I love reading about Modern. Like I really love it. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading about my favorite deck, Ad Nauseam, or an odd deck that performed well in a Modern Leagues – I just really enjoy enveloping myself in the Modern format. A few days ago, TCGPlayer writer Adam Yurchick published an article highlighting some of the most interesting and innovative decks that finished in the Top-8 of the World Magic Cup Qualifiers this past week. As expected, the featured decks were doing wacky things and advancing unorthodox strategies to not only catch opponents by surprise, but also win the game.
As I was browsing the lists that Yurchick included in his article, I began to notice a trend. Granted, what I observed is not necessarily reflective of the Modern format at this moment in time, but I think it does speak to a shift that we might begin to see moving forward. Yurchick included a number of control decks in his article – a Mardu build, two Pyromancer’s Ascension builds, a Jeskai build. The one thing that they all hand in common was that these decks only ran a total for four main-deck creatures.
Why is this not reflective of the current Modern format? These decks accomplished a Top-8 finish at various World Magic Qualifiers around the world. Not only is this a small sample-size of decks, but it is also a small time-frame in which to analyze a metagame. The lists that Yurchick provided in his article are not necessarily mainstream, and are not lists that we see consistently achieving Top-8, or even Top-16 finishes, which also speaks to the fact that we must take these decks with a large grain of salt.
With that being said, these lists might suggest trends that we will observe in the Modern format in the future. Why is running four creatures in your main-deck potentially a positive shift? An incredibly large portion of the Modern metagame right now is running creature removal in their main-deck. According to MTGTop8.com, Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are the two most popular non-lands cards being played in Modern right now, being played in 43% and 25% of decks respectively. If you are only playing four creatures in your main deck, suddenly a significant number of cards in your opponents’ deck are greatly nullified. And if you are playing less creatures, presumably you are playing more spells that deal with decks that do not run Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt like Infect or Tron. So this trend of playing a deck with less creatures may position a player well in this Modern format to deal with decks that run high amounts of creature removal as well as decks that do not.
Obviously, a lot of what is being considered here is speculation. The deck that is being played is clearly very important in deciding whether or not playing four creatures is a smart move. So let us look at a list from Adam Yurchick’s article to see what is going on with these four-creature decks.
Now this deck finished in first place at a World Magic Cup Qualifier in China on the 21st of July. Mardu is not a particularly popular color combination in Modern, and especially not so in a Control archetype. However, that is exactly what this deck’s pilot, Yu Yin, chose to do. This deck plays four main-deck creatures in four Wall of Omens. Emrakul should not be counted as a creature, as the opponent never lives to see it stick on board, and it’s very hard to kill it. Wall of Omens provides value as it enters the battlefield, and cannot be killed with a Lightning Bolt. Furthermore, if an opponent for any reasons decides to Path to Exile your Wall of Omens, you will get two cards for your opponent’s one, which is strictly value. This is how running four creatures in this case plays well against opposing decks with creature removal.
Looking at the spells in this deck, it consists of many removal spells and hand disruption. Not playing creatures allows this deck to have a large number of good cards against Infect, Tron, Zoo, and other decks that may not run much creature removal. Already, this Mardu Control deck is well positioned in this Modern format. Finally, looking at the finishers in this deck, Planeswalkers have proven to be threats that are difficult to answer, which is yet another point that makes this deck look very powerful, and Emrakul is, as previously mentioned, really hard to lose with.
Another deck that Yurchick highlighted in his article that runs four main-deck creatures is a Pyromancer’s Asencion deck playing four Thing in the Ice.
As you can see with this deck which finished in second place at a World Magic Cup Qualifier in Japan, playing four creatures that have toughness high enough to evade Lightning Bolt can be pretty effective. The primary different between this list and the list of Yu Yin that we talked about earlier is that this deck’s pilot, Kenta Harane, focused his deck on the four-of creature whereas in the aforementioned list the four-of creature was present purely for value purposes.
While these decks are quite different in both decklist and overall aim, what is similar between the two is that both pilots believed that running fewer creatures and a higher number of impactful spells might have positive results, and in these cases they were correct. Now will we see this strategy continue in the future? I think it is possible. There is definitely merit to this type of deckbuilding. Is there still merit to playing more than four creatures in your deck? Obviously. Plenty of decks in Modern only function because of their high creature count, or because of specific creatures. I think there is a space for these types of deck to thrive, but I do not see it becoming the majority in Modern any time soon.