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Don't Believe in Modern Love

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Ah, Modern. From its inception in 2011 to its evolution into the format it is today, Modern has instantly polarized the Magic player population. If you don’t already know, Modern is a format in which every card is legal if it was released in booster packs in the modern card frame (e.g. cards from Eighth Edition forward that were once legal in Standard, and not cards from specialized products like Commander preconstructed decks)—not counting banned cards, of course.

Some players are thrilled by the evolving ban list, constantly expanding card pool, and numerous competitive decks. Some players are aggravated by Modern and refuse to play it unless they have to. And then there’re most of the competitive players in our roundup . . . players who love Modern, but for whom it’s a tough love—they want an intervention.

What with the half-Modern, half-Standard StarCityGames Invitational finishing up recently, Modern is on everyone’s mind, and changes need to be made soon for the health of the format.

But what exactly needs to change in the Modern format and why? I posed that question to several well-known players, and here’s what I learned.

Jesse Hefner

Jessy Hefner, best known for making the Top 8 of both the SCG Invitational and a Modern Open, loves Modern more than any other format. He’d like to see Goryo's Vengeance go. You’ll see a recurring theme here: Many of these competitive players want to see cards out of the format that they don’t play.

Here’s what the typical Grishoalbrand list looks like. The deck is a portmanteau of Griselbrand and Nourishing Shoal, and it runs four of the aforementioned Goryo's Vengeance. This deck has been doing okay in Magic Online leagues and Daily Events and SCG Invitational Qualifiers in the paper world. It also took eighth at the Modern Grand Prix in Charlotte. Zach Jesse was the number-one seed going into the Top 8 of that event and lost 0–2 to an Ad Nauseam combo deck.

The goal of this deck is to power out a Griselbrand as early as possible and then pay life to draw cards. Nourishing Shoal will gain you enough life to keep drawing cards—then, when you’ve drawn most of your deck, cast Borborygmos Enraged and use his ability repeatedly to kill the opponent.

You’ll notice the deck also includes three copies of Blood Moon, which Hefner pointed out as a card that would be interesting to ban but that “is fine at the moment.”

Joe Lossett

Joe Lossett has won SCG Opens five times and made it to sixth place in the SCG Invitational in mid-December 2015, running R/G Tron. His idea is to bring in Force of Will, despite the card never having a modern-framed printing in a Standard-legal set. The judge-foil version in the modern frame doesn’t count. Lossett’s reasoning is interesting. “There is a multitude of decks that threaten to win the game within the first several turns, and the defensive cards don't overlap enough to be able to defend against enough of them,” he says. “Any deck in any format will have bad matchups, but in Modern, there seem to be more, and worse, bad matchups. You end up with too many polarized matches that don't have great gameplay—one person just gets destroyed. I can't say with confidence that introducing Force of Will would make things better (and it might make things worse), but I am curious.”

Interestingly, one of the other players in our roundup calls for banning the Tron lands from the format (Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, Urza's Tower), but Lossett, having run R/G Tron back to sixty place in the Invitational, seems just fine with them in the format. Here’s what his Tron deck looks like.

The idea behind Tron decks is to assemble all three Urza’s lands to generate 7 or more mana a turn and then cast big, colorless spells like Karn Liberated, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, and especially Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Casting these big colorless spells early can often ensure an early victory before the opponent has even set up.

Jeff Hoogland

The controversial and opinionated Jeff Hoogland couldn’t help but weigh in on this topic. He’s made it to the Top 8 ten times in SCG Opens and hit fifteenth place in the SCG Invitational with Grixis Faeries on the Modern half of the event.

His idea is to remove some of the cards that enable negative play experiences, such as Simian Spirit Guide, Summer Bloom, and the previously mentioned Nourishing Shoal. “Modern has some really deep and interesting gameplay, but it is often overshadowed for new players by what these degenerate decks are capable of,” says Hoogland.

One deck that uses Summer Bloom to great effect is called Amulet Bloom. This deck is named for two cards: Amulet of Vigor and Summer Bloom. Though this deck was nowhere to be found in the Invitational, it did make it as far as ninth place in the Modern Classic that ran alongside it.

