The Fourth Archetype

The Modern metagame is a tumultuous, ever shifting environment, where decks are constantly trying to overthrow the best strategy for their shot at the top. The strongest deck rarely keeps that title for long.

It’s the natural evolution of deck building. When the best deck is beating you, you adapt and change to give yourself the best shot of winning against it in the future. Powerful decks can often be hated out of popularity for a time, only to return when people would finally leave their hate at home. In a lot of ways, the meta is cyclical as the top decks are continually turning over and trading places. There’s a theory at work here, one that’s been around since archetypes first articulated themselves.

“Kolaghan’s Command” by Daarken

There are three main archetypes in Magic: Aggro, Control, and Combo.

It’s known as the Rock-Paper-Scissors of Magic.

The Rock-Paper-Scissor theory is Magic’s way of balancing metas. When one archetype becomes too dominant, another with a profitable matchup can step in and even things out.

  • Aggro decks typically beat control decks since they’re capable of overwhelming interaction and winning before control’s more powerful spells can be impactful.
  • Combo is favorable against aggro since they have very little in the likes of interaction or disruption.
  • Control usually wins against combo decks because they have the ability to focus all of their interaction into the necessary pieces the combo needs.

These are Magic archetypes reduced to their simplest and most basic definition.


In Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, control was dominant with the very powerful counterspell Silumgar’s Scorn alongside Ojutai and Silumgar. Four of the top eight decks were control, and what was the winning card of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir?

Goblin Heelcutter

Goblin Heelcutter.

The Top 8 consisted of ramp strategies looking to cast Dragonlord Atarka, control decks, and one Red Deck Wins pilot to take down the whole thing. This is a great example of Rock-Paper-Scissors Magic working as intended.

This theory isn’t always so cut and dry anymore though. As more and more Magic sets have been printed, more and more sub-archetypes have unfolded. Now we have ramp strategies like Amulet Titan, Death and Taxes strategies like Humans, prison decks playing Chalice and Bridge, and tempo decks like Death’s Shadow.

“Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet” by Todd Lockwood

So where is midrange on this ever swinging pendulum? Where do we belong?

When is our deck poised to take the meta by charge?

The answer is never…but also always.

This is both the beauty and downside of midrange. Our deck is versatile. It’s of pile of good stuff that is trying to ensure our opponent can’t execute their plan. When the meta changes, we can change, ensuring we always have the answers we need to take down the top decks. We can pivot into an aggro deck against control, a control deck against aggro, and a tempo deck against combo. Opponents can have a difficult time trying to sideboard against G/Bx, because there isn’t one key point of attack. The deck has a low synergy with itself, making it resilient in almost any meta.

The problem with all of this is that Modern is incredibly diverse with more than twenty decks sharing over 1% of the meta and another hundred making up the rest. It’s impossible to have all the answers necessary to properly combat so many different decks. Midrange decks are at their best when the meta is narrowed and they can dedicate their answers to a handful of strategies.

We’re known as the 3-2 deck, the 45/55 deck, the deck that has a consistent 50% win rate regardless of the meta. Resilient, consistent, and pretty much always considered mediocre.

There are a few people who seem to always do well with these decks in spite of that reputation. Jadine Klomparens was constantly at the top tables of SCG Opens and Reid Duke seems to somehow always do well when he shows up with Liliana and Thoughtseize in hand. This isn’t some anomaly or lucky streak. This is skill and a fundamental understanding of what the deck needs to accomplish to win on a match-to-match basis.

The greatest pilots are able to harness the deck’s ability to be flexible and transform depending on the matchup. We’re seemingly lost somewhere between aggro and control. While its ability to role swap may appear as a lack of focus and poor deckbuilding, that flexibility is actually where its true power lies. But how are they able to take the same cards and do something different with them each round?

“Raging Ravine” by Todd Lockwood

Over 20 years ago Mike Flores wrote one of the most foundational MtG strategy and  theory articles called, “Who’s the Beatdown?” In the article, Flores breaks down the basics of role assessment in similar matchups. Flores explains that role assessment comes down to whether you are able to recognize when you are the beatdown trying to win in the early game, or the control deck trying to win in the late game.

Rock-Paper-Scissors Magic can often make role assessment easy and straight forward. Burn will always be the beatdown against Scapeshift, and Scapeshift will always attempt to be the control deck surviving the early turns until they can combo.

