Monday, February 15, 2016

State of Modern

I think I've ranted about Modern quite often but the latest Pro Tour made me think about Modern twice. At first I looked at Modern as the future Extended and couldn't imagine that Modern could turn fast into something I would not like at all. I build several decks right away for the format and liked them but then the huge banlist came and all decks ended up unplayable. So I gave up Modern for quite some time. A year later there were Modern PTQs and I wanted to participate. With zero knowledge of the field I decided to play a deck that could deal with more or less anything and I sleeved Jund. My results were good but Deathrite Shaman - one of my favorite cards - was banned. I stopped playing for a while and then came back with Birthing Pod because I loved the deck when it was Standard legal and I wanted to play that in other format as well. It was nice to see everyone struggling with the deck and me beating everyone. But ban followed as well. I tried little bit of Abzan but without Birthing Pod it just did not really seem to be doing much (and I hate CoCo) and I switched to Twin rather. Same fate awaited Twin - it was banned right before Pro Tour OGW. In December I started running into Eldrazi everywhere and when my Modern leagues started to look like round 1 against Affinity and remaining rounds against 4 Eldrazi I decided that it is time to stop trying with my Abzan deck even though I usually went 4:1 I just couldn't see the deck anymore. I had nightmares about Eldrazi in Modern (last time this happened was when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was legal in T2). When I saw Pro Tour OGW I immediately renamed it to Pro Tour ROE (Rise of the Eldrazi) and started to fear that these Eldrazi would show even in Vintage and Legacy. Few days ago I almost freaked out when my opponent played Ancient Tomb followed by Eye of Ugin and Thought-Knot Seer in Legacy and I also got Thought-Knot Seer'ed in Vintage. Well, I think many of you can tell a similar story with Modern. But why did we actually go through all those bannings and still play the format today?

For me any 'normal' format (Standard, Modern, Legacy) is something I play from time to time, I do not dedicate my time to play t2, Modern or Legacy. So when something strange happens in the format I just don't care much about it and switch to a different format. This time the Eldrazi in Modern affected me way more than I would expect. I just crossed out Modern from the 'normal' format list.

Quite some time ago I realized that Modern is not the format that I would love and that it is something I will play for a change but it won't be something I would really enjoy for a longer period of time (unless they unban Pod once again, but I doubt that with Siege Rhino and co. being around). I come back though to play Modern and I enjoy it for a while.

When something gets banned many people complain that the deck they were trying to put together is unplayable and that they do not have the money to play something else and start selling the cards (just don't do that!). This is a bit strange. The price of cards that get banned plummets, that is understandable but the rest of the cards though still has its value. What people don't often see is the fact that price of other cards sky rockets. Now cards that can deal with Affinity and Eldrazi sky rocketed. So if a player already owned some of those cards he could possibly be 'happy'. I mean there is nothing to be happy about these price spikes but it does not necessarily mean that the player ends up without the means to play some deck or get cards he needs from those he already owns. The real problem as I see it is the fact that the prices that spike so much do not really go back down. If they do go down the price gets lower very slowly and usually does not reach the price tag it had before the spike.

Fun fact (or sad one?) I entered some cards on mtggoldfish under the My Collection tab. At the end of November 2015 the value was more or less 20k. By the end of December the value of cards went up to 22k. I did not pay attention to that much because I knew the cards were spiking and 2k USD difference did not bother me much. But checking the price now it shows 28135 USD. Something is seriously wrong. How far this can go? I thought that Modern was supposed to be more or less accessible format for new players and that is also why the huge banlist came in the first place, but now I'm not sure anymore. It seems ridiculous.

Eternal formats usually have some kind of waves. In one wave certain decks are popular and in another decks countering these decks become more popular and change the meta. This way the format is not the same all the time usually even though Legacy seems to be quite the same for a long time now. Decks come and go in cycles but they always come back. Thus buying cards for a certain deck for an eternal format is fine since you can play with it or a very long time. In Modern these waves also existed. But the bannings changed the flow and broke those cycles. Some decks became too dominant and WotC tried to do something with it. These bannings though shifted the format unnaturally and people were forced to adapt. Since the format is about metagaming adapting can be a bit more difficult than it might seem at first glance. With the banning of Splinter Twin I think that many players just said to themselves 'that's enough' and I think this is something WotC should really think about. The bans upset players more than I think anyone predicted.

