Rotation is almost upon us and powerful cards like Thoughtseize, Master of Waves, Chord of Calling and Goblin Rabblemaster will soon have to find new homes. And in Modern, not only are these cards powerful, some of them can even be called format defining at one point or another, and some are poised to break out. And if you’ve been wondering what you can do with the Keranos that’s been sitting in your binder, you’ll be glad to know that Keranos is a killer win condition in two of the premier decks in Modern.
Modern is a non-rotating format with all cards printed since 8th Edition (July 29th, 2003) legal, with the exception of a ban list (http://magic.wizards.com/en/gameinfo/gameplay/formats/modern). It seems scary at first that you’re entering a format with that big of a card pool, but as you’ll quickly learn, Modern rewards mastery of a chosen deck over a period of time. And more importantly, it rewards knowledge of the format. This helps a lot in adjusting to the format as unlike Standard with its week-to-week changing meta, the Modern meta remains relatively stable. The knowledge that you gain for your deck and of the Modern format in general stays relevant. There are a few decks and interactions which you must know about to avoid just “randomly” losing to in the beginning (which i’ll cover shortly) but after that, your general knowledge of Magic that you have won from playing Standard can be brought over.
So why play Modern? In my opinion, Modern (and Extended before it) was created by Wizards of the Coast to hold on to their players as many of them quit playing the game after each rotation. Non-rotating formats like Modern help these players to stay with the game. In terms of game play, Modern allows a lot more deck archetypes than Standard, especially in recent years. For better or worse, Wizards has decided that certain types of cards and decks should not exist in Standard. Some of these “relics” only see regular play in Modern.
Urza lands (Urza’s Tower, etc) allowing consistent and powerful ramp strategies to trump mid range strategies.
Powerful sources of card advantage like Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness. A recurring theme in Modern is that there are some cards that seem merely okay in Standard are extremely powerful in Modern (like the newly printed Kolaghan’s Command and Collected Company). These cards are not just powerful as individual cards, they frequently spawn entire decks that are built to utilize these cards to the fullest extent. Modern has the card pool for that.
Lightning Bolt. This unassuming card has been called the defining card of Modern for good reason. It’s efficiency is unparalleled, and Wizards has not reprinted it since M11 due to its power even though it’s literally been with the game since its very beginnings in 1993. Good old Bolt enables control decks to end the game quickly (Bolt you, Snapcaster, Bolt you again is a very common line of play) and makes burn/Red Deck Wins a tier 1 strategy.
There is a much larger variety of decks in Modern and it has a unique feel to it that can’t be found in any other format. It’s powerful, but not degenerate like the way it can be in Vintage and Legacy. Although Legacy has a technically larger card pool to draw from, Modern is at this power level which allows more categories of cards to see play. The Legacy metagame is also almost fully settled, whereas the Modern metagame is still evolving, but at a slower pace than Standard.
Modern has evolved to become a wide open format with literally over 30 or more decks that are all viable in tournaments. The differences between the tiers aren’t as important as picking a deck that you enjoy so you can stick with it for awhile to learn all its interactions within itself and with other decks. Due to the power of the decks, any deck can have its day if the deck runs well. But on the flip side, Modern rewards mastery better too, as can be seen by players like Lee Shi Tian, Jacob Wilson and Patrick Dickmann who post consistent results in big Modern tournaments. Like in poker, it can’t be all luck if the same few names consistently appear at the top 8.
The cost of playing Modern
Modern seems like an expensive format to get into at first. And here, i’d like to share my story of how I got into Modern.
I first started playing Magic in 1994 and like many Magic players, I had an on-and-off-again relationship with the game, quitting multiple times. When I came back to the game in 2012 I did not own any deck. I told myself, i’ll keep to a $200 budget for a Standard deck, buying into a mono red deck. Thankfully, many of the cards in that deck spiked in price and I managed to sell off that deck to fund other decks. But quickly, that $200 budget was blown and before I knew it, I already spent more than a thousand into the hobby as the Standard decks during that period (INN-RTR) were expensive. #cardboardcrack
Modern was picking up here in Singapore and I sold off my Standard deck with an eye to picking a Standard deck that can be easily transitioned to Modern. I chose UWR in Standard, which at the time had playsets of Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel and played a smattering of Sphinx’s Revelation. This deck had a cousin in Modern, which was UW Control, which was one of the tier 1 decks at that time. I was very glad with this move when rotation season came and many of the cards that I used to own quickly tanked in value and the cards that are in my deck remained relatively unscathed. In many cases, cards I used to own dropped 90% of their value. As an example, Bonfire of the Damned was easily bought and sold for $50 at the time and after rotation became less than $5.
This, is the recurring and sad story of the cost of playing Standard. Not only does the meta change quickly, invalidating decks and cards, having players continuously buying new cards to keep up with the times, the decks themselves lose a lot of value with rotation. A good example is Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which was a $20+ dollar card for a long while before it plunged. But notice how Thoughtseize has remained constant in value. Standard may seem like a cheap format at first, but if Magic is your main hobby, Standard has you spending more money than just buying into one good Modern deck and playing and updating it for a few years. Modern can be cheaper over the long run.
But, have new players “missed the boat” to Modern? Snapcaster Mage for example was $25 for a long time, but has (finally) spiked to $80. Same goes for many Modern staples. But as i’ve learnt a few years before, the power level of some Standard decks aren’t far from Modern decks and if one chooses a deck with an eye towards the transition, there’s an opportunity to pick up a deck relatively cheaply now. A well chosen Standard deck now can be slowly upgraded with new sets to become a viable Modern deck.
