Modern is not a healthy format.
And some of you will argue: “Well, Todd, eight different archetypes made it to the Top 8 at the
I'm not going to change your mind because you don't understand the problem.
You can't see the forest for the trees. You'll put your fingers in your ears and continue playing a Modern deck that does its best impression at solitaire in hopes that you win the game because your opponent failed to play one of three cards in their deck that might interact with you.
The pure and honest truth is that Modern is full of decks that all do mostly the same thing, but on completely different wavelengths. Nearly every deck has some spell or creature with the specific goal of keeping your opponent from interacting with you. In essence, every deck in Modern is based around Slippery Bogle. Modern is a collection of really messed-up cards with nothing to really keep it under control.
Modern is the president of the country endlessly mashing the nuke button.
But it's always been like that. Ever since the inception of Modern, we've had decks that do their absolute best to go way under or way over the top of the opponent. Any fair deck will have difficulty interacting with one or the other, so that in turn pushes the envelope further. If you have a format with a few decks in the middle, but the majority moving towards polarized spectrums, it is your duty as a player and deckbuilder to push it even further. After all, what's the best answer to a slightly polarized deck? An even more polarized deck.
Now, when I say polarized, what are you thinking of exactly? In my head, I'm talking about Affinity. I'm talking about Dredge. I'm talking about Through the Breach and Goryo's Vengeance and Blighted Agent and Ad Nauseam. I'm talking about decks that take one aspect of Magic and push it to the most extreme case it can possibly go. And with a format as big as Modern, it isn't all that difficult to find the tools you're looking for. I mean, in what reality is Spirit Link supposed to be playable in Constructed?
We see it time and time again. Elves mashing for hundreds of damage, Affinity playing six or seven cards on the first turn, Dredge putting ten or more power onto the battlefield on the second turn, and Burn decks killing you from a healthy fifteen life. It's all the same, but each deck just goes about it in a different way.
“Well, Todd, that's just Magic.”
Maybe that's what it all boils down to. Maybe Modern is just everyone getting to play solitaire, because that's what they actually want to do. The desire for an audience to watch you “beat the game” seems to be the driving force behind the popularity of Modern. Well that, and the fact that you get to keep playing the same deck every week (unless it gets banned).
And I know I'm a hypocrite. I had my card banned and now I'm salty about it.
Splinter Twin, to me, was the glue that held everything together. Modern gave blue decks the ability to punish those who chose to not interact. Force of Will does the same thing in Legacy, albeit with a bit less finality. But Splinter Twin and Force of Will are more similar than you might think.
I didn't kill people with Splinter Twin very much. In fact, I didn't even like killing people with Splinter Twin. It was there mostly as a threat, and a backup plan in case my opponent was doing something unsavory. Splinter Twin was easy to assemble, but it played by all the rules. It didn't win the game before the fourth turn, and you could interact with it on two different levels. But it wasn't flashy. It wasn't new. And it was a strong combination to play in a deck full of blue cards.
And that was its greatest sin, I suppose.
But now that it's gone, I haven't been able to find my voice. And there's a reason for that: all the voices sound the same.
And they're all screaming.
With Modern being one of the premier formats in Magic, it hurts to sit here and let it continue to fester. Each big tournament brings with it another showcase on what is actually wrong with the format. The banned list seems more and more ludicrous each passing week. I mean, why is Deathrite Shaman on the banned list when my opponent is specifically abusing the graveyard to beat me? Why is Green Sun's Zenith banned while my opponent is able to Chord of Calling for combo creatures (that aren't even green!) at instant speed without spending mana? Why are Ponder and Preordain banned when nearly every combo deck in the format can function without access to blue mana?
It all just feels so backwards.
Changing the Ideology
Now that Modern is no longer a Pro Tour format, I feel like Wizards of the Coast owes it to all of us to be more experimental with the format. For one, the possibility of a rotating ban list is exciting. Every set (or maybe every two sets), some number of cards that are dominant or oppressive get banned. But we keep the ban list small, and we unban a card for every one that is banned, to keep some sort of equilibrium.
