I spend quite a bit of time thinking about Standard and building Standard decks. I didn’t used to play a lot of Standard, but I’ve taken to hitting FNM regularly for the last year or two, and with some investment in cards I’ve been able to consistently put up 3-1 and 2-2 finishes with my own brews. Turns out I like a format with a bit of churn, and I was helped by a drive to open packs during Kahns block, trying to open fetchlands, as well as BFZ block, where I just wanted to get my hands on as many full-art basic lands as possible. As I exhaust my collection of old decks that I have lying around or in my head, I’ll probably be posting more Standard lists. I’m sure I’ll be tackling Hedron Alignment at some point, and Madness is a mechanic that is very exciting to see back in Standard.
But there comes a time when you just want to win. Sure, I could keep up with competitive Standard, but the churn of the format means that even if I always have the best deck, I might not always get in the practice with it to really excel. For example, I had a Rally the Ancestors deck for a while and did quite well at FNM with it. I never ever played a perfect game with that deck.
Which is why I like Modern. The non-rotating nature of the format means that once you lock in a deck, you get to practice without fear of having to learn how the next iteration works. I have two Modern decks, Burn and Affinity, which specialize in doing exactly one thing: make the other guy dead. My builds aren’t particularly special, so I’ll go ahead and share both of them.
My list is mostly 4-ofs, and I like it that way. I’ve toyed with bigger strategies based on Steel Overseer, Etched Champion and more a more diverse removal package. Overseer is unreliable because you have to untap with it, and I’ve had bad results with drawing multiples and either not having a critical mass of creatures, or not being able to deploy the extra copies in a timely manner. The singleton Steel Overseer allows me to still play out that strategy, and makes my opponent have to prepare for it, without choking out more important 2 drops like Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating.
Etched Champion, on the other hand, truly excels in some matchups, such as Abzan, B/W Tokens, and really any deck relying on either spot removal or colored creatures to block. The one in the main gives me a non-flying, evasive threat, and the remaining three in the side are especially useful in games 2 and 3 to be able to dodge Ancient Grudge and other Disenchant effects.
Finally, I’ve found Thoughtcast to be a somewhat controversial choice, but I like it for 2 reasons. First, being in the mainboard allows me to press my game one advantage by allowing me to reload after dumping my hand on the table. The other reason is that most decks have their answers to Affinity in the sideboard, whether it be Stony Silence, Ancient Grudge, Hurkyl’s Recall or Nature’s Claim. Once those tools come into play, the Affinity pilot’s job gets a lot harder, and I need better options to interact. You’ll notice that the sideboard is basically all interaction; my sideboard is designed to beat your sideboard, save for a few small nods to Storm and graveyard strategies. Thoughtcast is often the first card I sideboard out, usually for Thoughtseize.
It’s been suggested that Thirst for Knowledge might be a worthy replacement for Thoughtcast. My experience with the deck though, is that I find the best results when I focus on the low to the ground aggro strategy. The difference between 1 and 3 mana is big in this deck, and a critical mass of spells is essential. So even when the mana is there, and this deck can generate unfair quantities of mana very early, I find it’s better to sink it into more spells rather than pay the extra for card selection.
My other Modern deck is more of a work in progress.
Burn is my new baby. I just picked up the last few Rift Bolts, Lava Spikes and Vexing Devils a few weeks ago, and while I couldn’t afford Goblin Guides, Monastery Swiftspear does a comparable job. I’ll be keeping an eye out to trade into them. Before I finished this deck, I played a version with proxies, and I know there’s a reason they command such a ridiculous price.
I’m still getting used to the deck, so I’m sure there will be changes as I improve my collection and as I gain experience with it. I’ll particularly have my eye on Grim Lavamancer and Vexing Devil, since in my research I found that many burn players cut copies of the former, and often don’t even play the latter. When I do get Goblin Guides, I’ll be looking at the Lavamancer and Devil slots to make cuts
Atarka’s Command is very good, but probably needs another Stomping Ground to support it and Destructive Revelry, and Deflecting Palm stretches my mana in a similar way while being much more narrow. If I can’t pick up another couple of shocklands, I’ll probably be looking to cut one or more of my splash colors, starting with white.
Flame Javelin is certainly better than Char, since all my lands produce red, but Exquisite Firecraft might be better than either (my Firecrafts are unfortunately in use elsewhere at the moment, but I’ll get around to trying one or more.) The addition of Goblin Guides might also make me reconsider whether I need a 4 damage for 3 mana burn spell.
The sideboard isn’t much to speak of, mostly because I’m still not sure if it’s built right. The few games I’ve played have shown that some number of Roast will be worth adding, since Siege Rhino just rotated, and people want to relive the days of Kahns Standard. I’m also pretty sure I should be looking for a couple Rending Volleys, since Thing in the Ice is getting some buzz, and the numbers on Blood Moon and Molten Rain will likely change going forward.
The main reason for putting together Burn when I already had a perfectly serviceable Affinity deck was that there are times when people pack so much hate that it’s basically not possible to win. This is why Mox Opal, Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager haven’t been banned, it’s always possible to just hate Affinity out. Anyway, I wanted a way to pivot when the target on my back got too big for comfort.
Affinity’s reputation for having the best game one in the format drew me to the deck in the first place. Burn is not as fast, but shares that same philosophy of ending the game blindingly fast, and all the copies of Lightning Bolt (12 in all, if you count Lava Spike, Shard Volley and Rift Bolt,) and other burn spells mean that I can interact more, especially with creatures, in game one. Meanwhile, they are both decks with solid mana and aggressive game plans, but where Affinity feels in many ways like a combo deck that can be disrupted by a savvy opponent, Burn feels more like aggro-control, with built in ways to readily interact.
I’m a Johnny right at my core, my greatest joy in Magic comes from playing weird brews and pulling off the occasional amazing win at the casual table. But sometimes I want to hang with the Spikes, maybe try to take home a few prize packs at a PPTQ. That’s when I break out a Modern deck.