I recently finished in 16th place at Grand Prix Kansas City. The format was modern and I was slinging a deck I have been working on for some time now – UR Counter/Burn. I’ve already written an event report for Kansas City which you can read here. The point of this article is to outline my thoughts on how to best play the deck as well as provide the reasoning behind some of my card selection.

Before we dive in I’d like to provide you with my latest deck list for this archetype:


1  Faerie Conclave
5  Island
3  Misty Rainforest
1  Mountain
4  Mutavault
4  Scalding Tarn
3  Steam Vents
1  Sulfur Falls

22 lands

4  Delver of Secrets
4  Snapcaster Mage
4  Spellstutter Sprite
3  Vendilion Clique

15 creatures

2  Burst Lightning
2  Electrolyze
4  Lightning Bolt
4  Mana Leak
2  Pillar of Flame
4  Remand
3  Spell Snare
2  Telling Time

23 other spells


3  Blood Moon
2  Dismember
3  Magma Spray
1  Negate
1  Spell Pierce
1  Spellskite
2  Spreading Seas
2  Threads of Disloyalty

15 sideboard cards

General Thoughts

This deck is essentially a tempo deck. The goal is to disrupt your opponent’s game plan while protecting your flexible threats. By utilizing red as our secondary color all of our removal doubles as reach – so your opponent never really knows exactly how much of their life they can safely use as a resource.


Quick Match-up Analysis

Modern is a very diverse format. There isn’t any one deck that will have good match ups against everything – but the UR deck has good (or balanced) match ups against a good deal of the field, while only falling behind against a few things.

Good Matches

–        Anything Pod
–        Robots
–        Scapeshift
–        Twin
–        Misc Combo

50-50 Matches

–        UWr Decks
–        Gifts Control
–        Burn

Bad Matches

–        Things with Goyf
–        Junk Decks with Wiltleaf Liege/Smiter


Card Selection

The Threats

Aside from Delver of Secrets, all of our threats are also disruption. Spellstutter protects our early plays from removal in addition to helping in a counter war, Vendilion Clique allows us to both strip an unbeatable card out of their hand as well as gain us valuable information, and Snapcaster Mage is flexible like no other card.

I would like to talk about Vendilion Clique for a moment – since it is the card I see misplayed the most when I watch others play decks similar to the UR list. It is important to remember that you do not have to play Clique during your opponent’s draw step. In fact unless my hand is completely out of other answers – I never slam a Clique during their draw step.

Another thing to remember is that just because you can take something out of their hand, doesn’t mean you should. The only time you should be taking a card away with Clique is if it is a combo piece or if it is a card you 100% cannot beat with the other cards you have in hand. Playing against known cards is much better than trying to guess what your opponent might have just drawn off the top.

In addition to the 15 creatures the UR deck plays, we also sport five man lands. Mutavault allows for added utility with Spellstutter Sprite and allows for an efficient conversion of lands into damage later in the game. The singleton Faerie Conclave is essentially our “5th mutavault”. It allows us to play a 22nd land, but still have a reasonable number of threats if we happen to flood out.

I’d like to mention a few cards that are notably not included in our threat base:

–       Mistbind Clique
–       Scion of Oona
–       Grim Lavamancer

Mistbind Clique frankly costs too much mana. Our deck curves out at three and is capable of winning plenty of games of magic with only 2-3 lands on the table. Mistbind makes this harder to do. Mistbind also allows us to get blown out when we are trying to play it onto a field where we only have a single Fae.

Last PTQ season I actually played Scion of Oona in the Delver of Secrets slot. While this card makes our Spellstutters and Mutavaults much stronger, the fact that it costs three mana and only represents one power on its own means it had to get the ax. Delver enables more “free” wins than Scion of Oona ever could – this alone makes Delver worth playing.

Grim Lavamancer is actually a decent utility creature. My biggest problem with him is that he often simply eats a removal spell, generating very little value. This, combined with the fact that he fights with Snapcaster over my graveyard, means he didn’t make the final cut.


The Answers

Not counting Snapcaster Mage our deck gets to run a whopping 15 main deck pieces of counter magic.

