A Magical Huffalump Resides Here: Eldrazi: Modern Awakening?

A Magical Huffalump Resides Here

My name is Ed, I am a programmer. Just another dude with another blog. I like MTG, Open Source (more towards FREE software). I like sports, and eventually I hope to do business and do good for the world in general. This blog is gonna be about Magic The Gathering. Decklists and snippets will be posted here. It may lead somewhere or nowhere, as with all things arcane, that was bloody obvious =)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Eldrazi: Modern Awakening?

With the passing of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch 2016, Modern looks to be in a big shake up.

It was'nt just the fact that the Eldrazi overlords have taken over Modern of course. It was a perfect storm of many factors.

I am just going to put it out now that I have a dim view of the general populace of Modern. That is a sweeping statement. I am usually less harsh. But seeing the doomsayers at work in Sally has been enlightening to me about the type of players in Modern.

So if you love Magic for what it is/was/will be,
if you can appreciate the stack,
if you can understand that "interaction" (in magic) as a concept is quite useless,
if you can do more than turn creatures sideways,
if you do not only play magic as an alternative to pokemon (sorry pokemon fans :p) -- meaning you only play midrange,
if you do not hate : LD,Poison,Discard,Counterspells
if you do not give in to the statement: "I did not get to play Magic" when you lose
if you are open to seeking answers in the cardpool (also known as metagaming) rather than simply throw your virtual arms up in dispair and ask for bannings.

I think I probably pissed most of everyone, so I am going to be generous and say, If you are at least two of the above, then yes feel free to read the rest of the post, else I will just be another old "arrogant" fogey who is disparaging on Modern and its players in general. It will be jarring to your virtual ears and you would hate and insult me for it and we could argue in circles and it will all be for nothing and a waste of each others time as we can never agree. So I am going to save us both some time and effort and simply warn of the content. This is going to be a post that is Modern unfriendly.


This is a stupid card board game. So really. Get a life. Just play the game.

That said I sure someone whom I think is going to disagree and just continue reading. You have been warned :p

So if I hate so many things about Modern, why do I still play it?

There are many reasons, in no particular order.

1) It is still Magic

2) It affects prices across formats, so I have to keep abreast of its developments

3) It is currently the forefront of speculators. If ever we want to address the problem, this is the format to look at. (thats not what this post is about though)

4) My friends play Modern, largely because it is the most accessible Eternal format. Mostly it is not by choice but by a) Vintage/Legacy having a higher perceived price point b) Standard rotation is getting nutty.

5) Its really not that bad as a format. So it is unfair to poo poo it. Too much anyways :p


It is important to know exactly what modern is. Before we draw lines and say why we like or do not like it.

Here are my thoughts previously here and here. And I hate to say "told ya" but ya told ya.

The First Awakening

One of the biggies in the recent lashing out of vitriol from the community is the realisation that bannings in Modern are just to shake up the format to make for more interesting metas. Thats not big news. I already saw it as a meta of flux in my first thoughts on modern. So seeing the vitriol bemused me. After all the justifications and dismissive sweeping statements from many a fanboy... The truth is finally out. The signs were always there I guess.

So there. Modern is a format with artificial rotations enabled via bannings. Some will argue it is not a rotation. Seriously the only difference is the number of cards that get taken out of commission. The meta will still have to adjust so it (scheduled bannings) is equivalent to a rotation.

