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By: Meyou, Derrick Heard
Apr 02 2015 12:00pm
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Modern Master 2015 spoilers and release will soon to be upon us. While the format has grown in popularity, the format has entered the Magic Universe with some baggage. The format isn't perfect. One of the more heated controversies is the banned and restricted list for the format. It seems every month there is an article talking about unbanning certain cards or calling for banning of another. The point many authors are trying to make either surround power level or an attempt at increasing the diversity of the format. To be frank, I find this to be narrow minded. Following along as I discuss why I believe this logic is flawed.

Past

The past can haunt us. It frames our reference on what could be and happened. A big problem with Modern is that it is a young format. It is hard for us to believe since it has been around for a number of years now. In reality, it is a baby still finding its legs. The format hasn't been completely discovered. Sure, we have our staple archetypes. Ask anybody in the format and they could rattle off the top ten archetypes to test against to prepare for the upcoming Grand Prix. However, we forget Modern too has changed. Amulet combo was merely a blip on the radar until this year. Now, it is one of the big contenders. Even Infect decks weren't around to recently depending upon your definition of recent. Did something change? Not really. The cards were always there although the banning of Birthing Pod may have helped for it to break through. It simply took time for a couple of big name finishes to launch it into the Magic consciousness.

Many believe the Legacy format to be a dry and stale format. It has been thought of as a bedrock of stability when this is far from the truth. Counterbalance once dominated the format so completely that many called for its banning. One of the few ways to get out of under the death grip of Sensei's Divining Top lock was to play Krosan Grip. Alongside Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, the archetype dominated the field. Today, Counterbalance is around in Miracle decks, but it is far from ubiquitous as it once was in the format. Goblins and Merfolk were once staples and are now relegated to subpar archetypes. (Survival of Fittest) suffocated the format and eventually had to be banned with Mystical Tutor not following far behind. Recently, Treasure Cruise got banned for not playing nice.

The feeling I get from the Magic hive mind that Modern is plagued with the talk of banning and unbanning of certain cards. Modern is no different than any other format. Every format has gone through a period of bannings. It may seem like a long time ago, but Standard for a time was plagued by Affinity, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Stoneforge Mystic. Time has simply made people forgetful. We are simply lucky that R&D is continually getting better at giving us a diverse format. As I stated above, Legacy has gone through a number of bannings and unbannings over the years.

Present

As humans, we are horrible at predicting the future. I'm not talking about foretelling the future. I'm talking about planning for the future. We live very much in the present. When I say future, I'm talking about say putting away money for retirement, realizing that gas prices may go up, and etc. Psychological studies have shown this over and over again. My favorite was a study conducted in which people were given choices with gratification now and a worse future or less gratification now and a better future. Guess which one people picked the vast majority of the time? They picked the one with the worse future. I'm not trying to be snarky or condescending by saying humans are short-sighted. It is a fact. I'm simply being realistic about normal human behavior.

Let's go back and talk about Counterbalance. Why isn't this a problem now? The card hasn't changed. What has changed are the introduction of new archetypes and cards that keep the card in check. Abrupt Decay has probably had the most impact at keeping the card from once again becoming a dominate strategy. Certainly, there are other archetypes and cards like Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls keeping it in check, but that isn't my point. The problem with Counterbalance wasn't solved by banning it. The solution was to print new cards.

Let me ask you a question. When did you realize you wanted to crack open a Tarmogoyf in Modern Masters? It wasn't during Invasion. It wasn't during Tempest. It was sometime after it was printed. I fully acknowledge that it may be sometime before it is dethroned as the best creature ever printed, but that is now. We also thought Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur was the best thing since sliced-bread for Reanimator decks in Legacy. Presently, all anybody wants is Griselbrand. Tomorrow, it may be something else. It is hard to believe, but I once thought Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur was nuts. I guess I was wrong.

The point I'm trying to make is this is what you want now; at this moment. What you want in the future may be completely different. It is a very important concept to keep in mind. Instead of asking what you want now, what is it you want in the future? What strategies do you want WoTC to push? Do you want goblins to be viable in the format? Would you like them to push token strategies to make black/white tokens an actual thing? Would you like WoTC to print cards from past sets like Vindicate in Modern Masters to make them legal in Modern? The answers to these questions about Moderns future are far more important than what is happening now.

