What’s Wrong (and Right) with Modern

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Accepting the New Guy

At one point or another, we’ve all been the new guy. The sheepish, shy, frightened kid in a classroom, who is afraid to be assertive and make themself known to their classmates, who may get picked on for being new. Or, maybe you’re the new person at your local game store, kind of afraid to talk to anyone, and even more afraid to play against anyone. It’s not the best feeling, but it’s one that with time, we overcome and usually grow stronger having experienced it.

I’m the new guy here at ManaDeprived. I play for the love of playing, judge for the love of judging, and write for the love of writing. Am I nervous right now as I expose myself to a new audience? Of course! But, having been the new guy enough times in my life, I’m ready to share my thoughts with you, so we can all grow together.

Let’s talk about another new guy – Modern. The most accepting of us (including me, shamelessly) are in love with the format and the possibilities that lie therein. Others are quietly ignoring it, and others still will find any excuse to make fun of it and kick it to the curb. For any of these viewpoints, valid reasons (and concerns) exist to validate each person’s excitement or hatred of Modern. Today, I want to highlight some of these views, shed some light on why they exist, and propose some options to help you get to know – and accept – the new guy.

Viewpoint #1 – Variety in the Format

As one could expect in an eternal format with an ever-growing card pool, variety in deck selection certainly exists. Sure, some archetypes are well established (what constructed format doesn’t have them?), but a ton of opportunities exist to become a Modern entrepreneur. With the lack of a set rotation, deck brewers and deck tuners can innovate without fear of their beloved cardboard becoming useless a year or two down the road. If you prefer net-decking and net-deck-tweaking you can rest assured that established archetypes remain viable for years to come (Disclaimer: power level and success rate not guaranteed) and that your hard-earned money is not spent for naught.

Regardless of the type of deck you enjoy playing, Modern has the tools you need to succeed. Like playing Combo? Pester Kiki-Jiki – I’m sure you two can become buds. Prefer raw Aggro? Grab some robots and smash! Like a more Control-oriented build? Caw-Blade could be your new best friend (though playing it properly can be difficult to master). The breakfast lover in you can even crack some eggs and enjoy a Second Sunrise or two. Simply put, Modern has variety, and the possibilities for deck-building and playing are vast even in a Jund-dominated format! Go rogue and attack the metagame, use a pre-established archetype, or hybridize the best parts of a couple decks; the tools are there to make the most of your preferred style of play.

Viewpoint #2 – The Jund Dilemma

If you’ve been following the Modern metagame over the past few weeks you probably know of at least one deck in the format: Jund. Jund is a combination of some of the most efficient spells available and are the best at what they do and as such, Jund provides a great bang for your buck, if you’re willing to shell out, well…a lot of bucks to play it. The two staples of the deck – Dark Confidant (aka Bob) and Tarmogoyf – will usually run you at least $550 to buy, and that’s only a portion of Jund’s cost. But, if your finances can allow, Bob and Tarmogoyf provide insane card advantage and raw power on the battlefield that can certainly justify their high cost.

Jund is a great all-around deck. It has very few, if any, bad matchups. The deck plays an efficient game instead of a strictly degenerate game; rather than abuse graveyard-based strategies or other combo-orientated strategies, Jund plays an interactive, efficient game plan that can simply outmatch an opponent by playing aggressively-costed, high-power spells. Take Bloodbraid Elf, for example: for four mana (2RG), you get a 3/2 body that can attack immediately and Cascade into any number of powerful spells (Lingering Souls, Lightning Bolt, Dark Confidant, Maelstrom Pulse, Blightning, Tarmogoyf, Abrupt Decay, Liliana of the Veil…I could go on). Bloodbraid Elf provides insane advantage to Jund decks. With such powerful spells in the deck, along with the ability to play an early, mid, and late game, Jund has become the definitive powerhouse of the Modern metagame.