And. As I have previously posted, I am fine with it. I bought into the format with my eyes wide open. I hope most players did, so that there is less unhappiness. They banned Second sunrise just when I completed the deck. They banned Pod before I completed it but I was just fleshing out the deck. Twin I have had for the longest time before the bannings came, but then mine was a Tarmotwin, so it was pretty similar to the Temur list that won a major tournament right after the Twin banning. Still it was the deck I took if I felt like I wanted to win more often and be more in control. However my go to deck has always been my blitz deck. It is the Naya Human Blitz from the standard of Inn block and RTR block up to gatecrash, I had upgraded to Lightning bolts and thats about it. My logic was, it was a turn 4 clock. So anything competitive will need to answer that. So ya, I was slinging card board in Modern with a Standard deck (well mostly). One reason I always used the Blitz deck was to prove a point. YOU DO NOT NEED FETCHES TO PLAY IN MODERN. And my blitz deck is still mostly fetch free. Granted, the shocks + check lands are the best possible combination of lands (short of duals) that the Blitz deck is tuned for but the point remains. You do not need fetches. Fetches were a major bugbear of players considering Modern. Hence I was very happy when Khans brought in the onslaught fetches, as it BROKE a mental barrier in people entering Modern. That is a powerful move and one reason why Modern is more popular today. It is one of the few positive moves Wizards have done to promote Modern. (The fact of whether Wizards is interested in promoting Modern is a point of contention, and I will probably relook it as a topic in future, maybe together with the concept of card equity). And for the record, with my blitz deck I normally don't have an issue with Twin decks and Affinity. Its not auto win, but neither is it an auto lose. So ya, I keep trucking with it.

Now a banning is not necessarily a bad thing.

Before I continue I must qualify my stand:

1) I am a collector (as in I look for playsets)

2) My major drive is to be able to build any deck, and less so for the pimpage (so a revise dual is all the same to me as a black bordered Alpha/Beta dual).

3) I look for cards I might find useful, this mean I don't just buy the most expensive card or the latest hotness. I typically have multiple brews and sporadically know what cards I am looking for.

4) I am cross format as a player. I hate standard, but continue to indulge it as it is a source of new cards and occasionally good stuff is printed (I consider the Oath Eldrazi to be pretty good). I am trying to play more modern as the mainstay as it is what people have access to and is not standard :) I occasionally play casual legacy. What this means is, a friend (who also likes to brew) brings his legacy concoctions and I usually bring out the latest tough nuts from standard, some modern and occasionally a real legacy deck, as well as custom pet decks that die to everything. Vintage I have. But I know of only one place where Vintage is actively played and am not too keen on going there :p I still build Vintage decks, but they just sit pretty.

5) I do not see my cards as an investment. In fact lately I have been begrudging the value of my cards. If my cards were worthless, I would not contemplate selling them. I bought it primarily to play, not as an investment. Having price spikes makes me feel happy and all but it also makes me want to sell out. Hence part of me wishes for the cards to be worthless. Hence I am actually quite supportive of reprints and the removal of the RL. My motto has always been, so many decks, so few cards!!! Cheaper cards would allow me to build yet more decks (without having to resort to playtest proxies etc). I once joked to a vendor (who was eyeing my foil Jace AOT) that I am the sort of player that holds on to his cards, from spiked high prices until the card becomes worthless. Which was pretty much the case for my Jace AOT. And I am alright with that, since I never intended to sell it.

So having qualifed that. Some things come to mind.

It is not true that "Vintage/Legacy" old fogies spend nothing on standard. That is an obvious sweeping statement that is obliterated by yours truly.

But more importantly. Prices normally tank or will tank. I see this as an opportunity. When Pod was popular and not banned, it was 20 SGD. Now its like 4-6 USD I think. Very affordable if you intend to brew for Vintage/Legacy/Casual. Ditto for things like Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman and I am sure there are more. I mean, Brainstorm. oh so powerful. but a measly 1 USD. If you are able to extend your interest beyond Modern and standard, opportunities abound.

So bannings are not necessarily something bad. One door closes another opens. Oh so cliche yo?

The fact that the meta shifts? I see that as a good thing, even if artificial. Sure it would hit the players who constantly build the most expensive deck. But perhaps this is an argument for the more financially strapped? That expensive decks will always be gunned down and something a little more midrangey (hoho the puns) in price has more longevity. I think part of the problem is the win/loss ratio that one is comfortable with. Blitz was stupid cheap the first time round (nowadays the Caverns of Souls have pretty ugly prices). The win/loss ratio would be abysmal by many standards I think. But for me I just need a few scalps to make my day. So it might be an individual preference thing. I got a little flak for blitz as it is seen as boring, but from my perspective, if you cannot have a 50/50 game against blitz at least, mabbe the problem is your deck? So to me, I am providing a bench marking tool lol.

