Predicting the Modern Announcement

So far this week we have been running the numbers on the London Mulligan but that will not even be tested until April. There is much more pressing news for the Modern format. Wizards of the Coast is set to make an announcement tomorrow that has the Modern player base abuzz. There is a lot of speculation swirling around about what this product could actually be. Today, we are going to look at three of the most common theories about what the new product is and discuss the plausibility of each of these theories.

Modern Coming To Magic Arena
Magic Arena has revitalized the Magic: the Gathering digital experience. We have seen a major uptick in the popularity of digital Magic content such as Twitch streams. It would only make sense that eventually WotC would want to bring one of the most popular Magic formats to the platform. One thing that people have been latching onto is Mark Rosewater’s use of the word “Hackathon”. For those who may not know, early slang for computer programming was called “hacking”. Despite the modern connotation of someone trying to gain unauthorized access to a computer, hacking is still a term used in positive contexts throughout the programming community. A hackathon has traditionally been an event where programmers get together to create small projects from scratch in a weekend or so. Interesting ideas may spin off into larger projects completed outside of the hackathon. Because of this digital tie in, it seems possible that Magic Arena would be related to this announcement. However, Mark also stated that this was a hackathon done by the R&D team. It was not a hackathon in the traditional sense of computer programming, rather it was time spent spinning up small project ideas for R&D. This makes it far less likely that the Modern format is coming to Magic Arena in this announcement. In addition, adding the Modern card pool adds numerous rules quirks which the development team likely does not want to dive into yet. Starting with Standard only was a very conscious decision made by WotC. There are still other issues that need to be resolved such as the timer system and other quality of life enhancements that will likely trump Modern being added for the time being. The final nail in the coffin comes from WotC’s director of esports who, when asked about this idea recently, said “No, not at the moment, it will take a very long time to have that format available.”

Modern Challenger/Event Decks
Another theory making the rounds is the announcement of preconstucted Modern decks. We have gotten things like Event Decks and Challenger Decks for Standard. These were decks designed to be an entry point into the format that you could take to an event like Friday Night Magic and be competitive with. They generally had solid price points and clear upgrade paths into the complete versions of meta decks. The Modern format had the March of the Multitudes Event Deck come out in 2014 but it was incredibly underpowered and had very few Modern staples. The token deck was not very competitive and did not offer much ability to upgrade into the full fledged token deck, which even at that time was far from a prominent force in Modern. In order for a new iteration of this product to see success, it would need to contain more Modern staples to make it competitively viable and financially enticing. While I would love for a product like this to actually exist for Modern, there are a lot of problems with it.

First off, it doesn’t seem possible to create these at a reasonable price point. While Standard decks top out at a few hundred in extreme cases, Modern decks typically tend to start there and go up. It is not clear to me what deck could be chosen that would be viable when budgeted, offer a clear upgrade path, and not totally tank the reprint value of some cards. WotC has the interest of collectors, Modern players, and the people buying the product to juggle and it is not an easy balance. Standard staples hold much less value than Modern staples so the targeted Mythic reprints in the Challenger decks were well received. Devaluing a specific, expensive Modern deck by hundreds of dollars would upset many players. Furthermore, if a deck is already affordable most interested players will build it which limits the appeal. Even if they can strike the perfect balance, it is still a niche product when sites like MTGGoldfish present a variety of budget decks to choose from with an upgrade path for each. They were not able to make this work in 2014 and I do not think that conditions have changed significantly.

A Supplemental Modern Set
Many great cards have been added to Legacy through supplemental products. Cards like Shardless Agent, Palace Jailer, and True-Name Nemesis have all been added to Legacy without ever being Standard legal. If not for the supplemental products, these cards likely would have never existed because they are far too powerful for Standard. The Modern format currently is completely tied to Standard. If a card would break Standard but be perfectly reasonable in Modern, there is currently no way for that card to ever get into the format. This limits Wizards of the Coast’s ability to add cards to the Modern card pool without adding severe power creep to Standard. In recent years this has led to a need for Standard bans, which had been unheard of since the Jace and Stoneforge debacle. With a supplemental product that introduces cards into the Modern card pool, tons of design space is opened up for the format. In addition, Wizards of the Coast has been hinting at a product like this for quite a while. In a product survey last year, Wizards explicitly asked if players were interested in Modern only boosters that bypassed Standard. I am hoping that the answer was a resounding, “yes”, because I firmly believe that this will be a net positive for Magic as a whole.
Modern is able to get cards tailored for it. The design team would no longer have to worry about Standard cards being powerful enough for Modern. Formats like Legacy and Commander will also likely see new viable cards thanks to the increased power level. Limited players will hopefully get a great draft format as well. The only downside of this decision is that this set adds some confusion into what is Modern legal. Previously, no supplemental products were legal and now this potential new set is going to add ambiguity to that. But it is surprisingly difficult to determine what is legal even in the Standard format at this point. This seems like a fairly minor issue for the deeply enfranchised Modern playerbase. From top to bottom, I feel like this is a worthy successor to Masters sets and hope this is what gets announced tomorrow.

Wrap-Up
It is always difficult to predict what exactly Wizards of the Coast will do next. But we know that tomorrow will be big for the Modern format. Among these three commonly expressed theories our money is solidly on a supplemental set. Do you have any other ideas as to what it could be? If it is a supplemental set, what cards do you want to see printed into the Modern format? Join our discussion group and let us know. Tomorrow we will finally be closing out our analysis of the London mulligan in Modern. Until then my friends.

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