Eternal Modern

Feature Article from Steve Guillerm
Steve Guillerm
8/1/2012 10:40:00 AM
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On our way back from Columbus, level 2 judge Casey Brefka had some interesting judge tales to tell. With a card pool dating nine years, there are bound to be a few confusing interactions. Never mind the inevitable, “wait a minute, that's legal?” Core Sets back in the day were treated more as news bulletins of Standard legality than actual sets. That means neat cards like Intruder Alarm from old sets like Stronghold are legal, because it happened to be printed in 8th Edition. You wouldn't know it, of course, because anyone with a lick of taste is going to play the original version.

Modern legality is roughly defined as “all cards with the new border.” As a general guideline, this is true. 8th edition is the first legal core set, and Mirrodin is the first legal stand alone expansion. However, this can occasionally come around to bite a player in the behind. With the exception of a few judge promos, all new cards are printed with the new border, no matter their legality for constructed formats. From the Vault: Relics? Well, it's great that I can have my foil Lotus Petals, but they're not Modern legal.

To draw on a real-life example, a player brought the Dragons half of Duel Decks: Knights vs. Dragons to GP Columbus. Beyond the already-crippling disadvantage of bringing a spoon to a knife-fight, the deck was very much illegal. Policy dictates that an illegal card must be replaced by a basic land of the player's choice; the deck ended up with 34 lands. In this case, customer service won out, and a very helpful judge brought the confused player to the tournament organizer for a refund. To more experienced players, we might laugh and wonder how it could ever happen, but someone probably told that Dragonmaster Outcast that Modern was “all cards with new borders.”

Modern's largely about creature combat, but you'd be remiss to forget graveyard hate when building your sideboard. Whether it's Gifts Ungiven for a quick Unburial Rites, stymying Past in Flames, or simply shrinking Tarmogoyfs and stifling Snapcaster Mage, packing a few cards to take care of the graveyard is a good idea. Most players play Relic of Progenitus, while those with access to black mana might play Nihil Spellbomb. At least one enterprising fellow found better tech: Scavenging Ooze. Oops.

Scavenging Ooze, the breakout hit of the Commander set, is banned in Modern. Well, in order to be banned, it would have to be eligible to be legal first. Despite printing brand new Magic cards, Commander and Planechase 2012 (hereafter called Multiplayer sets) are not legal in any format except for Legacy and Vintage, the so-called Eternal formats. The origin of the term “Eternal” is pretty hazy. Some believe it to mean that these are the formats that allow players to play “all of their cards.” I'm not sure I buy that explanation. The word “eternal” doesn't mean “all-encompassing,” it means “enduring,” or “unchanging.” Thus, I believe the word was chosen to distinguish these formats from the other, “rotating” formats. Under this description, Modern could certainly be considered Eternal.

Eternal Modern. I like the sound of that. Any time a card is reprinted in the new sets, it's legal! Veteran Explorer would be neat to test. How about Daze for Modern Merfolk? It's in Jace vs. Chandra, after all! Personally, I can't wait to play Sol Ring. Printed in all five Commander decks, it's got to be legal, right? Houston, we may have a problem here.

The legality problem could theoretically be handled by a clunky and ugly addendum to the ban list. A DCI Task Force could compile the list of all cards reprinted in any Duel Deck or Multiplayer set, and ban the problem cards. Mox Diamond? You're out. Skirk Prospector? Welcome back! I hope you like lists of 70 or more cards, because that'd be your ban list.

Not only that, but any future products would have to be vetted for Modern legality. Want to include Mana Drain in FTV: Jerk Cards? Just a little more bureaucracy than before. They have a hard enough time building the duel decks. These things need to be fun, balanced and thematic, all while providing enough “value” that people want to buy them. If each and every “old card” needs to pass muster, the overall product will suffer. Tournament needs should not impact a casual product.

My actual proposal would be to create a class of cards that includes all cards original to the Multiplayer sets, and then make these cards legal for Modern play. It wouldn't be that hard. After all, the Wizards of the Coast product page for Planechase 2012 states, “These brand new cards are legal in Eternal formats.” If Modern is declared an Eternal format, then half the work is done already. The remainder of the work is simply maintaining a list of Multiplayer Set Originals either on the Modern Format Deck Construction page, or preferably on a separate page that the Modern page can link to.

Would this be confusing for players? There's no doubt about it, definitely. However, the Modern construction rules are somewhat confusing now. Players are expected to understand which releases are legal for Modern, and they're responsible for making sure their deck is legal.

The real question to ask is, would Modern benefit from the inclusion of Multiplayer Set Originals? Obviously no one's clamoring to play Nin, the Pain Artist in their UWR Delver decks, and Command Tower's not fixing mana in Modern anytime soon. I am convinced that there are enough interesting cards that it'd be worthwhile to include these sets. Additionally, I don't see any cards that are so obviously busted as to deserve a ban.

