An Alternative Guide to Modern

by Patrick Dickmann on 11 January 2018, Thursday

Patrick Dickmann


An Alternative Guide to Modern

Hello, once again dear readers. It's been quite a while.

As I said in my previous article, real life has caught up with me, and I cannot spend as much time on Magic as I used to. However, with the next Pro Tour starring my favorite format of all, namely Modern, a lot of people including pro players asked me what they should play.

As per usual, I told them to play what they like and play it often. Since then, I thought about it once more in-depth and postulated a hypothesis of why Modern can be so difficult to grasp.

Let us summarise the three most important facts about Modern and how it differs from Standard. But before we truly begin, a word of caution, this is not your usual Magic article and will feature no decklists at all, just some general thoughts about my favorite format and how you can learn to love it as well.


1. Everything is faster and more powerful. 

Initially intended as a turn-four format, the steady influx of new cards has reshaped the landscape quite a lot.

The fastest decks like Storm or Grishoalbrand are not all that unlikely to kill you on turn three, given a reasonable hand, for some decks even turn two is not out of the question. Nonetheless, those kills are not that consistent to call the format a turn three format yet, despite being more likely to happen than a couple of years back. 

What this means is that if your deck cannot possibly win, or in case of Lantern, establish control before the fourth turn, you'll need some piece of disruption that can stem the tide of your volatile opponents. Discard, and counters are the right medicine for this flu and can often delay your demise for that single crucial turn you need to win with your game plan successfully.


Death's Shadow

It is precisely for this reason that Death's Shadow is an excellent Modern deck. It has a fast clock that can, depending on how you constructed the list, win as early as turn four. With the inclusion of the best discard, efficient removal and counters, it can slow down the opposition long enough for you to smash head with multiple 9/9s.


Serum Visions Lightning Bolt

Another conclusion to draw from Modern's quicker nature is that your early decisions might matter a lot more than what you're used to. Leading with Serum Visions or leaving open Lightning Bolt on the first turn can already shape the game in a way you won't recover from.

In fact, something like that happened to me at a GP some years ago against an Infect player. I had the decision between sculpting my game plan with Serum Visions or interacting with my opponent. I chose poorly and was rewarded with a loss. Even in hindsight, it was difficult to tell what the right play was as either one could have won me the game. This might be the exact thing that is difficult for any inspiring Modern Pro to grasp initially.

As early decisions matter a lot, the format gains in complexity, leading to my second point. 

2. Modern, in contrast to Standard, is a huge and complex format with a diversity of different and most importantly, viable cards and strategies.

The higher power level wouldn't be that bad if it were distributed across only a handful of decks.

Players wouldn't need to memorize as many interactions and could more easily form their decisions. However, with Modern being as diverse as it is, one can play a Grand Prix and face ten different decks. Of course, this makes preparing for any particular opposition, regarding the sideboard, an exercise in folly.

Fortunately, Pro Tours are a bit more focused, and despite the vast ocean of possibilities that is Modern. At Pro Tours, you only have to face a small fraction of that. 

You can solve this problem two ways.

Firstly, you may want to play a strategy that is consistent and quick at exercising its strategy. Secondly, you might want to play a deck that interacts in meaningful ways with your opponent while providing a fast clock. In the above section I touched upon the second point, now I would like you to consider the first.


Mox Opal Arcbound Ravager Cranial Plating

As an example, I like to play Affinity as it does everything mentioned above. It is quick, powerful, and most of all consistent, while still interacting with your opponent to some degree. Nonetheless, your first order in business is to execute your gameplan as efficient as possible while taking in mind what your opposition can do to either stop you or win faster than you do. Sideboarding goes along the same lines.

You have to ask yourself how many decks in existence are faster than you and what are solutions that make them slower?

But also, in which way will other decks try to make me slower, how can I prevent that from happening? In the case of Affinity, cheap countermagic or discard is usually the answer for almost any problem one can face. Playing against a faster combo deck? A timely discard or counter might slow them down.

Ancient Grudge Shatterstorm Stony Silence

Does your opponent bring in spot removal, mass removal or Stony Silence? You can again counter that or try to discard it although Stony Silence comes down early enough to be pretty tough to interact with of course. Because Modern is such a big format, the answers in your sideboard need to cover a lot of ground, but if you play solutions by your gameplan, the options narrow down considerably. 

Last but not least, you will almost always face the best decks in the format at some point in your tournament at least once.

While most of the decks in Modern possess the capability to win any given match, the tier one decks are there for a reason. At later stages of a tournament, those decks will be gathering at the top tables as they are likely to win more games more consistently.


3. Modern, as much as Standard, is a game of probabilities, albeit with a vaster amount of unknown variables that can influence every situation.

As I said before, Modern, with its large pool of cards and variety of decks, features more situations to memorize. Before every Pro Tour, when I prepare for a new Standard, I lose a lot of games because I do not play that format very much. Although I have some knowledge of cards and interactions, there is a learning curve of about a week, until I got the majority of interactions and won more and more.

Magic is a game of patterns and probability.

The way your opponents play set up specific cards in their hand they want to play. If a control opponent lets you swarm the board without much resistance it is likely they want to wrath you. If they play a card for seemingly less value, they are likely to have a second copy of that card in their hand. The best of the best can use those patterns to get a good read on the opponent's hand and cards that are likely to be in their deck.


For Modern, that's the same; there are just way more patterns for one to internalize. This is the reason why I suggest playing the format a lot. I am only successful at Modern because there was a time before I had my breakthrough, where I grinded the format for almost two years. I literally played against almost anything there is in Modern during that time.

Naturally, there will be some new decks every other year, but those usually work around the same patterns of the format (winning faster than your opponent or slow them down until you win) and can be dealt with cards you might have already considered in your sideboard.

Instead of a week or two for standard, you'll need a month or two for Modern (with adding another month or so for every new and complex deck you are trying to learn). However, once you figured it out, you have already prepared for every other tournament. 






In my closing comments, I want to leave you with an analogy.

Modern is similar to a high stakes martial arts fight with every strong fist as deadly as a nuke. You dance around your opponents looking for an opening while not letting yourself open. Sometimes you need to be the one who punches first; sometimes you need to counter.

This is an exaggeration, and I hope that you won't end up in fist fights over magic but I was trying to show you guys why Modern has this very uncomfortable feeling to it when you don't know what exactly is going on.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to Modern as merely picking the arguably best deck won't get the job for you if not paired with enough experience to back it up. My winning strategy in the format has always been to settle on a deck early, providing me with plenty of time to work on the list and especially the sideboard as well as the opportunity to relearn crucial interactions in the matchups.

I hope that you found this article to be at least somewhat helpful and would like to thank you for reading it.

Kind regards,



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