Breaking In: A Look at our New Modern Format with Andrew Quinn

Breaking In: Starting out on MTGO – A Beginner’s Guide to Pauper by Andrew Quinn


Hey everyone. The Pro Tour Circuit in Magic is a million-dollar-per-year investment by Wizards of the Coast and is the ultimate goal for thousands of Magic players around the world. There are 4 Pro Tour tournaments each year and each are played in a different format. They are usually:

February: Standard + Draft
May/June: Block Constructed + Draft
September: Extended + Draft
November/December: World Championships (Standard + Draft + Extended)

A few weeks ago, Wizards announced a massive change to this typical format. The September Pro Tour (in Philadelphia) last week, AND the Extended portion in the World Championships at the end of the year are now the brand new Eternal format known as Modern. Whilst this primarily affects the Pro Tours in the long run, we will now also be able to hold Modern format tournaments at local stores in the same way that we currently do for Standard, Legacy and the other formats.

In addition, if this trend of changing Pro Extended tournaments into Modern ones continues, then it’s highly likely that the Winter PTQ Season in 2012 will also be changed to Modern, from its usual Extended format. We will also see some of the colossal FORTY Grand Prix tournaments in 2012 played out in Modern format. If you’ve not yet looked at Modern, or want to start looking at it but don’t know where to start, then this article is perfect for you! I’m going to explore some of the strongest choices for this entirely unknown metagame and suggest ways in which you can build decks of your very own.

Firstly, what is Modern?

Modern will join Legacy and Vintage as Magic’s 3rd Eternal Constructed format, meaning that it will never rotate in the way that Standard and Extended do. The oldest sets legal in Modern are the 8th edition core set and the original Mirrodin block. This starting point means that all legal cards are from sets where the new card frame has been used. However, this excludes anything not printed in one of these legal sets, including old cards printed with a new frame because of Duel Deck expansions, Premium Deck Series or other such releases. So, any card that was printed in one of the following sets is legal:

8th Edition
9th Edition
10th Edition
Magic 2010 Core Set
Magic 2011 Core Set
Magic 2012 Core Set
Mirrodin Block (Mirrdoin, Darksteel and Fifth Dawn)
Kamigawa Block (Champions, Saviours and Betrayers of Kamigawa)
Ravnica Block (Ravnica, Guildpact and Dissension)
Time Spiral Block (Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight and Timeshifted Cards)
Lorwyn Block (Lorwyn and Morningtide)
Shadowmoor Block (Shadowmoor and Eventide)
Shards of Alara Block (Shards of Alara, Conflux, Alara Reborn)
Zendikar Block (Zendikar, Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi)
Scars of Mirrodin Block (Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Beseiged and New Phyrexia)
Innistrad Block (Innistrad, Dark Ascension, “Roll”) upon release

There is also a fairly hefty list of 21 banned cards to kill off the majority of the decks that have dominated Standard and Extended in the past 6-7 years:

Ancestral Vision
Ancient Den
Chrome Mox
Dark Depths
Dread Return
Glimpse of Nature
Golgari Grave-Troll
Great Furnace
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Mental Misstep
Seat of Synod
Sensei’s Divining Top
Stoneforge Mystic
Sword of the Meek
Tree of Tales
Umezawa’s Jitte
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Vault of Whispers

Firstly, bear in mind that Banned list announcements are made every 3 months, so this could very well change, but this list basically opens the field up to a bit more imagination. Without some of the cards on this list, veteran players would just revert back to playing decks that they used to play last time Extended was 7-blocks long, such as Dredge, Thopter-Sword or Affinity or go back to popular standard decks such as Valakut, Faeries or Caw-Blade.

This lengthy ban list means that there definitely is no top deck in the format, although there are a few popular front-runners based on MTGO data collected so far. Imagine for example this ban list was the same except that they’d not banned Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle for example? What would stop people from taking Valakut lists that are already very well tried and tested to the Modern Pro Tour and beating EVERYTHING based purely on the fact that nothing else has had enough time to be tested fully. Essentially, the point of such a lengthy ban list is to stop such things happening. If certain decks prove to be particularly good at the Pro Tours, then perhaps some cards will be unbanned or banned to help balance it out.

