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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Apr 27 2016 11:00am
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Welcome to another Modern Musings!  A number of changes to competitive play were announced at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. Importantly for Modern they are getting rid of the Modern Pro Tour event and all Pro Tours will now be Standard. I look at this decision and discuss what it might mean for Modern format.  The announcement was accompanied by an article by Aaron Forsythe discussing the future of Modern and what WOTC wants Modern to be.

Reasons for moving away from the Modern Pro Tour
This is not the first time that Wizards have tried to get rid of the Modern Pro Tour.  Wizards announced their initial intention to go to all Standard Pro Tours last year but backtracked after a strong negative reaction from Modern fans.

There are a number of reasons Wizards want the Pro Tour format to be all Standard all of the time.  Let's take a look at the reasons mentioned:

  • Wizards states it is always their intention for the Pro Tour to reward good drafting, innovative deckbuilding and tight gameplay in unestablished environments.  Modern is an established format that is not heavily influenced by new sets.  As such it is argued that it is less about innovating new decks and rather about repeatedly running established decks at each other.
  • The Pro Tour should be a celebration of the cards for the latest set.  Modern due to its size is very rarely impacted by cards from the latest set, Oath of the Gatewatch being an exception to that general rule.  Wizards want to see new cards seeing play at the Pro Tour and Modern does not achieve that well.
  • In order to create a less established environment for the Modern Pro Tour, Wizards often made significant changes to the Modern banlist directly before the Pro Tour.  Wizards described this as an acceleration of the banning of problematic cards (I would be willing to debate that it was so much an acceleration as an artificial creation of a fresher format).  This was obviously bad for the format as it limited the longevity of established Modern decks.
  • In addition to the previous point, having the Pro Tour directly after the new banlist meant that the format was then solved very quickly thereafter. Aaron argues, and probably rightly, that the power of the Eldrazi deck in Oath of the Gatewatch would have been stumbled upon a lot less quickly if it hadn't been for its dominance in the hands of a small number of teams at the Pro Tour.  Obviously the format being quickly broken and in the case of the past format requiring further bans is not healthy and a slower development for the format is preferred.

The timing of the decision also comes with the move to two set blocks.  The hope is the changes to Standard and the more rapid rotation of the format will mean that we won't need a Pro Tour in another format to distract from Standard.

I actually am convinced by most of these arguments.  I can appreciate why Modern is perhaps not a great Pro Tour format and this position seems to be supported by many Pros.  I will certainly miss seeing the top players play Modern at the biggest events but I understand why it is not favoured.  I also understand that Modern will still play a role in the World Championships and we still have Grand Prix events.  I also agree that the situation surrounding the Modern banlist was unsatisfactory and the increasingly limited shelf-life of established Modern decks was a concern with a significant ban taking place basically each year primarily for the purpose of the Pro Tour.

I have to say though the final point about the format being solved too quickly is one I always find a bit controversial.  I think there is a fine line between allowing a format to develop slowly and just having it stagnate due to irrelevance.  Pros may help solve formats but they can also bring new ideas and strategies so distracting their attention away from the format isn't strictly a net positive.  Additionally, surely this argument just as easily applies to Standard and inviting the Pros to solve the new Standard format at its inception invites that format to be solved quickly.  Also, while the Modern banlist may be overscrutinised at the moment, conversely, we probably don't want the opposite situation where it is barely paid attention to and is eternally untouched.  There needs to be a happy medium between an overscrutinised Modern format that changes too rapidly and an underscrutinsed Modern format that stagnates because change occurs too slowly or not at all.

