Why I See Hope on Modern’s Horizon

Recently, Tanner wrote about his concerns for the future of the Modern format. In that article, he lamented the current state of the metagame and the way players would react to the shakeups coming down the line. To some degree, I can understand his worry. We are in a bit of a rough patch and change is a scary thing. However, I have more faith in the format and I am optimistic about what we have to look forward to in the next few months.

Phoenix’s Dominance
Over the past few months, people have been increasingly concerned with the performance of Izzet Phoenix. During our last big Modern weekend, Phoenix contained a quarter of the the Top 32 placings. In fact it has been the best deck at every GP at which it was legal. In my opinion, this has led to a sky is falling attitude that is overblown. Yes, the deck is very good. However, Modern is and always has been an incredibly adaptable format. Less than six months ago, people were concerned about the dominance of Bant Spirits. Before that, it was UW Control. Before that, it was Humans and so on. Modern has historically had ebbs and flows where decks rise to the top and are eventually held in check.

I am not saying that we may not need a ban for something in Phoenix down the road. It is possible that the format never adjusts and Phoenix is able to continue to dominate. The deck is incredibly flexible and attacks from a lot of angles. That said, I doubt we end up needing to ban something from Phoenix. It takes time for people to innovate in the format. Modern has such a massive card pool that it takes a lot of work to get well refined 75. For the upcoming Grand Prix Calgary, I will bet that we see much healthier numbers for Phoenix. I think that the format has had time to adapt and those innovations will finally come to light. Since it is March Madness, I will even bet that Tron is going to take down the GP. I feel that the deck is currently very well positioned and it has always had a high enough power level. Even if I am wrong about the current format adapting there are enough shakeups coming up that I do not think Phoenix will stay perched on top for too much longer. It is not reasonable to ban it now when we are the precipice of extreme change anyways.

The London Mulligan
Ever since its announcement, the London Mulligan has created a ton of buzz with Modern players everywhere. Some people are in favor of the change and others are incredibly worried about how it might warp the format. I personally am fully behind the change. At the end of the day, all of us enjoy playing the game of Magic. This rule change will lead to far fewer games where only one person is playing because the opponent mulliganed into an unplayable hand. This alone should be enough to make the change positive, yet, the numbers also support that this will be a positive change.

For those of you that haven’t read this article, let’s look at a couple numbers. Under the current rules, Tron will have a playable hand if they Mulligan to five cards 85.8% of the time. With the London Mulligan, this number only goes up 2% to 87.8%. This is an increase but it is far from a major one as it considers the identical seven, the near identical six, and then the significantly different five between the two rulesets. The difference between five or less card hands under each ruleset is significant, but decks should and will still be built to keep six and seven card hands. It does not suddenly make inconsistency a good characteristic to have and GBx decks would rise to punish these decks that consistently mulligan though; yes, even Tron. Failing all of this though, we still have the ability to ban things. If the London mulligan improves certain archetypes enough to necessitate a ban, those decks should be able to survive said ban as well. It is hard to say what other changes this mulligan change will bring, however, they are just testing it. If it leads to fewer non-games, I think that will be a net positive for everyone.

Modern Horizons
Modern Horizons is just on the horizon and I personally am very excited for it. Never before have we had a way to add cards directly into the Modern card pool. There is no concern about whether typing makes sense for a plane or if the power level is too high for Standard. Instead, we get an entire set dedicated to cards that are supposed to be on par with the power level of the Modern format. It is worth noting that this reduces the pressure on WotC to push Standard power level and helps to steer us away from the ban mania of the previous two years. Generally, there are only a handful of Modern playable cards that come out of each set. This is the first time that we have been able to add potentially hundreds of playable cards into the format. Of course they will not all make the cut but it is safe to say that far more of them will be playable than what we see in a typical Standard legal set. If this does not breathe new life into a “stale” metagame, I am not sure what will.

I know there are reasons to believe that WotC will miss the mark and create new problems for Modern. This is always a possibility. That said, these types of problems tend to be easy to address. If any card is format warping, there is a banlist designed to deal with that. Card availability is also potentially a problem. I do not know the exact details of how they are expecting to address this, but I do expect the set to sell well. The boxes are pre-selling at prices much lower than Masters sets and they contain 36 packs. While I do wish that it contained some much needed reprints, you could argue that it still alleviates price pressure. Card prices are a function of supply and demand. A reprint decreases prices by increasing supply. It is entirely possible that an influx of new powerful cards redistributes demand within the market; reducing demand on current staples by introducing newly demanded ones in Modern Horizons. Overall, I am incredibly excited for Modern Horizons. Yes it is going to be a big change, but for someone who has been playing Modern since its inception it is a welcome one. Tron, Affinity, and the other pillars will still be there when the dust settles.

Wrap-Up
Modern is not the healthiest it has ever been. That does not mean it is a broken or bad format. With so much to look forward to on the horizon, Modern will be just fine. I’m excited to see what the next few months bring and can’t wait to play with the new cards in the new metagame. What do you think the future holds for the Modern format? We would love to talk it over in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back on Monday to break down the results of GP Calgary. Until then my friends.

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