Team Unified Modern is a brand new format that will debut at the World Magic Cup in Rotterdam on November 18 to 20. With the WMC being in a few day from today, it’s time to offer an overview and primer on the format.
Team Unified Constructed is not new, you may remember Team Unified Standard from the previous World Magic Cups. There, each team had to construct 3 decks with no more than 4 copies of any Standard legal card (except for basic lands) across them. In other words, each team had access to one trade binder with 4 of every card in Standard, along with as many basic lands as they wanted, and they had to build 3 decks from that pool. This year, two things have changed. First of all, we’re playing Modern instead of Standard. That much is obvious. But in addition, the rules of Unified Constructed have undergone a change. As announced earlier this year: “Unified Constructed will be undergoing a rules change. To build a legal deck for a Unified Constructed tournament, other than basic lands, no two decks on the same team may contain the same card. This will replace the previous rule of only being able to use a combined 4 of any non-basic-land card in any of your team’s decks. Modern Constructed is an expansive format, and we do not anticipate any shortage of options for teams playing in this tournament”.
So what this means is that if I have a Naya Burn deck with 1 Stomping Ground, then my teammate with Jund cannot play any copies of Stomping Ground anywhere in their deck, not even a single copy. Likewise, if I have a Bant Eldrazi deck with 1 Breeding Pool, then my teammate with Infect cannot play any copies of Breeding Pool anymore. Given that Modern mana bases often revolve around fetchlands with 1 copy of each appropriate shock dual, this new Unified Constructed rule has a massive impact.
The restriction leads to an interesting deck construction puzzle. Today, I’ll start with a list of pivotal Modern cards that can cause overlap between decks. This is essentially the input for the deeper analysis that I’ll do tomorrow, where I’ll provide the “best” 3 deck configurations with little to no overlap and offer my thoughts on the metagame implications.
There is a staggering number of viable decks in Modern, but we have to draw the line somewhere, as it’s fair to assume that most teams want to present three top-tier competitive decks. Based on recent metagame breakdowns from MTGGoldfish, I selected the 10 archetypes that were most played and best performing recently:
- Bant Eldrazi
- Naya Burn
- Death’s Shadow Zoo
- R/G Valakut
- Jeskai Control
In addition, I added 4 strong decks that do not rely on shock duals for their mana bases (and would thus, I think, not cause too much overlap):
- Ad Nauseam
By restricting myself to these 14 decks, I obviously left out a bunch of viable decks (such as Grixis Control, Delver, Abzan Company, Pyromancer Ascension, Living End, etc.) but I have to keep the analysis manageable, and all of these example decks may cause problematic overlap due to their shock dual mana bases.
I got reasonable lists of all the 14 selected archetypes, and the full resulting data set that I used is available here. With these 14 aggregate lists in hand, I then went over every single card (that is, I sorted the data set by card name) and noted all possible overlap. I split them up in reasonable categories for ease of overview.
Overlap in Key Cards
All cards in this category are crucial to the extent where your decks would get substantially weaker if they can’t play a certain card. Practically speaking, overlap from this category can cause decks to be mutually exclusive.
This is a 4 of in Bant Eldrazi and Tron. It offers a lot of consistency to these decks, and it will be hard to replace.
This is included as a 3 of or 4 of in both Death’s Shadow Zoo and Infect. It’s effectively a +12/+12 card for one mana in both decks, and I wouldn’t like to play either of them without it.
Same deal: 4 in Death’s Shadow Zoo and 4 in Infect. It appears that these 2 decks are mutually exclusive.
An easy 4 of in Affinity and Infect, and it’s the main overlap problem that these 2 decks face. Although I boost Inkmoth Nexus with Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating, the land is more important for Infect. If you really want to play both decks in the same team, then I could see replacing Affinity’s Inkmoth Nexus with Mutavault, Sanctum of Ugin (with Myr Enforcer), Sea Gate Wreckage, and/or just another basic land. It would weaken the deck, but it would still be playable.
A 3 of or 4 of in Jund and Abzan, but I also saw 2 copies in the sideboard of Death’s Shadow Zoo. That deck can probably go without, however.
Typically a 3 of in Jund, Abzan, and Death’s Shadow Zoo. It also sees play as a 1 of or 2 of in the sideboards of Affinity and Ad Nauseam, but it’s not as important for those decks.
