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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Jul 13 2018 11:00am
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Hello everyone! 

This article will be different. I will talk about Modern as a format but probably not in a way you'd expect. I'll share my thoughts about the format because since Splinter Twin got banned, the format changed tremendously. It changed so much that it became practically competitively unplayable for me. There could be two reasons given for that - one me being very spiky leading to me being upset about not being able to pick a deck that could actually win, two, me not being able to accept the variance in the format. I don't think that both of these are the real reasons - I've played Jund in a Show and Tell and ANT heavy field and I faced bad matchup after a bad matchup all day never complaining about it. I've played with Death and Taxes in a flood of Deathrite Shaman decks where the matchup feels more like to unwinnable for the little white creatures. What makes Modern different then?

Some decks just simply can't disrupt or interact well with combo decks. Midrange decks usually can't race since these decks can often win on turn 4 if not disrupted (and sometimes even if they are!)

Relatively recently I asked myself a question 'What is Modern'? I could answer that question somehow and many of you can. The most common answer is that it is a broad and healthy format where any deck can win. I actually never asked a player to answer that question in particular because it would probably result in a blank stare. This is an answer to a different question: 'Why do you like Modern?'. That answer never satisfied me because it doesn't really explain what people like about Modern but it is how they see Modern. Since I'm not a fan of Modern I tried for a very long time to answer a question: 'What makes me dislike Modern?' and I struggled with the answer because I had the urge to say that Modern is limited, unhealthy and any deck can win. That answer is exactly the same unsatisfying answer I get from people so we will look at my impressions about Modern and we will try to see where the Modern's allure, were it goes and why some people may not like the format.

A very important question to answer in order to understand a format is to ask 'What defines it?' and that is a question I failed to answer while in Legacy or Vintage I could talk about that for hours. I could just start with the fact that Vintage is primarily defined by its fast mana and Legacy is defined by its available mana sources - fetchlands and dual lands - which allows for a very stable and efficient mana base. The best I could say about Modern is this: In Modern you either try to win on turn 3 (meaning trying to break the format), go big (play Tron/Valakut/Ponza), go under (Affinity, Burn, Infect) or find the unfair in fair decks (UR Breach, CoCo, Elves). All these decks are built with the 'win on turn 4' mantra in mind which seems to define how the format works.

Before I continue I'd like to note one more thing which may be very important and even the answer to the question 'What is Modern' from my point of view. When Extended went away, Modern became the format to replace it. While Extended seemed to be true format for me Modern never reached that for me for some reason. Modern seems to be a world of chaos to me. Modern is a format where the new and old meet and clash. It works as the bridge between Standard or a new player experience and Eternal formats or what Magic has to offer. It fulfills the role very well even though we get to see more of the 'new' in the format rather than the 'old'. A player can try building different kind of decks and see how they behave eventually if they decide to take it to the next level they can, there is Legacy or they can stick with competitive Standard, Limited and occasional Modern.

Elves know why they run Reclamation Sage, one of my first games with Eldrazi Tron where Chalice for 1 didn't last long in play - me, learning a hard lesson that Karn, Reality Smasher, and Chalice of the Void are cards to board out against Elves. Eldrazi Tron can operate in a 'control mode' which was a surprise to me since I didn't know anything about the deck. The deck can play fair and is very resilient because of that. There are complex decks in Modern and require a player to learn them even though it can sometimes look like decks do just unfair things and win just because of variance and lose to bad matchups.

Not so long time ago I was talking about Modern with several players (like having a serious conversation which doesn't happen very often), the reason being GP Barcelona and the upcoming GP Prague which is also played in Modern format. Many players are slightly conflicted because we also have Nationals close to the GP. Many players play Standard since they are on the PT or PTQ circuit but don't play that much of Modern. Everyone was trying to come up with a deck to play and in waves players were asking me for RG Ponza, UR Breach, UWR Control or some kind of Tron. Many of the players noted that either deck is not for them and that they'd like to try one more deck - Burn or Affinity - the decks one would always fallback to.

