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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Jun 05 2015 12:00pm
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Ever since Adam made me the above logo for my 'Modern Musings' I've been thinking of something to muse about.  The thought came to me that it would be fun to analyse the different colours in Modern in general terms and talk about what each individual colour brings to the table in the format.

I am going to look at each colour individually and solely at the mono-coloured cards available.  I will try and avoid discussing cards that require collaboration with other colours where possible but I think it is unavoidable talking about a few.   This might be a little artificial, particularly given how good mana fixing is in Modern, but I think it gives you an idea of what each colour does and the fundamentals of why you would play them in the format.


Restoration Angel
Popular mono-white creatures are a little hard to come by in Modern.  Restoration Angel is the most popular but unfortunately doesn't have a home in any major decks since Birthing Pod left the format. 

Path to ExileWrath of God
Path is one of the most powerful removal spells in the Modern format.  Mark Rosewater recently wrote a mailbag column in which he said that he didn't like this kind of card as it meant White had better removal than Black (which is supposed to be Black's thing).  I have to agree that the existence of Path does somewhat undermine Black's removal specialism.
I put Wrath of God here as White is famous for its mass removal but Wrath effects are not commonly played in Modern, except in some fringe Control decks.  Red is actually more commonly used for its cheaper sweeping effects.

Elspeth, Knight-ErrantGideon Jura
Planeswalkers don't see as much play in Modern as they do elsewhere, so to look at those in too much detail might overstate their impact.  That said of the Planeswalkers in Modern, white has a couple of very good ones.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant combines well with the other token cards in Modern (described further below) but still doesn't see a lot of play.  Gideon Jura has seen play in a few UWx Control decks as a top end roadblock and potential game ending threat.

Lingering SoulsSpectral ProcessionMonastery Mentor
Token generation is something of a White specialty in Modern, so much so I thought it was worth mentioning.  Lingering Souls is the real standout as it has been found in various decks as an efficient and evasive attacking strategy (though it does require Black's help to achieve its full potential).  There are then more dedicated token strategies in the format that use cards like Spectral Procession alongside anthem effects like Honor of the Pure and Intangible Virtue.

Soul WardenSoul's AttendantSerra Ascendant
Another White specialty is life gain.  It's a fringe strategy these days but White has a lot of strong life gain cards, which work very well in concert.  Soul Sisters is a deck that has an interesting life gain focused strategy.

Sideboard Options:
Stony SilenceKor FirewalkerLeyline of Sanctity
White is known for its powerful sideboard options.  Its desire for imposing rules means that White has been one of the best colours for sideboard cards for a long time.  In Modern, there is even a whole archetype based around White hate creatures, affectionally known as Hatebears, including Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Leonin Arbiter.

White is a good colour in Modern but its creature suite is perhaps a bit lacking in standout powerhouses, which lets it down a little.  White tends to rely more on synergies and strength in numbers with regards to its creatures.  Having access to one of the most powerful removal spells in the format will always make you popular though.  Overall, White is probably stronger as a support colour rather than a standalone colour.  It certainly lends itself as a support colour with a powerful splashable removal spell and great sideboard options.


Snapcaster MageVendilion CliqueDeceiver ExarchDelver of Secrets
Blue has never really been known for its sizeable creatures.  As such it's not too surprising that blue's most popular creatures are instant speed and have an immediate impact on the board but are also a bit fragile.  Delver of Secrets is perhaps the exception to this but at only one-mana you can hardly complain - it is also a little fragile until you flip.

Vapor SnagCyclonic Rift
Removal isn't really part of Blue's vocabulary.  Bounce is Blue's answer to removal, though it is generally more of a tempo play than a permanent answer.  Vapor Snag is the real highlight of the bounce spells as it's a very effective tempo play in an aggressive deck such as Merfolk or Delver.

Jace BelerenJace, Architect of Thought
Blue planeswalkers aren't particularly common place.  Baby Jace turns up in the occasional list but more commonly I've been seeing the Architect of Thought in quite a few Modern lists lately.  The Architect plays well in Control as he can stymie aggro decks and also provide a repeatable source of card draw.

