Hope Eternal—Mono for Modern

It’s an exciting time to play Modern, isn’t it? New set, new bannings, new landscape. For what it’s worth, I think the banning of Bloodbraid Elf was both appropriate and needed, but I am a little more confused by the decision to cripple storm decks. On the one hand I get it; Storm’s position in the meta was half the reason we ended up with Spirit Jund, since Rule of Law is a strong sideboard option against them. On the other hand, Storm hasn’t been doing well as of late. It’s powerful, but people were learning how to disrupt it. But, them’s the breaks. I’m glad I got a chance to play Epic Storm and Jund before they both got borked, but I’m also a bit relieved to play in a more open format.

There is a great degree of unknown in the format right now. I suspect we’re going to see some more Domain shenanigans, now that Boros Charm is in the format. I also think we might see some more American Delver or American Counterburn. Other than Boros Charm, though, nothing jumps out at me as being the next big thing for Modern in this set; after a set pushed specifically for eternal formats, we’re now seeing one that has almost entirely eschewed them. So, what does a person play in an open format?

I’ve been experimenting with two different monocolored decks: Monoblack Infect and Death & Taxes. Each one attacks your opponents in fairly universal ways. Infect strips your opponent’s hand bare, while Death & Taxes makes use of land disruption and shuffle–blocking effects to keep your opponent off interaction. Let’s start with the ubiquitously–named Death and Taxes. Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor make Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter a lot more powerful. Judge’s Familiar takes advantage of the mana restrictions to stop some decks in their tracks. Like Cursecatcher, just having the card out often keeps your opponent from playing spells for an extra turn or two. Add in Thalia, and some decks just crumple.

On the other side of things, Monoblack Infect has a fascinating strategy to take apart its opponent. The name itself is a bit of a misnomer; the deck is actually focused on discard, and only uses Infect to provide a clock that is immune to lifegain should your opponent top–deck a Kitchen Finks or Baneslayer Angel. In addition, Phyrexian Crusader dodges much of the removal played in the format, and Phyrexian Vatmother’s five toughness makes it similarly difficult to kill. Between the targeted discard like a turn one Inquisition of Kozilek, the instant speed discard in Funeral Charm, and the retrace discard of Raven’s Crime, it becomes really hard for your opponent to keep cards in their hands. Once you’ve stripped them bare, killing the few things that hit the table, you are free to drop one of these implacable threats and swing away at your opponent, wearing them down turn after turn. Plus, there’s always Runechanter’s Pike and Lashwrithe to make that clock lethal in one or two hits.

Here are the lists I found. When looking for interesting decks to play, I tend to check out the 4-0 decklists in the last week of the Modern Dailies. Now, the MTGO metagame is going to be different from that of a local tournament, but it’s still a great place to get ideas and to find decks that aren’t getting big writeups on the Mothership or other big Magic Commentary sites. Which is to say that while I did not come up with these lists, I built and tested them, and have been enthusiastic about the outcome.

Death & Taxes

Creatures (28): 4 Aven Mindcensor; 3 Hero of Bladehold; 3 Judge’s Familiar; 4 Kitchen Finks; 4 Leonin Arbiter; 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence; 4 Serra Avenger; 2 Student of Warfare; 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Spells (8): 4 Aether Vial; 4 Path to Exile

Lands (24): 4 Ghost Quarter; 4 Horizon Canopy; 10 Plains; 4 Tectonic Edge; 2 Windbrisk Heights

Sideboard (15): 2 Celestial Purge; 1 Disenchant; 1 Dismember; 1 Kataki, War’s Wage; 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence; 3 Rest in Peace; 1 Rule of Law; 2 Stony Silence; 2 Torpor Orb; 1 Wrath of God

Monoblack Infect

Creatures (8): Phyrexian Crusader; 4 Phyrexian Vatmother

Spells (30): 4 Disfigure; 1 Doom Blade; 4 Funeral Charm; 3 Go for the Throat; 4 Inquisition of Kozilek; 4 Raven’s Crime; 2 Runechanter’s Pike; 4 Sign in Blood; 4 Wrench Mind

