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The Modern Bible (Part 1 of 8) by Nick Rennard

From the Staff: This is an 8 part series we will be posting through the month of September. If you ever wanted to read and learn about the Modern Format then this will be for you.

 

The Modern Bible: the 31-Deck Gauntlet of Modern by Nick Rennard

 

Yup! That’s right! We’ve got 31 different deck lists to go over in this article (series). When I originally wrote this article it was almost 50 pages long (size 8. single spaced. Yup.), so we decided to split it up into multiple articles that are going to be posted on this website every Tuesday and Thursday.

Let’s get to it.

In order to be a seriously competitive Modern player, these are all decks you should feel comfortable playing against with whatever deck you choose to pilot. I’ll be going over each deck’s power level in the current metagame, but I’m going to start with the best decks and work my way down towards the Tier 2 decks of the format. As a brewer, the Tier 2 decks can be just as important the Tier 1 decks because many of them are only missing one or two pieces in order to become Tier 1. Even since the last set that was printed (M14), we’ve already seen Archangel of Thune, Tidebinder Mage, Scavenging Ooze, and Young Pyromancer play key roles in Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks in Modern. I’m just waiting for Strionic Resonator to start seeing play in Storm decks. Before M14 we saw the printing of Voice of Resurgence in Dragon’s Maze become the key piece that led Melira Pod to become the ‘deck-to-beat’ as it took 1st place and another Top 8 position at Grand Prix Portland 2013.

I’m extremely passionate about Modern, and I’ve been playing and brewing this format religiously since it first became a format. Since Modern was created, there have been a myriad of format changing bannings which have led it to become one of the healthiest and most diverse formats in Magic the Gathering. I compiled all of the deck lists that you will see in any given tournament, whether it be a PTQ, Grand Prix, FNM, or any other competitive event. I’m going to be giving a short explanation of each deck’s merit, its strengths, its weaknesses, and how the deck could be improved.

You’ll also notice that there are 15 card sideboards with each one of these lists. Sideboarding is the most important and also the most ignored aspect of Modern. Many people tunnel vision so much on their deck choice that they forget about their sideboards. It is easily possible to oversideboard or undersideboard against each of your match-ups. It takes a lot of experience with the deck that you play in order to understand exactly how much you need to bring in against each match-up. There are a lot of Tier 1 decks, but the truly great Modern players are the ones whom can competently sideboard. It is recommend that when you look at these lists that you also take a good look at their sideboards. This will help you develop a better understanding of what kinds of cards are good for the current metagame.

 

UWR (my list):

UWR may be the best and most versatile deck in Modern. This is the deck that I have the most personal experience with, so my explanation of UWR is going to be significantly more detailed than most of the other deck lists in this article series. A major strength of this specific list is how it acts as an aggro deck or a control deck (depending on how you want to play each individual game). For example, Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix can be used proactively as burn spells to their life total. They can also be used reactively as removal for their creatures or planeswalkers (Deathrite Shaman, Dark Confidant, Garruk Relentless, etc). Removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are extremely powerful in Modern because they can be used proactively and reactively. Removal spells such as Abrupt Decay, Go for the Throat, and Dismember are strictly reactive removal spells, so they are less powerful in the Modern metagame.

Geist of Saint Traft is easily one of the most powerful cards in Modern. It’s extremely difficult for most decks to interact with it. Geist’s worst enemy is Liliana of the Veil, which coincidentally (not!) enough is one of the best cards against UWR. Geist of Saint Traft is one of my favorite finishers because of how much damage it is capable of doing for such a small investment of mana. It also pairs extremely well with cards like Elspeth and Cryptic Command to clear the path for Geist of Saint Traft to chunk away at their life total. A couple Geist swings and a couple burn spells will kill any opponent.

