Modern is a very diverse format. As it strives to be an eternal format, a lot of people like to continue to relate it to the other most popular eternal format, Legacy. “Yeah it’s like Legacy without Force of Will and Dual Lands,” is a phrase commonly uttered by Modern enthusiasts. Obviously, there are other key spells in Legacy that are either banned or not printed in Modern legal sets, but Brainstorms and Ponders and other absurd blue cards aside, this isn’t an incorrect way to view the format.
For so long, I’ve been focused on playing the best deck. I’ve played Bant Company in Standard to successful finishes, I’ve played Splinter Twin and more recently Jund in Modern to the finals of many a PPTQ as is so echoed in these hallowed blogs. And I’ve done so on the faith that these are the best decks in the format. But maybe that’s not the way one should approach Modern.
While I do enjoy just playing the best, highest quality card at each casting cost when I play Jund, and I enjoyed slapping a stupid enchantment on a really bad creature and winning the game with Splinter Twin, I chose these decks because other people have told me that they were the best things to be doing. While these advisors may not have been incorrect, I can’t help but wonder if I would be qualified for any of the previous RPTQs that I had missed on if I had simply chosen my deck differently?
See, in my playgroup, we have what we call the Tim Bachmann rollercoaster. “Guys, Deck A is absolutely brilliant. I’m going to win this event this weekend, don’t even bother throwing your registration fee away, you’re just wasting your money,” is followed by “Yeah I finished second place. Deck was great, I’m a little upset that I messed up though and didn’t win or had incorrect sideboard slots for the matchups I faced,” is very quickly followed by “Guys I did it I found the best deck in the format it’s deck B.” In the end though, I almost always end up playing Deck A, because in my head, and on message boards online, it was the best deck.
This goes back to my original point. In Legacy, you have “Best cards.” While Brainstorm and Ponder are so much more impactful than many of the things any of the other colors are able to do, Force of Will is the strength of Legacy. I tend to not call this card good, I call it a necessary evil, because on its own it’s a negative two-for-one that counters a mediocre spell, but in the relative space of Legacy, it lets you not lose the game when your opponent decides to be a mean person and do unfair things like try to win on turn 2.
Cards like this kind of sculpt the metagame of Legacy in a different direction than the cards in Modern shape its metagame. All-in decks in Legacy like Belcher are kept in check because cards like Force of Will exist to prevent those super linear, all-in combo decks from winning a lot of the time. However, there’s no Force of Will in modern.
Again, this is a sentiment that has been repeated many times by many people. So what happens in a metagame where the police don’t show up when someone dials 9-1-1? You get a lot of lootings, muggings, beatings, and fights, an all-out rat race to whoever may kill the other people as quickly as possible. While some may argue that there are police in Modern, in the form of Jund and Jeskai, those police just aren’t as good as the Police at precinct Legacy, and that’s why the crime rate of Modern is much higher than the crime rate in Legacy.
The emphasis when comparing the two formats is shifted. Legacy is shifted more toward Blue decks that play a fair role and try to win relatively late. Modern, on the other hand, is shifted more toward aggressive, linear combo decks that are meant to have as little interaction with the opponent as possible, because they know they don’t have to play around a potential Force of Will countering their important payoff spell.
So while the most played, and successful, decks in Legacy over the past few years have included decks like Miracles, Temur Delver, Grixis Delver, Jeskai Delver, Sulati Delver, Shardless Sultai, Grixis Control along with combo decks that play the aforementioned Force of Will like Sneak and Show, Reanimator, and Infect, the most successful and most played decks in Modern tend to be relatively degenerate “kill you before you kill me” decks like Affinity, Burn, Death’s Shadow Aggro, Infect, and of course the Jund and Jeskai decks. Most of these Modern decks just throw their stuff at the opponent as quickly as possible.