Obviously I was not the only person who could not figure out what to play. One of the players, who top4ed a Modern GP with Junk, said 'it doesn't matter what deck you choose, play something that you enjoy playing'. It was strange to hear this from someone else because that's usually my line. Many players just pick the best deck for a metagame and play with it. But what is the best deck in Modern? How does the Modern metagame even look like? Modern doesn't really have a metagame one deck could encompass. Which is one of the reasons why Modern can fail for some people - this alone can make some players very uncomfortable. Choosing the right deck that one would be happy with though in Modern is not easy. The player I mentioned, Zarbo, is well aware that his favorite deck (be it Junk or Jund) is not the best choice if you want to win unless your name is Reid Duke. I agree with that, midrange decks like this have a very hard time in this metagame. It doesn't change the fact though that these decks are the best ones for me in terms of 'feeling ok when playing them'.

Turn 2

One of the reasons why I always favored Jund in Modern and why I still consider it the 'best deck' is the fact that this deck had relatively flat win percentage over the rest of the field. This changed when Splinter Twin got banned and the metagame started to shift to a faster and more proactive format (not just Modern but here we have a relatively extreme case). Jund, in the form I used to play, is usually the more interactive deck. Unfortunately, interaction in Modern is very difficult because all those viable decks in Modern attack from different angles. We have graveyard based decks, big mana decks, decks that just slam one card and the game is over (think UR Breach, Ponza, Scapeshift). Interactive decks in Modern which are also on the fair side have a really hard time, because winning against decks that threaten to win in one turn is very difficult. They may need to incorporate unfair elements (behaving like a turbo xerox deck, running Death's Shadow, running Through the Breach) in order to keep up with all the variance (a deck that wins out of nowhere or because we run into a bad matchup). One could argument that I do not like variance, I just don't like playing games that don't feel like games. See each viable deck may have about 20-30 percent of bad matchups, 20-30 good matchups and the rest being somewhere around 40-60 win percentage. Often, both the good and bad matchups don't really play out well. The matchups are good or bad because of lack of good answers and often the decks fail to actually 'meet' at one level where they could interact. Many 40 to 60 matchups are only about who is faster. Some are about 'did I draw the right sideboard card' and some are actually interactive games. This category includes also the mirror match which obviously depends on what deck you play. Many decks though have very unpleasant mirror matches (that's also why I like Jund, because its mirror matchup is actually good).

If you want to be playing competitive Modern and be winning, you need a deck that tries to avoid answering threats but is playing the threats. This is something that I believe led into the Modern we have now - a format that is primarily built around a turn 3. Many players don't feel like playing Magic when they play a linear combo deck but many are capable of playing a deck that simply does unfair things. If people liked combo decks more I'm fairly certain we would have way more combo decks running around and those that try to stop them.

You see this article was originally a Monastery Mentor (Turbo Xerox - if you don't know what this is, you can check an excerpt of my article at the end of this article) Vintage article but it turned into something else completely. What I was describing in that article is something that made the Vintage metagame being rather 2 deck metagame. We had a Gush Mentor (Turbo Xerox) on one side and Workshops (Prison) on the other. There was no way how to break out of this - either deck had to lose something important. The problem is that Turbo Xerox decks alone drive fair decks out of the metagame. So you either have to go Turbo Xerox or another unfair way (Storm, Dredge) or play a deck that punishes Turbo Xerox which means playing a Thorn deck. Since we saw where this leads in Vintage we should strive for avoiding that in Modern. Unfortunately, even after all the bannings the format finds ways how to break itself and accelerate and this leads to future of a format that looks bleak and I personally can't see Modern lasting long if we don't get the answers we need.

Aggro decks in the format also changed into something else. They are either trying to be super fast or somehow having the reach to finish the game. This is one of the decks that tries to be as fast as possible. I stabilized the game after taking a hit for 9 on turn 2. These kind of decks usually have no way of winning if they don't finish the game by turn 4.