You’ll notice that I’m playing Elspeth and Gideon, but not Ajani Vengeant. I’ve tested Ajani Vengeant quite a bit and, while he’s definitely a good card, I feel that he is consistently a little clunky and underwhelming for what I’m looking for in a 4-drop. This deck already has enough Lightning Helix effects in the deck, so I’m not really looking for another one that costs 4 mana at sorcery speed. Elspeth, on the other hand, has been great for me. She’s the Legendary version of Restoration Angel. One of Geist of Saint Traft’s biggest weaknesses (aside from Liliana of the Veil) is people who put up too many blockers in front of him to viably attack. Elspeth does an amazing job of throwing your Geists over their army of Tarmogoyfs, Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence, or whatever the ground might be clogged up with. Gideon can be a little clunky sometimes, but he’s a really nice finisher who works well with Elspeth and has some match-ups that he’s a blowout against (Splinter Twin, Infect, any aggro deck). I have also done some testing with Jace Beleren. I had positive experiences with Jace as a draw engine, but I’m not currently running any copies of him in this list. I feel that Jace Beleren falls into the category of Think Twice and Sphinx’s Revelation, and if I was going to run a card like that, then I would definitely be playing the Jace over either of those two spells. Think Twice and Sphinx’s Revelation can be too slow for how much mana you need to invest into them, whereas Jace is an engine that keeps running until your opponent is forced to deal with him.

You’ll also notice that I’m running 2 Isochron Scepters. I generally sideboard this card out after my opponent sees it, but there are a lot of games where Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, or Izzet Charm on an Isochron Scepter is extremely difficult for an opponent to fight back against. Remember that you get to choose new modes for each Izzet Charm you cast with Isochron Scepter. This is also nice with Boros Charm nugging them for 4 damage every turn.

Cryptic Command is a card that’s extremely powerful and versatile in Modern. I don’t think there’s a single possible board state in Modern where Cryptic Command would have no way of interacting with your opponent (sans Gaddock Teeg/Meddling Mage effects). Cryptic Command can be clunky if drawn in multiples, but it’s a powerful enough tool that I like running one or two of them in most of my UWR lists. You can play the full playset of Cryptic Commands, but drawing a bunch of them in your opening hand can be clunky against the faster decks.

You will also notice that I’m running 4x Mana Leak and no Remand. I’m not a fan of Remand in non-tempo/aggro/combo decks. I like Remand more in decks like Scapeshift and Merfolk, but in UWR it’s better to just run Mana Leak. There are some 3-drop threats in Modern that are difficult for UWR to deal with (Birthing Pod, Kitchen Finks, Geist of Saint Traft, Liliana of the Veil, etc), and you’d much rather remove those threats than have to deal with them the following turn.

Let’s talk about the sideboard. I love Supreme Verdict because I feel that it’s one of the best answers to Geist of Saint Traft, but you can also use it in a lot of match-ups like Merfolk, Jund, Melira Pod, Affinity, etc. Some people like Pyroclasm to deal with opposing Geists, but my problem with Pyroclasm is there are a lot of creatures in Modern that dodge the 2 damage such as Kird Ape, Etched Champion, Merfolk lords, Gavony Townshipped creatures, etc. Pyroclasm also gets Spell Snared against Geist of Saint Traft decks. I’ve always found Supreme Verdict to be very efficient and easy to cast. The uncounterable clause is also relevant against decks that play counterspells to back up their Geist of Saint Traft, Merfolk, Delvers, etc. Some people like running Wrath of God for the regeneration clause, but there are few creatures that actually regenerate in Modern. Thrun, the Last Troll is the main one that comes to everyone’s mind, but Thrun has way less of a mainboard presence in Modern than Geist of Saint Traft. I feel that the uncounterable clause of Supreme Verdict outweighs the strength of the regeneration clause of Wrath of God, but they’re both situational and dependent on what match-ups you expect to face. I personally have more problems with Delver and Geist of Saint Traft than I do with Thrun. I’ve also seen people starting to run Hallowed Burial. Hallowed Burial is another good option for a wrath spell, but make sure you understand that the difference between 4 and 5 mana is pretty significant in Modern, especially with the existence of Tectonic Edge.

