Modern has a bad reputation, and it’s for good reason. Many match-ups go along these lines:
Match 1: I assemble Tron while you assemble Voltron.
Game 1 – The Bogles player mulligans into a Gladecover Scout with a load of Auras to make him great. The Tron player, on the play, happens to have Pyroclasm. The Bogles player draws beyond seven and discards before losing his entire board state and dying feebly.
Game 2 – The Bogles player is on the play, and he enchants a Slippery Bogle with Hyena Umbra before Oblivion Stone and Pyroclasm are relevant, and he finishes the job quickly with Ethereal Armor and Daybreak Coronet. This time, the Tron player was totally helpless.
Does game 3 even matter? Is there any piloting skill here? The only difficult decision is the first: “Mulligan or keep?” The pilot has to ask himself, “Does this have enough pressure to win before the opponent can do anything, or does it have a way to stop the opponent from having a single chance?” Maybe Tron gets his sideboard Spellskite, and maybe Bogles gets his sideboard Suppression Field. Either way, this isn’t a very complex game.
Match 2, game 1: I race to add two quest counters to Pyromancer’s Ascension while you race to give me ten poison counters.
Match 7, game 1: I achieve twelve devotion to white thanks to a large number of enchantments like Runed Halo and Leyline of Sanctity while you achieve twelve devotion to green and cast a Genesis Wave. Which ends up being better?
Need I go on?
I don’t want to try and paint Modern out to be a turn two format or anything remotely close. But the problem with Modern is that these matches, ones that are one-sided blowouts for one player or the other, ones where an opponent is forced to frown and answer “No” when you ask “Do you have it,” are extremely common. The fourteen (fourteen!) examples above are those from daily results in the past couple of months. Never mind atrocious lists that you encounter in 2-man queues and in the tournament practice room; have you ever had your opponent exile Simian Spirit Guide to cast Boom targeting your only land and his Darksteel Citadel? Did he follow it up with a turn three Molten Rain? Totally unacceptable “play.”
Is Modern entirely composed of this type of “game”? Absolutely not. In fact, there are plenty of beautiful, intricate matches with counters, bluffs, and removal, all while chaining draw spells and applying pressure. There are certainly enough of these lists to truly poison the format, though, and so many players seek out this type of list. You may be an article-reader hoping to find the next list that totally shuts down your opponent and doesn’t allow them to do anything. It may turn all of their lands into an Island and resolve Choke, or it may aim to place too many Ghostly Prison effects onto the battlefield. I’ve been tempted before not to have to make any tough decisions except the one that answers the question, “Which deck do I choose to cash in this metagame?”
If any of this sounds like you, let me assure you, the deck you’re looking for is not out there. No matter how many blowouts you achieve with routinely targeting your opponent with Raven’s Crime or targeting Protean Hulk on turn two with Footsteps of the Goryo, your deck is not consistent enough to be a good decision in a ticketed event. I’m sure it feels really good to achieve the lock when it happens, but I promise you that if there were a list that could do it enough, you wouldn’t be discovering it on any Magic content site. It would already exist, and it would already be dominant and most likely corrected by Wizards.
Because you see, while they may have a nasty camel of a platform to play Magic Online, Wizards really know what they are doing. They have made an awesome TWO-PLAYER game, and they have carefully maintained it over the years. Especially since the creation of the Modern format, the game is truly… well… magical when it is played correctly.
So if you are a frequenter of this site that is disappointed by this revelation, let me encourage you: there can still be blowouts. You can play a good deck and earn wins against your opponent. Here are some other examples of matches.
Match 1, game 1: I am playing G/W Hate-bears against Bogles. When he targets his Slippery Bogle with Daybreak Coronet, I activate Aether Vial to remove the Hyena Umbra enchanting the beast with Qasali Pridemage. For the rest of the game, my opponent is reluctant to attack because he knows I have Restoration Angel and Aven Mindcensor as well as the Vial. The next Daybreak Coronet is met with a Flickerwisp exiling the first aura. I fly over the top of his larger hexproof creature and win handily while he flounders, unable to do anything.
Game 2: My opponent feels on top of the world because he has amassed all the components and has a 10/8 creature with lifelink and vigilance. He knows I can never attack, and his life total is ever-increasing. But I have Fracturing Gust. And Day of Judgment. And now he has no cards in hand and a couple of awkward lands.
