Are the Modern metagame and format in general the best they’ve ever been?
I’ve been contemplating that question recently whenever I try to pick a new Modern deck to play or consider what the best Modern deck is.
Is Modern a good format right now?
I think it is.
Is Modern the best it’s ever been?
I think that’s pretty much true right now as well.
So what’s making Modern good right now? What areas has Modern struggled with in the past, present, and potentially the future and what is it excelling at? There will be wildly differing opinions on what makes a good format and what doesn’t, but I’ll try to lay out what makes Modern unique. Here are my thoughts on Modern.
Where We’ve Been
In the beginning, Wizards created the lands, the creatures, and the Standard format. But some people played way too much Standard and sometimes Standard got stale, so the people demanded more. Thus Modern was born and the people rejoiced.
The Modern format has been around since 2011 and has been wildly popular since it was created. The Modern player base has continued to grow despite some ups and downs, but has the format aged like a fine wine, or grown moldy like an old pumpkin left out from last Halloween?
Over the last six years, we’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of new cards added to the Modern format each year as new Magic sets get released, with the occasional card leaving the format via banning every now and then. Modern has been majorly influenced by powerful new cards and combos and then by the eventual bans that occur as a result of these cards creating or pushing existing oppressive archetypes beyond the realms of degeneracy.
As time passed, the endless cycle of oppression and eventual ban continued, but I think we’ve finally reached a point of stability, or at least the calm before the storm, and a point where the previous bans are looking really good and having a lasting positive impact on the format.
The Most Recent Bans Have Been Great for Long-Term Format Health
The most recent Modern bans, which happened at the beginning of 2017, were Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll. I think these bans turned out to be great for the health of the Modern metagame.
They knocked a bunch of archetypes down a peg without killing them completely.
Dredge went from a deck you needed to have heavy graveyard hate for to just being playable and easily managed if you came ready to beat it.
U/R Gifts Storm, Infect, and Death’s Shadow all bordered on being oppressive, and losing Gitaxian Probe hurt them all without killing them completely… well, maybe it killed Infect.
Death’s Shadow decks in particular were quickly becoming more and more difficult to fight against with any decks, but losing Gitaxian Probe meant they turned out to be surprisingly beatable.
Modern is a format filled with non-interactive games that are often decided by whether you get the right matchups or draw the right sideboard cards… or so the saying goes.
Is this sentiment correct?
To a certain extent, yes, but at the end of the day you’re still playing Magic. Perhaps just a higher-variance, fast-paced version of it, but that suits many people just fine.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to pick a Modern deck or find the “best” deck in Modern if you don’t already have your go-to deck to play. I know that, when I build a Standard deck, I try to have a solid plan for every matchup and ideally to be favored against pretty much every deck in the expected field. That isn’t really possible in Modern, which can be frustrating for Pros trying to find a solid edge. Not only is the metagame incredibly vast, there are going to be some games beyond your control.
But for Modern, this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, and it is part of what makes Modern special and different from Standard, which usually starts out all over the place and then solidifies into a couple of top decks nowadays.
The Modern format as it currently stands has settled into an equilibrium of degeneracy, where every deck is degenerate in some way, but they’re all within the same realm of degeneracy. Modern is at its best when there isn’t a clearly best and busted deck like Eldrazi or Dredge at their peaks.
Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage: each format takes a step up the power level staircase beyond the last. Increase the card pool, and increase the speed and power level of a format, and that makes new cards less likely to be impactful and decreases the frequency of new decks being introduced and old decks being pushed out of the format.
There a lot of different competitive decks in Modern and Modern is the format with the largest variety of viable decks bunched up near the top of the metagame.
That makes it enticing to a wide range of people and makes it somewhat safe to buy into Modern, since your deck of choice is probably going to be viable for a long time because the format doesn’t rotate.
Modern appeals to a lot of different types of people. You can brew, you can netdeck, you can play the same deck for (hopefully) years.
This is something easy to forget for a competitive player like myself: a lot of casual players just want to play their deck of choice and not have it go completely obsolete! Who cares about maximizing your win rate? Blasphemy to the competitive Spike, but not an uncommon sentiment.
While I have no idea what the best deck in Modern is, I have some preferences and thoughts on what’s powerful, but nothing clearly head and shoulders above the rest, and I think that’s the way Modern should be.