To conclude. Modern is a proactive format where decks try to be faster than turn 4 which leads to innovation, people constantly trying to break the format, and eventually lead to bannings. The format is wide but there is a big discrepancy between threats and answers. The lack of answers is more dangerous than the decks that can actually win on turn 3. Because of that we can't find balance. This tendency will never stop unless WotC prints more answers (including hate cards, and we actually see those lately). The format evolves and there is no way to stop it because what we try is to break the format - since everyone understood that interaction is not favored for quite a long time. The format is not built around the most powerful cards (they usually end up on the banned list) and this also leads to many decks being viable, the strategies of them though are often very linear because that is the approach to take when choosing a deck in a really wide meta. Linear combo decks were always the good choice to bring to an event in non-settled metagame and it is also true for the wide format Modern is. Thankfully, combo decks, are not that popular because many players do not find them fun to play (or play against). I don't want Modern to continue in having more banned cards on the banned list, it should get new cards that can make the metagame more healthy. On the other hand Modern is still the bridge that show players the complexity and depth of Magic: The Gathering. It gives players a wide open metagame where any deck can compete and any player can learn. For me though, this format doesn't feel competitive because of all this, the format is too wide and too variable. It is a chaos. A player with a lot of experience and a lot of skill will be a better Modern player still but they can have a bad run still the same way a less experienced player can have a good run. This is both good and bad and it's about us - the players to choose where we want to be or what we want to play (in terms of a format). When Legacy wasn't as expensive as it is now people made the transition relatively fast from Modern to Legacy. Now many people crave for a format they could transition to from Modern and many can't. They are stuck with Modern, a format that eventually will not be good enough for some players.

After some matches with KCI I realized how resilient the deck is. It surprised me how much better the deck is from the last iteration of an egg deck. It is fast and deadly but it takes a long time to execute.

There is one more thing I didn't talk about which is the 'unfun aspect of Modern' in the form of decks like Eggs (KCI or Lantern or whatever else will emerge). I could write a whole article about this but I'll try to write just this. People are talking about how healthy Modern is all the time but they also call for bans of cards to make decks like KCI leave the format. This time around the reason to ban a card like that isn't Diversity, Power, or Breaking of the Rules which as I learned are the reasons to actually ban something (I was wrong with 4c Saheeli because of diversity, or Gush because of its power and even Gitaxian Probe because of it breaking the rules). People actually call for bans because it is not fun! Since it is difficult to talk to people about a serious matter like this and many of the players don't think that hard about why they want something banned it's difficult to find the real personal reasons people have and to see if they are actually right. We have exceptions to the bannings like Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy and Second Sunrise but that doesn't mean we will have to ban any card that makes a player play 15 minute turns. Banning Sensei's Divining Top had a huge impact on the length of events. I was surprised that suddenly MKM Series Legacy events actually ended on the same day they started. Second Sunrise had the same effect in Modern. We had other decks that were slowing events down. Remember High Tide? Did that get banned? Many players were also saying that playing against deck A or B is not fun. It's going to happen all the time in Magic. Because a certain skill is required to fight certain decks. When a deck gets out of hand and gets oppressive something should be done, but when it is not it should be left alone and we should accept the fact that we will run into it. Whether this is the case of KCI I won't judge. I learned that players are often right in the end even if their reasoning was flawed, they just somehow felt what is right. It is us who play the game and we should be able to enjoy it, if no one plays the game, it will die. Simple. What we should do though is to listen to others and also critically think about our own opinions whether they are popular or unpopular.

My opinion is probably unpopular for many and for that I was called a spike (because Modern is not a format spikes would like), I was called an inexperienced player who doesn't know how to play Modern thus hates Modern (because those lose more often than not), I was told to go to play chess or poker (because I obviously do not like variance), I was called narrow-minded because I play a format whose competitive card pool is very limited (talking about Vintage here). The list could go on. Many players tried to find a reason what is wrong with me instead of looking at the format we both play. Start there. Start with Modern and see if there isn't a little bit truth in what others say. There is truth in the 'accusations' people threw at me but they have a solid base in the actual format.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)

Turbo Xerox

(this is an excerpt from my unpublished article)
The reason why a cantrip based deck in reality is not as fair as many people possibly think (which is also the reason why a very efficient Delver deck can compete). This kind of a deck is nothing new to Magic because this kind of an archetype came to existence in 1997 when Alan Comer made it up to SoCal Regionals finals with the first Turbo Xerox deck.