Serum VisionsGitaxian ProbeSleight of Hand
Drawing cards is also a blue specialty.  Draw has been considerably neutered in Modern but for good reason really.  Recent experiments in the form of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time proved that powerful draw spells were dangerous.  That's not to say that what we are left with is slim pickings though.  The one-mana draw spells are still a very good way of filtering through your deck to find the desired card.

RemandCryptic CommandMana Leak
Countermagic is, with a few rare exceptions, the domain of Blue.  Modern counterspells aren't as powerful as their older counterparts but there are still some very good ones and they see a good amount of play in the format.

Sideboard Options:
NegateDispelSpell PierceHurkyl's Recall
Blue's sideboard options aren't generally the best.  They tend to be an extension of the countermagic suite with some more narrow answers.  There are also some interesting nice examples, such as Hurkyl's Recall which is a very effective Artifact hate spell.

Blue is a very powerful colour in Modern but it is a bit lacking in killer instinct without the support of other colours.  Blue is an excellent support colour with draw and countermagic being excellent ways of furthering the strategies of the other colours, particularly the combo decks of the format. 


Tasigur, the Golden FangDark Confidant
Black has been a little weak in the creature department but Tasigur, the Golden Fang has done a lot to help in that department, as a creature well worth splashing into the colour for.  Dark Confidant has historically flown the flag as the best black creature in Modern but it has been sidelined in the current metagame, I think largely due to it being a liability against Burn decks.

DismemberMurderous Cut
Despite being the traditional colour of removal, Black does not have the best removal spells in Modern.  Arguably the best one, Dismember, isn't even really a black spell as you can cast with no black mana at all.  Murderous Cut is a recent printing that has helped to pull up the quality of black removal - though it generally wants to be in a fairly specific kind of deck.

Liliana of the Veil
Liliana of the Veil is one of the few Planeswalkers that sees heavy play in Modern and with good reason.  Liliana is one of the best reasons to play Black in the format and the heavy Black mana requirement means that you really have to commit.  Liliana also does well when backed up by the other powerful discard spells in black, described below.

Sign in BloodPhyrexian Arena
Black has a decent suite of draw spells though traditionally this comes at the cost of some amount of life.  This is a dangerous strategy with Burn being a prominent part of the format, which is part of the reason these cards don't see much play.  They also tend to be quite Black mana heavy which probably doesn't help their cause.

Inquisition of KozilekThoughtseize
Discard is a black specialty and it is particularly powerful in Modern.  Inquisition of Kozilek is very potent in a format where the vast majority of cards played are under 3 CMC.  Thoughtseize is a more versatile discard spell but you have to pay the price of that 2 extra life, however, it is well worth it when you are stealing away powerful combo cards like Splinter Twin and Scapeshift.

Living EndAd Nauseam
Black also has some interesting, though fringe, combo pieces in its repertoire.  Living End has been a reasonably popular combo deck in Modern in the past, cycling creatures into the graveyard before cascading into the spell.  Ad Nauseam is another fringe combo deck that combines the powerful draw spell with cards that prevent you from dying, Angel's Grace and Phyrexian Unlife, to draw your whole deck.

Sideboard Options:
Surgical ExtractionDuress
Black's sideboard options are not the most exciting.  Discard is sometimes a sideboard strategy, particularly against combo decks, which is probably Black's strongest sideboard option.  These are somewhat complemented by cards like Surgical Extraction and Extirpate that can exile all copies of a certain card from an opponent's deck.  Black has far fewer ways of dealing with problem non-creature permanents once they are on the board.

You could certainly argue, and I am inclined to, that Black is the weakest colour in Modern, at least when it comes to the fundamentals.  Until Tasigur came along its creatures were fairly lackluster by comparison and it doesn't have the best removal spells.  As such the best reason to be in Black in this format is the powerful discard spells and the very powerful planeswalker, Liliana of the Veil


Monastery SwiftspearGoblin GuideYoung Pyromancer
Speedy and aggressive creatures are what Red is known for and Modern has some of the very best available.  Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear hit both hard and fast and provide great attackers for aggro and burn decks.

