New Year’s resolutions are the high point of every January 1st celebration. Or maybe that’s just champagne. Or bowl game blowouts so outrageous they make Jeff Hoogland’s weekend loss to Bobby Fortanely’s Amulet Bloom look fair. Whether you prefer the booze or the club bashes to the boring promises, I’m sure you made at least a dozen resolutions for 2016. If you’re like me, you’ve broken half of them less than a week later, but maybe we can get back on track by making some Modern pledges instead of taking the oath for 5:00 AM jogs or more calls to your parents.
Modern Nexus may have launched 2016 with a deck spotlight on the mighty BW Eldrazi strategy, but now we need to usher in the New Year with a proper round of resolutions. For today’s article, I’m hammering out three personal commitments for 2016, ones I hope you’ll share with me as we enter another 12 months of Modern. Unlike some of my other promises (I swear I’ll do those three miles tomorrow morning!), I’m already putting work into making these three resolutions a reality, so join me as I walk you through my 2016 Modern vows and why you should adopt them too!
1. Play More Blood Moon
Modern doesn’t have the same high-caliber police cards as Legacy, but we still have our fair share of regulators. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek break up synergies before they start. Lightning Bolt keeps fast creatures in order, Abrupt Decay prevents blue mages from comboing off behind countermagic, and Splinter Twin discourages you from abandoning interaction for pure race power. We also see cards like Path to Exile, Kolaghan’s Command, Spell Snare, and dozens of sideboard bullets fulfilling these roles.
I’m a fan of each and every one of these policemen, but the top cop I want to roll with in 2016 is Blood Moon.
You know the relationship is getting serious when I center an image.
Longtime readers shouldn’t be surprised at my renewed love affair with the hosing enchantment. I lauded Moon’s ability to regulate Modern during Grand Prix Charlotte, got a head start on this resolution in my December Boom // Bust brew, and have always been a big fan of Jordan’s Moon-powered innovations. With 2016 starting and a solid year of metagame data in the spreadsheet, I’m doubling down on Moon and its unique dual role as regulator and win condition.
Instead of preaching an ode to Moon’s merits in a vacuum, I’m going to make a case for why this will be the defining police effect of 2016 and why you should play it with me. As we’ve seen over the past weeks, Modern is uniquely vulnerable to big-mana strategies that depend on zany nonbasics. Amulet Bloom continues to rampage its way onto the banlist (you can bet I’ll be giving you a data-driven earful on that deck soon), Tron was the most-played deck at SCG Cincinnati, and Bx Eldrazi is making metagame and market waves. Meanwhile, the fair builds are in an arms-race to wield as much land hate as they can cram into a sideboard. Although there are noteworthy differences between the targeted land killers, such as Crumble to Dust and Fulminator Mage, and the blanket Moon effects, the overall picture shows how manabases influence the format.
We even see this in the decks packing land destruction themselves. Abzan, Grixis, Jund, and Naya depend on their nonbasic manabase to function at an optimal level. This makes them equally weak to effects that screw with lands, although you often need to apply those effects differently against these strategies. Don’t be fooled by these decks’ red cards, or even the Moons they slip into their sideboards! Intentionally dropping the enchantment is a very different experience than having it sprung on you when you’ve fetched poorly. Between these fair strategies and the less fair ramp and ramp hybrids they look to beat, a huge swath of the Modern metagame relies on fragile mana. Moon is well-positioned to exploit this context.
I know what you’re thinking. No, Moon isn’t the best way to beat Tron (Chromatic Sphere and the other green-generating, cantriping artifacts make finding/casting Nature’s Claim a trivial affair). The same goes for Bx Eldrazi, which can naturally drop fatties around the enchantment or win off basics, as well as many fair Rx(x) decks which still function under Moon and eventually get out of it. That’s why I will not rely on Moon alone in 2016. I will instead pair it with pressure. Under pressure, baby! I want to lead turn one Birds of Paradise into turn two Moon into turn three Tarmogoyf. I want to drop Goblin Guide and pals on turns 1-2 and then follow with a Moon while the opponent is busy clearing the clocks. I want to slam the enchantment on turn one like Peter Niemeier and get my slip signed. And, if all else fails, I’m maindecking this bad boy alongside Splinter Twin and calling it a day.