The Second Awakening

So we have established that Modern is a format where bannings are used to maintain balance as well as manipulate metas (possibly for sales?)

Now much of the vitriol and opinions are quite hilarious on Sally. You have individuals pissed with the Twin ban getting all vindictive and tryng to ban everything else. You get tron supports trying hard to advocate a restriction or no ban on Eye of Ugin. You have people trying to ban Chalice (probably all you naughty linear aggro players yo ;)) You get the combo haters saying SSG is the source of all our woes. You get combo players saying that combo is already nixed why you still bug us??? And more! You have affinity haters saying Mox Opal is the  real badboy here, it and all other fast mana too! And the Combo haters go yea! Somewhere lost in translation, Infect, Affinity and probably all linear Aggro (poor little blitz probably fits here) get lumped in with the naughty combo decks! That seems to be the sad state of Modern where everyone hates everyone. ... BAN BAN BAN. Thats a common refrain these days.

What led to these? Wait for it.

The RISE OF THE ELDRAZI. Sorry, just had to do that pun. Literally with Oath of the Gatewatch, everyone is like going "who let the dogs(replace with Eldrazi) out?!?!" And unfortunately its been pretty mindless. Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?

or if you like.

Ban! Ban! Ban! Ban! Ban!

With a single Tournament result.
Where the field was all in Hyper Aggro (where 1 cc drops are common)

Everyone has suddenly lost their minds and gone bananas.

Literally. I am so disappointed with Modern players. Partly because of the storyline.

In the storyline initially Eldrazi presence was felt but controlled. This was like when BFz was released. Mono Black and B/W Eldrazi were making their rounds 5-0 ing multiple MTGO dailies. But in actual large paper tournaments, the closest was top 16th. People were fine with Eye of Ugin etc. (Strangely everyone was alright with turn 4 Ugin who Obliterates everthing :p)

Then Oath of the Gatewatch was released. In the storyline Kozilek makes his entrance and the alliance was shattered. This was enacted in the actual paper magic where Eldrazi obliterated the competition. It was deliciously favourful. In the storyline, the battered planswalkers made oaths to overcome the Eldrazi (which they blasphemously did - blasphemous because the Eldrazi have been made out to be very powerful). But it is at this point that Reality was smashered (hoho the puns). Rather than fight back, players looked to bannnings. So instead of players being planeswalkers, apparently according to many, Wizards are the saviours who will ban the Eldrazi into oblivion.

The question I put to Modern players is this: Do you heed the Call of the Gatewatch (so corny hoho) and find a solution in the meta, or do you resign yourself to Wizards to decide your fate?

The sad reality is that many will simply wait for bans. For the amount of energy I have seen put into dispair about how broken everything is, that same person could be looking for a solution but have basically given up. And worse, they expect others to give up! That is the truly sad part.

It says many things.

Those same people do not believe in the depth of the meta.

I know I am always shitting on Modern. But to see modern players shit on their own format. I don't know what to say. As an old player, the meta, the big bad, the response, has always been part of the game. You play. You lose. You rethink your strategy. You get back in the fight. Thats what the game is about.

These days its. You play. You Lose. You Netdeck (which is fine and actually intelligent!). You lose. You. You. You dunno wat to do.

That is sad.

Thats fine actually. You can actually sit out. Wait for possibly the bannings to come. But do you have to ask for emergency bannings and shit on others that are actually trying to find a solution? I believe most modern players are better than that. Sally is afterall famous for having vocal minorities.

Now do I think the Eldrazi are insurmountable? I actually believe in the Meta, and as much as I have seen alot of emotional vitriol I have also seen a few level heads looking for solutions.