Let’s take a look at some of the top Modern decks.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 2 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
Affinity is one of the decks that embodies Modern the best.
First of all, it’s been around forever. You could’ve been happily playing Affinity all this time and you’ll probably be able to play it for all eternity.
It’s also fast with potentially degenerate openings that run over most decks.
If you come prepared for Affinity, you’re probably able to beat it post-sideboard, since there are a lot of “win the game” cards like Stony Silence or Creeping Corrosion that just one-punch the entire deck. If you come unprepared… you’re probably already dead.
- 4 Sleight of Hand
- 4 Serum Visions
- 4 Gifts Ungiven
- 4 Desperate Ritual
- 4 Opt
- 3 Remand
- 3 Grapeshot
- 4 Manamorphose
- 4 Pyretic Ritual
- 1 Noxious Revival
- 2 Past in Flames
U/R Gifts Storm is a bit of a problem. The problem isn’t necessarily the deck itself; it’s more “why does this get to survive and Splinter Twin doesn’t?”
I’m writing this before the Banned and Restricted Announcement, and I don’t expect anything to be banned, since Modern is in a good spot and I think it should be left to cool for a while, but if something were to be banned, it would probably be from this deck.
Would it be so bad to swap Storm with Twin if we could? Is Splinter Twin still “too powerful” with Fatal Push in the format?
I think Storm is a much more degenerate deck than Twin was, so is it just a matter of win rates? This raises the question of how often should they be tinkering and banning things. Lately I think they’ve been too aggressive with bans in general, even though Aetherworks Marvel and Felidar Guardian had to go in Standard.
I think recent Modern bans have had a beneficial impact, but banning cards does come at a cost even when it has positive effects on the format, and positive effects on the format aren’t guaranteed.
For now I’d say it’s clear to leave things alone.
How many decks in Modern history can you say were fair?
Losing to Infect was almost always frustrating. Losing to Splinter Twin, the same. Modern is a format full of frustrating games.
The “Jund” Midrange deck has been the constant shining exemplar of fairness in Modern. The Jund deck of the format can take many forms, in this case Abzan, sometimes straight G/B, sometimes even as Jund.
New Magic cards injected into the Modern ecosystem have followed a similar trend: newer combo cards and spells are weaker and the creatures are stronger.
Even powerful instants like Collected Company or Fatal Push that get a power boost when brought into Modern are focused around creatures. Busted combo decks are rarely focused around new-age cards, even if a card like Baral, Chief of Compliance can help them out.
This is a good trend, as busted combo decks tend to bust up the format and make things miserable for everyone, but the addition of a creature like Tireless Tracker or Siege Rhino to Abzan is simply neato burrito.
One of the best things for Modern has been the strong resurgence of competitive events.
There’s almost always something coming up, an SCG Open like #SCGCIN this weekend or a Modern Classic and a solid number of Modern Grand Prix each year as well. It has never been easier to find a competitive event near you to degenerately Turn 2 someone with U/R Gifts Storm.
The big surprise was the return of the Modern Pro Tour, at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Also, the Team Pro Tour will be one-third Modern, which further endorses the sentiment that Modern is officially here to stay in the competitive scene.
The Pro Tour is an advertisement to sell cards from new sets, and the argument against Modern is that it doesn’t usually include as many cards from the new sets as Standard does.
But isn’t it more important to just have more people excited to be playing Magic? The idea is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and having more great formats means more Magic. Throw the Modern people a bone and they’ll want to play more Magic in general. Make the Magic ecosystem better and it will attract more people.
I think the Modern Pro Tour helps in this regard a great deal.
The scary thing would be if cards are specifically designed for Modern in the sets corresponding to release before Modern Pro Tours. I hope, if this does happen, that they keep a careful eye on the metagame with plenty of testing. Hopefully we don’t have another Eldrazi Winter…
Where We’re Going
“If we don’t study the mistakes of the future, we’re doomed to repeat them for the first time.” – Ken M.
Every single deck that’s made the finals of a Modern Pro Tour has had at least one card from it be banned… except Jeskai Control, piloted by yours truly. That shows how degenerate the decks from Modern’s past have been.
Will that be the case for the next Modern Pro Tour?
What do you think about Modern?