Because you’re worth it: Why you should be playing Modern
My charming, sophisticated Planeswalkers, you know how much I think of you. Believe me, I have your interests at heart.
I just want you to have fun.
It’s for that reason that I’m going to recount a tale of my experiences this weekend, at my local games store (and by local, I mean that I drive 45 miles to get there), where myself and 20 other like-minded individuals gathered to play the Format of Kings: Modern constructed.
A quick recap
I’ve written about Modern recently, so I won’t go over the top on detail here: suffice to say it’s an eternal format which is still developing and which doesn’t have the systemic card availability problems of Legacy.
Lots of different things are possible in Modern; no matter what kind of Magic you like to play, you can probably build a half-decent deck which does those things. One of our local players described the amazing diversity of Modern to me thusly:
What I brought to the battle
Those of you who know me will not be surprised to hear what I sleeved up this weekend:
OK, perhaps that’s slightly faecetious.
I brought the Cruel Control list that I posted a few weeks ago, which I had picked up from the footnotes of a Patrick Chapin article and run online for several weeks. While I came to the deck for the love of Grixis, I stayed with it for the great all-round game it displayed against the other strategies I was facing online.
I kept squeaking out matches… and eventually, I decided that short of Amulet Combo, there was nothing in the format so scary that I didn’t feel I had a chance of winning against it.
For reference, here’s the list:
I’m going to be straight with you: I think this deck is a work of art. Electrolyze is absolutely fantastic in Modern and playing four of them, alongside a range of other cantrips and value-generating cards, allows us to maintain a steady card-flow without being absolutely crushed by pinpoint discard.
My record this weekend wasn’t stellar (2-3), but unlike my last tournament I didn’t make any horrendous mistakes; more to the point, I felt like I was in all of my games and I learned a few crucial things about important decision points against different matchups. I reckon the deck could post better scores in future, and I look forward to taking another swing.
Crucially, I enjoyed every round I played this weekend. That’s the hallmark of a great format.
I played against five different decks this weekend. Let’s take a little tour of them, shall we?
This was a very interesting (and good-humoured) match. My opponent, Graeme Sloan, managed to push through a wall of spot removal to resolve two chunky Behemoths which took down the match.
While Graeme’s was a very fast deck, I was happy with the amount of cheap interaction I had to stay in touch. After discussing the plays with him, I’m pretty sure that I erred by using my Electrolyzes on some of his early elves rather than saving all my burn exclusively for Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel; without those cards in play, the deck struggles to combo-kill.
Armed with this new gameplan, I’d feel good about playing the matchup again.
My next match was a fascinating counterspell-powered tussle against Greg Shanks.
Before the event began, I asked Greg what he was playing and with a dreamy look in his eyes, he told me: “A Snapcaster deck. Just a good, old-fashioned, Snapcaster deck.” It was clear he felt the same way about his pile of Celestial Colonnades and instant-speed tricks as I did about my Ultimatums; this battle would be a labour of love.
The first game was very tight indeed. Ultimately, it came down to an exchange around my fifth turn.
I had taken the opportunity to Electrolyze, then Snapcaster-Electrolyze a Kitchen Finks while Greg was tapped out, fearing that he would otherwise be able to blink it with a Restoration Angel. As it turned out, that period of the game did represent a crucial window, just not the one I imagined: Greg was able to resolve a Sword of Feast and Famine while I was tapped out, which put me on the back foot and turned every creature into a huge threat.
After trading blows and counterspells several times, with both of us at low life, I eventually succumbed to a Sword-powered knockout punch from a Restoration Angel.
The second game was less close; I struggled to find a red source, having kept a hand with blue, black and a couple of Serum Visions to smooth things out for me. By the time I got there Greg hand me in a death grip.
Having reflected on the match, I feel perhaps I should have mulliganed my starting hand for game 2. It’s hard, when you have multiple lands and draw spells, but sometimes it’s also correct.
Next up, I played against Ross Drummond, sporting one of the scariest threats in Modern: Geist of Saint Traft.
Luckily for me, in both games I was able to get my card-flow going, countering the scariest spells and establishing control with a series of Cryptic Commands and Snapcaster Mages. Eventually my Ultimatum endgame came online and, in concert with Man-Lands, sealed the deal.
This match made me think closely about including an extra Devour Flesh in my sideboard. Geist, if he ever gets to start swinging, packs a mighty punch; on top of that, GW Hexproof is a real deck. The extra slot, in combination with Snapcasters, might make all the difference.
Ever sit down to play some games and realise that your sideboard isn’t great in the matchup? Well, this was the match in which I realised that with 15 slots, it just isn’t possible to account for the breadth of this format.
My opponent, Tim Allen, managed to battle through a giant serving of one-and-two mana interactive spells to finally plant a Necrotic Ooze with the help of Cavern of Souls. In response to my Lightning Bolt, he activated Griselbrand‘s ability with the slimy monstrosity to draw a heap of cards, then pitched the lands from his new grip using Borborygmos Enraged‘s Seismic Assault-esque powers. I was good and dead, but seriously amused.
The second game was even crazier, eventually ending with a tense exchange where Tim activated Griselbrand‘s ability in response to my Devour Flesh… then, having gone to three life in order to do so, looked at the one card in my hand and meekly implored: “Please don’t be a bolt.”
In my final round, I got to face off against something unusual. My opponent, Dean Stansfield, brought a Jund deck sporting Vexing Devil, Varolz, Huntmaster of the fells and even the odd Sprouting Thrinax.
Luckily, I was able to control the onslaught with early burn and counterspells in both games, but at one point I had to draw and cast all three of my Mana Leaks in successive turns to do so. Once that tussle was out of the way, I took it home with Man-lands and Ultimatums.
Let me tell you something: when your plan is Lightning bolt, Electrolyze and Damnation, there are very few elegant solutions to a Sprouting Thrinax. It reminded me that there are a huge number of good, solid cards in Modern – and that just because they aren’t widely played at present, it doesn’t mean they have lost their potency.
Beauty in Diversity, Comfort in Longevity
Only one of those five strategies I’ve just profiled had popped up in the online queues I’d played as preparation. As a result, most of my decision points across the event felt fresh and exciting, with a fair amount of on-the-fly calculation and touch-and-go board states. That’s what I play Magic for.
In a recent podcast, my co-pilot identified the uncharted nature of Modern as being one of the most appealing aspects of the format. His choice for the second most attractive feature is this: once a player builds a competitive Modern deck, the odds are that it will remain competitive in broadly that form for years.
No rotations; hopefully very few new bannings; a wide enough field that nothing can hope to dominate every matchup. These are the conditions that allow and encourage players to keep a Tier 1.5 deck around for years, breaking it out whenever Modern comes to town; these are the conditions which make upfront investment in cards easier to accept.
If you want to keep doing the things you love most about the game, without worrying about an annual or bi-annual sell-by-date, it’s time to start thinking about this format.
What are you waiting for?
Go and pull out those old shoe-boxes or tatty folders full of cards; find the spells you loved to cast back in the heyday. Start brewing with them and see what you can dream up.
Approach your local shop or Tournament Organiser, and badger them to run Modern events. You might start small, with some 8-mans, but trust me: once players get the bug, those events will grow and become more frequent.
A world of adventure and exploration awaits. Don’t miss out.