It has been a wild ride.
Ever since Modern Horizons 2 entered the battlefield, keeping up with the changes to the metagame has turned into a daily task - and that is not even that big of an exaggeration. Thanks to all the dedicated Modern streamers on Twitch, and to packed weekend Challenge and Qualifier tournaments on MTGO, I cannot remember a time since Modern was first announced as a supported competitive format when there were so many viable decks that could Top 8 any given event.
Just this past weekend, there were as many as 12 different archetypes across the Saturday and Sunday Challenge Top 8s, among which one can find the Temur CrashCade that was developed pretty much on Day 1 of MH2 release as well as new twists on old favorites like Burn and Living End. Another fantastic feature of this new era of Modern is the fact that each week brings its own Boogeyman - from HammerTime to Elementals to Izzet Murktide, players have had to adapt fast and so far have been pretty good at it.
One thing I have noticed is that Modern brewing seems to revolve around efficient spell packages lately, which I believe is part of the reason why the format has been pretty dynamic of late. So instead of archetypes, I figured I would try and identify these packages and how well they integrate into the overall plan of the builds that use them.
Ragavan / Darcy / Murktide
Let's deal right away with the sneaky monkey in the room and go over the trio of MH2 All-Stars that rejuvenated Modern pretty much by themselves. Very much like their Brooklyn Nets counterparts Harden/Irving/Durant, they do not need to all be in the 75 for the deck to be performing well: there are some iterations like Izzet Spells where
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is not necessary, much like
Murktide Regent is bypassed in MonoRed/Boros Burn. However the common denominator is always
Dragon's Rage Channeler (DRC or Darcy, for short) to which I nearly feel obligated to attach
Mishra's Bauble considering how tied at the hip both of these cards seem - and to be fair, they generate so much card advantage that it would be foolish to run one without the other.
All three of these creatures must be dealt with by the opponent as soon as they possibly can, as each can close a game on their own pretty rapidly. The fact that they can all be played for so little mana allows for their controller to have protection and/or backup if any card is removed. Darcy's static ability feeding into Murktide's Delve for cost reduction is simply terrifying - and they also synergize amazingly well with duplicate copies (Darcy letting future Darcies come in as 3/3 flyers, Murktide growing if a second copy enters play for cheap). It is to the point that
Path to Exile has pretty much been sent into early retirement from the suite of removal spells, as opponents cannot afford to be giving away an extra land to such a low curve deck. But more on that later.
Izzet Murktide has been in the conversation for best deck in the format practically right away, and to no one's surprise really when one considers that this package has also been seeing play in other Eternal formats. Many players were calling for bans for Ragavan, Bauble or even both, however the natural evolution of the format has allowed for Modern to police itself quite well so far.
Another early centerpiece of Modern brewing post-MH2, and quite the tongue twister too,
Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar has the rare credential to be one of the few non-land cards to ever be tested in practically every color combination imaginable. Golgari Food? Check. Esper Affinity? Check. Orzhov Reanimate? Check. 4-color Emry's Kitchen? Also check.
The Underworld Cookbook, Asmo can do a lot, and I mean a lot of things:
- discarding a card as additional cost (for Cookbook or other) is not as bad a downside since it enables casting Asmo;
- it fetches a copy of Cookbook (often the second) for free to generate more tokens;
- one of the best creature removal in the format, and one of the very few that can take on a low- to mid-sized
Murktide Regent(larger if you have enough tokens);
- enable crazy fast start to the game like putting 10 power in play on Turn 2 with an opening hand of Asmo, Cookbook, one land and
Feasting Troll King.
The Asmo-Food package would not be complete with the new Modern staple out of Kaladesh:
Ovalchase Daredevil. This card allows the engine to function without any card disadvantage since the Daredevil returns to hand with every token produced. There are answers to this however, with
Relic of Progenitus/
Surgical Extraction; but one can also play around those cards when running the Asmo-Food package in a Reanimator shell by "baiting" an answer to this graveyard cycle with Daredevil.
