Modern Times: You Win or you Die

I know this is dating how old I am, but I loved those Choose your Own Adventure books when I was in grade school. I probably read close to 20 of them. The idea was that you started on the first page of the book, and as you progressed you had to make choices based on what the character in the story was doing. Correct choices would lead you deeper into the story, whereas a wrong choice would either force you into a loop or an untimely (usually grisly) end. Modern is pretty much the same way. You can only prolong your death so long before it happens. If you’re lucky, you are the one that prolongs your death just long enough so your opponent dies first. Reading the signs and making the right decision can help you to live for at least one more turn, but disregard them and you’ll find yourself boiling in a vat of poisonous acid, being overrun by millions of small creatures, or being caught outside when a river of lava pours from the skies. In my last article I talked about breaking up combos, but I’m here today to help you recognize those situations where you win or you die. No matter how safe you feel on any given turn, you could suddenly find yourself losing in an instant as your opponent combos off, or as they start to take control of the games momentum through discard or tempo. Let’s take a look at some of the top decks of the Modern format and when to recognize that matter of life or death. (Special thanks to The Japan Hobbyist cardboard Samurai on Facebook for their input, especially Jose Argao!)


You’re Dead When . . .

  • Melira Pod/Kiki Pod – Your opponent has a Melira, Sylvok Outcast in play and plays a Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap with a sacrifice outlet such as a Cartel Aristocrat. They gain infinite life or deal infinite damage. Also, when your opponent plays a Spike Feeder and follows it up with a Archangel of Thune. He removes a counter from the Feeder and gains life, triggering Thune, then gaining infinite life. Chord of Calling can also put any creature from their library into play. Gavony Township is also a threat in these decks. (Hold removal to kill the combo enabler such as Melira or the Archangel)
  • UWR control – Your opponent has been using Remand, Mana Leak, and a number of other tempo cards to get you down to about 6 life or so. They play Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt for the win. Also look out for Restoration Angel if there is a Snapcaster Mage and cards to use in the graveyard. (Keep your life around 10 if possible, block or use removal before their limited number of creatures whittle your life down)
  • UR/RUG Twin – Your opponent puts a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch into play, then uses Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker the following turn to make infinite tokens of one of those creatures and attack for infinite. (Kill the creature being targeted by Twin, or Kill Kiki-Jiki after he initially targets a creature to start the combo with)
  • Affinity – Almost any time your opponent has Cranial Plating in play, especially with an Etched Champion or other card with evasion such as Ornithopter or Signal Pest. Keep your life above 12 if you can, but even that might not be enough. (Take out Etched Champions as soon as you can, otherwise take out the other cards when your opponent goes to equip it with Cranial Plating)
  • Jund/GB – If they strip your hand with Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and and early Liliana of the Veil, and you have no creatures or other way to put any pressure on them, it’s pretty much inevitable that you’re going to die against them due to the amount of removal they have. Maelstrom Pulse is also pretty dangerous if you’re using cards of the same name like in a tokens deck. (Fast, aggressive decks like Affinity that have numerous, early threats is a good deck to play against these I think. Keep the pressure on them and take out Liliana!)
  • Storm – This deck wins out of nowhere, it all depends on their hand and the cards they draw with their cantrips. It’s a high variance deck though, which means that sometimes it’s a dud and other times there’s nothing you can do. (Discard works really well against it, but watch out for Past in Flames)
  • Scapeshift – Another inevitable deck. This deck is slow, but sooner or later they will cast a Scapeshift, sacrifice the needed lands, and deal anywhere from 18-30 damage to you if they have a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in play (or multiples). (Aggressive decks do well against the strategy, such as Affinity, but it’s also a good idea to always have Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter in your main deck to deal with decks like these. Wait until they cast Scapeshift to use them)
  • Tron – Turn 1 Urza’s Tower + Expedition Map, Turn 2 Urza’s Power Plant, Turn 3 Urza’s Mine and play Karn, Liberated. Lots of players will find it very difficult to beat a planeswalker with 11 loyalty on it on turn 3. (Keeping a hand with Ghost Quarter will totally screw up their plan. Blood Moon also works well, and again, aggressive decks like Affinity should do well against it too I think since it puts way too many targets on the board for the deck to deal with. Watch out for cards like Pyroclasm though after the sideboard).

