What the Four Best Decks from GP Phoenix Say about Modern
- Hans Davidson
GP Phoenix gave us an insight into how the meta has shaped up after the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. Hans looks at what he considers the four best decks from the tournament and discusses what kind of information we can wean from the results!
With GP Phoenix behind us, I wanted to examine what I felt were the best decks from the tournament. “Best,” of course, is subjective, and even the deck I chose for the title of “fourth best deck” is a testament to the power of one of the cards it plays rather than the deck itself. With a format as wide as Modern, it’s moot to talk about a hierarchy of power level when a range of decks can finish in the top eight or better. If I had to define “the best decks,” then, I would define them as the decks a player should play to give him- or herself the best chances of winning a tournament. I also want to analyze what the top decks say about the Modern metagame at large, and I’m hoping that the takeaway will serve as fodder for further discussion on how the metagame can be attacked and could evolve.
With that out of the way, let’s jump right into the first archetype on our list!
4. Jund Elves by Andrew Richardson, 25th Place
|18Lands||36Creatures||6Instants and Sorceries|
|4Cavern of Souls||4Bloodbraid Elf||4Collected Company|
|3Forest||4Dwynen's Elite||2Lead the Stampede|
|4Gilt-Leaf Palace||1Elves of Deep Shadow|
|1Overgrown Tomb||4Elvish Archdruid|
|1Stomping Ground||1Elvish Visionary|
|4Windswept Heath||3Ezuri, Renegade Leader|
|4Shaman of the Pack|
|2Abrupt Decay||1Elvish Champion||1Essence Warden|
|1Fracturing Gust||2Lead the Stampede||2Reclamation Sage|
|2Relic of Progenitus||2Shapers' Sanctuary||2Thoughtseize|
Elves? In a sea of Jund? Looks like it! And Andrew Richardson’s Elves deck is built to grind out opponents via Collected Company and the recently unbanned Bloodbraid Elf. Truth be told, the performance of this list says more about the power of Bloodbraid Elf than the deck itself, and this spot in the rankings could have been replaced by any list running BBE as a four-of. With that being said, I’m a sucker for tribes and unconventional lists, so I wanted to spotlight Andrew’s deck in today’s article. The biggest strengths of this deck are CoCo and BBE, the engines for this deck, but the access to black also allows the deck to shore up what would otherwise be difficult matchups.
Collected Company and Bloodbraid Elf are cards that are at their best against midrange and control strategies, and at a tournament where both strategies were out in force due to the February 2018 unbanning, Andrew made a great meta-call playing the two together. Collected Company provides an instant-speed stream of value that is tricky for decks to answer without a Dispel or a Grafdigger’s Cage, and in a go-wide deck like Elves, the board snowballs out of control with an Elvish Archdruid or Ezuri, Renegade Leader in play. Bloodbraid Elf follows a similar pattern, but the 3/2 body with haste (and the power-toughness modification that the cascade hit may bring) also pushes the last points of damage through in the control matchups.
Speaking of control matchups, which have been one of the historically tough matchups for Elves, the sideboard options for having access to black mana means that the deck can board in Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay to deal with pesky spells and permanents. Thoughtseize in particular has wide applications by giving the deck an out against the format’s fast combo decks and the control deck’s numerous wraths.
In conclusion, although Burn still looks like a miserable matchup for this deck, the power of Coco and Bloodbraid Elf should be enough to overpower many of the fair strategies of the format. Jund is everywhere, but the deck has plenty of game against it, and I’d be happy playing this list for the next couple of months. Most importantly, I know I would be having fun doing so.
3. Five-Color Humans by Steve Locke, 1st Place
|4Ancient Ziggurat||4Champion of the Parish||4Aether Vial|
|4Cavern of Souls||1Dark Confidant|
|4Horizon Canopy||1Dire Fleet Daredevil|
|2Seachrome Coast||4Mantis Rider|
|4Unclaimed Territory||4Meddling Mage|
|3Thalia, Guardian of Thraben|
|1Dire Fleet Daredevil||2Dismember||2Grafdigger's Cage|
|1Hostage Taker||2Izzet Staticaster||2Kataki, War's Wage|
|1Mirran Crusader||2Sin Collector||2Xathrid Necromancer|
After the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf, many in the Modern community expected that a shift to a more interactive and removal-heavy meta would lead to a downtick in the popularity of Five-Color Humans. Like the great aggro deck that it is, however, Humans has continued to put up results, and in the case of GP Phoenix, win the tournament. While I don’t believe that Humans is the best aggro deck in the format, its disruption package along with the velocity at which it can build up winning board states solidifies its spot in tier one. If you’re planning on taking down a large tournament, Humans is a fine choice.
