What’s Wrong With Modern Beyond the Eldrazi Problem (And 8 Legacy Card Swaps That May Actually Fix It) – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge
“The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions and without becoming disillusioned.”
– Antonio Gramsci
With the Standard format drawing to a close, I thought this might be a good time to talk about an idea I have been discussing on road trips for the last 2 years or so. I want to see what you think, and hopefully have a good discussion on the matter.
Virtually everyone I know has been moaning about Modern since way before recent dominance of the Eldrazi for exactly the opposite reason people are moaning about it now. While it is stiflingly narrow at the moment, it was hopelessly broad before.
What I hoped for before was that Wizards of the Coast would ban the fetch lands, as they’re both time consuming in terms of operation and far too forgiving in what they allow people to cast. However, it became obvious that they wouldn’t be making this change when they reprinted them in Khans of Tarkir. Instead, then, I thought about and discussed the idea that they could ban a card in every colour, as well as artifacts/colourless, gold and lands. Then add a card from either the banned list, or a pre-Mirrodin set.
The reason for this was that – at the time anyway – Legacy was a really diverse format, and because of cards like Force of Will among others (but particularly Force of Will) the format was also pretty stable. It’s an interesting one as you might think that a format with Wasteland and Hymn Tourach couldn’t help but be extremely variable, but for the longest time it seemed to me entirely better than Modern (although, it seems to be all about Blue White Miracles these days).
Since Khans, I have been asking people this on road trips, and I’ve had a variety of responses, but there is my list. It’s far from conclusive – I am not a set designer, and it is completely untested. All I am attempting to do with this article is to highlight what I think is wrong with Modern beyond the obvious Eldrazi issue, and to share a vision of what I would like it to look like (with a mind to it being a good format – I’ve not simply suggested the ban all the cards I hate, and make the decks I like sick! Well, not too much, anyway…).
(It’s worth bearing in mind that I wrote this article shortly before the bannings which happened on the 4th of April. They make sense to me, although it might be the case that the Blue decks in the format I’ve suggested might be a little too good once you take into account the bannings. In case you haven’t heard, Eye of Ugin was banned, and both Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek were unbanned. This has implications for both Tron and Eldrazi, in that they lost their best land, and for Blue decks, which have gained both an excellent combo engine with Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek, and a top rate card draw spell in Ancestral Vision which will no doubt be helpful in putting Control back on the map.)
The problem with Modern is…
The biggest problem by far to my mind is that the format is incredibly broad. It’s so difficult to realistically prepare for a tournament when people could play such a wide range of decks. That is, unless it is totally dominated by a single deck because a mistake was made, as we are currently experiencing. Before this, the format was often bemoaned by pros because of exactly what I said above, resulting in a tendency to focus on the Limited section of the Modern Pro Tours and to play decks that are sort of OK against everything but ultimately pretty uninspired, like Abzan and Junk.
I would aim to narrow the format with minimal banning by introducing a powerful Combo deck which could be dealt with by other strategies, but would be excellent vs. the wide range of pretty decent Combo decks that normally dip in and out of Modern tournaments.
Because of the difficulty in answering such a wide range, it is correspondingly difficult for Control decks to exist at all, let alone be good. This in turn results in a further propagation of Combo decks of all stripes, making it even more difficult to predict what had become an untethered beast of a format.
Consequently I would suggest measures to strengthen Control decks.
In a format with a hyper-abundance of different Control decks operating in a wide variety of ways and Midrange decks full of robust creatures, removal and discard spells, it is difficult for creature-based aggressive decks to exist.
I’ll be aiming to help them out too, and with all that in mind, here is my list.
Top 8 Legacy Card Swaps Which Might Actually Make Modern Better
8. Martyr of Sands vs Swords to Plowshares
Martyr of Sands came out to help the aggressive decks a bit. I mean Zoo in particular. That’s the deck most people want to be a real factor in Modern, because it offers up excellent sideboard and disruption options in an aggressive shell, while also doing fairly powerful things, containing toolbox creatures like Knight of the Reliquary, and doesn’t require the limitations that the tribal decks do. It’s a deck that “gets people” and “gets got”; it’s a drag to play against, it’s terrible against one half of decks and amazing against the other half. For every person that would be sad to see it go, there are ten that would be pleased.
The reason I’d like to see Swords to Plowshares back is partly to do with some of the other changes I suggest, e.g. it would be good against Dark Depths decks, and Goblins decks. Also, it would give a Control deck one of the generic catch-all cards that it needs to be able to avoid spending the day bullet-dodging. While Path to Exile is also in the format, and is an excellent card, the downside of an opponent getting an extra land is very real. Especially in the early turns of the game, while the life gain is much less meaningful. Swords would still regularly be sided out, because there are plenty of decks where it would be almost a dead card, so it’s hardly insane.