Now, I’d like to make a few points about this format that are important to note. Primarily that, mana bases can be made to be very strong. We have access to the 5 Fetch Lands in Zendikar (Misty Rainforest, Arid Mesa and the like) and these can be used to fetch the 10 Shock Lands from Ravnica block (Breeding Pool, Hallowed Fountain and the like), meaning that with about 8-9 fetch lands and a few shocks, our fetchlands can fetch us whatever colour we fancy having on our turns.

In addition, we have a lot of powerful land options. The Scars block Dual Lands (Copperline Gorge, Blackcleave Cliffs and so on) are actually very strong and may not see play in a deck like Zoo, but will definitely be played in decks like Jund. In terms of Man-Lands, we have a lot of powerful options too. We have Inkmoth Nexus and the Creeping Tar Pit cycle from Standard, but also Mutavault and Blinkmoth Nexus at our disposal, so there are lots of ways to build our control decks with man lands in them. Other powerful lands available include Ghost Quarter, Cloudpost and Vesuva. What I’m trying to say is, whatever deck you fancy playing, in whatever combination of the 5 colours you want, even all 5 at once, it’s possible to do this in Modern. You’re not restricted by, for example, a lack of Enemy-Coloured dual lands in Standard.

So, what decks are available for Modern?

The 420 players who turned out to Pro Tour Philadelphia gave us a massive insight into the world of Modern with several different decks taking centre stage and a whopping 6 different decks making the top 8 cut. The format is so far dominated by Combo decks and the faster Aggro decks, whilst control decks have only made up a tiny percentage of the metagame, which is to be expected in an unknown metagame, as control decks do a lot better when the metagame is well defined and we know what decks we need to be beating. I’m going to look at a variety of the most popular deck types from that tournament now, to give you an idea of what the metagame looks like.

“Counter-Cat” by Josh Utter-Leyton (and the ChannelFireball crew)

Creatures (18):
1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Qasali Pridemage
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl

Planeswalkers (2):
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Spells (18):
3 Bant Charm
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile

Lands (22):
4 Arid Mesa
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
2 Stomping Ground
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Temple Garden

Sideboard (15):
3 Aven Mindcensor
3 Flashfreeze
2 Gideon Jura
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Rule of Law
1 Tectonic Edge
3 Unified Will

This first deck is quite frankly, a masterpiece. The idea came from the brain of Brian Kibler, who was adamant to be playing a Zoo deck at the tournament despite all of the attention being put into combo decks, so he splashed Blue into the typical Zoo mix and ended up with a thing of beauty, which can use its sideboard to transform into an aggro-control deck with 9 Counter Spells against all of the combo decks in the format. He then convinced practically the entire ChannelFireball team to play similar decks, which only ended up differing by a couple of cards (Kibler’s list for example ran 4 Flashfreeze in the side and 2 Negates over the Unified Wills). The deck then carried 2010 US National Champion Jush Utter-Leyton to a second place finish! Kibler himself got himself 14th place and Unofficial Team Leader Luis Scott-Vargas got himself 22nd place (after an amazing constructed record but a poor draft record). This is definitely a great place to start with aggro in the format, as the deck is extremely versatile against everything in the current field, thanks to cards like Bant Charm.

“Fling Affinity” by Chikara Nakajima

Creatures (28):
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Atog
4 Frogmite
4 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge

Spells (18):
4 Cranial Plating
2 Fling
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Mox Opal
1 Shrapnel Blast
3 Springleaf Drum

Lands (14):
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Mountain

Sideboard (15):
4 Blood Moon
3 Etched Champion
1 Magus of the Moon
4 Mindbreak Trap
3 Torpor Orb

The other popular aggro archetype this weekend (apart from Zoo) is Affinity. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Affinity was the Tempered Steel equivalent deck from back in the original Mirrodin block, the last time cards were banned in standard (the last time before Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic anyway).

The modern version of Affinity brings together both Mirrodin blocks, to combine Metalcraft with Affinity. This particular version looks to get a quick finish by making a giant Atog or Arcbound Ravager, attacking for about 10 damage and then casting Fling for the rest of it, which sometimes isn’t even needed because of the large amounts of life that some decks lose due to their land bases.

