With the recent banning of [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise], [mtg_card=Dig Through Time], and [mtg_card=Birthing Pod] in Modern the format has opened up a lot, and WotC has continued to the trend of unbanning another potentially strong card. While [mtg_card=Bitterblossom] ended up not having a major impact, time will tell if [mtg_card=Golgari Grave-Troll] will do better. I wonder how long until we get [mtg_card=Stoneforge Mystic] and [mtg_card=Jace, the Mind Sculptor] as well. Anyone, anyone? No?

If you weren’t aware there is going to be a Modern Pro Tour in Washington DC this weekend, so I thought I’d break down what you can expect to see by looking at what decks have been doing well lately. These decks represent the combined Top 8 of the last two Modern SCG Premier IQs, and a few that I’ve tossed in that I expect to make an appearance.

Abzan/Jund

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Liliana of the Veil], [mtg_card=Tarmogoyf], [mtg_card=Abrupt Decay].

The Black, Green, and X shell has been around for a while. For a time, Jund was the most popular and “best” deck in Modern, but the banning of [mtg_card=Bloodbraid Elf] and [mtg_card=Deathrite Shaman] took it down a notch. The core of these decks is to play the best creatures with the best removal and just enough discard to keep the combo match-up from being too aweful. If you can curve turn one discard, into [mtg_card=Tarmogoyf], [mtg_card=Liliana of the Veil], and top it off with [mtg_card=Siege Rhino], that’s a really powerful sequence that’s going to put most match-up under a ton of pressure.

Affinity

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Cranial Plating], [mtg_card=Mox Opal], [mtg_card=Etched Champion].

Despite the fact that every player is usually packing some form of dedicated sideboard hate for Affinity, it remains one of the more popular and plentiful decks in the Modern metagame. With its dual nature as an aggro deck with combo elements, Affinity’s explosive starts demands you have your sideboard hate and it has most likely ran you over in game one. Plan A is to play a bunch of artifacts, that all interact with or power up each other. The deck is actually much more complicated to pilot than initial appearances, though pretty much anyone can win with its nut draws. There are a lot of lackluster pieces that fuel the engine and knowing what hands to mulligan is paramount to success.

Amulet Combo

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Amulet of Vigor], [mtg_card=Primeval Titan], [mtg_card=Summer Bloom].

Part of the Amulet Combos success has been its relatively unknown quality. Even if folks are aware of the deck’s existence, few probably understand it enough to know how to properly fight it. At its simplest, the deck is looking to abuse the interactions of bouncelands [mtg_card=Simic Growth Chamber] and [mtg_card=Amulet of Vigor] to make a lot of mana very quickly. Once it’s made tons of mana the decks kill condition is either to cast [mtg_card=Primeval Titan] which gets you more untapped lands in play because of [mtg_card=Amulet of Vigor] and kill with a specific sequence of utility lands. Or the more fun route, is to get a [mtg_card=Hive Mind] in play. The deck is already really interested in protecting itself and finding its pieces so [mtg_card=Summoner’s Pact] and [mtg_card=Pact of Negation] are in the list. Cast a bunch of those and your opponent is forced to copy them, losing the game because they either can’t make the color or just don’t have enough mana.

Ascendancy

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Jeskai Ascendancy], [mtg_card=Fatestitcher], [mtg_card=Glittering Wish].

The deck might have been hit too hard by the banning of [mtg_card=Treasure Cruise] and [mtg_card=Dig Through Time] to recover, but there’s some next-leveling that could occur by bringing a deck that might be thought dead. There are a few ways that the deck can be built, but essentially they are all looking to abuse [mtg_card=Jeskai Ascendancy], mana dorks, and cheap spells to generate a lot of mana and make their creatures gigantic. From there you can either attack them for lethal or [mtg_card=Glittering Wish] a [mtg_card=Blood] from your sideboard.

Bogles

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Slippery Bogle], [mtg_card=Daybreak Coronet], [mtg_card=Ethereal Armor].

Bogles is actually a deck I’m very familiar with as I played it extensively around when [mtg_card=Wild Nacatl] got unbanned. The deck has very good match-ups against other fair creature decks and the control decks, though it struggles against most combo decks that are a tad faster and the Black/Green decks that have discard and sacrifice effects. It’s a powerful linear strategy that wants to play an early hexproof creature and then buff it up with aura. As witnessed by Reid Duke at worlds a while back, in the right room it can do very well – though it still loses to needing to mulligan a lot as well.

Burn

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Goblin Guide], [mtg_card=Lightning Bolt], [mtg_card=Lava Spike].

Sometimes Burn will splash colors for cards like [mtg_card=Bump in the Night] or [mtg_card=Boros Charm], but it’s pretty much a deck built around as many of the cheap 3+ damage burn spells and a few creatures that are also worth about 4-6 damage. The decks goal is pretty straight forward, point spells at your opponents face until their life total is less than zero. However, there’s certainly some finesse around when you need to point spells not at your opponent. It’s another deck that tends to have swingy match-ups, it’s either really favored or really poorly positioned.

Dredge

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Vengevine], [mtg_card=Golgari Grave-Troll], [mtg_card=Faithless Looting].

Again, another deck that can take on a few different variations, usually coming down to if you’re trying to be a [mtg_card=Bridge From Bellow] deck or trying to beatdown with [mtg_card=Vengevine] and friends. The [mtg_card=Vengevine] version even has access to some new “cheap” 4 power threats with [mtg_card=Hooting Mandrills] and [mtg_card=Tasigur, the Golden Fang]. The big question will be how much of a boon the unbanning of [mtg_card=Golgari Grave-Troll] ends up being. I’ve even seen some [mtg_card=Seismic Assault]/[mtg_card=Life from the Loam] lists making the rounds.

