Four Tips to Improve in Modern

by Magnus Lantto on 01 March 2017, Wednesday

Magnus Lantto

Four Tips to Improve in Modern


Modern is easily my favorite format and while I love it, I keep reading a lot of complaints about it. I especially see this among many accomplished players, but I think there are lots of misconceptions mixed in.


Modern is a different format from both Standard and Legacy, and while it makes it hard to master, I really think this is a strength of Magic: the Gathering. A good player will of course be good in any format, but there is still that extra level that you only achieve by delving deep into the format of your choice.


Tip #1: Play a Lot and Play Online

When it comes to Modern the key is to just play it a LOT.


Why is this so special for Modern you say?


Isn't practice the key to any format?



Well Modern is the most diverse format by far. In Standard, there are usually about three Tier 1 decks and maybe five more in Tier 2. In Legacy, there are maybe 15 - 20 competitive decks. For Modern, there might be more than 30 decks that could win any given tournament!


Of course, there are still 5-10 decks that are better than the rest, but the differences in Modern are really not that big. Get some good pairings and have some good draws you can easily do well with something rogue.


Death's Shadow

I always keep stats when I play online and in the 200 matches I've played in the last two weeks with Death's Shadow, I've played against a stunning 50 archetypes! There are, of course, some decks that are outright bad, and a couple more that aren't Tier 1 or Tier 2, but I'd still say that a majority of the decks gave me a real match.

It's also very telling, that while in Standard, it's often the best technical players, the best metagamers or the best brewers that do well, it's the real Modern speciallists that keep doing well in Modern. Take Lee Shi Tian and Patrick Dickmann for example. Both of them have multiple good finishes in GPs and PTs, far better than they have in other formats and often by just sticking to the same deck.



Speaking for myself I also do much better in Modern than I do in other formats. I have some pretty decent finishes, including a GP win, but it's especially when I look at my online results I see that my win rate is just much higher. I would probably average around 65-70% in Modern and rarely more than 55-60% in Standard. I also see these numbers climbing steadily as I get more practice with my deck in another way than I do in other formats.

The key to why you need to play so much Modern to get good at it, comes back to the number of decks you could end up facing in a tournament. You get a big edge by knowing what deck your opponent is playing after turn 1, by knowing who's the beatdown and by knowing what's the worst thing that could happen if you tap out on turn 3. With the powerful plays and the quick games not making crucial misstakes becomes really important.

I also think that playing online is more important than playtesting live. If you practice Modern in a smaller group it's easy to build your gauntlet too small and focus just on the tier 1 decks, which in turn could lead you to faulty conclusions and weird metagame choices. The important thing about practicing Modern is learning the ins and outs of your own deck and to get an understanding of each and every other deck out there and the best way to do that is just to hit those leagues.


Tip #2: Don't Overthink the Metagame

I think this is where many of the games best players approach Modern in the wrong way. While us pros are used to spending the week leading up to a tournament trying to come up with a solution to last weeks metagame, this is not how Modern works.


Eye of Ugin Thought-Knot Seer

While there are exceptions to this, Eldrazi Winter for example, most of the time no deck represents more than 10% of the field at any tournament and most of the time it's even less than 5%. That means that even if you create a deck that's advantaged over the three largest decks in the meta, you might still be unfavored versus the field.


The way to approach Modern is to focus more on your own deck than on trying to outthink everyone else. Sacrificing power to to exploit your perception of the meta has a large chance of backfiring, while playing a deck you know well and you know is good is a fine choice even if it has a target on it's back.


I would for example for sure run back Death's Shadow this weekend if I played a Modern tournament, even if it got a lot of hype last weekend. I would however change my deck and sideboard slightly in anticipation both of more mirrors and of more cards like Rest in Peace and Lingering Souls.


Rest in Peace Lingering Souls


#3: When in Doubt, Lean Towards Being Proactive and Aggressive

There are a lot of players who claim that Modern is all about linear decks and that control is bad and while I don't think that's quite true, I do think Modern is a format that lends itself well to being proactive.

The control decks in Modern require quite a lot from the player to work out.



You really need to know your role and how to approach each matchup, which is why someone like Corey Burkheart who's played this way since forever can keep posting good results with Grixis Gontrol, while others claim it's bad. If you want to play control in Modern you have to be prepared to make a big commitment.

Playing something linear on the other hand is a good place to start as you can focus more on your own deck, than on your opponents.

It's also a lot about the low the mana curves are in Modern and the absence of a good free counter. With the cheap threats in Modern it's really hard to rely on expensive answers even if they create card advantage and playing threats that cost five or more mana is just not a good idea with linear combo in the mix. The reason while midrange is the dominant strategy in the controlish spectrum of Modern is that it plays both threats and answers in the 1-2 cc range and can produce aggression at the same time as staying ion control.


Thoughtseize Mana Leak


Discard is also far better at breaking up combo than counterspells are.

For you who only want to play control and think that control should always be reactive, it might just be that Modern is not the format for you. There's a lot of arguments out there about unbannings to help control, but I'm afraid that could just backfire. While a card like Jace, the Mindsculptor would surely help control, odds are that it's even better in a midrange or a combo/control deck due to the nature of Modern and that it wouldn't end up making control viable in the end after all.


Tip #4: Build a Sideboard for Modern

Another complaint I've seen from time to time is how it's hard to build a sideboard with hate cards when it just comes down to the luck of the pairings if you get to use them or not. I've even seen people arguing for 20 or 25 card sideboards in Modern to help with this problem.

I have another solution for you. Don't build your sideboard around narrow hosers!


Stony Silence Kataki, War's Wage

Playing four Stony Silence and a Kataki, War's Wage in your sideboard is great if you face a lot of Affinity, but even being the most played deck chances are still that you won't play it more than once in a 15 round tournament at it's current numbers.

What I do is instead to find cards that are good in many matchups so that you can always tweak your deck and make it better. I'd happily run a Stony Silence or two in my board since they also come in against Tron and Ad Nauseam, but after a point it's much better to add a couple of extra 1-costed removals to your board that also work against Death's Shadow and Jund.

Lingering Souls Collective Brutality Nihil Spellbomb


I can give these examples forever, but the important thing is that a good Modern sideboard is more about flexibility than it is about real hate, and thank god for that.


Heart of Kiran


Imagine if there was a card as effective against Mardu Vehicles in Standard as Stony Silence is against Affinity in Modern. It would be an auto include in all decks that could play it and the post board games would come down to drawing that. I much prefer it the way it is in Modern where you have to option to play these powerful cards, but just can't afford to overdo it if you also want to have cards for other matchups.


Cheers, and thanks for reading as always. I hope to be back with another article on Death's Shadow soon, but in the meantime you can read what Immanuel Gerschenson had to share about Traverse Suicide!

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