Role Assessment is more difficult to analyze in matches where the strategies are very similar. The question becomes a lot harder to answer when you look at the Burn vs Affinity match. In this aggro mirror, who is supposed to be the beatdown and which aggro deck has to take the awkward role of control?

Affinity has way more sources of repeatable damage that come down faster than Burn. Off the top of the deck, Affinity’s card quality is also much poorer than Burn’s. Ornithopter looks pretty bad when your opponent is drawing Lightning Bolt every turn. Because of this disparity in card quality, Affinity wants to end the game fast and Burn wants to prolong it into the late game. Therefore, Affinity is the beatdown and Burn is the control deck.

In most cases, Affinity and Burn will be the beatdown. Really good aggro players will be able to make the call when they rarely have to change pace. Midrange however has to change their role every match. This requires midrange players to have a vast knowledge of the meta and a deep understanding of other decks.

Our deck’s goal is to stop the opponent from accomplishing their game plan and it’s hard to do that when you don’t know what that game plan is. The only way to be effective with your discard, threat assessment, and role assessment is to learn everyone else’s deck as if they were your own. The best G/Bx players are the ones that are also very good Tron players, Control players, Dredge players, Phoenix players, and so on. They understand all the ins and outs of their opponent’s strategies. They can look at their opening hand with discard and be able to perfectly predict what they’re going to do with the cards as if they were their own.

Once you know what you’re up against and what their strategy is, you’ll have to decide whether you need to be control, or the beatdown.

“Master of the Wild Hunt” by Kev Walker

It’s game one. You’re playing G/B. You play a Treetop Village and pass. Your opponent plays a Flooded Strand and passes back to you.

Flooded Strand

Are you the control deck, or the beatdown?

You might say, “Woah, woah, woah, I don’t even know what they’re playing. How am I supposed to make that decision now?”

Well, your opponent didn’t give you much to go off of, but now it’s your turn. You play a Blooming Marsh with the choice between playing Tarmogoyf and holding up Abrupt Decay.


This is where knowing the top decks in the format and their lists comes into play. As soon as you see Flooded Strand, your mind should race through all the possibilities.

U/W Control? Cheeri0s? Izzet Phoenix?

Then you have to become the Control player, the Cheeri0s player, the Phoenix player; ask yourself what your likely turn one play is. For Phoenix and Cheeri0s, you’re probably looking to play some kind of cantrip to set up for a powerful turn two. As the Control player, you’re probably fine with fetching a tapped shockland on the opponent’s end step to save some life or leaving up Spell Snare. Phoenix and Cheeri0s want a more proactive turn one whereas Control is the one more likely to pass.

Lastly you should consider meta presence and card amounts in those lists. Phoenix and U/W Control are far more popular than Cheeri0s and Control plays the full playset of Flooded Strands whereas Phoenix only plays two if any.

All of this information is processed in a matter of seconds between them playing the land, passing, and you taking your draw step. You can come to the likely conclusion that you’re up against Control which means you need to be the beatdown. If you’re wrong and it’s Phoenix, you won’t be too disappointed since Goyf would have likely been your play anyway with nothing relevant to kill on turn two that you can’t kill on turn three. The only way you get really punished here is if it’s Cheeri0s, but you know that’s less likely so it’s worth the risk.

This example showcases one of the many reasons why discard is so important to our deck. One of its many functions is allowing us to know what we’re up against from the get-go, so we can assess our role with certainty. Without that knowledge, we’re forced to use our experience and best judgement. It’s time to be proactive and play out that Tarmogoyf.

Let’s look at a couple other openers involving another U/W land using the above mentioned hand and land sequence.


In either case, are we the control deck, or the beatdown?

Similar questions should race through your mind.

What decks play Seachrome Coast into Visions?

What decks play Seachrome Coast into Vial?

Even newer players are unlikely to assume Coast into Vial is a U/W Control deck, but Coast into Visions might give them pause. Again, knowing the most popular decks and their latest lists is important for role assessment. Seachrome Coast is a U/W land, but the primary U/W deck of Modern doesn’t even play it.

