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What about Tier 1.5?

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Before I start this article I really want to talk about the Modern format as a whole post-Pro Tour Fate Reforged. At the pro tour we saw a very diverse “meta” with a Splinter Twin versus Amulet Bloom finals match. We saw a top 8 with a couple of decks that have never claimed a pro tour and a meta with a remarkable absence in the control department. This article will discuss a couple of tier 1.5-tier 2 modern decks that just did not do well at the pro tour as well as describe the changes that could be made. I have looked at each deck in question and have came up with deck lists for each depending on how I would play in a diverse modern format.

Naya Zoo

In the past, Zoo has been a fantastic option for any Magic: The Gathering player seeking to use creatures in modern. Nowadays, Zoo has kind of fallen off of the radar due to the recent printings of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. With Delver and Pod dominating about 75% of the Modern format at tournaments, the time just wasn’t right for the zoo animals. It will be interesting to go into 2015 with a “fresh” modern format, free from the grip of Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time. I will be trying out Zoo in my local meta, and I hope I can inspire you to give the animals a chance. I invite you to take a visit to my Zoo.

Zoo has an awesome group of creatures to play, but there seems to be something similar about all the variants of Zoo decks. The inclusion of Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape, and Knight of the Reliquary seem to be almost a universal maindeck in the modern format. I am not playing Tarmogoyf due to my budget, but many players (Brian Kibler) tend to always play the Lhurgoyf. This article will discuss why I am choosing to bring Zoo to most of the modern tournaments I will attempt to dominate in 2015.

With Modern losing so many value cards due to the banning, I feel like it is much harder to answer most of the threats. Due to the surge of Delver, we can only expect to see more and more people trying to figure out how to run the UR deck in this season of Modern without Treasure Cruise. Because of this, I expect to see tons of Lightning Bolts being thrown towards my creatures. With that in mind, I feel like it is the time for Selesnya Charm and Boros Reckoner to start making a splash in modern. Boros Reckoner can redirect a bolt and live if we use charms on him (Boros Charm and or Selesnya Charm). We all saw the success of Selesnya Charm, Boros Charm, and Boros Reckoner at the Magic 2015 pro tour in the hands of Pat Cox. Imagine taking that deck and transferring it to the modern format. This is my idea. I’m definitely planning on main decking a playset of Boros Reckoner and a variation of Charms. This is currently my gameplan for a maindeck:

As you can see, the charms are a huge part of my strategy. Selesnya Charm can get rid of our new best friend, Siege Rhino, and Boros Charm is a must have against control. There is no greater feeling than putting a control deck’s back against the wall and then charming your creatures to avoid the various wrath effects in Modern. Ajani Vengeant can be a fantastic card to have against Delver, Scapeshift, and UWx Control. If you manage to land an Ajani, the chances of winning are extremely increased. Ajani can keep an opponent off of their colors, tap down a creature to punch through extra damage, cast a “free” Lightning Helix, then Armageddon your opponent. This card is a meta call and will oftentimes come out of the main in order to put in more value cards like Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt.

Problematic match-ups will be Tron, Affinity, Hatebear, and UWx Control. Tron can put our tempo to a halt if they land a Wurmcoil Engine or a Karn, Liberated. Against Tron we will definitely want our Lightning Bolts out of the sideboard in order to push through extra damage. Affinity tends to be a deck that always is a step ahead of Zoo, so we want cards like Creeping Corrosion to come in to the main board in order to properly devastate our opponent (Bolts are nice too in this scenario, as is a couple Paths). Hatebears is just a bad matchup due to our mana base being so based on having fetches that can get the lands we need. Against hatebears we really want cards that remove their creatures and help us break through (Path and Bolts). UWx Control is a hit or miss matchup. We want a hand that can win on turn 4 against Control. If we don’t have that, we can kiss our matchup goodbye in game one. Our match up gets better after side-boarding when we can bring in our Thalia and Stormbreath Dragon (he tends to dodge spot removal pretty well and can monstrosity after a revelation in order to reset). Keep in mind I expect to face these decks mainly, so I have to plan ahead. If your meta has none of any of the following decks I listed, you may want to change your board. This is my sideboard:

Sideboard: 15

4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Path to Exile
2 Creeping Corrosion
1 Stormbreath Dragon

