FaceToFace Open+ Prep: How to win in Modern

Modern’s a competitive nightmare. You have to beat 20 different five per cent decks and at least two of them are a miserable matchup for whatever you end up choosing to play. Want to play fair … How do you beat Tron? Want to Burn em’ out? There’s a deck with four maindeck Kitchen Finks.

For the last two weeks I’ve been working on various fair Modern decklists for the Face to Face Games Open + this Saturday Sept.16, and experimenting with Zvi Mowshowitz’ Elephant deckbuilding method. This method asks you to build a 60 card deck for each matchup you want to beat, and then construct your 75 from that. Given how painstaking the dissection of Modern has been for me, I figured I’d run you through my process and how I’ve figured out how to win in this fickle environment. With a little luck, I’ll see you in Top 8 on Saturday.

Choose what you want to beat

You simply cannot beat every deck in Modern. There are too many moving parts and unique strategies to try to build a deck that beats it all. With this in mind matchups rule the format, and you’re going to want to make a calculated decision about what it is you want to beat, and the even harder decision—what you’re going to ignore.

For this weekend I’ll be playing traditional Abzan with the unique addition of Dark Confidants. Here are the decks I feel are the major contenders in the format at the Open:

  • U/R Storm
  • Eldrazi Tron
  • Titan Shift
  • Abzan
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow
  • Counters Company
  • Affinity
  • Burn

I’ve chosen Abzan because I think it’s the deck I can build to maximize the number of positive matchups against these eight decks, while also having a powerful “in-a-vacuum” game plan. Lingering Souls gets better every week people still register Death’s Shadow and with Tron players playing Eldrazi your removal spells and sweepers can swing one of the format’s worst matchups into something closer.

I’ve decided I will be virtually conceding the Titan Shift matchup. I’m going to play zero sideboard cards that target the deck and instead maximize beating matchups I feel are close like Burn and Eldrazi Tron. This is something I value very highly in Modern deckbuilding and is something I don’t think players do nearly enough. Even with four copies of Fulminator Mage and some Surgical Extractions my matchup simply won’t be good enough to justify the heavy sideboard consideration. I’ve chosen that I want to beat Grixis Death’s Shadow, Burn and creature decks, and that’s how I’m going to build my deck.

Sideboard with a plan

Matches of Modern are primarily won after sideboarding. The post-board answers in the format are just so good that it is integral that you have a full plan for every matchup. Because of this, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to simply upgrade cards the same kinds of cards in your maindeck like you would in Standard. Trading a Fatal Push for a Maelstrom Pulse or a Tidehollow Sculler for a Sin Collector just isn’t good enough. If you want to beat fair decks, bring in multiple copies of Bitterblossom. If you want to beat Dredge play Leylines or Rest in Peace. This format’s about haymakers, not jabs.

With the importance of these plans in mind, I think it’s also important to maximize the sheer number of sideboard cards you’re bringing to the table across the expected metagame. This is what lead me to not tune my deck for Titan Shift, because I want to maximize the flexibility of my sideboard. An example of this is Damnation versus Creeping Corrosion. One is slightly better against specifically Affinity and Lantern Control but the other comes in against so many more matchups and is a perennial haymaker. If you’re not bringing in 6-8 sideboard cards in a large number of matchups (with the exception synergy focused decks) you probably need to tune your sideboard.

Abzan, Keith Capstick

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Dark Confidant
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Siege Rhino
1 Tireless Tracker
4 Thoughtseize
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Collective Brutality
4 Path to Exile
2 Fatal Push
1 Abrupt Decay
2 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Lingering Souls
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Marsh Flats
1 Windswept Heath
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
2 Shambling Vent
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Swamp
1 Forest
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Collective Brutality
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Damnation
2 Tireless Tracker
2 Stony Silence
1 Flaying Tendrils

My Tireless Trackers and I will see you on the battlefield tomorrow Morning at Seneca College. Choose what you want to beat and sideboard for a heavyweight fight. I haven’t been this excited to battle in a while.