Welcome to another Modern Deck Guide! Today, we’re taking a look at one of the premier aggro decks in Modern: Humans.
Humans is frequently among the most popular decks in Modern, so it’s no surprise to see it putting up plenty of MTGO results. In last week’s Modern Metagame Update, we saw that Humans was the third most published deck over the last month. But my biggest knock against Humans at the time was that, despite its slew of good results, it never could seal the deal. That is, until this previous weekend when Darkiundsa won a Challenge.
Let’s jump in and take a closer look at the list they used to take home the hardware!
Humans by Darkiundsa, 1st Place, MTGO Challenge
4 Champion of the Parish
1 General Kudro of Drannith
4 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Mantis Rider
4 Meddling Mage
1 Militia Bugler
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Reflector Mage
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
Humans is one of the more “solved” decks in Modern. By that, I mean that the main deck rarely changes save for about two flex spots. While the creatures in the deck are fairly straightforward, some of them provide more than just aggression.
This mix of utility and pure aggression is the largest contributor to Humans’ success. Disruptive aggro decks thrive on the ability to run down an opponent, but also to keep them off balance while they do it. Champion of the Parish, Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Mantis Rider comprise the aggressive core, and drawing this grouping of cards will lead to your fastest kills.
The second group to keep in mind in Humans is the utility creatures. Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, Reflector Mage, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben all impede your opponent’s ability to cast spells. Whether you’re taking a card from their hand, prohibiting them from casting a specific card, bouncing a creature, or taxing all their spells, these Humans will keep the opponent off balance long enough for the aggressive group to finish the job off. While the utility creatures don’t have the best bodies for combat, they do still contribute damage, and Thalia’s Lieutenant can come around to help turn the squad into formidable fighters.
Efficiency tends to matter in Modern, as many of the decks remain fairly low to the ground. Noble Hierarch and Aether Vial do wonders for Humans’ efficiency — which, given the glut of two-mana spells, is prone to some clunky early turns. Turn one Noble Hierarch or Aether Vial will enable your most explosive sequences, especially once you reach the point of the game where Aether Vial effectively doubles your mana, while giving a creature flash and uncounterable. The extra mana provided by Noble Hierarch and Aether Vial also helps ensure that you can keep deploying cards if you need to sacrifice your Canopy lands.
First, Darkiundsa seems to value the ability to assemble a critical mass of creatures higher than taxing the opponent’s spells. This makes sense — Modern has tons of Lightning Bolts and a reasonable number of Fatal Pushes flying around. The ability to have a creature generate a two-for-one by finding another creature is strong in the face of all those removal spells.
Additionally, the first copy of a non-legendary creature with an “enter the battlefield” ability is more useful than it looks thanks to the full four Phantasmal Image. General Kudro enhances the “critical mass” plan by virtue of being a lord, but also provides incidental graveyard hate, which punishes Uro and Mystic Sanctuary decks with no disruption to your plan.
The Humans sideboard is far less consistent than the main deck, and it’s where most of the customization happens.
As always, your sideboard should be tuned to the expected metagame, and we definitely see that here. Auriok Champion, Dismember, and Skyclave Apparition are all excellent choices against Rakdos Shadow, which has been the hottest deck in Modern over the last month. All those cards are also great against the prowess decks: Auriok Champion provides valuable lifegain and an unkillable blocker, while Dismember and Apparition are some of the few removal spells that Humans get to play with.
Darkiundsa was ready for the mirror as well, packing two copies of Plague Engineer on top of the single-target removal. Engineer also has game against the Four-Color Copycat deck that’s been cropping up by shutting off the ability for the opponent to attack with an army of infinite cats.
Besides the stack of removal spells, there are two copies of Damping Sphere. This is primarily there to handle Amulet Titan, but it’s also good against Tron and most combo decks, should they show up.
Rounding things out, we have Relic of Progenitus to help shore up troublesome match-ups like Dredge. Even if those decks are unpopular, the match-ups may be rough enough that you build your sideboard with them in mind.
Tips and Tricks
Despite being a fairly straightforward aggro deck on the surface, Humans has a number of nuances that are good to know if you’re looking to master the deck.
- Casting Kitesail Freebooter before Meddling Mage ensures that you can get Freebooter into play before your opponent can exhaust all the possible targets. This move will also tell you exactly what you need to name with Meddling Mage based on what’s in your opponent’s hand.
- If you combine Aether Vial with a Thalia’s Lieutenant and either a second Thalia’s Lieutenant or a Champion of the Parish, you have the opportunity to get some “bonus” counters on your creatures. When you cast Thalia’s Lieutenant, put the trigger to put counters on all your Humans on the stack. Then, activate Aether Vial and put a second Thalia’s Lieutenant into play. This sequence results in one Lieutenant with two counters and one with one counter. (If you had cast them in succession, you’d end up with a 3/3 and a 1/1.)
- Be sure to look for early action in your opening hand; Noble Hierarch, Aether Vial, and Champion of the Parish are the best options here. Spending as much of your available mana every turn is a good rule of thumb when you’re playing Humans, as long as you always have a target for creatures like Reflector Mage.
- It can be tricky to decide whether to put counters on Aether Vial each turn, and the answer mostly depends on how you can best use your mana. For example, if you’re going into a turn with three mana and don’t have a land in hand, but you have a pair two-mana creatures and a Vial on two, I would consider keeping it on two; if you draw a three-mana creature, you can cast it using your lands and Vial in a creature. However, if you don’t draw a three-mana spell or a land, you can still deploy both of your two-mana creatures (and a one-mana creature, should you draw one).
- Faking people out with Aether Vial is an important skill, especially when your Aether Vial has two counters. Aether Vial says that you may put a creature into play, but putting a creature into play is part of the resolution of the ability. This means that, if the opponent does not react with the ability on the stack, they don’t get a chance to respond before the creature enters play. Phantasmal Image, Thalia, and Meddling Mage can all potentially punish the opponent for letting the Vial ability resolve, which means that they’ll often do things like cast their spells in response. This lets you get free information to use when determining which, if any, creatures to put into play.
- When efficiency doesn’t matter (such as when playing against Jund), consider boarding out Aether Vial. It often isn’t worth a card against decks that are able to run you out of resources quickly.
If you’re looking to play an aggressive deck with a twist of complexity, you can’t go wrong with Humans. Having multiple angles of attack makes it tough for opponents to guess which way you’ll try and disrupt them.
Are you a Humans player with a favorite card to put in the flex slots? Perhaps you have more tips for budding Humans pilots. Be sure to let me know on Twitter at @RappaciousOne. I’ll catch you all next week for some more Modern content. Stay safe and healthy!