two days' worth of Magic in a weekend, and I'm sure that Hardened Scales players take advantage of that to steal victories.

Looking Ahead

Decks had their sights set on Humans and the graveyard decks of the format, but it turns out that Humans is just a stupidly good deck regardless of the hate it faces. Three copies of the archetype ended up in the top 32, with two pilots finding their way into the top 8, and in a field stacked to the top with some of the best European players piloting control archetypes the performance put on by Humans is something to behold. I have three takeaways that I will expound upon individually.

1. W/U Control is here to stay.


I had expected that W/U Control would be beaten down after the performance it put up in GP Barcelona, but it turns out that the showing in the summer was simply a prelude for what was to come. In any case, I'm confident that as long as Humans and Hollow One/Vengevine decks are the premier aggro decks of the format, W/U Control will retains its spot as a top-tier strategy. The deck has access to the best wrath in Modern in the form of Terminus, and Teferi is one of the format's best planeswalkers when it comes to closing out a game. This makes W/U Control both a poweful option against the top aggro decks as well as the fair decks that try to go toe-to-toe with it, such as Mardu Pyromancer and Grixis Death's Shadow. Unless Humans or the graveyard decks fall out of favor, I find it hard to believe that W/U Control will go anywhere.

2. Prepare to play against Ancient Stirrings.

Ancient Stirrings

Whether its Mono-Green Tron, Hardened Scales Affinity, or KCI, Ancient Stirrings is everywhere in the metagame, supplanting these decks by providing the kind of consistency that no other card in Modern provides. This means that the stocks of cards such as Stony Silence, Ceremonious Rejection, and Ancient Grudge should be at an all-time high, and you should be playing at least one of these cards in your 75. As a corollary, the latter two decks are particular difficult to play against due to their mechanical complexity, and you should be practicing playing against them to not only get your reps in, but also to familiarize yourself with the interactions between the cards' mechanics.

3. Midrange has hit rock bottom.

Deathrite Shaman Stoneforge Mystic

If you're playing a midrange deck, you've probably seen better days. While some midrange decks have seen individual success (and after all, this is Modern – any deck can win a tournament), traditional midrange such as Jund, Abzan, and Bant have seen a noticeable drop in play. Modern decks are currently going under their opponents (as is the case with Humans, Hollow One, and Dredgevine) or over the top (as is the case with W/U Control and Tron), and midrange decks are having a hard time finding the right tools to deal with both.

What does this mean? Perhaps Wizards has taken notice of the decline of traditional midrange, and it could be the case that they push cards in upcoming sets to try to shore up the power of midrange decks. Fatal Push brought about a resurgence of the archetype at the time, and if a card similar in its power level were to be printed in Guilds of Ravnica, we could see a similar revival for the fair decks of the format. Another direction in which Wizards could go would be the unbanning of midrange favorites: namely, Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic. With the fairly recent banning of the former in Legacy, the chances of DRS coming back to Modern might seem like a pipe dream, but the card would be a shot in the arm to B/G/x strategies that need to fight back against the unfair decks of the format. Stoneforge Mystic would also provide the stabilizing force against the aggressive archetypes of the format, and while there is a chance that these cards are too powerful, Modern decks as a whole are carrying out game plans that are much more powerful than simple, efficient threats.

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


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fablodibongo(06.09.2018 19:08)

Human and spirits are both midrange decks that do well
And to beat them you need to use "unfair" strategies like hollow one / bridgevine / KCI...
Agressive decks are dead
When have we seen a wild nacatl making top 8 at a big tournament?
Even the true afinity isn't played today

Karnigel(06.09.2018 11:25)

With 2x Choke and 2x Eye of wisent im am really happy to match any u/w list :)

theJooSCHI(06.09.2018 10:41)

UW as a Fan-favorite will always be a deck in modern, even if it sucks, since people want to feel smart :D
Doe i don´t think that they will even touch the banlist right now SFM unban would be great, DRS might be too cruel for too many gy decks...
Also really hoping to see a modern playable 3-mana or 4-mana Vraska in GoR

Seingalt(06.09.2018 02:12)

With the rumors of the SFM unban in the summer, the unban trend given by the DCI during the last year or so, I supect that the mindrange gap will be filled the way you describe. The community seems ok with it.

The longer the time and the bigger the card pool the more exterme strategies are favored by synergies between cards printed uears apart from one another.
To keep midrange in the picture, there needs to be very effective 1 for 1 answers (but I can’t fathom a modern format featuring daze or swords to plowshares) or grindy sources of CA like jund has featured as long as they weren’t banned (confidant, BBE).

DRS will never come back from jail because is wraped even good old legacy, but stoneforge faces quite an hostile environment and could be at home in a modern format filled with sideboard artifact hate.

UW is at the top because it provides and obnoxious combination of efficient win conditions (manlands and Walkers), card selection, 1 for 1 removal and mass removal. I don’t expect the archetype suffering from bans anytime but I don’t think the format will be able to provide a real solution to UW. Therefore SFM would actually only make things worse.

(I will probably be buying into UW to play modern fot the next 2 years).

Freddi(05.09.2018 19:14)

Just unban drs in modern. What could go wrong?