7. Snapcaster Mage vs Counterspell
Snapcaster Mage is going out, because it gets played in so many decks (Eldrazi aside, but my list would see an end to that deck I expect), it’s an effective means of pressuring life totals often times, and because it flashes back cheap card selection spells, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile. Given I’m advocating both Counterspell and Swords to Plowshares, my proposed new Modern can hardly have Snapcaster Mage ceaselessly stopping people doing anything. It’s also a constant thorn in the side of aggressive decks.
Counterspell is a universal answer in a format – and colour – of specific answers. Given the problems I have highlighted with the Control archetype and the format at large, Counterspell is the poster child change of the Modern I’d like to see. It’s an excellent card because of just this, but at the end of the day it is also just 1 card for 1 card, at the right time. If Mana Leak isn’t overpowered when it works, then the only to think Counterspell is too good is because it doesn’t sometimes screw you a bit. It’s a problem when we consider this to be a positive way of looking at the health of a card or format, to my mind.
6. Unburial Rites vs Cabal Therapy
I was a bit stuck for Black, because while Living End and Goryo’s Vengeance both sprang to mind as cards which could go, it did occur to me that both of these decks are pretty easy to hate out, and in the narrower format they wouldn’t be problematic. I’ve always found it pretty tedious that Unburial Rites often found its way into decks which weren’t enough about the graveyard that you would ever really want to bring in specific hate cards – yet they would still wreck you on turn 5 often enough, because they cast Gifts Ungiven at the end of turn 4. This has always seemed cheap and ugly to me, and getting rid of Unburial Rites would be a step in the right direction to my mind, although it might not be the right Black card to go.
Cabal Therapy is a great card to have if you know the format and your matchups well. It provides a tight, neat way for decks to have more game against otherwise bad matchups. Given the changes which I have suggested for Green, it might be pretty good to have this card around for Abzan decks, because it’s very good with Lingering Souls. Meaning, there is another good reason beyond Swords to Plowshares to play White over Red, when presented with an option of Bloodbraid Elf and Lightning Bolt. Again, not a super-powerful spell.
5. Blood Moon vs Goblin Lackey
Blood Moon is going because everyone hates it. I’ve cast a bunch, but I’m aware that it really is the dirtiest card in Modern. Its *only* redeeming quality is that it is good against Tron – which would have had Urza’s Tower banned, if it wasn’t for the more pressing need to remove Eye of Ugin. Blood Moon is the gettiest of “get you” cards. It’s repellent. It’s reprehensible. It’s the rake. Blood Moon is Sin.
Goblin Lackey is the Red card of choice, because I didn’t want to bring back another burn spell, and I wasn’t sure if my other choice (Sneak Attack) might be too powerful. The Goblin deck was a lower tier two deck a few months ago, and if it had Lackey it might be close to tier one. This would be another creature-based aggressive deck which would be a respectable choice at an important event, and as such I can get behind it being around. In case you’re not sure, Goblins are cooler than Elves and Merfolk, so it’s pretty reasonable that they should be a real thing in the format.
4. Tarmogoyf vs Sylvan Library
Tarmogoyf isn’t what it once was, but it’s still around all the time. With mana bases being so good, it is really easy to just play him in whatever deck you like, if you think it might be worth doing. I’ve played loads and loads with this card over the years – I’d send a photo of the backs of mine to demonstrate this, as it most certainly would, but my comments section would be full of people moaning that I should double sleeve and shuffle differently. I’ve played it in Zoo, in Blue, and in the decks it’s meant to go in. The truth about it is that while it is the best 2-drop in Zoo, it is also one of the reasons creature decks are pretty weak choices in Modern. It’s strange to think about it, but the banning of the best Aggro 2-drop is perhaps the best thing that could happen for Zoo in Modern.
Sylvan Library is another card I’m a bit unsure about, but I think that with waving farewell to Tarmogoyf, the addition of another excellent card at the same casting cost in the same colour (which would be good against different decks) is just the ticket. On paper, it seems like it would be good for Midrange in general, get played in some Combo decks, and be reasonable in right Control decks, but… not totally crazy? Perhaps someone with an experience in Legacy format would howl the place down on this one, but I thought I’d put it out there. It was a close contender with Green Sun’s Zenith, but I erred towards the more powerful card as I think many of the other cards I have suggested have been a bit tame. After all, it would be replacing a very iconic, powerhouse card.
3. Abrupt Decay vs Bloodbraid Elf
Abrupt Decay is the sort of card that I would normally be happy to have around, but being so cheap and so widely useful means you can play more of them than I think it’s healthy for the format. Also, its “can’t be countered” clause is pretty irritating. With the printing of Anguished Unmaking, there is another instant-speed card with a similar effect, but at one more mana and it can be countered. I think I’d rather see this mixed with Maelstrom Pulse than Abrupt Decay. Partially for casting cost reasons, partially because it makes it more of a choice between the utility of White and the power of Red, because of Bloodbraid Elf. Combined with the cards being brought back in Black, White, and Green, there should still be plenty of good reason to play Abzan. Also, it’s not like you’d need to kill Blood Moon or Tarmogoyf super-quickly anymore.
