June 5, 2015

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What’s with all the hate on Modern?

What’s with all the hate on Modern?

Modern gets it rough. Why? To be honest, I don’t really know. For me, personally, it’s my favourite format, but I have my own reasons. I’ve got mixed feelings why I think people give the format such a hard time, and today I’m going to go over some of those and hopefully shed some light on things that perhaps you haven’t really thought through fully or even clear up some misconceptions.

Even if you go all the way back to when Extended was a sanctioned format (though this really wasn’t that long ago), there isn’t any other format that has received so many mixed opinions as Modern. I’ll be the first to agree with the many of you that the format has its problems, but there has never been a perfect environment and there probably never will be. I maintain that this is all a process, that there is action being taken by Wotc with managing the banned cards and printing new cards here and there to shape and manipulate the format, but this all takes time, and we just have to appreciate that.

I’d argue that a good constructed format incorporates as many of the following as possible…

– Multiple tier 1 strategies
– Banned/Restricted list that keeps the power level in check
– Non-prohibitive cost to play
– Competitive play at the professional level

These are just a couple of the pillars of constructed Magic, there are more, but I think these are the most important. It’s easy to see that Standard clearly is the primary benefactor of these criteria, it incorporates all of the above (because the format rotates so frequently, and the relative power level of the cards is pretty low, the banned/restricted list doesn’t apply but the power level remains relatively constant)

So if no constructed format is perfect, then what is it about Modern that leads people to be so sour on it all the time? Here are the primary reasons why I think Modern has the community so divided..

1. Modern is the middle child. There’s not really much to this one, basically, the theory is that being the new kid on the block, and being stuck somewhere in the middle in terms of what the format offers sort of leaves Modern as the ugly duckling. But what seems to be overlooked more than anything is how diverse and how interesting the
format is by being the ‘middle child’.

Because of where the format lies in the bigger picture, it has a very unique power level that no other format offers and gives you a very unique mix of powerful and interesting strategies. Just look at all the different aggro decks… There is Affinity, Zoo, Infect, Mono Red, Merfolk, GW Hatebears, Hexproof. It’s easy to argue that not all of these are tier 1 strategies, and you’d be correct, but each and every one of these is a deck capable of winning and could be one or two cards away from breaking out at any time. Because the environment is shielded from the first ~12 years or more of Magic expansions, you’re gifted with all of these cool decks that couldn’t otherwise exist, and the archetypes listed above are just scratching the surface.

2. The banned list is always fluctuating. Ever since the format was established Wotc has made an effort to keep the power level stable, avoid stagnant environments and foster a play experience that gives players a chance to play each game. For obvious reasons, nothing is ever perfect, and so which cards are legal or illegal will always be in flux, but it shows a commitment on their part to keep any one card or deck from dominating the environment or diminishing the play experience of the format.

In doing this, I believe that some players have a lack of confidence in investing in the format as there is almost a belief that any given card could be banned at any time. While I don’t necessarily agree with this, I understand why this is a deal breaker to a lot of players. The positive side of all of this, however, is that if you’re willing to invest time and money into Modern right now, you can have confidence that the format will remain fun and rewarding for years, which is not true with Standard since the format rotates so fast (18 months starting October) or Legacy as there will never be more reprints (like Modern Masters) due to the Reserve List and the barrier to entry for a card to make an impact in terms of power level is almost prohibitively high.

3. The format seems to promote more combo than any other. For a lot of players, this perception is a real turnoff, but it’s really a lot different than it looks. Magic design in recent years has been catered primarily around creature interactions and combat, which by now most people are familiar and comfortable with. In my opinion, modern is very similar, there are a lot of creature and combat based archetypes, but you get a good blend of powerful spells too which leads to interesting and unique gameplay far different than anything you’d get by playing Legacy or Standard.

When most people think of combo decks, they think lack of interaction, half their cards don’t matter in any given game, and they think that the game is only going to last a few turns. I’d argue that this is absolutely true for many combo decks in Legacy, but the only deck that I’d consider this true of in Modern would be Scapeshift, and that’s a fringe deck at best these days, the other decks are typically very interactive and largely based around creatures which is something very familiar for any player, new or old.

4. Gameplay is very complicated. This one I’m definitely reaching on as I think Magic players are generally very smart people and can figure out things for themselves with a little practice. But similar to something like Legacy, there is a massive learning curve to the format, and it’s not something easily tackled without extensive knowledge of all of the other cards from their previous releases or quick and easy access to smaller modern events or a good play test group. Given the barriers associated with large scale play of the format, it’s not difficult to see why this might be an obstacle for a lot of people and probably a big reason why the format doesn’t see more widespread play.

5. Nostalgia (or a lack of it – for newer players). A reasonably high percentage of today’s player base is relatively new to the game, and thus a lot of the nostalgia of playing with all of these long lost cards is largely lost on players. For me, personally, I started playing midway through the original Mirrodin block, so Modern encompasses every card that I once played in any Standard format. This is a major reason why I love the format, because these are all cards that I got to play with once upon a time that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to if Modern didn’t exist.

Without any true connection to the old expansions or old cards, it’s not too difficult to see why some people aren’t allured by the format. To some, this is just another mountain to climb, far more complex than the newest Draft format or Standard. It’s true, I agree, Modern is far more complex, but it has its own rewards, and it has something to offer anyone as there is no shortage of unique and interesting things to do though it’s clear to me that this is something easily overlooked.

I guess in closing, part of the reason that Magic is such a great game is because it isn’t just a game. There is more to it outside of the actually gameplay mechanics, it’s a lifestyle, and a passion. And Modern brings the best of it to an environment that is fun, balanced, and caters to so many different people. It’s daunting to some, and I’m not going to try and cover up that fact. But there is nothing fundamentally wrong with it. In fact, I think it has more to offer than any other constructed format in the game right now and I think that says a lot. Give the format a chance before you comment on it, just because it’s different and still in its infancy doesn’t make it any less of a format than the others.