I'm just going to say it…
Modern is frustrating!
Don't assume that means I dislike the format, because that couldn't be further from the truth. Since the Season Two Invitational last month, I haven't played in an event. I didn't travel home to see the family. I just played Magic Online. A lot of Magic Online. Standard and Legacy in preparation for this weekend's Grand Prix in Santa Clara, and Modern for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. While playing Standard, I wanted to peel back my fingernails just to make sure I didn't lose the sensation of feeling (just ban Rogue Refiner already).
During my Legacy sessions I realized quickly that I could only win with one deck, and then didn't stop doing that, causing it to become extremely boring. My last eight Legacy leagues have been either a 4-1 or a 5-0.
Then finally Modern. Which, was, very frustrating. Very extremely unbelievably, just like the structure of this sentence, frustrating.
Modern was still the most enjoyable format by a country mile, and from all I've gathered from Todd Anderson's slang, that's longer than a normal mile. Or at least it feels like it is, or something. For those of you "metric" people it's about 2.4 kilomiles, or 1.3 times better than the other formats. Maybe it's not, I don't really know. Just like I don't know what to do in Modern when I'm playing it.
Seriously, what is one supposed to do in this format? In December I played Modern for about 120 hours, used 15 different decks, and all of them had roughly the same win percentage give or take a few duds. I went 3-2 in 80% of my leagues. That statistic is completely fabricated, but that's how it felt. The only variation was when my losses would come. Sometimes early allowing me to valiantly get back my money, and other times later when I would see my prizes dwindle as I mulliganed into oblivion.
My tactic of learning to hate every deck might not have been optimal, as every time I tried a new deck I quickly realized it was just like every other one out there. The most common advice given about the format is that it's important to master a deck, and stick with it, but I'm starting to not buy that. Sure learning a new deck is difficult, but sticking to the same deck for a long period of time feels more like always picking the same number on a roulette wheel.
"It's just a matter of time for my number to get called!"
Clearly when we look at result, we can tell it's not always about mastery. At GP Oklahoma City, we saw Grixis Death's Shadow get annihilated even though some of the best players in the room were piloting it. On the other side of the coin, big mana ran so rampant that we saw an all Prime Time finals. Metagaming is real. It's just not reliable.
Are we all just broken clocks being right every once and a while, but feeling really smart when we are? Is it possible to push through the hate with whatever deck we're skilled with? Am I just creating these questions/assumptions due to being good at Magic but bad at Modern? Will the reboot of Roseanne be just as bad as "Fuller House"? (CEDitor's Note: Yes, Brad, it will be.)
What should I do when I don't know what to do? Usually it's my job to tell people what to do, but I don't actually think that's a strategically wise thing to do when it comes to Modern. The format feels like the edges aren't as big as we'd like them to be, making it harder to fact check observations. So I'll do what everyone else does: make overly opinionated statements based on my extremely low understanding of the format!
Opinion #1: The format's edges aren't as big as we'd like them to be.
This is the bottom line of the format, and a mental block everyone has to get over. Modern is high variance and there's little anyone can do about it. Even if there's a perceived "best deck," or a considered tier one strategy, that doesn't mean it will win consistently. The data I compiled this past month is laughably random. For a hot minute I was playing Eldrazi Tron and loving it, finishing 13-2 in three Modern Competitive Leagues. I messaged my team asking if it was stupid to consider this as my choice for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, as many of my peers consider this to be a bad deck.
My next two leagues? I went 1-3 and my matches weren't remotely close.
Why did I have such varying results? Well it's because each individual league is way too low of a sample size. Sometimes I wouldn't play against TitanShift (a horrible matchup), and I would draw Ghost Quarter + Surgical Extraction against Mono-Green Tron opponents. Other times I would lose all the die rolls and suffer the consequence of not being on the play with Chalice of the Void in my deck. I couldn't rely on the data, as it was far too sporadic, and instead I had to rely on feel. The only problem with feel is that all the decks felt the same; they just did different things.
Humans was the same thing. At first I assumed the deck wasn't good, but changed my tune after I played with it for a while. Sure it had its issues, but I was winning with it. Then I wasn't and no longer wanted to play with the deck. All of my findings felt random as I went from deck-to-deck trying to find something I liked. I kept having the mentality that there was a "diamond in the rough" that I just needed to find, but slowly realized that every deck could be that. Just as long as you drew well, got the right pairings, and won die rolls.
This isn't a discouraging thing. It's what makes Modern unique. It's what makes the format appealing. It's high octane fun to those who want to play it, and when I'm playing it on Magic Online I'm having fun even if I'm losing more than I'm winning. It's just maybe not a great Pro Tour format, as winning is the only thing that makes that tournament fun and it's difficult to try to leverage any skill to make that happen in this format.
Opinion #2: Thoughtseize + Tarmogoyf + Liliana, of the Veil decks are just plain bad.
That's right, Bard "Jund Guy" Nelson is dead. He didn't go down without a fight, if you could call what he did fighting. He huffed, and he puffed, and he didn't blow the house down. Not even the straw ones that couldn't afford fetchlands. Jund and Abzan haven't been good for a long time, and it would take drastic shifts for them to ever be viable in the future. Midrange in the old sense of the word is just not a good tactic in Modern anymore.
