SCG Con New Jersey, the first large Modern tournament of the year, is taking place this weekend, and I’ll be in attendance. Naturally that means figuring out what deck I am going to play — a task I’ve been working on for a couple weeks.
Those who know me can tell you I have a bad habit of waffling between a few decks and picking one last moment, and this time seems no different. That being said, I have a couple of important boxes to check in deck selection.
Given how broad Modern is, the threats are equally so. That means narrow answers are a gamble and being the aggressor is important. This led me down a couple roads — the first being an aggressively slanted deck with counterspells. The second has much less finesse, as well…it is Blood Moon.
In a world of free spells, combo decks and hyper efficient threats, action economy is king. Using your mana efficiently in a proactive manner means you can often force your opponent off of their game plan as they’ll need to defend themselves.
The other approach is instead of going for a high action economy of your own, work toward severely limiting your opponent’s. Blood Moon is the best way to do this at the moment.
All that said, let’s take a look at a few decks that I’d consider playing this weekend.
Zoo is among the most aggressive decks in the current Modern meta. Aggressive decks in Modern have, lately, been vulnerable to giving up multiple cards to an opposing Fury or get walled off fairly easily. Zoo solves this by slamming two mana 4/4s and 5/5s, which also minimizes the impact of Lightning Bolt, a highly played removal spell.
Thanks to the Domain mechanic, Zoo plays all five colors of mana, which means you get some juicy Tribal Flames and access to Leyline Binding (likely the best removal spell in Modern). The downside of trying to access all five colors is being particularly susceptible to Blood Moon.
However, Zoo isn’t without answers. Stubborn Denial is a powerful option to beat Blood Moon and many other hate pieces, while also breaking up many opposing combos. Remand will also buy some time. And when you have the punching power of Zoo, that may be all you need. Finally, Dromoka’s Command is a powerful modal spell that can take out a Blood Moon, among other problems.
The selling point to Zoo is its good matchups against Creativity, Breach, Rhinos, Living End, Burn and Yagmoth, which covers a wide swath of the top deck in the metagame. The Murktide and Hammer matchups are close, too. I believe Zoo is the underdog in game one for both matchups, but a strong sideboard makes games two and three entirely respectable.
Scam is a pretty tough matchup, though, as the deck can actually be more efficient than Zoo thanks to their disruption — and Blood Moon hurts much more after being tagged a couple of times by Grief. Amulet and Azorius Control are also tough, and while these decks aren’t super popular, people do enjoy playing them.
Murktide is sort of the default choice for many experienced players for a tournament like this. It’s incredibly consistent, gives the pilot a ton of agency and rewards them for playing well.
Mixing the efficiency of Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ragavan with the broad stroke answers of Counterspell and Blood Moon creates quite the attractive mix of qualities I’m looking for in a deck. Murktide has the tools to be competitive in just about every matchup and absolutely dominant in some, so it is hard not to at least consider it for this weekend.
I like Murktide against Rhinos, Creativity, Living End, Yawgmoth, Breach, Amulet, Burn, Tron and Shadow. All of those decks are susceptible to either one drop into counterspell or Blood Moon. Murktide Regent itself puts in a ton of work by going over the blockers of Yawgmoth and Creativity.
Scam and Hammer pose the biggest threats to Murktide, as both of those decks can have devastating turns before Murktide can hold up a counter. Hammer is incredibly hard to beat in game one if they are able to successfully equip their namesake onto a creature, as almost all of the removal in Murktide is damage based.
Scam has a pile of main deck Terminates along with Dauthi Voidwalker. And if they manage to kill a Murktide Regent with a Fury plus one of the undying spells, life gets dangerous quickly. While the four-color Elementals/control deck isn’t super popular, that is a Teferi + Solitude deck, which Murktide never wants to see.
Many players, myself included, often write that Rhinos is incredibly overrated. But over the last month or so, it has proven itself again on Magic Online.
Rhinos is one of the few decks that can be aggressive while also supporting main deck Blood Moon, which means I had to give it a try — and I was pleasantly surprised. Cheap interaction in Dead/Gone and Fire/Ice buy time for Shardless Agent or Violent Outburst to slam a pile of trampling power onto the table.
Force of Negation pairs well with Violent Outburst to make sure some Rhinos show up for the party, but Force also protects us from opposing combos while allowing us to develop the board.
The entire sideboard seems well positioned, as Endurance and Mystical Dispute handle Murktide easily. Force of Vigor is a haymaker against anything playing Urza’s Saga, which covers Hammer, Amulet and Breach. Klothys is mostly there to be a value engine against decks with graveyard synergy, or decks like Scam that simply can’t get it off the table.
Rhinos has positive matchups against Scam, Yawgmoth, Hammer, Breach, Amulet, Burn and four-color Elementals. Having that list of good matchups is a strong point in favor of Rhinos, but Rhinos is certainly the most exploitable of the decks I’m considering.
Chalice of the Void, Teferi, Time Raveler, Flusterstorm and Engineered Explosives are all common cards in Modern that make the life of a Rhinos player much harder. Murktide is ahead against Rhinos, especially the Temur version, partially because Blood Moon isn’t good in that matchup. Ledger Shredder can also easily grow to the point where it makes attacking difficult for Rhinos.
Shadow originally wasn’t on my list for this event, but then players started figuring out that Underworld Breach is great in Shadow. Naturally, I had to take it for a spin, and it does feel like a stronger deck than it did before.
Death’s Shadow has a lot of similarities to Murktide, except it can’t support Blood Moon and the interaction is more removal focused than counter focused. The namesake card tends to require less setup than a Murktide Regent, which is appealing, but that does come with more of a risk since doing so still requires putting yourself in a precarious situation.
Underworld Breach adds a surprising amount of resilience to Grixis Shadow. In the middle/late stages of the game, getting to play an Underworld Breach and buy back some threats or disruption is powerful, but you can also just chain off some Mishra’s Baubles to refill your hand if you’re playing a game that is about winning a resources battle.
Shadow has a better Hammer matchup than Murktide due to the black removal spells, which I like. Speaking of, the Murktide matchups is pretty close if you respect it enough to put a few copies of Terminate in the 75.
Rhinos and Living End are both favorable for Shadow. However, matchups where Blood Moon is important, such as Amulet, Creativity and Tron are much harder. Shadow is another deck that has a lot of agency that will reward you for playing well, but it is also equally punishing about mistakes.
While I’m not sure exactly which of these four decks I’ll be playing this weekend, I believe they’re all so close in power level that it will be hard to go wrong. A lot of it is going to come down to comfort and the expected metagame.
If you happen to be in New Jersey this weekend feel free to come say hello! I am always happy to meet people. Otherwise, you can always find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback.
I’ll see everyone back here next week! Have fun battling this weekend!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.