Now for the obligatory Jund rant: it’s everywhere. Roughly 20% of day two competitors from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica played the deck, and even more played it at the recent Grand Prix in Chicago. The deck induces head-scratching and under-your-breath swearing from deck builders, as they think “If I can’t beat Jund, is it worth playing this deck?” Calls for bans of cards from Bloodbraid Elf to Dark Confidant have been floating around the social atmosphere, and while I don’t see many bans coming in the future, the general argument supporting these rumors is that some of the cards in Jund are simply too good at what they do.

When a deck has virtually no bad matchups, the deck is going to be popular, almost to the point of annoyance. Personally, I think that point has been reached, and when I see a turn two Bob played in Modern, part of me dies inside, not because I hate the deck itself, but because I hate playing against it over and over again. The deck certainly won’t be going anywhere soon (save a banning or an unbanning), and I’ve heard more than one Magic player say that they won’t play Modern because of Jund’s dominance in the metagame. I’m not of that mindset but would like to see fewer Jund mirrors at the top tables and a breath of fresh air to hit the format (more on that later). While Modern is an extremely fun format in which to build decks (and usually play them), there isn’t the same excitement we saw at onset of the format in Philadelphia about a year ago. Something needs to change to keep the relationship between Modern and its players fresh.

Viewpoint #3 – Cost Prohibition

I informally polled some of my local players about why they haven’t hopped on the Modern bandwagon yet, and a fair number of them said that the format is just too expensive to afford. While valid, I want to offer a counter-point here: so is Standard. A typical Bant Control deck in Standard will run you at least $700 right now, and with the exception of Jund ($1000 or more, in some cases), most current competitive Modern decks cost around the same amount.

Now, I understand that many players already spend a lot on Standard, and that’s a fair point. In fact, part of the problem with costs in Modern is that it can be significantly harder to acquire Modern staples (through trading, borrowing, etc.) than Standard staples, and more cash is ultimately spent on Modern than perhaps on Standard in the short term. However, I think that calling a format too expensive to play is a bit unfair when they are likely basing at least some of their argument on the price of Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf.

As the format picks up steam, the supply of Modern cards within local communities should increase, especially with the release of Modern Masters in 2013. Modern Masters will be a limited-release set that promises to reprint some of the most iconic (and thus expensive) Modern cards (Bob, Tarmogoyf, and more). Grand Prix Las Vegas, in 2013, will feature Modern Masters Limited as the format of choice, and it has drawn a huge amount of buzz. We’ll see how long the print run of Modern Masters lasts, but it should help drive costs down and interest in Modern up.

Many competitive decks exist in Modern that don’t require you to break the bank. Take some of the money invested in Standard and invest in some Modern cards. Over time, your collection will build, and you won’t have to worry about them leaving the format, save a banning or an unbanning, like you do for Standard every with rotation every October. Alternatively, find a very good friend to let you borrow a deck. Don’t let cost alone sway you from what is a format full of possibilities.

Viewpoint #4 – The Banned List Blues

From listening to my local players, reading articles, and watching and playing the format, I can hypothesize that the general perception of the Modern banned list is that it is far too excessive and doesn’t allow certain archetypes, like a true control deck, to blossom. The existence of powerful deck strategies across all archetypes would help keep the format fresh and exciting.

While I applaud Wizards for using caution at the onset of the format, I think Modern could use some refreshing. Pros and amateurs alike have called for unbannings of certain cards, bannings of others, and a general re-shaping of the banned list. Decks need to exist that put up a strong fight against Jund, and as it stands right now, I fear that Jund will become more and more popular until the archetype becomes what Caw-Blade was in Standard a few years ago: a deck that says “Play me or you just lose.” I’ve seen the Jund mirror; it’s about as boring as Sherlock Holmes without a good case to crack. I’ll elaborate on my thoughts to fix the banned list when we get to my suggestions below.

Viewpoint #5 – Nowhere to Play…Why Bother?

Raise your hand if there is a Modern tournament in your area within the next two weeks and you don’t live near Toronto. Okay…only mine is up. This is, in my opinion, the most poignant reason as to why Modern isn’t picking up steam. From what I have heard from my Magic friends, Legacy only picked up steam when StarCityGames added it to their weekly Open Series circuit. The only reason I can play Modern in the next few weeks is because my local Tournament Organizer (TO) is running a tournament…even then, that’s the first interaction I’ll have with Modern in a competitive environment in over a month. Simply put, there are not many opportunities to play competitive Modern that would justify spending a fair amount of money on a deck, unless you decide to travel to grind PTQs and hit every Grand Prix you can.