 

 

When you look at the deck you will notice that it runs 17 lands, as opposed to 24, other mono blue players ran at the time! That was quite a novelty for that time. The basic principle of his Xerox deck was this - for every four cantrips one could remove up to two lands from the deck. Alan ran a set of Foreshadow, Portent and Impulse which made the effective land count higher. A lower land count also meant that he could run more 'business' spells like counterspells. In the early stages of the game he would be digging for lands with his cantrips but later on he could be looking for a counterspell or Waterspout Djinn to end the game. This is the principle that Mentor decks use in Vintage to be efficient.

Everyone can to some extent understand why this approach is good and why it can better than a mono-blue deck running 24 lands and less 'business' spells. What we probably don't see sometimes is that these deck can become so efficient that they drive certain archetypes away. The said mono-blue deck with 24 lands is the one that became obsolete. This is how fair control decks disappeared from Vintage and the format became slowly a battle between Thorn decks and Gush decks. Decks with prison elements were able to fight the turbo xerox decks because these decks in order to function efficiently need to cast cheap cantrips and draw their mana sources and later 'business' spells or a win condition. If you have one mana source and a one mana cantrip and you face a Sphere, there is not much you can do though (other than pass the turn). This is how the extreme metagame looks like if you let Turbo Xerox decks rule. This metagame was rather bad for everyone because they ended up in clash of these two decks.

10 Comments

All I know is I miss pod. by Paul Leicht at Fri, 07/13/2018 - 11:11
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All I know is I miss pod. Until that comes back to modern I wont feel it is complete.

I think the arguments that by olaw at Sun, 07/15/2018 - 17:19
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I think the arguments that surround Modern are always interesting. It always feels like nobody is quite happy with it and have lots of different ideas that will apparently make it better.

I have not played too much Magic recently but it seems to me that the format has aspects of all archetypes. Control is actually seeming some success more than ever, Aggro in the form of Humans is really shining and the over-the-top options like Tron and Hollow One. I see the points about the format being too wide or broad but that is the nature of the format - I don't really understand the desire to change the very nature of the format by narrowing it.

I have had my own frustrations with the format but I do not think it is necessarily broken, it's just not for everyone. Personally I enjoy the broad possibilities and deck choice that mean you don't have to play a stock metagame deck.

You make a very good point by Paul Leicht at Sun, 07/15/2018 - 23:27
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You make a very good point here Oliver about not having to play someone else's stock deck. But the format does punish certain decks pretty hard. Anything that doesn't run enough interaction or alternatively avoid interaction is liable to lose to those strategies. Well I am no expert so maybe my frustration is just born of nostalgia and salt.

Thank you for reading and by stsung at Mon, 07/16/2018 - 07:34
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Thank you for reading and your input.

Yes, I think that this kind of sums it up. Some players should accept that Modern is not for them and they shouldn't try to make Modern good for them. We either adapt or not and that choice is ours. When we don't have a choice and have to play competitive events in it though, that's when problems arises and I guess this is one of the reasons WotC decided to stop doing Modern PTs in the first place. We got one back since Modern is so popular, but it is not among the competitive players where the popularity lies.

I don't really agree with the aspect of all archetypes but for that I'd have to write a long elaborate article to show you what I have in mind...You are right that we still have a wide range of archetypes we can play, we'll just be punished for our choice in some cases.

Banning cards is something that shouldn't really be happening, we should be given answers so we can fix the format ourselves by coming with ideas how to fight what we can encounter in the format.

I would say Modern as a by MarcosPMA at Tue, 07/17/2018 - 15:29
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I would say Modern as a format is not agreeable to either an aspiring professional Magic player nor a true professional Magic player due to the inherent variance of the format. It's hard to feel good about your career/financial aspirations when you're relying on something as unreliable as Modern.

Variance however isn't unhealthy (generally speaking) and for the average player opens up tons of opportunities for deck design and play style (even if those ideas never become truly competitive).

