The State of Modern

Hello everyone! After a brief hiatus, the SCG Tour returns to beautiful Milwaukee, WI this weekend where hundreds of competitors will be coming out to battle Modern! Modern is one of the most complex constructed formats in Magic due to the sheer number of decks and strategies that are viable in the format. Furthermore, these decks and strategies are constantly evolving as new sets are released. In order to put this into perspective, a bit of history might be helpful. The format debuted at Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011; at the time there were thirty-two legal sets, starting with 8th Edition and ending with M12. Since then, there have been twenty-one new sets released, which represents an increase in number of sets of about 66%!

While it may not seem like new set releases have much effect on Modern, they collectively give decks just enough support to be viable players in the Modern metagame. This has led to extreme diversity in the format as a whole, with individual decks rarely surpassing 10% of the metagame. As a professional Magic player, it is my job to analyze this metagame and figure out how to give myself the biggest edge possible. That task becomes much more difficult as the field becomes more diverse and uncertain. The solution to this problem is simple, yet often goes overlooked. All it takes is having a plan – or in other words, being proactive.

Being Proactive

It has been proven time and time again that the best decks in Modern are the proactive ones. If you are able to execute your own strategy and close out the game quickly, then it doesn’t really matter what your opponent is trying to do. To clarify, I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t try to interact with your opponent. Take my latest Jund decklist for example:

Modern Jund Maindeck by Andrew Tenjum

While on the surface Jund might seem like a reactive deck that I would advise against playing, in actuality it has a legitimate proactive plan: simplifying the game state by breaking up your opponent’s synergies, followed by quickly closing out the game with undercosted, aggressively slanted creatures. I personally lean toward strategies like Jund because they are more robust in nature than the more linear strategies such as Burn, Infect, or Affinity. However these decks are absolutely valid choices as well, and are an even better display of my point about being proactive.

The important part is to build your decks with a clear plan in mind and going to every game focusing on executing that plan. Obviously, your plan will not be effective against every single matchup you face in a given tournament. Once you realize this is the case, we must make adjustments to your plan in order to adapt to the matchup. Ideally, our maindeck will be fairly streamlined in order to execute our original plan, and therefore a lot of the adjustments will be made in sideboarding.

Sideboarding in Modern

Traditionally, there have been two schools of thought when it comes to sideboarding in Modern. The first school believes that you should play the highest impact sideboard cards to give yourself “free wins”, even at the cost of these cards being less versatile. The best example of one of these sideboard cards is Shatterstorm. It’s absolutely devastating in the Affinity matchup, but isn’t applicable in many other matchups.

The other school of thought believes that you should play the most versatile sideboard cards as possible in order to be prepared for a multitude of matchups, even at the cost of overall power level in these matchups. A good example of one of these cards is Engineered Explosives. While it is fairly expensive (mana-wise), and relatively low impact card in many situations, it is so versatile that it makes for a great sideboard (or even maindeck) card in Modern.

In the past, I’ve tried to argue for “having my cake and eating it too”; taking the best of both schools of thoughts in order to craft a sideboard that is both versatile and powerful. However, in today’s metagame, I no longer believe that this strategy is possible because there are simply too many decks to account for! Therefore, I strongly advocate for a sideboard full of extremely versatile cards that are relevant in multiple matchups. Take my current Jund sideboard for example:

Modern Jund Sideboard by Andrew Tenjum

As you can see, I choose to play sideboard cards that I believe to be the most effective across multiple matchups, rather than their more powerful counterparts that are far more narrow in application. Despite their versatility, we are still sideboarding a minimal amount in most matchups, due to the sheer number of decks we have to be prepared for. However, I see minimal sideboarding as a good thing because it allows us to maintain our proactive stance that I continue to stress is so important to success in Modern.

Wrapping Up

Modern is a difficult beast to tackle, and I don’t believe the format is anywhere near solved. However, with proper planning in both your maindeck and sideboard configuration, it becomes much easier to be prepared for the variety of matchups you will face. There are just so many viable decks in Modern with none of them being a clear choice as the “best deck.” Being experienced with your deck and the Modern format as a whole is far more important than any potential edge you gain from guessing which deck was the correct choice for the metagame in a given week. Finally, knowing how to adjust when your initial plan is ineffective. Instead, one should focus on finding ways to win bad matchups through sideboarding while being careful to not dilute your deck with reactive cards. It may take hundreds of games to learn the ins and outs of the format, but by doing so, you’ll have an edge that only the most dedicated of competitive players share with you.