Our deck matches up surprisingly well against any creature decks, since we play 3/3s or 2/3s on turn 1. Our creatures only get bigger. I would encourage any modern player who is looking for a fantastic deck to give this one a try (if you like creatures). In my experience, the deck is very rewarding, even at first. Once a pilot learns each intricate detail of their deck and how they want to play it against certain matchups, then the deck will always seem competitive. Most of these cards are metagame calls and predictions about the Modern format. I hope that you give Boros Reckoner a shot, because he has been a very rewarding card for me. Also, give the charms a chance. There is nothing better than just killing your opponent with a Selesnya Charm or keeping all of your creatures alive after a Supreme Verdict with a Boros Charm.

UR Delver

This deck was dominating modern events across the globe prior to Treasure Cruise getting a ban. There was hardly a Delver presence at the pro tour and seemed to only be mentioned in passing when the recent banning were discussed. This does not mean the deck is dead by any means! It only means that it simply does not have the power level to beat a turn 2 Primeval Titan or deal with Splinter Twin. When discussing Delver, we cannot leave out tempo. Delver was the premiere tempo deck of the format pre-banning. The ability to draw 3 cards for one mana on turn 4-5 was crucial to the deck’s success. Now, the deck just reverts to its old self. Here is my decklist:

With the power level of Monastery Swiftspear and Delver of Secrets, this deck has potential to still out-tempo most modern lists. A T1 delver into a T2 flipped Delver plus Swiftspear plus Lightning Bolt is eight damage, quite remarkable for a UR deck. The ability for UR Delver to still be powerful is there. We replaced Treasure Cruise with Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster does not allow us to dig for what we need, but gives us a second chance with almost every spell in the deck. It is with this mindset that we main-deck a playset of Remand. Countering spells and drawing cards seems like a great trade-off. Without the card draw engine of Treasure Cruise, Remand not only looks better but does more for our deck since graveyard matters again.

In all honestly I am glad to see Treasure Cruise leave the modern format. Snapcaster Mage has always been one of my favorite cards and I am overjoyed to see him finding a home in a deck that is not just a control deck.

Our match-ups are a rough topic. Delver tends to find itself in a lot of grindy matches due to its lack of removal in the big creature department. I have seen many Delver lists splashing white in order to play copies of Path To Exile or splashing black in order to have more access to removal. Delver is definitely a flexible deck in the modern format for players who want to experiment in Grixis and Jeskai colors. With that being said, UR Delver tends to dominate the Tokens matchup. Having access to Forked Bolt and Electrolyze tend to help us establish a locked down board state in the early game, then keep up counter spell in the late game. We have excellent games against Soul Sisters because we have great removal for the sisters. Affinity can be tough but is nothing a Pyroclasm won’t fix. Amulet Bloom also tends to be a match-up where Delver shines because countering a T2 Titan can change everything.

We struggle with decks that have good removal and are resilient to Lightning Bolt. A good example is Twin Exarch. With Deceiver Exarch being a 1/4 we struggle to deal with it. Twin tends to disregard damage and “just combo off” which means we probably do not want all of our bolts in the main board and we definitely do not want Forked Bolt. Hate bears tends to be very hard to deal with if they are main decking Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Aven Mindcensor. Control has Sphinx’s Revelation, a card that we simply cannot beat unless we have the counter spell. Taking all this into account, I have prepared a sideboard that tends to (hopefully) deal with all the problematic decks we tend to face.

Sideboard: 15

2 Combust
2 Pyroclasm
2 Spell Pierce
3 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Hibernation
1 Vendillion Clique
2 Blood Moon
2 Dispel

We want Combust against Deceiver Exarch. If Twin is playing four Exarchs then we are playing all of our Combust. The card just destroys Twin. We can also use it against decks like Merfolk, but that is normally a 50/50 matchup. Spell Pierce tends to be great in the mirror match and can be very good against Twin. We definitely want this card against control because nothing feels better than Spell Piercing a Revelation. Threads of Disloyalty takes Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Dark Confidant, and many more! We definitely want Threads against Jund and Junk. Speaking of Jund and Junk, Hibernation tends to be pretty good at dealing with a huge boardstate. Blood Moon is very good against tri-colored decks. We want it against any deck running 3 colors. Dispel is also amazing against Control and we really want it for Sphinx’s Revelation. As I stated previously, Pyroclasm is a great sweeper against Affinity and any aggressive strategy in general.