The explosiveness of Five-Color Humans is well-documented, and Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant have a lot to do with that. Champion of the Parish can go tall, and Thalia’s Lieutenant aids in the deck going wide. Both cards play well with Aether Vial, which can be activated in response to enter-the-battlefield effects of either cards to maximize the +1/+1 counters that are distributed. For example, a Humans player with two lands and an Aether Vial with one charge counter can cast Lieutenant, and in response to its ETB effect, can vial in a one-drop such as Noble Hierarch to give both the Lieutenant and the Hierarch a +1/+1 counter. Mantis Rider closes out games by having flying and haste, and in multiples they’re nigh unbeatable for most decks.
What makes Humans feel so unfair, though, is the amount of disruption that it gets to play in its main deck. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, and Kitesail Freeboooter round off a trio of cards that slow down the game just enough for the Humans deck to run over its opponent. And Reflector Mage can sometimes act as a pseudo Time Walk by bouncing the opponents’ creatures and stranding multiple copies in their hands. Having answers one turn too late is enough for the Humans to take advantage of and steal the game with a sudden burst of damage, either via Thalia’s Lieutenant or Mantis Riders.
I’m a strong proponent of the belief that the historically best strategies in Modern are the linear, aggressive ones, and in Five-Color Humans we see a deck that can end the game on the fourth turn of the game all the while disrupting the opponent’s plans. A five-color mana base allows for tweaks to be made to the deck depending on the meta, and each new set will bring a bevy of new humans that could end up upgrading the deck. Five-Color Humans may have supplanted Affinity as the aggro deck to respect when you sign up for a Modern tournament.
2. Jund by Pierson Laughlin, 2nd Place
|4Blackcleave Cliffs||4Bloodbraid Elf||4Inquisition of Kozilek|
|1Blood Crypt||4Dark Confidant||1Maelstrom Pulse|
|4Bloodstained Mire||3Scavenging Ooze||2Thoughtseize|
|1Forest||4Tarmogoyf||4Liliana of the Veil|
|2Overgrown Tomb||1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|3Raging Ravine||1Abrupt Decay|
|1Stomping Ground||3Fatal Push|
|2Treetop Village||3Lightning Bolt|
|1Abrupt Decay||2Ancient Grudge||2Anger of the Gods|
|2Collective Brutality||1Grim Lavamancer||2Kitchen Finks|
|1Maelstrom Pulse||1Thoughtseize||1Thrun, the Last Troll|
With the return of Bloodbraid Elf, Jund shot up the tier rankings straight into tier one status. There’s very little to say about a deck that has been around since the inception of Modern, but I do want to go over some of the changes that took place with the inclusion of BBE, and what we may expect from future Jund lists.
Bloodbraid Elf has incentivized decks to be built in such a way that the Jund player gets maximum value from the cascade trigger – hitting spells that don’t do anything on a given board state is not a place you want to be when casting Bloodbraid Elf. The five copies of Liliana variants decrease the reliance on removal spells that might not be relevant while also providing flexibility. Playing twenty-five lands to accommodate the playset of Bloodbraid Elf allow the deck to play five copies of aggressive creature-lands (three of Raging Ravines and two of Treetop Villages), which are great when the game turns into a top-deck war or when the Jund deck begins to flood.
One of the things I don’t like about Pierson Laughlin’s list is that it’s only playing three basics, and with Field of Ruin and Path to Exile everywhere, the fourth basic land has very little opportunity cost in relation to the upside it provides. In fact, if the deck plans on playing this few basics, I wouldn’t be against a single inclusion of a Godless Shrine to splash for Lingering Souls in the sideboard, as the card is fantastic in midrange matches and Jund mirrors. As we see Jund decks tune themselves more and more for the mirror, we may see a trend towards this four-color variation.
In any case, Jund is an excellent deck that can be adjusted to be prepared for any given meta, and the re-introduction of Bloodbraid Elf has made its tougher matchups, even Tron, much more manageable. Jund is the best midrange deck of the format (for now), and I’m looking forward to how it evolves over the next several months.