What I consider to be a good miidrange deck now is Jeskai:
We've never really considered this color combination to be midrange, but in this form, it is. It goes under the big decks with cheap threats and some counter magic lowering the clock as quickly as possible with burn spells. Against creature decks, it deploys my favorite tactic of "kill all the things," and tries to win the late game. This is in fact a midrange deck and does a much better job at beating the metagame than Jund or Abzan can.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 2 Endbringer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Eldrazi Tron is another one of the more dominant midrange decks and one I rather enjoy playing. It does feel more like a big mana deck because it plays with Tron lands, but it actually plays similar to a midrange strategy often needing some interaction to win games. That said, the deck is rather hit-or-miss on when its interaction is good. Chalice of the Void it its best piece of interaction, but it's at one of its weakest points in the metagame, as there are only a handful of decks that it stops in its tracks. Eldrazi Tron is just the best midrange deck at beating other midrange decks.
I've found both Jeskai and Eldrazi Tron to just be better at doing what Jund and Abzan are trying to do. If they ever unban Splinter Twin my opinion would certainly change, but since I assume they won't being doing that, it's time to give up on my old love.
Opinion #3: Affinity should be good, but it's not. The same goes for Dredge.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 3 Etched Champion
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 2 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
I'm under the impression that Affinity has simply gotten worse due to new cards. In the past few years there's been a handful of Modern staples that got printed, yet the deck hasn't gotten any upgrades outside of a land the deck didn't even need. The format got faster and more efficient, leaving Affinity to just be slightly underpowered. It's still not unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't see it ever getting the respect it used to deserve.
This is the perfect example of a deck that one can master, but wouldn't help one succeed. Most of the masters of Affinity have in fact moved away from the deck due to its lackluster abilities in the current metagame. I honestly wanted to play this at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan when I first started preparing for the format, as Affinity always seems to overperform at Modern Pro Tours. I saw the trend and was excited to maybe know something others weren't aware of. Sadly, I just kept getting overpowered in matches. Maybe there was something I could do to win some of the games I didn't, but the fact remained that it felt like the wrong thing to be doing.
Dredge suffers the same fate right now. Given what's been banned the deck no longer has the power it needs to compete against the current metagame. Especially now when midrange decks aren't as popular/good. Now Dredge needs to compete against decks that can overpower them, or simply have enough hate to beat them. Especially when graveyard hate is so popular now given the need to fight Collected Company with Grafdigger's Cage and U/R Gifts Storm with Relic of Progenitus.
Opinion #4: U/R Gifts Storm is the most powerful deck in Modern, but shouldn't get played.
The deck blew up once it was discovered, and was by far the best deck to be playing for a short period of time. That window is over, though. Now everyone's had time to understand the matchup and we're slowly realizing how much of a glass cannon the deck is. That's not going to stop the diehards like Jon Finkel from playing the deck at the Pro Tour, but it should stop anyone who doesn't have a strong affinity for the archetype. It's just too flimsy of a strategy against dedicated hate.
Opinion #5: Grixis Death's Shadow is just okay, and that's okay.
I'd personally consider Grixis Death's Shadow to be a tier one strategy in Modern, but wouldn't want to waste my breath with anyone wanting to argue that point. It just doesn't matter. So many people are overly-opinionated on whether this deck is broken, but the truth is that it's fine. It's good at beating linear strategies and bad at beating redundant ones, especially those with high numbers of removal spells. It also becomes slightly inconsistent as the game drags on, as the deck floods pretty badly due to playing 12-13 cantrips, but can have some of the most degenerate openings seen in the format. It's a high variance deck now that all of its best matchups have been forced out of the metagame.
Grixis Death's Shadow is a deck choice that is defendable, but by no means the deck you have to play if you don't know what else to play. Well, as long as you play Serum Visions. Lists that opt to Opt over Serum Visions are just wrong. Saying a mix is best is just plain wrong. The first Opt is worse than the fourth Serum Visions.
Play Temur Battle Rage. I have no clue what Ari was talking about when he declared to the world that playing this card is wrong. He called it trash and that any situation where this card was good something else would be better. That's probably true, and if I could play a Wild Card I would, but since I can't, my 75 will always have two of this card. I don't care if sometimes it's horrible, or just a "deal four". Grixis Death's Shadow is a deck that plays both Thought Scour and Snapcaster Mage, making it a seriously consistent path to victory in matchups that speed or brute force are needed. Ari's position on this card makes me believe he's one of those Modern players who needs to feel smart when they win.
I just want to win.
He's correct about Liliana of the Veil though. That card's no longer maindeckable in this format, but can be good in small numbers out of the sideboard.
Opinion #5: Nothing I say today will impact SCG Columbus results this coming weekend.
That's right. Nothing I say today will have an impact on the SCG Tour®'s first stop of 2018 in Columbus this weekend. I'm not trying to sell myself short or self-sabotage my position here at StarCityGames. I just don't think Modern works the way I'm accustomed too.
Standard is easy. The games, the metagaming, the ability to predict things. I've got it. In Modern, not so much. I am, however, learning. With each counting week I'm getting stronger in this format until one day I'll have a winning record. I don't know when that day will come, but I know it will. Even if it doesn't, my number on the roulette wheel should hit eventually!
The advice I leave you with is this: If you're confident in a deck, then great, play it. If you're debating what deck to play, then I suggest you just pick the one your gut tells you to go with. I've been following my gut all month, and even though I haven't found the perfect deck doesn't mean I haven't correctly put myself on the path to find it. I feel good about Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and that's said without any idea of what to play in the event itself. I just know I'll find it before decklists are due.
Opinion #6: Either Lantern or U/W Control is the best deck in Modern.
As Todd Anderson also says: Fight me.