Well, it’s a 4 of in Jund, Naya Burn, R/G Valakut, and Jeskai Control. That’s a lot of overlap! Of those decks, maybe R/G Valakut could go without, but the other decks would be much worse without Lightning Bolt. Additionally, it’s a 2 of in Death’s Shadow Zoo and is sometimes played in Tron, but it’s not as essential for those decks.
This is the other premium 1 mana removal spell in Modern. It’s a 4 of in the main deck of Bant Eldrazi, Abzan, and Jeskai Control, and it’s a 4 of in the sideboard of Naya Burn. Once again, that’s a huge amount of overlap! Moreover, if you opt for white in your Tron deck, then you will also want to have access to Path to Exile. Finally, it’s a 2 of in the sideboard of Death’s Shadow Zoo and Elves, but it’s probably not as important for those decks.
Liliana is a 4 of in Jund and Abzan. Clearly, these 2 decks are not compatible.
These are some of the best 1 drops for Naya Burn and Death’s Shadow Zoo, so both decks run 4. It will be hard to fit both decks together.
It’s a 3 of in most Abzan lists, but historically the deck has often gone without Noble Hierarch, so it’s not as essential. It’s more important in Bant Eldrazi and Infect, where it’s an easy 4 of and pretty hard to replace. You could run Birds of Paradise in Bant Eldrazi if need be, but it would be clearly worse.
A 4 of in Jeskai Control and Ad Nauseam. I wouldn’t play these decks without it.
It’s the best 2 drop for Jund and Abzan, and an essential 4 of in those decks that for reason. In addition, Death’s Shadow Zoo tends to run a few copies in their 75 as well.
Overlap in Sideboard Artifact Hate
Most Modern decks dedicate around 3 sideboard slots to anti Affinity cards, so there is bound to be a bit of overlap here.
Found in the sideboard of Affinity, Dredge, Jund, Death’s Shadow Zoo, and R/G Valakut, usually as a 2 of. Put simply, it’s one of the best anti Affinity hate cards for decks with access to both red and green mana, and it’s nearly essential in Dredge because it synergizes so well with their self mill cards.
It’s often a 2 of or 3 of in the sideboard of Dredge, R/G Valakut, Infect, and Tron. Since it can also hit enchantments, it has more applications against a variety of matchups.
A 4 of in the sideboard of Merfolk and a 2 of in the sideboard of Ad Nauseam. It’s not as good as some of the other artifact hate cards because it’s only a temporary fix, but it’s the best if you don’t have access to green, red, or white mana.
This is single handedly the best artifact hate card in Modern. Bant Eldrazi and Abzan definitely want it as a 2 of or 3 of. In addition, Jeskai Control and Death’s Shadow Zoo also tend to play a copy.
All in all, there are so many alternative artifact hate cards in Modern that I don’t see this overlap as a problem. There are even more options that didn’t even show up here, such as Shatterstorm, Creeping Corrosion, or Vandalblast. It shouldn’t be hard to find 3 different artifact hate cards for 3 different sideboards.
Overlap in Sideboard Graveyard Hate
Most Modern decks dedicate around 2 sideboard slots to anti Dredge cards, so there is also a bit of overlap here.
It showed up as a 1 of or 2 of in the sideboards of Affinity, Bant Eldrazi, Infect, Abzan, and Merfolk. Grafdigger’s Cage is not only good against Dredge, but it also stops Collected Company, Chord of Calling, and Kitchen Finks recursion.
It was played, most often as a 2 of in the sideboard, in Jeskai Control, Tron, and Merfolk.
It was seen, most often as a 2 of in the sideboard, in Dredge and Jund.
Like with artifact hate cards, there are so many alternative graveyard hate cards in Modern that I don’t see this overlap as a problem. You could also run Tormod’s Crypt or Rest in Peace if you like. It shouldn’t be hard to find 3 different graveyard hate cards for 3 different sideboards.
Overlap in Shock Duals
Now we get to the big problems. Let’s start with the shock duals.
This dual land is played in Dredge, Jund, and Death’s Shadow Zoo.
This dual land is played in Bant Eldrazi and Infect.
This dual land is played in Death’s Shadow Zoo and Abzan.
This dual land is played in Bant Eldrazi and Jeskai Control.
This dual land is played in Naya Burn, Death’s Shadow Zoo, and Jeskai Control.
This dual land is played in Jund, Death’s Shadow Zoo, and Abzan.
This dual land is played in Dredge and Jeskai Control.
This may be one of the most important cards when it comes to Team Unified Modern. It sees play in Dredge, Jund, Naya Burn, Death’s Shadow Zoo, and R/G Valakut.