This disruption combined with a threat or two makes for an excellent combo match up. If you thought flipping a Delver on turn 2 to a Mana Leak left a look of despair in your opponent’s face, you should try flipping it to a Remand sometime. In fact, when you have a threat on the table, Remanding your opponent’s spell that costs more than half of their mana often feels like a Time Walk that happened to draw you a card.

Mana Leak is a powerful card when you are closing out games before turn 10 like the UR deck generally does. Spell Snare is a card that is crazy powerful in some match-ups while just being “OK” in others. Depending on the meta-game you expect an argument could definitely be made for playing Spell Pierce or additional removal in the Spell Snare slots.

Speaking of removal – we have access to eight pieces of one mana removal in our main deck. I’ve gotten a lot of questions on the 2/2 split I have between Pillar of Flame and Burst Lightning. The answer is simple – they are both better in different match ups. Pillar of Flame is an effective answer to both Voice of Resurgence and Kitchen Finks. One the other hand I have kicked more Burst Lightning for those final four points of damage to close out a game more times than I can count (heck, I’ve even Snap-Kicked a Burst Lightning on more than one occasion).

That is one of the most powerful things about this deck – our removal totals an insane 28 points of burn without counting Snapcaster Mage. By the way – Snapcaster Mage is easily the best burn spell in the deck. End step Snap-Lightning Bolt, untap and attack for two more – that is a quarter of their life for an efficient three mana!

Finally, I would like to touch on my cantrip of choice –Telling Time. Telling Time is a lot like Brainstorm. Except, you know, it costs twice as much mana and only does half as much.

There is no doubt we have a severe lack of good cantrips in modern. Serum Visions is awful, Sleight of Hand doesn’t help set up a Delver flip and that leaves us with Telling Time. Shadow of Doubt is another powerful choice for these two slots, but Telling Time is easier to cast and helps Delver turn into a real threat.


The Sideboard

Like any sideboard – the one I have posted above is a moving target as I play the deck more and the existing meta-game continues to evolve. In fact if you compare it to the sideboard I played in Kansas City you will see it is a few cards different. Because of this I would like to touch on a few cards I feel are “must include” for the sideboard.

–        3 Blood Moon
–        2-3 Magma Spray
–        2 Dismember

Blood Moon steals games in modern like no other magic card can. Even if a match up feels 90-10 in game one, resolving a Blood Moon in game two and then watching your opponent move to discard while you beat them down with a 1/1 is amazing. This card really shines against UWR, Gifts, Tron, and four color Jund. Do not trap yourself into bringing Blood Moon in against Pod decks. They might have a lot of colors – but they also have mana dorks and a lot of basics.

Against more creature heavy decks you want more removal in the side board (as counter magic tends to be less good against swarms of creatures). Magma Spray is my card of choice for this purpose since like Pillar of Flame it one-shots Kitchen Finks and Voice. Take note that unlike Pillar of Flame – Magma Spray is unable to hit players. This is why we play Pillar in the main deck.

Believe it or not the deck full of Lightning Bolts and three power creatures has a hard time when things with more than three toughness happen to resolve. Dismember helps fix this problem. It is great at killing Restoration Angels, Loxodon Smiters, Tarmogoyfs, Celestial Colonnades, and Deceiver Exarchs. While Dismember is great, boarding more than two is a mistake. This is because we really can’t afford to cast it more than twice in a single game due to the large life cost it has.

The rest of my sideboard has been filled out with various numbers of the following cards at different points in time:

–        Negate
–        Engineered Explosives
–        Isochron Scepter
–        Spell Pierce
–        Turn / Burn
–        Spreading Seas
–        Threads of Disloyalty
–        Engineered Explosives
–        Vedalken Shackles
–        Cryptic Command
–        Shadow of Doubt
–        Shattering Spree
–        Spellskite
–        Rough / Tumble

You should tailor your side board to the specific meta-game you expect to play in. Just keep in mind you need to keep your instant/sorcery count high enough to flip a Delver with some consistency.

Wrap Up

I really enjoy playing draw-go style decks and I feel this UR list accomplishes this better than any other deck in modern currently. This deck provides the pilot with a plethora of choices and decisions – something I very much like. Early threats, counter magic, and piles of burn spells make just about any match of magic winnable.

Have a question about something I didn’t cover above? Feel free to let me know with a comment!



~Jeff Hoogland (@JeffHoogland)