With several major events this past weekend, Michael takes a look at how the metagame for Modern is shaking out!
With RCQ season underway players may be searching for the right deck to play for the season, or just a specific week. In recent weeks and months we’ve seen Four-Color Yorion touted as the best deck in Modern. However, that has never quite been an ironclad claim, as Four-Color has always had some amount of external pressure on it. Last weekend there were two MTGO challenges, and a 400+ player super RCQ. Across all of those events Four-Color Yorion put up okay results, but it was definitely a weak showing for the supposed best deck. What does this mean? For starters we’ve seen the metagame adjust to the cards and play patterns commonly found with Four-Color Yorion. However, it doesn’t mean that we’ve seen the last of Yorion, because as always the Modern metagame is cyclical. Let’s take a look at the top 32 and top 8 breakdown.
So, what can we tell by looking at these results? We can tell that Four-Color Yorion definitely had a down week. We can tell that combo of most shapes and sizes had a great weekend. When combo is good, that tends to mean that midrange is bad, which means that tempo is good. This establishes the Modern rock, paper, scissors triangle. Four-Color is the default midrange deck, and beats up on tempo, combo beats up on Four Color Yorion, and tempo beats up on combo. Digging a little deeper into each part of the metagame will help us develop a better understanding of what to play and when.
Four-Color Yorion is a relatively known quantity at this point, so I’ll keep things a bit lighter here. Looking at the way Yorion decks are built, they’re geared to play traditional fair games of Magic, focusing on controlling the board. Outside of the four copies of Counterspell, which is fairly typical, Four-Color struggles against non-creature threats.
Yawgmoth and Primeval Titan are somewhat difficult creatures for Yorion decks, as they often kill the turn they come into play, leaving Solitude as the only reliable answer to them. Living End and Crashing Footfalls prey on Four-Color Yorion, because Otawara, Soaring City, Subtlety, Brazen Borrower, and Force of Negation all strain Teferi, Time Raveler and Counterspell.
Four-Color Yorion loves playing against Murktide. A large amount of Murktide’s success is predicted on Murktide Regent killing players in two attacks while blanking a lot of commonly played removal. However, Four-Color Yorion plays Teferi, Time Raveler, Solitude, and Endurance, all which either delay or answer Murktide Regent. Four-Color Yorion easily beats Murktide on the card advantage front, and by having plenty of ways to disarm its best threats, makes for an easy matchup for Omnath and friends.
Yorion doesn’t mind playing against Death’s Shadow either, but I believe that matchup to be close. That being said, the matchup is likely in the 55-60% range for Yorion. The difference comes down to the black cards. Unlike Murktide Regent, Death’s Shadow isn’t reliant on the graveyard to be a threat, which means that Teferi and Endurance are less obstructive. Thoughtseize can cause the Yorion deck to have disjointed draws, Drown in the Loch is both Counterspell and Terminate, Kroxa lets Shadow grind with Four-Color, and Kaito means that you can keep up on cards in sideboard games.
As Four-Color gets more popular, combos are the best way to fight them. The three best combo decks at the moment are Living End, Yawgmoth, and Crashing Footfalls. All of them are good or better choices against Four-Color.
Living End on the base level is just trying to force through one copy of Living End to create an insurmountable board state. Force of Negation is particularly good at beating Yorion decks, because not only does it fight Teferi, but it beats Counterspell as well. Endurance is really the only thing Living End players need to watch out for out of Four-Color Yorion, but Subtlety is there to help with that one.
Notably, Living End has an incredible Rhinos matchup. Neither deck meaningfully interacts with the other’s cascade payoff, but the difference is, Rhinos makes two 4/4s, and Living End kills those 4/4s and puts a ton of power in play. Similarly Rhinos can only really fight back with Endurance after side-boarding, but as with Four-Color, Subtlety shows up to ruin that.
What Living End doesn’t want to see, outside of various graveyard hate, is either Murktide or Death’s Shadow. Decks that present disruption and a clock are the natural enemy of combo decks, Murktide and Death’s Shadow fit that bill.