First up is Commander. With 51 new cards, it's the bigger of the two sets. Just over a year old, Commander was an absolute runaway hit, and any card availability problems can be easily rectified by reprints. Largely made up of cards that work best in a multi-player environment, including big fat creatures, most are too inefficient to make it in Modern. For posterity's sake, I've listed all of the originals, but only commented on those I find most interesting.

Acorn Catapult
Alliance of Arms
Animar, Soul of Elements
Archangel of Strife
Avatar of Slaughter
Basandra, Battle Seraph
Celestial Force
Champion's Helm

 Chaos Warp
Store QTY Price  
Serenity Games 1 $1.97
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monolithapp 1 $1.98
Flipside Gaming 1 $1.98
ChucktownJayMTG 1 $1.98
BanHammerCards 1 $1.99
swiatochap 1 $1.99
Gulf Coast Hobby 1 $2.09
Common Ground Games 1 $2.11
CollectorDave 1 $2.11
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Magic MTG Card Chaos Warp Magic MTG Card
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Chaos Warp: This guy breaks the rules, and Mark Rosewater hates it. Red doesn't normally have an answer to problem permanents like enchantments. The downside is only a real downside about a third of the time, as you're not too broken up if they get an extra land. Rb burn might run this in its sideboard if given the option, but it hasn't made a lot of waves in Legacy.

Collective Voyage
Command Tower
Crescendo of War

Damia, Sage of Stone: Probably out-classed by Jin-Gitaxias and Griselbrand in the “expensive draw engines on a creature” department. Because you need to wait until your upkeep to derive benefit, she's inherently too “fair” of a seven-drop to consider playing. Basically, a good example of the type of “big creature” that works in Commander, but not in Modern.

Death by Dragons
Dread Cacodemon

Edric, Spymaster of Trest: In Commander, this guy works to give everyone an incentive to attack anyone but you. In Legacy, he's been used sparingly by Elf decks as a supplement to the beatdown plan. Would he make the cut in Modern? I could see it. Turn two off of Noble Hierarch? Right next to Cold-Eyed Selkie? Bant aggro might like him.

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gnirehtaGehTcigaM 1 $18.99
Gameuphoria 1 $18.99
The Gamer's Haven 1 $19.50
AtxMTG 1 $19.78
Prodigy Games 1 $19.94
Lodestone Games 2 $19.95
Legacy CCG 3 $19.98
The DeeP 1 $19.99
Tapped Out Gaming 1 $20.74
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Magic MTG Card Flusterstorm Magic MTG Card
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Flusterstorm: No doubt about it, this one would see play. The question here is whether it's too powerful. One of the great things about Flusterstorm is that its power can be tempered by the metagame. In response to removal, it's a Spell Pierce at worst. In response to Birthing Pod, it's worthless. In Legacy, it's primarily used by combo decks to protect against countermagic and discard spells like Duress or Thoughtseize. Given that combo hasn't seen a ton of success recently, and the most prominent one (Storm) is given a huge beating by Flusterstorm, I think it's safe to say that it wouldn't ruin Modern.

Ghave, Guru of Spores

Homeward Path: Basically a cute piece of sideboard tech against Vedalken Shackles. I'd want this in the format just for the look on players' eyes.

Hornet Queen
Hydra Omnivore

Kaalia of the Vast: Probably just a bit too slow. Lightning Greaves says hello, but if you want to accelerate into her, you're dipping into green for mana dorks. Then again, I've seen players jump through sillier hoops, and there are some very potent angels, dragons, and demons. Griselbrand and Through the Breach might also be involved.

Karador, Ghost Chieftain
Magmatic Force
Mana-Charged Dragon
Martyr's Bond
Minds Aglow
Nin, the Pain Artist
Riku of Two Reflections

Ruhan of the Fomori: Mostly, I'd just like to make note of how hard it is for a dumb beater to impress. Four mana for a 7/7 is good, but Geist of Saint Traft is three mana for a hexproof (virtual) 6/2. Tarmogoyf is a two-mana 4/5 or 5/6. Ruhan's disadvantage is a small, but significant one.

 Scavenging Ooze
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SimplyCards 1 $2.99
Three Headed Dragon 1 $3.21
Moonbase Market 1 $3.32
Game Night 1 $3.38
Three Headed Dragon 1 $3.38
Panzer Games 1 $3.39
Game Haven MD 1 $3.41
Legacy CCG 1 $3.41
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Magic MTG Card Scavenging Ooze Magic MTG Card
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Scavenging Ooze: The star of our show, Scavenging Ooze would definitely see play. Even without Green Sun's Zenith, it could easily take the place of Tarmogoyf. As far as card accessibility is concerned, we'd need to see reprints. $40 on the back of Legacy alone means this guy would easily hit Tarmogoyf prices if made Modern legal. However, Ooze seems a lot more likely to be reprinted in a Standard-legal set in the near future. Don't hold your breath for Tarmogoyf, but hope for Ooze instead.

