Unified Modern Analysis (Part 3)

by Zen Takahashi on 30 December 2016, Friday

Zen Takahashi

Unified Modern Analysis (Part 3)

Hello everybody!

In my last two articles, I went through our process for determining the metagame we expected at the World Magic Cup. Part 1 can be found here, while Part 2 can be found here.

Over my next two articles, I’ll be going over our deck selection process and how we ultimately came to our final deck choices. Much of the content I will be discussing here will refer to aspects I discussed in my previous articles of this series, so I highly recommend reading them before proceeding with the following two articles.


Playing to our Strengths

Optimal deck selection in Modern is very different to other formats. In Standard, the small card pool usually leads to a metagame that is ever changing with new decks spawning each week, or one that is very rock, paper, scissors-like with a constant rotation of the top deck on any given week. The lack of linear interactions within each deck and dominant format staples mean that many of the games play out similarly, even if the matchup involves two different decks.

In essence, you’re largely rewarded for deck selection and having a vast knowledge of the format much more than mastery of a certain deck. On the contrary, Eternal formats such as Legacy and Vintage rarely shift in the metagame, with experience and mastery of a deck being the most important skill of the format. Games often have many minor decision points that belong to only that specific archetype, so you need to know your deck inside and out if you want to succeed.

Modern lies somewhere in between those two spectrums. Like the Eternal formats, there is a vast amount of decks, many that have existed since the inception of the format. Many of these decks have very linear strategies, some that are even completely unorthodox and have traits that aren’t seen in any other deck, such as Lantern Control. These decks are complicated to play and have in-game decisions that only belong to that archetype, so experience and practice is needed if you want to do well with these decks.

However, Modern is also much more volatile in its metagame shifts compared to Legacy and Vintage. At least once a year, the format is shaken up due to a change in the ban list. In addition, the existence of powerful, yet narrow reactive spells in the format means that decks that are doing well at any given time can easily be hated out. This then leads to a new deck taking the throne, often one that is very different in nature to the previously successful deck, as they are more likely to be successful if they are unaffected by the hate cards that shut down the previous best deck.

Because of these factors, we decided that we should all try to focus on a range of archetypes that we were comfortable and experienced playing with, but then decide on our deck choices, and more importantly card choices, based on what we believed would be well positioned for the World Magic Cup. For this, we heavily referred to the metagame analysis we did which I covered in my last article.

  • Calum Gittins/Zen Takahashi

We had already decided that I would play Dredge before we even started preparing. The team was happy for me to lock into the deck early, as we believed that the deck was so powerful that it would be well positioned even if other teams anticipated it and brought more hate than usual. It also gave Matt and Jason more flexibility with their deck choices, as they knew they didn’t have to worry about any key cards overlapping with Dredge.

Calum, who qualified through winning a WMCQ with Bant Eldrazi, had played Dredge before so it naturally made sense for him to join me with playing Dredge. Since we had locked into the deck so early and we both already had experience with the deck, we believed we’d be able to master it by the time the World Magic Cup rolled around.

I have previously covered my experiences behind preparing with Dredge for this event, which can be found here (http://www.mtgmintcard.com/articles/writers/zen-takahashi/dredge-at-the-world-magic-cup), if you want a more in-depth analysis of our testing process for the deck.

  • Matt Rogers

Matt was our strongest player for Modern, as he is very well versed in the format and is an overall fantastic Constructed player. Specifically, his expertise lies with creature decks due to his competency with creature combat, especially in cluttered board states. To give you an idea, he Top 4’d the RPTQ with UG Infect to qualify for Pro Tour Oath of Gatewatch, where he played Angel Chord, the deck he and I created, to a 9-1 finish. A month after that Pro Tour, he lost his win-and-in for Top 8 at GP Brisbane with Melira Company.

From the very beginning, we therefore knew that Matt was going to play a Noble Hierarch deck. Since we already knew that Calum and I were going to play Dredge and that Jason was very unlikely to play any creature deck, we had little to worry about in terms of overlapping on key cards. Our plan for Matt was simple – test all the creature decks he liked in the format and decide which one he thought was the best. From there, we could then tune the deck to be well positioned for the field. The following were the decks he tested initially:

Spell Queller

  • Bant Spirits: After Caleb Durward’s SCG Open victory with the deck, Matt decided to give it a try. The deck performed well in the first couple of leagues, but was eventually dismissed as it often had awkward draws and its Dredge matchup wasn’t good.