If I’m the G/B player and I see Seachrome Coast into Visions, I’m going to immediately think Cheeri0s. If I see Seachrome Coast into Vial, I’m going to assume Humans or perhaps Spirits. In either scenario, we are the control deck. Both Cheeri0s and Humans are looking to win as fast as they can, with Cheeri0s winning as early as turn two. Our job in these matches is to survive the early turns so that our card quality can outclass and topple over theirs later on.

Even though we’re the control deck against both Humans and Cheeri0s, our turn two play will likely differ. Cheeri0s immediately puts you on your back foot and either forces you to have an immediate answer on turn two or risk losing. For this reason, holding up Abrupt Decay is the best play. On turn three we can establish our clock while leaving up Fatal Push so that we’re never fully shields down.

Against Humans, we’re still looking to be the control deck but we have a little more time to get our footing before they can go wide. Tarmogoyf is a great offensive creature but in this match it reinforces our controlling stance as a huge defensive wall on the ground. Depending on what the opponent plays on their turn, there’s a chance we’ll untap with two removal spells at the ready and a large Goyf poised to protect our life total and eventually turn the corner.

Modern is unforgiving, and misinterpreting the examples mentioned above can equate to misplays and consequences leading to a loss. While that seems a little unreasonable and unfair to lose for misreading a turn one play, it’s the nature of the beast. Modern is a format where games are typically decided in turns two through four. Slipping up in those critical early turns can lead to disaster.

“Grim Flayer” by Mathias Kollros

In the sideboarded games you’re going to have a lot more information to work with. You’ll know right from the start whether you’re the control deck or the beatdown. You’ll be able to sideboard cards and mulligan appropriately with that in mind.

But what about midrange mirrors?

What happens when decks built with this kind of flexibility face off against each other?

How can we assess who’s the beatdown and who’s control?

The rules of assessment don’t really change. We’re still going to look at card quality and who has the stronger late game. For an example, consider the Mardu Pyromancer match against something like Jund.

In this case, Mardu Pyromancer has the better late game. Between their powerful draw creatures like Bedlam Reveler and their ability to loop them back with multiple K-Commands, Jund gets drowned in card advantage. Jund usually wants to get to the part of the game where players are top decking because Jund usually has the better card quality. This is not one of those matches. Jund’s best draw is a 3/2 with haste that cascades into a planeswalker. Mardu’s best draw is an two mana 3/4 with prowess that evades most of your removal and also just so happens to be Ancestral Recall.

Jund wants to get this game over with by keeping the board clear and the graveyard empty for Reveler. Mardu wants to muddle the board with Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls tokens so they can get to the late game where they can chain Revelers. In this midrange slugfest, Jund is the beatdown and Mardu is control.


There are many other examples we could examine but it almost always comes down to the same question of who has the stronger late game? In cases where it’s much closer to a true mirror, with a lot of overlap in the two lists facing off, role assessment will largely be decided by the texture of your opening hand and may be subject to change throughout the match.

That’s right. Not only do you have to assess your role for the match as a whole, but you also have to know when to switch gears and pump the brakes or more importantly turn the corner.

“Role Reversal” by Mathias Kollros

If you’re supposed to be the beatdown and have to switch to a controlling stance because you’re falling behind, it likely means you’re about to lose. The best example I can think of for this is when players have to stop adding pressure to the board against Tron because they have to spend their mana and turns trying to keep them off Tron instead. The biggest mistake players make in these situations is not taking risks, or playing to survive instead of playing to win. When you’re the beatdown, transitioning into a defensive posture has to be the last resort.

When Storm was prevalent, players would constantly make the mistake of thinking they were control. They’d use their first three turns playing discard, holding up removal, and be unwilling to put a threat on the battlefield until they could do so while also holding up interaction. This was done out of fear, and ‘playing it safe’ often meant applying little to no pressure. Storm is a very consistent turn three kill but just because it can kill fast doesn’t mean it’s the beatdown. Remember, the question always comes back to who has the stronger late game?

Storm has a much stronger late game than something like Cheeri0s, which crumbles in the face of interaction. We need to be the beatdown against Storm, because it’s very resilient and can bury G/Bx with cards like Pieces of the Puzzle. Taking a defensive position against Storm usually gives them more than enough turns to mitigate the damage done by early interaction and even combo off through it. Sometimes when you’re the beatdown you have to take risks early to get ahead and hope that you can keep them off balance enough to cross the finish line without recoiling into defense.

