The Greatest Format

Agree? Or disagree? The Modern you’ll find this weekend at SCG Dallas is the greatest we’ve ever known. Todd Stevens wants to chime in!

The full Modern Masters 2017 set has been previewed, and I just have one word to say, “Wow!” Not only is it chock-full of value, but from scanning the set the Limited format looks to be a ton of fun with all of the multicolored cards and mana fixing.

Many people on social media have been asking the question if this is the best non-Alpha, Beta, or Unlimited set ever made, and while that’s tough to say and I’m not here to debate its ranking today, it did get me thinking.

Is Modern currently the best format of all time?

Again, this is basically impossible to answer, especially by me since I’ve only been playing competitive Magic of any sort since Worldwake. I don’t know what the early forms of Legacy were like, which many people romanticize because of their love of Brainstorm, or fan-favorite Standard formats such as during original Ravnica block. But what I do know is that this Modern format is unbelievably good.

#SCGDFW is this weekend, which is another Modern Open, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been playing Modern basically nonstop since the release of Aether Revolt, and I still can’t get enough. I’m not the only one either, as #SCGINDY sold out a couple of weekends ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if #SCGDFW sold out as well. This is your warning: if you’re planning on attending #SCGDFW, make sure you sign up right away! Losing your spot in the tournament because it sells out and you hadn’t signed up yet is one of the worst feelings, so don’t let it happen to you. Anyway, I digress.

So what makes the current Modern format one of the best, if not the best, of all time? It’s simple:

You Can Play Anything You Want, and It Can Win

That’s it. This is why current Modern is the best format I’ve ever played. Modern is unbelievably diverse, and that’s not an exaggeration. It’s truly unbelievable. There are dozens of archetypes capable of winning this weekend, and no one would be surprised. Anything from Bant Spirits to Skred Red to Elves to Ad Nauseam could walk away with the trophy this weekend and no one would be surprised, and that’s just to name a few.

It’s a testament to how well Wizards of the Coast has been making cards during the last decade and a half, and how they have controlled the Banned and Restricted List. Right before Aether Revolt, Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll were banned from the format, which has worked out perfectly. Both Infect and Dredge are viable strategies, but each is noticeably slower than before, which has opened up the format even more than it already was.

Aether Revolt also added plenty of new archetypes to the mix as well, with Fatal Push being a key removal spell of the new Death’s Shadow decks and Walking Ballista revitalizing Eldrazi Tron. Sram, Senior Edificer; Baral, Chief of Compliance; and the Expertise cycle started new combo decks. This is all to say that the already diverse format that Modern was before has really opened up to be the Wild West of Magic.

Whether you like to play aggro, midrange, control, ramp, prison, or combo, there are abundant available options of each type of deck. I could sit here and list off close to 50 different Modern decks that would have a realistic chance of winning #SCGDFW, and that’s my point. Everyone can find a competitive Modern deck for whatever playstyle they want, and it’s what makes Modern such a great format.

Even blue-based control decks, long the biggest complaint from a small group of players as what they want in Modern, have started to thrive.

There’s Grixis Control, popularized by Corey Burkhart, that plays a full playset of Ancestral Vision and Cryptic Command. With the slower format now, it’s more reliable to have time to resolve a suspended Ancestral Vision and use the card advantage to take over the game than it was previously. Sure, it plays two other colors to take advantage of the power of Kolaghan’s Command, but this is definitely a blue-based control deck. This is the blue control deck that everyone knows about, but it’s not your only option.

Popular Magic Online streamer Daniela Diaz, also known for designing U/R Kiln Fiend, has had success recently with U/W Control, showing another blue based control deck that’s viable. She’s been beating up on the various Death’s Shadow decks that have become popular since #GPVAN because of U/W’s card advantage and hard removal. Plus, have you ever seen a storm deck combo off with both Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot and their opponent have the answer to both?

I believe this U/W Control deck is a viable strategy that is well-positioned right now, which also shows how you can play anything you want in Modern, even if that is Disallow and Detention Sphere. The biggest reason this deck is well-positioned is because of the popularity of Death’s Shadow, which brings me to my next point.

Modern Has an Exceptionally Healthy Metagame

I’ve heard this terminology many times before, whether a format is healthy or not, but what that terminology means has seemed somewhat subjective. The best definition of a healthy metagame I’ve heard is from my friend TJ Rogers, who defined it as one in which, once the best deck in the format is identified, it’s no longer the best deck, meaning that the format has the ability to correct and regulate itself.

This is exactly where Modern is right now. Most people you ask would say that Death’s Shadow is currently the best deck in Modern, but I don’t believe that will be true in time. One of the biggest reasons for Death’s Shadow’s recent success is because of the newness of the deck and other decks not being prepared for it yet. The more people play with and against the deck, though, the more people will be able to tune their existing deck to be able to beat it, and also new decks such as Daniela Diaz’s U/W Control will be designed to beat it.

