Modern, Then and Now

Feature Article from Jon Corpora
Jon Corpora
2/4/2018 5:00:00 PM
submit to reddit » Print «

Friday, February 2nd, 2018—3:00 PM

Modern is Magic's most popular format.

It's weird to say that!

At Modern's debut, Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011, the decks were every bit as degenerate as the ones in the Extended format that Modern replaced. Since then many more cards have been banned, a few cards unbanned (and then banned again), a couple more cards that controversially remain banned, a shift in Wizards of the Coast's philosophy behind banning cards and, most of all, a whole lot of growing pains throughout the format's life so far.

When trying to understand Modern's current hold on the Magical zeitgeist, it's a mistake to overlook just how poorly Standard has been received since Kaladesh was released. In fairness to Modern its quality has progressed in huge chunks, but it remains an expensive endeavor for players. If there was a cheaper alternative people would opt to play it, but for the past year and a half Standard has been untenable. Thanks to Standard's poor optics and Fatal Push, Kaladesh block was probably the best thing to happen to Modern.

Going into Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan there has been plenty of angst about a Modern format Pro Tour, the majority of it disseminating from the professional players obligated to play in it. Hall-of-Famer Eric Froehlich composed his own assessment of the predicament, titled Modern is Practically Perfect. That's Exactly Why it Shouldn't Be a Pro Tour Format. His argument is true on its face, albeit self-serving: There aren't any real edges to be gained in deck selection because the metagame is enormous and all the decks are real, and the implicit advantage professional players have is mitigated. Froehlich posits that even if he had perfect information about the metagame of the Modern tournament he was heading into and played the correct deck it would have almost no impact on his expected result. In the next breath, he confesses to loving Modern and traveling to play it.

Froehlich is able to hold both of these ideas—he loves Modern, yet doesn't want it to be a Pro Tour format—because of the implied consequences of a Modern Pro Tour. Historically, Modern Pro Tours result in cards getting banned, and as Standard players have quickly come to realize bans are horrendous for consumer confidence. The last Modern Pro Tour, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, resulted in a broken Eldrazi deck and an Eye of Ugin ban, aligning neatly with the expected result of a Modern Pro Tour. From a “Did the pros break it?” standpoint, every Modern Pro Tour has been a success for the professionals and a failure for Wizards of the Coast.

If we take “upside from an eSport perspective” to mean “amplified viewer count due to Modern's popularity,” then the equation SaffronOlive presents here is simple: Are more viewers worth the odds of a resulting ban? A Modern Pro Tour negatively impacts Eric Froehlich's bottom line, as he noted in his column, and positively impacts SaffronOlive's (and others')—Modern is novel and popular and a Pro Tour creates loads of content. As a content creator, SaffronOlive is as incentivized to push for a Modern Pro Tour as much as Froehlich is to push against one.

For the record, I don't play on the Pro Tour but I do make a ton of Magic content. I'm against Modern Pro Tours because they break the format, and I'd rather not see the one good thing Magic's got going for it right now get screwed up. Okay? Okay.

Maybe there's something spicy hiding out in under “Other,” but as far as anyone knows, no new archetypes showed up at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Take out the counts, replace the Pro Tour graphic with a Grand Prix graphic, and no one would bat an eye at these percentages. For the first time ever, the pros didn't break it. Everyone took a known idea and pinned their hopes to it.

There's a whole Top 8 to be played out, which will influence what people choose to play in Modern going forward far more than any metagame breakdown, but at the moment it looks like Modern survived a Pro Tour intact. Now the only question that remains is whether Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan will be the exception or the rule going forward.

Sunday, February 4th, 2018—2:30 PM

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is in the books. Congratulations to Luis Salvatto!

A cursory glance at Magic Twitter shows a whole lot of folks patting themselves on the back in the form of snide references to a legitimate concern many shared going into Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan: Professionals, barring the discovery of a new deck that would break the format asunder, would render the Modern metagame untenable in the Pro Tour's wake.

Hindsight's always 20/20. Of course a Modern Pro Tour was a good idea. Of course the pros wouldn't break it. And so it went—the one time that it looks like Modern's going to get through a Pro Tour and there's no obvious bannings, scores of know-it-alls pop up, assuring their followers there was never anything to worry about in the first place.

Retrograde analysis like this is a little too deterministic for my liking. Yes, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan was a rousing success. Yes, viewer numbers were back up. The fact remains that the former was never a guarantee, and the latter could be the result many things.

Pro Tour Amonkhet played host to a famously lame duck Standard format. The Top 8 had three distinct decks: Zombies, Aetherworks Marvel, and a single outlier of Ken Yukuhiro's black-green beatdown deck that showcased Winding Constrictor. It's also true that Pro Tour Amonkhet represented the high-water mark for viewer counts. Were people tuning in for the allure of Aetherworks Marvel activations?

When analyzing viewer numbers, there are a lot of factors in play. As anyone with any experience with a local game store backend knows, Magic has natural ebbs and flows throughout each year. Time zones are a consideration. Differences in marketing from event to event have to be accounted for. Look, it's tempting to pat Modern on the head for doing such an apparent good job at roping in viewers, but Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan is one tournament. It is a blessing that, for once, a Modern Pro Tour has resulted in no clear bans. It shouldn't be looked at as though that outcome was inevitable.

Lantern Control, one of Modern's most polarizing decks, won Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. It's a strong deck that's difficult to disrupt and can be frustrating to play against.

Former Rookie of the Year Justin Cohen tweeted this comprehensive guide to playing Lantern Control. Its depth is nothing short of staggering, and it's arguable that something like this doc is only possible in Modern. There's no incentive to spending this much time optimizing a Legacy or Vintage deck (no Pro Tours, although Legacy as part of a Pro Tour is right around the corner!), and Standard simply lacks the breadth and deck diversity to necessitate a dive as deep as this.

Here's to decks with 35 page guides surviving an annual trip through Magic's format crucible.

Jon Corpora
(pronounced Ca-pora)
@feb31st




submit to reddit » Print «