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By: Procrastination, Christopher Giovannagelo
Apr 28 2016 3:47pm
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 Welcome back to The Modern Perspective! A lot of things have happened since my last article: the banning of Eye of Ugin helped slow down the Eldrazi domination of the format, the unbanning of Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision has sparked the imaginations of brewers of all varieties and the release of Shadows over Innistrad has given us many new flavorful cards to experiment with. After the demoralizing Eldrazi Winter, things are finally looking sunny and the Modern Community can smile again...

...Oh, uhm, also, it seems that Modern has been removed from the Pro Tour again.

And thus, the stone tablets prophesizing the end of Modern have been rediscovered from yet another cursed desert cave. Chaos reigns as people become upset, un-phased, or even cautiously optimistic about this change. Woe, these uncertain times for Modern players! Only a calm patience and a sharp wit will get us through these hectic days.

Discussing the Discussion
The announcement was made by Helene Bergeot on April 24th amongst a bevy of changes to Organized Play. Aaron Forsythe wrote an accompanying piece entitled "Where Modern Goes from Here" to help explain the reasoning behind repeating a decision that caused a huge amount of backlash when they considered it for the 2015 season. Because Aaron's article is one of the most important communications that Wizards has recently provided to us regarding the future vision of Modern, I'm going to repeat the article below with my own comments interlaced throughout.

Well then, take it away, Aaron.

As you've no doubt heard by now, we no longer plan to use Modern as a Pro Tour format as of 2017. Modern will continue to be a big part of our Organized Play offerings, both at the premier level and otherwise, but it is no longer a good fit for the Pro Tour.

So why isn't it right for the Pro Tour? It comes down to our goals for the events. The first is that we want to reward good drafting, innovative deck building, and tight gameplay in unestablished environments. Second, we want to highlight the newest card set. To those ends, we positioned the Pro Tour events just a couple weeks after each new set comes out, which both provides the fresh new proving ground for our players and showcases each new set in a premier-level setting right at the beginning of its life cycle.

As time has passed since Modern's inception, some cracks started to appear that made us question its relevance to the Pro Tour. Our top players pointed out to us that Modern wasn't often about innovating or solving the puzzles presented by a new card set, but rather it rewarded huge numbers of repetitions with established decks, and while that kind of play can be interesting and is relevant to a lot of the Magic audience, it wasn't what the Pro Tour was supposed to be about.

It's hard to argue with the above. While Modern can consist of innovative deck building and tight gameplay, it certainly hasn't been an "unestablished environment" in many years. Even when long time pillars such as Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin were banned from the format, there were still so many other established archetypes that the format would have hardly changed to a casual observer. It's fairly rare that many cards from a new set will make a large enough, or perhaps the better phrasing would be quick enough, impact on such an entrenched format as Modern in order to show off a new set in any meaningful way. It took an abomination like PT Oath of the Gatewatch for a Modern Pro Tour to show off a new set, and that's hardly the way anybody should want things to happen in the future. Speaking of PT Oath, let's move on to this next juicy bit.

In order to try to present the players with a new environment to explore, we'd implement the changes to the banned list that we had identified throughout the previous year right before the Pro Tour, which often cast a shadow of dread over the impending Pro Tour for many of the format's fans, as the spotlight of a Pro Tour accelerated the rate at which we'd ban problematic cards in the format. On top of that, the skill of the pro players combined with the high incentives of the event really accelerated the tuning and development of the best decks (such as this year's Eldrazi menace) to a large degree, which isn't great for a format that is designed to change very slowly over time. We'd rather let those deck evolutions play out over months on Magic Online or at store-level events, as that accelerated metagame pace often just means speeding up more changes to the banned list as well.

Oh yes, the dreaded "Shake Up Bans". I'm glad that Wizards decided it was ok to really get this out in the open because so many people felt like they had been hoodwinked after the Twin ban in January. Nothing was worse than seeing folks who were proud of the way they "Saved the Modern Pro Tour" curl up in doubt as to whether they had done the right thing. (Was defeating the Lord Ruler the right thing to do? Beats me, Vin, go figure it out yourself.) Now, for all those who suddenly think they have the blood of Splinter Twin on their hands; relax, because Aaron pointed out that this "accelerated the rate at which problematic cards were banned". See, Twin was destined to be banned, heck, maybe it would have been sooner if they weren't so focused on the Pro Tour ban timing?

