Zendikar Rising has made an immediate impact on Modern.
Uro Control decks have added yet another banned Standard card, this time Omnath, Locus of Creation. Red/Black Prowess has emerged as a top tier deck with the addition of Scourge of the Skyclaves and the new dual-faced spell lands enable a new era of combo decks like Oops all Spells.
One deck that I find is well-positioned after the dust has settled is Humans.
As a tribal deck, Humans is by far the best represented in Magic’s history. There are 2502 Humans printed, with 1628 of them being legal in Modern. Just this past year 29 Humans were printed in Zendikar Rising, 32 in Ikoria and 32 in Theros: Beyond Death.
This gives the deck a plethora of options to choose from.
Here is the deck I am currently playing:
The creatures can be broken down into 3 different cogs that allow this deck to thrive.
These creatures put some serious pressure on your opponent’s life total.
Both Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant increase in size based on the number of Humans that enter your battlefield. Playing these early can lead to a substantial threat in just a few short turns.
Thalia’s Lieutenant can also be a great draw later into the game, growing your smaller creatures and enabling potential alpha strikes.
In basketball, Mantis Rider is what you would consider a two-way player, it plays both offence and defence. Flying on a Haste creature is rare, it is fortunate for this deck that is also a Human. It is the Vigilance keyword that allows it to be one of your best creatures against other aggressive decks, being able to attack in the air while still being able to block.
This assortment of disruptive creatures makes this deck a nightmare matchup for combo decks.
Being able to tax your opponent’s mana with Thalia, taking away combo pieces or removal with Kitesail Freebooter, and naming problematic cards with Meddling Mage.
Reflector Mage temporarily removes creatures that are too big to handle, buying more time to develop your board and grow a Champion of the Parish or Thalia’s Lieutenant.
Meddling Mage is a card that rewards knowledge of your opponent’s deck. Knowing the cards that beat you- and naming them -can often lead to frustration from your opponent as they draw multiple copies of the named card.
Here is a list of cards I find myself frequently naming with Meddling Mage:
Noble Hierarch serves as an accelerant, allowing you to play a Mantis Rider on turn 2 or playing multiple creatures and developing your board state. The Exalted ability is neat, allowing you to push extra damage. Phantasmal Image is a wildcard in this deck. It doubles as any creature in play, frequently copying Mantis Rider or Thalia’s Lieutenant.
Paired with an Aether Vial, it can be flashed in to replace a Meddling Mage or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that is being targeted by removal. As the spell or ability targets your Thalia, activate Vial to put Phantasmal Image into play. Copy Thalia and, using the legend rule, sacrifice the one being targeted.
General Kudro of Drannith was slotted into the deck with the printing of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. In addition to buffing all your creatures, it provides a main deck solution to troublesome graveyard interactions like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, the Dredge mechanic, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and Mystic Sanctuary.
The card also provides removal for a creature with power 4 or greater. Although I don’t see this ability being used often, being able to get rid of an Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Primeval Titan, Scourge of the Skyclaves, Thought-Knot Seer, or Tarmogoyf can be useful. The abilities on this card make it feel like the deck’s Swiss Army knife.
Aether Vial is one of the best Turn 1 plays for this deck, gaining counters and accelerating your board state.
It is the catalyst behind a lot of the creature-heavy decks in Modern, providing a method of putting creatures onto the battlefield at instant speed while avoiding counterspells.
It gives the ability to play out multiple threats in a turn and a sense of unpredictability when it is left untapped with charge counters on it. The ideal number of charge counters on Aether Vial is 2 or 3.
Aether Vial frees up your mana either to play more threats or activate the ability of your Horizon lands (Horizon Canopy, Waterlogged Grove and Silent Clearing), refuelling your hand with more options.
The lands support the diverse colours of the creatures. Being a tribal deck has its perks, with 12 of your 19 lands producing any colour for Humans.
As Phantasmal Image is an Illusion, it cannot be played with Cavern of Souls or Unclaimed Territory naming Human. Consider holding extra copies of these lands to ensure you are able to cast Phantasmal Image when drawn. This will occur more frequently after sideboarding when you bring in other creature types like Kithkin, Spirit and Wizard.
Cavern of Souls provides an edge against control decks with counterspells, allowing for a creature played with its mana to be uncounterable. This also allows creatures to be played through a Chalice of the Void.