Here are some cards in Standard now that I believe are poised to have a breakout in Modern soon. If you are a Standard player thinking of transitioning to Modern and don’t have these already, consider buying these cards soon:
Goblin Rabblemaster. This goblin lord has already seen some small amounts of play in Modern with Jund, but with the recent reprinting of Goblin Piledriver, is poised for seeing much more play. Even without Piledriver, a Goblins pilot managed to win a Modern event at Dueller’s Point a few months ago. Goblins is the original Red Deck Wins deck, and unlike Burn, has an easier time not running out of cards as it’s not exchanging cards for life totals directly - by using permanents, it generates damage continuously. And if you curve out with Goblin Guide into Piledriver into Rabblemaster...
Chord of Calling and Collected Company. If you think these cards are good in Standard, wait till you see its bigger cousin in Modern. With the bigger card pool, the targets Chord of Calling can get are incredible. If the opponent taps out, you can even immediately win the game if you have the appropriate other creatures on the battlefield. In Abzan Company, a sacrifice outlet like Viscera Seer or Cartel Aristocrat, a persist creature like Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap and an enabler like Melira or Anafenza is an instant win.
Master of Waves. Already seeing play in Merfolk, which is an underrated deck in Modern, but its applications can go beyond the creatures from under the sea. Master of Waves being resistant to Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Terminate and Inquisition of Kozilek is huge and I won’t be surprised if a Modern port of Mono Blue Devotion becomes playable at some point as more cards enter the card pool. Barring which, Merfolk is a great deck that’s getting better as more Merfolk get printed.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Mono Green devotion/ramp is already a viable option in Modern and is one of those strategies that just get better and better with new cards.
Thoughtseize. Pretty obvious that if you have any intentions of playing Black at all, you need a couple of these. You don’t need a playset as burn is a thing and you will be punished for playing 4, but this card only has one way to go in terms of price - up.
3 Decks you must know about
I have chosen to highlight these 3 decks as they are amongst the most common decks you will see at any Modern event. In the case of Splinter Twin, it also puts a limit upon the format which every Modern deck must obey.
This ubiquitous deck is one of the main reasons why Modern is called a turn 4 format. If you choose to only read one deck description in this article, this is the one you must read. If you don’t interact with it, it’s likely that you will lose turn 4 to this deck.
At the end of your turn on turn 3, a Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite will flash in and likely tap down your land. You are now left with a decision - if you even have one - do you use your instant speed removal now to kill this creature or counter this creature using a counterspell? If you don’t remove it, you can lose the game when the opponent untaps, lays down a land and casts Splinter Twin targeting the Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite
Using Pestermite as an example:
Tap Pestermite using Splinter Twin’s given ability, which creates an untapped Pestermite token.
This token has the ability given by Splinter Twin too, so it can repeat step 1, targeting the original Pestermite to create a token.
Repeat this over and over, creating more and more tokens, which can then attack you for any amount of damage it wants. A million 2/1 flying Pestermites attacking you for 2 million damage? GG.
Splinter Twin puts some limits on Modern. Your Modern deck must do at least one of these:
be able to win before or at turn 4 consistently (e.g., Affinity, Burn, Zoo, Grishoalbrand)
has hand disruption (e.g., Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek)
disrupt mana before turn 4 consistently (e.g., turn 3 Karn - exile a land)
If your deck does not do any of these, its probably unplayable in Modern. On the flip side, Twin has weaknesses too. Pressuring the life total while being able to remove creatures at instant speed makes the Twin player sweat bullets. Burn and Jund for example are typically seen as bad matchups for Twin players as they do exactly that.
As a sidenote, many Magic players love to brew their own decks and although there’s nothing wrong with that (and in fact, should be encouraged), if the deck does not contain any of the 5 attributes I listed above, it’s very likely the player will have A Bad Time in the format. Unless you enjoy losing, a lot.
A consistent, fast aggressive deck that’s built to maximize the synergy it has with casting lots of low costed artifacts. Using cards like Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal, it spits out its entire hand as early as turn 1 or 2. These cheap creatures don’t seem much at first… until one of them becomes huge with Cranial Plating or steadily grows bigger with Steel Overseer. It’s okay, I have Lightning Bolt you say. Then out pops Etched Champion which blanks your entire hand of removal spells. Or Arcbound Ravager gets value if you kill one of its friends or even combos using Inkmoth Nexus to deal 10 infect damage, as early as turn 3.
This deck is the reason why you see cards like Stony Silence, Creeping Corrosion, Shatterstorm and Vandalblast in Modern sideboards. Affinity is fast and consistent, but it also folds hard to sideboard cards like these in (un)timely moments.
With the reprinting of fetchlands in Khans of Tarkir and the banning of Birthing Pod, many new players have switched to playing this deck - and for good reason. This deck is consistent and fast - and is relatively cheap to build. You can even take a budget version of this deck without fetchlands and take down small events. It also has a solid matchup against many of the tier 1 decks in Modern.
On the other hand, many cards that gain life are in maindecks and not just sideboards in Modern. Kitchen Finks and Scavenging Ooze see play in Abzan Company, Abzan and Jund. Burn also does not interact very well with combo decks that utilize creatures that don’t die to Lightning Bolt, or doesn’t use creatures at all.
Additional resources for the new Modern player:
http://www.mtgsalvation.com/forums/the-game/modern - Has primers (articles describing decks) for most of the decks you will see at any Modern event. Great way to quickly get up to speed and get inspiration on what deck to pick.
http://www.starcitygames.com/tags/Modern - Tons of great articles on Modern, many of the older ones are now free to read on the site without subscription.
http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/ - Many articles on Modern by the many top pros writing for the site.
http://www.mtgmintcard.com/articles?tag=Modern - New site with many Modern articles written by Asian pro players.
With this, I hope i’ve sparked your interest in Modern and hope to play with you some day. May you never crack a fetchland for Blood Crypt, Thoughtseize and see a hand full of burn.