Now, my feelings on the part about the format becoming solved too easily when Pros have a reason to focus on Modern are a bit mixed. It's absolutely true that if you get a couple dozen of the best players in the world and give them an incentive to break Modern in half, well, by gum, they are going to succeed quicker than a thousand disconnected internet posters will. It's not just a matter of skill disparity, but that of extremely purposeful testing. Some people are just much better at efficient and useful testing than others, and when you have a good team working on these problems, they are honing in on better decks than most of us are on our own.

I'm actually a fan of this happening every so often to a format. I think it really pushes the evolution of the meta-game to have some really driven folks come in and throw focused, diabolical energy right at the card pool. While solving a format too quickly could be detrimental, it also helps root out really horrible power imbalances, such as the Eldrazi, much quicker than the slowly over time method. When you rapidly discover and prune out the problematic decks, that means you quickly establishing a more balanced meta for everybody to play in.

Imagine a world where the Pro Tour hadn't shown us the brokenness of the Eldrazi. While most of the world is seeing sub-optimal builds appearing in Leagues here and there on MTGO, picture a quiet store in Nebraska where somebody discovers one of the extremely powerful builds and begins to ruin the local meta-game over and over again. Nobody realizes there is a problem yet, so while Modern actually does die in a small town, the rest of world doesn't see a ban until much further down the road. It sounds kind of silly, and yes, I realize local metas always develop their own "villains and end bosses", the idea that a truly broken archetype could be discovered and eliminated in a reasonable time for the long-term health of the format is something I was personally comfortable with. I'm certainly not opposed to the slow road (more on that below), but I liked the benefits of the "quick and dirty" one too.

For all those reasons, we made a move to eliminate the Modern Pro Tour once before, for the 2015 season. That decision was met with a chorus of boos, and was quickly rescinded. So why are we doing so again?

Lay it on us, Aaron.

The main reason is that we've made Standard a lot more dynamic than it was in 2015, primarily by moving to two blocks per year (with corresponding format rotations). Now four Standard Pro Tours should deliver a large variety of decks across the year, and there is significantly less need to break up potential stagnation with a variant format.

Pretty simple, right? Honestly, if you look at the new rotating block system, it is really odd to haphazardly throw an oddball format into the mix. Now that we have gotten to sets that were truly designed with the new system in mind, I'm optimistic that Standard will be interesting at each and every set release (and that's coming from somebody who hasn't actually played standard since Return to Ravnica was released.) Since we are just now actually entering the brave new world of Two-Set block design (that announcement was sooo long ago), I'm more than happy to wait a year or two and see how this all turns out. After all, they can always change their minds someday and bring Modern back to the Pro Tour, but for now, let's give them some time to play out their bold new vision of Standard and Pro Tours.

Aaron then goes on to provide us with some answers to a question that many folks often ask: "What does Wizards want Modern to be?" This is extremely important, because other than ideas presented to us over four years ago when the format was created, we haven't been given many new insights into the minds of the Wizards staff. Here we get some updated, broad definitions for the format.

WHAT WE WANT MODERN TO BE
In the wake of the recent Splinter Twin banning / Eldrazi dominance / Eye of Ugin banning / Ancestral Visions and Sword of the Meek unbanning series of events, I am frequently asked what we want Modern to be as a format. My answers to these questions should be seen as guidelines that we use to help our thinking internally, but they are not infallible policies. Should players' attitudes toward the format change over time, we're likely to adjust our guidelines as well.

STOP - Keyword check: guidelines, not infallible policies, change, adjust. While I'm glad that Aaron is spelling this out, I don't want to see these phrases getting quoted for the next forever as if they were etched in stone. Ok, moving on.

Modern should:

- Be a fun way to play Magic (first, and easy to forget, but very important!)

I know I'm having fun. How about you? (If you aren't, trying playing some casual Modern, it's a great format to brew in.)

- Let you tap into your collection to expand upon established decks and familiar strategies from Magic's recent past

This one happens often. Splinter Twin, Valakut, Siege Rhino Abzan and Delve cards have all come from the last seven years. On a lower-tier stage, Devotion strategies, Abzan Rally, Delvers decks, Slivers, Goblins, U/W Emeria control and Mardu Aristocrats decks are out there too. Heck, I saw a Naya Heroic deck 5-0'ed a League the other day. While not every deck is going to win a GP, the fact that these Ghosts of Standard Past could win an FNM, some kind of Qualifier event, or go deep into Day 2 of a GP is really cool.