Taking risks as the beatdown is critical to winning a lot of the games that you need to end fast. The same is true when you’ve been acting as the control deck and then need to become the beatdown.

In Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, Reid Duke put on a great showing with Abzan and illustrated this point perfectly. His opening hand was somewhat lackluster, with no discard or early removal. It consist of lands, Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and a Maelstrom Pulse. Even with no early game interaction, Reid was able to use his creatures, and later his Lingering Souls, to create a strong defensive position against his Humans opponent.

Then, he did something that caught the commentators and everyone at home off guard. After Reid had been on defense and attacked aggressively for six turns down to five life; he gained some back with Scavenging Ooze, and then decided that it was his turn to be the beatdown. Take note of the analyst giving Tay Jun Hao the Advantage Bar as soon as Reid comes to the realization that he’s running out of time to win.

Pro_Tour_Rivals_of_Ixalan_Round_15_Modern_Reid_Duke_vs_Tay_Jun_Hao (1)

I remember watching this and thinking:

Reid what are you doing! You’re at seven! and your opponent is at 20! You’re in no position to be aggressive!

But Reid recognized something nobody else did. Reid’s creatures were larger than Tay’s. While that meant they had been doing a great job at keeping Tay’s ground creatures at bay, Reid also recognized that he was out of action against Tay’s three cards in hand. After this attack, Reid used his last card in hand, Abrupt Decay, to kill the Mantis Rider and then had to top deck against Tay’s three cards in hand. Tay, having had more creatures on the battlefield and more cards in hand, had gained the advantage of likely winning the game if it were prolonged.

Reid realized that he needed to be the beatdown, whether he wanted to or not. He had done a beautiful job of using his life as a resource, utilizing his Spirits for blocks only when necessary, and valuing his Scavenging Ooze activations. At this point though, he didn’t have a lot of life to play with anymore and he was running out of Spirits.

Over the next couple of turns Reid was able to leverage his Shambling Vent and Scavenging Ooze to keep himself alive while simultaneously attacking hard. Reid’s creatures were so large that Tay could only take two hits before he needed to start blocking, creating more food for the Scavenging Ooze. Tay plays out the rest of his cards and ends with a Reflector Mage to send Reid’s large Ooze back to hand.

Now Reid is at three life staring down ten power spread over five bodies. He has a Scavenging Ooze he can’t play because of Reflector Mage and a Fatal Push he can’t cast because of Meddling Mage. Would you have attacked if you were in his position?

Pro_Tour_Rivals_of_Ixalan_Round_15_Modern_Reid_Duke_vs_Tay_Jun_Hao (2)

Between Tay’s fresh draw step and sacrificing the Canopy, he’s only able to add a small Champion of the Parish to the board with a redundant Thalia in hand. When Reid untaps he’s able to replay his Ooze and a Grim Flayer and continues to press his attack. The following turn he draws Pulse for the Meddling Mage unlocking the Fatal Push on the Thalia and attacks for the win. For ten straight minutes the analyst gives Tay the advantage until the turn before he scoops to Reid.

Not only did Reid recognize when he needed to switch gears from the defensive to the offensive, but he took risks. By attacking with the Goyf in the above shot, he left himself with no good blocks against the 4/3 first striking Thalia. Had Tay drawn a Mantis Rider or Thalia’s Lieutenant, Reid would have been under considerable pressure and may not have won. He rolled the dice anyway and was able to strong arm his opponent into a position of weakness.

“Grim Lavamancer” by Jim Nelson

Role Assessment is so important for midrange. We don’t have the pleasure of being primarily Rock, Paper, or Scissors. Instead we’re shifting back and forth, which can be a mentally taxing effort. Not only do we need to appropriately assess our role in a matchup, but we also need to constantly re-analyze our position throughout the game.

The best way to sharpen this skill is to be patient. Players who take very little breaks from playing Abzan, Jund, and G/B tend to find themselves on autopilot, making split second decisions based on similar ones they’ve made in the past. Instead, you need to be in the moment and make decisions appropriate for the scenario at hand. Take your time and formulate the best plan to win the game, whether that’s as the beatdown or the control player. If the plan has to change, you’ll need to have the awareness to identify that, and the timing to execute.