This dual land is played in Bant Eldrazi and Abzan.
Nope, this one isn’t played anywhere in my list of 14 top decks!
Now, is this overlap in shock duals surmountable? I believe it might be, but it will require revamped mana bases. For example, if you want to put Bant Eldrazi and Abzan together, then you could just keep the mana base of Bant Eldrazi intact and adjust that of Abzan: you could run Murmuring Bosk or Canopy Vista as a replacement for Temple Garden, replace Windswept Heath with Polluted Delta (which can still fetch Godless Shrine and Overgrown Tomb) and end up with a mana base that is slightly worse but still reasonable.
As another example, if you want to run Death’s Shadow Zoo and Jeskai Control together, then you could adjust some things for Jeskai (as one deck simply needs the painful mana base to make Death’s Shadow viable). Specifically, you could replace Sacred Foundry and several other lands with Inspiring Vantage. The enemy fast lands from Kaladesh definitely brought new mana base possibilities. This Jeskai Control deck would still have Steam Vents so that Flooded Strand can still fetch a red source, and the resulting mana base would be reasonable enough.
Of course, it’s easier to just avoid any of this overlap, but if you have 2 team members who are experts with certain archetypes, then it would be prudent to take their skills into account and try to work around it with revamped mana bases along the lines I sketched. It’s tough, but there are enough dual lands available in Modern to make things possible.
Overlap in Fetch Lands
Fetch lands are not as big of a problem as shock duals. As I sketched, replacing Windswept Heath with Polluted Delta in Abzan still leaves you with a land that can count as a green, white, and black source. It’s worse, but it’s not as bad as an Abzan deck without Overgrown Tomb. As you’ll see, there are actually only 5 fetch lands that cause overlap in the first place in Modern.
The aggregate Naya Burn list had 3, and the aggregate Death’s Shadow Zoo list had 1.
There were 4 copies in Dredge, Jund, Naya Burn, and Death’s Shadow Zoo.
A 4 of in Jund and Abzan, and a 2 of in the aggregate Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo lists.
There were 3 or 4 copies in Bant Eldrazi, Death’s Shadow Zoo, Infect, Abzan, and R/G Valakut.
A 4 of in Naya Burn and R/G Valakut, and there are 1 or 2 copies in Dredge, Jund, Death’s Shadow Zoo, and Infect as well.
Overlap in Non-Essential Cards
For the cards in this category, you may have to discuss which deck gets it, but I believe none of these cards are essential to any deck, and reasonable replacements exist. Your decks may get a little weaker because you have to manage the overlap somehow, but I don’t think that the cards from category should drive your deck choice decisions.
It’s a 4-of in the aggregate Dredge list (for sideboard cards) and a 2-of in the aggregate Naya Burn list. This overlap can likely be solved by replacing them by extra Stomping Ground or fetch lands in Naya Burn.
A 2 of in Infect, where the pump is effectively doubled through the infect ability. It’s also a 1 of in Elves, but you could just replace it by a basic Forest there.
Many Jund and Abzan decks run 1 2 copies, but we can’t have these 2 decks in the same team anyway.
It’s often a 2 of in the main deck of Jund and Abzan and a 2 of in the sideboard of Dredge. It’s not essential to any of these archetypes but a versatile, well costed answer against many strategies.
It sees play in R/G Valakut and Jeskai Control, but it’s typically only a 1 of in the sideboard of Jeskai Control, and it shouldn’t be a problem to cut it.
I saw 2 in the sideboard of Bant Eldrazi and 2 in the sideboard of Tron (which often splashes white over red nowadays). It’s pretty good against decks like Burn or Infect, but it’s not an essential card.
This card saw play in Dredge, Jund, and Abzan. It acts as a discard outlet for Dredge, and it’s an excellent piece of interaction against decks like Burn for the midrange decks. While not an essential inclusion, your decks may be a little bit weaker if you want to put Dredge and Jund/Abzan in the same team.
For completeness’ sake: It’s a 1 of in the sideboard of both Jund and Abzan, but I think it was pretty clear already that those 2 decks are not compatible.
Dismember is such a powerful removal spell for any color. It’s a 1 of in Affinity, Bant Eldrazi, Death’s Shadow Zoo, but these decks have access to alternative removal spells. It’s a 2 of in Merfolk and it’s a 3 of in Infect, where it’s a bit harder to replace.
It showed up as a 1 of in the sideboards of Infect, Jeskai Control, and Merfolk, but it’s not an essential card by any means.
