Modern Shouldn’t Be a Pro Tour Format

Modern should not be a format at the Pro Tour, and 6 Eldrazi and 2 Affinity in the Top 8 should be the final nail in its coffin.

Before you call me a whiner-

Well, anyway.

This was a bit of an epiphany for me. I knew you had to mulligan a lot in the format and I adjusted my play as such for the event, but I didn’t truly appreciate or understand how much until Sunday of the Pro Tour. The best way to get an edge in the format was to hope to play against people who had unplayable decks or that those who had made a good deck choice wouldn’t mulligan often enough.

The nature of the Modern format is such that in most or all of the matchups you play, the influence of a single card in your hand is enormous. I know that if I play Infect against an Affinity or a Collected Company deck that I will have a much easier time winning if I draw Blighted Agent versus when I do not. It’s just so good against those decks, and they play little-to-no removal. Or look at Eye of Ugin in the Eldrazi deck—every matchup is better for them when they have that card in their opening hand, and the rest of the draws simply aren’t anywhere near as good.

In most of the matchups I playtested in Modern, the game ended on turn 4. That’s insane! If the game ends on turn 4, you simply don’t have time to draw out of a risky keep. This is untrue of Standard, Draft, and Sealed, where you often play a match where both decks are slow and cumbersome. For that reason, you can keep a wider range of opening hands, because the cards you start with don’t hold all the power over how the game is decided.

Unsurprisingly, with a large card pool and no access to Force of Will, some broken stuff happens and there isn’t much your opponent can do about it. Mulligans are bad for many reasons, but if you understand all the specific reasons why mulligans are bad, you can see that when the game ends on turn 4, the negative effects of a mulligan are diminished. When you have six cards instead of seven, the chances of having a nonfunctional hand increase—but you probably started with a nonfunctional hand to begin with, so that’s “free.” If you play a game of Magic and it ends when you still have cards in your hand, then it doesn’t matter at all what they are. When I Lightning Bolt you and you’re at 3, who cares if I mulled to 2, or if I kept seven and my five extra cards were all Relentless Rats? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting a combination of cards in your opening hand that can win the game faster than your opponent can win the game.

A mulligan is really bad when you play out all the cards in your hand, have no resources left, and have to continue playing off the top while the opponent still gets to play out of their hand. This is the biggest impact a mulligan can have on a game of Magic.

  • One card can influence a game more than any other. Mulling to six just means you had your opening seven and now six more to find that one card. If all you need to do is find Eye of Ugin to have a great chance to win, 13 chances to see it is better than seven.
  • Most of the time, the games end too quickly to keep a bad hand or to feel the effects of keeping a hand where you’ve taken a mulligan.

I found this to be terrible qualities of the format because in my preparation, so much of my time was spent debating the merits of keeping a borderline 6-card hand or mulliganing to 5. This means no matter what option I choose, I have a low chance of winning the game. And when the games are total blowouts or you spend a large amount of time having a really low chance to win, that’s neither fun to play or watch. Additionally, if my opponent is playing optimally, then they will also be mulliganing a huge portion of their hands. This means more time shuffling and more time beating up on people who have hands that don’t function.

These are all statements about the format and not about Magic in general. This does not apply to Standard. The games do not end on turn 4 in Standard. Modern, when played at the highest level of competition, always involves matchups between two decks that try to win by turn 4. There is the occasional deck that tries to interact and play a long fair game of Magic—those decks can exist and do well, but they are a small portion of the metagame. I would even argue that Modern at the highest level will feature mostly linear “mirrors” for as long as the format exists.

I watched a match at the Pro Tour where one player tapped 2 lands to make a Steel Overseer and the opponent cast Gut Shot on it, made a Reality Smasher, and attacked. That’s quite the unfavorable exchange! Serves that guy right for thinking he could tap 2 lands for a creature and think he got a good deal. Welcome to Modern folks!

That raises my next point: Phyrexian mana is horrible for Magic. Fast mana is the key to anything broken in Magic and all the decks that did well this weekend were focused on getting fast mana as soon as possible. Eye of Ugin and Mox Opal are the loudest examples of this , but Phyrexian mana quietly plays the same role.

Even bad cards that have Phyrexian mana symbols on them have seen play. Nobody would ever put Vault Skirge in their deck if it cost 1B. Gut Shot is free. Mutagenic Growth is free. Dismember is just Swords to Plowshares. Who cares about paying 4 life for a spell if I kill you on turn 4 and you never declare an attack? I think that if you ask just about any person who works for Wizards of the Coast, they’ll freely admit that Phyrexian mana was a mistake and that they’ve been paying for that mistake for years now. The reality is that when you print a bunch of cards that are way too good, they only exist in Standard for a short amount of time, but they’ll plague Modern forever. Every deck in the Top 8 played Dismember. Seven of the eight decks played Gut Shot (and surely the 8th guy would’ve played Gut Shot if he had thought of it).

Mox Opal is an unreasonable Magic card. It should be banned, but it’s not like Affinity is an overpowered deck—it’s just a really good deck with one overpowered card in it. Ever spend a reasonable amount of time playtesting against Affiity in Modern? It’s easy to get frustrated when that deck draws Mox Opal a bunch of games in a row. More fast mana that’s just too good.

While I think that Modern should not be a Pro Tour format, I’m not saying that Modern is bad or that we should send Modern the way of Extended. That’s simply not the case. I do enjoy playing Modern and I think that it’s fine to have at the World Championships where it’s only played for 4 rounds. I also enjoy it as a Grand Prix format.

I view Modern the same way I view Legacy. It’s good to exist for the sake of variety and it has a large player base with passionate people. That’s really cool. I want people to enjoy Magic. I was one of these players when I first started and grew up with the game—I exclusively played Legacy, and it was making Top 8 in a Legacy GP that got me to my first Pro Tour, where I became hooked on competitive Magic. People who love Modern should be able to qualify for the Pro Tour playing it. So as far as Grand Prix, PTQ, and independent tournament circuits, I see Modern as a wonderful format.

Modern is a skill-intensive format, but it rewards a unique and different set of skills than almost any other form of Magic. Creative deckbuilding and the ability to make good mulligan decisions matter much more than correct technical play. I prefer games of Standard that have the possibility of dragging on and where each player gets to cast more than two or three spells, see a higher portion of their deck, play and counterplay.

Having just spent two full weeks playing Modern for twelve hours a day, these are my observations on the format and I wanted to clearly state what I dislike about the format in a way that isn’t just whining.

Now, how to beat Eldrazi?

I don’t know.


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