This might be tough to keep up with for more casual players and could push people away from the game who want to keep playing the same deck from week to week, but I'm under the impression that banning a card permanently will be more likely to do that. In the last few years, something major has been banned or unbanned...but only right before the Pro Tour. It is my inclination that this was done primarily to shake things up, to hopefully create a more interesting narrative for people to follow. I think we can all agree that the logic here was in the right place. Even I didn't want to see Splinter Twin take down another Pro Tour.
But you know what's even better than that? Seeing Patrick Dickmann play Splinter Twin beautifully. Watching Willy Edel play Jund or Abzan. Watching masters of a deck playing what they know to the best of their ability, with full knowledge of the format and their deck. But when you print something new and exciting and powerful, you want those pros to have the flexibility to recognize potential and play with those cards! That's what makes Modern exciting!
You can sit here and argue that Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise were mistakes. You could tell me that Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher were too good alongside Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple. And I will agree with you. But you know what? Those cards weren't legal for very long, and they got people talking about the format. And I would take ten or twenty or a hundred Treasure Cruises before not printing a single Collective Brutality or Prized Amalgam.
I want new cards to influence Modern. Hell, I want new sets designed specifically to be legal in the Modern format! I want reprints in Modern Masters that move interesting and unique cards from Legacy-legal to Modern-legal. I want them to do everything, or nothing. I'm just sick of this lukewarm feeling I get when someone asks me a question about Modern.
A Heavy Hand, a Light Touch
On top of a rotating ban list for Modern, I would like Wizards of the Coast to be a bit more interactive with the people who play their game. Give us more of a voice. After all, most of us who play Magic do it because we love it so much, and all we want is to see it flourish. Do you think I enjoy bashing Magic Online? Everything I say or do is because I love Magic, and I want it to be the best it can be. I want to be proud of the game I play, but I am continually disappointed.
Modern and Legacy are slowly gravitating toward the same space in Magic history. With the removal of Modern from the Pro Tour circuit, I can only assume that they will take a lighter stance on “interfering” with the comings and goings of Modern. I don't think that's a bad thing, but I'd rather them leave it be after getting their hands a little dirty first. Let's start with the obvious.
1) Lay out your theory of what Modern should be.
So many people, including myself, argue until they're blue in the face on what Modern should be, but none of us stop to think about what it could be. We're too worried that one thing or another is too powerful, or too oppressive, or winning a bit too much. You should be rewarded for building decks that use synergy, power, and consistency on equal levels.
Tell us about your ideal Modern format, and let us decide if that's actually what we want.
2) Go over the ban list for Modern in detail, in article form, reminding us why each card is there. Then let the players decide if it should stay banned.
Formats change over time. The release of hundreds of new cards each year influences Modern more than we see on the surface. I think it is important to remember than not all cards will be oppressive forever. I mean, just look at Wild Nacatl (and even Kird Ape when it was banned in Extended). Ponder and Preordain could give blue a boost from time to time. The same is true for green and Green Sun's Zenith. If combo is dominating the format, look at ways to give fair decks the tools to fight back.
I think WotC is too quick to ban cards rather than discussing the possibility of unbans. They've done a better job than I thought they would with unbanning cards, but I don't know if it's enough. Constant change and interactivity with the Modern ban list would open up the format a lot, though it would require players to research the format before playing in a tournament. But that's okay! Tournaments should require some amount of research. Tournament Organizers can keep an updated ban list in their store for local events (or what cards were recently unbanned).
Change is difficult, but it could be for the better.
3) Let it breathe.
Modern has never really had a chance to breathe. When Modern was introduced as a format, many cards were pre-banned because they were dominant in older formats or maybe just came with a bad reputation. As it stands, I'm under the impression that the following cards could be unbanned and it wouldn't affect Modern all that much.
A lot like Chord of Calling, but built more for fair decks than unfair decks. This card was banned because it started to push all green-based decks toward the same build: one copy of Gaddock Teeg, Dryad Arbor, and a focus on Knight of the Reliquary [Because our style of deck is so degenerate… --Ed.]. At this point, none of that seems all that bad. Giving green decks more consistency could be dangerous, but I honestly think it would allow new archetypes while still letting Jund and Abzan flourish.
