It’s been a couple of months since I really started trying to wrap my head around the Modern format. Between the expanded card base vs Standard and my limited amount of exposure to the format there wasn’t a real reason to deal with it seriously until Twenty Sided Store announced its PTQ. And while I bricked like a scrub in that tourney I had invested a good amount of time learning the other decks and how they play. The “Knowledge is Half the Battle” line from GI Joe is old hat to Magic players, especially if you’re on the spike plan.

I’m gonna break down the format in a broad way and then talk about the decks you’ll see and what I’ve seen in the past two weeks at 20SS’s weekly TNM.

This format (like all formats) is defined by its lands. There are fastlands and shocklands and taplands. All excellent ways to produce mana. Fixing is huge, as being able to tap for the mana you need means you’ll be able to make more versatile decks of various colors. Look at the last Standard: The main three decks were Delver (two colors), Zombies (two colors) and Birthing Pod (three colors). Fixing was pretty terrible in the last Standard. The second color in zombies was a splash and often getting that second color was a real pain. Let’s not even talk about the prohibitive cost of the mana for the roleplaying power cards of the deck. Right, so Standard now gives us shocklands we have all kinds of wacky color combos. Decks are splashing a fourth color for this card or that. Farseek does work here. But this is Modern we’re talking about. And we have fetches. Paying one life is nothing to get the land you really need to cast the spells you want and to cast them now! Add the shocklands and three life in a pinch sounds fine. Kiss your mana problems goodbye. And you thin the land from your deck so you’re drawing more gas and less filler. Shuffling is a thing as well.

Actually, a lot of decks have searching mechanics as their strategy. Gifts, Birthing Pod, Chord of Calling, fetches—there’s a lot of picking up your library and finding what you need. It’s a format full of combos and deck manipulation is a thing for certain.

It’s Fast
This format is much quicker than Standard. Games are quick. Fast, tight play is rewarded. Modern has capitalized on the recent (seven years’ worth) of creature power creep. I played a grindy control deck in the PTQ and was rewarded with a 3-5 record, with a 0-4 start. In Modern who dares wins—and you can be a little greedy. Use that to your advantage.

Sideboards Count
Obviously, sideboards always count. But in Modern you can snap shut down a deck with the right hate cards. Take Eggs. Rest in Peace is “GG bro!” unless he finds his Echoing Truth. If you have multiple cards an Eggs player has to deal with then it’s gonna be a much easier game to win. I find transformative sideboards are much more rare in Modern. Mostly it’s about answering a problem and clocking your opponent ’til he can deal with it.

Bringing It All Together
Needless to say, if your deck can answer all those points effectively then you have a neat little package in your 75. With the right combination of sideboard choices and a few good match-ups 4-0-ing an event soon should be in the bag. One card I really like right now is Shadow of Doubt. Best-case scenario it’s early land destruction/combo stopper. Worst case is a cantrip. It’s worth trying if your mana base can support it. Here’s a look at the deck I’m rocking this week. One SoD main but two more in the board:

2 Restoration Angel
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vendillion Clique
2 Aven Mindcensor

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
3 Electrolyze
2 Cryptic Command
2 Spell Snare
1 Remand
1 Shadow of Doubt
2 Path to Exile
2 Izzet Charm

4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Moorland Haunt
2 Sulfur Falls
2 Island
1 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Celestial Colonade
1 Eijango Castle

2 Celestial Purge
2 Stony Silence
2 Shadow of Doubt
2 Negate
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Disenchant
2 Spellskite
1 Batterskull

Obviously, this is not a homebrew. Versions of this deck have been 4-0-ing Dailies and winning PTQ/GPs for a couple of months now. After scrubbing out at the PTQ with my rogue deck I made a promise to myself: No more taking days off work to scrub out with rogue brews. At least not unless I’m 100% sure I’ll do well. So, it’s top decks or bust for me. This build answers the Birthing Pod question well, with ways to kill the creatures in its combo main. The Aven Mindcensors and Shadow of Doubt have great value here. As always Geist and his friend Restoration Angel are a hard act to follow: With so many angles to stop blockers or save Geist this deck can get in fast and answer problems long enough to Angel/burn out your opponent.

Last week I had the pleasure of playing against two pod decks. Some awesome plays included Shadow of Doubting a Pod on Kitchen Finks and drawing Electrolyze to kill the Finks and another Persisted Finks. Card economy = 4:0 It was awesome. I was able to make my opponent in game two fear my represented Izzet Charm long enough to Clique the Pod out of his hand and eventually take the game.

