Grand Prix Sydney – Team Modern Primer

An Overview of Modern

Modern is a non-rotating constructed format comprising of sets from 8th Edition through to the current releases. Over this time Magic design has evolved significantly, and so the format contains a wide variety of powerful tools, many of which are well beyond the power level of current era releases. This leaves Modern as a format that contains upwards of 30 decks which encompass a wide variety of strategies, many demanding vastly different answers.

Unlike Eternal formats such as Legacy, there is no Force of Will in Modern to act as a universal gatekeeper to the vast swath of different strategies you may face, and so Modern has largely been defined throughout its history by highly linear strategies that more or less ignore what the opponent is doing. Decks like Tron, Storm, and Dredge each demand such disparate answers, that there becomes a strong incentive to be proactive rather than reactionary. Aggro decks in Modern tend to goldfish very fast and are either disruptive, such as Humans and Death’s Shadow, or difficult to interact with via traditional means, such as Affinity, Hollow One, or Bogles.

Despite these pressures, fair decks exist and remain very popular in Modern. Fair decks tend to fall into two macro-categories: Thoughtseize decks like Jund, which aim to use hand disruption to interact with the opponent or Snapcaster Mage decks like UR or UW Control, which leverage countermagic as interaction, often in combination with a slower combo finish.

For every powerful strategy in Modern, there exist powerful hate cards. Cards such as Stony Silence, Grafdigger’s Cage, Choke, or Crumble to Dust each serve to answer different linear strategies with the elegance of a sledgehammer. Given the breadth of decks that exist in Modern, this places a lot of pressure on sideboard space and often it feels impossible to be prepared for everything; this can be frustrating given that there is no guarantee that you’ll even play against the decks that you are prepared for in a given tournament. One helpful tip is that it is often better to play a weaker sideboard card that covers more match-ups than play the more powerful but more narrow card. For example, Dispel is worse against Storm than Arcane Laboratory, but can be brought in versus several different combo and control decks. Stretching the 15 sideboard cards as far as possible is a very real deckbuilding challenge in Modern.

Recent Developments in Modern

The most recent overhaul in Modern has been the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. Both of these unbans have caused fair decks like Jund and UW to surge in popularity, but neither card fundamentally alters the paradigm. Rather they only serve to significantly improve the fair deck vs fair deck match-ups. For as powerful as Jace is, tapping out on turn 4 for a planeswalker is going to get you killed a lot of the time. Similarly, the card advantage provided by Bloodbraid Elf might not matter if your opponent is casting Ulamog.

Since the unbannings, the metagame has moved through the glut of Jund and Blue decks, with Humans and Hollow One rising to the top at the two most recent larger events (GP Phoenix and the MOCS). Both decks are archetypal Modern decks, fast and consistent while being either disruptive or resilient to removal. Affinity has also had a solid, but not flashy uptick, in part due to its solid matchup against those top two decks.

Another perpetual truth of Modern is that it has a large inertial mass when it comes to metagame shifts, particularly in paper events. Due to the reasonably significant cost of cards, people’s ability to change decks to follow week-to-week trends is somewhat limited. For a large event such as a GP, it is fair to expect a majority of teams to be playing what they have access to, or to have decided on their decks quite some time in advance, and have limited flexibility to adopt this week’s brand new tech. This makes metagaming difficult to the point of being almost foolish. Despite the narrative saying that Humans is the best deck, you can and should expect to play against anything.

Ultimately, Modern’s diversity is both its biggest flaw and biggest strength. It rewards you for knowing your deck, especially in the context of the format and its many obscurities. A swift identification of the opponent’s strategy can fundamentally alter your game plan and may be the difference between winning and losing. The format also tests your skill in constructing an effective sideboard. The payoffs are there for people who can figure out how to get the most out of their whole 75.

Team Modern Deckbuilding Considerations

Despite being a teams event, Modern’s diversity somewhat reduces the restrictiveness of the unified constructed format. Outside of the fetch/shockland manabases, it is not too difficult to find three decks that differ so significantly in their fundamental strategies, that they share no cards between them. However, there are some core cards such as Thoughtseize, Lightning Bolt, Ancient Stirrings, Serum Visions, Path to Exile, etc that are found in a wide number of different decks. One of the keys to deck selection in this tournament for our group has been identifying which of these “core” cards offer the most power and finding appropriate combinations of three decks that maximise the use of these cards.

I expect that this is a somewhat common approach, and I would expect that most teams will field an Ancient Stirrings deck such as Tron, Lantern, Ironworks, or Eldrazi. Similarly, I would expect to find one player with a set of Thoughtseize in their deck. Beyond that, it is simply a matter of finding a third deck that doesn’t clash with your first two. One of the bigger perks of the Humans deck, aside from its raw power, is how distinct its 75 is from so many other decks in the format. Conversely, a deck like Jund or Death’s Shadow demands a vast number of core resources, which can place a large restriction on which decks you can play alongside them.

Still, when choosing your teams decks for this GP, don’t stray too far from what you know best. Modern is still wide open and it’s difficult to pin down how to tournament as a whole will react to the relatively fresh Modern format. I expect a lot of Humans due to its friendliness to the unified constructed format, as well as plenty of Jund, and Tron, two perennial favourites.