The Golden Rules of Modern - Part Two
Enjoyed part one of "The Golden Rules of Modern"? You're in luck because this week caps off the second and final part of the series. Join Hans as he shares with you his last three "Golden Rules" when it comes to the best format in Magic!
Modern is big, it's complex, and it's rife for theory crafting. In this two-part series, "The Golden Rules of Modern," my goal is to share with you what I believe are the core tenets of playing Modern (and playing it well!). You can check out rules 1-3 here on the off chance you missed them. This week looks to cover the format's most beloved discard spell, bringing hate cards, and playing to your strengths, so without further ado, let's dive in to the fourth golden rule of Modern
4. Thoughtseize the opponent's Thoughtseize.
Last week we talked about the interaction between two one-mana cards, and this week, we're going to start things off by talking about the format's quintessential discard spell, Thoughtseize. In order to discuss the merits of discarding the opponent's Thoughtseize with your own Thoughtseize, I need to quickly go over what makes the card so good in the first place.
Thoughtseize is a powerful card for three reasons: its cost, the ability to see your opponent's hand, and being able to pluck away the most dangerous card from his or her hand. At one mana, Thoughtseize is as cheap as a card that costs mana can be, and this means that it can be cast on the first turn. Having a card that can be played starting from turn one all the way to the very last turns of the game, especially at such a cheap cost, makes Thoughtseize a live card at any point in the game. Why is that so relevant? Well, the ability to look at the opponent's hand on the very first turn of the game is a game-changer – it allows the player who cast Thoughtseize to identify which deck his or her opponent is playing. The information can then immediately be put to use to come up with a game plan, key in on the dangerous cards in the match-up and begin planning out the next few turns. Speaking of dangerous cards – Thoughtseize isn't just a boring old Peek because whatever dangerous cards you find in your opponent's hand can be removed, if you so wish. In some cases, it might be an otherwise unanswerable planeswalker. In other cases, it might a Snapcaster Mage. However, there are many times where a Thoughtseize reveals a Thoughtseize in the opponent's hand. Why is Thoughtseizing the Thoughtseizing oftentimes the right play?
After going over the power of Thoughtseize, you might already be able to guess the reasoning. By taking your opponent's Thoughtseize, you're preventing your opponent from capitalizing on the advantages that Thoughtseize brings. First of all, you take away (possibly) your opponent's turn-one play. In this case, if Thoughtseize were the only play available, you've succeeded in wasting your opponent's first turn. Second, you conceal information about what it is that you're playing. Sure, your opponent now knows that you're a deck that plays Thoughtseize, and the land that you played to cast it might also give them an idea about which deck you're on. However, there are far too many decks in Modern for someone to be able to immediately narrow in on the deck you're playing, so while you have complete information about your opponent's hand (and thus his or her deck), your opponent will be guessing as to what he or she might be up against. Finally, by taking your opponent's Thoughtseize, you're protecting the strongest card in your hand from your opponent. It's very possible that your Siege Rhino eats a Path to Exile or your Liliana of the Veil gets countered by a top-decked Mana Leak, but you've at least put yourself in the position to be able to play out your threats as safely as possible. All of this doesn't change the fact that there are scenarios where taking something else other than Thoughtseize is correct, but more times than not, if you see that lone Thoughtseize sitting in your opponent's hand? Thoughtseize it away.
5. Don't leave home without your graveyard and artifact hate.
Modern is a format where unfair strategies reign supreme. Despite fair decks like Jeskai Control and Mardu Pyromancer fighting the good fight and putting up decent results, the top strategies revolve around breaking the fundamental rules of Magic. The most common ways in which these fundamental rules are broken are via exploiting artifact synergies (e.g. Mox Opal) or using the graveyard as a resource (e.g. Bridge from Below), and the speed at which plays develop once everything is set up happens at a very fast pace. Hollow One decks spit out Bloodghasts and Hollow One with the help of cheap enablers such as Goblin Lore and Burning Inquiry, while Affinity's most busted starts involve Mox Opal dumping out its entire hand along with Arcbound Ravagers and Steel Overseers. These decks set up insurmountable board states starting on the third turn of the game, if not earlier.
This is why dedicated hate for these two is so important – if you don't have cards like Stony Silence or Rest in Peace that come out in the early stages of the game, these artifact and graveyard strategies are going to run roughshod over your deck. In fact, having these cards hit the battlefield on turn two against relevant decks might still not be enough to beat them – decks have lost against Hollow One variants, despite deploying a Rest in Peace, and Affinity remains a powerful deck despite years of ever-present artifact hate in opponents' decks.
Cards like Leyline of the Void and Surgical Extraction are powerful because they can be cast without paying their mana costs, but even cards such as Ancient Grudge are powerful players, as long as your deck can leverage the pin-point hate to push the game to your favor. Shatterstorm and Fracturing Gust are some of the most hateful cards that exist to punish artifact strategies, but it's also important to remember that counting on your deck to reach turns four and five without help from other cards is also a losing strategy.
In any case, the presence of Ancient Stirrings and graveyard-reliant cards in Modern will always necessitate a player to bring the heat when it comes to hate cards against these strategies. Especially considering how powerful and popular these strategies are, skimping on them for the sake of flashy planeswalkers and value creatures is a sure way to end up kicking yourself at the end of a Modern tournament.
6. Play to your strengths.
The question of, "Which deck should I play?" Comes up often, whether it's for an FNM, a GP, or even players who are looking to get into Modern. "Play to your strengths" is a mantra that players – whether new or veteran – should take to heart when choosing a deck because deck familiarity is such an integral part of playing well in the format. This involves introspection on the part of the player and examining which aspect of the game he or she is good at. Taking myself as an example, I feel confident in my ability to navigate combat math and have creatures smash into each other. I also find sideboarding to be one of my least favorite aspects during a match, and I am terrible in control mirrors. Going through all of the decks I've played, I've enjoyed and had various amounts of success playing creature-based decks, with Elves and Eldrazi being two particular archetypes that have let me play to my strengths as a player.
The strengths (and weaknesses) for a player is going to be different for each person and being able to identify what kind of Magic you're most comfortable with will lead you down a path of playing well.
Even newer players can find solace in this methodology. Decks with the fewest amount of decisions to make mistakes with would be a natural fit for someone uncomfortable with the rules complexity and synergies present in Modern decks, and Valakut or Tron decks would provide an entry point into the format. Veteran players that understand the concept of tempo from older formats or previous Standards might want to pick up Death's Shadow or Humans decks. Players looking to metagame a tournament with a flexible pool of cards to choose from would gravitate towards Jeskai and Mardu Pyromancer, or even BGx midrange.
Since decks in Modern have core identities or strategies that overlap with other decks, identifying your strengths and choosing decks that play to them will help in determining which strategies are the best fit for you.
And that wraps up this two-part article about the golden rules of Modern. Do you think there were any that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments!
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