Changing Times: Four Modern Axioms That Are No Longer True
- Hans Davidson
Modern moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. In this week's article, I've come up with four adages about Modern that are no longer true in 2018. Let's dive right in and start with a card that was a deckbuilding taboo when I first started playing the format!
1. "Manamorphose isn't a playable card."
The first time I played Manamorphose in my Boros Pyromancer-Burn deck back in 2014, another LGS regular Mike told me that I should cut the card. I asked him why I should, since Manamorphose was basically a "free" card with a down payment of two mana. In fact, I asked him why every deck that could cast the card didn't include Manamorphose, since it would thin the deck and help fix mana if need be. Mike patiently – and rightfully – explained all the downsides of running Manamorphose. Namely, Manamorphose makes mulligan decisions much more difficult (you didn't know what the card would turn into until you got the two mana to cast it), and it also costs an actual card that could fit into the deck's game plan. The only decks that should be running Manamorphose were the Storm decks, he pointed out, and that was the end of the discussion. Fast forward four years, and we've seen all sorts of decks running Manamorphose in Modern, whether it be the brand-new Runaway Red or the midrange mainstay Mardu Pyromancer. In both cases, the synergies that the card enables by cycling and providing mana has been deemed worthwhile for maindeck inclusion. The success of these decks has convinced deck builders to abandon the stigma towards Manamorphose and to jam it in more lists with various degrees of success. We've even seen Death's Shadow lists and Blue-Red Phoenix lists incorporate the two-mana spell. As time goes on, it's likely that we'll see even more deck lists running the "free" cantrip.
2. "Modern is a Turn-Four Format."
One of Wizards' intended guidelines for Modern was that it was going to be a "turn-four" format. According to this article from their homepage, "Modern should not be dominated by fast, non-interactive decks (consistent kills before turn four are a red flag)."
Modern has become exactly the thing that Wizards said it shouldn't be – a format defined by linearity with intermittent periods in which control and midrange decks find a short window to find their footing. Dredge, Storm, Tron, Amulet Titan, KCI, and Hollow One are all decks that either can kill the opponent or present a winning board state by the third turn, and most importantly, with consistency. The fact that games can and do go on longer is a testament to the powerful sideboard cards that the format has access to and says nothing about the consistency of these decks' linearity. Despite Wizards' attempts at printing powerful answers and pay-offs for interactive strategies (Fatal Push, Assassin's Trophy, Field of Ruin, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria), we've seen the linear decks rise to the top and rotate based on the amount of hate that is currently popular. Thus, if Wizards ever decides to be serious about toning Modern back down to a turn-four format, major changes would likely have to take place in the form of bans. Then again, whether that would even be enough is not something we know for certain.
3. "Tarmogoyf is the best creature in the format."
Tarmogoyf used to fetch a cool $200 per copy back at its peak, making decks that ran a playset some of the most expensive decks in the format. The supply of Tarmogoyf wasn't as plentiful as it was back in the infancy of Modern, and the format's most powerful lines of play at the time involved a Goyf followed by a Liliana of the Veil or Mana Leak. Times have changed, however, as Tarmogoyf's falling prices have reflected his stature in Modern. No longer the fear-inducing turn-two play, Tarmogoyf has been outclassed in both size and usefulness by other creatures.
The printing of the Delve creatures in the Khans of Tarkir block was the beginning of the end of Tarmogoyf's reign as an early beater. Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler could come out just as early as the green two-drop, and their Delve mechanics had the effect of weakening opposing Goyfs. Tarmogoyf's share continued to sink as cards such as Reality Smasher, Hollow One, Death's Shadow, and Mantis Rider took turns becoming the go-to creatures of the format. It was no longer necessary for decks to have to be able to pay one generic and one green mana in order to have a fast clock, and with that diversity came the fall of Tarmogoyf.
I would also be remiss to not mention the impact that Fatal Push has had on the reign of Tarmogoyf, as well. Until the printing of Push, there were very few ways that decks could come out on top of mana efficiency when killing a Tarmogoyf. These few ways often relied on specific circumstances occurring (bolting a 2/3 Tarmogoyf with an instant already in the graveyard, for example) that made it very difficult to swing the tempo once a Goyf hit the battlefield. With Fatal Push, these problems quickly vanished, as all it took now was to pay one black mana to answer a resolved Goyf.
Which creature has taken Goyf's title as the format's best creature, then? That mantle, I would argue, currently goes to Noble Hierarch, a staple creature in a swath of top decks. The mana acceleration, Exalted trigger, and Human subtype provides a powerful and irreplaceable package for the linear, aggressive decks that utilize the mana dork, and its ubiquity in the format gives credence to the idea that the 0/1 creature is the king of monsters. For those of you who might have already begun typing a response to this in the comment section below: don't worry - if blue control decks were to ever become more pervasive than the linear decks, I'd be happy to change my mind and hand the title over to Snapcaster Mage.
4. "The ban list contains the format's most oppressive cards."
Tying into the speed of Modern takes us to the existence of the ban list and the cards that currently reside on it. While the case might have been true that the ban list included the format's most oppressive and metagame-warping cards in 2016, it's difficult to not laugh at the presence of Stoneforge Mystic, Green Sun's Zenith, and the blue cantrips, while cards such as Ancient Stirrings, Mox Opal, and the Tron lands run rampant in the format. This isn't a call to ban the aforementioned cards – rather, I believe that the power level of Modern has creeped far enough that many of the currently-banned cards aren't any more powerful than the strategies that exist today.
Because Wizards has been opaque in their management of Modern's ban list, it's difficult to say whether cards such as Mystic and GSZ will ever be unbanned. As this article has hopefully illustrated, Modern has changed drastically since its creation, and what was true five years ago is not true anymore today. Cards that no one thought would see the light of day (Goblin Lore, I'm looking at you) have found their way into tier 1 strategies, and strategies have seen a noticeable shift towards linearity. Perhaps the days of clinging onto old fears about a card's power level should make way for releasing them onto a format that has proven itself to be fast, diverse, and adaptive.
What other conventions about Modern have changed over the past several years? Leave your comment in the section below!
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