Competitive in a Year: Humans

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Competitive in a Year: Humans

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all, this week we have 5 color Humans on the docket. Humans was the winner of the most recent Mythic Championship. The deck features an aggressive game plan backed up by disruptive creatures to slow your opponent down while you’re speeding up. Humans is at the top of the metagame for several reasons. Firstly, it is powered up by the two most powerful Turn 1 accelerants in Modern: Aether Vial and Noble Hierarch. Aether Vial allows you to double the number of creatures you can play in the early turns and Noble Hierarch offers you acceleration and an added power boost in the early turns. Combining these two elements, Humans is able to go wide or go tall depending on their draw, which offers flexible aggressive plans. Secondly, it is able to use a unified creature type allows you to take full advantage of the flurry of ‘rainbow’ lands in the deck. Cavern of Souls, Unclaimed Territory as well as Ancient Ziggurat can cast any color of Human, which is significantly stronger than most decks in Modern. Finally, Humans is able to utilize impressive anti-combo cards, despite being a linear aggro deck. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben taxes spell based combo, cards like Meddling Mage keep decks honest by forcing them to play reactive spells to kill it or lose on the spot (see: Ad Nauseum) and a slew of other sideboard options can make life painful for other decks.

However, before we can build Humans, we have to start with our budget deck: Death and Taxes:

Death and Taxes is built to teach us the first principle of Humans: Disruption. The Death and Taxes strategy is founded on making things harder for your opponent. Taxing creatures like Thalia and Vryn Wingmare increase the mana requirements of spells to slow down certain decks while cards like Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter slow down fetchlands and in conjunction with Ghost Quarter and other land destruction lands can Strip Mine opponents out of the game. This list also features a Blink subtheme that uses Flickwisp, Eldrazi Displacer, and Restoration Angel to enhance the enter the battlefield effects of Blade Splicer, Thraben Inspector, Phyrexian Revoker and most annoyingly, Leonin Arbiter. If your opponent pays two mana for Leonin Arbiter and then cracks a fetchland, you can blink the Arbiter again forcing them to pay a 2nd time for the fetchland, lest they sacrifice it for no value. Flickerwisp in particular is quite the monster. If you Vial in a Flickerwisp or blink it on your End Step, you can take an opponent’s land away from them during their turn. Similarly, you can target your own land during your turn and have it available starting on your end step. These tricks will hurt your opponent’s head and teach you the value of Aether Vial.

Death and Taxes has gotten a lot of press recently because its value at disrupting Cantrip heavy decks like UR Phoenix and pressuring the manabase of synergy decks like Tron and Valakut. In playing Death and Taxes, you’ll learn the value of disruption, the tricks that Aether Vial can offer, and the ease of winning a game where your opponent cannot do anything. As many proponents of Death and Taxes will tell you, the deck is complicated and offers many lines for disruptive potential, and as such it requires a lot of practice. However, while you’re practicing Death and Taxes, it might be nice to have another option:

In just one month, we’ve modified our original deck AND built the beginnings of another one:

The manabase of this deck leads a little bit to be desired, so feel free to wait a couple of months before you assemble the deck, but, the point is still relatively similar. Like Humans, you’re utilizing your “rainbow” lands to get greedy with your manabase. In the coming months, we will be adding cards like Cavern of Souls and Horizon Canopy in order to make room for more aggressive manabases, but, to start, you’ve got a manabase that costs basically nothing and can facilitate your WR base and reliably cast your splash creatures. Jwari Shapeshifter and Bojuka Brigand are not traditional Allies added to the fold, but, I’m not certain why they aren’t. The deck can cast them with relative ease, and they serve as additional copies of your best spells. I’ve added them as well as offered you to opportunity to buy every other playable Ally I could find on Gatherer so you can improve your deck. Something that’s important to learn early on about Humans is the restrictive nature of sideboards. Because of the large number of creature-casting rainbow lands, it’s often hard to put non-creatures or creatures of different types in your sideboard because they’re difficult if not impossible to cast. Ancient Ziggurat cannot even cast Aether Vial. Yeesh. It’s important to consider this when looking at your sideboard. We’ll spend more time looking at this.

The non-ally, non-land cards you purchase in Month 1 are for improving your Death and Taxes deck. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is likely the best creature in Death and Taxes, and if not for the expensive cost of Aether Vial, she would easily have been in the initial list.

I’m going to be honest: the next few months are going to feel kind of silly. In previous guides, I’ve tried to offer more opportunities for you to switch decks and made each month about interesting changes to your deck. This guide will not be able to include that. Because of the cost of Humans, it was hard to add much more to our budget. Most of the next few months will be spent tuning your land base.

Month 2:
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Razorverge Thicket
1 Inspiring Vantage
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Gelid Shackles
2 Oblivion Ring

The lands can replace Plains and Mountains in Allies. The Collected Companies will enhance the resilience of your Allies deck and can be used in the future if you are interested in GW Taxes. The Gelid Shackles and Oblivion Ring are for your Death and Taxes sideboard if you think you need them. The Shackles in particular are pretty cute.