There are tons of other decks out there that people are playing such as Merfolk (Fish), Mono green devotion, and Burn, but I if I covered them all I think this article would be way too long. I’ll just save it for another time. For now, I’d like to talk about the new Modern PTQ season, as well as the Modern GP Trials going on in Japan before Grand Prix Kobe in August.


The Japan (modern) Metagame Diaries


The first modern PTQ in Japan was held in Kawasaki City in the first week of June and while the results of event haven’t been posted yet (as of this articles writing), a quick look at Saito’s twitter account shows that there were 3 GB decks and 1 Jund deck in the Top 8. He goes on to state that GB is one of the strongest decks in modern at the moment. His own build went 6-3 in the event.

Saito Tomoharu's revised modern GB build

Saito Tomoharu’s revised modern GB build

Here in Nagoya, we’ve had a few casual tournaments with anywhere from 12-40 players, as well as a modern GP Trial the other weekend. The results were a little different from up in Tokyo, but it will help give you a better view of Japan’s modern metagame as a whole I think.

GP Taiwan Trial– June 8th, Chita Handa Hobby Station

  1. Jund
  2. Melira Pod
  3. Affinity
  4. Merfolk
  5. Birthing Pod
  6. UR Twin
  7. UR Twin
  8. Mono blue Tron

A few months ago, Birthing Pod seemed to be in danger of being banned due to its oppressive performance at GP Richmond and in other events, but given time, players have managed to fight back against the deck and to prove that the modern metagame can beat it. Twin continues to put up good numbers here in Nagoya, but outside of the top 8 UWR control/tempo is actually a lot more popular. There aren’t that many people playing Affinity in Nagoya which is kind of strange I think, but that might change as Jund and GB decks see more play. I’ve been trying my hand at a little bit of everything since the end of the Pro Tour. I’ve tried a new version of BW tokens in modern (but realized how badly I need fetches in that deck), played a little bit of burn (which pretty much plays itself), and even picked up a few more games with my modern red devotion deck. Sadly, the deck isn’t going to be competitive enough for the GP or PTQs, so I am semi-retiring it until cards come out to boost its effectiveness. In the next few months, I’ll be focusing on 3 decks for modern season: Affinity, BW tokens, and RW burn.


75 cards, 15 sideboard
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Island
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Glimmervoid

17 lands

4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
4 Etched Champion
4 Signal Pest
4 Ornithopter
3 Steel Overseer

27 creatures

4 Springleaf Drum
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
4 Thoughtcast

16 other spells

2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Galvanic Blast
2 Ancient Grudge

2 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Torpor Orb
3 Spellskite

15 sideboard cards

I’m starting out with a stock Affinity deck with no bells and whistles. I’ve decided to go with Steel Overseer instead of Master of Etherium at the moment, but that could change as I play with the deck more. The sideboard is also pretty stock I think. Ethersworn Canonist for Storm, Torpor Orb for Birthing Pod decks, Spellskite to stop any kind of removal . . . somebody actually told me to invest in this deck earlier in the year and I should have back then, but I didn’t really have enough experience in the format to make a decision then. Now that I’ve played against a wide variety of decks, I can safely say that I feel most comfortable playing this type of deck. If the modern metagame in Japan really does lean towards Jund and GB over the next few weeks, I like my chances with it. Hyper aggressive decks like Affinity do well in a slower meta and take advantage of any misplays.

While I’m going to be using my affinity deck for the most part, I also like to have a back up just in case the metagame calls for it. Here’s the BW token deck I’ve been testing out for the last few months.