1. BR Hollow One by Zach Dunn, 19th Place
|18Lands||24Creatures||18Instants and Sorceries|
|1Arid Mesa||4Bloodghast||4Burning Inquiry|
|3Blackcleave Cliffs||4Flameblade Adept||2Collective Brutality|
|3Blood Crypt||4Flamewake Phoenix||4Faithless Looting|
|4Bloodstained Mire||3Gurmag Angler||4Goblin Lore|
|2Mountain||4Hollow One||4Lightning Bolt|
|1Scalding Tarn||4Street Wraith|
|1Stomping Ground||1Tasigur, the Golden Fang|
|2Ancient Grudge||2Big Game Hunter||2Blood Moon|
|1Collective Brutality||1Engineered Explosives||2Fatal Push|
|2Grim Lavamancer||3Leyline of the Void|
BR Hollow One might secretly be the best deck in Modern, but then again, is it even a secret anymore? While only two copies of the deck finished in the top 32 at GP Phoenix, that fact alone doesn’t discredit the power level of BR Hollow One. The three aspects of the deck that make it so powerful are its explosiveness, disruptiveness, and resiliency.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing against this deck in person, you might have seen Internet clips of the insane starts that this deck can have. Cheating on mana is always a busted strategy in Magic, and being able to deploy Hollow One (or even multiples of them) immediately after casting a Burning Inquiry or Faithless Looting is going to put the opponent under a lot of pressure very quickly. In Modern, where the best strategies are linear and non-interactive, the ability for BR Hollow One to carry out a fast and consistent aggressive strategy puts it at the forefront of the format.
With that said, aggressive decks don’t get to be the top dog just because of their linearity, and one of the reasons why BR Hollow One might be the best deck in Modern is because of its surprising disruptive element. The deck’s enablers such as Collective Brutality and Burning Inquiry double as disruption, and the latter does its best Hymn to Tourach impressions from time to time. While targeted discard such as Collective Brutality are strong effects, Burning Inquiry’s random discard is a lesson in the “fairness” of symmetrical effects. The aftermath of a resolved Inquiry renders keepable hands suddenly unkeepable, whether it’s hate cards and answers ending up in the graveyard or a hand stripped of its lands to play spells. In the meantime, the cards that are discarded by the BR Hollow One player tend to retain value in the graveyard in the form of Bloodghasts, Flamewake Phoenixes, and Faithless Lootings. The synergy between the disruption and the aggro plan is a big reason why BR Hollow One is the real deal.
Finally, the resiliency of this deck makes playing against it in post-board games quite the ordeal. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the deck stops functioning once the graveyard is gone. In actual gameplay, Hollow One provides a large enough body that if it enters play fast enough, the opposing player has a difficult time answering a 4/4 clock because it can’t be traded in combat or removed as easily as the Bloodghasts or Flamewake Phoenixes. Even if the opponent does manage to stick a hate card like Grafdigger’s Cage on turn one, the filtering that the enablers provide allows the Hollow One deck to dig deep to find answers of its own. In Zach Dunn’s particular deck list from GP Phoenix, the Blood Moons are such fantastic sideboard cards in a deck that can pitch them when they’re irrelevant and look for them when they are game-winners. Having multiple angles of attack in an aggro list is reminiscent of Affinity, and similar to what I said about Humans, but I believe that BR Hollow One is the better aggro list.
Looking at these four decks, there are three points that we can surmise in regard to Modern and the metagame at large.
- 1. BR Hollow One isn’t being played enough. As the popularity of Grixis Death’s Shadow continues to decline due to the rise of Jund, BR Hollow One keeps looking better and better, as the GDS matchup is a tough one for Hollow One. There’s a misconception that the Hollow One deck is a “high-roll” deck, meaning that it’s a high-variance deck, but that view ignores the fact that the deck benefits from the random discard of Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore while doing maximum damage to its opponents. The fairness of the symmetry in discarding randomly is as “fair” as Wrath of God destroying all creatures. Hollow One is extremely consistent at enacting its game plan, and we should expect to see its numbers rise as the RNG stigma continues to fade after each tournament.
- 2. Try Bloodbraid Elf in everything. The Magic Online metagame moves much faster than the paper metagame, but the different decklists showcased in the weekly 5-0 compilations show players jamming Bloodbraid Elf in whatever shell that can support it. BBE is a clock and card advantage stapled onto one creature, and many aggro-midrange strategies are finding out how conducive the card is to fighting against a wide swath of unfavorable archetypes. 70% of Modern decks will lose to Blood Moon anyway – why not go ahead and splash a color to be able to run Bloodbraid Elf?
- 3. Engineered Explosives should have been reprinted in Masters 25 because it’s going to be a highly sought-after card if the metagame looks to stay the same. GW Bogles, Jund, Humans, Elves, and Affinity are all decks that Engineered Explosives is good against, and a deck that can take advantage of a main-deck Explosives will be greatly rewarded for being able to do so.
That’s all for this week – leave a comment below to let me know what you think are the best decks from GP Phoenix!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.