Young Pyromancer is of a slightly different ilk, encroaching on White's token dominance.  In general, Red's token generating capabilities are much poorer that White's, Dragon Fodder is not as good as Raise the Alarm, Hordeling Outburst is no Spectral Procession.  However, Young Pyromancer is a solid stand-alone threat in a spell heavy deck and powerful spells is something Red does very well.

PyroclasmAnger of the Gods
Burn spells are usually Red's removal of choice but that really deserves a section all of its own (see below).  Red also does another kind of removal very well though and that are sweepers like Pyroclasm and Anger of the Gods.  Due to the generally smaller size of creatures in Modern these sweepers are often just as good at clearing the board as a Wrath of God, and with a considerable mana saving Red usually is the more popular colour when it comes to board sweeping effects.

Lightning BoltRift BoltLava Spike
Burn has been a defining feature of Red from the very beginning.  With such an extensive back catalogue of burn spells it's not too surprising that burn is a big deal in Modern, combining these 1 mana for 3 damage spells along with the other potent burn spells and fast creatures in Red has proved a successful strategy.

Lightning Bolt deserves special mention as one of the defining cards in the format.  Bolt is the best removal spell in the format (though it can't kill everything - the cheap and fast creatures in Modern are generally susceptible to it) and doubles up as a way of finishing off your opponent.  Lightning Bolt is the most heavily played non-land card in Modern, which says a lot about how good it is.

Chandra, PyromasterKoth of the Hammer
Chandra, Pyromaster doesn't see as much play as it used to now that Jund has become a less popular deck.  However, it was once a potential solution to Jund's 4-mana Bloodbraid Elf replacement.  The +1 is a decent ability, 1 damage can kill a good number of creatures in Modern and stopping a blocker can allow a critical attack through, the +0 is a nice draw effect for Red, the ultimate is a bit irrelevant but if you manage to get there it can do some exciting stuff.

Koth is again not a heavily played planeswalker but there are some dedicated players who have tried to make Koth work in Modern.  He is a central part to Skred Red decks, which act like Red Control decks with a top end of Wurmcoil Engine and other big creatures.

Pyretic RitualDesperate RitualSimian Spirit Guide
Fast-mana is a red specialty but one that has been neutered considerably in Modern, mainly to prevent combo decks from becoming too fast.  Both Rite of Flame and Seething Song have been banned but there are still sufficient cards to make Storm a threat.  Simian Spirit Guide shows up periodically in decks too, usually as a way of making combo decks go off a bit faster.

Faithless LootingOutpost Siege
Draw is a strange thing in Red.  WOTC has struggled to figure out exactly how Red should go about drawing cards.  Most recently looting effects have been up into Red, with a very powerful looting spell in Faithless Looting being printed in Red.  I felt this was worth special mention as it really is a very good draw spell.

The other type of draw in Red is the +0 on Chandra, Pyromaster and Outpost Siege which have both seen some play.

Splinter TwinPyromancer AscensionPast in FlamesGrapeshot
I didn't know exactly how to group the above cards but I feel that they are well worth mentioning.  Red has a surprising number of powerful combo pieces, including Splinter Twin and Storm staples (Pyromancer Ascension) and Past in Flames.  Storm finishers Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens are also mono-red.

Sideboard Options:
Blood MoonAncient GrudgeVandalblastMolten Rain
Red has some reasonably strong sideboard options.  Blood Moon is a very powerful way of hating on the non-basic heavy environment in Modern and punishing multi-coloured decks.  Red is also a specialist when it comes to artifact-hate.  Land destruction is also a string to Red's bow but one that has not been supported much by WOTC and isn't very prevalent.

