Where We’ve Been: A Study of Pro Tour Modern Decks

Last week, I wrote an article detailing the history behind Modern’s extensive banlist, complete with Wizards’ official announcements and an analysis of each. This was, by far, my most popular article to date in the almost six months that I’ve been writing for Modern Nexus. This week, I plan on approaching another Modern topic in similar style: the history of Modern’s best decks! Maybe I’m just a sucker for nostalgia and the romance of the stage, but there is something about the finals of a high-level Magic event that excites me. Maybe it’s the significant cash winnings on the line. Maybe it’s the trial by fire narrative of perseverance that comes from two players fighting through a gigantic field to square off gladiator-style. Maybe it’s the impeccable, brilliant commentary that accompanies Pro Tours.

Dig Through Time art

Whatever it is, I have an infatuation with the big lights that’s only grown since reaching it myself. With Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch coming in February, let’s take a look at where we’ve been.

Pro Tour Philadelphia – September 2-4, 2011

Top 8 Decklists

2 Pyromancer Ascension
2 Splinter Twin
1 Mono-Red Affinity
1 Mono-Blue Infect
1 Counter Cat Zoo
1 R/G 12Post Breach

Finals – Samuele Estratti vs. Josh Utter-Leyton

*(match starts at 11:10)*

Pro Tour Philadelphia will forever be remembered as the first Modern Pro Tour showcasing all of the broken strategies Wizards “missed” in their initial banning. Focusing primarily on the Affinity enablers, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, and some broken combo pieces, Wizards ultimately missed Blazing Shoal and Cloudpost. Blazing Shoal combo’d with either Progenitus or Dragonstorm to one-shot opponent’s with infect damage in Sam Black’s Mono-Blue Infect, and Jesse Hampton showed the world what Cloudpost could do alongside Vesuva in a supercharged BreachPost Ramp deck that makes RG Tron look like child’s play.

On the fairer side of the table, Ponder and Preordain both had 20 copies in the Top 8 among five decks. For those counting at home, that’s 62.5% of the Top 8 playing Ponder/Preordain, (three separate archetypes) and all decks played the full four of both. Of the three decks that chose not to play the blue cantrips, two played a playset of Green Sun’s Zenith, which would also see a banning after the tournament.

But enough of that. The champion and runner-up!

Splinter Twin, Samuele Estratti (1st, Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011)

Creatures (11)
Deceiver Exarch
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Spellskite
Pestermite

Sorceries (12)
Ponder
Preordain
Firespout
Sleight of Hand

Instants (10)
Pact of Negation
Disrupting Shoal
Dispel
Remand
Lightning Bolt

Enchantments (4)
Splinter Twin

Land (23)
Mountain
Cascade Bluffs
Island
Steam Vents
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Breeding Pool
Sideboard (15)
Ancient Grudge
Dismember
Spellskite
Blood Moon
Engineered Explosives
Deprive
Vendilion Clique
Lightning Bolt
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Oh, come on! The very first Modern Pro Tour is won by Splinter Twin, even in a field as broken as that old Wild West was?! Turns out Ponder and Preordain were just as broken as everything else, and Estratti dispatched Utter-Leyton 3-1 in an awesome finals match that saw Estratti winning twice with the combo and once with a “devastating” Blood Moon against Utter-Leyton’s board full of dual lands. I love this list, as it contains a lot of cool gems that really date it as a 2011 deck (maindeck Pact of Negation, ONE Lightning Bolt!?!) and yet we still see how much Twin has remained the same in over four years. Keep in mind that Snapcaster Mage was not yet legal (as Innistrad would release later that month). When we factor in the changes that Snapcaster Mage and the Ponder/Preordain banning had on this deck, we see that not much else has changed since. Go ahead and throw some Pact of Negation in your maindeck likes its 1999! (fine, 2011).