Scythe Specter
Sewer Nemesis
Shared Trauma
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Soul Snare: A cross between Path to Exile and Condemn. Except you have to pay an extra mana for the privilege of telegraphing your play. Another example of the sort of card that works well within the political games of multiplayer, but lacking the raw efficiency needed for Modern.

Spell Crumple: Hinder #2 in Commander, Cancel #0 in Modern. Remand and Mana Leak are doing just fine. Nothing to see here, move along.

Syphon Flesh
Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

The Mimeoplasm: Combo-licious. Off the top of my head, I'm imagining it as a one-of in Pod for some reason. Maybe a new reanimator deck might happen? Gifts Ungiven target? The potential is there!

Trench Gorger: Another reanimation target that's just a fattie. Yawn. Lord of Extinction is boss of them all since 2009.

Tribute to the Wild
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Vow of Duty
Vow of Flight
Vow of Lightning
Vow of Malice
Vow of Wildness
Zedruu the Greathearted

Planechase brought along 21 new cards, plus 40 new planes. Until Planechase constructed is a sanctioned format, we'll be left to consider only the cards. While Planechase 2012 is newer, and isn't sold out everywhere yet, the original was quite popular, and is difficult to find these days. I don't expect these decks to collect dust on shelves.

Baleful Strix: Robots (Affinity) currently tends to run red or blue as its main color. In Legacy, blue/black has been backed by Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. I could certainly see this little birdie fitting right in alongside Tezzeret in Modern except for one problem: Robots' mana is terrible. Would Tezzeret and Strix be enough to eschew some number of Blinkmoth/Inkmoth Nexus and/or Darksteel Citadel in exchange for Darkslick Shores?

Beetleback Chief
Brindle Shoat
Dragonlair Spider
Dreampod Druid
Elderwood Scion
Etherium-Horn Sorcerer
Felidar Umbra

Fractured Powerstone: Like Mind Games? Here you go! Otherwise, stick to Everflowing Chalice, Mind Stone, or Signets for your mana rock needs.

Illusory Angel: A 4/4 flyer is actually really big in Modern. The skies contain largely Restoration Angels, Insectile Aberrations, and Lingering Souls Spirits. Red removal usually only does 3 damage. If an enterprising deckbuilder found a way to reliably cast her, she could rule the roost.

Indrik Umbra
Krond, the Dawn-Clad

Maelstrom Wanderer: With Hypergenesis banned, this guy won't see the same (limited) success that has been seen in Legacy. Find a way to bin him before casting Living End, however...

Mass Mutiny
Preyseizer Dragon

Sai of the Shinobi: A fixed Sword of the Meek. Sorry Wizards, but the auto-attach part wasn't what we liked about the Meekblade.

 Sakashima's Student
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Offutt MTG 1 $5.28
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Cape Fear Games 2 $5.65
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Asgard 1 $5.71
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Sakashima's Student: Seems just ripe for abuse. The timing restriction on Ninjutsu is a bit limited, but rebuying a Spellstutter Sprite is good value in Mono-blue Faeries. How about, “save my attacker from your removal, copy Restoration Angel, Flicker Kitchen Finks?”

Shardless Agent: A better spell for Living End and Restore Balance decks. Shardless Agent's artificiality sneaks around Ethersworn Canonist. Additionally, because you resolve Cascade while the Agent is on the stack, Living End or Restore Balance will resolve first, and you'll get your 2/2 after all!

Silent-Blade Oni
Thromok the Insatiable
Vela the Night-Clad

In all, I'd say four cards from Planechase have serious potential, while Commander comes in with six or seven. While that might not sound like a lot, we're likely to continue seeing new, Eternal-legal cards from time to time, and the list of potential Modern staples will only grow. In Magic, more choice is usually better than less.

I don't think that the DCI or Wizards of the Coast would be smart to implement these changes immediately. Card availability would be a tremendous problem, immediately separating the haves from the have-nots. However, with tactical reprints of the most popular cards such as Scavenging Ooze and Flusterstorm to help supply meet demand, it's entirely possible that Modern could be considered Eternal. For the sake of tidiness, a goal could be Summer or Fall 2013, coinciding with 20 years of Magic, and 10 years of Modern-legal cards.

Eternally yours,

Steve Guillerm
@SteveExplosion on MTGO and Twitter

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