I’ve made a bad first impression. In the past, I advocated for some fairly radical and unpopular changes to Modern, such as the removal of 8th and 9th Edition from the format or banning fetchlands. You can rest easy now. I no longer believe in those changes, even if Modern would be better off without them.
I also get lumped into a general argument that goes something like this: “Pros don’t play Modern very often and they hate Modern, so their opinions on ‘fixing’ Modern should be ignored. Modern doesn’t need a fix.”
Mix it all together and it’s pretty easy to paint a picture of me as someone who doesn’t play much Modern, who hates playing Modern, and who cries for a ban when I encounter cards I don’t like. I also have a reputation for disliking Tron, which is a fan favorite of many. All told, a lot of people misattribute my feelings about Modern to being nothing more than “I hate playing against certain cards that are hard to beat and I just want the format to be a bunch of midrange mirrors.”
I don’t fault anyone for developing that opinion of me, but frankly it just isn’t an accurate representation of how I feel. I want Modern to be fun. I want fewer games of Modern where only one person gets to play, and I want a format where a wider variety of archetypes are represented.
The truth is that Modern is my favorite format behind Legacy, and I actually believe Modern has the potential to be a better format than Legacy. I play the format a lot, I’m familiar with the decks, I enjoy playing it, and I want it to be as great of a format as it possibly can be. Modern is my most successful format on a professional level and it is also the format I’ve played more than any other format over the past half-year.
I don’t want midrange mirrors to take over the format. I rarely play those decks, I don’t particularly enjoy playing them, and I don’t succeed when I do. None of the decks I’ve had success with in the past 3 years have been midrange decks, and I’m a firm believer that it’s important to play a deck that has some unfair element to it in order to succeed in Modern. Midrange shouldn’t dominate the format. It should exist, though. Right now it barely does.
Modern should be fun, diverse, and healthy. Leading into the Banned and Restricted announcement on April 4th, Modern was not diverse nor healthy. I’m not just talking about Eldrazi, either. While Eldrazi dominated the format and stifled diversity, Modern lacked archetype diversity even before Eldrazi took over the scene.
Modern is a format filled with a wide variety of threats that all tax players on such wildly different axes of interaction. To succeed playing control you need a lot of removal to beat creature decks, cards like Timely Reinforcements to beat Burn, countermagic to beat combo decks, graveyard hate to beat graveyard combo decks, sweepers or sacrifice effects to beat Bogles, and a plethora of land destruction to even have a shot against Tron. Then you also need to have a functioning, coherent, and abstractly powerful deck to be able to keep up with the power and card advantage of Jund, CoCo, Kiki-Chord, and Elves.
If that sounds like too much to overcome, it’s because it is. There are too many ways people are attacking in Modern that you can’t feasibly answer them all. Nearly everyone plays linear, proactive decks because even if you can’t answer every threat your opponent presents, you can at least present your own. Maybe they cannot answer those. The only viable control deck in Modern was Splinter Twin, and only because it also functioned as a combo deck that could win games with the combo in situations where nothing else could.
Modern may have many different archetypes, but it lacks archetype diversity. Nearly every viable deck in Modern is either a linear aggro deck, linear combo deck, or Jund. Midrange decks and control decks don’t thrive and barely exist. Grixis Control was popular for a short bit, but then fell off the map. Even Jund hasn’t put up good results in a while. Jund is basically the last bastion of hope for fair decks in an unfair world, and even Jund’s light is fading. UW Control has recently put up some decent results, but only in an Eldrazi dominated metagame. Before Eldrazi, the deck was a non-factor.
I don’t want midrange or control to dominate the format. I don’t want every single game to be about grinding out the most value of Kolaghan’s Command. That’s not fun for many players, myself included. I just want these decks to exist. I think they can exist.
I think WotC is going to make them exist. WotC hit the ball out of the park with the Banned and Restricted announcement. Banning Eye of Ugin and unbanning Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision were three great changes.
Banning Eye of Ugin was needed to maintain the health of the format. As long as nothing was banned, Eldrazi would continue to smash Modern events. I like banning Eye and leaving Eldrazi Temple legal. Temple is the less broken card, and Temple still allows for Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer to be played in fair shells. Eye of Ugin doesn’t do quite the same thing because Eye of Ugin doesn’t produce mana and thus is unlikely to exist in anything other than a pure Eldrazi-focused shell.
Banning Eye of Ugin also helps the health of the format in another way. When I suggested this idea before, I took a lot of hate for it, but here it goes again: Reducing Tron’s inevitability is a good thing. Tron still exists, and it’s still going to win most games by virtue of playing turn-3 Karn or turn-4 Ugin or slamming Wurmcoil Engines into play. This doesn’t destroy Tron or render it unplayable.
What it does do, however, is give midrange and control decks a shot at beating it. It was demoralizing to know that you could beat the first 2 Wurmcoil Engines or the first 2 copies of Karn or what have you, but eventually they would find Eye of Ugin, search up Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger a few turns in a row, and smash you anyway. Tron is stil going to be favored against midrange strategies, but now it’s not a sure thing.
While Tron isn’t dominating tournaments, it still commands a giant presence when it comes to the health of the format. It’s a fallacy to presume that a deck must be dominant in order to be a negative influence on a format. Tron single-handedly invalidates many strategies by itself, and every time those strategies gain any sort of traction, Tron comes back in popularity and sends them back to oblivion again. Now that Tron won’t have the same level of inevitability, I think it will be a much less of a problem, and Tron will be able to exist much more peacefully in Modern without being so oppressive toward midrange and control decks.
The other important contributing factor to the resurgence of midrange and control is unbanning Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek. Blue decks are extremely underpowered in Modern, despite Snapcaster Mage being one of the best cards in the format. Giving blue decks a boost is a good thing and makes Modern a lot more interesting and more diverse as a format. Both of these cards should go a long way toward accomplishing that.
Even with a nerfed Tron, I still don’t think a traditional control deck can thrive in Modern, and it’s likely that it never will. Control decks need some sort of combo, like Splinter Twin, to be successful in Modern. Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek is that combo. Similarly, Ancestral Vision is going to be a huge advantage for blue midrange decks and might push them back into playability. All told, I think you will finally start to see a much more diverse Modern format and I’m really excited to explore it.
My only fear is that Thopter/Sword ends up being too powerful. Personally, I think it’s more powerful than Splinter Twin, but roughly 75% of my Twitter followers felt that Twin was the more powerful combo when I posed it as a poll question. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
I’m going to enjoy playing it either way. Playing decks that later get banned is kind of my schtick in Modern. Why stop now?