Modern Nexus has a few suggestions. And there is a thread in Sally where ideas are thrown around. I think those are glimmers of hope.

However I do not know if the Meta is given enough time. Still, the ban schedule is a prerequisite of the format and I respect and accept that. I am perfectly fine with bans, seriously, they can ban Modern to oblivion and I would be fine.

Of course I would be happy if there were no bannings and solutions were found in time. As this would mean the format is healthier than I give it credit for :P

Its actually funny to see the vitriol against Chalice. Chalice is not found in most decks. Without Mishra's workshop to make Chalice a quick veritable lock chalice is a weak card that is sometimes powerful. SSG + Chalice is really a meta response to the expectation that there will be a build up of
linear hyper aggressive strategies. It is really funny because SSG + Chalice keeps hyper aggressive strategies at bay. No where else was SSG + Chalice seen or is effective. Yet, proponents of banning Chalice speak of it like it was the ubiquitous conqueror of all things Magic (this was something up for debate in Vintage with respect to Mishra's Workshop Prison decks), yet the main user of Chalice before Protour Oath of the Gatewatch was in Fish\Merfolk decks (ostensibly to stop hyper aggro). So all the evergreen midrangers who hate hyper aggro? Chalice is your friend. It is a meta card in the pool. Kill it and you lose one tool (one very very useful tool as demonstrated by ironically Pro Tour Oath).

Now should SSG be banned. Again I wonder about the experience of modern players. I sound like an arrogant idiot yes, but truly I have no malice and I do not know how else to put it. Ritual effects and fast mana are only dangerous in redundency. I do not know if most Modern players are familiar with that concept. This is the reason SSG is fine. For people pointing to lotus petal and saying that is why SSG should be banned. It is really whether there is a critical mass of such fast mana that combo is able to exploit it. As long as combo is not able to exploit it (to the point that its speed is consistent and annoying enough to Wizards), there is'nt a case. Citing SSG enabling Chalice at 1 is funny as written in the above para.

The fact that the Eldrazi deck can spit out 6 2/2s turn one had some people up in arms. 1 Eye of Ugin. 4 Eldrazi Mimic, 2 Endless one.

Thats 12 power on turn one.

my blitz can do (with SSG installed) 1 SSG, 4 Burning Tree Shaman, 1 land, 1 Mayor of Avabruck.

Thats 13 power on turn one.

Yay for oneupmanship :)

Of course in all seriousness, the power of the Eldrazi deck is in that its next draw could be a thought-knot seer (actually it cannot, with that hand it is not possible to play Thought-knot on turn two, a less nutty hand with less mimics and more lands would enable a turn two Thought-knot). And oh look, no chalice on 1.

So there is no doubt the deck is "all in" powerful. Is there a solution? That remains to be seen, but I would rather people try and fail than not try and just fail.

I think Modern is fine. Answers will be found if given time and effort. In the face of lack of time and effort, the banning machinery will do its job if necessary. So really. There is nothing to be worried about. It just an interesting exercise in determining the depth of the format. Can the format handle the threat of the Eldrazi.

Eldrazi in the Pro Tour brought the question of the depth of the format into sharp relief.

There can be only two outcomes about the strength of the meta or the power level.

If no solution is found. The Eldrazi will get something banned. What does this mean? This means that the power level is actually relatively low, and the Eldrazi cards are just too strong for the format. We may never know if this is true if there is actually a solution but no one found it before the banning commences. In any case however, the net result is the same, whether the power level is actually truly low, or is artificially kept low by the banning schedule (i.e. there is actually depth but not enough time to find it)

If a solution is found. This becomes very interesting. We will then know the level of aggression the format is capable of. As well as the requisite answers (if any). The format then matures in terms of our understanding of it. And we get new Eldrazi overlords! With possibly a mana base "almost" as strong as Vintage Mishra's Workshops.

