Modern: The Worst It’s Ever Been?

*Record scratch* It seems Brennan DeCandio doesn’t share Shaun McLaren’s opinion about Modern being the best it’s ever been! In fact, he’s here with a special plea to Wizards of the Coast: don’t ruin Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan!

Freshly returned from a weekend in the wonderful city of Charlotte and a wild ride in Modern, I’m faced with a dilemma.

While I’ve heard the praises of many who adore the Modern format as a whole, I’ve found it severely lacking in the front I find most appealing about competitive Magic, which is the sense of a metagame. Shaun McLaren recently went into detail as why he believes Modern is the best it’s ever been, and I agree with him on a lot of his points he’s made as far as the health of the format. If that’s the case, then why do I believe this is the worst Modern format we’ve ever seen?

To clarify, I do believe that the format is the healthiest it’s ever been as far as balance and diversity. There’s no one deck that has a stranglehold over the format or is pushing other decks to lower tiers of play, which is what I believe was the original hope for Modern back during its inception. But when it comes to competitive play, healthy doesn’t always mean good.

The pillars of the format have been just about leveled and it’s really dealer’s choice when it comes to what weapon you can wield in this format. So I ask again, why is this not the sign of a good format? Currently in Standard there are about three to five decks you can choose from as known quantities that all have proven to be the cream of the crop and respectable choices for any given weekend.

Within those decks, you’re allowed to customize several card slots that are better or worse depending on what matchups you’d expect to play and can give you a distinguishable edge if you chose to made such changes. Sideboarding is something that really can make a difference in Standard as well, as you’re able to generally gauge what you’re going to face because of the card pool being relatively small. It’s not too hard to have general answers which can overlap against decks giving you game against more opponents.

Modern has no such luck. You’ll notice in my article last week that I started off with all the decks I wouldn’t be surprised to sit across from at the Open in Charlotte and the “short list” wasn’t very short. The real reason I think Modern is the worst it’s ever been is that there is no way to prepare for a competitive tournament without sacrificing more than a dozen matchups and just hoping for good pairings. I’ve never seen a format with such linear decks all just racing to the finish line, doing what little they can to disrupt one another while being dead to a few narrow sideboard cards they’re hoping to dodge along the way.

My friend and travel partner for this weekend’s event, Dakotah Cotton, finished in the Top 32 with his Affinity deck, where his overall gameplan was to dodge as many decks playing Stony Silence as he could.

On Day 1, he went 7-2, playing against two decks that sideboarded in Stony Silence, which he lost to. He lost to another deck playing Stony Silence on Day 2, and once to our eventual champion Paul Muller playing Storm while I watched them both practically ignore each other and race to see who killed who first. Not to mention Dakotah also informed me he played against Eldrazi Tron eight times during the Swiss, which is an exceptionally favorable matchup.

My point is, I don’t see Modern being much more than picking a powerful linear deck, hoping for good matchups, and dodging relevant hateful sideboard cards at the moment. For that to be considered a competitive format is almost laughable. I’m not defending the past year of any other formats that might have had their own downfalls due to design, but to call Modern a good format makes me laugh profusely.

I will say that I believe this Modern format with all the current cards on the banned list is the healthiest it’s ever been and is a fantastic format for any local store, for FNM, for casual play. It gives you plenty to do with cards and decks that have since left the spotlight of Standard, which is why it’s so popular. Modern gives life to decks that people loved in the past and is super-entertaining to watch from a coverage perspective because of all the crazy things that happen in it in random matchups. It’s so popular because it’s a lasting investment that people enjoy getting use out of old cards with.

Modern is a great format…

…just not for competitive play.

You can hate me for that. That’s fine. I honestly wish nothing but the best for the format. While it’s difficult to say that the problem is that it’s too healthy is something that can be “fixed,” it’s really not. You shouldn’t ban any one card, and you sure as hell shouldn’t unban any card like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The issue is that Modern is finally at a balanced place in its existence and you really can’t logically poke a hole in that. Maybe something will come down the line with the release of future sets and mess everything up and we’ll have a Public Enemy Number One to fight that will shape a metagame once again, like Oath of the Gatewatch, but I certainly don’t hope for that.

My suggestion: do nothing.

Leave Modern just as it is, but please don’t make it a highly competitive format again, like a Pro Tour. Many people are beyond excited that Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is going to be Modern, while I’m here begging for a last-minute change because Wizards came to their senses.

They have promised to not make any Banned List change until after the Pro Tour, but is that really a good thing? What if there’s an untapped secret deck that just no one has stumbled upon yet and is found by a team testing for the Pro Tour? What if it ends up breaking Modern using a card or two currently in a deck that’s beloved by many and that card is determined to be the fuel for the engine that gets the wheels turning, and all of a sudden Mox Opal is banned? That means no more Lantern, no more Affinity, no more KCI decks. And what if a year goes by and not much has changed in the Modern format, and in order to shake things up, they decide to ban or unban a card just to make it not be an exact repeat of the previous year’s tournament?