Whether using Moon as a self-contained win condition or dropping it as a roadblock while other finishers seal the game, I’m going to be having a lot of fun with Moon this year as I attack Modern’s fragile manabases. I strongly encourage you to do the same, either committing 2-3 of them to your main 60, or fluidly squeezing copies in your sideboard. There are just too many decks that either fold outright to the effect or slow to a crawl trying to work around it, and 2016 is the year I’m going to be Blood Mooning as many opponents as I can. As an added bonus, Moon tends to be excellent against random newcomers that show up in regional (and even larger) tournaments, giving you a versatile out no matter what you are playing with or against.
2. Test First. Board the Hype Train Later
If you tell me you avoided all of Modern’s 2015 hype trains, you’re either a liar or more fiscally conservative than the current Illinois governor (yes, it’s now 2016 and no, we still don’t have last year’s budget). It’s almost impossible to not get caught up in the 24-7 Modern news cycle that encourages rampant speculation, hyperbolic deck assessments, and getting ahead of the next big thing. I certainly bought a ticket to hypeland in 2015. Grishoalbrand, the return of Bubble Hulk, and the rise of Blood Moon all prodded me to whip out the credit card and pour dollars into Magic’s secondary market. At least I stayed clear of the Sedge Sliver euphoria. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the excitement around new decks and strategies, but when that excitement sputters and burns once it hits the competitive sphere, you waste a lot of time, money, and energy that could have been better spent elsewhere. With so many trains zooming out of the Modern station, it’s hard to not get sucked into at least one.
How do you stay off the bandwagon and keep levelheaded? Test the decks and cards before you buy them or talk them up online. The vast majority of over-advertised Modern staples end up being more vulnerable, less consistent, and not nearly as powerful as they appear in the proverbial white room. Other “bad” cards end up being total monsters. And, in the vast majority of those cases, just a handful of real games against real top-tier Modern contenders will reveal those holes faster than the Seahawks defense tore through poor Bruce Arian’s offensive line last Sunday.
Disclaimer before I get too deep into this testing paradigm! Many Magic players don’t have bottomless bank accounts and limitless time to turn product around for profit. Venues like Pucatrader and eBay demand a surprising amount of hours before you see big returns. If you don’t mind committing those resources, or you’re okay with mediocre returns, then you can board hype trains as much as you want. Price memory is more of a Modern staple than Splinter Twin, so most spiked cards will hold their new price tag even after the buzz dies down. But if you don’t want to invest those hours, if you’re not good at playing the Magic market, or if you don’t want to be the boy-who-called-broken in every Modern discussion, then testing is the panacea you’ve been waiting for.
As a community, we need to make the pledge to test cards and decks before we cry fair or foul. Don’t blast new Modern prospects until you’ve given them a whirl. Don’t prophesize an impending emergency ban until you’ve actually tested the deck (and even then, as I’ll talk about in Resolution #3, don’t immediately turn to bans). This is why so many Magic Origins evaluators went ga-ga over Goblin Piledriver while technicians like Trevor Holmes are too busy tinkering with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to involve themselves in flame wars. Obviously, in that case alone, the financial and metagame implications of those decisions and tests can be huge.
Regular testing isn’t easy. From a time perspective, it’s sometimes savvier to just hop into the buyout and post your stock to eBay than it is to grind a dozen matches against Twin. It’s almost always easier to make a snap evaluation and run. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve slipped up at least once in the past few days, getting all googly-eyed over the spoiled Eldrazi Displacer before testing it in a single Eldrazi or Death and Taxes shell. I’m getting better at this, however, and I want you to get better with me. I’ve already resolved not to post a word of Oath of the Gatewatch card analysis on this site before testing anything first. Again, I’m not advocating for us to take the week off and run the full Top Decks gauntlet. 2-3 matches will often suffice, and those games alone can give more insight into a card’s real value than 200 comments on r/spikes.
