Hello everyone, and welcome back to Strictly Average for another article about Modern Magic: the Gathering. As you know, Mondays usually focus on the Modern format. Today, however, I want to kick off a new article series I am going to title “Future Sight.” This series will focus on looking ahead at possibilities, based on what could happen with the tools we have (or have seen) as a basis for thought.
Magic: the Gathering has been my hobby since 1993; however I didn’t start playing at the Friday Night Magic (FNM) level until 2006. Since then one of the things I never really liked about Magic was the Standard rotation. I wanted to keep playing the cards I had acquired, and back before Modern there was a huge gap between Standard and Legacy. One could not simply take Venser, the Sojourner to Legacy and expect to do well enough (or even play it). Of course, that’s assuming you could find people to play against, as Legacy was not sanctioned at stores in my area. This was before Wizards of the Coast (WotC) allowed stores to run any number of formats for FNM.
I thought about the possibility of extending Standard so it wouldn’t rotate as often. Caw-Blade summer was the initial spark for me, wanting them to extend Standard if Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Stoneforge Mystic were to be banned. The Caw-Blade deck was so dominant that a lot of other decks did not get to see the light of day. Tezzerator was a deck I wish could have seen more Standard play through its time in the format when it was in Standard, but sadly that did not happen. Have Standard rotate slower would have allowed for other strategies to shine. My other thought was to see Tarmogoyf reprinted at the end of the block that would not be immediately after Scars of Mirrodin block, but after that one. If one was to get into an older format, but missed the cards the first time they were in Standard, it might be too costly. Having needed reprints helps everyone regardless of what format they play. Standard felt more like a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) format at times due to this. The cost of cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic while they were in Standard exemplified this as they were in high demand up to their bannings. This would cause very low supply, and often times that supply would not be refilled after the cards left Standard.
It turns out I may have been on to something.
WotC not only gave us Modern, but also reprinted Tarmogoyf in Modern Masters. It wasn’t quite a Standard reprint, nor an extension of Standard to make it longer, but I’ll count it. Based on what I was seeing and experiencing as a player, something had to happen. WotC had provided us test products prior to this period, often times without even us knowing it. From Coldsnap being the test for the yearly core set, Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block for the 2-set system we had in Standard for a brief while, and Timeshifted Cards as the test for Mythic rarity, we have experienced a lot of tests that became implemented in the years that followed.
Today I’m going to talk more about the possibilities of a new format that would fit between Modern and Standard, and provide some decks as examples. This expands on my thoughts from a few months ago. Even though we don’t yet know the cards from Ravnica Allegiance, I will be including the shocklands from that set in decklists. These decks are also very playable at your FNM as well, so stay tuned for more on that.
Is the future now?
With Magic Arena in Open Beta showcasing the current Standard format, which is from Ixalan through Guilds of Ravnica, there will come a time next fall where the Fall 2019 set (currently named “Archery”) will push Ixalan through Core Set 2019 out of Standard. Once that happens all of those cards in those sets will sit in our collections on Magic Arena where we can’t play them in anything except perhaps Singleton. WotC will not want that to happen as the more people play Magic Arena the higher the possibility of micro-transactions occurring. WotC is a for-profit business, and they want Magic Arena to be highly profitable for them.
So where does that leave us? I personally feel there will be something announced before this time next year. If they really wanted to get people excited this is one way they could do it:
- Announce the new format, starting from Magic: Origins forward. They already use The Gatewatch as the focal point for their stories that are used to promote upcoming products. The term has remained long after the Eldrazi were defeated, and so it makes sense to start here. We were given origins to each of our heroes, and it matches Modern’s starting point by beginning with a Core set.
- Flashback drafts where we keep the cards. WotC provided flashback drafts on Magic Online (MTGO) in recent years, however they were Phantom drafts meaning players don’t keep the cards. Since Magic Arena does not have an economy like MTGO, and many people love to draft, having opportunities to draft former sets as we build backwards will benefit many players. Before Guilds of Ravnica was provided on Magic Arena we were given many Kaladesh through Hour of Devastation cards to play Standard so those sets are already built into the system. We only need the remaining (Magic Origins through Eldritch Moon) to get everything in. Some scenery on Magic Arena is also Amonkhet-themed already so it feels like they could build back to Magic Origins.
- Make Singleton a regular feature, or…make Brawl the casual singleton one-on-one format Magic Arena players have been wanting. In Standard there are very few uses for many cards, and the more packs players open of cards not playable in Standard the more “feel bad” situations arise from opening packs even through the free to play (F2P) system. Providing a home for “cool cards unplayable in Standard” allows for a better overall experience for everyone.
Sounds easy right? Will they come through with it? Who knows. Only time will tell.
What would this format look like?
