Assessing the Modern format

Discussion in 'General CPA Stuff' started by Oversoul, Dec 22, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I said I was going to compare Modern to other formats, but actually setting out to do that, I'm a bit stuck. The obvious starting point, the format that has the most in common with Modern, really seems to be a stark departure philosophically. That'd be Legacy. They are the two official formats with very large card pools that do not include any restricted cards. And based on that description, Modern and Legacy are much closer to each other than either of them is to any other format. Well, there's a case for that, anyway. One might argue that Legacy is closer to Vintage than to Modern. Depends on how the presence of restricted cards gets weighed. Certainly, there is some overlap between Legacy and Vintage, but Legacy decks and Vintage decks don't really look very much like each other or behave in the same way. Whatever.

    Although the Legacy card pool is much bigger than the Modern card pool, the relative difference continues to shrink over time, excepting occasional hiccups like True-Name Nemesis or Leovold, Emissary of Trest. The relevant circumstance that this progression doesn't account for is that WotC had already shifted card design away from certain things that didn't make it into Modern, and they have managed never to go back. I've already gone over some of this, so without trying to list them all, I think it's sufficient to state that major, format-shaping cards in Legacy are absent from the Modern card pool and, presumably, always will be. While a dry analysis presenting the difference as Legacy allowing old cards, cards from non-Standard sets, and banning different cards could be useful, I do think there's more to it and that pointing out the philosophical difference could be important.

    Earlier, I quote this bit...

    That's telling. Daze is legal in Legacy because it is a Magic card and it was printed. They didn't ban it, so it's available. There was never any discussion in Legacy that cards should or shouldn't be in certain products because it might affect the format. Rather, the format was left to its own devices. And this has been a matter of some controversy, most prominently with True-Name Nemesis, because the "protection from you" ability is so overtly ludicrous. In terms of tournament success, the card's performance has fluctuated over the years, and it has never really been dominant or needed to be banned, although it may have come close (kind of like Survival of the Fittest; yes, I went there). But the very nature of that ability has been seen as something so blatantly out-of-place, so wrong for the game, that it became a matter of controversy independent of the card's track record. And I can see why. But TNN wasn't designed with Legacy in mind. It was built for Commander, a multiplayer environment. In contrast, Modern is curated. We are told that a card might get "vetoed" if it doesn't fit.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    When Modern was first created, its card pool was a bit bigger than the Extended card pool had ever been. But WotC had already modified Extended to be smaller, and Modern has only grown from that point forward. So, in a sense, Modern isn't very much like Extended was and will probably only continue to diverge from it. But there used to be a lot of comparison between the formats. Like Legacy, Modern drew deckbuilding concepts from "Old Extended" tournament innovations. Extended also informed Modern bans and was likely the impetus behind the decisions to ban Hypergenesis, Stoneforge Mystic, Mental Misstep, Sword of the Meek, Ponder, Preordain, Sensei's Divining Top, and, of course, Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

    Despite initial assurances the Modern wasn't replacing Extended, it did. To be fair, though, Extended was probably already on its way out. I attribute some of this to the change that made it "double Standard." I'm speculating here and coming to conclusions based on what it seems like other people are into. After all, I still have my roughly 20-year-old Burn deck. But it seems like there's a lot of popular interest in being able to play in an environment with new cards, but being able to hold onto the same deck for a while—not forever, but for a lot longer than the Standard rotation. In that vein, Extended and Modern served much the same niche. But of course, Modern doesn't rotate. The initial proclamation of "We have a non-rotating format not bound by the Reserved List, so we can reprint anything!" didn't really pan out.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    After I said I'd compare Modern to other formats, it occurred to me that, moreso than Legacy or the old Extended, the important comparison is really to an unsanctioned format: Frontier.

    I think Psarketos mentioned it at one point. This being a relatively new unsanctioned format, I don't know if anyone else here has even heard of it. Frontier was introduced as a tournament format by major Japanese game stores and has spread to other areas, although it remains most popular outside the United States. This is to address a version of the problem that was bound to occur eventually, with Modern never rotating and not getting very many reprints. Some cards, some entire sets really, aren't so readily available. The passage of time virtually guarantees this, but the process could be slow. What exacerbates it is that most of the early Modern sets had low print runs compared to sets in more recent years, and that problem is worse in some countries than it is in the U.S. Interest in a format with a larger card pool than Standard, with cards lasting longer, but without the (to some) unobtainable "old" stuff, created demand for a new format, serving much the same role as Modern was intended to when Legacy card prices were getting out of control. Modern was demarcated by the card frame change in Eighth Edition, and Frontier was devised with the card frame change in M15, which (I've been told) lines up reasonably well with wider card availability in Japan.

