Hey all, this article is about a topic I’m not yet an expert in – but I’m better than most and I’m learning. It’s about predicting the metagame of an unknown format. Others have covered in detail the Modern format being used at this weekend’s Pro Tour and the bannings involved, and many have listed a bunch of awful decks that might be playable until you consider what your opponent is trying to do (Grant Hislop has covered many good and bad decks in his excellent cover of Modern found on this very website – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).
One approach some have to a new format is to remember old decks that did well (or didn’t) and try to come up with new decks that look the same. We see this all the time in Standard as every new set comes along and people herald the return of Mono-Black Control and yet time and time again it is completely unplayable. Sometimes it works when the card pool is similar, e.g. playing Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Extended as you gained Batterskull to beat the only deck which previously had a chance of beating you (Faeries), but the Modern format isn’t really the same as any other format due to the size of the card pool and the bannings issued.
So, with a largely new format what can we do to gain a foothold? Brian Kibler has said several times in his articles that he seeks the fastest aggro decks and the comboiest combo decks to begin with and then you can explore what a control deck would look like in the context. I’ve tested this Modern format quite a lot as my testing partner Rob Catton is playing in Philly (glglgl!) this weekend and obviously wanted to bring the best deck we could come up with.
So, the two best aggro decks: Blood Moon Zoo, and Affinity (in that order). I won’t provide lists as they’d be pretty speculative, but I can mention the most important cards to be considering and why. For Zoo the best starts have always involved Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf but being aggressive isn’t quite enough. From testing against the combo decks (as they appear down the page) and any number of controlling decks we tried to beat it with we realised that Blood Moon and Boom//Bust had so many decks seeing red (pun intended). Add in Bloodbraid Elf for the randomiser factor that seems necessary in medium-powered formats and we had a fast, reliable aggressive deck with some extremely good disruption.
Affinity is similar to Zoo, but less reliable and more hateable. I know, I know, I’ve seen the nut draws you can get (turn one Memnite AND Ornithopter, SO SICK), but I just can’t enjoy the variance of this deck. Still, people will play it as if you test it and hit the nuts every game it looks like a good deck and some people at the PT definitely need to play a deck which introduces a lot of randomness because they know they’d just get outplayed every round otherwise.
Now to the real Beef of the format, combo. I lump the Cloudpost decks in with combo as that’s what they feel like, but it’s safe to say that if your deck can’t beat Cloudpost then you should probably scrap it. And be honest with yourself here because the tournament doesn’t lie. Also, if your deck only beats Cloudpost then you should still scrap it. I know people who make decks which can only beat a single deck reliably and then get crushed in tournaments but complain of bad draws – don’t be that guy! The best Cloudpost deck is the mono-green one that just ramps with lots of walls to protect against aggro and stuff like Reap and Sow for the mirror. I understand people adding Simic Signet to get Blue cards so they feel a bit safer but I can’t get behind making the deck mono-Blue, this deck is at its sickest when it’s ramping up like a champion and slowing yourself down loads doesn’t seem good to me.
There are also a few different Blue-Red combo decks that try to kill you reliably on turn 4. Some of them reckon they do it reliably on turn 3 but they’re lying so don’t listen to them. I think the best of these is probably using Hive Mind but I’m not entirely convinced and it could easily be that Pyromancer Ascension is better. I don’t think the Dragonstorm versions are as good as either of these two since it just seems easier to hate and less reliable while not being faster.
So, how to build a good control deck in this format? Well, you need to answer 3/3’s on turn 1, an Enchantment which makes all your lands Mountains, decks with 40 mana on turn 5 (no, really), a 6 mana Enchantment which says you win the game if it resolves, a 2 mana Enchantment which says you win the game much later on, many artifact creatures coming at you all at once, and a Storm card which doesn’t need all of it to resolve to Dragon you to death. Yeaaaahhhhh, good luck with that one. As I can imagine it, the deck will include 2-3 Annul, 4 Spellstutter Sprite, 1-2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, 3-4 Vendilion Clique, 2-4 Cryptic Command, and possibly up to 4 Blood Moon but you will run into the problem of drawing the wrong cards against the wrong decks and the banning of Chrome Mox makes Thirst for Knowledge much less attractive as a sweet way of filtering off the chaff. I would ask for answers on a postcard, but the PT will provide this weekend.
So, time to put it out there and make my prediction for the PT metagame:
- 24% Cloudpost decks (mostly mono-green)
- 20% UR Combo decks
- 14% Zoo decks (mostly not Blood Moon as people aren’t all clever)
- 10% Blue-based Control decks
- 9% Affinity (some with Tempered Steel, mostly Atog)
- 6% Glistener Elf Combo (using pitch spells to make them huge, it’s not a good deck).
- 4% Seismic Assult+Swans of Brynn Argoll
- 2% Jund
- 11% Other
There we go, time to be pretty wrong – any improvements on this conjecture?
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