As you can see, we are game planning to beat certain match-ups. We cannot win the late game board stall, nor can we stop Affinity if we can’t sweep their board in the early game. Combo decks tend to kind of disregard what we are doing, so we have to have a way to interact with them. My sideboard is built to combat the decks I see in the modern format at my LGS. I hope that you take my notes into account and tailor them to your own meta-game.


This deck is one that can be excessively frustrating to play against if it is being piloted by a skilled player. Hatebears has several variations, the best of which, in my opinion, is Junk Hatebears. Hatebears tends to have a very aggressive early game and finishes by poking its opponent with flyers or a cat king. This deck hasn’t had a very strong modern presence post the Deathrite Shaman banning, but that does not mean the deck cannot be played. This deck has unparalleled disruption across the modern format and is one of the best choices for a player who likes disrupting their opponent. Lets look at a decklist:

Lets talk creatures. This deck plays like a sideboard. Creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben provide “taxation” effects to our opponents. If there was ever a card that was built to shut down Storm, this is the one. This card is also extremely excellent versus any deck that plays lots of instants and sorceries, so we tend to want it always. We main-deck 4 Leonin Arbiter and 4 Aven Mindcensor because we live for the match-ups that our opponent does not have all the correct lands. Once these creatures are in play, we can start using Ghost Quarters as Wastelands. Ghost Quarter really shines in the matchup against Tron. We just destroy Tron because they can never really get all the lands they need. Voice of Resurgence is pretty good at keeping the counterspells off of us in the early game, and can sometimes lead to our opponent allowing us to get a Leonin Arbiter-Ghost Quarter lock without realizing. Brimaz, King of Oreskos allows us to be less vulnerable to Anger of the Gods and is really good if paired with a Wilt-Leaf Liege. Restoration Angel is in our main-deck so that we can be more resistant to spot removal in the early game.

Our spells are oriented around letting us deal with creatures and problem cards before sideboarding. Thoughtseize is literally the best form or removal in our deck. It hits everything. There is nothing like a turn one Thoughtseize. Abrupt Decay is fantastic against Delver of Secrets and any deck that relies on Blood Moon for disruption. Last but not least, Path to Exile delivers more than ever with a Leonin Arbiter in play. If cast at the right time, our opponent will have quite the time trying to get a basic from their deck. Since our deck has lots of answers, lets check out the sideboard and see where it gets totally filthy.

Sideboard: 15

2 Creeping Corrosion
2 Rule of Law
3 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Orzhov Pontiff
1 Gaddock Teeg
2 Dismember
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Qasali Pridemage

So, Affinity tends to be a problem. Creeping Corrosion starts us off. Blowing up all artifacts on turn 4 is not to be underestimated. With that being said, we also want Kataki, War’s Wage and Qasali Pridemage against decks that play lots of artifacts. Rule of Law tends to be an excellent choice against any combo deck or tempo deck. Ethersworn Canonist is an excellent hate-card to bring in against grindy match-ups like Control. Gaddock Teeg is excellent against Twin or any deck playing Supreme Verdict. Orzhov Pontiff tends to wipe our opponent’s board states or pump our guys better than any card I have tried. This card is great versus any aggressive strategy that floods the board with tiny little creatures. The last card, Dismember, is just a one mana kill something spell. I like it a lot in its slot.

~Just a note, a card that I have really been considering for my sideboard is Rest in Peace. I have yet to see Vengevine or a variant with Golgari Grave Troll pop up at my LGS, but I would definitely play it if graveyard matters at your LGS.~

To reiterate, Modern is a great format. We saw so many different archetypes at the recent Pro Tour and the format just keeps expanding. These are decks that ones that I specifically was curious about going into the Pro Tour due to the recent banning. I feel like no one has figured out quite yet how to break the modern format with one of these decks. We are in for a wonderful ride of Modern in the next couple of sets and I hope that the format expands even more. I would keep an eye on these decks. You may see them more frequently, and you might even see them pop up at a couple top 8s at GPs and IQs.



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