This small commitment to testing will help ground the entire community in evidence and results, not just in the rhetoric and speculation that so often characterizes card and deck evaluation. In the worst case scenario, you waste a little time, play a few games of Magic, and take your findings back to your buddies for real or virtual upvotes. Best case scenario? You stumble on the breakout before anyone else, and you have the results to justify any dollars you dish out. You can also bask in the “I told you so points” that runs most of the internet, and get an edge on developing your new baby for the next event. Incidentally, this is exactly the dynamic we see in current Bx Eldrazi lists (which, I’m proud to say, I tested extensively before talking about yesterday). Play more, talk less, and then bring it back to the forums after you have real content. That’s how we’ll find the next Oblivion Sowers and Eldrazi Temples of Modern.
3. Don’t Make Everything About Bans
I’m ending my resolutions with an oldy I’ve been promoting since 2011. This is also a promise I will continue to advance until I sell away all my fetches and shocks and abandon the format. Even if you are the Abzan player who can’t stand the sight of Moon, or the fast-clicking prospector who can’t help but pile onto hot new decks, you should still make the pledge to remove the “____ is broken, ban please” response from your repertoire. This default reaction stifles discussion, shortsells metagame adaptation, discourages innovation, and demoralizes players who are otherwise excited about or interested in Modern.
The recent rise of Bx Eldrazi is a perfect example of this, although we could just as easily turn to any single Grand Prix winner in 2015. Whenever a deck does well in Modern, there’s invariably a ban outcry against some element of that strategy. To a large extent, Wizards shares blame here. In advancing a relatively conservative but still regular ban policy, Wizards has made bans an inseparable part of Modern. But Wizards is much more critical in their application of that policy than the average Modern forum-goer or PPTQ competitor. Bans are their last resort when evidence demands action, and we need to treat them that way. Instead of complaining about a new deck, learn to beat it. Find its weaknesses, run some matches, and do some testing (again with that invaluable “testing” concept). This is how we realize Lantern Control, although awesome, was more lucky break than format breaker. It’s also how we’ll come to love, and ultimately beat up, our new Eldrazi contenders, instead of talking about preemptive Eldrazi Temple bans across the web.
That said, we don’t want to be banlist ostriches with our heads buried in our own pet decks. Modern has seen a ban and/or an unban every year since the format started. We don’t do anyone favors by ignoring the reality of these bannings and unbannings, or by banishing them from our thoughts as we analyze decks and metagame trends. As 2016 unfolds, we’ll need to balance our reflexive ban mania with the realities of an evolving format and a somewhat opaque banlist policy that has still done significantly more good than harm to Modern. By a similar token, we need to sharpen our understanding of bans and continually update that knowledge as we get more information. My recent “Understanding the Turn Four Rule” piece was an honest and, hopefully, helpful attempt at this, and you can bet we’ll be running more pieces like this in 2016. There’s a big difference between that sort of evidence-based, precedent-grounded conversation and the “ban all the things” mentality which often appears in Modern.
If you aren’t already minimizing the automated banlist replies, start doing it right after January ends and our upcoming announcement starts to take effect. If you’ve already pushed this out of your posting habits, speak out against the behavior when you see it. Don’t put people down though! Give them information and evidence and help them see how their comments are both inaccurate and potentially harmful for the format. Together we can fight back against this nasty Modern tendency, elevate the conversation, and improve the Modern experience for everyone.
And Don’t Forget to Have Fun!
Things got a little heavyhanded at the end there, so I’m going to step down from the podium and remind everyone (plus myself) to have fun in Modern. If you’re not having fun in this format, you’re not doing it right. Take this from someone who enters dozens of decks per week from obscure Japanese, Danish, and Italian websites just to get accurate metagame numbers. Once the fun is dead then it’s time to move on, and if the fun isn’t there online, in game stores, or at tournament tables, something needs to change. But hey, I’m the guy trying to live the turn two Blood Moon dream in 2016, so maybe I’m not the best authority on fun anyway…
I hope everyone enjoyed the piece and that these resolutions started your own Modern thought process for 2016. Let me know your feedback in the comments. Any promises you’ve made? Decks or cards you want to try? Articles you want to see on the site? Speak your mind and I’ll see everyone again tomorrow. Of course, if anyone wants to share tears/confusion/expletives for my beloved Bears and their miserable defeat to Detroit in a Soldier Field home game, the comment section is also waiting.