Modern Pro Tour Primer

Hey, everyone! The Modern Pro Tour is this weekend, and it’s been a while since Magic’s most popular competitive format has been on the largest stage. The Modern format is easily the most diverse in competitive Magic and the decks that seem to be on top often change from week to week depending on what happened to break into the latest top 8s.

While this makes the matches exciting, it can make it difficult to keep up with if you aren’t devoting lot of hours to the format. To help those who plan to watch the Pro Tour, I am going to highlight some of the most popular decks lately in Modern, while talking about some of the things that make them good and bad.

Grixis Shadow


If I was to make a conservative pick for the most popular deck in this upcoming Pro Tour, Grixis Shadow would be it. Grixis Shadow is the closest thing to a “50%” deck the current format has. While it can struggle against some fringe decks like Dredge, it has a fighting chance in every matchup because of its efficient discard spells and potential for combo kills with Temur Battle Rage. It is also extremely consistent, executing the same or similar game plan every game thanks to the 12+ cantrips it typically plays.

In this deck, the magic number is one. Its namesake card is Death’s Shadow, a one-cost threat that quickly grows to a lethal size thanks to shock lands, Thoughtseizes, and Street Wraiths. In addition to one-cost discard clearing the opponent’s hand before we play our Shadows, Stubborn Denial provides a very efficient means of protecting our powerful threat once it is in play.

Key cards against Death’s Shadow are ones that give your opponents life like Blessed Alliance and Fiery Justice. You can also attack their ability to use their graveyard as a resource with things like Rest in Peace or Relic of Progenitus.

Robots / Affinity


Robots, or Affinity as it is called from when it used to play cards like Frogmite, is probably one of the oldest and best known decks in Modern. Robots is known for its explosive starts powered by Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum. It also has staying power in longer games thanks to resilient threats like Etched Champion and creature lands.

While the core of Robots decks is pretty consistent from deck to deck, the details on the supporting cards can sometimes change. Galvanic Blast is occasionally replaced with other splash-cards such as Thoughtcast or Dispatch, to either gas back up or remove a problem creature that Blast can’t answer.

Key cards for beating Robots are Stony Silence and artifact sweepers like Shatterstorm. These cards are so impactful, they often make post-board games against Robots come down to whether or not the other player drew their sideboard cards. The Robots side of these matchups also have some play with the ability to take these hate cards away with things like Thoughtseize.

Green Tron


The Tron deck takes its name from the series “Voltron”, where multiple smaller machines combine to form something even more powerful. In Magic, the pieces of our superpower come in the form of these three lands:

Urza's Mine
Urza's Power Plant
Urza's Tower

Once assembled, these lands provide us with sevem mana total to cast terrifying cards like Karn Liberated as early as turn three. Because our deck plays so many cantrips, like Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, and Ancient Stirrings, we often see enough cards every game to find exactly what we need.

In many ways, Tron acts as the “fun police” of the Modern format. If a deck is not capable of generating linear kills by the fourth turn of the game, it generally has a poor Tron matchup. This is because the cards Tron is able deploy starting on the third turn far outpace the power level of what most other decks in Modern are doing.

There tends to be some variation in the supporting cards Tron decks like to play. Some decks, like our sample list here, play a Black splash for access to cards like Collective Brutality. Others splash Red to play cards like Kozilek’s Return and Blood Sun, White for Path to Exile and Rest in Peace, or just stay Mono-Green so they can play more basic lands.

Key cards to fight Tron include countermagic like Ceremonious Rejection and Disdainful Stroke as well as land destruction like Fulminator Mage and Crumble to Dust. Still, these cards must be combined with pressure, or else the Tron player will be able to simply play through the disruption given enough time.

Burn


Burn is the litmus test for Modern. It is probably the most consistent turn four deck in the format. Aside from lands and some aggressive creatures, almost every card in the deck does the exact same thing — go to the dome — meaning you can expect Burn to do the same thing almost every single game. This forces other decks in the format to try and go under Burn by winning faster than turn four, or to be interactive by removing creatures or countering spells.

Most of the Burn decks played today are base {W}{R}, with a small Green splash in the sideboard for Destructive Revelry. In the past, though, more Green-heavy variants, for main deck cards like Wild Nacatl and Atarka’s Command, have seen play.

Key cards for combating burn in Modern include cards like Kitchen Finks, Blessed Alliance, and Kor Firewalker to gain life, and Leyline of Sanctity to protect you from a good portion of their burn spells.