Month 3 and Month 4:
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Horizon Canopy

The next two months give us more lands for Humans. With the last three Cavern of Souls, your Allies deck will have 16 rainbow creature lands, which means your deck looks something like this:

I’ve cut a land from the deck because of the better mana we have access to. Feel free to re-add it if you’d like to. The Horizon Canopies we’ll be buying make great additions to the Mono White Death and Taxes list. The key to playing Allies, and Humans for that matter, is understanding how to conceal burst damage. Many of the Allies have keywords that grant buffs for all creatures, similarly, Thalia’s Lieutenant and Mantis Rider paired with a Phantasmal Image can offer burst damage out of nowhere. Once you add Aether Vial to your deck, you don’t have to play all your threats “face up” which means you can Vial stuff in at the end of turn to mess up your opponent’s math calculations. Finding this balance is a product of playing games, not theory, so I can’t give you hard and fast rules, but, I can tell you that you’ll win more games surprising opponents than doing the guess work for them.

Finally! Some spells! In Month 5, we’ll begin purchasing the Humans necessary to play this deck: The vast majority of our Allies are also Humans so we can play a version of Human/Allies that can use both:

This deck is potentially missing something and will leave you feeling like you’ve missed out on some synergy. Kor Bladewhirler and Ondu Cleric don’t get or give any of the Human synergies and Thalia’s Lieutenant and Champion of the Parish don’t benefit from Ally buffs. I’m not certain that this is the right way to build this deck, but, it’s even lower to the ground than the previous Allies deck, so it might be worth messing around with.

Month 6:
4 Phantasmal Image
2 Knight of Autumn
2 Gaddock Teeg
3 Deputy of Detention
4 Auriok Champion

In Month 6, we’ll almost have a functioning Humans deck that looks like this:

We’re only a few cards away from a Eli Loveman’s Humans list.

Month 8:
4 Meddling Mage
1 Noble Hierarch

Moving one Bugler to the side as well as cutting a Thalia, a Deputy of Detention and a Kitesail Freebooter makes room for the Meddling Mages. Noble Hierarch is much better than Avacyn’s Pilgrim.

Month 9 and 10:
3 Noble Hierarch
1 Horizon Canopy

Pilgrims become Nobles and we get our 4th Horizon Canopy. You now have Eli Loveman’s MC winning Humans list. Humans is very complicated and requires lots of trimming, altering, and adjusting in order to be correct for each metagame. There are many primers, guides, and lists available for this deck. It’s quite the community favorite. In order to succeed with disruptive aggro decks, it’s important to know what you’re trying to disrupt. Having access to certain threats and certain answers

Month 11 and 12:
I’m getting pretty good at saving you money at the end, huh? The key in this last month is thinking about what you liked about the year. If you enjoyed the aggressive elements to Humans, I’d suggest picking up some cards to build towards UW or Bant Spirits (mainly shocks and fetches we’ve been lucky to avoid for the last few months). If you liked the taxing elements of Humans, I’d strongly advise buying some Chalice of the Void to add more taxation to your Humans deck. Additionally, if you have interest in building more Tier 2 lists, you’re very close to Eldrazi and Taxes, GW Death and Taxes, and possess the budget to build something like Martyr Proc. I’ll let you do some researching to read more about these strategies, and leave you with a few parting words. Humans is powerful because it can be disruptive and it can be aggressive. The process of understanding how to perform these skills is quite easy, but, understanding when and how to switch takes a lot longer. I’ve long believed that sequencing with Humans is one of the more difficult tasks in Modern. You have manage Aether Vials, conceal information, remember triggers, time cards like Kitesail Freebooter and Phantasmal Image right and most dangerously, name cards with Meddling Mage. If you get stuck on any of this, there’s several good guides out there, I have used Dylan Hand’s Humans guide often when preparing. His Meddling Mage names are very helpful.

Below, same as last article, is a list of the monthly purchases. Hopefully structuring it this way is more helpful and can make it easier to refer to.

Month 1:
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Eidolon of Rhetoric
4 Unclaimed Territory
4 Ally Enchampment
4 Ancient Ziggurat
4 Akoum Battlesinger
4 Expedition Envoy
4 Hada Freeblade
4 Kabira Evangel
4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Oran-Rief Survivalist
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
4 Kor Bladewhirl
4 Ondu Cleric
4 Zulaport Cutthroat
4 Lantern Scout
4 Bojuka Brigand
4 Firemantle Mage
4 Jwari Shapeshifter
1 Seachrome Coast

Month 2:
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Inspiring Vantage
4 Gelid Shackles
2 Oblivion Ring

Month 3:
2 Cavern of Souls

Month 4:
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Horizon Canopy

Month 5:
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Reflector Mage
4 Mantis Rider
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
2 Tajic, Legion’s Edge
2 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Kessig Malcontents
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Whirler Rogue
1 Hostage Taker
1 Direfleet Daredevil
4 Militia Bugler
2 Sin Collector

Month 6:
4 Phantasmal Image
2 Knight of Autumn
2 Gaddock Teeg
3 Deputy of Detention
4 Auriok Champion

Month 7:
3 Meddling Mage
1 Horizon Canopy

Month 8:
1 Noble Hierarch
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Meddling Mage

Month 9:
3 Noble Hierarch

Month 10, 11 and 12:
Varied

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