The "Rise" of the Eldrazi has effectively probed a question or posted a challenge to the Modern community. What is the power level of the format? Can it demonstratively contain the Eldrazi invasion? It is like Achilles in the movie "Troy" where after beating the champions, he thundered "Is there no one else?!", in the next few month/s we will either see the weakness of the format or more correctly how low powered the format is or we might see a solution rise to the challenge of the Eldrazi. I am hoping for an evolution in the meta of Modern as opposed to status quo via bannings.

The resultant power level of Modern is a pertinent consideration as it may indicate Wizards direction.

Does Wizards want a Modern stronger than Standard? Or does Wizards expect Modern's power level to be weaker than standard? Does Wizards want the power level of Modern to be in tandem with standard? Or does Wizards not care?

Now there is a case to be made for why Wizards would want Modern to be weaker or par in power to
standard. Even a case for both (Standard and Modern) to be weak. (I think I would look at that later) However there would be repercussions for that. The reason this point even came up is there are some calls for Modern to be pared down to Standard power levels, which is entirely possible once we established that the banlist is used to craft the meta of choice.

Honestly for now I think Wizards does not really care about Moderns power level with respect to Standard. That in itself is a good thing :) So I will assume that Modern's power level is supposed to be higher than that of Standard. This leads to the third point.

The Third Awakening

So we have established two things so far.

1) Modern is a format regulated by scheduled bannings to "keep things fresh"
2) The power level of the format is currently in question

Like I mentioned before I am perfectly fine with bannings. It is one way to regulate a format. It may in fact be necessary in order to customise the format to the whims and fancies of Wizards.

Be it increasing the speed and power or decreasing the speed and power. Or simply to keep things fresh. What is most stark about Modern as a format is it is the first format to be artificially custom baked to the parameters wanted by Wizards. In past formats, there is a (perhaps false) concept of the meta being expressed by the cards available as restricted by a cardpool filtered chronologically.

For instance Vintage is everything. Some cards are restricted, but overall the idea is to get the "taste" of Vintage. Legacy is again everything but with out power nine. Extended for a time was a cardpool of eleven? rotating sets. While standard was the current "flavor". Wizards largely keep out of bannings, only stepping in when it was clear that a card was problematic. While standard was the custom meta format where Wizards exercised more control. Modern was originally borned of the same concept (we do not really know that, it is possible that right off the bat, they had determined that Modern was to be the Eternal format that can be heavily customised via bannings) limited chronologically (only 8th Edition onwards).

Modern is different from other Eternal formats in that its banlist is used to heavily customise its meta. As opposed to Legacy and Vintage where it is largely left alone to develop its own "taste".

That rant spanning over a few paras is just to say, in a nutshell, I think the current way of bannings, which altho might be construed as rather banal (hoho) by some, I personally feel it is acceptable. However one must collect and build your decks with the bannng style and purpose in mind so as to avoid unhappiness when a bannning does not go your way.

The current flavour of Modern appears to be:

1) No faster than turn four kills
2) Midrange is king (so far)
3) Weak combo and control
4) Must be fresh *new!*

So again I am alright with the banning schedules and random bannings. (well not really random since, the constant is actually change)

What I am concerned with is whether it will affect the printing of good cards usable in older formats. I have already qualified earlier that I am more of a cross format person. Hence I was concern about the power level of Modern. Barring card equity (which I will talk about in another post) issue, any level of power may actually be printed in Standard and leaked into Modern subsequently. The reason it is safe, is that it is always bannable.

There is an aversion to the banning of cards. I remember Aaron once said they hated to ban cards as it means you do not get to use it. So they try to avoid that. I believe they meant it at that time. But Modern as a concept (here I am assuming that Modern is a format that will be govern by a very liberal banlist construed to create a custom meta of choice) neccesitates or assumes a veritable banlist. Moving forward, Wizards have shown that the ban criteria is not simply a state of health, hence more likely it is business driven.

Given this state of affairs, I would keep an open mind about the bannings. A card banned in Modern can still be used in Legacy or Vintage or in the worse case: custom casual formats. (If you are not bound by sanctioned formats, there is nothing to stop you from building your decks banned or not.)