The Vision for Modern
It has been a while since Wizards have really outlined what they want for the Modern format.  Previously we've had some vague guidelines about no kills before Turn 4 but little real expansion.  Aaron's article provides us with some more guidelines as to what Wizards wants Modern to be, though advises that they are deliberately vague.  Here is Aaron's statement:

"Modern should:

  • Be a fun way to play Magic (first, and easy to forget, but very important!)
  • Let you tap into your collection to expand upon established decks and familiar strategies from Magic's recent past
  • Offer different types of decks and gameplay than what you typically see in Standard
  • Not rotate, allowing you to keep a deck for a long period of time
  • Consist of cards that we are willing and able to reprint

Those are the easy ones. Beyond those, Modern should:

  • Have a diverse top-tier metagame featuring over a dozen archetypes
  • Not be dominated by fast, non-interactive decks (consistent kills before turn four are a red flag)
  • Be at a power level that allows some newly printed Standard cards to affect the format (we don't have other ways to introduce cards into the format, and we like it when cards or decks can transition)
  • Have as small a banned list as possible that accomplishes all the previous goals

There's room for interpretation in many of those statements—intentionally—but this paints a clearer picture of how we see Modern."

I think the vast majority of these are agreeable goals for Modern.  As Aaron states the more interesting and more difficult goals are in his second list.  I think Modern already is a very diverse format but maintaining that while also introducing new cards to impact and change the format is probably going to prove difficult in the long-term.  That said so far I have been happy with how Modern has developed over the years. 

Arcbound RavagerTarmogoyfGoblin GuideScapeshift
Have a diverse top-tier metagame featuring over a dozen archetypes

I would say that over its history Modern has been a diverse format.  With such a broad spectrum of cards to choose from you would certainly hope that there was good diversity among the Top Tier decks.  Tiers are obviously a debatable point and it is certainly arguable whether there as many as 12 decks in the Top Tier but the format is diverse.  The Eldrazi Winter was an exception to this but the Eye of Ugin ban sorted that out.  Decks that dominate the format can expect a ban to help promote diversity.

HypergenesisSummer Bloom
Not be dominated by fast, non-interactive decks
This is quite a high bar but obviously a good reason to ban a card.  It's difficult to really think of any cards that have really been banned since Modern's inception for being both dominant, fast and non-interactive.  Hypergenesis is a reasonable example from cards that were preemptively banned in Modern.  I guess the Amulet of Vigor/Summer Bloom combo that was recently banned could also fall into this category - though it wasn't dominant and wasn't necessarily super-fast.

Jace, the Mind SculptorBloodbraid Elf
Be at a power level that allows some newly printed Standard cards to affect the format
This is another reason for banning a card.  Keeping the format at a power level where new cards can impact the format is an interesting goal and probably tends towards lowering the power of the format rather than increasing it. This seems to be consistent with Wizards approach to the format so far. I actually discussed this a little in my last article covering the banned and restricted list update but I would suggest this makes it unlikely that we will see cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf coming off the banned list.

Birthing PodSplinter Twin
Have as small a banned list as possible that accomplishes all the previous goals
Having as small a banned list as possible is the other side of the coin to the goal above and so obviously these goals conflict.  For those that are hopeful that this means controversial bans like Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin might come off the banned list I think this is also unlikely.  I think Wizards were very careful to describe the past pre-Pro Tour bans as an accelerated banning of problematic cards and that indicates to me that they do not intend to revisit and unban these cards anytime soon.  There's certainly still a chance but I doubt this announcement will lead to any large number of unbannings.  If anything I think the banlist will probably remain stable for the foreseeable future.

I have to say that I am not too upset by the end of Modern Pro Tours.  I think for the most part the decision makes sense but it will be impactful on the format going forward.  I think we can expect fewer changes to the Modern banned list in future but I hope these do not cause the format to stagnate.  I still believe that Wizards are committed to Modern.  They have advised that they are happy with how the format has grown and its popularity and popular products like Modern Masters have been printed to support it.  No longer being a Pro Tour format may turn Pro players away from the format, which is regrettable, but we still have Modern Grand Prix events to look forward to.  Perhaps over time I will miss seeing Modern at the Pro Tour more but I think the stability of the format will benefit from this decision.

Let me know your thoughts on the decision to move away from Modern Pro Tours in the comments.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)