Modern Horizons and Modern Tribal Decks

Card KingdomModern

As Modern Horizons preview season has progressed, one thing has become increasingly clear: Tribal decks are getting more support in Modern.

Tribal decks are creature-based decks that take advantage of synergies between creatures that share a type. These decks have been and continue to be mainstays of the Modern format, but some have overperformed of late while others have faded into obscurity. Humans won the recent Modern Mythic Championship and Spirits has been successful in recent years, but we haven’t seen much of some of Magic’s classic tribes in a while.

Let’s examine the Modern decks that could benefit from new cards and break down their central strategies.


As we mentioned in our Intro to Modern, Elves is one of the best decks for new Modern players. It’s a linear creature-combo deck with a simple game plan: play creatures, generate mana to play more creatures, and win by going wide.

In 2015, two cards put Elves on the map in Modern: Collected Company and Shaman of the Pack. Collected Company gave the deck valuable instant-speed card selection, and Shaman was one of the best creatures you could put into play. If you couldn’t win through combat damage, Shaman could deal twenty or more damage in a turn.

Elves will always have its fans in Modern due to its explosive potential, and it’ll be interesting to see what new tools it gets in Modern Horizons and beyond.


Like Elves, Merfolk has had more success in Legacy than in Modern, though that hasn’t stopped players from picking up the deck. Merfolk even earned a trophy at Grand Prix Los Angeles in 2016, and its community of players is one of the most tight-knit in Magic.

Modern Merfolk functions similarly to its Legacy counterpart. The deck uses “lords” to buff up its school of fish and grant Islandwalk. While Islands make up a smaller share of the metagame in Modern, the Merfolk player can always use Spreading Seas – which happens to be useful against Modern’s various utility lands, anyway.

The main difference between the Modern and Legacy versions of the deck is access to free counterspells. Legacy Merfolk decks can use their mana to add creatures to the board while holding Daze or Force of Will, but Modern Merfolk players haven’t had that luxury. Fortunately, Modern Horizons will introduce Force of Negation, which just might be more impactful than any new Merfolk creatures.


Faeries had a powerful impact on competitive play during Lorwyn block, and they still occasionally sneak into the Modern metagame. Japanese players (most notably Yuta Takahashi) continue to champion this tribe in Modern tournaments, including the most recent Mythic Championship in London.

The most interesting thing about Modern Faeries decks is how few actual Faeries they contain. Vendilion Clique and Bitterblossom are the mainstays, and occasionally you’ll see some Spellstutter Sprites. But most Modern “Faeries” decks are just Blue-Black Control decks with a handful of Faeries cards sprinkled in; they accrue mid-game advantage with Snapcaster Mage, counterspells, and planeswalkers, and they win on the back of Creeping Tar Pit.

For a true Faeries deck to emerge in Modern, the tribe will likely need some new utility creatures with low mana costs. Faeries hasn’t had the equivalent of a Reflector Mage or a Spell Queller to help the deck gain a tempo advantage, and its options for “lords” are limited. A couple good one- and two-mana Faeries might go a long way.


Finally, let’s look at a tribe that is confirmed to be in Modern Horizons: Goblins!

Every year or so, another classic Goblin joins the Modern card pool. Goblin Piledriver was reprinted in Magic Origins, and Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief joined the mix with Dominaria. Yet even with these additions – plus new cards like Goblin Rabblemaster – Modern Goblins is still living in the shadow of its Legacy counterpart.

Goblin Matron’s entrance into the format provides Modern Goblins with a tutor effect, and Munitions Expert might prove to be a worthy inclusion. We’re still missing a few key pieces of the Legacy Goblins puzzle (Goblin Lackey and Goblin Ringleader), but who knows what else Modern Horizons might bring?

Which tribe are you most excited about playing in Modern? Let us know on Twitter at @Card_Kingdom!