Modern Is Wonderful

Emma Handy is about to tackle #SCGINVI, but in order to do that, she has to know her Modern! And she does. And she loves it!

People love to complain, and I’m getting sick of it. We get it: Modern has powerful decks and watered-down interaction. Everyone tends to get upset that there are too many decks to properly prepare for everything, and a few unexpected matchups in a row can lead to an early drop from the tournament.

What if these aren’t format bugs? What if they’re features?

Powered-Up Threats

One of the aspects of Modern that people tend to decry is the difference in power level between Modern’s answers and the threats that the format can present. It’s quite hard to have a deck that is prepared for Glistener Elf, Urza’s Tower, Prized Amalgam, Slippery Bogle, Death’s Shadow, Collected Company, and Goblin Guide.

That’s a hard point to argue.

On the other side of the coin, it isn’t hard to have a deck that is prepared for Glistener Elf, Urza’s Tower, Prized Amalgam, Slippery Bogle, Death’s Shadow, Collected Company, or Goblin Guide. Decks in Modern aren’t necessarily meant to be exclusively reactive; decks in Modern aren’t even meant to be primarily reactive.

I’m no speaker for Wizards of the Coast, of course, so I can’t definitively say what formats are and aren’t “supposed” to look like, but judging from the influx of aggressively slanted midrange decks in recent tournaments, it’s hard to imagine that counterspells are near the top of R&D’s priorities, and that’s okay.

If found, please call.

An overarching theme in my articles as of late has been that Magic is a game. Different people are going to enjoy the game differently and Modern fosters this idea splendidly. Generally speaking, people enjoy winning, so having a multitude of ways to win a game is going to create the largest audience of people that can do something they want in Modern. This isn’t always going to be the best thing for people who care exclusively about winning, but for people who want to win in a specific way, it’s a utopian environment.

Many of the people who tend to be genuinely upset with Modern are tired of losing to a specific strategy. This problem is fixable. A deck may not always be the best call within a certain metagame, but there aren’t “unbeatable” decks in Modern. During Eldrazi Winter, Affinity, Merfolk, and Abzan Company decks still existed with reasonable matchups against Spaghetti Monster Tribal.

The issue here that more competitive players tend to run into is that, while a deck may be able to defeat a single strategy, that doesn’t mean it can compete against a large enough percentage of the field to beat everything else. This is fantastic!

This means that Modern doesn’t tend to be swallowed by a single archetype in spite of having a card pool of over 10,000 unique cards. This means that, despite some format mainstays, the breakdown of decks in any given Modern tournament is going to ebb and flow over time.

Twitter has been buzzing about the possible need to ban something from either Dredge or Infect for a few weeks, but the elimination rounds of Grand Prix Dallas at the beginning of last month showcased that, when it comes to beating those archetypes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

There isn’t much to say about this deck thatStarCityGames.com’s own Ross Merriam hasn’t already covered in Daily Digest. It is built to beat up on decks with greedy manabases, little creatures, and graveyards. In a world of Dredge and Infect, Koth is king!

This is someone who knew what decks they wanted to beat, someone who knew what kind of Magic they wanted to play.

Modern Isn’t Necessarily for Everyone

Why do you play Magic?

Is it to gain an edge through technical play at every single tournament you attend? Is it hoping to take advantage of a section of a defined field through some sideboard slots? Do you prefer to read a single article and sideboarding guide before sleeving a deck up for the first time at a competitive tournament?

Modern might not be your format.

That’s not to say that people who enjoy those parts of Magic aren’t welcome at Modern tournaments, or that it’s impossible to utilize these specific portions of one’s Magic skillset. This is to say that these aren’t the sides of Magic that Modern tends to reward.

Modern is a format of knowing what you play best with, and playing best with what you know.

Unexpected Matchups

“But Emma, there are so many decks that I’m not sure what I want to beat. How can I build a deck that beats anything if I don’t know what I’m going to play against?”

You don’t always have to do something that beats up on a specific deck. Generally, if a deck is doing something powerful (especially if it fights on a weird axis), it will end up having a spattering of reasonable matchups.

Ari Lax recently elected to try to Restore Balance at Grand Prix Dallas with a grouping of 75 cards that could be mistaken for a “deck.”

I’m not here to describe why Restore Balance may (or may not) be a real deck or explain how it is able to stand on its own legs. Ari does a great job of that in his article on the deck. Displaying this deck is meant to do nothing more than illustrate that there are Modern decks containing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; a gameplan that involves having zero lands on the battlefield; and (somehow) a non-zero number of great matchups.