Luckily, Wizards is trying to change that. Starting in January, Modern will be a supported FNM format, and my TO has already promised to run Modern at least once a month if enough interest in the format exists. I can only hope that with the support of Friday Night Magic and the release of Modern Masters in the coming months, Wizards will succeed in generating some new-found interest in the format as a whole. I can’t wait for FNM in January and I know I’m not the only one. More possibilities for local-level Modern will encourage growth from the ground up.

Suggestion #1 – Advocate the Format!

This first suggestion is short, sweet, and simple: If you’re excited about Modern right now, and especially when it becomes supported at FNM, get your local play group into the format! Let them know why you like the format, and help them put a deck together! It doesn’t have to be a tier-1 masterpiece, just something that lets them have fun on a Friday night.

Also, talk to your local tournament organizers and judges and advocate the format to them. The first step to a more regular Modern scene is to let organizers know that you want to see it played. If you, and others in your area, talk to your store owners, organizers, and players, you’ll be headed in the right direction towards growing your local Modern scene.

Suggestion #2 – Change the Banned List!

There has yet to be a competitive, “true” control deck in Modern, Caw-Blade is the closest we’ve got. The dominance of Jund makes it nearly impossible that we will see it in the metagame anytime soon. I feel that something needs to be done to the banned list in order to make the format a little more diverse and fresh.

Here is what I would suggest:

BAN:
Bloodbraid Elf

UNBAN:
Jace, the Mind Sculptor Ancestral Vision

I’m not 100% sold on banning Bloodbraid Elf, especially if both of the above unban suggestions were to come to fruition. I really just want a true control deck to finally make some headway and stand a chance in the competitive atmosphere. Jace, without the Stoneforge Mystic + Batterskull issue, wouldn’t be oppressive in Modern, and Ancestral Vision would provide some much needed card advantage for the archetype. If Bloodbraid Elf were to meet the ban-hammer, I’d be curious to see what this does to Jund…I still think it would be highly competitive, but I think there would be healthy competition in the Modern metagame. Another card that I could see unbanned is Green Sun’s Zenith…more Valakut/Scapeshift decks would probably pop up, but I don’t see that move shifting the metagame in an unhealthy way, and it could provide additional variety to creature-based strategies.

Let me know what you think of these suggestions in the comments.

Suggestion #3 – Create a Modern Tournament Circuit

Right now, the only ways to play competitive Modern are during PTQ seasons (luckily, one is coming up starting in January – look for events in your area), very few StarCityGames IQs, or a Grand Prix, if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. Legacy seemed to take off after StarCityGames created an Open Series for the Legacy format. If a major store or website created a regular tournament circuit for Modern in various regions (US, Canada, Europe, etc) interest in Modern would increase as would the incentive to buy into and play the format. Provide tangible prize support and players will support tournaments. It happened to Legacy, and I’m sure it can happen with Modern. Time will tell if such a circuit will ever exist, but I would happily pay $40 to play in a Modern tournament near Baltimore or Washington.

Final Thoughts

Modern has its flaws right now: it’s often expensive, not easily accessible, and can be less than exciting to play in the current metagame. But, there are some really great things going on with the format as well: the potential to explore and create decks is high, giving deck builders plenty of opportunity to try new things. Add to that upcoming FNM support and the release of Modern Masters next year, and I feel that the tools are in place to help spark new interest and growth in the format. Naturally, as Modern tries to expand into a popular, widely-played format, it’ll take some work on all levels to help ensure its long-term success. This article highlights my suggestions on how we, as a community, can help make Modern great.

I welcome feedback, both about the format and my article in general. Being the new guy, I’m looking for acceptance as well and I’ll do what I can to make sure that you get something out of what I write.

Until next time,
-Tom

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