Well, you say, this is an ideal scenario for the Hatebears player. I disagree. This is the norm for an interactive deck.
Do you see the difference in this match from the ones before yet?
Match 2, game 1: I am playing Splinter Twin, and my opponent is playing Infect. The turn before my opponent would attack for a lethal amount of poison, I Lightning Bolt his Glistener Elf. He targets it with Vines of Vastwood, which is met with Remand. Now he has a hand full of pump spells, including Vines of Vastwood, which are all useless because he has no creature in play. I assemble the combo.
Game 2: My opponent has chipped away a time or two with Ichorclaw Myr but after playing sorcery-speed Rancor and Might of Old Krosa, he cannot respond to my Cryptic Command tapping down his Myr before combat begins. The next turn, out of mana, he easily loses his one threat and gets run over.
Surely it is clearer to you now: If you decide to play an interactive deck, there will be times that you get to shut your opponent down completely. Haven’t you noticed that being the goal of so many Modern players? It’s enough to run many off to other Eternal formats. Here, though, instead of picking a strategy that some opponents will be able to do nothing about, now we are playing cards that stop the opponent alongside our strategy. In doing so, we will create blowouts. In both of these examples above, we might as well be successfully piloting 8-Rack or Mono-White Devotion, two decks that aim completely to prevent your opponent from being able to play Magic. Our opponents aren’t able to play or do anything useful because we have had a couple of well-timed pieces of interaction, and they do not.
After we’ve navigated through the early rounds of non-interacting opponents, we get to the ones that do play Abrupt Decay, creature removal, Remand, and all the rest. We get to leave lands untapped, bluffing spells. We get to hold lands in our hand and pretend that they are spells that can do something, and our opponent might buy it! We can Path to Exile their Wurmcoil Engine or Pestermite before they become a problem, and a real game is afoot.
Perhaps you’ve lost your way and forgotten what a great game Magic can be. I suspect (though this is for another article entirely) that this is because of the social aspect of paper Magic is lost in MTGO, and players forget that there is someone loathing the game and life in front of the other screen. I want to remind you, though, that you can win the game even when the opponent is doing things to stop you, and you can outright stop your opponents even with a deck that doesn’t aim just to do that.
Now, I suspect that many article readers just scroll up and down many articles until they see a box with a decklist, so let me show you duhaimination’s Ad Nauseam list. It’s from a while ago, but it applies some of the principles I’ve spoken about here (though I still prefer Delver/Twin and Pod/Jund for interaction). Instead of the couple of Pact of Negation cards that many of the combo players use, he has some proactive hate that can operate in a diverse field. I’m a little embarrassed about the Gitaxian Probe and Peek cards in the list, as these check to sure “that the opponent can’t do anything,” but I applaud the Shadow of Doubt cards nonetheless.
Duhaimination Ad Nauseam (Modern)
1 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
2 City of Brass
2 Gemstone Mine
2 Hallowed Fountain
3 Marsh Flats
3 Watery Grave
4 Simian Spirit Guide
Other Spells (38)
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Angel’s Grace
1 Conjurer’s Bauble
4 Faithless Looting
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
3 Pentad Prism
2 Shadow of Doubt
1 Lightning Storm
4 Ad Nauseam
Gone is the Pact of Negation that prevents the opponent from countering the Ad Nauseam, or less-advisedly, the Lightning Storm. Instead, Shadow of Doubt can outright stop Scapeshift, or it may disrupt a fetchland or Expedition Map. The Thoughtseize can preemptively remove a threat before it is threatening. The deck doesn’t aim to build up to six mana and go off or die trying. It’s actually playing the game! Now, is this the best example of what I’m talking about in this article? Certainly not. But I think it’s a step in the right direction, not only for the deck itself, but also for the entire format. Modern isn’t interesting to a lot of players, and a big reason of this is the lack of interaction.
Modern has so much potential. In paper, it is the most accessible Eternal format, and Wizards can regulate the prices with reprints. Hopefully you and I can find more ways to actually play the game so that players don’t continue their distaste and leave it unsupported. Or maybe you’re just here to find an Altar of the Brood deck. Either way, good luck, have fun.