Red is a very powerful colour in Modern, potentially even the strongest single colour.  It has access to the best removal spell in the format in Lightning Bolt, a very good creature suite, a number of powerful combo enablers and some powerful sideboard options.  Arguably some of this power comes from the trouble that WOTC have had pinning down an identity for Red, outside the burn spells and quick beats.  This has left Red with a lot of interesting cards in a variety of different areas.


TarmogoyfScavenging OozeNoble HierarchPrimeval Titan
Green, as you would expect, has access to some of the best creatures in Modern.  At the lower end, we have Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch as early acceleration.  We have cheap powerhouses such as Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze.  Green doesn't skimp out on the top end either with Primeval Titan being one of the few big creatures powerful enough to see a good amount of play in Modern.

Beast Within
Removal has never been Green's strong suite and even over all the sets that Modern encompasses this hasn't really changed.  The Fight mechanic has become Green's latest attempt at removal but it tends to be too inconsistent for Modern players.  Beast Within is probably the best mono-green removal spell and it is a pretty good, albeit with a pretty hefty downside.

Garruk Wildspeaker
There are a number of good Garruk's that have seen some play in Modern.  Probably the most played though is the original, Garruk Wildspeaker.  I have mostly seen it played in Green Devotion decks, where it untaps (Nythos, Shrine to Nyx) or a land enchanted with Utopia Sprawl etc to generate large amounts of mana.

Ramp/Land Tutoring:
FarseekSakura-Tribe ElderSylvan ScryingAncient Stirrings
Green has long been known for its ramp capabilities.  Ramp in Modern is usually done through creatures, such as Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch rather than Rampant Growth type effects.  As it stands mana ramp is not all that popular in Modern with the exception of the Scapeshift decks, which use a couple of the above cards.  In general, ramp is more often achieved through the Urza lands in which case it is more important to find the right land rather than reach a critical mass.  As such Sylvan Scrying and Ancient Stirrings are popular cards used to find the require Urza lands.

Pump Spells/Auras:
Mutagenic GrowthBecome ImmenseRancor
Pump spells are a Green specialty and there are some very powerful ones in Modern.  From the practically free Mutagenic Growth to the gigantic Become Immense, there as some great ways to pump your creatures.  These are great cards for speedy aggro decks, and more popularly in Infect strategies where just 10 damage amount to lethal.

Scapeshift is a very popular combo card that doesn't really fit elsewhere in this list.  Scapeshift usually combines with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to provide a lethal dose of damage to your opponent.

Sideboard Options:
Nature's ClaimCreeping CorrosionFeed the ClanChoke
Green is a good colour for sideboard cards.  Though Green struggles in removing creatures it struggles less with dealing with other permanents, in particular it's very good at dealing with artifacts and enchantments.  Life gain is also an option that Green has access to with Feed the Clan being a popular recent printing, but also creatures like Obstinate Baloth and Thragtusk being problems for Burn decks.

We also have a very powerful hate card in the form of Choke, which is a nightmare for blue decks.  They don't print hate cards like this, mainly because they are too punishing but we have a beauty here.

Green is a strong colour in Modern but one that struggles alone due to the dearth of removal available to it.  The creature suite is the real strength of Green with some really outstanding creatures at all ends of the spectrum.  Removal is a weakness but it has a lot of other exciting tools in its repertoire that make it a very popular and powerful colour.


Arcbound RavagerWurmcoil EngineEmrakul, the Aeons Torn
Colourless creatures manage to cover both extremes of the spectrum of the available creatures.  The Affinity/Robots deck in Modern features a lot of small and fast artifact creatures, Arcbound Ravager, Signal Pest, Memnite, Steel Overseer and Etched Champion among them.  Conversely, the top end is also very powerful.  Wurmcoil Engine is a big bad threat that can turn games around and is an aggro deck's nightmare.  The top end then gets even more 'top end' with the huge Emrakul.  In Modern we are looking to either cheat Emrakul into play, with Goryo's Vengeance etc, or hardcast it as a late game for UrzaTron decks.