No one wants to live in a world where their pet deck is up on the chopping block just because it did well at a Pro Tour or at Grand Prix for a year or so. I know people who’ve invested a lot of time and money into their Modern decks, and it hurts to see what they’ve taken the time and effort into piecing together for so long get hit by a banhammer just because Wizards decided to throw a brick of dynamite into the format so that it looks interesting for one weekend. The legality of one card or another isn’t the issue. The issue is the card pool and its vastness leading to one obvious answer that there is no solution to the format. Again, it’s great for FNM, not the Pro Tour or the like.

The only acceptable proposal I could see that might make Modern more appealing as a competitive format is fundamentally changing the rules of deckbuilding and allowing up to a twenty-card sideboard. It would allow the linear decks to exist, but instead of throwing darts with the limited number of high-impact sideboard cards you can play in any “fair” deck, you’re able to have a more adaptive sideboard based on the countless “unfair” matchups you’re likely to face. The notion has been suggested before, and while it would be a bit extreme, I can’t think of any better way to help the format without destroying what’s taken nearly seven years to cultivate.

All in all, I think Modern is great; just let it exist in a world where it’s not being played at Magic’s highest level and under the scrutiny of the best players in the world.

Moving on, SCG Charlotte itself was the first event where we’ve given a lot of attention to some of the new cards from Ixalan and their applications in the format. I for one had a full eight cards from Ixalan in my deck. Despite my performance in the event, I still believe it to be a good deck, having far different results in the Magic Online Leagues.

When Kitesail Freebooter was first released, we all were pretty much relegating this card to be included in the Pirate tribal decks we expected Standard to have, while ignoring the more important fact that it’s also a Human. While its triggered ability is worse than those of its ugly cousins Tidehollow Sculler and Brain Maggot, its lines of text “Human” and “flying” are massive upgrades for a card like this. Flying might not seem like it matters, but when facing down an Inkmoth Nexus or Signal Pest, it certainly can be one of the most important abilities for a deck like this to have. Most every deck has targets for the “Duress” effect, and I certainly won some games by getting in several turns just with a flying Squire buffed by some Noble Hierarchs.

Unclaimed Territory is just another five-color land that this deck has access to. Of course, it’s worse than Cavern of Souls in virtually every aspect of play, but you still want it to enable the somewhat stretched creature selection for this tribal deck.

The pitfall I found with this deck was that I suffered more mulligans than I think I’ve taken in the past several Opens I’ve played in combined. I’m not sure if it’s the configuration of the deck or if it was just variance catching up to me. Testing online with the deck, I didn’t have the same issue and am currently 13-2 in the past three Leagues I’ve played with it. Maybe I’m getting bad matchups? Maybe it’s just the online metagame is slightly better-suited for a deck like this to exist, although I highly doubt it.

All in all, I do like this deck and I think that Freebooter gives this deck an edge alongside Thalia, Guardian of Thraben over some of the more unfair decks of the format.

Like I mentioned before, Modern is a tough cookie to crack these days and I’m not sure what can be done that wouldn’t overall be harmful to what many people see as the appeal to the format in being able to play nearly anything you’d like.

While the main event didn’t go exactly as planned for me, I was able to do reasonably well in the Standard Classic on Sunday, piloting the same 60 I left you all with last week and a few new sideboard options I found exceedingly helpful.

These cards were more for the expected metagame this go-around rather than glaring oversights from variations past. Deadeye Tracker really shows its worth in the mirror match, where eating away at an opposing graveyard can make almost anything they’re able to cobble together ineffective against you, not to mention the incidental value you get from exploring.

Dreamstealer is a card near and dear to my heart. I’ve had fantasies of casting this and following it up with a Rishkar, Peema Renegade in the past, but I think its best use here is sneaking under permission against U/B Control and taxing their hand, forcing them to tap out at inconvenient times. If you expect to see more control in the metagame you’re playing in, I would be tempted to go to three, potentially four copies of this menacing threat.

While I couldn’t quite take down the tournament, it was won by another variant of God-Pharaoh’s Gift, making this the first title won by the deck on the SCG Tour. While there aren’t many (any) Standard Opens on the schedule for the rest of this season, there still is the Team Constructed Open in Baltimore just a month away, not to mention Grand Prix Atlanta being hosted by StarCityGames.com, where you’ll find me with some number of God-Pharaoh’s Gifts in my 75.

As for now, I’ll be taking a step back this weekend and watching from home as the rest of you battle it out at SCG Cincinnati in this Wild Wild West of a format. Good luck!