THE MANA DORK — THE MODERN DORK, PART 2: HOWLING AT THE MOON

We’re going to start off with a teachable moment.

At my first night of Modern, I received the excellent advice that I should be using my sideboard to shore up my deck’s weaknesses, rather than transform it into a different deck. Winning the very next round after choosing not to transform sealed the deal.

So I’m at the store, paging through the wonderfully-organized rare binders, looking for new sideboard material. Maybe a little early—I’d only played against three other decks, out of close to 20 participants!—but better now than never.

Specifically, I was looking for “hard” counterspells—ones that don’t return the countered spell to hand or library—and some good burn spells to help me get those last few life points after my Kiln Fiends and Swiftspears can no longer attack through blockers.

And I found them! I found an amazing two-mana “hard” counterspell, and a burn spell that cared about the number of non-basics each player had! Modern was full of non-basic lands! Wow! How had I not heard about these in the format before? How had I not seen people playing them, or any discussion about them? This was incredible!

I immediately bought a playset of each of them and took them home.

But then I had a suspicion—surely, if these cards were so good, I would have heard of them, right? I’d have seen them at the store, or heard talk about them online, or something.

So I checked to see if they were legal in Modern, and realized my mistake.

Yup. Neither Counterspell nor Price of Progress are Modern-legal. Counterspell was last printed in a Standard-legal expansion in 2001 with 7th Edition, and Price of Progress exactly twenty years ago in 1998’s Exodus.

Learn from my mistake, fellow Planeswalkers. Between the Masters sets, Conspiracy, and other supplemental products, there’s enough modern-border pre-Modern cards out there to cause some serious confusion. Double-check format legality and research potential sideboard inclusions before going out and buying them.

Well. Back to the drawing board.

After some research, the drawing board for my deck was basically a big picture of Blood Moon, with some arrows pointing to Blood Moon, and large, frantic text that spelled out “BLOOD MOON” in capital letters.

One thing I noticed about all of the decks I faced or saw was that very few were playing basic lands. “Fetch” lands like Bloodstained Mire were constantly fetching “shock” lands like Overgrown Tomb or Watery Grave. Other utility lands like Cavern of Souls or Celestial Colonnade stonewalled me often. And while I had yet to face the nightmare that was Tron, which depends so heavily on its Urza lands, it terrified me deeply.

Blood Moon shuts all of this down. It overwrites everything about non-basic lands, reducing them to Mountains. It forces the decks already playing Red, like Hollow One, to play on my level. And decks that don’t play Red are switched off almost entirely.

With a resolved Blood Moon, my opponents are doing almost nothing—making it much more likely that my Kiln Fiends and Swiftspears can connect for healthy amounts of damage.

It’s a great, great card. And—here’s the next hurdle I have to overcome—it’s priced accordingly.

Modern, as a format, is defined by its sideboards almost as much as its mana bases. Since it’s safer for Wizards to print powerful “hate” cards like Suncleanser and Alpine Moon than it is to print powerful new strategies, there are strong, efficient hate cards for every archetype in Modern.

And Modern’s popularity as a format drives up their prices, well beyond anything you might see in Standard.

Blood Moon currently retails for about $20. Relic of Progenitus—another potential sideboard inclusion for me, since it’s cheap, colourless, and hates on graveyards real well—retails for about $6 here in Canada. Other staples go even higher—Stony Silence checks in at about $8, Surgical Extraction at $25, and Leyline of Sanctity at $30ish, all the way up to high rollers like Engineered Explosives at $90+. Per card. And I’d need multiples.

I was looking at some pricey, pricey purchases to up my win percentage and stay relevant. The core of my deck can be had for under $100, but there was at least another $50 in sideboard cards on the way.

The plus side is that they won’t rotate. Relic of Progenitus is going to hate on graveyards just as well in 2019, 2020, and beyond. Blood Moon is going to shut down mana just as well, Surgical Extraction is going to eliminate reanimation targets just as well. These expensive sideboard cards retain value—in some small ways, they’re more of an investment than a simple purchase.

And that brings me to my next point.

Today’s column isn’t actually about which cards I’m going to pick for my sideboard.

Today, I wanted to talk about how important it is to think and do research before you pull the trigger on expensive Magic purchases. Because I don’t think enough people talk about that.

A Modern deck will hopefully last you a very long time. It’s something you can play again and again and again, in stores around the world. Researching the right deck, analyzing your meta, and picking the right sideboard pieces will net you years of happy nights at the store.

Some of the players I’ve played have been holding onto their decks for several Standard rotations. The Infect player I played my first night had just come back from a multi-year break from Magic, and was just looking around to see what the meta was like these days. Research definitely paid off for him.

It’s a big thing to pull the trigger on. And I can’t caution you enough to be careful with pulling that trigger.

So, please. As you follow me on this journey of learning about Modern, remember that you’re going to be looking at some very expensive purchases. I highly suggest talking to store employees, other players, or doing research online. Borrow a friend’s deck, or watch streams online to see how decks play. Websites like MTG Top 8 and content from around the Internet can tell you what’s performing well lately and give you an idea of where to start, but content and coverage won’t tell you what a deck feels like to play, or what your local meta is like. Store employees and fellow players can do that much better.

You might already be familiar with Magic prices—in which case, I do hope you don’t mind the brief detour. I just felt it was an important message that doesn’t get said nearly enough, especially to people who might be following my column as preparation for their own journey into Modern!

ENOUGH HOWLING, WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE STORE?

Whether you are looking to add Abrupt Dec- I mean Assassin’s Trophy to your Modern deck or get those shocklands – there’s still time to sign up for our Guilds of Ravnica prerelease!

See you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. This summer, he’s delving into Modern with his new mini-series, The Modern Dork. Stay tuned for parts 3 and 4, coming soon!