Hatebears

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Thalia, Guardian of Thraben], [mtg_card=Aven Mindcensor], [mtg_card=Leonin Arbiter].

Arguably an offshoot of Zoo, Hatebears skimps a little bit on the power level of its creatures, but given the prevalence of fetch lands in Modern it’s quite capable of locking an opponent out of the game. The name comes from the decks reliance on lots of 2 power creatures that have various detrimental effects stapled to them. Drawing the right creatures in the right match-ups and it’s very possible to steal games. The deck can be built as a willy [mtg_card=Aether Vial] list or just a slightly bigger version that relies more on early acceleration from cards like [mtg_card=Noble Hierarch]. Of all the decks I’ve listed I think it’s probably the least likely to be represented.

Infect

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Glistener Elf], [mtg_card=Vines of Vastwood], [mtg_card=Become Immense].

If I can go off on a tangent for just a moment, there’s a belief that especially in older formats you want to play decks that have a god draw. There’s just some number of games that no matter what your opponent is playing, you’re just going to win either by being too fast or too resilient. Infect might be the best deck to embody this ideal in Modern – turn two kills are not impossible depending on the specific card selection. I had always thought they were a little fragile, but I was quite impressed with how well it’s been doing in the GP circuit. And if you’re worried about resilience, you can always play the [mtg_card=Phyrexian Crusader] version which is conveniently immune to basically all the common removal.

Jeskai Control

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Cryptic Command], [mtg_card=Path to Exile], [mtg_card=Celestial Colonnade].

Jeskai Control is another mainstay, especially in the Pro circuits. There’s a lot of discussion for why folks gravitate to controlling strategies, even when they are not that well positioned. Some theorize it’s that you feel in the most control, pardon the pun, of your ability to win and lose games, where another deck might be more dependent on the top of the deck. Another popular theory, is it feels good to play since you actually spend more time winning. The games that you do win go long, while loses tend to sputter out quickly. Regardless, Jeskai Control just plays a bucket of removal spells and counters to eventually run their opponents out of relevant cards. Some versions will play more aggressively with cards like [mtg_card=Geist of Saint Traft] while others are all about [mtg_card=Celestial Colonnade].

Storm

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Grapeshot], [mtg_card=Past in Flames], [mtg_card=Pyretic Ritual].

Is Jon Finkel going to be at your Modern event? Yes? Then at least someone is playing Storm. Storm is another deck that just really doesn’t care too much about what the opponent is doing. You’re forced to interact with it, while having a clock on the game, or eventually it’s going to storm off and kill you – i.e. play a whole bunch of spells, rituals and cantrips, until it has cast enough to use a storm card like [mtg_card=Grapeshot] for lethal. There are some specific sideboard cards that can give it trouble, but given its relative lack in popularity folks tend to focus their sideboard hate on other decks.

Tron

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Urza’s Tower], [mtg_card=Karn Liberated], [mtg_card=Expedition Map].

Remember what I said earlier about god draws? How does turn three [mtg_card=Karn Liberated] sound? Trons namesake is the cycle of Urza lands, and it’s trying to assemble [mtg_card=Urza’s Tower], [mtg_card=Urza’s Mine], and [mtg_card=Urza’s Power Plant] as quickly as possible to start abusing the extra mana. Even if your opponent has all the right answers for [mtg_card=Wurmcoil Engine] and [mtg_card=Karn Liberated], eventually you tutor up and hard cast an [mtg_card=Emrakul, the Aeons Torn].

Twin

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Splinter Twin], [mtg_card=Deceiver Exarch], [mtg_card=Remand].

[mtg_card=Splinter Twin] is a combo deck that uses the interaction of [mtg_card=Splinter Twin] plus an untapping creature like [mtg_card=Deceiver Exarch] or [mtg_card=Pestermite] to make infinite hasted attackers. Because these can be played at instant speed, the big appeal of the deck is that it forces your opponents to constantly respect the combo. What this means is that the deck can play a normal tempo-ish control game, that can either win out of no where or makes the opponent play awkwardly. Recently, some builds have been splashing green for [mtg_card=Tarmogoyf] and [mtg_card=Huntmaster of the Fells] to up the pressure they put on the board.

Zoo

Key Cards: [mtg_card=Tarmogoyf], [mtg_card=Wild Nacatl], [mtg_card=Lightning Bolt].

Zoo is a pretty basic term used to describe a bunch of decks that all more or less share the same goal, play all the best under-costed creatures with enough reach to close out games quickly. Some versions will literally play all the colors, aggressively damaging themselves with shocklands to play turn two [mtg_card=Geist of Saint Traft] or [mtg_card=Knight of the Reliquary] and finish with [mtg_card=Tribal Flame], while other versions rely more on [mtg_card=Gore-Clan Ramgager] and all the little Red Green beaters. Even if you’re able to stabilize the board, there’s usually enough [mtg_card=Lightning Bolt]s and such to finish you off.

What’s great about Modern right now is that these decks don’t even encompass all the viable strategies. At any given event, a deck I didn’t even bring up like Tokens, [mtg_card=Scapeshift], [mtg_card=Ad Nauseam], or [mtg_card=Living End] can hit just the right match-ups and/or the proper lack of sideboard respect in order to steal a bunch of wins. If you’re looking to get into Modern, find a deck that you feel like you’d want to play for quite a while and just keep jamming games with it.

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