Humans


Humans is a fairly recent addition to the Modern format compared to most of the other decks mentioned today, but it is still a powerful one. A mix of aggressive creatures like Champion of the Parish and Mantis Rider, backed up by disruptive threats like Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage, makes for a deck that is both interactive and aggressive.

There are some small variations in Human decks, such as more copies of Kessig Malcontents or main deck Dark Confidants, but the core idea of five color aggressive disruptive creatures powered out by a suite of rainbow-lands and Aether Vials stays true across all lists.

Key cards for fighting humans are sweeper effects like Anger of the Gods, Engineered Explosives, and Supreme Verdict.

Jeskai


Jeskai, in some form, has existed in Modern for a long time, even winning a Modern Pro Tour once upon a time. While these decks tend to be fairly controlling at first glance, the fact that much of their removal doubles as reach tends to make them quite aggressive when they need to be. Jeskai tends to be favored against creature-based decks like Robots and Humans, while struggling against big mana decks like Tron.

There is a good amount of variation in the threats decks like this play depending on who is playing the deck. Some play more 3-drop threats like Spell Queller and Geist of Saint Traft, while others just play Spell Queller, and others still play Snapcaster Mage as their only creature.

Key cards for attacking Jeskai are difficult to answer threats like Thrun, the Last Troll as well as Planeswalkers that can sit on the board and generate card advantage every turn.

Blue Moon


Blue Moon can play out similarly to Jeskai at times, but gets to lean on the power of Blood Moon thanks to it not splashing a third color. This makes the deck weaker to threats that can grow out of range of Lightning Bolt, but gives the deck some free wins against draws that fold to Blood Moon on occasion.

Speaking of free wins, there is a good bit of variation in the win conditions these Blue Moon decks choose to employ. Our sample list here utilizes Madcap Experiment to flip Platinum Emperion into play. Other variations include Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker alongside Deceiver Exarch, Through the Breach paired with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or even just good, fair top end threats like Torrential Gearhulk and Wurmcoil Engine.

Like Jeskai, Blue Moon tends to be strong against small creature decks, while struggling a bit with decks like Tron. Again, cards to fight Blue Moon are generally things that are difficult to answer like Thrun, or that generate card advantage like Planeswalkers.

U/R Gifts Storm


Gifts Storm is currently the best dedicated combo deck in Modern. It is capable of killing as early as the second turn with its most powerful draws, but more often it wins on the third or fourth turn of the game. It does this by utilizing creatures like Baral, Chief of Compliance and Goblin Electromancer, alongside Rituals and Past in Flames to generate a large storm count for lethal Grapeshots. The namesake card, Gifts Ungiven, acts as a quadruple Demonic Tutor most games thanks to Past in Flames.

Storm tends to be strong against other linear decks, that are slightly slower, as well as big mana decks, like Tron, that tend to durdle around for the first few turns of the game. Storms harder matchups tend to be decks like Death’s Shadow and Jeskai that have a lot of interactive elements and a reasonable clock.

Key cards for fighting Storm are graveyard hate like Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, and Nihil Spellbomb to shut down Past in Flames. Additionally, post board sweeper effects, like Engineered Explosives and Izzet Staticaster, are often important to clean up after an Empty the Warrens.

Mardu Pyromancer


Like Humans, Mardu Pyromancer is a deck that is newer to the Modern format. That being said, it is doing powerful things and it would not surprise me if this was a breakout deck at this Pro Tour. Leaning on the power of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek to disrupt the opponent, this deck then aims to close the game out with cards like Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler.

Mardu utilizes the powerful Faithless Looting to smooth out its draws and churn through things like extra lands in the late game. In conjunction with Lingering Souls, Looting often feels like it is just drawing two cards with little drawback. Kolaghan’s Command is extremely flexible in this deck. Not only is it removal, but it can also re-buy our threats, which generates further card advantage for us.

Much like the other fair decks listed here, this Mardu deck tends to be strong against spell-based combo decks like Storm while struggling against big mana decks like Tron.

Key cards for beating the Mardu deck tend to be graveyard hate like Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus as well as sweeper effects like Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict to clean up Young Pyromancer and friends.

Wrapping Up

While my piece here today is far from exhaustive in terms of the decks that see play in Modern, I believe it does a good job of highlighting some of the best decks in the format. I would be very surprised if every deck I listed here did not appear on coverage at least once over the course of all ten rounds of Modern during the swiss portion of the Pro Tour.

What decks do you like in Modern right now? Do you think there is a key deck that might have been left out of my summary here? Let me know in a comment below!

Cheers,
—Jeff Hoogland


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