Lands (22): 4 Howltooth Hollow; 4 Inkmoth Nexus; 13 Swamp; 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15): 4 Infest; 3 Lashwrithe; 4 Nihil Spellbomb; 4 Vampire Nighthawk

Now, clearly the sideboard options should be the ones most in flux right now. The original Death & Taxes list I was working off had an extra copy of Rule of Law, which I cut down to one, and maybe should have cut completely. Monoblack Infect, meanwhile, cycles through different options based on the meta. I like the Infect/Lashwrithe/Spellbomb/Nighthawk package for an open meta, but I’ve also seen Duress and Ratchet Bomb in there as well.

Last night I ran both decks against two gauntlet decks that will invariably continue in the meta, and encapsulate both sides of the spectrum: Titan UW and Robots. We only played a few games, but I got a sense of how the matchups go. Let’s start with seeing how both decks did against the faster deck, Robots, which will likely end up one of the fastest decks in the format with Jund and Storm effectively banned.

In this matchup, Monoblack Infect is in a lot of trouble. Wrench Mind is terrible against Robots, and they almost always draw hot off the top of their library. Once they land Cranial Plating they tend to win, since you have no way of getting the permanent off the board once it lands, and they can block your poison attackers for days, either with their many disposable zero–drops or with an activated Etched Champion. Post–board the matchup gets better, because you can side in Infest to kill their team and Lashwrithe to make your team bigger. This might also be a matchup for Nighthawk to come in, as the lifelink and flying are both very relevant.

Death & Taxes also has difficulty with this matchup. Most of their deck is filled with creatures, and it vomits out so much of its hand on turn one, which makes a turn–two Thalia not as strong a play as it should be. The Arbiters are unnecessary, since most versions of the deck don’t search much; the deck runs at most two basic lands, and usually just one, meaning Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile are already better than average. Fliers are important in this matchup, and best case scenario the earliest you can get a flier to the board is turn three, either off an Aether Vial or by flashing in a Mindcensor. That having been said, the sideboard options you get are much stronger. Stony Silence shuts down Robots fairly completely, and Kataki makes it hard for the deck to stay alive. But you have to find your sideboard cards before they kill you, and that’s often challenging in and of itself. Still, Robots is a deck you beat post–board, and that’s a rough position to be in.

Now, against Titan UW (my pet name for the blue/white deck that runs Jace Beleren and Sun Titan), Death & Taxes has some more play. Their few big threats don’t like being exiled, and while the deck doesn’t search all that much, both Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter are active (and useful) against their manlands. Their roadblock, Wall of Omens, doesn’t fly or have reach, meaning your Serra Avengers and Aven Mindcensors can usually drift in above without interaction, so long as you hold up the removal spell for any Baneslayer Angels or Restoration Angels they might throw up on defense. Usually this means you can get ahead of them, although you’re still vulnerable to Supreme Verdict and a well-timed Path to Exile.

Titan UW has some more problems with the Monoblack Infect deck. Discard against them tends to hurt them more, and unless they land a Jace Beleren you’re probably going to strip them bare fairly quickly. Since your discard is relevant, every card you draw off the top is either action, removal, or discardable to Raven’s Crime, which means they can’t sandbag anything they might have in their hand. Similarly, since most of their removal and creature base is white, they have to Dismember or Verdict away any Phyrexian Crusaders you drop. Post–board they gain access to more of these effects, while you have to settle for adding in Nihil Spellbombs to turn off their Snapcasters and keep cycling through your own deck.

So, look. Neither one of these decks is as strong as the ones I tested against. If you want pure power, you’ll probably still do well running a Blue White Control variant or one of the many Robots configurations. But if you want to have fun, and strip away your opponent’s answers (or their lands), try one of these decks! When everything else is going gold, try some mono in modern. You might be surprised at how much fun you could have.

15 Responses to “Hope Eternal—Mono for Modern”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    I have been playing a GW Bears variant similar to your mono white deck and found it to be sometimes AMAZING and most of the time dead in the water. I’m giving kiki and burn my playtesting time now. Nice article! Thanks for writing it!!!