You’ll definitely want to have a full playset of Path to Exile in your list of 75 for UWR. There are too many decks that Path to Exile is amazing against for me to ever run less than 4. I generally run 2-3 Path to Exile in the mainboard and 1-2 in the sideboard. My problem with running too many Path to Exile in the mainboard is UWR already has a ton of spot removal spells, so you can generally get away with just running 2 in the mainboard and bringing in the other 2 against match-ups where you need them (like Splinter Twin).

Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace are both great cards for hating on your opponent’s graveyard. Fortunately cards like Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze are hating graveyard strategies out of the metagame, so this allows UWR to get away with running less graveyard hate than they would normally have to if those cards didn’t exist. I like bringing in Relic of Progenitus against any opposing Snapcaster deck. Relic is a nice tool to have in play in those match-ups, since playing it on turn 1 will make your opponent’s Snapcasters significantly worse.

Stony Silence is an amazing sideboard card against Tron and Affinity, but you need to be careful playing it in combination with your own artifacts. Spellskite has a lot of clutch match-ups, such as Splinter Twin, Infect, and Bogles. Bogles is one of UWR’s worst match-ups, and in a lot of matches against them you will need to mulligan aggressively in order to find your sideboard cards against them. Sowing Salt is for Tron and Scapeshift. I bring in Batterskull against any aggro deck, and I also like to bring it in against midrange match-ups such as UWR mirror, Jund, RUG midrange, etc. I like bringing in Pithing Needle against certain planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil and Karn Liberated. I also frequently play Celestial Purge in my sideboards since it’s an efficient way of removing a Liliana of the Veil, and it has some uses against other match-ups like Splinter Twin and RDW (this current list doesn’t have any Celestial Purge). I play the 1-of Dispel because I like having access to an efficient tool to help me win counterspell wars. I play Negate a lot too in my UWR sideboards, but this list doesn’t currently have any.

You’ll notice that I’m not playing any Restoration Angel or Vendilion Clique. Both of these cards are pretty good in Modern, but I like not having a ton of targetable creatures in my UWR decks. I like the Restoration Angel because it helps you protect your Geist of Saint Traft. I also really appreciate Vendilion Clique because it allows you to look at your opponent’s hand. Knowing what your opponent has in hand is a powerful piece of knowledge in Modern. A lot of my UWR lists feature a singleton Gitaxian Probe or Peek just because I like having access to that effect in my deck, and they are also easy spells for Snapcaster to gobble up from the graveyard.

Like I stated earlier, I feel that UWR is the best deck in Modern. There are a lot of ways to build this deck, so you have to constantly be tweaking and updating your UWR list in order to keep up with your metagame. This can be frustrating for some people, but I personally like to be able to evolve to practically any kind of metagame you could expect to see. Other decks will have portions of the season where they aren’t viable because of the decks that are currently seeing a large amount of play. I find it more frustrating to have to completely switch decks than to tune my current deck.

 

 

Jund (my list):

  • Manabase (24):
    • 2x Blackcleave Cliffs

    • 4x Raging Ravine

    • 1x Sacred Foundry

    • 1x Blood Crypt

    • 1x Stomping Ground

    • 1x Temple Garden

    • 1x Godless Shrine

    • 1x Overgrown Tomb

    • 4x Marsh Flats

    • 4x Verdant Catacombs

    • 1x Plains

    • 1x Forest

    • 2x Swamp

  • Mainboard (36):

    • 3x Inquisition of Kozilek
    • 2x Thoughtseize

    • 4x Lightning Bolt

    • 3x Path to Exile

    • 4x Deathrite Shaman

    • 2x Abrupt Decay

    • 4x Dark Confidant

    • 3x Scavenging Ooze
    • 4x Tarmogoyf

    • 3x Lingering souls

    • 4x Liliana of the Veil
  • Sideboard (15):