There are multiple ways to use the Asmo-Food engine and the many tokens it produces: one can go the Affinity way with
Thought Monitor and
Nettlecyst, or go even bigger with an army of construct tokens via
Urza, Lord High Artificer and
Urza's Saga. The latter works wonders with the premise of the Food package since the last chapter of Saga can grab
The Underworld Cookbook to get things going, and Cookbook augmenting the size of each Construct created by Saga's second chapter can end games pretty quickly.
Speaking of which...
Urza's Saga and its toolbox
There is no debate that
Urza's Saga is another headliner from Modern Horizons 2, and the subject of many polarizing discussions among players. Much like
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Saga was facing torches and pitchfork galore with demands to be brought to the Altar of the B&R early on - we are talking mere hours after the set hit MTGO. Yet there were recent Challenges with zero copies of the card in the Top 8, and just a couple of decks using it when looking further in the Top 16. Is the card "busted"? In some sense yes, representing two spells stuck on a land (making those nearly uncounterable), and even accounting for two card types - enchantment and land - once it hits the graveyard for Delirium and other Lhurgoyf purposes. But once again, players have adapted their sideboard plans by including or adding more copies of cards likes of
Wear // Tear,
Force of Vigor or even
The Underworld Cookbook in Food packages, the card most often paired with
Urza's Saga is undoubtedly
Shadowspear which represents scarier Construct threats (+1/+1 and Trample) as well as allowing to recover from early hits (Lifelink). Even as just a 1-of in the 75,
Shadowspear hitting the board is very much a turning point in the game. The rest of the Saga toolbox depends on the kind of build it is included in:
Tormod's Cryptfor defensive measures;
Amulet of Vigorfor land-based strategies;
Mox Amberfor mana acceleration;
Mishra's Baubleto develop their respective archetypes.
A very recent development in the modern metagame is the pairing of Urza's Saga with another cornerstone of the format:
Wrenn and Six. While the upside of combining both cards is obvious to anyone who has read both cards, it also comes at quite the constraint on the manabase, making it difficult to build 3-color manabases. And yet it is Temur and Jund builds that have been the first to showcase the Wrenn-Saga duo albeit with various degrees of commitment to the third color: a touch of Blue for
Expressive Iteration and
Aether Spellbomb in Temur, a dallop of Black for
Inquisition of Kozilek/
Collective Brutality and
Nihil Spellbomb. As nice as it would be to feature
Liliana of the Veil in a revamped Jund build, it is difficult to envision running
Urza's Saga and having double Black mana readily available on Turn 3 with enough consistency - unless Gilded Goose is in the picture, like in this build of Jund Food that took 1st place in Modern 2K.
There has also been quite the shakeup in the world of removal spells, as the increased pace and the definite shift toward creature-based decks has forced Modern deckbuilders to move away from
Path to Exile. In a format where the vast majority of threats are 2-mana-or-less creatures in very low curve decks, ramping the opponent feels like such a bad beat. However, there is an excellent replacement in
Prismatic Ending: although MH2's spoiler season did not hype the card as much as others from that set that are now an integral part of what is shaping the Modern metagame, it is now a can't miss for any deck running White - and is even pushing some established archetypes across all Eternal formats to consider expanding into that color to splash specifically for
Prismatic Ending. Practically, only
Murktide Regent is immune to Ending in the current Modern landscape, which puts it on par with the other 5-star creature removal out of MH2 -
Unholy Heat, capable to take on a wide range of threats from Ragavan all the way to
Primeval Titan (granted with a bit of work) for a single Red mana.
Lightning Bolt is the other piece of Red removal that is a mainstay in most strategies running that color. Consider who the Usual Suspects are nowadays in Modern:
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer,
Dragon's Rage Channeler,
Lurrus of the Dream-Den,
Puresteel Paladin, even
Fury... the list goes and on of what remains under the "3 toughness" umbrella that can therefore be handled by Bolt.