- Offer different types of decks and gameplay than what you typically see in Standard

Modern certainly succeeds on this front. There aren't decks like Storm, Taking Turns, Dredge-Vine, All In Red, Amulet Bloom or even Modern-caliber Mill in Standard. It's rare these days that Standard gets any low cost, easy to assemble "infinite combos" of any kind, whereas Modern is chock full of them. It is a very different experience than what Standard could hope to offer.

- 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

This one is always dissected to heck and back, but when it comes down to it, they can reprint anything; there is no Reserved List to hold them back. They just have to be selective when and where they reprint cards.

Those are the easy ones.

Ok, so that isn't really where the original line break is, but think how difficult even those easy goals could be? Overall, Modern does a great job of scoring those easy points. What are the more difficult goals?

Beyond those, Modern should:

- Have a diverse top-tier metagame featuring over a dozen archetypes

This one is hard to get a gauge on with such a simplistic statement. Does Wizards only consider the Tier 1 decks in this evaluation? Do they feel that a robust Tier 2 and 3 meta-game is enough? There are dozens of powerful, consistent decks in Modern, so many that Pros often complain about it, but Tier 1 only belongs to about 4-5 of them at any given time. Is that not enough by Wizards standards? If not, how will they fix this problem?

- Not be dominated by fast, non-interactive decks (consistent kills before turn four are a red flag)

There are still a fair amount of fast decks in Modern. Now, "non-interactive" varies from person to person, so while a deck like Burn or Affinity might be considered "not very interactive" by some, what matters is how interactive Wizards feels those deck types are. Wizards has done a decent job so far of weeding out decks that are consistently fast and resilient to hate, so I'm fine with seeing where they take this in the future.

- 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)

A lot of folks complain about the rate which cards from new Standard sets impact Modern already, and in my opinion, people are either not paying enough attention, or their expectations are too high. I think that the phrasing of "some newly printed cards" captures the reality of the situation just fine. (I've been planning an article about this topic for a while now, so I think it might finally be time to gather up some research and get to work on it.)

- Have as small a banned list as possible that accomplishes all the previous goals

In the brief bit of community responses I read before I walled myself off to write down my own opinion (something I suggest that everybody take a stab at more often), I saw a lot of people reading excitedly into this point. The wildest assumptions were that almost every card on the Ban List is going to be released and the format is going to finally become the "Legacy Lite" that some folks have always wanted it to be!

Yeah, probably not.

See, if they are working on accomplishing all of those previous points, then large majority of the Ban List needs to stay right where it is. Plus, somebody, other cards will be banned too. "As small a banned list as possible" is a really cheery way of saying "We will ban whatever we deem should be banned, but we will try to do it sparingly. Try. No promises." Does it mean we might get Birthing Pod or Splinter Twin back someday? It could, but I'm still not going to hold my breath.

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

Again, Aaron goes out of his way to point out just how open ended all of these statements are. I can't stress that enough either: these statements are intentionally vague. Wizards has left themselves plenty of wiggle room when it comes to sculpting the format, so don't expect them to color within the lines all of the time.

So after all of those words, where does that leave us? Where does Modern go from here?

Modern: For the People, (Played) By the People
Losing one Pro Tour doesn't mean Wizards is dropping all support of Modern. It really doesn't. What it does mean is that there is one less high profile event being covered by Wizards Professional Advertising Tour. So if Wizards is passing up on a chance to show people what this format called Modern is, then who does that leave it to?

Us. It leaves it up to us.

Wizards is gifting us a Modern format with a less predictable ban schedule and a slower developing meta-game. They really want us to take our time and enjoy the format a little more and in return, they are leaving the responsibility of spreading the word about Modern to the people who play it.

Modern doesn't have to be on the Pro Tour to make a Modern FNM a good time. Modern doesn't have to be on the Pro Tour to make a League a fun way to spread out five rounds of Magic over the course of a week. Modern doesn't have to be on the Pro Tour for you to peruse some set lists and brew up an interesting new deck.

If you enjoy playing Modern, then nothing is stopping you from continuing to do so. Keep sharing the format with other players and continue to grow your community. If your local stores are considering changing event formats because of this decision, then show them how much better the event would be if it was still a Modern event. On MTGO, keep hopping in Leagues and continue to be friendly and supportive of players that are giving Modern a try. If Legacy and Vintage can continue to exist because of some strong "grassroots" support, then, I think Modern should be able to do so as well.