I agree, Modern isn't for everyone. Players who enjoy the concept of a metagame and making informed decisions based on that will find Modern unpleasant to play. Players who embrace/accept the inherent variance will at the very least find it tolerable to play, and possibly enjoy the "openness" of it.

I don't mind the variance in by MichelleWong at Mon, 07/16/2018 - 05:24
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I don't mind the variance in Modern, but the high price of the format forces me to play the same two decks over and over and over again. Whilst it's true that there is variety in the meta at a GP or on Magic Online, at the LGS level this is not the case because opponents are usually playing the same decks every week due to the high price barrier.

WotC could have easily fixed the high price of the format by the re-prints in the Masters sets over the last few years, but either they refused to do so deliberately in order to nickel-and-dime their player base (which backfired quite spectacularly), or they are too inept to realise that re-printing a tonne of junk rares and mythics in Masters sets like Tree of Redemption and recommending a $9.95 retail price tag would not result in a more accessible format.

Yes, Magic is expensive, I accept that and I choose to play Modern, but it could be so much better if it was more accessible.

Honestly, they are trying. by stsung at Mon, 07/16/2018 - 07:28
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Honestly, they are trying. They are reprinting like crazy but obviously they didn't make it right with Masters set and that is also the reason why we have core set now featuring Crucible of Worlds, Omniscience and Scapeshift. This is the right step to do. The problem is that with each reprint set the cards that don't get reprinted spike and the whole price of the format goes up instead of down.

One of the reasons why Modern is so popular is that budget is not such a problem actually. Tier 2, 3 or 4 decks can still compete with tier 1 decks which is not often the case in other formats. A 50 tix deck can compete as well... the same equivalent of a deck in paper. This is something that actually makes the format relatively accessible. It does not give you the choice what you want to play often, but it is easy to build a Modern deck and play with it to win something. Unfortunately those winnings won't help you much in building a deck you want fast.

I agree that Modern staples are seriously overpriced but during the past few years you can see that WotC is trying to actually address the problem. Modern cannot fail unless something replaces it and will become an instant success. We need that bridge between formats and a place where people can learn the game and grow.

Cool Article by lowman02 at Tue, 07/17/2018 - 04:18
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"Modern is a format that is unrivaled in strategic diversity, excepting possibly Legacy with the recent banning of Deathrite Shaman. This transitional format is well suited for veterans and newly minted eternal players alike, due to the depth of viable, strong decks with varied levels of sophistication in piloting. Despite the depth of varied archetypes available in this format, long time players of this format will tend to transition to "earlier" formats, legacy and vintage, this shift, phenomenon is likely due to the more stable metagame in the older formats. One of the key deficiets of Modern is that despite a wide range of playable decks, the format enables player exhaust relatively quickly--often highly experienced players can find frustration in it, like most wide formats, the meta can be difficult to project, and the rewards for effort in deck construction can be washed away very quickly due a series of bad matchups, as formats of this width tend to be difficult to project and due to their raw size have many unforgiving and ill-favored matchups."

Believe this is my take I offered you when we were chatting before this article went up, and at least in my humble opinion is still true. Wanted to share how I viewed the format for the readership, although the only person I'm likely to play in the format at any regularity is you (@stsung), I used to play it a decent bit. Agreed, professional players tend to dislike this format, because the variance of it is exceedingly high from both an independent game perspective and a wide meta perspective, that's why I always say if I had to play a game of modern and my life depended on it, count me in on affinity (although at this point boogles may be a better bet :P; which is great, because watching some of the most skilled pilots in the world get beaten to death or beating down with bargain bin rare auras is a sight :P).

What should be changed about modern, likely very little, it's the bridge format, and it needs to stay amorphous. How often should it be played as a professional format, as little as possible and only to whet the appetites of the folks who love it and buy boosters, no more and no less, but everyone's got to get paid from WoTC down to the professionals helping highlight the product.

Thanks for the great article man!

"(although at this point by MichelleWong at Tue, 07/17/2018 - 05:40
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"(although at this point boogles may be a better bet :P; which is great, because watching some of the most skilled pilots in the world get beaten to death or beating down with bargain bin rare auras is a sight :P)"

An A+ comment right there.

