Red Alert! Red Alert!
Modern under severe fire. Broken format. Turn 2 kills. Non-interactive games. Consistent near-unstoppable aggressive decks. Send help or bans.
The Modern Pro Tour is long gone, but Modern tournaments are still as popular and important as ever. Modern is currently an integral part of high-level events like the StarCityGames.com Invitational, SCG Opens, Grand Prix, and even Worlds.
But how is the Modern format holding up?
Like a forgotten box of Alpha cards in a leaky attic.
Modern is in an interesting spot right now.
To sum it up in a nutshell: On the plus side, Modern is diverse. On the negative side, it’s fast and non-interactive. Todd Anderson also nicely tackled these issues recently.
But it’s a different experience for everyone, and it’s complicated pinpointing exactly what’s wrong with Modern, since it can still be fun.
Here are some of the biggest problems with Modern in my mind.
Modern Is Stale
This is honestly one of the biggest hidden issues for someone who has played a lot of Modern since it was first born.
Angel’s Grace into Ad Nauseam or swarming the battlefield with artifacts on turn 1 can be exciting the first time you see it; not as much the twentieth. On a whole, I think the games in the format are unsatisfying due to their speed and lack of interaction, and the more you are repeatedly exposed to that same style of game, the worse the effect becomes.
Decisions like what deck you pick, what you put in your sideboard, and how you mulligan all seem more important than the actual gameplay, and even those decisions are pretty well-explored if you’ve been playing forever. All of the decks are so established and fine-tuned, it’s hard to get an edge in your pregame selection anyway.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Magic is ultimately meant to be fun, and sometimes an aged format can be more fun.
Imagine just entering the format, looking at the feast of archetypes you have to choose from, the tons of interesting combos, and the fast games. All of that can be a good thing to fresher eyes.
But for the seasoned Modern veteran, the linear style of decks combined with the volatility of Modern means your experience isn’t even going to be that much of a multiplier on your fun or success.
When you’ve slogged through your hundredth Become Immense and thousandth Thoughtseize, it can be a little repetitive. I’m sick of playing against Jund and Infect, despite them not being a huge part of the metagame, just because of how long I’ve been playing Modern.
One of the saddest things is that Modern should be a brewer’s paradise, but the vast majority of the brews are never going to really be good enough. They have to be ridiculously deadly, since the tuned efficiency of what they’re up against is an incredibly high barrier for entry.
Interaction Is Dead
The most interactive deck in Modern is Jund.
This is not a good sign.
Most of Jund’s interaction comes in the form of attacking the hand, which is the best way to interact with every deck in format. It still doesn’t feel like a satisfying interaction or win, just stripping your opponent’s important cards with Inquisition of Kozilek and winning off Dark Confidant or Liliana of the Veil.
I mean, winning is winning, and it feels great, but it can still feel a little dirty.
And that’s a deck where your cards actually trade with your opponents. If you happen to play an aggro or combo deck against another aggro or combo deck, it will just feel like if you get hit, it’s your own fault. At least you have your choice whether you want to blindly punch, kick, or chomp in the general direction of your opponent and hope they lose before you do.
None of the interactive decks are likely going to be good enough and reactive spells are only getting worse with each new set, so they won’t have a chance to ever catch up. There will never be a three-mana Wrath of God. If the same trend continues, we’ll need a Large Hadron Collider to force two Modern decks to interact with each other.
Interaction in Modern is dead, and it’s only likely going to get worse.
The best decks in Modern are hidden in plain sight.
It’s also incredibly hard for any deck you build or known archetype you tune to be better than these.
Infect has kind of replaced Splinter Twin as the combo deck that beats other combo decks. It interacts much less and kills much faster.
Death’s Shadow Aggro is very fast, is redundant, operates with a minimal amount of land, is hard to hate out with specific cards, and is surprisingly difficult to run out of resources.
Jund is the best — sigh — control deck of the format. Card advantage, disruption, and efficient ways to punish an opponent once you’ve denied their resources.
These lists are tight! It’s difficult to find a reason to not just pick up one of these decks, since their power levels are high, they’re tuned, and they’re proven competitors.
Honestly, if you’re not playing one of these three decks, you’re probably playing the wrong deck. There are arguments that other decks are better any given week, and it’s hard to notice that they’re the best deck, since they aren’t better by much.
Any other deck you choose is still going to be powerful, which is a good part of what makes Modern good.
Your Soul Sisters, Skred, or Gift-rog Monster deck probably won’t dip much below 45% against the field, since you’ve had thousands of players tuning Souls Sisters throughout the existence of Modern. Yet is Souls Sisters going to be the best deck choice? Not bloody likely.