Counter-Cat, Josh Utter-Leyton (2nd, Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011)

Creatures (18)
Wild Nacatl
Noble Hierarch
Tarmogoyf
Qasali Pridemage
Gaddock Teeg
Knight of the Reliquary

Sorceries (4)
Green Sun’s Zenith

Planeswalkers (2)
Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Instants (14)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Lightning Helix
Bant Charm

Lands (22)
Marsh Flats
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Arid Mesa
Horizon Canopy
Temple Garden
Steam Vents
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Tectonic Edge
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Plains
Sideboard (15)
Gideon Jura
Qasali Pridemage
Aven Mindcensor
Flashfreeze
Unified Will
Rule of Law
Grim Lavamancer
Tectonic Edge
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This deck just looks so gross. A big Naya Zoo deck that splashes blue for Bant Charm and six more counterspells in the board?! Clearly this deck existed before Affinity and Burn showed up to crash the party, as that manabase looks so painful. Counter-Cat was designed as a hard-hitting aggro deck that could present a fast clock and then sit back with counterspells against a field full of combo. The added benefit of playing 11 removal spells helped it rise above all the other aggro decks in the field (and above Infect). This deck couldn’t really compete after the banning of Green Sun’s Zenith, but I think its spirit lives on in the form of both Knightfall and Naya Company.

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica (Seattle, USA) – October 19-21, 2012

Top 8 Decklists

3 Jund
1 Affinity
1 Eggs
1 Scapeshift
1 Infect
1 Jeskai Geist

Finals – Stanislav Cifka vs. Yuuya Watanabe

With Wild Nacatl banned after Worlds 2011, 2012 saw the rise of Jund as Deathrite Shaman and Bloodbraid Elf overpowered everything else in the format. The Top 8 of Pro Tour RTR saw three Jund decks demolishing the field, denying Splinter Twin even a single slot in the Top 8. Jund was truly the “best deck” of 2012, but for the Pro Tour, Stanislav Cifka had other ideas…

Eggs, Stanislav Cifka (1st, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica 2012)

Sorceries (16)
Second Sunrise
Faith’s Reward
Serum Visions
Sleight of Hand
Gitaxian Probe

Artifacts (25)
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Conjurer’s Bauble
Elsewhere Flask
Lotus Bloom
Reshape
Pyrite Spellbomb

Instants (2)
Silence

Lands (17)
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Plains
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Island
Sideboard (15)
Silence
Leyline of Sanctity
Pithing Needle
Echoing Truth
Nihil Spellbomb
Grafdigger’s Cage
Grapeshot
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Either you love this deck or hate it: it’s not close. Yuuya Watanabe definitely did not enjoy it, as he famously fiddled with dice for most of the match as Cifka combo’ed off, sighing all the way. Eggs abused the power of Second Sunrise and Faith’s Reward alongside Reshape for Lotus Bloom to burn through its deck in a flurry of non-interaction, eventually killing with a recycled Pyrite Spellbomb or Grapeshot out of the sideboard. While Second Sunrise would eventually be banned, Cifka showed the world the unrealized power of Eggs as he went 15-1 through the Swiss, and 3-0 in the Top 8, with one of the most intricate, perfectly built puzzles I have ever seen. To this day, I can’t get over the playset of Silence (one of my favorite “gotcha” cards ever) and Leyline of Sanctity between the maindeck and board. I can appreciate a deck that embraces what it is, and Eggs pushed the limit of solitaire in Magic and made for an oft-maligned but nevertheless memorable experience.

Jund, Yuuya Watanabe (2nd, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica 2011)

Creatures (19)
Deathrite Shaman
Tarmogoyf
Dark Confidant
Kitchen Finks
Bloodbraid Elf

Instants (7)
Lightning Bolt
Victim of Night
Abrupt Decay

Sorceries (6)
Thoughtseize
Inquisition of Kozilek

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil

Lands (24)
Treetop Village
Blackcleave Cliffs
Verdant Catacombs
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Twilight Mire
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Blood Crypt
Swamp
Forest
Sideboard (15)
Batterskull
Slaughter Games
Pyroclasm
Grafdigger’s Cage
Ancient Grudge
Olivia Voldaren
Jund Charm
Abrupt Decay
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The pinnacle of Jund in its Bloodbraid Elf days, Yuuya Watanabe brought to battle a primarily B/G deck that only lightly splashed red for Bloodbraid and Lightning Bolt. Instead, Yuuya found a way to play a full playset of Treetop Village (over the now universally adopted Raging Ravine). Deathrite Shaman is partially to blame for this, as it demanded B/G mana to activate abilities, yet could also be used to provide red mana itself or that crucial second black.