Bloodbraid Elf got banned in a time when everyone was playing Jund (BRG), and not too long after the same deck was all over the place in Standard. Given this new Modern format wouldn’t have Tarmogoyf to Cascade into, I’m pretty sure Bloodbraid Elf would be perfectly acceptable to have around. The other changes I have suggested push White as the third colour for Black-green based Midrange decks, anyway.
2. Eldrazi Mimic vs Sword of the Meek
Eldrazi Mimic is the card that allows the Eldrazi decks do the best things they can do. They would be considerably worse for the absence of this card, and as such I would advocate its ban.
Sword of the Meek is part of a combo with Thopter Foundry which makes loads of 1/1s and gains loads of life over a few turns. It’s pretty decent, and if you get it online you’re favourite to win the game in most situations. The thing is: there are plenty of two-card combinations that kill you outright which have been allowed in Modern for years, and this card was banned from the beginning. The main reason is that it’s a bit annoying to play against, but truthfully, it isn’t a sound reason for banning a two-card combination of cards, which do nothing on their own.
Edit. I am very happy to see that Wizards of the Coast has unbanned Sword of the Meek.
1. Eye of Ugin vs Dark Depths
Edit. Yes, I know Eye of Ugin is now banned in Modern, however I feel that it’s important to still include these points anyway.
Eye of Ugin is the second foot falling on the Eldrazi decks. Between this going and Eldrazi Mimic, I would think the whole deck would have had its day in the sun and that’s would be that. It even hurts Tron in a pretty reasonable way too and I’m much happier with that deck being around if it suffers more from the problem that all ramp decks do (e.g. drawing all the ramp and no men). Being able to search for the Eye, then for a threat, makes that deck more consistent than any similar deck it has ever been. So, this ban seems good to me!
Saving the best till last, I’d bring back Dark Depths. This was a beast of a Combo deck, and in its day it kept old Extended about where I would want Modern to be: 8-10 decks which all interacted in various ways, with definition and structure. The way this card/combo did this was by being fast, and sleek, and having counterspells to help against the other Combo decks as well as Control. It wasn’t horrendously overpowered. This is the most important change I have suggested, and I think that if they *only* unbanned this and got rid of the Eldrazi decks, that the format would be miles better.
Food for thought guys. Let me know what you think on Facebook and in the comments – What would your changes be? Am I way off on Sylvan Library? Should it be Force of Will not Counterspell that comes in? Let me know!
Magic Player Fable Four – the Tale of the Oblivious Bear and the Angry Hornet
Once upon a time, there was a large bear who worked for Uncle Jimmy’s Farm. Each day, the bear would happily blunder his way to work, singing along to ironic remixes of children’s TV soundtracks which he listened to on his head phones, while he read things on his phone. As part of his ritual for getting on the train – because as everyone knows, it’s better to have a ritual and question it, than think about your actions – the bear would stop a quarter of an inch off the long, narrow walk way which everyone needs to walk along and past to get on the train and reach over to the train time table, using his massive bear paws to find his train, as the bear constantly forgot when his train was arriving. The bear was also consistently just right on time for his train, meaning that by the time he had cackhandedly messed around with all of this inconsiderate behaviour, no one else had time to check their tickets in, and they were all late for their train as a result.
The people of Uncle Jimmy’s Farm were humble folk, and more importantly they knew better than to argue with large, stupid bears about trains and punctuality, and were instead continuously late for work due to the bear’s hair-brained shenanigans.
Then one day, an angry hornet started working for Uncle Jimmy. The first day the hornet was late due to the bear, the hornet buzzed angrily and waited for another train. The same thing happened the next day. And the third one.
* Why did hornet need to go by train, you ask? Well, it’s tiresome to fly for such a long time to work, even for a hornet.
On the fourth day the hornet was fired for being late every day. Enraged, the hornet spent the night at the train station.
The next day, the bear did what the bear did every day, and the people of Uncle Jimmy’s Farm put up with him. But as the bear tried to remove his hand from the train time table, he found that he had been stuck to it!
The people of Uncle Jimmy’s Farm climbed over the bear, and rushed to get their train. No one helped the bear. Some people were late, and needed to wait on the next train, and still no one helped the bear.
The bear cried and cried as he had missed his train. Being loud and obnoxious in all his actions, the bear didn’t hear the buzzing until it was right in his ear.
“My, my! Why so glum, buddy?” said the angry hornet.
“I’m missed my train because someone inconsiderately poured glue all over the train time table!” cried the bear.
“Oh, wow. That’s really inconsiderate…” said the angry hornet “..that’s really got to sting!” he crooned, as he stung the bear in the ear.
The bear instantly went into anaphylactic shock, because he was allergic to hornet venom. Not wasp or bee venom as you might expect… but then again, the bear was a pretty awkward guy.
The bear died shortly afterwards, and the hornet got a 25-to-life for culpable homicide.
And the moral of the story is: always be considerate of people’s allergies.
That’s it for this week!