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Metagame Mentor: The First Modern Decks with Modern Horizons 3

June 20, 2024
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 is coming up next week at MagicCon: Amsterdam, and the hype is through the roof. Modern Horizons 3 will undoubtedly be the most important Modern release of the year, and the set has already shaken up the Modern metagame.

In this article, I'll analyze the first Magic Online event results to give an early indication of what we might see at next week's Pro Tour. My quick summary is that Modern is genuinely a brewer's paradise right now. Modern Horizons 3 has introduced an enormous amount of unique, interesting, and powerful cards that all come with significant deck building restrictions. As a result, new archetypes have emerged, diversity has expanded, and the format is wide open. It's an incredibly exciting time to be a Modern player!

The Modern Metagame with Modern Horizons 3

Modern is a nonrotating 60-card format that was introduced in 2011 and that has captured the hearts of Magic: The Gathering players worldwide ever since. It allows expansion sets, core sets, and straight-to-Modern sets from Eight Edition forward, with the exception of cards on the banned list. With 21 years of card history, Modern features intricate card interactions and a vast array of viable strategies.

To grasp the state of Modern with Modern Horizons 3, I analyzed over 800 Magic Online decklists from Preliminary AND Challenge events held from June 12 through June 17. I also included 100 decks from the $5K RCQ at SCG CON Las Vegas. To obtain a metric that combines popularity and performance, I awarded points to each deck equal to its rectified number of net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses if positive and zero otherwise). Each archetype's share of total rectified net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame. In the following table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Ruby Storm 8.8%
2. Bant Nadu 7.6%
3. Living End 5.7%
4. Mono-Red Prowess 5.2%
5. Eldrazi Tron 4.5%
6. Boros Burn 4.2%
7. Izzet Murktide 3.6%
8. Mono-Black Necro 3.6%
9. Izzet Wizards 3.2%
10. Esper Goryo's 3.1%
11. Golgari Yawgmoth 2.8%
12. Gruul Eldrazi 2.8%
13. Mono-Black Grief 2.6%
14. Boros Energy 2.5%
15. Azorius Control 2.5%
16. Jeskai Energy 2.2%
17. Dimir Mill 1.7%
18. Mardu Midrange 1.7%
19. Izzet Prowess 1.6%
20. Jund Sagavan 1.6%
21. Sultai Vengevine 1.6%
22. Other 26.7%

The "Other" category is the biggest of them all, featuring strategies both new and old like Rakdos Grief, Amulet Titan, Four-Color Nadu, Hardened Scales, Mono-White Martyr, Dimir Control, Merfolk, Domain Zoo, Boros Prowess, Jund Creativity, Simic Nadu, Four-Color Omnath, Jund Sagavan, Izzet Eldrazi, Orzhov Blink, Naya Landfall, Hammer Time, Gruul Scapeshift, Affinity, Mono-White Cage, Mono-White Blink, Rakdos Shadow, Dimir Nightmare, and many others. The number of competitively viable Modern archetypes is simply enormous, and the field is wide open.

Ruby Medallion 662345 Amped Raptor Ugin's Labyrinth

So far, Modern Horizons 3 has led to a complete upheaval of the metagame. Last month, in my latest Modern snapshot, nearly half of the field at the top tables was comprised of Rakdos Grief, Golgari Yawgmoth, Domain Zoo, and Amulet Titan. This week, everyone is trying out all of the new cards. Those decks have almost disappeared while brand new decks built around Ruby Medallion, Nadu, Winged Wisdom, Amped Raptor, or Ugin's Labyrinth are dominating the tournaments. At least based on the first week of results, Modern looks completely different with Modern Horizons 3.

Yet, given that no single archetype exceeded 10% of the field, there is no clear indication where things might settle. The best players in the world have another week to break it before the Pro Tour, and anything might happen during that time. So, let's cast a wide net and take a look at the 14 archetypes with the highest winner's metagame share so far. To obtain representative decklists, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity, performance, and synergy of individual card choices.

1. Ruby Storm

Ruby Storm is a new combo strategy that utilizes Ruby Medallion and Ral, Monsoon Mage from Modern Horizons 3. With either of these cards on the battlefield, Pyretic Ritual and Desperate Ritual effectively add two mana, and Manamorphose nets one mana as well. Meanwhile, the cost of Reckless Impulse, Wrenn's Resolve, and Glimpse the Impossible is also reduced, allowing you to rapidly sift through your deck. Eventually, you'll do it all over again with Past in Flames, cast numerous spells in a single turn, and finish the job with a lethal Grapeshot.