There can be as many as 4 Engineered Explosives in the 75 of Bant Eldrazi. It also showed up as a 1 of or 2 of in the sideboards of Jund, Abzan, R/G Valakut, and Jeskai Control, but these decks could still work without Engineered Explosives.
Frequently seen as a 2 of or 3 of in the sideboards of Jund and Abzan.
I saw 1 in both the aggregate Jund list and the aggregate Naya Burn list, but it’s not an essential card.
A frequently seen sideboard option against decks like Burn. It was a 4 of in Infect, a 2 of in Jund, and a 2 of in Elves. I think replacing it with Obstinate Baloth is doable for Jund and Elves, but Infect probably needs Kitchen Finks.
This is a 1 of in the sideboard of Naya Burn and a 3 of in the 75 of Jeskai Control. Just cut them from the Naya Burn deck if need be.
A 4 of centerpiece of Abzan, but also a 2 of in the sideboard of Death’s Shadow Zoo, where it is not as important.
Typically only a 1 of in Jund and Abzan.
A 4 of in Death’s Shadow Zoo, where it helps smooth out your draws and fill up your graveyard for Become Immense. It has also showed up as a 1 of in Abzan (to help Grim Flayer and Tarmogoyf) but that deck doesn’t really need them.
There were some stray copies in the sideboards of Jeskai Control and Merfolk, but the card is not that important.
A 2 of or 3 of in Jund and Abzan, as well as a 1 of in Elves. It’s nice to have one in the deck with Chord of Calling, but I think it’s more important in Jund and Abzan.
It sees play in Affinity, Infect, and Merfolk. It’s easily replaced by Stubborn Denial in the sideboard of Affinity, but Infect and Merfolk typically have 3 copies in their 75. While not essential to main game plan of these decks, it’s a relevant amount of overlap. You could still put Merfolk and Infect together, but when you add up Dismember and Spell Pierce, it’s not ideal.
It sees play in the sideboards of Affinity and Bant Eldrazi. But it’s easy to replace with Spell Pierce if need be.
Spellskite is included in Affinity, Bant Eldrazi, Tron, Ad Nauseam, and Elves. It’s a good sideboard card against decks like Infect, but it’s not essential. Tron had the most copies from all aggregate lists and Elves runs Chord of Calling, so Spellskite is probably the most important for those decks.
This was a 1 of in the sideboard of Jeskai Control and Tron. Assign it to the deck with Snapcaster Mage.
As I mentioned, this article is mainly the set up for the deeper analysis that I’ll provide tomorrow. There, I’ll provide the “best” 3 deck configurations with little to no overlap and offer my thoughts on the metagame implications. But I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the most important cards in Modern, even if you aren’t even interested in competition in a Team Unified Modern tournament anytime soon.
I’ll leave you with a rudimentary look at certain clear conflicts with overlap in at least 2 cards:
- Naya Burn and Death’s Shadow Zoo (Monastery Swiftspear, Wild Nacatl, Sacred Foundry, Stomping Ground)
- Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo (Mutagenic Growth, Gitaxian Probe, Become Immense)
- Jund and Abzan (Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, Inquisition of Kozilek, Overgrown Tomb)
- Bant Eldrazi and Abzan (Path to Exile, Temple Garden, possibly Noble Hierarch)
- Bant Eldrazi and Infect (Noble Hierarch, Breeding Pool)
- Bant Eldrazi and Jeskai (Path to Exile, Hallowed Fountain)
- Death’s Shadow Zoo and Jund (Thoughtseize, Tarmogoyf, Stomping Ground)
- Death’s Shadow Zoo and Abzan (Thoughtseize, Tarmogoyf, Godless Shrine)
- Jund and Naya Burn (Lightning Bolt, Stomping Ground)
- Jund and RG Valakut (Lightning Bolt, Stomping Ground)
- Naya Burn and Valakut (Lightning Bolt, Stomping Ground)
- Burn and Jeskai (Lightning Bolt, Sacred Foundry)
With these “impossibilities” in mind, what would you expect to be the best 3 deck configuration? Obviously this depends on the experience and preferences of your team members, as Modern is a format that heavily rewards familiarity with a deck, its sideboard, and its matchups. But focusing purely on minimizing overlap, try to see if you can find some zero overlap configurations, it’s a fun puzzle!
See you tomorrow, when I will have instructed my computer to enumerate all three deck configurations and rank them by overlap.
Thanks for reading