It's ok to keep smiling; don't let anybody tell you otherwise. 

Conclusion
I apologize for the "wall of text" this article turned out to be. I usually try to break things up a bit more, but it was proving difficult to fit in card images that weren't throwing off the formatting on different devices. Tune in next time for a much more appealing visual experience!

Speaking of which, it's amazing how quickly the weeks went by since my last article. I was busy cramming some leagues into the last few weeks of Eldrazi Winter (crazy, I know) and then I wanted to start brewing up some new fun ideas with Shadows over Innistrad. Time just slipped away. I have been brewing up some article ideas, one is actually not Modern related (*gasp*) , and possibly taking a stab at something a little ambitious, but fun, so there will hopefully be more content from me very soon.

Until next time,

Writ of Passage

- Gio


The Modern Perspective Archive

You can follow me on Twitter @TehGioSays

3 Comments

Analysis by ComixWriter at Wed, 04/27/2016 - 13:32
ComixWriter's picture
5

Great discussion on the Modern format. I liked how you 'replied' to WotC releases with your assessment of their intentions against your experiences/experiences in general. Having multiple quotes helped me see the format intentions better than I thought Modern was.

Not too long ago, we lost the Standard Pauper filter on MTGO, and some prominent standard pauper players sounded off on articles published on puremtgo.com. We have a healthy, fun, and diverse metagame, whose participates also help organize player-ran events weekly.

Now, we lost the Modern Pro Tour that follows less than two weeks after a judges lawsuit against WotC.

I ask because I don't know: Are we seeing WotC react to the judicial lawsuit by cutting a Pro Tour? Historically, it seems WotC learned nothing from a similar suit brought against them in Europe.

Are cuts to the MTGO client for standard pauper filters and cuts to the Pro Tour examples of forcibly-steered directions to buy more Standard cards and participate in that format above other formats? I can understand this push, from a sales perspective. However, was the lawsuit the straw that broke Modern Pro Tours' backs?

For me, I have no aspirations of joining a Pro Tour when I cannot dent the standard pauper metagame. However, I am unlikely to just jump into Standard due to high costs and having to learn what Planeswalkers do. Are players who may flirt with a Modern Pro Tour mindset or goals, how likely is this group to jump ship and play more Standard format events over Pro Tour focuses?

I appreciate your very upbeat and optimistic approach to what many could see as disappointing news about the Modern Pro Tour. Thanks!

Hey, ComixWriter, thanks for by Procrastination at Wed, 04/27/2016 - 20:51
Procrastination's picture

Hey, ComixWriter, thanks for the interest and the strong rating!

Dropping Modern as a Pro Tour format isn't a reaction to the lawsuit, it's really just the combination of factors stated above that have shown that as a format, it's really not a great fit for the PT. Note that there are still four Pro Tours a year, they will just all consist of the same Standard/Draft formatting. I think this change will probably achieve Wizards' goals for both Modern and the Pro Tour better than before.

I've seen conjecture that the attempted, and now redacted, reduction to Platinum Pro Level payouts (see the first article I linked above for details) was a preemptive move to ward off a similar lawsuit from Pro Players, but I honestly can't say if there is any substantial justification for those assumptions? I think it was just a business model that wasn't working out for them and they wanted to change it.

I'm sure that Wizards does want to steer us towards the products/formats of their choosing whenever they can, but they do seem to understand that they have a lot of different demographics to work with to profit off of. I personally believe that if your goal is to get on the Pro Tour, then you really need to suck it up and play whichever formats it takes to get there. If that winds up being nothing but Standard and Draft, better get cracking. If you're lucky enough that your area has qualifiers in other formats, well, then bonus. Qualifying really isn't an easy thing to do and it's such a specific part of Magic, that people should realize it's bit outside the normal player experience. (There's a reason many old time players have moved on to other ways to enjoy the game.) If a player prefers Modern to other formats, but truly embraces the PT goal, then they will absolutely shift their focus. If enjoying Modern is the priority, then that player isn't going anywhere.

- Gio

I'm gonna miss the Modern Pro by JXClaytor at Thu, 04/28/2016 - 05:40
JXClaytor's picture
5

I'm gonna miss the Modern Pro Tour. It was the only format that made me stop doing whatever I was doing and stream the game play. I just can't get excited about Standard in the same way.