A Modern Primer: How Do I Get Into Modern?

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“What is Modern?” you might ask.

Modern is an eternal (non-rotating) format that was introduced in the Spring of 2011, with a card pool that spans from Eighth Edition all the way to the present—basically, all the sets since the “modern” (soon to be replaced) border was introduced. In an effort to keep the format fun, Wizards of the Coast introduced an ever-changing list of cards that are not legal for Modern tournament play. Currently banned cards are:

Isn’t Legacy an eternal format with a banned list too? Yes, it is. So why would one play Modern over Legacy?

Since Wizards announced Modern, the company has been pushing the format at high levels of play, including pro tours, frequent grands prix, and a PTQ season each year. So if you want to play at the highest levels of competition, you will probably need to play some amount of Modern. The support Legacy gets from Wizards is fairly minimal. Plus, Modern is a pretty interesting format with a lot of competitive decks.

The decks listed below are lists that have either been doing well on Magic Online or in physical tournaments. When choosing a representative list, I chose the one with a best finish in a given event. Note that many decks fall into multiple categories, such as the Birthing Pod decks being both midrange and combo decks. I grouped them how they generally finish the game out.

The Decks

First, let’s cover the aggressive decks in the format.

Affinity is the premier aggro deck in Modern at the moment. When playing in any large Modern event, you should expect to play against it at least once, so be sure to pack sideboard cards so you don’t lose on turn three.

Soul Sisters is one of the cheaper decks in Modern. It sees an excessive amount of play on Magic Online because of being a budget build. If you want a budget option for getting into Modern, then this is one of the better ones.

Infect just comes from out of nowhere with quick kills and should never be underestimated. You should expect to see Infect with some regularity, as it has been picking up in popularity as of late.

Merfolk, much like its Legacy counterpart, tries to jam as many lord effects onto the battlefield as quickly as possible to create a critical mass of attackers. But the similarities end there, as one of the primary things the Modern version can’t do is counter spells for free and destroy opposing lands at no cost.

What the Hatebears deck tries to do is generate threats that make its opponents’ game plans difficult to execute. The biggest issue with the deck is drawing the wrong cards at the wrong time.

The Hexproof deck is the bane of any deck that wants to interact with your creatures. Hexproof has a lot of speed, but can be fairly inconsistent, losing to itself quite often due to only having thirteen creatures to suit up.

Burn is now the most budget of budget decks in Modern. Not only does it not have to run fetch lands, but it has recently gotten several cards that can generate card advantage. Don’t be surprised when you see burn spells flying around the room.

The popularity of Black/White Tokens is in a constant flux, as it is not amazing or terrible against any of the decks in Modern. The recent Modern Event Deck may give a boost to its popularity, though.

Tribal Zoo hasn’t performed much since the unbanning of Wild Nacatl, but a 3/3 for one CMC surely can’t be held down for long.

Now let’s take a look at the combo decks in the format:

Melira Pod is the most popular deck in the format. You likely won’t ever play in a major Modern event without playing against it. This deck sports several ways to combo its opponent and redundant effects to make sure it happens. In the hands of a skilled Melira Pod player, this deck can be a nightmare to play against.

Slightly less popular than the Melira Pod deck is the Kiki Pod deck. This deck contains even more ways to combo kill its opponent, with more value creatures. I’ve lost my fair share of games to this deck where I simply said, “What just happened?” when I was taken out by a combo win.

Splinter Twin is the second-most popular deck in Modern. It can win as early as turn four undisrupted, but usually sets up for a couple of extra turns to make sure it wins through disruption. You will see some version of Splinter Twin at nearly every Modern tournament.

Tarmo Twin takes the shell of Splinter Twin and adds some threats so it doesn’t have to strictly kill through combo. In the right metagame, it can be even more potent than Splinter Twin, so don’t be surprised if you’re simply getting beaten down.

R/W/U Twin goes for the value avenue of victory, and takes the combo route when its opponent provides an opening. There’s several versions of this deck, and all are very dangerous to play against.

Storm sees a decent amount of play, as it’s relatively cheap to build. It is, however, fairly difficult to play correctly, and does poorly due to this. Storm has seen quite a few cards banned over the course of the Modern format, but is a very resilient deck.

The Amulet Combo deck just wants to play a bunch of extra lands to essentially combo win with a creature. The deck is fairly uninteractive and punishes you hard for any misplay, but it does still take a lot of players by surprise.

Ad Nauseum simply wants to draw its whole deck so it can one-shot its opponent. This deck isn’t super popular due to the amount of setup required to win, but does show up to ruin people’s days.

