Hi again folks!
It’s been a long time since I’ve put finger to key, but after a while out of the game I am thrilled to say I’m back. For those of you who don’t know me, I have been playing competitive Magic since Scars Of Mirrodin. I have some PTQ Top 8s and represented England at the World Magic Cup to a top 4 finish in 2014. This week I will be talking about Modern and introducing some of you to the format.
With the introduction of Modern Horizons in a few months it seems like an excellent time to discuss Modern.
“Cast Faithless Looting, discard Lingering Souls.”
“Cast Gifts Ungiven, find Elesh Norn and Unburial Rites.”
“Lotus Cobra, fetchland, make turn 3 Thundermaw Hellkite.”
“Cast Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.”
I have employed all these strategies playing Modern – all considered powerful in their respective time.
Modern is one of the trickiest formats for both competitive players and those looking to take their first steps. For the competitive player there is a myriad of decks playing powerful cards. For the newer player that variety can be overwhelming. Hopefully this article will help make the choice a little clearer.
1) Modern is a fluid format.
One of the first things to recognise is that Modern is a format where things change often – albeit slowly – as opposed to other Eternal formats like Legacy, where, by nature of having fewer tournaments, the pace of change is much slower.
When looking into Modern again I need to refresh my knowledge of the metagame.
The last time I played Modern, I was playing Mardu Pyromancer and the main villains of the format were Hollow One and Humans, however a lot has changed since then. Krarrk-Clan Ironworks even got banned in my time off. So despite loving Mardu Pyromancer the last time I played Modern, the metagame has developed.
These 5 decks are at the top of my current watch list when considering what to play in the format:
2. Izzet Phoenix
4. Hardened Scales Affinity
5. Whir Prison
Slots 4 and 5 are up for debate, but both are viable threats. You need to know what decks you will be facing in a tournament and make sure you have a plan for them. This isn’t say your deck choice needs to beat everything (because if you have that deck then you have likely broken the format). But you want to be aware of what other people are going to be playing as this will have an effect on what you choose.
2) A deck is for life, not just for Christmas.
When picking an archetype for Modern, it is important to pick a strategy that appeals to you. It is very hard to switch your deck in Modern that often, unless you have a very large collection or generous friends! Modern is an expensive investment so I would recommend picking something you enjoy playing. Burn might be the best deck in the format, but if you hate fast, aggressive decks then you are going to find yourself miserable unless you just place value on wins and loses. Modern has so many tier 1 – 1.5 decks that you should be able to find something that fits your play style.
3) Power is important but Context is key.
A trap that I have falling into when picking my Modern deck is the idea of power.
When people challenge you about your deck (in any Eternal format) it is easy to say: “Oh yeah, this deck is powerful because it plays Iona, Shield Of Emeria or Sundering Titan or Thirst For Knowledge.” These cards are all powerful in their own context, but are they powerful in terms of the current format? Sadly not. The thing with Modern is that, because you are selecting cards from 13 years of Magic’s history, all the cards are powerful – so you are going to play with the good ones.
Context is so much of the game in Magic, and this is particularly true in Modern.
Two cards that spring to mind are Blood Moon and Thoughtseize. These cards are undoubtedly very powerful cards: Blood Moon has the ability to not let people play Magic if it resolves against the right deck. However, looking at three of the top decks in the format – Izzet Phoneix, Dredge and Burn – Blood Moon is laughably bad. The same is true with Thoughtseize against Dredge (that actively wants cards in the graveyard!), and Izzet Phoenix has so much redundancy with all the cantrips and card draw spells that it really loses its value. If the metagame shifts and Amulet Titan and Tron become the top dogs in the format, then these cards’ stock begins to grow again.
Another good way of talking about this is the rise of Whir Prison and the decline of Lantern Control. While different, both decks have a similar game plan: to slowly constrict what the opponent can do. Before, Lantern Of Insight and Codex Shredder were best at this strategy, however the metagame has changed to a point where Chalice Of The Void has taken over. Things can shift though: Sam Black made Top 8 Magic Fest Tampa with Lantern Control last weekend. Context is so key for Modern, and it is important to be aware of changes in the format when starting afresh.
4) Do your research and ask others for help.
I am not saying you need to trawl through every single top 8 to see every single card that people have played ever in your archetype, but having some knowledge will be useful. Since returning to Modern, I have been collecting cards for Lantern Control, Whir Prison and Affinity , all linked by Modern staple Mox Opal. So I have been researching about what has changed in these decks and how they have developed. Whir Prison is a new archetype, so I watched streams of the deck and read articles to understand it – what cards it plays and how it works. In a physical sense it means I have a section of my folder filled with sideboard and main deck options for this archetype. Using MTG Goldfish for decklists is a fine place to start but be aware that while Wizards do present lots of decklists, they don’t show how often a deck wins.
Don’t be shy about asking friends for advice for what you could do.
I was debating playing Elves in Modern – a strategy I had no experience with. When I presented my idea to a friend, he highlighted the lack of blue cards and suggested I look into Splinter Twin. This began a long standing relationship with that deck.
Something that has changed since the last time I was playing competitive Magic is the rise of Discord and Facebook groups. While the decks in Standard change too much for dedicated groups or chats, Modern has lots of specialists who are willing to share what they have learnt about their decks. People like helping others. My own questions have been greeted with helpful and instructive responses, despite concerns about appearing Noobish. Being respectful here is important: I didn’t go into the group saying “Isn’t this just a bad Lantern deck, lol?”, I asked “What are the strengths and weaknesses of this deck over Lantern?”. People become very attached to their Modern decks and are very willing to help you learn if you ask in a polite manner.
5) It’s a big format. Your deck, yes – even yours – has bad match ups.
The last piece of advice I can offer with regards to getting into Modern is that you will have bad match ups no matter what deck you play.
I’ve played my fair share of Tier 1 Modern decks and just run into bad match ups, going 0-2 drop. Does this mean my deck is bad? No! Not at all, it’s just a nature of Modern. It’s so very different from Standard where you might play Mono U and Golgari 6-8 times in an 8 round event. Not everyone can afford to play the deck of the week, some people just enjoy playing their preferred Modern deck. You will have days where your deck matches up horribly against the field. It is of course frustrating to lose out to Blue Scapeshift when you might think that deck has no place in the meta, but simply put, that is how Modern is. It’s a feature of the format and one you will have to embrace for your own sanity.