    • 1x Batterskull

    • 2x Choke
    • 2x Grafdigger’s Cage

    • 1x Jund Charm

    • 1x Maelstrom Pulse

    • 1x Rakdos Charm

    • 1x Slaughter Games

    • 1x Sowing Salt

    • 1x Spellskite

    • 3x Stony Silence

    • 1x Thrun, the Last Troll

Jund is, and always has been, one of the best decks in Modern. It has also always been one of my favorite decks in Modern because of how generically powerful it is against any given match-up (consistency is a good thing). The printing of Deathrite Shaman in Return to Ravnica pushed this deck to become one of the top-tier decks of Modern. Wizards of the Coast started to realize how good Jund was becoming with the printing of Deathrite Shaman, and they decided to ban Bloodbraid Elf. This definitely hurt Jund quite a bit, but it was one of the most balanced bannings that they ever had. It was getting to the point where there was no reason not to play Jund, and banning Bloodbraid Elf forced Jund players to find more creative, top-of-the-curve finishers depending on the metagame.

Speaking of top-of-the-curve finishers, I want to talk a little bit about Scavenging Ooze. It seems as if people are having trouble understanding exactly where Scavenging Ooze fits in Modern. I view Scavenging Ooze as a replacement for Bloodbraid Elf (that doesn’t make you lose 4 life when you reveal it to Dark Confidant). The reason I say this is because I generally don’t want to play my Scavenging Ooze on turn 2 because it will most likely just die to a Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, Spell Snare, etc. I like playing my Scavenging Oozes on turn 4 or turn 5 as a 4 mana spell that costs 1GGG. Scavenging Ooze is at its best when it can not only gain you life by exiling creatures in the graveyards, but also protect itself against the best removal spell in Modern: Lightning Bolt. The problem with Scavenging Ooze is that it’s definitely worse than top-of-the-curve finishers like Bloodbraid Elf when it’s in multiples. You really only need one in play, but when I have multiple Scavenging Ooze in hand, that’s when I will run them out on turn 2 hoping that my opponent spends their removal spells on that first Scavenging Ooze so that I can safely resolve my Dark Confidant or my second Scavenging Ooze. The printing of Scavenging Ooze definitely makes Jund a better deck in Modern. They already had Deathrite Shaman as a piece of mainboard hate against graveyard strategies, but Deathrite Shaman was sometimes a little too slow at exiling things from an opponent’s graveyard. Not only does Deathrite Shaman take a turn to come online, but it could only exile a single card a turn. Having access to mainboard Deathrite Shamans and Scavenging Oozes allows Jund to free up some of their graveyard hate slots in their sideboard (Relic of Progenitus, Rakdos Charm, Leyline of the Void, Jund Charm, etc), and fill it with other cards that are useful for some of the matches that Jund can struggle against (like Tron).

You may consider it to be a bold statement, but Lightning Bolt is the best removal spell in Modern, quickly followed up by Path to Exile (notice how this particular Jund list is capable of playing both). One of Jund’s biggest strengths is its access to Lightning Bolt. Playing red instead of white or blue (Jund vs. Junk/BUG) also gives you access to extremely versatile and powerful sideboard cards. Some of these cards include Jund Charm, Rakdos Charm, Slaughter Games, Ancient Grudge, and Sowing Salt. Another one of Jund’s biggest strengths is its ability to play turn 2 Liliana of the Veil. Liliana of the Veil is one of the best cards in modern, and many decks will quickly fold to her when she is played early in the game. Jund decks do a good job of fully utilizing her as a planeswalker with cards like Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Deathrite Shaman, and Lingering Souls.