The sideboard for this has access to Blood Moon which is possibly the strongest sideboard card in the whole format, if your deck is able to support it. This deck is also one of the more budget-friendly options in the format, so definitely worth taking a look at if you need a deck for cheap. Hell, Chikara Nakajima managed to outshine his fellow conutrymen and make top 4 with this, whilst famous names like Shouta Yasooka made top 32 and Yuuya Watanabe and Shuuhei Nakamura only made top 64, despite being tipped as possible tournament favourites.

Right then. Time for, arguably, the most fun part of Magic. I’m a big fan of combo decks but I haven’t had much opportunity to play good combo decks in standard. The recent options I’ve not favoured very much, such as Runeflare Trap, Pyromancer Ascension or Splinter Twin. However, there are absolutely LOADS of options when it comes to comboing off in Modern. The Storm mechanic is in fact available, so it’s possible to build decks that win using Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens or even Ignite Memories if you’re feeling fruity. Dragonstorm is also very much a deck.

Splinter Twin combo decks are definitely viable now that you can run playsets each of Deceiver Exarch, Pestermite, Splinter Twin and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. So, if you thought 4 of each combo piece was bad, you can now have up to 8 of each. You can also play Gifts Ungiven to fetch one of each and be guaranteed to have your opponent let you have 1 half or the other.

Now, I very much dislike the typical Splinter Twin decks (considering their mere existence forced me to have a whopping 11 sideboard cards for them at Nationals). In my honest opinion, they are not particularly strong decks, but they sort of instantly win against EVERY deck that doesn’t have appropriate hate for them at the right time, which is reminiscent of Dredge decks in Legacy and Extended. But, despite this, 2 copies of Splinter Twin made the top 8, with one of them actually winning it. Here’s the winning deck list:

“Splinter Twin” by Samuele Estratti

Creatures (11):
4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
3 Pestermite
2 Spellskite

Spells (26):
2 Dispel
1 Disrupting Shoal
3 Firespout
1 Lightning Bolt
2 Pact of Negation
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
4 Remand
1 Sleight of Hand
4 Splinter Twin

Lands (23):
1 Breeding Pool
4 Cascade Bluffs
5 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents

Sideboard (15):
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Blood Moon
1 Deprive
2 Dismember
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Lightning Bolt
2 Spellskite
1 Vendilion Clique

Once again, this is a deck that can be pretty happy supporting a Blood Moon, giving it another big edge over some opponents. The main and side also have lots of room for a ton of removal spells, giving a much better matchup against Affinity and Zoo. Disrupting Shoal was a standout card in this tournament, essentially acting as a Force of Will against certain decks. Imagine you cast your Splinter Twin but it’s hit by something like a Mana Leak and you’re tapped out, Disrupting Shoal only has to pitch a Remand or Peer Through Depths and all of a sudden you’re safe. This is definitely a powerful deck and it ports almost directly from Standard to Modern. If you’ve played this deck in Standard, you probably should in Modern too.

“Pyromancer’s Swath” by Conley Woods (and the ChannelFireball crew)

Spells (43):
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Grapeshot
3 Lightning Bolt
4 Manamorphose
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
4 Pyromancer’s Swath
4 Remand
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song

Lands (17):
1 Breeding Pool
2 Halimar Depths
3 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents

Sideboard (15):
3 Ancient Grudge

2 Bribery

1 Echoing Truth
3 Pact of Negation
2 Sudden Shock
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Wipe Away

Now, according to Conley Woods, this is the that the ChannelFireball team WERE going to be playing before Brian Kibler introduced them to Counter-Cat. Conley however, still preferred their Storm brew and so he stuck to it and finished in 23rd place with it. The general idea is that Pyromancer’s Swath makes each copy of Grapeshot that you can create deal 3 damage instead of one, requiring a mere Storm count of 6, as opposed to 19, often less due to fetch lands and shock lands. A number of other pro players settled on this deck too and posted good results, with Jeremy Neeman and Jon Finkel reaching top 16 with similar builds.