Pro Tour Born of the Gods (Valencia, Spain) – February 21-23, 2014

Top 8 Decklists

1 Melira Pod
1 Affinity
1 Storm
1 Tarmo-Twin
1 Jeskai Control
1 U/R Twin
1 Blue Moon
1 Jeskai Twin

Finals – Shaun McLaren vs. Jacob Wilson

This tournament featured so many amazing storylines. Whether Patrick Dickmann’s innovative Tarmo-Twin deck, the Chinese-born Blue Moon, or the eight different archetypes in the Top 8, I highly suggest going back and watching coverage of this tournament for anyone that missed it or has a Saturday to spare.

Jeskai Control, Shaun McLaren (1st, Pro Tour Born of the Gods 2014)

Creatures (5)
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Instants (26)
Sphinx’s Revelation
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Spell Snare
Remand
Mana Leak
Lightning Helix
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command

Sorceries (1)
Anger of the Gods

Planeswalkers (2)
Ajani Vengeant

Lands (26)
Celestial Colonnade
Tectonic Edge
Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Sulfur Falls
Hallowed Fountain
Steam Vents
Sacred Foundry
Island
Mountain
Plains
Sideboard (15)
Izzet Staticaster
Relic of Progenitus
Stony Silence
Counterflux
Timely Reinforcements
Anger of the Gods
Threads of Disloyalty
Crucible of Worlds
Celestial Purge
Logic Knot
Wear // Tear
Porphyry Nodes
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This finals is in my Top 5 of favorite all-time matches. Not only does it feature Shaun McLaren (one of my favorite pro players) and Jeskai Control (a deck I’ve wanted to succeed for a long time), it features the titan of 2013 Magic (Melira Pod) vs. a deck designed to beat it (Jeskai Control). Plus, LSV coverage:

“You’re not a kind person, are you?” – Rich Hagon
“I’m a kind of person.” – LSV

While Jund Midrange would eventually return to punish control decks relying on Sphinx’s Revelation, Thoughtseize was relatively absent from the late rounds of this event, allowing Shaun to bury opponents in card advantage and inevitability on the way to the championship. This is an excellent example of the stars aligning for arguably the most proficient player in an archetype bringing the best version of his pet deck to an event and just running the tables (and yes, Cifka’s Eggs comes close as well).

Melira Pod, Jacob Wilson (2nd, Pro Tour Born of the Gods 2014)

Artifacts (4)
Birthing Pod

Creatures (28)
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Wall of Roots
Voice of Resurgence
Qasali Pridemage
Scavenging Ooze
Spellskite
Eternal Witness
Kitchen Finks
Orzhov Pontiff
Ranger of Eos
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Murderous Redcap
Shriekmaw
Reveillark
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Viscera Seer

Instants (5)
Abrupt Decay
Chord of Calling

Lands (23)
Verdant Catacombs
Misty Rainforest
Overgrown Tomb
Godless Shrine
Temple Garden
Forest
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery
Razorverge Thicket
Gavony Township
Sideboard (15)
Scavenging Ooze
Sin Collector
Entomber Exarch
Path to Exile
Slaughter Pact
Thoughtseize
Obstinate Baloth
Harmonic Sliver
Kataki, War’s Wage
Voice of Resurgence
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For those unfamiliar with Birthing Pod, Jacob Wilson’s version was perfect for the time. A literal combo deck that just did crazy unfair things every time it cast Birthing Pod, Melira Pod could beat down, threaten a combo kill, or disrupt opponents with “prison” style toolbox creatures. The worst thing about this deck was that it could often smoothly do all three at the same time. While I had just built this deck a month or two before its eventual banning, I was able to play with the deck a few times and its hard to describe the feeling of untapping with Birthing Pod, a board full of creatures, and infinite options.