Future

As you may have surmised so far, I'm a much bigger proponent of new cards rather than bannings. I'm also a believer that this format hasn't been solved. The problem is there is little incentive to innovate. Most people aren't going to risk playing a rogue strategy at a Grand Prix after dumping a huge pile of cash into their deck. The risk isn't worth the reward. Plus, it only costs more money to invest into a new archetype. The vast majority of people are going to play something safe. This is why I believe there should be some reward or incentive for playing something new at a tournament. For example, if you make day two of a Grand Prix with something unique, here's $500 dollars for you troubles and a trip to the Pro Tour.

I suppose I talk a big talk about innovation. You want innovation. I'll give you innovation with the biggest under-rated card for the format. Okay, maybe I'm reaching, but it certainly has potential. Here you go:

Momentary Blink

A misconception about Modern is that it is a format dominated by combo. While there is some truth to this statement, it is far from complete. Much of the format is about card advantage or more precise resource advantage. Lingering Souls, Young Pyromancer and Snapcaster Mage aren't played just because of their good looks. They are card/resource advantage engines. Besides Birthing Pod's tutoring aspect, it was half the reason Birthing Pod dominated. Kitchen Finks morphed into bigger and better creatures as it got fed over and over again to Pod. Many of the decks are full of powerful cards that have comes into play abilities that so happen to have a combo in it. I've been killed plenty of times by both Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin decks without either one of them going off.

Momentary Blink doesn't need a brand new deck. There are a number of shells that the card would fit into already. We've seen various Jeskai Splinter Twin decks over the years splashing for white for cards like Restoration Angel and Wall of Omens. Not to mention, Momentary Blink plays well with Pestermite, Snapcaster Mage and Deceiver Exarch. A blue mage can't counter Abrupt Decay, but Momentary Blink doesn't care about that silly clause.

 

Momentary Blink came into the Standard spotlight in a deck called pickles. The combo was to blink out Brine Elemental when it was morphed down and came back into play face up. Vesuvan Shapeshifter could then copy the Brine Elemental and lock the opponent out of the untap step. While I don't think there is a combo to be had in Modern with Momentary Blink, it still does a great job saving and resetting creatures. As was shown with Moment's Peace, putting flashback on a moderate ability created a potent spell. Without flashback, Momentary Blink would be unplayable. It is powerful enough that it could be the key to bringing Bant decks to Modern. It may be time for Bant to make its name heard. Graveyard removal is at an all-time low. This makes Knight of the Reliquary into Tarmogoyf number two.

 

In any case, this isn't meant to be the end to all arguments. It is simply to give you an idea of its potential. If you have a deck with a lot of comes into play abilities, Momentary Blink might be the card for you. Blinking Vendilion Clique over and over again seems especially evil.

The Other Option

Let's get back on track and go back to the whole ban argument. The trouble with that argument is it encompasses very few cards. To be clear, I do believe there are certainly cases where cards like Treasure Cruise needs to be banned. However, hinging the whole conversation of the format on just a few cards is simply a small area of discussion to be explored. There are very few cards that can justifiably be banned. The banned list itself is a small list compared to the huge number of cards legal in the format. We are only talking about one or two cards. There are about 10,000 cards legal in the Modern format and here we are debating about one or two cards.

While Legacy is hindered by the reserved list, Modern is free from that problem. So much so that WoTC, in my mind, has been aggressive about trying to mold the environment. They have been aggressive with bans. They are releasing round two of Modern Masters. Khans of Tarkir gave us the Onslaught fetchlands. They want this format to succeed.

As such, there are a few options. As we have seen with Khans of Tarkir, we can get reprints from non-legal formats. While lands are much easier to reprint and justify, this could mean cards like Pernicious Deed could suddenly be printed in an upcoming set and become legal in the Modern format. Modern Masters is supposed to consist of entirely of already legal reprints. However, cards from non-legal sets like Invasion could be printed in Modern Masters. There is also the option of printing entirely new cards. This could be brand new powerful cards in Modern Masters or seeding upcoming sets with cards.