This is my third point, what the Oath of Gatewatch Eldrazi have shown is that it is still possible to breathe new life into Legacy and Vintage. Wizards flexing their creativity and not fearing too much  about Modern means that strong cards (cards strong enough to challege the Legacy and Vintage cardpools) can be printed. Mistake or no. overpowered or no. Eldrazi lands mana production together with the new Eldrazi have powered a new deck in Legacy and Vintage. Even tho the mana production is weaker than Mishra's Workshops. But the draw back of Eldrazi lands together with the fact that the Oath Eldrazi operate by disrupting the opponent as opposed to Workshops applying locks on the oppnent creates a dichotomy of two similar yet VERY different decks. Whereas Workshops either use the fast mana to lock down or go ravager affinity, Eldrazi lands go the route of beatdown with disruption. And most importantly, all the Eldrazi components are fairly recent (the oldest is worldwake) and accesible to the current batch of players. While reserved list and old scarce cards that have high power levels are out of reach, the barrier to entry to Legacy (possible Vintage) is now lowered with the availability of the new cards that can challenge the old card pool. Put another way, Wizards has issues printing cards from the RL,  but for the first time (well may be not first) they are printing cards that can rival those cards, such that it obviates the need to reprint the RL cards.

Is'nt this wonderful :)

I think this is an extremely positive development and vindicates my faith in Wizards in my continued support of their standard cards (i.e. it gives me reason to buy Standard).

Now there is definitely an equity problem here. As it is not in Wizards interest to support Legacy or Vintage. However as myself have shewn, I am willing to buy standard product if relevant materials are printed. Legacy and Vintage does not have to be constantly shaken, but an occasional bone thrown is more than enough to keep the faith. And more importantly. Magic is a game built upon its history. Printing cards that can shake the core of Magic down to its roots, harkens back to Magic twenty years before. Making the past relevant to the present. This is the equity that Wizards has produced with the Eldrazi in Oath. Indeed it should not be produced en mass (I mean why play Standard or Modern if you can play Legacy or Vintage), but in controlled deterministic amounts, encouraging players to buy in and build towards Legacy and Vintage, this holds players for the long term. Lord knows it held me for more than twenty years. That alone is something maintaining a low powered Standard will never achieve and should be worth something.


In short, I think it is an awakening of sorts in Modern with the release of the Oath of the Gatewatch Eldrazi:

1) Modern is a format regulated by scheduled bannings to "keep things fresh"
2) The power level of the format is currently in question
3) Cards relevant to Legacy and Vintage may be printed

These are powerful messages. They may not directly pertain to Modern. But they are strong signals for an old fogey like me who is cross format.

1) Knowing that bannings are to maintain a meta in flux allows you to plan accordingly when you buy into a deck. Long term it may also reduce speculation as nothing is a safe "investment"

2) The power level in Modern is adjustable and with the ban list announcement, it will be clearer what the powerlevel of Modern is supposed to be whether naturally via meta response or artificially via bannings. It will either demonstrate the depth of the format or the need for the banlist. An interesting point is this. Even if there are answers, the answers might end up being prison decks for instance R/W LD or 8rack. Even though these decks may then be answered by some midrangey deck. IF players complain enough (since they may not like the answer decks and have no patience for the answer to the answer decks to surface), the bannings may still happen, since the banlist is largely business driven :) luckily for me there is point 3

3) They have not reached the point where they actively block players from accessing Legacy and Vintage (and personally I think that is wise as there is still room for growth) by printing only weak cards and ensuring they only print weak cards. Oath (and some sets, like Khans, and Avacyn Restored) have shown that creativity is still alive. And as long as they push the envelope, there is the possibility of printing Legacy\Vintage relevant cards. This last point keeps old players like me interested in Standard and begrudge Modern a little less :p

Thats all I have for this post. Happy Valentines!

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