    WotC hasn't adopted Frontier. There's been some speculation that, if they were to implement such a format, they'd prefer to set the cutoff a year later with Magic Origins, excluding the Tarkir fetchlands and some other inconvenient baggage. More likely, they're going to want to avoid this, although a good solution isn't immediately apparent. Format crawl, where a series of non-rotating formats crop up to address different generations of players (Legacy, Modern, Frontier, Super-Frontier...) doesn't seem tenable.
    Psarketos likes this.
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Psarketos has made a couple of good points in this thread, which I didn't really respond to directly, but they're still here. That's the nice thing about message boards. I wasn't sure how much this thread was going to be discussion and how much it was just going to be me being longwinded. I've said enough, I think as far as summarizing the format's history and its relationship to the game as a whole. And at this point, I'd prefer to just open the issue up to discussion (however much interest there is or isn't). I once regarded Legacy with hope for its potential to serve as the closest thing to a functioning "headquarters" for casual players, as something that, if it struck the right balance, would be a big enough format to standardize players in different environments, and open enough that it'd be nearly all-inclusive to players with different situations. That definitely didn't pan out! I always hoped that there'd be more popular interest in a hodgepodge of variants, and while the tools for different modes of gameplay have only grown in number, the only format to achieve lasting casual popularity, at least on the scaled I'd hoped for, seems to be Commander.

    This somewhat rehashes this thread. And a lot of what I'd be inclined to say about the potential future of the game in general, not just Modern, is reflected in my posts there. One thing, sort of related, that I didn't note in that thread, was that I think the Annex product line looks like a huge step in the right direction and I am really hoping that this picks up more momentum. Anyway, what's Modern's future as a non-rotating non-"Eternal" format?

    I really don't know. I guess when I said that I'd comment on it, I was thinking that it might be useful to talk about trends. But the future is so uncertain, and now I wonder if it even make sense, if this is a question that can be addressed in any meaningful way...

    I guess that the one thing I can say is that I notice an interest among players in getting to continue using their cards, a drive that Standard cannot satisfy: the lifetime of cards in Standard is brief. And yet, with so many cards stretching back so far into the game's history, many of which fetch exorbitant prices on the secondary market, things can get overwhelming. Legacy experienced the conflict between those two interests and, with price spikes, has gone toward one extreme on the spectrum. It's too inaccessible. No question about it. Modern is treading dangerously close to that as well. More than ban lists or non-Standard product releases or even major tournament support, I think Modern's future hinges on card prices. If they get too much worse, then the gulf between budget players and non-budget players will grow and divide the groups. If that happens, well, a thriving budget community didn't emerge in Legacy, but I wish Modern players the best of luck in getting that going anyway.

    If reprints could be more generous, Modern could stabilize as a popular format, maybe even become that "casual headquarters" I dreamed of, a kind of baseline, mainstream environment for Magic outside the Standard circuit. After all, Modern doesn't have the Reserved List to worry about (assuming nothing changes either way on that front in the future, which may or may not be the case). Even though I very much prefer Legacy to Modern, I still think that'd be very cool. Also, highly unlikely.

    I suppose I most strongly suspect that the result will be somewhere in between. Modern probably won't be made affordable and it probably also won't be so neglected that it becomes Legacy 2.0. Instead, WotC will probably keep it going much the way it already is. I guess. Maybe?
    Psarketos likes this.
  5. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    I think Modern has come as close to the "headquarters" idea you outlined as it is going to, and indeed is trending away slightly as the format ages due to cost, availability, and sheer choice / design space to explore. My suspicion is that Arena is going to be a game changer for the Magic brand overall, and that there is at least a chance that Wizards finds a non-Commander format from its experiences there that will last as a casual haven with theory interest for those of us that love to puzzle solve and casual down time fun for the tournament grinders who want something different between tournament matches.

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