Oblivion StoneAll is DustEngineered Explosives
There are some nasty colourless removal spells that have a tendency to destroy everything.  The catch is that these cards also tend to be very expensive or otherwise slow which limits their application outside of Tron decks.  Engineered Explosives is an exception to that but is quite narrow so is generally used as a sideboard card but it is a very popular one.

Karn LiberatedUgin_the_Spirit_Dragon.jpg
In a lot of ways Colourless has access to the most exciting planeswalkers of all.  The catch, well there had to be one, is that they are on the expensive side.  Modern is a fairly fast format so you don't really want to be waiting around until Turn 7 or 8 before dropping Karn Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.  The solution is to cheat, the Urza lands give us access to fast colourless mana so you can hit a Turn 3 Karn or a Turn 4 Ugin which is pretty ridiculous.

BatterskullCranial PlatingSword of Fire and Ice
Equipment is an artifact exclusive so you can't go anywhere else to get them.  The reusable auras do tend to be expensive and/or on the slow side which means they aren't heavily played in Modern.  However, there are some exceptions.  Batterskull is a very powerful finisher for Control decks and it is very difficult to get rid of once it hits the battlefield.  Cranial Plating is a very powerful part of Affinity decks, providing a huge attack boost alongside the fast artifacts in that deck.  The Swords are reasonably popular but usually resigned to sideboards to come in against matchups where they are particularly effective.

Mana-Fixing/Land Tutoring:
Expedition MapChromatic StarChromatic Sphere
Artifacts can do a good job of helping fix colours or ramp mana.  Some of the most popular options in Modern are above.  Expedition Map can help find missing Tron pieces and Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere are used as ways to access colours in these colourless land heavy Tron decks, while also cantripping.

Sideboard Options:
SpellskiteRelic of ProgenitusGrafdigger's CageTorpor Orb
Colourless sideboard options are obviously very popular as they are accessible to most decks and can make up for the deficiencies in the other colours.

The colourless options in Modern are very exciting.  Mirrodin is the start of Modern legality and is home to a number of exciting colourless cards, including some of the building blocks to the Affinity deck.  Scars of Mirrodin has only served to supplement that.  There are also some huge haymakers available in cards like Karn Liberated and the Eldrazi, that can be abused with the help of the Tron lands.

Artifacts also provide a lot of other services in the format, including mana-fixing, equipment and sideboard options.  The universality of artifacts means they are always very useful.

I was going to avoid putting down any rankings because I could probably go back and forth on a lot of these, however, I thought as a point of debate it was worth doing.  Feel free to argue with about the positioning of any of the colours in the table below.

  Creatures Removal Planeswalkers Overall
1st Green
Red Black Red
2nd Colourless White Colourless Colourless
3rd Red
Black White Green
4th Blue
Colourless Blue Blue
5th White Green Red White
6th Black
Blue Green Black

I've stuck to looking at the main categories but there are others that could be looked at.  The overall rankings are perhaps the most interesting and I could definitely go back forth on some of them.  The positions of Blue and Green I could certainly go back and forth on but mostly I'm happy with that as a list.  I will accept there is some over generalisation going on but I still think this is fairly illustrative of where the colours are at in competitive Modern.  Let me know your thoughts.


I hope this proved to be an interesting look at the identities of the different colours in the Modern format.  Let me know your thoughts and whether you agree/disagree with any of my rankings or opinions.  I'd like to hear your feedback.  If people like this article I might try out something similar for the Guilds and the Shards/Wedges.

That's all for this week!  I hope you enjoyed the article and I look forward to your feedback.  I hope to be back looking at some of the exciting stuff to come out of Modern Masters 2015 soon.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)


you should rename this by mindlesslemming at Fri, 06/05/2015 - 12:16
mindlesslemming's picture

... EVERY CARD you should just buy before playing modern.


jk jk

nice job!


Thanks for the comment. You by olaw at Sun, 06/07/2015 - 06:43
olaw's picture

Thanks for the comment.

You certainly don't need all of these cards to play Modern, I don't even own close to all of them (though I'd like to). You would do well to be aware of them though.