Jund does not have a lot of weaknesses. All of the cards in Jund are individually considered to be some of the best spells in Modern. Because of this, it’s extremely hard for players to go card-for-card against Jund and expect to come out on top. One of the problems with Jund is that it can be extremely draw-dependent. You don’t have a lot of control over your draws, so sometimes you get mana flooded or mana-screwed, and there’s just nothing you can do about it. Blue decks, on the other hand, have access to cards like Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Izzet Charm, and Thirst for Knowledge which allow you to filter cards that might be of less value depending on the match-up or the current board state. Another one of Jund’s biggest weaknesses is Rest in Peace. Most of the cards in Jund get significantly worse (if not become completely dead cards) when a Rest in Peace is in play. Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman, Lingering Souls, and Scavenging Ooze all lose quite a bit of luster when you aren’t able to remove their Rest in Peace. I recommend keeping this in mind when you are deciding whether or not to side out your Abrupt Decays against white decks.

I like this particular sideboard of Jund. I think that Choke is one of the most underrated sideboard cards in Modern. It’s like a Blood Moon that only affects your opponents. Stony Silence can also be a game-ender against Tron and Affinity if it’s played on turn 2. Affinity has 24 cards that become dead cards when Stony Silence is in play. Tron has roughly 19 or 20 dead cards (depending how many Oblivion Stone they run) with Stony Silence in play, and most of those cards are their enablers for assembling Tron. It also shuts off the bouncing Batterskulls that they bring in against Jund in the sideboard. Batterskull is a very good card against Jund.

Affinity (MickNiner – an online testing partner of mine):

 

  • Manabase (16):
    • 4x Blinkmoth Nexus

    • 4x Darksteel Citadel

    • 3x Glimmervoid

    • 4x Inkmoth Necus

    • 1x Island

  • Mainboard (44):

    • 2x Memnite

    • 4x Ornithopter

    • 4x Signal Pest

    • 4x Arcbound Ravager

    • 4x Steel Overseer

    • 4x Vault Skirge

    • 4x Etched Champion

    • 4x Mox Opal

    • 2x Galvanic Blast

    • 4x Springleaf Drum

    • 4x Cranial Plating
    • 4x Thoughtcast
  • Sideboard (15):

    • 1x Galvanic Blast

    • 2x Ancient Grudge

    • 1x Grafdigger’s Cage
    • 1x Master of Etherium

    • 2x Spell Pierce

    • 2x Spellskite

    • 2x Thoughtseize

    • 1x Wear/Tear

    • 3x Whipflare

Affinity is, and always has been, one of the best aggro decks in Modern. Unfortunately for aggro players, the printing of good and versatile life gain cards like Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman are forcing aggro decks to fall off the map. I wouldn’t often recommend someone pick up an aggro deck in Modern, but if you’re born to be aggressive, then Affinity is the most competitive and consistent aggro deck. One of Affinity’s biggest weaknesses is UWR. UWR has too many spot removal spells for Affinity to seal the deal in most matches. Unfortunately for Affinity, UWR is one of the most competitively played Tier 1 decks in Modern, so this is a match-up that will be difficult to avoid.

 

One of my favorite parts about this particular Affinity sideboard is that it doesn’t include Blood Moon. I’ve seen a lot of Affinity decks that play Blood Moon in their sideboard, and I’ve never understood why. Blood Moon is really good AGAINST Affinity, and I always chuckle to myself when I see Affinity players play a Blood Moon and shut off all of their own Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Glimmervoids (which can no longer float black for your Cranial Plating, blue for your Thoughtcasts, or play your non-red sideboard cards). If you’re playing Affinity, then DO NOT play Blood Moon in your sideboard. You’re only going to waste a sideboard slot(s) and screw yourself more often than you screw your opponent.

 

That’s it for the first part of this article series. Check back in on Thursday for another article covering RG Tron, Birthing Pod variations, and more! Feel free to write me questions and comments at:

 

Facebook: Nick Rennard – Oregon State University

MTGO: nrjets99

e-mail: nickrennard@yahoo.com

Thanks for reading!