3 Things that the Best Modern Decks Have in Common

Michael Rapp Modern

I sat down the other day to take a big picture look at the Modern metagame, and I noticed that many of the top Modern decks have some traits in common. Noticing these trends can allow you to exploit a weakness in the metagame, or predict movement in the future. When considering whether you should pick up a new Modern deck, I would ask yourself if it has at least one or more of the following qualities. 

Threats that Generate Card Advantage

Gone are the days where threats in Modern could look like Wild Nacatl. Now only the most efficient oversized beaters see play – namely Death’s Shadow, Murktide Regent, and Tarmogoyf. Anything that falls short of that bar needs to be able to provide a tangible advantage in addition to being able to rumble. 

ragavan 1

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is a card you’ll see in Grixis Death’s Shadow, Izzet Murktide, and Jund Saga. We all know Ragavan by now, but not too long ago, Goblin Guide used to be a premier red threat. Ragavan flips the script on ol’ Goblin Guide – it has the same power for the same mana cost, but now you get an advantage instead of your opponent.

Dragon’s Rage Channeler is Ragavan’s #1 partner in crime. Channeler lets you sift through the top cards of your deck, which improves the average draw step over the course of a game. Not for nothing, a 3/3 flyer for one mana is a pretty good deal! 

urzas saga

Urza’s Saga has been a powerhouse since its release in Modern Horizons 2. Allowing decks with some extra mana to pump out some Constructs and then search for an artifact is a lot of value for just one land. Hammer Time will regularly make 5/5 or larger Constructs, which are effectively multiple copies of Tarmogoyf! In Jund, Wrenn and Six can bring the powerful land back from the graveyard to keep the card advantage rolling, while Amulet makes enough mana to easily work activations into its curve. 

esper sentinel

Esper Sentinel is currently only in Hammer Time, but it’s one of the best cards in the deck. When you can tax your opponent’s mana or draw extra cards, you’re absolutely getting your money’s worth out of a one-drop. Not to mention when Esper Sentinel picks up a Hammer, the tax becomes effectively unpayable, and you have an 11/11 for your troubles!

Omnath, Locus of Creation has been hanging out in Four-Color Blink and Elementals. If Omnath isn’t the epitome of threats that provide card advantage, I’m not sure what is. Drawing a card, making lands into Sacred Nectar, generating four extra mana, and dealing a pile of damage are all incredibly powerful abilities.

Ways to Beat Graveyard Hate

Death’s Shadow, Hammer Time, Izzet Murktide, Living End, and Four-Color Blink all approach games of Magic differently. But they all share the common element of graveyard synergy, whether they’re bringing one permanent back at a time with Lurrus or transferring cards between zones with Living End. And not only do these decks use their graveyards effectively – they’re also resilient to all the graveyard hate in sideboards right now.

deaths shadow

For the better part of a month, players were debating if Death’s Shadow was worthy of its spot in Grixis decks. Turns out Death’s Shadow could back up its claims by winning four Modern challenges during December. Being able to sidestep graveyard hate by having access to a one-mana huge/huge throws a wrench into the opposing plans if they focus too much on Lurrus and Kroxa

colossus hammer

Hammer Time really only uses its graveyard for Lurrus, but Lurrus is generally enough reason for a lot of decks board in some graveyard hate. Colossus Hammer on…well anything is often good enough to punish someone who takes a turn off to play a Rest in Peace

What better way to beat the graveyard hate than to just not let it resolve! From Izzet Murktide to Living End, decks are turning to Force of Negation to fend off hate cards.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor also gives Izzet Murktide and Azorius Control plenty of game against graveyard hate. The classic control win condition of “Brainstorm until your opponent leaves, or just exile their deck with Jace” is alive and well!

Interacting on the Stack

Counterspells have certainly had a patchy history in Modern, but since Modern Horizons 2, things are looking up for blue mages. While the ability to interact with the stack isn’t a hard requirement to succeed in Modern, it is a commonality among successful Modern decks at the moment. 

As Modern’s card pool expands, the power level across the format also increases. This means that players either need their threats to keep up, or they need efficient ways to interact on the stack. Cards like Goblin Charbelcher, Living End, and Crashing Footfalls are all strong against traditional removal spells, so dealing with them on the stack is a must.

Drown in the Loch is not only one of my favorite card designs, but a key card in both Grixis Death’s Shadow and Mill. Split card Counterspell // Terminate solves a lot of issues of both. The only requirement is that your opponent has cards in their graveyard, but both Grixis Death’s Shadow and Mill can easily satisfy it.

Counterspell and Archmage’s Charm are both staples in Murktide and Azorius Control. Counterspell has a level of efficiency that Modern lacked prior to MH2, and the casting cost isn’t as prohibitive as it seems. Archmage’s Charm solves another problem that counterspells usually face: when your opponent doesn’t cast any relevant spells, they rot in your hand. Being able to steal a one-mana permanent (which Modern is flush with) or just having a Divination to find the answers that you do need.

Spell Pierce finds its way into just about every blue sideboard. Grixis Death’s Shadow and Izzet Murktide are the best homes for Spell Pierce; they can provide enough pressure to keep Spell Pierce live for a larger percent of the game than decks like Azorius Control can.


I’m interested to see where the Modern metagame goes from here. As of right now, the threshold for successful decks is fairly high, especially when some of them have many points in their favor. I’ll be back next week with more Modern content leading up to the SCGCon in Philadelphia! As always, you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for questions or comments.