Finally after so many posts dealing with combo decks, especially in Pioneer, and a spattering of midrange everywhere else, it’s nice to get back to some basics with an aggro deck, not just any aggro deck, a tribal deck. Human was not a creature type in the early days of Magic. Knight, Druid, Cleric and a few others existed and some creatures had a typing similar to their name. For example, Ali Baba from the Arabian Nights set had the name and type Ali Baba. In 2007, around the time of Lorwyn, Wizards made a huge update to creature types and many early cards received the Human typing as an errata. In the case of Ali Baba, today it has the Human Rogue typing. Many other types were affected at this point, but since then Humans have become the most prominent of all the creature types with over 2,400 individual card names. Human is also one of the few creature types that can commonly be found in every color, although they usually identify with red and white on the color pie. Today’s version of the deck is WUBRG. That’s right, all colors. Of course you don’t have to use all of them, but there are several staple cards that make up the backbone of this archetype that should at least make it a bant deck. Ultimately, you can use whatever you want in place of anything else as long as it counts as a Human and even then exceptions can be made. The few cards you do want are Champion of the Parish, Thalia’s Lieutenant, Noble Hierarch, and Aether Vial. Champion of the Parish gets a +1/+1 counter whenever another human comes into play and since every creature is a Human, it can grow into a huge threat if left unanswered. Thalia’s Lieutenant puts a +1/+1 counter on each other human you control when it comes into play and then it gets a +1/+1 counter when another Human comes into play similar to Champion of the Parish. Noble Hierarch is a mana dork that can tap for one of three colors and also has exalted, which may come in handy more often than one might think. Until recently it was over $70 (USD) a copy, but thanks to some recent reprintings, a playset of them will only set you back about that much. Now is the time to grab them if you don’t have them. The only non creature card in this deck is Aether Vial, a staple in creature heavy tribal decks. At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a charge counter on it and then at instant speed, you can tap it and put a creature with converted mana cost equal to the charge counters into play from your hand. Basically getting to play cards for free.
Since most of the creatures in this deck cost 2 mana or less and very few cost 3 mana, it is extremely vulnerable to removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push and the entire board state is at risk of being wiped out with something like Damnation. These next card help against decks that run a lot of removal. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes noncreature spells cost 1 mana more to cast. Unsettled Mariner, which is a Shapeshifter with changeling so it counts as every type, causes every spell that targets you or a permanent you control to be countered unless its controller pays 1 more mana. These two cards combined make those 1 mana removal spells like Fatal Push cost 3 mana total. Even if your opponent decides that the spell would be worth it, that sets them back on a lot of mana. Meddling Mage allows you to name a nonland card and as long as you control Meddling Mage, your opponent can’t play that spell. This is really only good when you know what your opponent is playing. Sure you can infer that from what colors you see in their lands and whatnot, but this card really gets better in game 2. It is kind of odd to see a card like that in the main board, but it’s just so effective against everything. This card also combines very well with Kitesail Freebooter, but then you are going into at least 4 colors. Either way, Kitesail Freebooter gives you a look into your opponent’s hand and allows you to exile a noncreature nonland card until Kitesail Freebooter leaves the battlefield. The next card doesn’t combo against removal spells, but instead focuses on pesky creatures. Reflector Mage has been seeing play in Modern since it was printed and it was one of the first cards banned in Standard since Jace, the Mindsculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were banned six years earlier in 2011. When it enters the battlefield, Reflector Mage returns an opponent’s creature to its owners hand and unlike most scenarios involving bounce effects where the opponent would most likely replay it again on the next turn, Reflector Mage prevents that from happening until your next turn.
This is where the deck kind of splits. Back when it was a bant colored deck, it used to run Collected Company which allows you to get 2 creatures with converted mana cost 3 or less onto the battlefield from the top six cards of your library. That route is fine, but nowadays the deck has dropped Collected Company for more creatures which are the more flexible cards in this deck. General Kudro of Drannith, is new card from Ikoria that gives other humans +1/+1. This is a nice bonus, but I think it might be too early to tell if he will stick around as a staple of this deck. Most lists appear to be using only one or two copies for now. That probably is the correct number to run since he is legendary. Mantis Rider is a very strong aggro creature for this deck, but I’m not quite convinced it’s an absolute staple. That being said, it’s probably the most affordable card in this deck right now. A 3/3 for 3 is definitely on curve and its three combat relevant abilities make it a force to be reckoned with. The biggest hang up is its mana cost because now the deck moves into red.
The basic shell of Humans in Modern should look like the following:
Noble Hierarch x4
Champion of the Parish x4
Thalia’s Lieutenant x4
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben x2-3
Unsettled Mariner x4
Meddling Mage x4
Reflector Mage x4
Aether Vial x4
Collected Company x4 OR General Kudro of Drannith x1-2, Mantis Rider x4, and Kitesail Freebooter x3-4
As for the mana base of this deck, I was really impressed in my research when I came across one that does not use fetch lands. Instead it relied on Ancient Ziggurat, Cavern of Souls, and Unclaimed Territory for much of its mana. Cavern of Souls is sitting over $50 (USD) each right now, but that’s more affordable than half of the fetch lands right now so I’d call that more budget than other mana bases at the moment.
Everyone likes tribal decks, even janky ones. It’s very rare that they do well in competitive environments however. Humans was one of the most played decks in Modern for awhile, but it seems to have had its day for now. Again, this series is about decks both past and present. So which deck do you want to see next? Let me know in the comments down below.