Modern: The Great Self-Correcting Format

Todd Stevens has heard enough of the Modern wailing and woe! Today he shows how the Modern metagame corrects itself week by week…and gives his suggestions for the Modern Classic at SCG Washington DC! Don’t be left behind as it corrects itself once again!

Last week, I wrote about all of the cards on the Modern Banned and Restricted List and if I believed it was acceptable to remove them from the list and release them into the format. The reason I went through this exercise was because of the specific language in the most recent Banned and Restricted announcement, where it was hinted that a card may come off the list after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.

Now, even though I went over some cards that had the chance to be acceptable to unban, I truly don’t think anything should. Every card on the banlist is there for a reason, and I don’t think any of them would make the format more enjoyable. That’s not the biggest reason why we don’t need anything unbanned, though.

It’s because Modern is a self-correcting format.

What I mean by this is that, when an archetype rises to the top of the format, there is a large enough card pool to find tools to beat it. This hasn’t always been the case, as there have been decks in the past and most likely will be decks in the future that are too strong for the format, but in 2017 we have seen time and again the format has the ability to adjust to the top decks. Heading into #SCGCIN, U/R Gifts Storm was the deck on everyone’s mind, as it had won two of the last three Modern Opens and looked to be the best deck of the format. That was heading into #SCGCIN, of course, as now we have a new contender for the deck to beat:

As I’m sure you’re aware of by now, Collins Mullen was completely dominant at SCG Cincinnati, not losing a match during the entire weekend. His Humans deck has the perfect combination of being explosive as well as having plenty of disruption for his opponent. I won’t go too much into to the deck overall today, as Patrick Chapin already wrote about it on Monday and you’ll be hearing from Collins Mullen himself about it later on in the week, but I wanted to touch on a few things.

I’ll admit I’ve been against Meddling Mage in Modern for a while every time someone asks me about the card, which is usually used in sideboards. Generally, in those post-sideboard games, when playing a creature deck, your opponent has a greater ability to answer the creatures you’re playing, and I haven’t felt like a Meddling Mage or two is an effective sideboard option because of it. However, Collins went full throttle with the card this weekend and ran a full playset in the maindeck, which I actually think was a great choice. Having access to Meddling Mage Game 1 is much more effective against the combo decks of the format that won’t have as much interaction, especially U/R Gifts Storm, the deck on everyone’s mind heading into the tournament.

Most builds of U/R Gifts Storm only had access to Grapeshot as a win condition in their maindeck and were just cold to a Meddling Mage naming Grapeshot. Having four cards in your maindeck that essentially say “If this spell resolves, you win the game” against the expected most-played archetype is incredibly enticing, and I loved the decision to go all-in on Meddling Mage.

Even besides Meddling Mage, this is a nightmare of a matchup for U/R Gifts Storm. There are so many good creatures at disrupting their gameplan here that it’s hard to have an answer to all of them, especially when you take into account the fast clock that the Humans present as well. One thing that’s for sure is that U/R Gifts Storm will have to adapt now to be able to handle all of these Humans, as I don’t think Humans is going anywhere for a while. This isn’t a flash in the pan; Collins Mullen discovered a new Tier 1 archetype that I expect to see plenty of in the future.

This is what I meant when I said that Modern is a self-correcting format. A week ago, I thought that U/R Gifts Storm was the strongest deck in the format by a large margin and that it had the ability to be a dominating threat at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Just one week later and we have a dominant performance by a deck that has an incredibly good matchup against U/R Gifts Storm, and now the Storm pilots are scrambling to adapt.

Humans had such an incredibly dominant performance, one that we haven’t seen from a breakout deck since Death’s Shadow in February, that I would be worried about it gaining traction if I were a U/R Gifts Storm player. When Gerry Thompson, Josh Utter-Layton, and Sam Black dominated #GPVAN with Death’s Shadow, it looked like the best strategy in Modern was found. There were plenty of innovations over the next few months, which resulted in a period of time where Grixis Death’s Shadow was the clear deck to beat. At the time, I even thought that if there was a Modern Pro Tour, the entire field would only be Death’s Shadow variants and deck specifically built to beat Death’s Shadow.