The Plains and Island in the deck are to be searched when a creature is hit by Path to Exile. If drawn they’ll also help cast the majority of your creatures.
Horizon Canopy, Waterlogged Grove, and Silent Clearing help cast your creatures early and are traded in for another redraw later in the game or when you alternate ways of playing creatures in Aether Vial or Noble Hierarch.
The newest addition to the deck is Skyclave Apparition from Zendikar Rising. It removes any troublesome nonland, nontoken permanent with converted mana cost 4 or less. This covers cards like Plague Engineer, Ensnaring Bridge, Karn, the Great Creator, Scourge of the Skyclaves, Wrenn and Six, and so on.
The trade-off for removing the permanent forever is a token equal to the converted mana cost of the exiled permanent if Skyclave Apparition leaves the battlefield. This is an exchange I’m happy to make as the deck is much better handled to deal with an Illusion Token.
Gaddock Teeg is great against decks like Tron and Control, where they play large noncreature spells to take over the game. This stops payoff cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Karn Liberated, Karn the Great Creator and Ugin the Ineffable in Tron and Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command, Hour of Promise, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in Control.
With the rise of Red/Black Prowess and aggressive strategies, spearheaded by Scourge of the Skyclave, Auriok Champion has risen as a key sideboard piece in this matchup. Being able to block every creature in their deck and gaining life anytime a creature is played, either shrinking Scourge of the Skyclave or making it uncastable if enough life is gained.
Deputy of Detention is the creature version of Detention Sphere. It means you are able to cheat it into play with an Aether Vial and remove any troublesome nonland permanent, sniping bonus copies if they have the same name. It can remove multiple blockers, tokens, as well as dealing with Artifacts, Enchantments, and Planeswalkers.
Dismember is a low-cost creature removal spell, in this deck it can only be cast with 4 life and one mana. Being able to remove a creature for one mana is quite important to the deck, whether it be a large blocker, a combo piece like Dryad of the Ilysan Grove, or a Plague Engineer.
Magus of the Moon is the definition of a double-edged sword. With so many troublesome lands in the format (Blast Zone, Field of the Dead, Valakut the Molten Pinnacle, Urza Lands and the lands in Amulet of Vigor decks) it has become a necessary evil. Magus of the Moon will turn both player’s mana bases into Mountains, without any way to find your Plains and Island in the deck you could be stranded without being able to cast anything. You have a way out in Aether Vial. This will allow you to bypass your mana base and continue to put creatures into play. Look to play Magus of the Moon with an Aether Vial for maximum effect.
Grafdigger’s Cage is for the graveyard decks like Oops All Spells and Dredge as well as being good against Collected Company decks.
Although it would stop Uro and Snapcaster Mage, I would not bring this in against Bant Control, as those cards can still provide value with Cage in play and the trade-off is not worth it.
Your best hands have Aether Vial in them. It frees up your mana to play other threats while Vial puts more creatures into play. This can lead to some explosive turns that can be hard for an opponent to recover from.
Ideally, a Champion of the Parish would also be good to have in hand so that it can grow with every subsequent Human. Paired with a couple of disruptive creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Kitesail Freebooter can slow down your opponent and put pressure on your opponent’s life. Capped off with any three-drop creature to top your curve, and 2 lands to ensure you can play out your cards.
The hands you should mulligan are the ones with no one-drops (Aether Vial, Champion of the Parish and Noble Hierarch), or hands with more than 3 lands.
You want to drop a beatdown creature early and support it with disruption creatures, so look for a hand with a good mix of these elements.
The options for this deck grow with more and more Humans printed in each set. Aether Vial and the mana base also supports non-Human options for the sideboard. Here are some cards that have been in the deck previously and can be substituted in if the metagame shifts, or to deal with anything troublesome that arises:
Humans are very well positioned against combo decks the new Scourge of the Skyclaves aggressive decks and can pick apart Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath decks with its suite of creatures.
If you’re looking for an aggressive deck that is well-positioned in the current meta, increases its options with each passing set, and enough cards to consider for any metagame shifts, I wouldn’t look further than Humans.
About the Author
Kuang Wu has played Magic since the original Zendikar set. Qualifying for both Player’s Tours in 2020 and finishing 10th at Grand Prix Brisbane in 2017. He primarily plays Modern at Good Games Central and Town Hall.
You can follow him @kuangfupanda on Twitter.