Aggro Comments by lowman02 at Tue, 07/17/2018 - 11:35
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Man, oh man, @stsung,

I was reading some of your other comments, one word, aggressive...you're a spike :) I'd say you're more of a Johnny, but then I've known you for a while, and I think lacking outside influence you'd tend to play the game your way, and indeed even writing articles like this belies that you're, as a matter of course, likely not a spike because you're seeking to inform for the purpose of possible change (and I know you don't get paid all that much to write these, really just enough to compensate for time and keep on playing in the digital space)...Spike, he don't give an S about that, he just jams the best cards, if there's a set of unknown best cards he'll jam those, if the best set of cards is known then he'll jam those and build his SB to win the mirror, doesn't matter what cards--as long as they're the best on any given day :) (Dimitri B. "I hate boogles"--rest is in the history book)

What's interesting to me, beneath some of the more emotional and colorful language of your The [sic] Facebook comments, is that you're really saying the same things as some of your commentors, but one format prior in transitional phase; ie, we're talking about gouging standard prices vice a more stable modern field with higher overhead cost but higher (per card) long term investment value [this argument continues its natural course to older formats, so despite elevated overhead, general stability {even greater stability} is there unless some horrific tragedy befalls the game]. Money always seems to come into play in these arguments, but is frankly moot for the purposes of objective assessment of the independent quality of a format, unless that is you're talking about prospective growth of the format, in which case this becomes more necessary to understand. But, as this is meta data, and not per se a measure of the format's quality as a stand alone "product" it always seems out of place when the argument goes there.

I know you own a set of power, but I also know you don't bath in shredded lotus petals and the blood of the innocent every night (or maybe you do, pray tell) and that alot of that came from scrapping your way through games and the slow grind of acquisition, and while I wouldn't call Vintage/Legacy staples bearer bonds [again sic, see I'm old folks...get over it :P], they're generally a very stable investment assuming you take proper care of them. So at the end of the day, if you do it right, you're really just transferring wealth from one means [nationally or internationally recognized fiat to another means, albeit niche, but still solid] to another, especially the further back you go in the game and the more stable it becomes, so despite formats becoming less fluid as you go back in time, you also get a more solid investment at the cost of initial overhead...so I'll never understand the money debate, it might as well be "why do you have more money than me?"...and it's another indicator of the natural course for long term players to invest in the game's history, the base is stable from multiple perspectives, gameplay, return on investment, etc.

The funny thing is, this is the same rationale that drives folks from initial entry constructed in standard, into modern.

All of that said, I don't think investment cost for players has any basis in selecting PT formats, nor should player (professional or otherwise) format preference, unless that is it drives one very important thing: the bottom line. WoTC should, and I assume does (but that could get me in trouble), select the format that will best drive sales of their product in the current production cycle...ie they shouldn't care about secondary sealed and singles product (for this specific endeavor), but should maximize sales of the game currently in print and or promote upcoming print cycles. This has historically been best done by playing, professionally, the format assured to have cards 100% in print, ie standard. When they printed dud sets they even Homedicapped (look it up) to ensure their current print cycle saw play on ESPN 20 (the Ocho, or something) and coverage in the pages of Scry, Inquest.

So, I think there's alot that folks can agree on, from a PT format selection standpoint, but I think sometimes the rationale that leads there diverges. I don't think you're saying that Legacy or Vintage should be played on the PT, but I think moreso what you're alluding to is that Modern meets similar criteria for a format not most optimal for professional play or based upon market, consumer trending only played periodically to augment promotion and diversity of the game...but if you can sell it, obviously standard is where WoTC (and all the folks paid by them) make the most money. Despite that, the exhaust phase of modern for a life cycle player complimented by a desire to invest in the more stable base of the game, from both a gameplay and monetary standpoint is what drives folks backward in time the more committed they get to the game.

Felt like sharing these few thoughts and possibly reopening some of The Facebook comments for discussion; to either be proven a fool or to open meaningful discourse--we'll see which (I'm so excited :P).