Imagine playing a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors with a friend and instead of revealing at the same time, you got to see what your friend presented before choosing yourself. This is the power of our deck. We’re able to take the same 75 cards from match to match and give them a different purpose based on our opponent’s strategy.

Discard can make way for your aggression or ensure your opponent’s aggression can’t be effectively unleashed on you. Cards like Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls can both create an impenetrable wall or attack overwhelmingly. Our Fatal Pushes can clear the way for our attacks or kill our opponent’s creatures before they kill us.

“Olivia Voldaren” by Eric Deschamps

You and your unknown opponent look at their opening hands.

You both keep.

You play a turn one discard spell. 

You’re about to find out what your up against, what your role is.

Rock, Paper, Scissors,


The Time’s They Are A-Changin’

Huntmaster of the Fells is a perfect Magic card.

Huntmaster of the FellsRavager of the Fells

The numbers have such symmetry and all of the effects are powerful. For four mana you get four power spread over two bodies while gaining two life. When it flips, it has four power and four toughness and deals two damage to a creature and two damage to a player for a total of four damage. When a player plays two spells in the same turn, it flips back. It feels fair because it can be easy to answer, yet powerful because it can warp the entire game around it if it isn’t.

I love it.

Even with its undeniable power, I know that the days where others shared that sentiment are behind me. Simply put, it’s been outclassed, sidelined, and unsleeved. I know that there are better options, and yet every time I tweak my list I find myself staring at Huntmaster trying to convince myself it’s worth it. Why is it so hard for me to keep Huntmaster in my binder?

“Bloodbraid Elf” by Steve Argyle

Let’s take some time to address a tough topic for our community: properly judging new cards and, more importantly, the ability to let old ones go. There are a couple stereotypes in the G/B community you’ll often run into –

1.) They’re weirdly obsessed with how unattainable and unnecessarily expensive the deck is and

2.) They get very defensive when someone says that the cards they spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on, are actually not very good right now.

The discussion comes up with every spoiler season about what cards might make the cut for our deck. Usually cards are brought up in jest, as they are typically hilariously bad (looking at you Yargle), but every now and again there’s a card that actually makes us do a double-take.

This can be exciting but also kind of terrifying. We get so nostalgic and emotionally attached to our pet cards that it can be a detriment to our insight and ability to make rational comparisons.

When Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned people thought we were going to relive the glory days of Jund. Olivia, Huntmaster, Kalitas, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Chandra Torch of Defiance, and all other four drops were immediately cast aside to make way for Bloodbraid’s glorious return. Not me though. I was stubborn. I hate the RNG aspect of Bloodbraid and thought the card offered too little in light of the super aggressive format Modern had become.

People weren’t thinking straight and there was no way Jund was going to return to glory because of a four mana 3/2 with haste…..oh yeah, and Huntmaster of the Fells is my favorite card ever printed and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME UNSLEEVE THEM, I’LL NEVER DO IT!

While there may be merit to my stance on Bloodbraid, the card is great, but my love for my pet card kept me skeptical through the initial hype. It took me a long time to play the card when I should have tried it out immediately so I could make my judgments based on games played and not just initial bias.

I know I’m not alone in my biases regarding deckbuilding. This happens regularly throughout tougher seasons in Modern when it becomes so hostile we question whether Dark Confidant is too much of a liability or whether Lili’s abilities are efficient enough in the face of go-wide and graveyard strategies. If you ask these tough questions in a forum or Facebook post however, be prepared to be eaten alive by those who hold these cards close to their heart. Prepare for the onslaught of “Greatness at any cost” comments and people telling you that Lili is the heart of our strategy and should never be cut. Whether we like it or not though, the times are changing, and Modern Horizons has made us seriously consider every slot in our deck and its worth.

Wrenn and Six

First, let’s look about Wrenn and Six. This is a card that has caused plenty of controversy and is forcing us to reevaluate the core of our lists. Wrenn and Six, or W6 as she’s being dubbed, is no doubt a very powerful two drop that can help us curve out, continuously make our land drops, and even act as removal against smaller creatures. The emblem is nothing to scoff at either when you consider that a Bolt or Assassin’s Trophy in the graveyard can mean ending the game very quickly or answering quite literally anything our opponent does. Discarding a land to Liliana, only to buy it back with W6, has been one of my favorite things to do in recent games. We know it’s going to make the cut, so what’s being left behind?