Many people always complained about Legacy being way too expensive to start playing, but look at Modern now. Isn't there the very same problem? There might be 1000USD difference but if one will play Legacy he can always play with the cards, in Modern in two years time it is possible that he or she will need to change deck completely due to meta shifting too much. The time that is given to the players to put together a deck is relatively short and the banlist change comes pretty hard at those people who did not even manage to play with their decks. For example I couldn't imagine myself in that position now (glad I have the cards already).

Now I wonder why people play Modern? What does the format offer that people like about it? Is it just a bigger card pool and the fact that the format is more Standard like and thus better approachable than Legacy? Because this format is FAR from Legacy and even more far from Vintage. It is very close to how Standard is played. Modern started with a long banlist that made an artificial and relatively 'safe' environment for those not being used to be killed on t2 by a Storm deck or combo Elves. But with the new cards being stronger and stronger the decks also get stronger. There is less combos, less control but way more midrange and good stuff decks filled well with all the good stuff there is and now we can throw Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense to the mix. On the other hand the interaction among these decks changed drastically. Even if I put aside the fact that it is way more creature-centric. I really wonder what WotC wants Modern to look like. But even all these good stuff decks + some fast decks that will just trample you are nothing compared to the oppressive Eldrazi. I think that 8 Sol Lands in Modern for only ONE KIND of a deck is too much and something should be done with it. Because I can't really see decks that could deal with this. It completely changes the tempo of the game itself. Just look at this strip from Cardboard Crack.

And now look at this.

Is that how a game of turn 4 tempo format should actually look like?

I'm fine facing a Blightsteel Colossus t1 in Vintage but facing some Eldrazi Mimics t1 and Reality Smasher t2 is just insane (this is ideal/exaggerated scenario but pretty much real as well). In Legacy t2 Thought-Knot Seer does not need to be a problem either because there we have the means to deal with that.

I don't expect you to know Legend of the Five Rings (it is a trading card game, you don't need to know more, but if interested check it out) when Kalani's Landing and/or Aramasu's Vigilance was legal. I used to play the game and I build an ecowarfare deck - it just produced TONS of resources one could use. This deck's resources were so great by turn 2 that it just could win against any other deck because it just played outside of the games normal tempo. Even extremely fast aggro deck couldn't deal with this deck. This led to about 16 cards being banned so no one could play the deck and some time later the game as a TCG was announced to end. Even the one attempt where the designers tried to take a step back (start anew with new rules and new power level) was a failure. I'm afraid that something similar might happen with Modern. I just don't see a way out of this. I still hope that Wizards of the Coast finds a way out of this mess but I doubt it because the January's banlist change is something many players have hard time accepting and if players revolt there might not be a way back unless something completely new is introduced.

Even though I still think the best thing one can do is just sit back and wait for the situation to resolve this time I feel that the uneasiness of people will stay in their hearts/minds forever. I know that we had this kind of feelings many times - when stack was introduced, when damaged stopped using the stack etc. But this time I feel that it this won't go so quitely away because the there are other factors that make people unhappy. Prices of cards are ridiculous for both any format now. Even though the standard prices will go down in general and they do go down (now it's just because fetchlands are legal and we can go 5c easily) the prices of Modern and Legacy cards go up way too fast and they don't go down. The market is not ruled by demand but by speculation and buy out. This is very unhealthy and special sets like Modern Masters did not really help the situation. What happens when Eternal Masters is out is a good question...can this help? I doubt it.

So that's about my two cents about Modern...I hope my Eldrazi nightmares will stop now...

If you are thinking about starting Modern (and don't have cards for it) my advice is just forget it for now and try again in few months. There are decks that don't cost 900-2000USD like Mono Red Burn, Green Stompy or budget Infect. These are good entry point for the format and can show you how Modern is played and if you find the format is for you just slowly build up your Modern collection. If you are a Standard player you can win tournaments, win packs and then sell those and get some Modern and Legacy staples. The best is to start with getting hands on fetchlands after this April and then get Shocklands and such. Modern IS EXPENSIVE and it does not seem that it would get any better in the near future unless the format itself ceases to exist.