Howdy folks. I’m starting a new column this week—The Modern Age. In addition to being my favorite song by The Strokes, the column title reflects what I’ll be talking about. Yes, that wonderful Magic: the Gathering format known as Modern. With the Modern Regional PTQs coming up next month—I nabbed a qualification at the last minute—and the return of the Modern Pro Tour in February, it’s a great time to delve into the format.

My Modern Story

Since the creation of Modern, I’ve taken passive interest in the format. I hadn’t been playing during the first Ravnica block, so I waited for the shocklands to get reprinted in Return to Ravnica block before starting to build decks. My early experiments were with Jeskai Control (Shahar Shenhar’s World Champion deck) and blue-white Gifts Tron (Luis Scott-Vargas at Grand Prix Lincoln/Hoth), but I didn’t play many tournaments. After drafting a ton of Modern Masters in 2013 and picking up a few Arcbound Ravagers, I built Affinity and toyed around with it here and there. But I was mostly a casual observer during the early years of Modern.

Late in 2014 I won a PTQ and qualified for Pro Tour Fate Reforged, which was a Modern event eventually won by Antonio del Moral Leon playing Splinter Twin. As I wrote at the time, I first picked up Scapeshift and later Delver—Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were a hell of a drug—but I kind of knew those broken delve spells would be banned before the Pro Tour. And sure enough, I found myself prepared to play decks that got banned out of the top tier. I figured I would struggle to do well in my first pro tour playing Modern with essentially no competitive experience, so I decided to make it a learning experience and start getting the necessary reps with Affinity. I won a match!

Over the last two years, I’ve picked up Modern here and there for grand prix and PPTQs and had a little success. Affinity has been well-positioned recently, so I’m happy to put my years of experience with the deck to good use. In the coming weeks, I’ll talk about that deck and where I see its place in the evolving metagame. Hopefully I will play it at the RPTQ, though I’m not locked in on that plan.

Starting this week, I’m going to look at a some decks rising to the top of the metagame. You have to know what you’re up against! Let’s start with a couple blue decks that are rising in popularity. I’ll run down the decks and how they match up with Affinity.

Storm

Guess who’s back? The printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance lets Storm move away from Pyromancer Ascension and instead have two mana-reducing two drops. This consistency makes Storm a turn three deck—play some blue cantrips for the first two turns, then drop Baral or Goblin Electromancer turn three followed by a ritual or Manamorphose to start the storm count. Gifts Ungiven basically tutors for the full engine, to ensure consistent combo turns, and it’s really good when it costs three mana.

Here’s what the deck looks like these days, as piloted by Emma Handy to a top four finish at last weekend’s SCG Modern Classic.

UR Storm by Emma Handy

Creatures (7)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (36)
Manamorphose
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual
Gifts Ungiven
Serum Visions
Sleight of Hand
Opt
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Peer Through Depths
Remand
Noxious Revival
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Scalding Tarn
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Steam Vents
Snow-Covered Island
island
Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Blood Moon
Dismember
Dispel
Swan Song
Echoing Truth
Wipe Away

This is a fearsome deck, and it’s a lot easier to navigate winning lines now that Pyromancer Ascension is out of the deck. I expect it to grow in popularity, especially among the grinder types you expect to face in RPTQs. Blue cards haven’t been great in Modern since Splinter Twin got banned, so you know there are a lot of competitive players eager to sleeve up some blue mana again.

The deck has a few copies of Remand in the main deck to interact with your plan, though for the most part you’ll be racing them game one unless you play a deck full of discard or counterspells. After sideboard, they can mess with your hate enchantments with Swan Song, Echoing Truth, and Wipe Away. They also add Empty the Warrens to get around Leyline of Sanctity and go under counterspell decks.

As an Affinity player, I don’t mind seeing more Storm. The matchup is fun and fast, and I know the Storm lines well enough that I can enjoy playing both sides of the deck. After sideboard, I’m kind of happy if they bring in a bunch of Shattering Sprees and Lightning Bolts. Working through hate is bread and butter Affinity play, and I kind of enjoy it. Anything that dilutes their deck is fine with me. On the flip side, I love bringing in Rule of Law, Whipflare handles goblin tokens, whatever disruption you choose to play (Thoughtseize, Spell Pierce, Stubborn Denial, etc.) help buy time, and you can mess with Past in Flames through Grafdigger’s Cage and friends.

Jeskai

When Storm starts getting popular, counterspell decks can’t be far behind. Jeskai has had a rough time in Modern in recent years. Nahiri, the Harbinger and the unbanning of Ancestral Vision led to a small resurgence, but for the first time in a while the deck is starting to put up real results. Here’s the version Jacob Ballington used to win the Star City Modern Classic last weekend:

Jeskai by Jacob Ballington

Creatures (11)
Snapcaster Mage
Spell Queller
Geist of Saint Traft

Spells (25)
Serum Visions
Path to Exile
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Cryptic Command
Spell Snare
Logic Knot
Electrolyze
Lands (24)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Celestial Colonnade
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Island
Mountain
Plains

Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Disdainful Stroke
Negate
Celestial Purge
Engineered Explosives
Relic of Progenitus
Supreme Verdict
Vendilion Clique
Wear // Tear
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Izzet Staticaster

The Jeskai colors have a lot of options for interaction and win conditions. Geist of Sant Traft and Spell Queller are on the proactive side of the spectrum, but you can also find people taking the longer plan with Nahiri, Colonnade, and such. Opt has started to pop up, as has Search for Azcanta. Note that Remand is on the outs, while Logic Knot is taking the main two-mana counterspell slot.

Land destruction seems missing from this list, but Pete Ingram plays a full four copies of Spreading Seas. The manabase is a little awkward for Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge, but the deck needs some way to interact with Tron lands, Nexuses, and Raging Ravines.

The return of Jeskai is bad news for Affinity. They don’t even need to run sideboard hate like Stony Silence or Shatterstorm—though many pilots still do—because a steady stream of removal spells and cheap counters make it very hard for Affinity to win. Etched Champion helps, but the matchup is a real slog. I’m starting to test Bitterblossom as well, but if Jeskai is a popular choice for the RPTQ I’m not excited to sleeve up Mox Opals.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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