Most have been trimming on Dark Confidants to make room for the powerful two-drop. This is understandable when you consider the fact that with more W6 running around, having a 2/1 that gains you no immediate value is a liability. Some have been trimming on Bloodbraid, a copy of Scavenging Ooze, Kolaghan’s Command, and even Maelstrom Pulse. If reading the names of any of those cards being on the chopping block made you cringe, you may find yourself falling behind the innovation that will push our archetype in the direction it needs to go to stay competitive. It’s important to understand that when new cards enter the format, no card is safe. Every card has to prove itself with every new set and nothing gets a free pass because they “earned” their stay from previous iterations and victories.

Recently, Emma Handy and Jim Davis wrote articles and made videos that included Jund lists with no Dark Confidants in them. These players aren’t exactly known for their G/B prowess, so why would their opinions matter to us? For me, I always enjoy hearing an outsider’s take because of that previously mentioned bias that I know is constantly working against me. Sometimes seeing what others would do can give you a fresh perspective.

Players should soak up all the content they can for their archetype, whether that’s articles written by outsiders to the strategy or die-hard specialists like Reid Duke or Logan Nettles. Most importantly though, players should play the cards themselves and come to their own conclusions.

Mine have led me to the decision to cut down to two copies of Dark Confidant for now. I think there are still matches where your life total isn’t being pressured severely and drawing to relevant cards is really important, like against the Urza prison decks. Even so, I’ve had a ton of fun brewing with Jund lists that have no Dark Confidants at all and are looking to take advantage of that. No Dark Confidants in favor of W6 means we can take a second look at some cards that were otherwise bad flips like Tasigur, the Golden Fang. More consistent land drops from W6 might mean a second look at Tireless Tracker as the main card advantage engine. Some have already experimented with Seasoned Pyromancer, another new addition from Modern Horizons, and its ability to take lands redrawn by W6 and turn them into gas.

“Dark Confidant” by Scott M. Fischer

W6 and Seasoned Pyromancer aren’t the only cards making a splash in the G/B community. Hexdrinker, Unearth, Plague Engineer, Collector Ouphe, and a great cycle of new lands are all making their mark as well. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a large swath of cards from a single set affecting our archetype before.

Seasoned Pyromancer is an interesting one. The card has its fair share of awkward scenarios where we don’t want to lose the cards we have in hand and are forced to either not cast it or pitch relevant cards hoping to draw more.  The rummaging effect can be nice in certain matches though where you’re digging for specific cards and pitching irrelevant ones. The card shines its brightest in the top-deck late-game where it becomes a 2/2-draw two. Its ability to exile itself from the graveyard gives it even more late-game relevance as well as making it an okay pitch to Liliana earlier in the game when you don’t want to rummage.

Hexdrinker is giving G/B decks a more aggressive slant and can be incredibly difficult to deal with as it levels up. My experience with the card has led me to believe it’s probably not worth it though. As a 2/1, it has the same fragility that Dark Confidant has against W6 and level up being a sorcery speed ability can facilitate a lot of lost turns where you tap out to level it up, only for it to frustratingly die right before it becomes a 4/4. I have to admit though, it’s a terrifying top-deck late in the game when mana is abundant and most answers have been spent.

Unearth is by no means a 3-4 of, but is a fine utility spell that is never a dead card. Even if you have no targets for it, it can still cycle at a minimum. There’s no real need to rely on enter the battlefield triggers (ETB) to make this card good but cards that do have an ETB like Seasoned Pyromancer, Kitchen Finks, or Plague Engineer make the card even better.


Whenever Jund gains popularity, I always take a look at Abzan to see how things line up. Historically, Lingering Souls has put Abzan above and beyond other midrange decks in the mirror match. Plague Engineer has made that a null and void point in my opinion. Engineer is excellent in a lot of situations where Jund and G/B would normally struggle. Now there’s a clean answer to go-wide strategies like Mardu Pyromancer and the new Urza Thopter Foundry decks, as well as neutering tribal decks like Humans. Having deathtouch means that at a minimum it can trade with anything in combat that it doesn’t already kill with its ability. This card really feels like a sideboard card but it’s too soon to tell whether the hedge is worth having in the mainboard while there’s a possibility that the ETB isn’t relevant.