Yawgmoth is the premier creature combo deck of Modern. Sporting a bunch of resilient creatures means that Yawgmoth has a reasonable backup plan in case the combo plan doesn’t work out. Yawgmoth + Blood Artist + two undying creatures is a kill by recycling their undying creatures to drain the opponent with Blood Artist. Yawgmoth + Geralf’s Messenger + undying creature is also a kill provided that you have more life than your opponent. However, you don’t need the whole combo to start as long as you have Yawgmoth, as you can trade some life and creatures in for cards.
Yawgmoth beats up on Living End, but has a hard time against Rhinos given that Rhinos plays to the board much better than Living End does. Fury is excellent against Yawgmoth, and trample is quite strong against undying creatures that tend to block very well in other cases.
Murktide is a good choice against Yawgmoth, as Counterspell + Murktide Regent is a tough thing for Yawgmoth to compete with. Death’s Shadow however has a harder time against Yawgmoth given that the pile of undying creatures blocks Death’s Shadow much better than they block Murktide Regent. Death’s Shadow is more likely to randomly die to Geralf’s Messenger or Blood Artist in non-combo situations.
Crashing Footfalls is certainly the least combo oriented deck here, to the point where it is bordering a fair deck. However, the Cascade shell + Force of Negation puts it in enough in the combo camp for me. Crashing Footfalls isn’t required to win like it is with Living End, because Rhinos has a robust backup plan. However, two 4/4s with trample are going to put a lot of pressure on the opponent on turn three, especially if there is more to follow up, which makes drawing multiple cascade cards much better than it does in Living End.
Tempo is the last piece of our metagame. Strong against the combo decks and disadvantaged against Four-Color Yorion completes the cycle. The two best tempo decks are Izzet Murktide and Grixis Death’s Shadow.
Izzet Murktide has two different versions, one with Dragon’s Rage Channeler, and one without. Versions with Dragon’s Rage Channeler are much better against the combo decks, but are weaker against Four-Color Yorion. Channeler isn’t high impact enough to matter a lot of the time when weighed against the risk of running into an Endurance. Channeler also isn’t fantastic in the mirror as the has to attack clause means it frequently runs into an opposing Murktide Regent. The other side of that coin is that without Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Murktide can lack enough cheap pressure against combo decks.
Murktide has enough counterspells and cheap creatures to combat the combo decks, making those matchups favorable. Murktide Regent itself also is quite strong against Death’s Shadow, which often will win the game one attack. Where Murktide will struggle is against players ready with Unlicensed Hearse, and against Four-Color Yorion.
Death’s Shadow blends the clock of Murktide with additional black disruption and stronger removal spells. Death’s Shadow is also going to play to the plan of playing powerful and efficient threats while keeping the opponent off balance for long enough to finish the job. Death’s Shadow pivots to a midrange plan better than Murktide does, but locks up fewer games with Murktide + Counterspell.
Death’s Shadow has a better matchup against Living End and Rhinos than Murktide, because Thoughtseize lets you use your mana more proactively, and Death’s Shadow being one mana and better in multiples than Murktide Regent matters a lot. Savvy Death’s Shadow players will main deck a couple copies of Terminate if Murktide is expected to be popular, making the matchup closer. Kaito, Thoughtseize, and Kroxa make the Four-Color matchup better than Murktide’s Four-Color matchup. If you expect Cascade decks to be popular to beat Four-Color, Death’s Shadow is an excellent choice.
What Should I Play?
This week I think players are likely to ride the combo decks after they had a strong turnout this week. I believe this means that Four-Color will have another down week. This means that tempo decks should have a good week. If you expect to play against Cascade decks and Hammer, Shadow is the play, but if you expect more Yawgmoth than Hammer, I would consider playing Murktide. Personally I think Four-Color will still show up in some amount due to its label as the, “best deck,” which I think pushes me into playing Shadow this weekend. However, Murktide is good enough against the random decks of Modern that it is always a strong choice.
The Modern metagame is always cycling, and the best deck to play this week is unlikely to be the best deck the following week, so it is important to stay on top of things.
As always you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for questions, comments, and feedback. I’ll see everyone back here next Friday!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.