The point I’m trying to make is that without a card like Force of Will, Modern is much more dependent on which cards people are bringing with them in their sideboards. This is where not playing the best deck might be the best choice. Take Jund for instance. How many times, realistically, do you think a Jund player is happy that they have Fulminator Mage in their sideboard? I as a Jund player am almost never happy to play that card in my 75. A Stone Rain on a bear isn’t great in a format where I can literally die on the second turn. But it’s the best we have sometimes, and lately, I’ve felt that it isn’t good enough.
Maybe the trick to winning at Modern isn’t being a prepared midrange deck with correct sideboard cards. Maybe the trick to winning at Modern isn’t playing the same deck over and over again. Maybe it’s just like Standard, where people are rewarded for playing a well-positioned deck at a well-positioned time.
Let’s take a look at Modern, and the deck that I think will be the best positioned deck in the format. As a whole, you have control decks that are playing cheap interactions to deal with problematic creatures, like Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, even Terminate and Lightning Helix. Why are people playing these cards? Because right now these are the Force of Will of the format. And they aren’t even that good at their job most of the time. The reason these are the Force of Will of the format is because of the linear strategies that are just trying to win as quickly as possible. Infect, Affinity, and Death’s Shadow Aggro all try to either make a very wide board and win that way, some of Affinity’s games end this way, but really, they are trying to go all in on one creature. Infect is trying to protect the mothership and win with a couple of pumps on a creature, Affinity can either go all in on a Ravager or a creature with Cranial Plating, and Death’s Shadow gives a guy Double Strike and Trample.
The deck that looks really well positioned, and the deck I may pick up for the least two PPTQs of the season? Ad Nauseam.
Ad Nauseam’s stock list has 7-8 cards that say you don’t die this turn to combat damage. You don’t have to manage your opponent’s threats, you just have to cast a spell. Angel’s Grace can’t even be interacted with on the stack, as it has Split Second, so casting it through a Dispel just to live another turn is completely valid. So not only is your matchup favorable game 1 against the creature “kill you” decks, you get to play gnarly cards like Holy Day out of the board. One mana to invalidate your gameplan and time walk you in a combo deck is pretty good.
Not only that, but you’re also a combo deck. You also have a turn 4 win. You’re typically a turn slower than most other combo decks in Modern, but you have tools to get through those turns without dying. Half of your combo is meant to make you not die, in fact, so living those extra turns isn’t that big of a deal.
So not only are we good against the aggressive combo decks in the format because we win quickly by invalidating their gameplan, we also are decent against the midrange strategies as well. We can win at instant speed, which is a challenge for a lot of the midrange decks to handle because Jund is a pretty much sorcery speed deck, and has a slow clock, while Nahiri is just full of cards that deal with creatures, and the only ones of those we run, we just use to win faster anyway without having them touch the battlefield (Simian Spirit Guide).
The Sideboard for the deck is a thing of beauty also. You can improve your creature matchup by throwing some Fogs into your board, and you can improve your Jund matchup through Leyline of Sanctity, and your Nahiri matchup with Boseiju. Also, while you’re handling all of these strategies like this, you are playing a deck that is out of left field. I guarantee that not a lot of people have experience with the deck, and a lot of people won’t know how to sideboard for and play against it correctly.
The following is sort of a P.S. to the original article. I wrote it knowing full well that there were three Modern Grand Prix this past weekend. I also want to toot my own horn here. While Ad Nauseam didn’t top eight any of the events, there were three of them at 9-0 after day one across the three Grand Prix. I think though that the standout deck from the weekend was the R/G Valakut deck. It did very well over the weekend, and I think was mostly brushed aside as a tier 2 strategy by a vast majority of the player base. However, it put three copies into top eights this weekend. It certainly has the tools to attack the format right now. Being able to win with Primeval Titan just being a big idiot getting you Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers, casting a Scapeshift to finish your opponent outside of combat, or even just casting your ramp spells to deal damage if the game goes south is very appealing to me. This may be my deck moving forward for modern.
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