I will say that the Shadow of Doubt plan is much less good vs the non-fetchland/non-Pod decks. Seth schooled me with El Cheapo Burn. I sat there with my singleton SoD like a chump and cycling wasn’t an option when he was double Goblin Guide plus Lava Spiking me. It was brutal. The second game I got land-screwed and he punished me while I stumbled.

This week I’ve been practicing and actually watching some Modern matches on the YouTube. I’m hoping for a solid 3-1 or better. I’m sick of paying $10 for two packs. Wish me luck.

Zac Clark, Durdle Magus

Update: I did in fact 3-1 the TNM Modern Event. Ironically I faced Pod in the first round. I lost. 0-2 the first game and let my opponent search for a land after Restoration Angel targeted my Aven Mindcensor. I now know that this is not possible but obviously it’s a little late for regrets. The second game I got combo-ed with Deceiver Exarch and Kiki Jiki. That’ll happen. I was a little upset but my play was spot on in the second game I just didn’t draw like I wanted.

Round 2—Matt, Living End

Thanks to Nick and Zach Barash, I know just how to win this match. It involves having two counter spells and a decent clock. Game one I took after Matt stumbled to find Violent Outburst. -2 Aven Mindcensor, -1 Shadow of Doubt, -1 Electrolyze, +2 Supreme Verdict, +2 Negate

Game two I play a turn-three Geist and hoped he didn’t have it. He did. I scooped and went right to game three.

I mulled to six for a keep with Verdict and Negate with a Snapcaster. His early plays kept me off four land. But I continued to draw land and once again he bricked on his combo. But not after suspending Living End, Geist and friends took over with burn to deal the final blow. Ill be adding Rest in Peace to my board next week.

Round 3—Lirek, Gifts

I sat down pretty confident about this match-up. Generally speaking, Lirek plays what ever tier one deck is the best for the store’s meta. I’m not sold that Gifts is the deck that would fall under this category. I played Li a few weeks ago and I’m familiar with the tricks that Gifts likes to pull. I’m also pretty good at making every pile a worst-case scenario to the initiated “Santa.” Game one was pretty cut and dried: Geist with protection and Electrolyze for Lingering Souls. It was over quick. Lirek went directly to his board. No-nonsense. He expressed a worry about going to time. I told him after looking at my phone it’s only been 12 minutes. We have plenty of time.

Game two started with a Duress. I cast Lightning Bolt to the dome and showed him three land, Snapcaster, Electrolyze, and Geist. He wrote it down and Electrolyze hits my yard. I draw Negate and play a land he’s seen. Turn three Geist. Lirek untaps and Gifts. Elesh Norn and Unburial Rites hit the yard. Sounds good to me. I untap and swing with Geist. Play the land I’ve drawn so as to make sure he knows every card in my hand but the Negate. Li looks on and shakes his head. Lirek incorrectly states that he knows every card in my hand and flashes back Unburial Rites. I Negate. I swing with Geist on my turn and draw a Batterskull. Pass turn. Lirek casts Gifts again. Damnation, Lilianna, Eternal Witness, and something else. Lilianna and Damnation hit the yard. He doesn’t have two green for the Witness. I forget how. But he does stabilize and kill Geist. I play Batterskull. Eventually, I’m at 32 and he’s at six life. He tells me I should concede so we can play game three. I tell him that he doesn’t need to worry about going to time, there won’t be a game three. He scoffs. Apparently, he’s got this game all wrapped up. Anyhow, he ends his turn I cast Restoration Angel equip the Batterskull and swing. Game. In retrospect I wish I’d have said something clever like, “That’s great kid don’t get cocky.” But the win was just fine. Lirek is now no longer undefeated against me. And I don’t plan on letting up the pressure anytime soon.

Round 4—Seth, B/W Tokens

Seth is relatively new to the shop. He recently put Matt Jones on his most-wanted list. Last week he totally strong-armed my tempo deck by burning me out old-school. This week he’s onto Tokens. Game one I was able to put a clock on him in the air with Vendillion Clique taking his Lingering Souls, then make a snap block with Restoration Angel. Following turns was a simple race combined with removal for his Soul Warden. Game two was much of the same but Geist + Resto followed by a Clique with which I decided to not take a card. It was over quickly after. Without some janky combo or a way to end the game quickly I feel like there’s a huge advantage in that match-up. My advice to Seth is to get ahold of Spectral Procession. It’s a little more expensive mana-wise but so much better to block fliers as get through unblocked. Maybe a Batterskull—that card is bonkers!

Anyhow, like I said it was a good day for Team HOTC. Can’t wait ’til next week—I’m gonna try to get three more Remand; that card is beyond good.

Thanks for reading!

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