Pro Tour Fate Reforged (Washington, DC) – February 6-8, 2015

Top 8 Decklists

2 Burn
3 Abzan
2 U/R Twin
1 Amulet Bloom

This event, as the Top 8 shows, was the Twin vs. Abzan show, and in my opinion relatively boring. Justin Cohen was the lone bright spot in the Top 8, bringing to battle a rogue Amulet Bloom deck that had been floating around on the internet for a while before the event. Seeing two copies of Burn in the Top 8 was definitely interesting, as it demolished the perception that pro players wouldn’t play a “deck like that”.

Finals – Justin Cohen vs. Antonio Del Moral Leon

U/R Twin, Antonio Del Moral Leon (1st, Pro Tour Fate Reforged 2015)

Enchantments (4)
Splinter Twin

Creatures (11)
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Deceiver Exarch
Pestermite

Instants (16)
Peek
Dispel
Electrolyze
Spell Snare
Cryptic Command
Remand
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (5)
Serum Visions
Flame Slash

Land (24)
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Sulfur Falls
Stomping Ground
Steam Vents
Desolate Lighthouse
Tectonic Edge
Mountain
Island
Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Flame Slash
Keranos, God of Storms
Blood Moon
Spellskite
Negate
Ancient Grudge
Pyroclasm
Threads of Disloyalty
Jace, Architect of Thought
Shatterstorm
Anger of the Gods
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The circle is now complete. Twin won the first Pro Tour and, in the hands of Antonio del Moral Leon, Splinter Twin is now the reigning Modern Pro Tour archetype champion (at least until Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in February). This list looks almost completely current, though we do see a dated Flame Slash that has now become unplayable thanks to delve creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

Amulet Bloom, Justin Cohen (2nd, Pro Tour Fate Reforged 2015)

Artifacts (4)
Amulet of Vigor

Sorceries (12)
Serum Visions
Ancient Stirrings
Summer Bloom

Creatures (7)
Primeval Titan
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Simian Spirit Guide

Instants (7)
Summoner’s Pact
Pact of Negation
Slaughter Pact

Enchantments (3)
Hive Mind

Lands (27)
Khalni Garden
Vésuva
Slayers’ Stronghold
Boros Garrison
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Radiant Fountain
Tendo Ice Bridge
Mana Confluence
Forest
Golgari Rot Farm
Selesnya Sanctuary
Gemstone Mine
Tolaria West
Gruul Turf
Simic Growth Chamber
Cavern of Souls
Sideboard (15)
Leyline of Sanctity
Thragtusk
Hornet Queen
Firespout
Pyroclasm
Nature’s Claim
Seal of Primordium
Swan Song
Ghost Quarter
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Wurmcoil Engine
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And here we are at last! The hottest thing on the block in Modern, Amulet Bloom has had everyone talking about the deck non-stop since its explosive emergence in the hands of Justin Cohen.  Not much has changed since this version of the deck first appeared, primarily because the maindeck is very tight, but we do see more Swan Song and Seal of Primordium in the sideboard now that we didn’t see back then. Check out Michael Sigrist’s 9th place Bloom finish at Grand Prix Pittsburgh for a comparison!

Conclusion

So there we have it, the first and second place lists of every Modern Pro Tour since the format’s inception in 2011. While there are many other amazing decks worthy of discussion we didn’t get to (Blue Moon, Tarmo Twin, the evolution of Affinity) these eight decks tell an interesting narrative of the evolution of the format on the world’s biggest stage. What do you think? Do you have a favorite Pro Tour deck? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

6 thoughts on “Where We’ve Been: A Study of Pro Tour Modern Decks

  1. Another great article! This really paints a bigger picture on how Modern is shaping, esp. considering it’s only been around for over 4 years. I feel this game is a good investment overall! As far as future “history of” articles, I think I would like to see a history of rouge decks that make appearances in Top 8’s, why they succeeded, and how they shaped the meta, if at all. Thanks again!

  2. Hi Trevor! I must say, thst i rly like your latest articles as i like other articles 😀
    P.S. please, in your wideo series play more intresting (or even underrated and unkown) decks. And if you could write in those articles decklist of deck You are plaing it would be great.
    See You in next article! 😀

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