BW tokens
75 cards, 15 sideboard
2 Caves of Koilos
3 Windbrisk Heights
2 Swamp
2 Vault of the Archangel
3 Plains
4 Marsh Flats
4 Godless Shrine
3 Isolated Chapel

23 lands

2 Hero of Bladehold
3 Tidehollow Sculler

5 creatures

3 Honor of the Pure
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Zealous Persecution
4 Lingering Souls
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Thoughtseize
4 Path to Exile
4 Spectral Procession

32 other spells

1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Auriok Champion
2 Burrenton Forge-Tender
2 Torpor Orb
2 Relic of Progenitus
3 Duress
3 Stony Silence

15 sideboard cards

I tried out Brimaz, King of Oreskos in this deck for a bit, but it felt like the deck was weakened by not having Hero of Bladehold’s battle cry effect. I’ve always liked the decks disruption (Thoughtseize, Tidehollow Sculler) and removal (Path to Exile), but what I liked even more was the amount of token creatures I could put on the board. The number of creatures taxes removal heavy decks and forces control opponents to use up a lot of their counterspells while still giving you a board presence. While Engineered Explosives is always a threat, I also think that Maelstrom Pulse will also be a problem for this deck when it faces Jund or GB. I love the sideboard though, especially Auriok Champion against burn decks because once she’s down she’s not going anywhere. She’s won games against UWR tempo decks because they can’t burn her out with Electrolyze or Lightning Bolt. I also thought that playing Sword of War and Peace was worth it due to the huge number of people playing Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and other red spells. Mulliganing this deck can be hard though, as sometimes you can find yourself looking at a handful of enchantments with no way to put pressure on your opponent. I feel like it might be a good idea to throw in a few more token creators, but I’m going to do a little more testing before the PTQ to see what the deck needs.

Finally, we have RW Burn.


RW Modern Burn
75 cards, 15 sideboard
1 Battlefield Forge
4 Arid Mesa
8 Mountain
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry

20 lands

4 Vexing Devil
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Goblin Guide

10 creatures

4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
4 Boros Charm
4 Rift Bolt
4 Shard Volley
4 Searing Blaze
4 Skullcrack

30 other spells

2 Blood Moon
2 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Anger of the Gods
3 Molten Rain
2 Torpor Orb
2 Wear // Tear
2 Relic of Progenitus

15 sideboard cards

Finally trading for a play set of Arid Mesa’s has helped TREMENDOUSLY. The deck is running smoother than ever now, and also reducing 2 Lightning Helix for a Grim Lavamancer has been a blessing. Thoughtseize and other discard cards have always been popular in modern, and Grim Lavamancer is a good way of capitalizing on those burn spells they’ll be wanting to put in your graveyard. Hopefully you can still get 2 damage out of them! Sure you lose a bit of life gain by not having Lightning Helix if you need to race somebody, but Grim Lavamancer puts all of those fetch lands and other spells to good use. Burn decks usually run out of juice after a few turns, but the Lavamancer keeps you going for those last points of damage. I’m a little scared about the Affinity match up because that’s the only deck that can race it and win (especially if they have a Cranial Plating on a Vault Skirge on turn 2), but with more testing and monitoring of the metagame I think creative sideboarding can help. Burn decks punish players for any misplay, so I expect it to put up decent numbers regardless of match ups. It’s a good deck for people wanting to get into modern and isn’t too hard to learn (basically learning how to mulligan correctly), but I also don’t see it winning that many events because it’s a rather linear strategy and can be ruined by a few well played cards such as Leyline of Sanctity .


Trial By Combat


Well, you certainly won’t get better if you don’t get out there and play. Both my friends and professional MTG players say that Modern is a format that rewards skillful players, and not players with good decks or the newest tech as it is with standard. Now is the best time to get out there and to level up those skills. Go to Grand Prix Trials, Modern FNMs, and if your wallet can handle it, Pro Tour Qualifiers. You’ll face a lot of different decks, play against highly skilled players, and you’ll learn a lot about the format. Pick a deck you like and learn it inside of out. I’ve come pretty far from my first modern tournament a few months ago, but there is still so much to learn. I don’t know if I’ll be ready for the Nagoya PTQ in July, but I think I’ll be in good shape for GP Kobe come August. I hope you got some useful information from this article and I look forward to writing about Modern again in the future! I’ll be sure to keep you updated as more information about this season’s Modern metagame becomes available. Thanks for reading!