Collector Ouphe is a great addition to both Jund and G/B who now have access to an attacking Stony Silence. Being a creature means it will dodge cards like Nature’s Claim but die to Aether Grid. Jund’s normal go-to artifact hate is Ancient Grudge and G/B usually has to rely on having multiple spells like Trophy, Decay, and Pulse. Now there’s an option to attack artifact decks from another angle. Ouphe will probably fall in and out of favor depending on what you want it for. When KCI and Lantern was popular, Shatter effects weren’t enough and Stony Silence was at a premium. While traditional Affinity is on the downswing, I always liked shatter effects more than Stony. Against decks like Tron, we’re probably happy with a split between them. Either way, having options that don’t involve you completely switching decks or adding other colors is nice. It’s probably also worth mentioning Shenanigans while we’re talking about artifacts since I think it’s a neat piece of recurring artifact hate. It’s biggest downside of course is that it’s a sorcery.

Horizon Canopy has been the envy of every non-W/G deck since its printing. With the enemy cycle printed in Horizons, almost every deck in Modern now has access to a Canopy in their colors. While some have pushed W6 as hard as they can by testing Barren Moor and Ghost Quarter, the safest synergy and inclusion is Nurturing Peatland. As an untapped G/B land, it’s much more reliable as a mana source than Barren Moor and has a similar effect. I think the safe cut for these lands in Jund are copies of Raging Ravine. There’s no need to run 3-4 creature lands when W6 has the ability to buy them back and recur them if they die. In G/B and Abzan, lands like Twilight Mire and a fourth fastland can be cut to make room.

Jund and G/B have a ton of new cards to play with, and the biggest loser after Modern Horizons is poor Abzan. Not only did Abzan not get any new cards but Plague Engineer and Ouphe actually hurt it, since you no longer need white to have access to Stony Silence and have a clean answer to Lingering Souls. Abzan really needed something like Vindicate or Gerrard’s Verdict to pique interest. Sorry Kaya’s Guile, but you’re just not exciting enough in light of Jund’s upgrades.

“Abzan Ascendancy” by Mark Winters

This isn’t the end for Abzan though. More sets are going to continue to get printed and eventually Abzan will find favor again. The question is, will we recognize it when it comes? Let’s not forget that in July 2018, only a year ago, Leonardo Gucci got second place at Grand Prix Sao Paulo piloting Abzan Traverse, the go-to G/Bx strategy of the time. Since then, we’ve seen the printing of Assassin’s Trophy and a ton of new tools for Jund and G/B. It’s important to remember that it wasn’t that long ago when Abzan was considered the better choice. It’s hard to imagine how the tables could turn once again in as little as another year, but hundreds of cards pour into Modern every set, and change happens fast.

So how can we properly evaluate these new cards when they’re spoiled?

No, I’m not talking about those “will it Jund” jokes. I’m talking about cards that truly seem like they may lend our deck something it doesn’t have or provide a better version of something it already does.

The first question you have to ask yourself is

How does a new card compare in function and mana cost to the cards in our deck?

Then you’ll have to debate the less straightforward question of

Is it better?

Fatal PushDisfigure

Fatal Push was considered a no-brainer. The wide range of powerful creatures it killed for the very efficient cost of one black mana was way too good to ignore. This was especially true for Abzan and G/B who didn’t have access to a good turn one removal spell like Lightning Bolt. For these decks, the trade was easy. They shaved some Abrupt Decays and no longer needed to run cards like Disfigure, Dismember, or Smother. This was a pretty specific scenario where there was a large need and gap that Fatal Push filled, but finding space for new cards won’t always be so easy.

Liliana, the Last HopeKolaghan's Command

When Liliana, the Last Hope was spoiled critiques ranged from lukewarm to bad. This criticism was due to it being a Liliana planeswalker with an identical mana cost to Liliana of the Veil, causing people to compare the cards side by side. This was a failure in card assessment. Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope are two very different cards with different functions, even though their cost and planeswalker type are the same. The card more closely resembles something like Kolaghan’s Command since it can pick off small creatures and buy back threats. It trades out the Shatter and discard effect for repeatable activations of the other modes and a game-winning emblem.

Once people started playing with the card they came to this realization and found room for her where appropriate.

