There’s been plenty of discussion recently about deckbuilding in Modern, and how we should approach sideboarding. The rise of Faithless Looting has prompted players to react accordingly, and some players have chosen to run staple sideboard cards in the main deck. Has MTG Arena’s best-of-one format given players a different perspective on deckbuilding? Or rather, are players making use of their format knowledge to get an edge in game one against the top decks? This week I delve into these theories and offer advice on what you can do to be proactive in deckbuilding in your metagame.

Modern adopts a similar mindset to Legacy: play what you know and know what’s in the metagame. Format knowledge is critical especially given how diverse the deck options are and how quickly the metagame can change. Playing tons of Modern will help you develop this knowledge, but watching or reading Modern content from others goes a long way as well.

Since the release of Guilds of Ravnica, the graveyard has become a significant roleplayer in Modern. Arclight Phoenix has soared to the top tier and  currently occupies nearly 9% of the metagame. Creeping Chill has made Dredge both more explosive and more resilient. Both of these decks play the best enabler in the format: Faithless Looting.

The success of Izzet Phoenix has been especially notable of late. The deck put nine copies day two at SCG Worcester, with three of those making the Top 8. Eli Kassis won Grand Prix Oakland with the deck as well. As a result, players are beginning to respect that the graveyard is an essential element and demands an answer game one. Tron has played Relic of Progenitus in the main for a while now, but what about other decks?

Some UW Control lists are moving Rest in Peace into the main deck to thwart these graveyard strategies from the get-go, which is especially effective if you’re running the Miracles version. Being able to shut down graveyard decks game one improves the “unfair” matchups. Zach Allen finished second in an SCG IQ doing this.

Zach Allen's UW Control

Spells (37)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Rest in Peace
Detention Sphere
Ancestral Vision
Serum Visions
Path to Exile
Timely Reinforcements
Cryptic Command
Mana Leak
Spell Snare
Lands (23)
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Glacial Fortress
Celestial Colonnade
Hallowed Fountain

Sideboard (15)
Celestial Purge
Disdainful Stroke
Ceremonious Rejection
Stony Silence
Supreme Verdict
Vendilion Clique
Baneslayer Angel
Lyra Dawnbringer

Rest in Peace has been a mainstay in Modern sideboards since its printing. It has proven to be the best graveyard hoser of the format, so it’s no surprise these white-based fair decks are beginning to play copies in the main deck. Most opponents keep their answers to enchantments in their sideboards, so it’s tough to deal with an opposing Rest In Peace for most decks in game one. Dredge for example usually runs Assassin’s Trophy in the sideboard, so landing Rest in Peace game one is likely to lead to victory. Doing this also frees up sideboard slots for other archetypes.

On the flip side, Izzet Phoenix has started incorporating some white mana for Stony Silence and Path to Exile. (The deck obviously does not want to play Rest in Peace). Answering artifact strategies and recursive graveyard threats has become too important, with Manamorphose and Hallowed Fountain to fix the mana. Flame Slash is another intriguing addition. It’s more consistent than Lightning Axe, and efficiently answers opposing Thing in the Ice and Sai, Master Thopterist.

Ross Merriam's Izzet Phoenix

Creatures (12)
Thing in the Ice
Arclight Phoenix
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Crackling Drake

Spells (30)
Serum Visions
Thought Scour
Faithless Looting
Izzet Charm
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Axe
Gut Shot
Flame Slash
Mutagenic Growth
Lands (18)
Scalding Tarn
Polluted Delta
Flooded Strand
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Hallowed Fountain
Sulfur Falls

Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Surgical Extraction
Stony Silence
Snapcaster Mage
Blood Moon
Ceremonious Rejection
Spell Pierce
Path to Exile

All these players are adjusting their decks to their metagames. Competitive tournaments differ from local ones, and there are ways you can obtain information to adjust accordingly. For example, note what you play against and the cards that mattered most in the match, or ones that did nothing. I like to talk to my opponent after the match to ask how they sideboarded and what threats they were trying to answer, or what they were playing around. First-hand information is always useful and offers the best data for you, with the bonus of being social too.

Surgical Extraction has also started appearing in main decks on Magic Online. Why? Not every deck can play Rest in Peace, while any deck can play Surgical Extraction. Still, this seems like a mistake to me. It’s useful in certain situations, but rarely in the first game unless you face a deck like Goryo’s Vengeance. Surgical Extraction is one of the most misvalued cards in Modern, because it is “free” and removes something good from your opponent’s deck. Players assume for two life they can take the opponent’s best card, but that’s too low impact most of the time. Surgical Extraction‘s purpose is to slow down combo decks that rely on specific cards. I think packing something like Relic of Progenitus or even Tormod’s Crypt will have a lot more impact than what Surgical Extraction can offer if premier graveyard hate isn’t available to you.

Deckbuilding and sideboarding are the most challenging aspects of Magic, and you can only improve through trial and error. It may seem long and tedious, but you learn some critical skills along the way. You have to see Magic as one big jigsaw puzzle that requires solving, and Modern is continually changing. Seeing more aggressive creature decks in your metagame? Play more sweepers. Seeing more Burn? Pack more life gain. Although it may seem common sense, finding the balance can be tricky. Perhaps we’ve become a little short on effort due to how easy it is to access decklists and sideboard guides on a whim, which is unfortunate, as I feel that’s one of the most enjoyable parts of Magic.

Emma resides in Suffolk, England and started playing Magic back in 2014 when Khans of Tarkir first hit the shelves. She dabbled in Standard for a while then shifted into Modern, in particular playing Eldrazi Tron and Commander where she has found her home. Follow her on Twitter @emmmzyne to join in on the conversation!

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