I won't pretend this is entirely a new concept. I'm sure this has been debated extensively is some forum that I have never seen or heard of between a few random people. All I am trying to point out is the conversation about adding new or old cards to the format is much more productive than a conversation about bans. If a logical and productive argument is made about a card being printed that would benefit the Modern format, I truly believe WoTC would print it. I know people like to believe in conspiracy theories about WoTC. People like to vilify them. They are people who love this game and only want the best for it. If you make a logical argument, and I mean logical, they will listen.

Before I get off my little podium, I think the most important question is the following. What do you want the future of this format to be? It is a legitimate and productive question. Do you want a traditional control deck to be viable? Do you want tribal decks to be more present? Do we need a hard Counterspell or has Deprive simply not found a home yet? Should reanimation strategies be pushed? Basically, what do you want as a Modern player?

 

Derrick Heard aka Meyou

5 Comments

The main problem with trying by Dawwy at Fri, 04/03/2015 - 12:08
Dawwy's picture

The main problem with trying to balance a format with adding cards to it is that paradoxically it makes it harder to balance the format later on. Consider an example:
Let's say you have a very annoying 2 cmc card which counters spells.
So you make a card for example BG instant which can destroy it.
Later on you want to balance a BG deck. You can add a card which will balance it, but it is very hard to do -
if it is a cmc<4 pernament it can be hit by the decay
if it is a cmc>=4 pernament it could be considered too slow to be usable.
So it leaves us possibility for it to become a sorcery or instant, which is a very narrow subset of all cards.
We see then that a very broad answer card is bad, because it makes harder for us to make another answer cards.
On the other hand a very specific answer is not very good either, as it is a sideboard card at best (think canonist or leyline) which lowers it effectiveness.
Banning is a very specific and direct tool(you may think about it as surgeon's scalpel) - it allows us to hit a degeneratively strong strategy without hurting other decks.

The power of their printing by Meyou at Fri, 04/03/2015 - 12:37
Meyou's picture

The power of their printing press is a much more powerful tool. They can print whatever they want. It can be (Abrupt Decay) or something subtle. I'll repeat myself. They can print whatever they want. We are only bound by our own creativity and restrictions.
You are talking about playing the puppeteer. I wouldn't try to be so controlling. There are other ways to push the game. How about printing some absurd goblins or soldiers and see what happens? Let the game and gamers evolve the game more naturally.

Wizards have some very strict by Dawwy at Sat, 04/04/2015 - 05:54
Dawwy's picture

Wizards have some very strict rules when it comes to Modern, as they are completely aware that Eternal formats can get broken very fast. They are very afraid of turn 2-3 combos and dominating strategies.
Abrupt decay was a good choice I believe, as it keeps in checks many troublesome pernaments.
But the subtlier is the thing they print the more narrow it's uses will be.
Printing goblins or soldiers like that would be obvious pushing of one strategy which is something I think they do not want to do. They try to let it grow naturally but they must cut some cancerous growths sometimes.

While bans can become by Procrastination at Sat, 04/04/2015 - 10:24
Procrastination's picture

While bans can become necessary, I think it's important to realize that they aren't a precision tool. Bans are more like a nuke launched from orbit that obliterates the target. Sure, they eliminate the problem card, but there is always fall out to such a strike.

The banning of Birthing Pod has become an important example of how dangerous a banning can be. The backlash was unparalleled to any other banning I've seen in the last 12 years of this game. There are people that abandoned the format over it who might never come back. The Modern community was damaged by the ban, even if it will be good for us in the long run.

Every time Wizards is forced to use a ban to fix a problem card, they brave the unpredictable. That should be the only time they use bans though; when forced to.

On the other hand they can by Dawwy at Sat, 04/04/2015 - 10:33
Dawwy's picture

On the other hand they can easily make a broken answer card which warps the format forever. (Mental Misstep comes to mind for legacy)