How to Pick a Deck in Modern?

Branco Neirynck


When being part of a group and talking about personal strengths, some people say they are good at new limited formats, others say they are good at deckbuilding or technical play. I think my biggest strength when it comes to competitive Magic is choosing the right deck and equipping it with a good sideboard in established formats, such as Modern and Legacy.

A lot of the articles out there focus on building a deck and sideboard from scratch but this is not the reality; most people just start off copying a decklist. The goal of this article is to help you understand some key aspects when choosing a deck and get your 75 for the next tournament. I will focus on Modern in this article as that is the format I’m most familiar with. The way I setup the article is that I’m giving some theory and then apply it to my recent GP top 8 finish in Stockholm with Jeskai Control in Modern. I finish the article with a bonus section including my updated Jeskai list.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Deck Choice

Modern is defined & very wide format, good decks are there to stay. Of course there is always room to innovate, for example the inclusion of 《Crackling Drake》 in Blue Moon which you can read about here. Modern being a defined format means that once you sit down and start your first game, after a couple of turns you know exactly what your opponent is playing and how the matchup should play out. Knowing your deck and all possible matchups (there are a lot in Modern) is very important.

There is always a trade-off between playing your “pet” deck which you know perfectly and a deck that’s probably better in the current meta. On average, you should aim to play at least 40 matches with a deck before competing in a GP. At least for me, that’s when I get comfortable playing a deck in Modern, which doesn’t mean that I play it perfectly. You need this amount of matches to get a good grasp of the deck itself, the matchups, small tricks and sideboarding. Because of this you might not get the best results the first few leagues you play with a new deck.

When it comes to choosing a deck to play, I scan through the results of tournaments in the last month, searching for opportunities to beat the current metagame with either my pet deck or a new deck. That brings us to a new question, what is the metagame? People are drawn to decks that have consistent top 8 results in big tournaments like GPs and PT but also to decks that are newly designed and have 1 good result in such a tournament. The newly designed decks aren’t necessarily better but they get better results in the first few weeks because opponents don’t know how to play against them.

Goryo's Vengeance

One example is the 《Goryo's Vengeance》 deck which had a breakout finish in GP Charlotte 2015.

The week after GP Copenhagen was happened and I played against the deck 4 times. Luckily I predicted this and played a deck that was very well equipped to beat it which resulted in my first Modern GP top 8.

Krark-Clan Ironworks

Another more recent example is 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》 (KCI) piloted by Matt Nass.

Also, a percentage of the players will always play their pet deck in Modern. Yes, sometimes you will have to play against UB Mill or Eldrazi Tron and losing against those decks feels very bad but you have to accept it.

Personally, I have 2 pet decks in Modern: 5C Humans and Grixis Delver (Yes, I’m serious!). I play those decks on a high level and would play them over any other deck if I didn’t have any time to test, no matter the metagame. After GP Prague this year I was a little bit bored with 5C Humans and realizing GP Stockholm was in 2 weeks I tried to analyze the metagame and searched for opportunities.

I thought the following decks would be popular in Stockholm:

Considering these were the decks I wanted to beat I started thinking about the bad matchups for those. The first 3 have 1 thing in common: they don’t do very well vs cheap interaction. Jeskai Control is by far the worst matchup for 5C Humans exactly for this reason. I also didn’t feel unfavored against UW control after playing some matches so I decided to spend my week before the GP playing this deck. Since there also was a Jeskai Control top 8 in Prague piloted by arguably the best Jeskai Control player in the world I was happy to copy his deck list to start things off.


Sideboarding is a crucial part in Modern & Magic in general. More games are played after sideboarding than before. The perfect sideboard and sideboardplan wins you matches. Nothing annoys me more than asking someone why he/she is playing a specific card in the sideboard and the answer is because player X played it. Well guess what, player X can be the world champion but that doesn’t matter, you need to understand why a card is in the sideboard… How else can you use it to its full potential?

When first seeing a decklist, if I have no clue why a card is there, I will start to play without it. This doesn’t mean that you have to forget about the card, keep it in mind while playing and you can add it again if needed. I also advice to search for more decklist of the deck you are copying to compare sideboard options.