I don't mind Jund anymore. Discard spells backed up by powerful creatures aren't exactly scary. You know what is terrifying? Etched Champion and Cranial Plating. Blighted Agent and Become Immense. Slippery Bogle and Ethereal Armor. Jund is still solid without these cards, but a big unbanning could change that significantly. You need to equip fair decks with the necessary tools to compete with unfair decks.
Without Chrome Mox, I don't know if this card is all that frightening, but I haven't seen it in a Modern world with Thespian's Stage. I'm fine being wrong on this one, but it was banned long before Thespian's Stage saw print, and I think it deserves a shot. And with a rotating ban list, it could dominate the format for a few months before taking a seat on the bench again.
I don't see much of a difference between Cloudpost and the Urzatron. I would rather neither be legal, but if we're gonna let big mana decks into the format, might as well let them have a little more fun. Without Eye of Ugin, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn being hard-cast isn't much of an issue anymore. Cloudpost was an easy way to beat fair decks, but there are a lot of tools to interact with them.
I think these cards will enable fair decks, like Delver, to be more consistent, which will be a natural foil to stuff like Storm or Splinter Twin. These cards were banned to keep combo decks from being too consistent, but combo is just as rampant as it has always been. Now, they're just moving away from blue. These two dig effects could reinvigorate blue strategies, giving them the consistency they need and ability to find ways to interact with the opponent.
Without Umezawa's Jitte being legal, I don't think Stoneforge Mystic would be all that bad. Stoneforge Mystic is essentially a proxy of Batterskull, and maybe a Sword of Something or Other, which I think is more than fine in the current world we live in.
As you can see, I left Umezawa's Jitte and Punishing Fire off the list, mostly because those types of effects are oppressive for an entire swath of Magic strategy. If you leave Umezawa's Jitte off the list, Stoneforge Mystic isn't that scary.
4) One or two hundred words every time a card is banned or unbanned is not enough.
We're hungry to know, to understand, why you make the decisions you do. Field questions from the public! Have a press release! Just help us understand why the game we love is changing. In time, I think you'll find we'd be more receptive to change if you let us in. We're the reason Magic is still going strong. Our investment in the game and the formats you've created are the lifeblood of your business.
Earlier this year, Lodestone Golem was restricted in Vintage. The decision was seemingly made because some of the pros who played in the Vintage Super League didn't like it very much. Well, you know what Vintage players don't like? Other people telling them what is and isn't okay for their format. Kills on the first or second turn. Degenerate combos running rampant. Blue-based strategies dominating the metagame. Mishra's Workshop has been a powerful anti-blue strategy in Vintage since it was unrestricted.
You have the email address of every single person with a DCI number. You could have emailed every single person who has played a Vintage event in the last year and asked them if they thought Lodestone Golem should be restricted. Aside from that, polls in articles or social media could help you do the same.
The Easy Way Out
I know that all the stuff I'm saying is taking the easy way out. I don't have to deal with the backlash, or fallout, if something goes wrong. I'm just trying to start a conversation. If you love something, you just want to talk about it, and you want others to talk about it and love it as much as you.
The ban list for Modern is extensive for a reason, but it could be bigger...or smaller. It just depends on your perspective, and your idea of what Modern “should” be. Modern is not easy to define because we haven't had it all that long, and it keeps changing. The theory of a format should change over time, because the format inherently changes every time a new card gets printed. It's the nature of the game.
I just want someone to understand that what we have now isn't the Modern I want to play. I know I might be in the minority, and my opinion might be unpopular, but I'm not an unreasonable man. I don't want to take your toys away. I just want to ask you a question:
What could Modern become?
If the answer is “better than it is now,” it is our duty as a community to stand up for it, and fight for it. Let your voice be heard. And if you're in the camp of “Modern is great, and my deck is great,” then ask yourself this: Why?