So far the discussion has been focused on when we can expect word (if any at all) on a new format, and where it would start. No one has discussed what it would look like, until today. I want to stick with Magic Origins, and move forward, to show what I think the format may look like. What’s great is that these decks are very playable at your local FNM. So if you have only been playing Magic for a few years you are in for a treat.
The pinnacle of control since the game’s creation 25 years ago, white-blue control decks have been a hallmark of both the game’s history as well as its premier formats. This new format will also boast its own version of the famous (or infamous) archetype. Just a reminder, these decks will have shocklands that won’t be available until Ravnica Allegiance.
How the deck works
You want to play at instant speed until it’s time to start deploying threats. Your cheap early interaction can help counter spells, kill creatures, or filter your next draws to sculpt your hand as you enter the mid-game.
- Cards like Sinister Sabotage, and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy work very well with Search for Azcanta allowing you to transform not only the enchantment, but Jace as well.
- Fumigate is currently the sweeper of choice in white; it plays catch-up very well by gaining life upon resolution.
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Gideon of the Trials are your planeswalker win conditions here. Gideon will force the opponent to over extend onto the board while protecting Teferi, allowing him to reach his ultimate.
Just like in Modern, you will want to fill the sideboard with artifact hate, graveyard hate, more counterspells, and ways to deal with direct damage.
Just like Control, Mono Red decks have been around since the beginning. Using direct damage to buy you time to land a larger creature and take over the game is a hallmark of the passion Mono Red players share, and Guilds of Ravnica gave them another tool with Arclight Phoenix.
How the deck works
You want to spend your turns dealing with early threats, and then refilling your hand in order to bring your Arclight Phoenixs back from the graveyard to attack.
- Landing an early Runaway Steam-Kin helps build up your mana to cast multiple spells in a turn. Chaining two of these together can be back breaking for the opponent.
- Insolent Neonate can help you pitch an early Arclight Phoenix, or you can use it to block, then use its ability to cast a Fiery Temper for its Madness cost.
- Yes Red can DRAW CARDS!! Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice provide a constant flow of cards, pushing you past lands you don’t need, and fill your graveyard for future Bedlam Revelers.
You’ll also notice that this deck is pretty similar to the same deck in Modern. With just a few changes it’s playable in this new format, and still quite powerful. The single Fling can be a fun addition to the deck to finish off the opponent.
4 District Guide
4 Shaman of the Pack
4 Steel Leaf Champion
4 Dwynen’s Elite
4 Elvish Clancaller
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
2 Golgari Findbroker
1 Gnarlroot Trapper
3 Growing Rites of Itlimoc
4 Assassin’s Trophy
How the deck works
Play creatures. Attack. That’s the motto of tribal decks like Elves which is another archetype that’s grown since the creation of the game itself. With Llanowar Elves available in Standard, this archetype would be one to make its mark on the new format should it come to fruition.
- Turn 1 Llanowar Elves, turn 2 Steel Leaf Champion? That’s a party I want to host. You also have enough creatures to push through to the board, and then finish the opponent off with Shaman of the Pack.
- We don’t have Lead the Stampede, nor Gaea’s Cradle, but what if we had similar cards put together on one card? Say hello to Growing Rites of Itlimoc! While obviously not as great as the other cards mentioned, you can get this activated and play out your hand. You could even find additional Elvish Clancallers once flipped.
- When possible, make sure to play District Guide before Elvish Visionary as it helps you draw less land when rebuilding.
You want to use Reclamation Sage in your sideboard, along with Heroic Intervention as they protect you from artifacts, enchantments, and sweepers respectfully. Perhaps we can also make room for a pair of Vanquisher’s Banners in the main deck.
Wow! Doesn’t this format look great already? I can understand concerns that it may appear to be “Modern-Lite”, but honestly that’s ok. There are players who want to play these archetypes but may not be able to afford format staples in Modern (let alone the lands). This potential “new Modern” will be able to house many archetypes we’re already familiar with while still providing strong game play. We can even have strategies with other tribal decks such as Merfolk, Goblins, and PIRATES! Tezzeret has a few copies during this era, so we could build an artifact-based deck and even include Thopter Spy Network. Midrange black-green style decks could also flourish as they have Languish, some solid interaction, and strong midrange creatures. The options are wide open.
With the end of Masters sets from WotC’s announcement about Ultimate Masters, and the pressure to do something with cards from Ixalan through Core Set 2019 on Magic Arena, things are starting to lineup to make a new format feel more like inevitability rather than a possibility.
What do you all think about this now that we can look at a few decklists? Would you play this format? What archetype would you try to build? Link your builds below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.
NEXT WEEK: It’s December. Do you know what that means? It’s time to correct everyone on what an elf actually looks like. SPOILER ALERT: They don’t make toys.
Until next time…
TAP MORE MANA!!!
Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.