There will always be some decks that are better against the entire field than others, but by the same token you can always build competitive decks that can attack what is perceived to be the best deck. The W/R Prison deck I played at the end of last year is another good example of this, as the deck was built to beat a few specific decks at the top of the metagame at the time, such as Infect, Dredge, and Affinity.

Okay, So Modern Is Great, Todd, We Get It

Do you get it, though? Modern has tens of thousands of cards available to use in the format, and with that, there are dozens of viable strategies anyone can play each week in a metagame that has the ability to self-regulate when a single deck gets too popular. Combined with a game as complex as Magic, this is incredibly fascinating to me.

This hasn’t always been the case, which is why cards have been banned from the format before, but it’s seemingly the case now. Will Death’s Shadow decks be tuned to be able to dominate Modern week after week and need a ban in the future? It’s possible, especially with new cards entering the format four times a year, but as of today I don’t see it happening. I believe the current Modern decks will be able to adapt to Death’s Shadow, as well as new archetypes that are designed with Death’s Shadow in its crosshairs.

The point I’m trying to say with all of this is that Modern is currently such a good format that I think it’s wrong to change anything with the next Banned and Restricted announcement this upcoming Monday. There are two opinions that have seemingly been getting louder recently that I believe are flat-out wrong, and I really hope they don’t happen right now:

1) Ban Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide.

Many players want Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide banned because they are enablers of “fast mana,” which is seen as an unfair ability. Mox Opal is the backbone to both Affinity and Lantern Control, while Simian Spirit Guide is in such decks as W/R Prison, Ad Nauseam, and Goryo’s Vengeance. The argument is that there are other fast mana cards on the Banned and Restricted List already, ones that are probably worse than these two, and therefore these two cards should be banned as well.

Admittedly, none of these strategies would exactly be placed in the fair category, well, except maybe Ad Nauseam (I guess), but that doesn’t mean that they have no place in Modern, as I don’t see any of the decks being particularly oppressive. Plus, I believe it’s good to have unfair decks in the format, because if you were only allowed to play fair decks, then the format could get stale pretty quickly. I don’t want it to turn into Khans of Tarkir/Battle for Zendikar Standard where everyone plays four-color decks and the one with the most two-for-ones wins.

Both cards enable fast starts and have the possibility of being broken down the line each time new cards are printed, but I don’t see a reason either should have to leave the format as of now. There’s a real cost to banning cards from a player’s perspective, as many people only have one deck, and I don’t think there is enough to ban either of these cards right now.

The other thing to think about: How does banning these cards make the format better? Some decks such as the ones I listed above would become obsolete, and how does that help the format as a whole? Are these decks holding back more strategies from the metagame? Will Modern become more diverse without these strategies? I don’t see it, and I believe it would just be the subtraction of these decks without any addition.

2) Unban Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

This is an opinion held by many that I certainly hope never happens. The popular argument is that if you can die before turn 4 of the format, then Jace, the Mind Sculptor should be fair enough. The problem with this is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is such an unbelievably good finisher for control that the shell it would be put in will be extremely oppressive. I’m not sure what decks can compete with something that starts with Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and Fatal Push and that has Snapcaster Mage and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. You could play two or three colors, but Jace would basically be the Death’s Shadow that doesn’t require you to lower your life total and that buries your opponent in card advantage.

Unbanning Jace would have a negative effect on the format as it would invalidate many strategies, including almost every current midrange one. Having singular cards that dominate is not a healthy design for a format, and Jace is simply too good of a card for Modern.

The other equally important aspect of unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the financial one. Jace is already an expensive card, and if it were unbanned in Modern, the sky is the limit as far as its price. It could very easily be a $300 card, and that honestly isn’t an exaggeration at all, or even the worst part.

If Jace, the Mind Sculptor becomes too dominant in the format and is an extremely expensive card, which are both very likely outcomes, then Wizards would have a very hard time rebanning Jace. It’s one thing to reban Golgari Grave-Troll, but it’s a completely different horror to have to reban a card for which people spent over a thousand dollars for a playset. This is a nightmare that makes unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor something that I honestly hope never happens for Modern.

I hope nothing changes in Modern with the Banned and Restricted announcement on Monday, and I honestly don’t expect anything to. Standard’s a different subject altogether, but I can’t imagine how Modern could be a healthier format than it currently is. As I said, #SCGINDY sold out a couple of weeks ago, and I’m expecting #SCGDFW to sell out this weekend as well.

Speaking of #SCGDFW, I’ll of course be there as the SCG Tour is coming to my hometown. I have four decks that I’m still trying to decide on between Bant Eldrazi, Eldrazi Tron, W/R Prison, and G/W Company, and whichever I end up on, I know I’ll have just as much fun playing Modern this weekend as I have ever since the release of Aether Revolt.