With the perfect draw, this deck can win as early as turn two, and it has soared to become the most prominent deck in the new Modern metagame. Turn three kills are more likely, but that's still formidable. The fact that Ruby Medallion is immune to creature removal like Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt is a big deal as well. Nevertheless, the strategy is vulnerable to cards like Damping Sphere, High Noon, or Eidolon of the Great Revel. For this reason, many Ruby Storm decks splash green for sideboard answers.

2. Bant Nadu

Bant Nadu is a new combo strategy based around Nadu, Winged Wisdom from Modern Horizons 3. By itself, Nadu is a 3/4 flier that doesn't die to Lightning Bolt and that draws you a card when your opponent tries to kill it. Yet when combined with ways to target your own creatures for zero mana, such as Shuko or Outrider en-Kor, you can go off and win the game on the spot.

Due to its wording, Nadu's ability applies twice for each creature, not twice in total. When Shuko and Nadu are on the battlefield, every creature you control effectively gives you two free looks at the top of your deck, putting any lands onto the battlefield untapped and any nonland cards into your hand. When you add Springheart Nantuko—another new Modern Horizons 3 card—every land hit by Nadu creates a 1/1 Insect token, allowing you to keep the chain going and draw your entire deck. If need be, you can play a fresh Nadu to reset the "twice per turn" counter along the way. Eventually, you'll use Thassa's Oracle to win the game.

This combo strategy is as powerful as it is consistent. Thanks to Chord of Calling and Summoner's Pact, you can reliably find Nadu, Winged Wisdom, while Delighted Halfling and Sylvan Safekeeper keep it safe from countermagic or removal. Meanwhile, Shuko can be found with Urza's Saga, and Outrider en-Kor is fetchable with Chord of Calling, so you will reliably have access to your combo every game. This powerful new combo strategy is not to be underestimated, and wacky answers like Tunnel Ignus, Damping Matrix, and Harsh Mentor are already popping up in sideboards.

3. Living End

Living End is a classic combo deck that aims to cycle several creatures and then cascade into Living End, wiping all creatures from the battlefield while returning all the cyclers. The deck has Ardent Plea and Shardless Agent as guaranteed cascade cards, effectively giving the deck eight one-card combo pieces, along with numerous cyclers to consistently find them.

The deck has been a Modern mainstay for years, excelling against creature-based decks. Modern Horizons 3 did not drastically change the strategy, though a pair of Sink into Stupor can fight back against cards like Chalice of the Void or Leyline of the Void. Since Sink into Stupor counts as a three-mana card, it does not interfere with your cascades, and it can be used as a land most of the time. It even pitches to Force of Negation and Subtlety, resulting in a sweet upgrade overall.

4. Mono-Red Prowess

After Slickshow Show-Off from Outlaws of Thunder Junction heralded the triumphant return of prowess decks to Modern, the strategy adopted the energy package from Modern Horizons 3 in a brutally efficient mono-red list. Although green mana can be spent on Mutagenic Growth and Pick Your Poison, it's a mono-red deck at heart.

The most important new addition is Amped Raptor, which is guaranteed to cast the cast it finds in this build of the deck. Every spell in the deck costs two mana or less, letting the Dinosaur cast it for free. Galvanic Discharge is basically a Lightning Bolt for creatures or planeswalkers with additional flexibility. And Unstable Amulet is a red card draw spell that triggers prowess, leverages excess energy from Galvanic Discharge, and combines with Underworld Breach to deals loads of damage to the opponent. The energy package is well-rounded and will keep the prowess triggers rolling.

5. Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron has been revitalized with Modern Horizons 3. By imprinting Devourer of Destiny, All Is Dust or Emrakul, the World Anew onto Ugin's Labyrinth, the deck reliably has access to two mana on turn one, leading to busted starts. For example, turn one Chalice of the Void for X=1 is absolutely backbreaking against a variety of Modern decks. A turn two Trinisphere can be equally punishing, especially against Ruby Storm.

All of this is wrapped up in a familiar Urzatron shell with Karn, the Great Creator and The One Ring. A new element is that Urza's Saga can fetch The Underworld Cookbook enables Emrakul's madness cost. Alternatively, Kozilek's Command can ramp into hardcasting Emrakul for 12 mana. One way or another, this deck can consistently gain control of all opposing creatures on turn four.

6. Boros Burn

Boros Burn embodies the philosophy of fire. The goal is to unleash a flurry of damage as quickly as possible, with an ideal opening hand featuring a turn one Goblin Guide, turn two double Lava Spike, and turn three triple Lightning Bolt for a staggering 21 damage. The deck has been a staple of the Modern format since its inception, perennially preying on decks with painful fetch-shock mana bases.

Based on the aggregate list, the deck has not received any major upgrades from Modern Horizons 3. Nevertheless, when everyone is trying out new things, a straightforward burn plan can act as the fun police of the format. Moreover, some of the creature choices appear well-positioned, as the main deck Eidolon of the Great Revel preys on the new Ruby Storm deck and the sideboard Tunnel Ignus stifles the new Bant Nadu deck.

7. Izzet Murktide

Izzet Murktide has been a mainstay in Modern for years, combining cheap cantrips, efficient interaction, and powerful threats. The card advantage and velocity provided by Expressive Iteration quickly turns Murktide Regent into a two-mana 8/8 flier, allowing you to turn the corner rapidly.

Although some lists explore the addition of Invert Polarity and Sink into Stupor, Modern Horizons 3 has not brought enormous upgrades to the deck. Yet a combination of pressure and disruption is traditionally strong against combo decks, so Izzet Murktide might have the right tools to go over the top of Ruby Storm and Bant Nadu.

8. Mono-Black Necro

This Modern deck is based around the powerful new Necrodominance. Mono-Black Necro features a lot of efficient, cheap interaction to trade resources in the early turns before refilling with Necrodominance. Unlike the original Necropotence, this new enchantment actually draws cards, so you can almost double your life total with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse while sculpting the perfect five-card hand.

Also, there is an opportunity to cast spells in between drawing cards and discarding to hand size, so you can pay an exorbitant amount of life, pitch loads of cards to March of Wretched Sorrow, and pass the turn at a higher life total than you started with. Some lists even incorporate modal double-faced cards like Boggart Trawler or Fell the Profane to fuel an even larger March of Wretched Sorrow.

9. Izzet Wizards

Izzet Wizards makes the most of Flame of Anor, using Snapcaster Mage and the new Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student to satisfy the Wizard clause on the powerful blue-red instant. Coincidentally, Flame of Anor is quite useful at dealing with Ruby Medallion. The new Tamiyo blocks Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, provides a lot of value, and is easy to transform. Overall, the deck plays like a traditional Izzet Murktide deck, albeit with a stronger emphasis on creature types than graveyard synergies.

Besides Tamiyo, Inquisitive Student, Modern Horizons 3 brought various powerful new cards to the deck. Flare of Denial sacrifices Snapcaster Mage to turn into a free counter; Invert Polarity has tremendous upside; and the energy package of Galvanic Discharge and Tune the Narrative can combine to shoot down enormous creatures.

10. Esper Goryo's

Esper Goryo's aims to discard Atraxa, Grand Unifier to Tainted Indulgence, then return her to the battlefield with Goryo's Vengeance. This provides a massive lifelink swing and a fresh grip of new cards, after which you can use Solitude or Grief to have an immediate effect on the game. Moreover, when Ephemerate is cast on an Atraxa that was brought back to life with Goryo's Vengeance, she returns as a new card object, which means that you won't have to exile her at end of turn. In addition, Ephemerate has excellent synergy with Grief, as rebound will force your opponent to discard yet another card on your next upkeep.

A new addition from Modern Horizons 3 is Buried Alive. It not only sets up your graveyard for Goryo's Vengeance but also unlocks the possibility to put two Priest of Fell Rites and a legendary creature into your graveyard. This is essentially a one-card combo that guarantees a five-mana reanimation effect later.

11. Golgari Yawgmoth

Golgari Yawgmoth has taken a bit of a back seat as players are experimenting with all of the brand new decks, but it was one of the most-played decks prior to the release of Modern Horizons 3. The game plan is to combine undying creatures and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to generate card advantage and achieve infinite, game-winning loops.

One such loop can be achieved with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and two copies of Young Wolf, one with a +1/+1 counter and another without. When Yawgmoth sacrifices the counter-less creature, it returns with a +1/+1 counter. The other receives a -1/-1 counter, which cancels out against its +1/+1 counter. This can be repeated to draw lots of cards, and Blood Artist wins the game on the spot.

With Modern Horizons 3, there is no consensus among Golgari Yawgmoth players on how to build it. The aggregate list features Flare of Cultivation, which can sacrifice Young Wolf for a quick ramp effect, as well as Grist, Voracious Larva as a new Chord of Calling target. However, neither of these cards are universal inclusions, and there are many different builds going around.

12. Gruul Eldrazi

Gruul Eldrazi comes in various different builds, some more aggressive and some more controlling. The most prominent list is slow and top-heavy, but deadly once it gets rolling. The killing blow is using Through the Breach to sneak in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which will attack with annihilator 6.

Although there are many different versions of Gruul Eldrazi, all of them rely on four copies of Eldrazi Temple, and almost everyone exploits Ugin's Labyrinth as well. Lands that tap for two mana are as powerful as always.

13. Mono-Black Grief

Mono-Black Grief has the dream of evoking Grief and returning it to the battlefield with Not Dead After All. This yields a 4/3 menace with two discards attached. Alternatively, with the sacrifice trigger on the stack, the deck can now also sacrifice Grief to Phyrexian Tower of Flare of Malice for value. These new Modern Horizons 3 cards have infused new options into the archetype.

Another new addition is Nethergoyf, which is supported by Urza's Saga and Mishra's Bauble to grow into a huge size quickly. This deck evokes memories of the Modern midrange decks with Thoughtseize and Tarmogoyf from a decade ago, offering a similar style of gameplay.

14. Boros Energy

Boros Energy is another novel archetype enabled by Modern Horizons 3. Between Guide of Souls, Galvanic Discharge, Amped Raptor, and Unstable Amulet, you get a lot of cheap energy that you can use in any way you like. If the opponent has a large creature, you can sink excess energy into Galvanic Discharge. If you want to race against a combo deck, then you can go fast with Guide of Souls. Whatever the situation calls for, you can spend energy in the most suitable way.

But it doesn't end there, as this archetype is brimming with new cards. Phelia, Exuberant Shepherd can blink your own Unstable Amulet for value or remove the opponent's biggest blocker. Ajani, Nacatl Avenger provides a fast clock. And Phlage, Titan of Fire's Fury gives you an edge in long games. Almost every single card in the deck stems from Modern Horizons 3, and they work together amazingly well.

In summary, Modern truly is a brewer's paradise right now. Boros Energy is just one of the many new archetypes enabled by Modern Horizons 3, and the diversity of sweet new decks is enormous. Anything could happen when the best in the world have an additional week to break the format, and I can't wait to see what the metagame at Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 will be like!

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

At Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3, all competitors who clinch 36 match points and/or reach the Top 8 will receive an invitation to Magic World Championship 30—the crown jewel of Magic organized play. As we count down the weeks leading up to that tournament in late October, each week I'm taking a look at a great deck from a past Magic World Championship.

At the 2007 World Championship, a total of 386 competitors from 61 countries came to New York to compete across Standard, Draft, and Legacy. In the end, Uri Peleg took the trophy with a deck that was often referred to as Doran Rock.

To explain the history behind that name: "The Rock" is the name that Sol Malka gave to a black-green midrange deck with Deranged Hermit in 1999. It was a reference to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, then a professional wrester, who had "The millions and millions of The Rock's fans" as a catch phrase. Malka saw Deranged Hermit as The Rock and the squirrels are his millions. Somehow, the name stuck and has been applied to black-green midrange decks ever since. Peleg's deck was not purely black-green, however, as it featured a small white splash for Doran, the Siege Tower. Hence, Doran Rock.

Peleg's game plan was to play Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves on turn one, allowing him to ramp into Doran, the Siege Tower or Ohran Viper on turn two. Doran was basically a vanilla 5/5, offering excellent stats to put a lot of pressure on the opponent. Ohran Viper threatened to draw a lot of cards, requiring the opponent to answer or block it quickly.

An alternate plan was to leverage efficient disruption like Thoughtseize to boost the size of Tarmogoyf—a strategy that would go on to become quite prominent in the early years of Modern.

Uri Peleg, 2007 Magic World Championship

Yet from a historical perspective, the real standout in Peleg's list was the pair of planeswalkers: Garruk Wildspeaker and Liliana Vess. Planeswalkers as a card type were introduced in Lorwyn, released only two months before the 2007 Magic World Championship. The new card type impressed at the event, taking the trophy and cementing itself as a major part of the game. In the years since, even more powerful Modern-legal options have been printed, such as Wrenn and Six and Teferi, Time Raveler, but this new era of Magic all started in 2007.

Will planeswalkers make a similar impact on the upcoming premier events? To find out, tune in to for live coverage of Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3 on June 28–30, 2024 and live coverage of Magic World Championship 30 on October 25–27!

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