The Golden Rules of Modern - Part One
Modern is a great format to theory-craft in, with an ever-evolving metagames and a deep card pool to feed discussions and theories about the format. This also means that what was once true in Modern no longer apply – a good example of this is, "Don't tap out against Twin on turn three" – but there are also long-standing rules that every Modern player should be aware of if he or she wants to play well. The first three of these "Golden Rules of Modern" might be ones you know already, but they also might be ones you haven't thought about yet. Let's jump right in and take a look at our first, and arguably the most famous, rule.
1. Bolt the Bird.
The longest-standing axiom in Magic history holds true in Modern, as well. "Bolting the Bird" is shorthand for "kill the turn-one mana dork that your opponent has played," whether they be Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise. This is an important play to understand as Magic players because a turn-one mana accelerant is a quintessential tempo play: you're able to develop your board one turn faster than your opponent and thus play threats ahead of the curve. By nipping the mana dork in the bud, you're making sure that the opponent doesn't develop an insurmountable tempo advantage.
Bolting the Bird is as relevant as ever in 2018 because decks that have a turn-one mana dork are planning on playing dangerous cards on the second turn. Noble Hierarch lets Red-Green Eldrazi cast a turn-two Thought-Knot Seer, and Bant Spirits can play their Geist of Saint Traft one turn earlier. Both cards are extremely aggressive – both in terms of being aggressively costed and having a propensity for turning sideways and getting into the red zone. Letting these cards out onto the battlefield a turn earlier puts you at a serious tempo disadvantage, and both cards are conveniently Lightning Bolt-proof. A turn-one mana accelerant also means that decks can go wide faster, as is the case with Black-Green Elves or Five-Color Humans. Elves can dump their entire hand with the help of Llanowar Elves and Heritage Druid, which in turn makes their Elvish Archdruids and Chord of Callings that much more potent. Humans can go wide with a bevy of one- and two-drops, such as Thalia's Lieutenant and Champion of the Parish. The turn-one Noble Hierarch can even ensure that a form of disruption comes down along with its backup, such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, or Kitesail Freebooter.
Despite all of this, however, there are also times where you don't want to "Bolt the Bird." A deck with an abundance of mana dorks means that losing one isn't as detrimental as losing the payoff card, and that's certainly the case with Black-Green Elves. Elvish Archdruid, for example, is much more important than Elvish Mystic because of how the former pumps the team and creates an absurd amount of mana for Chord of Calling or Ezuri, Renegade Leader's ability. Bant Company decks also rely heavily on key three-drops, such as Knight of the Reliquary, and saving your removal spells for a Knight will most likely be a better decision than bolting the bird. Finally, Infect is another deck where spending a removal spell on a mana dork will be a suboptimal decision. While Infect can (and does) deal lethal without poison counters, the biggest threats will be cards such as Blighted Agent and Inkmoth Nexus, and thus you should be holding your removal for when these cards are vulnerable instead of smiting an unsuspecting Noble Hierarch.
2. Respect the Blood Moon.
Blood Moon is not a fair card, and it's certainly a polarizing card that everyone has an opinion about. Regardless, the only thing that matters is the fact that the card is legal in Modern, and that every player should respect the possibility of it being cast in a Modern game of Magic. For many decks in the format, a resolved Blood Moon is game over - if paying attention to the warning signs could save you from getting cheesed out of a game, why wouldn't you?
Any deck that runs red or runs a suspiciously high number of basics should be setting off the alarms about the possibility of Blood Moon lurking somewhere in your opponent's deck. Mono-red decks are the prime suspects, such as Skred Red, but two-color decks that resemble anything like Red-Green Ponza or Blue Moon are also decks you should be fetching basics against.
However, not surprisingly in a format where anything is possible, I've seen traditional three-color decks run Blood Moon in their sideboards as well. These decks will have made mana base concessions, of course, but they've hedged their bets in a way to be able to punish their unsuspecting opponents. Jeskai and Jund are the shells where I've seen this happen most often, but I've also seen Grixis shells attempt this as well.
What does this mean? Well, if your opponent is playing red, you can't be 100% sure that he or she isn't playing a Blood Moon somewhere in the 75. Remember to respect the Blood Moon.
3. Your life total does matter.
One of the big level-up moments in a Magic player's career is when he or she learns that the only important point of life is the last one because this is the point at which he or she realizes that a life total is just like anything else in a game of Magic: another resource to be spent in order to win. Thus, it may come as a surprise that I'm bringing up the importance of life total. The answer lies in two of Modern's defining feature: greedy mana bases and aggressive decks.
Mana bases in Modern dip into three, four, and even five colors. While the available pool of cards in the format allows for players to build their decks in such a way to have access to multiple colors, this mana base generally comes at a price in the form of fetch lands, shock lands, and pain lands. Traditional three-color decks such as Jeskai and Abzan rely heavily on fetch lands and shock lands, while decks that utilize colorless mana as their third or fourth color will play pain lands alongside their fetches and shocks. This is part of the reason why Blood Moon is such an effective and powerful card in Modern, but these painful mana bases pave the way for aggressive decks to shave a turn or even half a turn off of their clock. When a player leads off with a Bloodstained Mire, fetches for a Blood Crypt, and casts her Thoughtseize, only to see a hand full of Lava Spikes and Lightning Bolts, she knows that she's essentially paid the mana for her opponent to deal five points of damage to her. While the effects of a greedy mana base are felt sharply against Burn, decks such as Humans and Hollow One also take advantage of their opponents starting the game with seventeen or eighteen points of life.
While the adage that the last point of life is the most important point of life still holds, being careless with your life total will be punished accordingly in a format as aggressive and fast as Modern. Sequence your lands and spells so that you're not gifting your opponents a pseudo-turn!
That's it for this week – if there were any that I didn't mention in this article, next week's article will wrap up the second part of the Golden Rules of Modern, so keep your eyes peeled!
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