Summer Bloom can win very early in the game. It uses the Karoo-style lands from the original Ravnica block in combination with Amulet of Vigor (to untap them; then, tap them for mana before you have to bounce a land) and Summer Bloom (to play three of them in the same turn). The goal is to put Primeval Titan in play and then eventually tutor for Slayers' Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion for a very large attack with double strike. The deck also has an alternate win condition: an early Hive Mind in combination with the Pact cycle of spells, which the opponent is forced to copy. When the opponent can’t pay for these delayed-cost spells on his or her next upkeep, he or she loses the game on the spot.

Again, it’s interesting that the cards people would like banned aren’t winning big events recently.

Erik Smith

Erik Smith has won an SCG Invitational in the past, no mean feat considering its dual-format structure and many rounds of play against invited competition. His idea is to cut the early base sets from the format altogether, as Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition contained many color-hosing cards that would never appear in Standard today. “I think the Modern format would be better off without them,” says Smith. “Removing Eighth and Ninth Edition from the format solves that issue by removing the Tron lands, Summer Bloom, Blood Moon, Choke, Boil, et cetera. Sleight of Hand is also hit, but I think this can be remedied by unbanning one of the banned blue cantrips.”

Smith is the second player in this roundup to call for the removal of Blood Moon. It’s true that an early Blood Moon can virtually end the game in both Modern and Legacy, as it locks an opponent out of casting any spells at all if he or she is not playing much red. An opponent can’t even use fetch lands, as these lands become Mountains immediately, before their text can be used.

However, it’s important to note that Blood Moon has been virtually absent from top Modern decks for weeks now, only occasionally showing up in the sideboards of decks that can afford to play around it. It’s most often main-decked in Grishoalbrand above and also U/R Twin decks. These combo decks win using Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin for infinite creatures, and Blood Moon can slow down opponents long enough to assemble the combo. A deck very similar to this, piloted by Wesley See, also took second in the Modern Grand Prix in Charlotte in 2015.

Joe Herrera

Joe Herrera has won SCG Opens three times now, including a win at the Modern Open back in August 2015 with Jund. Interestingly, he argues for a more open format, specifically calling for two unbans rather than any bans. “Since the inception of Modern, there was a ban list that prevented us from trying certain “overpowered” cards because they were very good in Standard,” says Herrera. “The thing is, in Modern, the pool of cards is very vast, and in this context, these cards are probably not as dominating as they once were. I think we need two unbans: Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. This will open up the format a bit more and allow a true control deck to contend with the known archetypes. Bloodbraid Elf should keep Jace in check as well.”

Here’s what Joe’s Open-winning Jund list looks like. Undoubtedly, this deck would be improved with Bloodbraid Elf, as he’d be able to cascade into many of the other creatures and the Elf would then be able to attack with Haste.

Mike Bernat

Mike Bernat has won an SCG Legacy Open with High Tide and has qualified for the Pro Tour playing Modern. He’s known as an Eternal format specialist and says that Modern is his favorite format right now, and he wouldn’t change much. “If anything, I suppose I would ban something in the Amulet Bloom deck since it is pretty much the least interactive deck that is played a lot,” says Bernat. “Most of the decks are very interactive, which is what makes Modern so much fun to play in general.” Bernat echoes some of our other players who are annoyed with the Amulet Bloom deck and want to see something, anything from the deck go away.

MJ Scott

And finally, here’s a response from GatheringMagic’s resident columnist and a pro at both Magic-flavor-text scripting and cosplaying: “If I could change one thing about the Modern format, it would be that every event, every weekend, was Modern,” says Scott. She echoes the opinions of many Modern players who are pleased with the format as it stands and want to see even more Modern events take place. With the diminishing of Legacy as a competitive format, there’s certainly room for more Modern to fill the void.

Postscript: Why Not Aggro?

Notice that nobody is calling for any pieces of Affinity or Infect to be banned. Affinity won the SCG Invitational in December. Infect has won many SCG Modern Opens and Premier IQs in 2015. And yet, the best Modern players in the game want cards like Summer Bloom gone instead. Why is that? With Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand nerfed, won’t we see fast, aggressive decks like Infect and Affinity dominate even more? Time will tell if Wizards of the Coast takes action in the Modern format in January, the next available opportunity, or opts to leave the format where it is.


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