    • thejlina says:

      Yeah, I think I like the monoblack one better. After I wrote this, though, I think Dana and I may have broken modern post GTC. I don’t want to say anything more until I am sure. It may even have standard implications.

      Okay, I’ll spill the beans a bit. Have you actually looked at Foundry Street Denizen? It’s not actually a 1/1 when you’re curving out with it.

      • Li Xu says:

        The return of Boros Bushwhacker?

      • thejlina says:

        I was thinking more like Monored’s missing one-drop…

      • Tim says:

        Not sure what interactions you’re looking at, but off the top of my head, Thatcher Revolt seems a little bit interesting, being able to attack for 7 on turn 2. 2/2 battlecry goblin who’s name I forgot is also a reasonable option, so you swing for 2 on turn 2, then Thatcher Revolt the following turn and swing for 13. Can’t decide if this is actually good or just a pipe dream, since you have to hope they have no blocker or removal, otherwise you could be completely out of gas after turn 3 and you don’t have them low enough because they blew you out with a PtE/bolt.

        Actually, forget everything I just typed.. just port the old Kuldotha Red deck from ZEN-SOM standard and add this guy in.

      • thejlina says:

        Yeah, I think people are making a mistake to expect this dude to be swinging in for a million, instead of looking at him as a 2/1 for 1 that occasionally swings in for 3 or 4.

  2. Fetto says:


    4 Verdant Catacomb
    4 Misty Rainforest
    2 Overgrown Tomb
    1 Breeding Pool
    1 Watery Grave
    1 Forest
    1 Swamp
    1 Island
    1 Mutavault
    4 Darkslick Shores
    4 Deathrite Shaman
    4 Hedron Crab
    4 Gravecrawler
    4 Bloodghast
    3 Fauna Shaman
    3 Lotleth Troll
    3 Phantasmal Image
    4 Stinkweed Imp
    4 Vengevine
    1 Life from the Loam
    1 Darkblast
    4 Grisly Salvage
    1 Skaab Ruinator

    Been tinkering and it feels like fauna shaman might be too slow. Image is good against creature decks or when you have vengevines. If you keep the shamans you could probably trim these. Lotleth Troll seems like a good dude to have around and his discard outlet is strong in the deck. Dark Confidant could easily fit in somewhere (in place of the Shamans?). The deck probably auto-loses to combo game 1, but has serious game v. countermagic/removal.

    Possible SB cards could include Darkblast, Lilliana, disenchant effects, discard effects, Gnaw to the Bone, Abrupt Decay/Smother/Dismember, and other stuff.

    I also like dredgevine lists that run Lightning Axe cuz it’s 5 freaking damage for 1 mana, but i dunno what else red has to offer (faithless looting and maybe goblin bushwhacker?). Vexing Devil is a solid 1-drop if you’re going super aggro with Lightning Axe.

    • thejlina says:

      I would love to test against your list! Dredgevine has so much potential, and I am hoping the bannings are going to provide some space for decks like it to breathe. How’s the ruinator? It seems a little loose. Maybe try cutting it and the Fauna Shamans for the Dark Confidants you wanted to try? That way you can get a draw and a dredge each turn if need be.

      Also, I don’t know how good combo is going to be in the near future, at least non-creature combo. I think it’s going to take Storm a while to find a way to recover from the banning of Seething Song, and Blind Obedience straight up kills Eggs while having enough play against aggressive creature decks to perhaps justify maindeck play. If you’re running Liliana in the sideboard you probably have game against enchantments and infect, especially if you can Darkblast away the dryad arbor they try to use to save their board from edict effects.

      Anyway, when this whole release fervor settles down we should do some serious testing! We have a fairly stocked gauntlet at this point, and maybe we should have a Modern testing party or something where people run through it.

    • Zac Clark says:

      axe is only to creatures though.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] in Modern. Li Xu discussed Jund’s BBE-less future—and a possible evolution into BUG—while Jess Stirba tested a few new mono-colored decks for the new Modern […]

  2. […] not the Monoblack Infect deck I was talking about two weeks ago; I ran the BUG Combo version.  I probably would have done better with the Monoblack version, but I […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: