Modern has a long history and my memory of it is nearly as long. I have seen archetypes rise and fall with bans and unbans alike. There is a more subtle phenomenon throughout the years though. Sometimes without any clear reason an archetype just fades into the background. Perhaps never to return or maybe just waiting for a new card to breathe some life into them. Today we are looking at the three best decks that Modern forgot.
This was is very, very dear to my heart and I am sad that it has never bounced back. When Eldrazi Winter thawed, the consistent acceleration that Eye had provided was lost. The way forward in late 2016 was to add Noble Hierarch for acceleration and Ancient Stirrings for consistency. Adding the other colors that Noble produced would give you Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope. Each card was great at stalling the creature decks of the day but together they were a lock. Then it had Path and Engineered Explosives to beat go tall and go wide decks. It had enough standalone threats to outlast control and was fast enough to take down Tron. Of course it also had access to the best sideboard cards in the format by virtue of white mana. It even thrived in the days of Infect by mainboarding Spellskites. It was a top tier deck and put up results for a solid year.
So what happened to it? It was a few things but primarily players moved onto Eldrazi Tron. The sideboard was far worse but so much more was gained. The format was speeding up and getting lower to the ground so Chalice of the Void gained stock, but it would shut off Path and Stirrings. So players opted for the build that could get away with mainboard Chalice. Furthermore, Bant was essentially a four color deck and took significant mana pain. Stirrings is great but a virtually perfect, painless manabase made Expedition Map serviceable.
The format had become too fast for Bant to race but a touch too resilient for it to control. By the time the format slowed back down, every other deck in the format had gained new toys and new powerful decks had come about. The Humans matchup for example is complete slaughter. Eldrazi decks are still viable in many flavors if you enjoy spaghetti but Bant is just not among them. Beyond another Eldrazi set, I am not sure what could put it back on the map.
First of all, I want to highlight MTGO user Selfeisek; the original inventor of the deck. He consistently put up league results with the deck for quite a while before it gained widespread recognition. That being said, in 2019 he is one of the last players still using it. He first began putting up results with it in 2017 but 2018 was when the deck broke out. It gained a reputation as “better Jund” and at the time, that was the truth. This was the first midrange deck that we saw utilize Faithless Looting. It allowed them to play red Treasure Cruise and Lingering Souls did not mind being discarded by either. Looting also gave them a way to cash in late-drawn targeted discard; a struggle for GBx decks.
Of course the greatest strength of the deck was the namesake Young Pyromancer. Before that point we really had only seen it in Delver decks; where it was another fragile, hard to defend threat. In a Mardu deck though, you proactively disarm your opponent before sticking the Pyro. Then as you continue to disrupt the opponent you amass an army. In particular, getting a third token (even one without flying) out of each Lingering Souls use is wild value. The deck even went light on white so that it could mainboard Blood Moon; giving them a better Tron matchup than GBx had.
So where has it gone? It ran into two key issues. Being vulnerable to hate and being replaced. At the time it rose, the hip grave hate was Grafdigger’s Cage which shut off a couple flashback spells but let them go off with Bedlam Reveler without issue. In more recent times, graveyard hate is more common and it usually wipes out the entire graveyard. This was also a component in it being replaced. An advantage that GBx had was that grave hate did nothing but hit Goyf. A key strength of GBx is that no sideboard card really disables their gameplan. Opponents can only reinforce their own. Mardu also lost its advantage in land hate. The Blood Moons helped a touch but the Tron matchup was still unfavorable.
Now GBx has dropped the x so that they can use Field of Ruin. Then they gained Trophy, which with Surgical really locks it down postboard. Midrange strategies in general have suffered through late 2018 into 2019, with only straight Golgari placing consistently. Much of what made Mardu unique has eroded away. It is possible that metagame shifts or new cards could bring it back though. Mardu is the midrange deck that beats midrange decks after all. Modern Horizons was also interesting with Lava Dart, Kaya’s Guile, and Seasoned Pyromancer. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this in the near future.
This is our most recent inclusion. Just a year ago, Core Set 2019 brought Supreme Phantom to Modern and quickly launched Bant Spirits out of Tier 3. 2018 was the year of Humans but by the end of it, Spirits had clearly surpassed it. Relative to Humans, the Spirits were individually less powerful but unlike Humans the deck had true lords; a cheap one and a protective one. If they managed to get two Drogskol Captains, legitimately or via Phantasmal Image, spot removal was locked out entirely.
The largest advantage it had over Humans though was the potential to play non-creature spells. Humans does not have much desire for Collected Company, despite it being an Aether Vial deck it benefits little from flash. Spirits though can cast it and actively holds up mana for Spell Queller. They also have access to the premium white cards of the format. Path to Exile in the main with RiP and Stony out of the side. Reflector Mage does an admirable imitation but there really was no substitute for the sideboard cards. Then in the head to head matchup, Spirits was significantly favored. Imagine a mirror where one player has evasion and the other player has a bunch of cards that are bad in the mirror; Thalia, Meddling Mage, etc.
So if it was a better version of 2018’s best deck, how did it disappear so early in 2019? Again, there were two factors at play. The first is internal friction. Collected Company was a key reason to run the deck. However, this forced the deck to run off-tribe mana dorks to run it out. This means fewer Spirits to be pumped and worse Companies. The deck also was too reactive at times for a tribal deck. So they trimmed Birds for Vials and I personally believe that this was the worst build of the deck. Aether Vial and Collected Company absolutely hate one another. Every Vial in the deck is one fewer hit for Company. Every Company in hand is one fewer creature to Vial into play. A key benefit of Vial is that it lets you skimp on lands. Company will always require four mana regardless of your Vial. The deck was pulled in two directions and was much worse for it in my opinion.
The second factor was the rise of Izzet Phoenix. This deck decimates Spirits but struggles against Humans. At the time of this writing, Izzet Phoenix has been the most represented deck in the Top 32 of every GP at which it was legal. That is currently seven straight. In addition, Stony Silence is the worst it has ever been. Even when that changes, Humans now has access to the effect in Collector Ouphe. That being said, I do believe Azorious Spirits is perfectly viable right now. It does lack high level results. But in certain metagames, and in the head-to-head, it is superior to Humans. If the format changes significantly, the speed in particular, I could see a classic dorks with Company build being resurrected though.
We do hope that you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. These decks may not put up high-level results, but please do not get upset. If you enjoy the archetype, play it anyways. Perhaps you will be the one to revive it. After all, this is Modern and the “Other” category outperforms the best decks by far. Are there any long-forgotten decks that hold a spot in your heart? Are there any recent printings that you think could revive them? Tell us about it in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.