Unlike Fatal Push and Disfigure, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Liliana, the Last Hope is better than Kolaghan’s Command, or vice versa. This is because their modes become more or less relevant depending on the meta. This is why card evaluation and comparison is not always so straight forward and is often a muddled debate. The lesson here is to make sure that when you are comparing new cards, you’re doing it appropriately.

So let’s come full circle and test ourselves with a difficult question.

Dark Confidant or W6?

Dark ConfidantWrenn and Six

First, is this a fair comparison? Are we comparing W6 to the right card in our attempt make room for her?

If we look at mana cost and functionality comparisons, I think there’s no doubt that Dark Confidant is her closest cousin. If we compare it to everything else in the two drop slot, from Assassin’s Trophy to Tarmogoyf, it’s not even close. While on the face of things these cards are very different, their similarity is their card advantage. W6’s card advantage comes in the form of buying back lands, which doubles as a way to make sure we continue to curve out. Confidant draws fresh cards every turn, which could be more impactful than lands, but at the cost of life loss. So even their one crossover quality is vastly different and better or worse depending on the scenario, making the comparison even harder. It sort of feels like a toss up if we stop here, but now we have to look at their differences.

Their biggest differences are their versatility and durability. Versatility can often be meta dependent, like the case between K-Command and Liliana the Last Hope, but durability is usually pretty straight forward. When we get to this point of the comparisons it becomes pretty easy to find yourself in W6’s camp. Planeswalkers are much more difficult to deal with than 2/1 creatures and the versatility in her abilities also out paces Dark Confidant. While Confidant can attack and block, it’s usually outmatched on the battlefield whereas W6’s multiple abilities and immediate value make her the better draw in most scenarios. All of this also gets thrown on top of the fact that Dark Confidant’s life loss can be a pretty big liability.

Still, while it seems like this debate goes in W6’s favor, I find myself conjuring scenarios where Confidant is infinitely better and is still a card we lean on to get ahead in certain matches.

Is this my bias and love for Confidant speaking, or a rational argument? 

I think the only way to answer this question is by playing without it. Once you do, you can reflect.

How much am I missing/in need of it?

Am I winning more games without it?

It’s truly the only way to know. The cards are comparable, but not close enough to confidently say one can directly replace the other in the same way Fatal Push replaced other less efficient removal.

When W6 was spoiled, I didn’t see anyone say “Hey, this card should replace Dark Confidant in our lists.” In fact, I think the only reason we’re talking about this comparison is because people have already begun doing just that and had moderate success.

While it seems that W6 is the future and Confidant is the past, I’m going to continue to split my time between lists with Dark Confidants and ones without Dark Confidants to make sure I’m putting both to the test. I suggest others do the same and see if they come to the same conclusions. This way we’re making decisions based on results and statistics, not just our love for Confidant. The same should be applied to all future candidates as well.

“New Perspectives” by Darek Zabrocki

Change is hard. Especially when it comes to unsleeving old friends that we’ve won so many games with.

Trust me, I know.

I still register multiple maindeck Huntmasters every now and again and nothing makes me more happy than resolving them and having multiple on the battlefield at the same time. Is it as good as other Jund lists? No, and that’s okay. I know this and have no delusions about it either. But for casual tournaments, sometimes I just want to play the cards I love and have some fun. In competitive tournaments though, I want to play the deck I love while also playing the cards that are going to give me the best chance of winning. This usually means Huntmaster is just a one-of in my sideboard or nowhere to be seen at all.

Whatever you decide to do with W6, Dark Confidant, or any other card, don’t write anything off unless you’ve tried it yourself. You can use a plethora of resources, to include this article, to help you evaluate your own list, but nothing is going to help you form your own opinion like your own experiences. The more personal experience with cards you can share with others, the more our community can tweak and perfect our strategy in light of new additions.

Don’t be afraid to abandon what’s familiar or what’s been good in the past to experiment. Don’t let your love for favorites be the cause for poor competitive records, but also don’t forget to play the cards you love and have some fun when the stakes are low. Don’t allow your love for pet cards to overshadow the power of new ones that may take their place. Don’t get defensive about the cards you love while harshly criticizing new cards you haven’t tried.

Magic is an ever-evolving game, and new cards are constantly changing the landscape. We can adapt and grow with it, or fall victim to our reluctance.