Knight of the Reliquary Retreat to Coralhelm

  • Knightfall: Matt had played this deck on MODO a couple of months back, and was Crushing with it and loved the deck. Since we were working with Kelvin Chew, the creator of the archetype, we were given the updated decklist and started testing. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t seem to win much with the deck this time around. This was largely due to the format getting faster with decks like Infect and Dredge popping up, while the midrange decks Knightfall used to prey on were becoming less popular than they used to be.

Blighted Agent Glistener Elf

  • Infect: This is probably the deck that Matt has played the most with in Modern, and has had good success with it in the past. However, as he started testing the deck, he wasn’t quite able to emulate the same success he used to have. With the printing of Collective Brutality and just more awareness of how strong the deck is, there was a lot more hate for it than before. Furthermore, we found in our testing that the Dredge matchup was not nearly as good as everyone believed it to be. In fact, after testing we thought Dredge was about 50/50 to win, and likely slightly favored, especially post-board when they could bring in Darkblast, Lightning Axe and Collective Brutality.

Archangel of Thune Spike Feeder

  • Angel Chord: We briefly tested this deck since it has a good Infect matchup and we believed it would be favored against Dredge as well. We played around 6 matches against Dredge and I got demolished from the Dredge side, so we decided that Matt should play the deck in some leagues. Unfortunately, the deck struggled against the rest of the field – especially the Red-Green Valakut matchup which was extremely tough.

At this point, Matt wasn’t stoked about any of his options thus far, but was fine with either Knightfall or Infect. With just over 2 weeks left till the event, we believed we had enough time to work on both decks comprehensively and find a good list.

However, this all changed when Willy Edel posted a 5-0 result in a Modern League with a heavily tuned Abzan list:

We initially had dismissed the Black-Green Rock variants as we thought they would be too poorly positioned with bad Dredge and Red-Green Valakut matchups. Although those decks were beatable with dedicated sideboard cards, it would simply take too many slots to be worthwhile. Traditionally, graveyard hate had little application against other decks which limited how many sideboard slots you could dedicate to it.

However, Willy’s list changed that dynamic dramatically.

Grafdigger's Cage Nihil Spellbomb

While his Abzan list did have only two copies of Grafdigger’s Cage in the sideboard, he supplemented them with maindeck copies of Nihil Spellbomb and Anafenza, the Foremost.

In matchups where the opponent’s graveyard doesn’t matter, Nihil Spellbomb at least draws a card, and it also puts an artifact in your graveyard to enable Delirium. Anafenza, the Foremost was particularly impressive, as alongside the full playset of Grim Flayers, the deck was able to play much more aggressively, enabling you to go under Red-Green Valakut if you were able to back them up with discard spells or Liliana of the Veil.

By playing flexible graveyard hate, Willy was able to dedicate more graveyard hate than these decks traditionally could afford to without affecting his other matchups too much, and most importantly it meant he could play main deck graveyard hate which turned the Dredge matchup from near impossible pre-board to actually being winnable if your draws sequence favorably. Post-board, the matchup became heavily favorable as you had access to significantly more graveyard hate than most other decks.

Matt took an instant liking to the deck and quickly built it up online and started jamming leagues with it. His initial results were fantastic as he 4-1’d his first couple of leagues in a row, and as he kept working on the deck, his results kept improving. By the time we headed off to Rotterdam, his win rate was in the mid-70% range and we were basically locked on the deck, with Infect as the backup option.


I have you enjoyed this article as I covered our thought process behind deck selection in Modern and the preparation behind our first two decks.

In my next and final article, I’ll be concluding on our deck selection process, which will include discussing the preparation behind Jason’s deck, our final deck choices, and discussion about certain card choices we made because of the metagame we expected. In addition, I’ll be wrapping up this series on our Unified Modern preparation process with some reflection on the World Magic Cup and some takeaways I have about team dynamics.

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter



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Lee Shi Tian introduces a methodology to help you select three decks in Team Unified Modern.
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