Scapeshift decks have been working their way up in popularity, but have consistency issues and take too long against the more popular combo decks. Scapeshift can tune its sideboard to beat any deck in the format though, so it’s always a contender.

The Living End deck just wants to fill its graveyard with as many creatures as it can before simultaneously wiping its opponents board and filling its own, often times at instant speed. Living End is one of the slower combo decks in the forma, however, which makes it a less attractive option for many players.

Midrange has a real place in the format, as well:

Jund has taken quite a few hits with bannings since Modern came about, and to its credit, is still hanging in there despite them. Jund continues to be a mass of value cards that together can overcome any deck in the format.

The G/B Obliterator Rock deck is essentially Jund without the red. This doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, but it does see less play than Jund. This deck does lack the reach that the red gives Jund, and that can be problematic against some decks in Modern.

R/G Tron is a deck that simply wants to cheat on mana to get huge threats into play before its opponents sets up any kind of defense. This deck is super consistent due to most of the cards either drawing or searching for the specific cards it needs to punish its opponent.

And finally, we have the control decks of Modern:

R/W/U Control is one of the few control decks in Modern, and I always expect to play against it any time I play in a Modern tournament, as it is always overrepresented. While quite a few people play this deck, it does have problems in trying to close the game out due to not having many real threats.


U/R Delver hopes to keep its opponent off balance just long enough to close out the game with one of its small threats. Recently on MTGO, U/R Delver has seen a surge in popularity, and I would expect that to carry over into the paper world as well.

U/B Faeries is a recent addition to Modern, and has had minimal success so far. It does, however, see a good amount of play online, and has been picking up traction in paper. I’m never surprised to see it at a tournament, as many people love to play this deck.

The Testing Gauntlet

If you have time to test your deck choice, I would suggest the following decks as your primary testing gauntlet:

Melira Pod
Splinter Twin
U/R Delver

And if you have even more time to test, I would suggest these:

R/G Tron

Deck Suggestions

If I were to suggest something for a player new to Modern, I would suggest one of the following decks, as they are all relatively affordable (at least as far as Modern goes) and can be learned fairly quickly.

Splinter Twin

I will still most likely be on my own Zoo list this season, but wouldn’t suggest it unless you have quite a bit of time to learn all of the matchups. If you’re interested in the list, here it is:

As you can see, Modern is a very diverse format. There are even more decks lying under the surface waiting for the time to shine. Whether you’re playing in an upcoming grand prix, preparing for the PTQ season that started on June 7, or even just playing FNM, this information should help you understand what is out there and to decide what deck you want to play. Once you dive into the format, hopefully you will be as excited about Modern as I am!

Thanks for reading,

Josh Milliken

@joshuamilliken on Twitter

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Josh Milliken

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    • Anonymous on July 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm
    • Reply

    Eternal is not synonymous with non-rotating. Modern is non-rotating but not eternal. Legacy is both.

      • Josh on July 14, 2014 at 3:23 pm
      • Reply

      Wizards originally said when announcing Modern that it was an Eternal format due to not rotating, I forgot they decided it wasn’t actually one when I wrote the article.

    • Noah on July 15, 2014 at 7:15 pm
    • Reply

    I would argue that Jund is essential in a testing gauntlet. It was played less right after the banning but now is surging in popularity. Also Junk lists like this one (http://www.mtgtop8.com/event?e=7683&d=244120&f=MO) are becoming a thing. Finally GB Rock was really only being played because it has a really great zoo matchup. People running it now are few and far between and seem to run fewer obliterators. Also UWR Control now has two versions, the normal version you linked and “Kiki Control” which has a combo kill using kikijiki and resto angel and also runs value creatures that work with kiki like wall of omens and snapcaster mage list is here (http://www.mtgtop8.com/event?e=7803&d=244953&f=MO).

      • Josh on July 16, 2014 at 3:36 am
      • Reply

      Jund is in the 2nd wave of decks to test, as I listed the top 4 most played decks, and it hasn’t been among them in a while. The Junk decks hadn’t been showing up in results that I saw when I wrote the article, and are only seeing a surge of popularity because Willy Edel told people to run it, not because it was doing well at the time. G/B Rock still shows up quite a bit on Magic Online. And the Kiki Control version is listed with the rest of the Splinter Twin decks.

    • Anonymous on July 17, 2014 at 9:06 am
    • Reply

    That “UWR twin” deck isn’t a uwr twin deck is a kiki control deck, which is quite a different deck from uwr twin(a combo deck).
    Kiki control is a control deck with a combo kill in that isn’t the main gameplan albeit it can be useful and can lead to easy wins, it isn’t the main focus of the deck

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