Now, while this event never happened, the metagame somewhat looked like it for a very brief period. People started playing niche cards specifically for the matchup, such as creatures with protection from black or spells that forced their opponent to gain life. This is just the result of every deck that’s on top of a metagame, though, as players want to be able to beat it, and therefore the format will correct itself. Death’s Shadow is now just another good deck in the format and no longer warping the format drastically, which is the same thing I expect from U/R Gifts Storm now after the development of Humans. The real problem is when you have decks that are so good that they have a good chance at beating everything, which was the downfall of fan favorites Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin.

Humans in the Metagame Moving Forward

So what’s next for Humans?

Well, although I do believe it will do a good job of keeping U/R Gifts Storm in check, it’s not without its vulnerabilities itself. The first thing to take into account when considering the future of Humans is that there are plenty of two-drops in the deck that are incredibly poor in the mirror, something that I’m sure Collins wasn’t worried about at #SCGCIN. The future requires real consideration for having a better sideboard for the mirror, and that will likely take away from other matchups.

Next, when every card in your deck either generates mana or is a Human creature, you are limited in what you are able to play…and able to beat. Although there was already plenty of removal in the format before, with black-based midrange decks being seemingly everywhere on Day 2 of #SCGCIN, players didn’t come into the tournament with plans for their Humans matchup and didn’t have any specific sideboard cards for it.

How the deck responds to when people start building decks to beat it will truly show how good it is, but for now it looks to be our newest Tier 1 deck, so I have a couple of thoughts in my head about some decks that could possibly emerge to fight Humans.

None of the creatures in Humans can remove an enchantment, and overall the metagame doesn’t have too many ways to interact with enchantments. Is it possible Enduring Ideal would be a good way to attack the current metagame? The goal of the deck is to lock out your opponent from attacking you with the taxing effects of Ghostly Prison and Sphere of Safety and then use Form of the Dragon or Dovescape to finish the game.

If you’re able to get these two cards on the battlefield, then many decks, including Humans and U/R Gifts Storm, would have no way to win in Game 1. It’s a two-card combo that most decks aren’t prepared to face pre-sideboard and could be a strong win condition to build around right now.

There’s a very good chance that building an enchantment-based prison deck without Enduring Ideal is the correct way to go, but in any case this is an archetype I’m excited about right now.

I also like the look of InspectorGadget’s B/W Control deck, which takes advantage of the new planeswalker uniqueness rule quite nicely. There are so many powerful control cards in both black and white that I like the simple two-color deck over playing Esper. There is still plenty of removal in this deck and I love having access to Tectonic Edge as well. I’d personally like to see a Crucible of Worlds in the sideboard as well as a better split with playing Damnation and Wrath of God because of Meddling Mage, but this looks to be another promising archetype moving forward.

The Metagame Continues to Adapt

Earlier in the year, it looked like Grixis Death’s Shadow was too strong for Modern, yet the format expanded in such a way that Grixis Death’s Shadow could not handle the wide variety of angles of attack that all the different decks provided. Recently, U/R Gifts Storm looked to take over that top slot, yet the Humans deck that Collins Mullen brought to #SCGCIN looks to be the natural predator of Storm.

Each set this year has had an impact on the metagame in Modern, and I think that’s the best way to keep the format healthy and thriving as opposed to banning and unbanning cards, at least for now. It’s possible that in the future, when more cards like Opt are printed, a deck like U/R Gifts Storm could become a problem, but if I’ve learned anything from Modern in 2017, it’s that the format has the ability to self-correct if a particular deck starts to pull ahead of the rest of the pack, and that’s exactly where we want the format to be.