This leads to a purgatory where, to maximize your win percentage, you just have to play the best deck and be slightly better than the rest of the massive field, or just run your well-tuned brew and be slightly worse than it.
Control Is Dead
As a certified Jeskai Guy, it’s important to address why I think Jeskai Control with Nahiri, the Harbinger is lacking in the current Modern format. It’s an actually decent, actual control deck in the format, and not a terrible choice, but I think it falls a little short.
Imagine you’re building a Jeskai Control deck and you expect 25% or the metagame to be Infect and 25% of the metagame to be Affinity.
Now imagine the 50% of the format is not just Infect and Affinity, but also a mix of Burn, Merfolk, Death’s Shadow Aggro, Dredge, the mirror, Tron, Elves, and Bant Eldrazi.
Then you half to deal with the other half of the format.
The card pool keeps getting bigger. The number of different archetypes keeps growing. It’s difficult for a reactive deck to keep up, even if they get thrown a nice bone like Nahiri, the Harbinger.
Could you build Jeskai Control to beat just the best decks in the format if you think they’re Infect, Death’s Shadow Aggro, and Jund? Sure, but you’ll be worse off against the format as a whole.
Control is dead and it’s not coming back without serious help.
What Can Be Done?
Hard to say.
There are plenty of theoretical options that might fix things, but they vary in terms of difficulty and likeliness to solve the issues.
If you try to reduce the power the good decks with bans and make the format less oppressive, it becomes a question of which oppressive deck do you target, since at this point there are plenty.
There are just way too many broken decks to deal with in a reasonable fashion through bans.
If you try to tinker with the ban list, selectively and carefully banning and unbanning, it’s difficult to get exactly right.
Say you ban Become Immense in an attempt to weaken Infect and Death’s Shadow, but Zoo, Merfolk, Affinity, and all the other aggressive decks just take up more of the metagame. It could open the door a little for different strategies, but what is the right balance?
Other approaches to fixing Modern involve taking cards off the banned list, since we have an extensive list and it has a few reasonable potential unban candidates. Just let the broken decks be really broken and duke it out. Which would be interesting, but likely just leave us deeper in the mud rather than balancing everything.
There are just way too many ridiculously powerful cards to deal with by banning in a reasonable fashion.
But what about banning in an unreasonable fashion?
Here’s what I would ban in Modern to shake up the format:
Boom! Nuclear meltdown!
Now, this is a Modern format I would want to play in.
Is this a calculated comprehensive list of cards that would absolutely fix Modern if they were banned?
Some of these cards probably don’t deserve to be banned, and some I missed probably do.
It’s more of a thought experiment of how I would want to massively reduce the power of Modern by taking a shotgun approach to banning.
The Extended format suffered by being Standard 2.0, an overpowered extension of Standard, and Modern is suffering by being a lesser version of Legacy. It’s difficult to ever make Modern like Standard; there are just way too many cards available for the power level to dip that far, even if you were to roll out a woodchipper for the next wave of bans.
This is what would be most fun in my mind, even if it is a foolhardy approach overall.
Things get boring really quickly if you’re incredibly invested in the game and playing it nonstop. With so many intelligent minds working to build Magic decks, things get figured out in a hurry.
The time of a new set release if wonderful! New tools and decks! Yay!
Then there is a dip. A good Standard format will have some twists and turns, and then become stagnant, often rotating between a few best decks. But then a new set comes out! Yay!
Modern doesn’t really have that luxury. You’re stuck with the decks that exist, and it’s unlikely they’ll be dethroned.
It would take a massive amount of bannings to seriously decrease the power level of the format and shake up the main archetypes.
Is this a pipe dream?
I realize why this surely never going to happen.
I’m one of the people much more concerned with the format’s novelty, interactivity, balance, and fun. I’d be happy if Wizards of the Coast took a big swing, even if it missed.
This sort of banning raises major concerns in terms of card prices, trust, familiarity, and confusion for new players. Players just looking to play a game of Modern, rather than those playing it regularly that are invested in the health of format, would probably prefer things don’t change so much.
But a man can dream of a brave new Modern world, fresh for exploring with brews and control decks.
So what does the future of Modern look like? What will actually be done?
Probably nothing major.
There might be a couple of bannings, or even an unbanning, in the future, but I’m skeptical much will change with the banned list or the feel of the format.
I feel like there’s not nearly enough incentive for Wizards of the Coast to rock the boat, even though it’s slowly filling with water. They may try to bail it out some with bans or unbans, and hopefully that’s enough to keep the Modern format from sinking entirely.
What do you think should be done? Would you be interested in major changes? Is it necessary?
Just remember: this is fine.