For those looking to cast a wider net, which is sometimes necessary e.g. when facing a half dozen Food tokens on the opponent's side of the table, there is the true and tested
Engineered Explosives. While it suffers from the same limitation than
Prismatic Ending when it comes to dealing with
Murktide Regent, it more than makes up for it by its reach in being able to deal with multiple Darcies at once, or even multiple Crabs. Of note, and to go back on the example I was just using, playing EE for X = 0 not only takes care of any and all Food tokens that
The Underworld Cookbook could have created but it also takes Asmo along for the ride - which definitely comes in handy.
There are a few other groups of cards that synergize very well that I just cannot go without mentioning here:
Flamekin Harbinger: this interaction has been around since M20, but there are many new Elementals with Evoke that fit this new metagame quite well and make the 5-color archetype viable, notably
Endurance, to go with
Omnath, Locus of Creationat the top end of the curve;
Archmage's Charm: this is the typical list of Izzet spells in all variation of the archetype, from the aggressive Darcy/Murktide builds to the more tempo oriented versions like Prowess. Despite the triple-Blue cost of
Archmage's Charm, the manabase rarely misses assembling the necessary lands to allow casting it on Turn 3 consistently;
Unmarked Grave: Orzhov Reanimator is a thing again, with
Archon of Crueltyand
Terastodonthe main reanimation targets in this iteration mostly supported by the Asmo-Food package described above in this article and
Bone Shards, a utility piece of removal that fits the theme of the build quite well as binning one of the deck's big monsters as additional cost is far from a downside;
Dress Down: another recent innovation from AspiringSpike, this one serves both as a finisher, making
Death's Shadowa 13/13 without restriction, as well as an answer to the opponent's
Lurrus of the Dream-Denbut also Construct tokens since
Dress Downturns them into 0/0's in a Flash.
Well, I think that covers pretty much all the bases of the current Modern metag...
WAIT A MINUTE!
THAT'S WAFO-TAPA'S MUSIC! AND HE EVEN HAS NASSIF AT RINGSIDE!
I mean, where to begin? This build is a dream come true for all Modern UW Control believers. And it simply works, with both Wafo-Tapa and Nassif trusting multiple Top 4's and Top 2's in MTGO's weekend Challenges. It is constructed around being able to answer most of the top tier decks of the metagame, and is doing a great job of doing just that:
Chalice of the Void maindeck along with
Teferi, Time Raveler for Temur CrashCade and Living End,
Wall of Omens and
Supreme Verdict for Ragavan/DRC and other go-wide decks like Elementals,
Spreading Seas for
Inkmoth Nexus and
Urza's Saga... the list goes on. The sideboard includes pieces that play well into some other matchups:
Sanctifier en-Vec can break the Cookbook/Daredevil loops of Food decks while also putting a stop to Reanimator shenanigans, and
Summary Dismissal addresses any kind of uncounterable spells and effects. I should also point out that this build is quite impressive in how it managed to minimize the number of lands that taps for colorless mana down to just
Mystic Gate - which makes it filtering ability that much more relevant.
In terms of finishers, there is the obvious
Shark Typhoon complemented by another token generator in
Castle Ardenvale, or the more "traditional" beatdown by
Celestial Colonnade. An earlier iteration of the list featured
Hall of Storm Giants (from the recent Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set) instead of Colonnade, before reverting to the good ol' 4/4 vigilant flyer. Otherwise, it comes down to the grind with
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. I will be the first to admit that this is the epitome of a build which is not for everyone and requires quite the amount of skill before being fully comfortable piloting it. But for Wafo-Tapa and Nassif, it just clicks. And I am not the least bit surprised by it.
It is an exciting time to be a Modern player, with plenty of viable archetypes at one's disposal. The recent influx of both new cards as well as reprints of staples also contributed into making the format a little more accessible price wise, notably by lowering the entry point to enemy fetchlands. The metagame is far from being set, and who knows what will be brought by the return of in-store tabletop play - where and when it is safe to do, of course.
As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out on Twitter @poppu_mtg for comments/questions!