Magic is a game that people play to compete and, preferably, win. However, most people's approach does not end here. Most of us love personalizing the experience, be it through our favorite playmat, art sleeves, or choice of basic lands. I guess that a lot of us have had to put a lot of effort and money into assembling this one deck that we've wanted to play for so long. Once the deck is complete, we want to play it for as long as is humanly possible. Traditionally the best format for such a long-lasting customized experience has been Modern. Though there have been some key shake-ups recently …
Magic's longevity as a card game is in part due to its diversity of gameplay and formats. One way we can divide Magic's formats is Limited and Constructed. Another is rotating and nonrotating. Let's focus on the latter. The word "rotating" typically refers to formats where the pool of cards changes periodically. However, it's not only about new cards being added but also old cards rotating out, hence the name. The perfect example is Standard. The nonrotating formats are, predictably, the ones whose card pool is ever-expanding, but all the previous expansions stay legal—Legacy, Modern, Pioneer.
In some cases, often with disdain, people still refer to formats such as Modern as "rotating." While the terminology is technically incorrect, it conveys a meaningful fear—that old cards stop being relevant as new ones are released.
Let's say it loud and clear: Modern has been the most popular competitive nonrotating format for a long time. No format has come close to dethrone it, although Pioneer had its flash-in-a-pan moment. One of the main reasons is that people can pick up their old, beloved, fully foiled-out tier two deck and still do relatively well. I personally know people who haven't changed their primary Modern archetype in years—including yours truly. You play Burn, Infect, Tron? Dust them off and you're good to go. Or at least that's how it used to be.
As new sets are released, it's no surprise that some cards prove strong enough to see play in Modern. It's usually not that often, usually just a few cards and just for a handful of archetypes. Recent examples include Portable Hole in Whirza decks, Triomes in slower decks, or Expressive Iteration in blue-red decks. Sometimes niche cards can spawn or revive an archetype that otherwise wouldn't exist such as what Unmarked Grave did for Reanimator or Svyelun of Sea and Sky for Merfolk.
All the aforementioned examples are considered rather healthy and a welcome breath of fresh air. It's nice that the format is not in complete stagnation and decks get toys here and there. Lately we're witnessing an alarming tendency though. When you look at any current deck rankings, you'll see that most of them are either completely new or contain a ton of the latest cards. Your beloved Infect deck? Embarrassing. Burn? Easily outclassed. Tron? Give me a break. Why is that? Modern Horizons sets.
Once upon a time, we were unbelievably pumped to learn that there was going be a set that would inject cards directly into Modern, circumventing Standard. It meant cards could be way more powerful! And powerful they were. Modern Horizons brought a ton of must-have expensive cards such as Urza, Lord High Artificer, Wrenn and Six, or Force of Negation. Then Modern Horizons 2 came round and brought a new batch of format-warping cards: Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon's Rage Channeler, Murktide Regent, Dauthi Voidwalker, Shardless Agent, Urza's Saga … The list is long.
Not that long ago these were the almost universally agreed upon pillars of the format:
This was the stable foundation the format was built upon, and everybody knew it. There were ups and downs, obviously, turbulences along the journey. But it all revolved around these pillars, and it did so for a long time. Then the Horizons sets hit. As much as it saddens me to say, basically all of the above are now obsolete. Yes, you still see Bolts and Snaps, but they're far from pillars. Instead, Modern has become a love triangle between Urza's Saga, Dragon's Rage Channeler, and Shardless Agent.
Undeniable power creep has left a ton of weaker cards outclassed, seeing little to no competitive play. The power condenses at the top, making a clear cut between what's competitive and what is not. What does it have to do with anything whether a format is rotating or not? If you had a deck before MH1, you either needed to buy a different one or completely overhaul it. Then, when MH2 came around, the same thing happened—either buy into these new, flashy, expensive cards or play a rusty, outdated deck. Even though technically old cards don't rotate out, they effectively become unplayable.
To be fair, I still fully expect paper Modern to stay as it has always been. Most FNM players, which is most players, don't want to keep forking out money on the newest toys. That's why Modern at the store level is the paradise we want. But that creates a bizarre disconnect between online and offline. Now MTGO Challenge results are almost meaningless as they are completely unapplicable to local metagames. Online, probably seven out of eight decks will have Saga, Shardless, or Dragon's Rage Channeler. Locally, I'd be surprised to see more than four decks total at a twenty-ish person FNM contain those cards.
To be clear, I don't think it's inherently bad that those Modern pet decks require updates. I myself like toying around with new cards. But it's much healthier if they are not automatic inclusions and preferably not mythics from a limited print-run product.
As far as I'm concerned, it's impossible to disagree with the statement in the title of this article. Though not all hope is lost! First, not all change is inherently bad. The current Modern format is super fun and generates deep and interactive games of Magic. Second, probably your local Modern events look as if Modern Horizons 2 had not been released. Usually, paper metagames adapt at a glacial pace, so enjoy that while it lasts! Personally, I keep rocking the same old Cryptic Command control decks and will probably continue to do so unless it's literally a tier three strategy.
Tell us what you think about the current state of Modern. Do you try to keep up with trends or play your pet deck? As always, hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.