Now, there’s one deck in this whole tournament that stood out for me. It was very precise, calculated, powerful and above all, super fast! This is Sam Black‘s deck choice, giving him his first ever Pro Tour top 8:

“Mono-Blue Infect” by Sam Black

Creatures (5):
4 Blighted Agent
1 Progenitus

Spells (36):
4 Blazing Shoal
3 Disrupting Shoal
4 Dragonstorm
2 Gitaxian Probe
4 Muddle the Mixture
1 Pact of Negation
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Ponder
4 Preordain
1 Snapback
4 Spell Pierce
1 Summoner’s Pact

Lands (19):
4 Inkmoth Nexus
8 Island
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Tolaria West
1 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15):
2 Deprive
1 Dismember
1 Echoing Truth
2 Jace Beleren
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Spellskite
1 Trickbind
3 Vendilion Clique

This deck is a thing of beauty. Every single slot is carefully thought out and tuned to perfection. The combo is to cast Blazing Shoal for its alternate casting cost, pitching either a Dragonstorm or Progenitus making your Blighted Agent or Inkmoth Nexus a 10/1 Infect dude on turn 2 or 3.

The deck then has 4 Muddle the Mixture which can transmute to find either Blazing Shoal or Blighted Agent, Tolaria West, similarly, can be transmuted to find you an Inkmoth Nexus or Summoner’s Pact which can find Progenitus. The deck can kill out of nowhere on turn 2 with a nuts draw, or can just wait a few turns and combo off with a miriad of counter spells to protect it. This is ALSO a fairly budget option, despite the deck making the price of Blazing Shoal catapult up to 10 times its original value in a single day…

Now, at the end of my Nationals report I promised to feature a competetive, Modern-legal deck that you can build for approximately £20. Well, here it is:

“Living End” by Andrew Quinn

Creatures (30):
4 Deadshot Minotaur
4 Fulminator Mage
3 Ingot Chewer
4 Jungle Chewer
4 Monstrous Carabid
3 Shriekmaw
4 Street Wraith
4 Valley Rannet


Spells (11):
4 Demonic Dread
3 Living End
4 Violent Outburst

Lands (19):
1 Blood Crypt
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Dragonskull Summit
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground

1 Swamp

4 Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard (15):
1 Ingot Chewer
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Krosan Grip
2 Night of Souls’ Betrayal
2 Putrefy
1 Shriekmaw
4 Stone Rain

Now, yes this deck does run Shock Lands and Fetch Lands, but they’re really NOT necessary. The deck can function just as well with just the Scars duals, Terramorphic Expanses and basic lands, which is what I started out with. With the exception of the Shock Lands and Fetch Lands, I bought the above main deck for less than £20 on Magic Online, whilst the sideboard might cost a little more due to Kitchen Finks, it shouldn’t go that far out of your budget.

The idea of this deck is to cycle a LOAD of dudes into your graveyard and then cast one of your 8 cascade spells in order to cast a Living End, wiping your opponent’s board clean and filling yours up with everything you’ve cycled. The guys themselves aren’t great, but they’re big enough to win games in just a couple of swings, depending on how many dudes you get. I’ve played this in 4 Modern Daily events (nabbing me 4 full-art Lightning Bolts in the process!) and I went 3-1 in 2 of them. The deck is prone to a lot of disruption, but so are all combo decks, so it’s something you need to get used to and learn to play around, but otherwise, this deck is still a great choice!

The sideboard uses a few interesting choices. The Stone Rains are very powerful against the right deck, which would typically be anything running Cloudpost but also against certain mana-intensive combo decks, such as Seismic Assault + Swans of Bryn Argyll and pretty much any control deck. Night of Souls’ Betrayal is a card that was used in this deck back in Extended format, as a counter to the Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek combo and was even seen in the main deck. I figured the card should still be quite good in the sideboard for certain matchups such as Melira combo (kills Viscera Seer instantly), Elves, Mono-Red (Ball Lightning, Hellspark Elemental) although it is admittedly the weakest card in the sideboard. Everything else ought to be fairly self-explanatory. The 4 Shriekmaws are extremely good against a lot of matchups. You usually need to be evoking them, so that when you resolve a Living End, the creature you killed will come back to the field and so will your evoked Shriekmaw to kill it again. Which is the same as with Ingot Chewer and artifact creatures.

Until next time, feel free to ask me questions and such! I will do my best to answer them!



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