By Drew Kobus
Pros and Cons of Magic’s two most popular formats. What makes Standard great and Modern sorta… meh.
Hi there guys! Hope you are all having a great day as we quickly approach the holidays and, shortly after that, 2019. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Drew Kobus. I’ve been playing Magic casually for a little over seven years and competitively for almost three years. I’ve had some reasonable success on the SCG Tour in both Modern and Standard, and those are the formats I’ll be discussing today. To start, I’d like to take a moment to address a question that I’ve pondered a lot in recent years and know others have as well, “What exactly makes a format good/healthy?”
Answering this question is a daunting task to be sure and, honestly, I don’t really think it’s possible in a truly objective sense, but I will do the best I can. If you are like me, and from what I have gathered, most of you are, Magic is at its most enjoyable when there is both great variety of gameplay and diversity of playable decks, both of which keep the game new and exciting every time you sit down for a match. MTG’s multiple formats do this mostly all on their own, but I personally feel things can get stale when these elements are lacking within a particular format. A great example of this is the Standard format around the time of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation when the only deck that you could really justify playing competitively was some variant of Ramunap Red. Don’t believe me? Let’s just put it this way, 6 of the 8 decks that made the top 8 of that event were some variant of the red aggro deck playing the card Ramunap Ruins, including the deck that ended up winning the event.
Anyway, now that I have set the baseline for my feelings on what makes a good Magic format (and a bad one), let’s get into the meat of what I really want to discuss.
What makes our current Standard format so great?
This standard format is some of the most fun I have had playing Magic in a long while, and as someone who has avoided Standard and focused on Modern for the last year or so, it’s refreshing to have a Standard format that is so open and enjoyable. Now, yes, I know there are the consensus “best decks” in the format that make up the top tier in standard, those decks being Golgari Midrange, Jeskai Control, Izzet Drakes, and Boros Aggro. Which of these four options is truly the best of the bunch is debatable, which is a good thing. As I mentioned before, having diversity in what is viable in a competitive setting is a good thing for the health of the format. Aspects that make it even better are twofold, the first being that among these top decks, there are many variations that can attack different metagames and conform to different playstyles. Regarding the Izzet Drakes deck, a good friend of mine (shoutout to Ben Ragen) just 8-0’ed the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational playing Drakes, without one of the cards that initially put it on the map,
Here’s his list:
1 Beacon Bolt
3 Lava Coil
2 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
4 Crackling Drake
4 Chart a Course
2 Search for Azcanta
3 Dive Down
4 Enigma Drake
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Spell Pierce
1 Drowned Catacomb
4 Steam Vents
1 Beacon Bolt
1 Lava Coil
1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
2 Ral, Izzet Viceroy
2 Shivan Fire
2 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Entrancing Melody
1 Treasure Map
2 Disdainful Stroke
Now, the other aspect I feel has led to the success of this format is that these four top decks aren’t really pushing out other decks from the competitive sphere entirely. Various other decks have been able to put up good results recently and have proven to be viable in the format, such as Mono Blue Tempo, Selesnya Tokens, Grixis Control, Dimir Control, Bant Nexus, and Mono Red Aggro. Some more fringe decks than these have also been able to do well in the right metagame. With this much deck diversity, it is a great time to be playing Standard, especially for someone like me who loves to play something a little more off the beaten path. That said, my deck of choice, of course, is Dimir Pirate (I love a good tempo deck). It’s a brave new world, so if you have a deck idea for this current Standard, test it out! If you really think your deck is sweet, ship me a list, I’m always down to check out new sweetness, so let’s see the brews!
What makes Modern so… meh?
Now that I’ve taken you on a journey through how great Standard is, it’s time to pull back a little and compare it to another very popular format in Magic, Modern. The Modern format has such a deep card pool, there isn’t really an issue as far as the diversity of coherent and functional decks in the format. Because the card pool is so vast, it’s easy to have certain cards pop up that are too good for the format, which is why Modern has such an extensive banned list. In the current state of the Modern format, there are a couple cards that most people would agree are just a bit too good, but those cards are still legal and enable some of the decks in the format that make it very “unfun” at times.
While both cards enable different things, they are both very good at what they do. What they enable is a clear step above the other decks in this format, leading me to the opinion that if you aren’t playing one of these two cards in Modern right now, you’re just doing it wrong. That being said, yes, I know what you’re going to say, Jund and Jeskai Control and Storm and this and that all put up results, and you would be right, any deck can do well on a given weekend, and to be honest we don’t have the data needed to prove one way or another that the decks playing these cards are oppressive. However, what I do know from sheer experience playing this format and trying to play decks that aren’t leaning into these cards, when your opponent casts an Ancient Stirrings and finds a Krark-Clan Ironworks or an Urza’s Mine, and you look at your hand full of Tarmogoyfs and Fatal Pushes, you feel a bit foolish.
Speaking as someone who has played both with and against these cards, when you cast an Ancient Stirrings in a deck built to maximize its power, you feel like you’re playing Legacy, and it isn’t difficult to see why Stirrings is often compared to the card Demonic Tutor. Faithless Looting has some of the same effects on a game as Stirrings, but it enables busted things in a different way. To take an example from my current deck of choice, casting Faithless Looting and discarding two copies of Arclight Phoenix makes you feel like you’re cheating. It just isn’t okay. Now, I could go on for a long time about these two cards and get into a whole rant about the Modern Ban List, but that’s not really what I want to get into here. I simply want to leave you with the pros and cons of the Modern format and give you the context of a format I feel is far superior in a multitude of ways, so I’ll move to wrap things up here soon.
The biggest pro for Modern is its extensive card pool. You get to play with a lot of sweet cards and, yes, there are many sweet archetypes that you could potentially play and do well with (for my money I think Izzet Delver is the sweetest deck in the format). The con side of this coin, is that there are some decks that are incredibly frustrating to play against if your deck is not built to target them in some way. The greatest con in the Modern format is, however, the prevalence of games of Magic where one player simply doesn’t have a chance. When you play Jund against Tron, you just lose, none of the decisions you made in the game really mattered, and you end the match feeling worse than you did before, and that just isn’t a feeling I enjoy. Modern is a format full of instances like this, and unlike the current Standard format, favorable matchups in Modern are, for the most part, very one-sided, so it can be difficult to feel that confident in a deck when you know that going in to an event if you hit too many of one matchup you just won’t get to play any Magic that day. I experienced this first hand at SCG Regionals a few weeks ago when I showed up with my Izzet Delver deck and ran hot for the first couple rounds, then hit a couple matches where I just didn’t get to make any meaningful decisions and ended up in a position where I was unable to cash, and that’s just how Modern is.
All of this being said, I don’t want you all to think I innately dislike Modern! As I said, Modern does get to play a lot of sweet decks and the card pool allows for a lot of very sweet things to be done, but I do feel the format could be better and, especially when you compare it to our current Standard format, the differences are night and day.
I hope this article has been informative and maybe helped some of you know what to expect if you were considering jumping into one of these formats. If you disagree with something I said here, or just want to discuss anything Magic be it Standard or Modern, leave a comment, or maybe even find me on social media, on Twitter @TheMagikalDrew, or on Facebook Drew J Kobus, or even in person sometime. I’m always down to chat about everyone’s favorite TCG! Keep slinging your favorite spells and remember that this game is about having fun -so do what helps you do exactly that!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see ya next time!