Shattering SpreeStony SilenceCreeping Corrosion

You might copy a list that has a lot of artifact hate in sideboard but that could be because the pilot was expecting a lot of Affinity, KCI, 《Hardened Scales》 or 《Ensnaring Bridge》. Copying a list from a 5-0 Magic Online league is even more dangerous as this deck only had to defeat 5 decks which doesn’t necessarily represent the meta. Adjust your sideboard to the metagame you want to be prepared against.

This may seem obvious but just copying a list and sideboard is one of the most common traps I see grinders walk into. This is lot of work, try to find a friend who plays the same deck so you can prepare together for a tournament, which should reduce the workload by a huge amount. Also, working together with someone or a group of people is way more fun and will help you to not get bored.

For GP Stockholm, I copied Javier Doming (q) uez his list to start with and in the end my sideboard only had 1 card different from what he played with 2 weeks before: -1 《Surgical Extraction》 +1 《Ceremonious Rejection》.

Ceremonious Rejection

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t play with anything else, actually, the sideboard looked totally different after the first few leagues, I tried out:

《Rest in Peace》:

Rest in Peace

After Pro Tour 25th Anniversary the Bridgevine deck was super hyped so it was clear to me that Javier wanted to defeat that deck. I figured the deck would be less popular and 《Rest in Peace》 seemed like a better card vs Dredge. However, 《Surgical Extraction》 is also essential to defeat Tron with the 《Field of Ruin》 combo.

《Spell Pierce》:

Spell Pierce

I thought 《Spell Pierce》 would be a lot better in the mirror as you can also counter a 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 and 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》. However, nobody would ever cast a 《Jace》 or 《Teferi》 with only 4 or 5 mana. Also, having the initial also is never the problem, it’s more about winning the counter war and for this 《Dispel》 is just so much better than 《Spell Pierce》.

《Damping Sphere》:

Damping Sphere

I tried this card instead of 《Vendilion Clique》 against combo. I realized soon though that when you play against either UR Storm or KCI you can’t sit back and relax as a control player, you need to actively have a plan to beat them. A 3/1 flash that disrupts your opponents hand helps you a lot with setting a clock and forcing them to go for the combo.

Going down to 1 《Baneslayer Angel》:

Baneslayer Angel

At first I thought that it wasn’t a good idea anymore to run multiple angels because the word was out. Playing against UW Control and Jeskai Control with an aggressive strategy, you should always expect your opponent bringing in those angels. But the thing is, it is not easy for those decks to keep in answers.

Reflector MageDismember

For example 5C Humans, do you really want to leave in 《Reflector Mage》 and/or put in 《Dismember》? And how many of those effects do you keep in? As a control player you draw more cards than your opponent so if your opponent brings in 2 《Dismember》, statistically, you will draw more angels than your opponent draws multiple 《Dismember》. And if it sticks, you straight up win the game.

Updated Jeskai Control Decklist

Creeping Chill

As for now, we’ll have to wait to see if the hype about 《Creeping Chill》 in Dredge is justified. If it is, I wouldn’t advise playing Jeskai as it is probably the worst matchup.

For now, the only change in the maindeck is adding a 《Settle the Wreckage》 as that card is crucial to beat that deck. I’m still liking 《Secure the Wastes》 over a 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 because of 《Assassin's Trophy》. In the sideboard, there are a couple of changes. Now that the hype about Hardened Scales vanished, I cut the 《Ceremonious Rejection》 to have an additional 《Surgical Extraction》.

Other decks that gained popularity are Burn & Jund so I made small changes in the sideboard to adapt to those decks.


Choosing a metagame deck over a pet deck can be really beneficial if you have the time to practice. Be very critical of the list you are copying and try to improve the sideboard for the metagame you expect. Choosing the correct deck is a very important part in competitive Magic, I am proof of this as I’m a Gold Level Player while I don’t think my technical play skills are the strongest.

If you have any questions you can contact me on Twitter or Facebook.

Friendly greetings,


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