Positive matchups aside, it’s not hard to imagine Ari getting some number of free wins due to the fact that many of his opponents had no idea what was going on until it was too late. When starting Modern with the plan being “I want to win on my terms,” the sky is effectively the limit on what can be done in deck selection.

Todd Stevens’s bread and butter as of late has been the W/R Prison deck of his own creation:

Outside of a handful of decks in the same vein making an appearance here or there, Todd has always made sure that, if he is playing Magic, he is playing Magic how he wants to play, for better or for worse. Despite this deck not being the most proactive strategy, it is one of the only ways to be reactive in the format: by preventing the opponent from being any kind of active in the first place via prison elements.

Did I mention that he was one of the first people to successfully put Bant Eldrazi on the map as well?

Throughout Todd’s residency at StarCityGames.com as a columnist, it’s been made incredibly clear that Todd wins his games on the battlefield, whether through creature combat or manabases. The decks he builds and puts work into showcase how he plays to those strengths in a way that isn’t as achievable in any other format.

Finding Your Voice

Though the format may be a brewer’s paradise, it isn’t a barrier to entry. A lot of enjoying Modern happens after you understand what you enjoy in Magic. I’ve asked it once and I’ll ask it again:

Why do you enjoy playing Magic?

More specifically, what kind of Magic do you enjoy playing?

Sam Stoddard has one of the most iconic Magic articles of all time in his “Creating A Fearless Magical Inventory,” and a good portion of the self-analysis translates to this situation. Rather than finding out what parts of your Magic game are lacking (and which parts aren’t), you should instead work on finding out what kind of Magic you like to play and what kind you don’t. That doesn’t mean which cards you prefer playing (though evaluating common trends among cards you like may help); it means looking at what strategies you prefer to play and what deck themes you stray from.

So it turns out that you hate creatures and like doing wonky things with exclusively spells? There’s a deck for that:

What’s that? Complicated combat math?

Ramp is your thing? Modern has one of the most contextually powerful ramp decks of all time!

I could play this game all day. Modern has a plethora of different decks that let you play your game. I can’t remember the last Modern tournament that had more than three copies of a single archetype being represented in the Top 8* and the copious number of decks lends itself to including as many different kinds of players as possible having a way to enjoy Modern.

*Though I’m confident that somebody in the comments is prepared to prove me wrong.

Modern Is a Reminder That This Is a Game

For many people, myself included, Magic is a lot more than a game. I don’t mean that in the “Magic As Medicine” way that Mark Nestico was preaching earlier this week. Magic is a source of income for a lot of people, and even if it isn’t directly affecting one’s finances, a good number of people’s attitudes toward Magic are relatively contingent upon their results in the game.

It’s easy to feel like you’re wasting your time when you’re losing. “Why do I spend so much time on this game?” “Who in their right mind would travel this often just to lose?” “Everyone who plays this game must be insane.” We’ve all been there. I know that I have.

Modern is humbling.

Modern takes me back to the lunch table era of Magic. For some, there hasn’t been anything but competitive Magic, and for those people, I’ll try to paint as best a picture of the mentality as I can…

Imagine a single table at the back of a high school cafeteria with eight or nine people trying to fit at a table meant to seat six. Nobody is really sure who’s the best or what deck is the most powerful, but this week, John’s tribal deck has been doing a lot of winning. Kathleen is still playing the same deck she’s been playing since she was a freshman, and she’s graduating in just a few months. It feels like all she really wants to do is play kill spells and hope that one or two creatures are good enough. Jerome’s mom bought him a box of the new set for his birthday, so his deck is mostly a bunch of cards from the new set doing weird stuff. Devin’s girlfriend got him into the game recently and just gave him her leftover red cards, but he’s still stealing some games and having a blast.

Winning is fun and losing is frustrating, but it isn’t the end of the world. The best part of Magic is that, when it’s over, you shuffle up and you play again. It isn’t as final as something with a significant amount of time being invested into a single playthrough a la Eldritch Horror, and with the complexity of interactions in Magic, the rules themselves can warp depending on what cards people put in their decks. It’s always different and there’s generally something fun going on.

Modern isn’t always about winning, and it isn’t always about doing what you’re supposed to do. Modern is about playing Magic, and it’s wonderful.