THE MANA DORK—The Modern Dork, Part 1: An Unexpected Journey
I have played Modern. In a store. And it is both exhilarating and terrifying.
I mean, look at that. I wouldn’t dream of keeping a hand with nothing but 1- and 2-drops in Commander.
I had no idea how comfortable I was, living in my nice hobbit-hole of Commander and Cube games. How loosely I played. How I misjudged the advantages of sideboards.
But I can feel those habits sloughing off, now, like a lifetime of cozy living from a Baggins of your choice. My play got sharper and tighter over the course of the night, I missed fewer and fewer triggers, and I even eked out a win or two later on.
And I have to give a shout-out to the very unexpected guests that were my opponents. I knew half of them half as well as I liked, and I like more than half of them half as well as they deserve.
To those of you who might be worried about venturing into the Mirkwood of Modern, trust me — the folks playing Modern at A Muse N Games are as fine of a Company as could possibly show up at your door.
But enough preamble. It’s time to tell you about the night!
ROUND 1—MONO-GREEN INFECT
I let them through.
This is my first lesson in Modern: Don’t let Infect creatures through.
You’re going to be really tempted to let them through once or twice. After all, “life is a resource”, right? What’s a little 1/1 Glistener Elf or Ichorclaw Myr going to do?
This is a mistake. Do not let them through.
Truthfully, this was a fascinating match-up—both of our decks relied on hyper-fast aggro, sticking a threat Turn 2-3 and swinging for the win. So there was a lot of staring down, and sideboarding, and gambling whether or not we had the right spells to win the day. It was tense and exciting, and my opponent was a pleasure to play against.
I took Game 1 off of a 26-point swing from Kiln Fiend and Monastery Swiftspear—I think I got away with it because my opponent simply didn’t expect to face a deck as fast as his. Games 2 and 3 went to him, though, thanks to Rancor, and letting a Necropede through.
Life is a resource, yes—but sometimes, your opponent cares about an entirely different resource.
And don’t let them through.
I offered a cheery greeting to my opponent, but received no response. Ah, well. For some of us, the interaction on the battlefield is enough.
I shuffled up and drew my opening hand.
Hm. This hand has no lands. I should probably look at my mana base later.
I’m running 21 lands, 4 of which tap for both Blue and Red. My deck only has 1- and 2-drops, and there’s never more than a single pip of any one colour. This mana base should be fine… but I could probably still tweak it a bit.
Anyway. No lands means no plays. And I can’t have “greedy keeps”, where I’m counting on drawing lands in the first few turns.
Double hm. This hand has no plays.
If I’m going to keep a hand, I need to have things to cast. In Limited, I’m looking for plays on Turns 2-4; in Commander, on turns 3-6 or so; and in Modern, I’m getting the sense that I really should be looking at turns 1-2 or 1-3.
But there’s nothing here. And I can’t count on drawing into something. Best to mull.
Snap keep. This is a good hand.
Round 2 breezes by, taking no time at all, and it’s a 2-0 victory for me. I thank my opponent for the games, but they’re still pretty quiet. And that’s fair. It’s not for me to pressure people into interactions they might not be comfortable with.
I pack up my cards and get ready for the next round.
ROUND 3—MONO-RED PRISON
It’s Game 1, and I think I’m doing well. My opponent is down to 10 life after a couple of swings, and I’m praying he doesn’t stabilize and I can take this one to the finish line.
And then he drops Ensnaring Bridge and Chalice of the Void on 1, and I’m completely stymied.
The idea is to completely switch my deck over from Izzet Blitz to Thermo-Thing—keeping the same core of cantrips and fast spells, but pushing damage through without having to attack until Thing in the Ice flips and clears the board. If I saw a match-up where I needed to be the slower, controlling deck, I could do that.
But alas, it is not to be. I am stonewalled. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Goblin Rabblemaster grind me down to nothing. I never even touch my opponent.
After the games, I tell him about my deck, and he says it’s appropriate for my column. “Respectfully, that does seem like the kind of deck a player new to Modern would build,” he remarks.
“The key to Modern is consistency. Sideboards should be used to shore up your deck’s weaknesses. By using your sideboard to switch your deck entirely, you’re not going to be very good at either of your deck’s gameplans.”
I thank him for his advice and we keep chatting until the next round. I resolve to stay on Izzet Blitz after Game 1 and see where that takes me.
ROUND 4—BLACK-RED HOLLOW ONE
I think the last thing I expected to see was Soulflayer.
It’s a rare from Fate Reforged that delves a bunch of stuff and then steals a bunch of creature keywords from that stuff. I always thought it was cool, but at 6 CMC before delving it seemed a little overcosted.
But there it is, staring at me. My opponent has Bolted both my Kiln Fiend and my Monastery Swiftspear, and I’m left with spells in my hand and nothing on the board to get triggers from them.
Ah, well. I Bolt the Soulflayer twice and hope I can build faster than he can. I just need a—
He casts Collective Brutality, discarding a bunch of cards to get out a free Hollow One, as well as the game.
Well. Alright. Time to test out my last opponent’s sideboarding advice.
A piece of interaction a day keeps the Hollow One away—or so I’m hoping. I swap out my Monastery Swiftspears for the rest of my Unsubstantiates and another Stormchaser Mage.
In retrospect, taking out my Expedites would have been better, so I could keep my threat count up—hindsight!
We begin Game 2.
Yup. Shouldn’t have boarded out my threats.
I mull this hand and keep the next one. My first land drop is Temple of Epiphany.
Thank you, Mr. Round 3 Opponent.
A few turns later, I’m at 14 life and hanging on. He’s just swung with a hasted Soulflayer. I’ve got a Kiln Fiend, a Stormchaser Mage, and one shot to take this.
I swing. I chain a Manamorphose into an Expedite and a Temur Battle Rage. He’s got 20 damage incoming.
He cycles a Street Wraith. Nothing.
He cycles a second Street Wraith. Nothing.
And best of all—that advice paid off! If I had switched over to Thermo-Thing, I would’ve sat there pinging this guy for 1 while he got out Soulflayers and Hollow Ones. Eventually, I would’ve had to block with my Alchemists and Things in the Ice, and I would have been ground down by his superior creatures.
Game 3 goes my way as well, but it’s much less dramatic. My opponent—who is wonderfully polite despite what’s happening to him—is stuck on one land for much of the game. I’m able to get in with Kiln Fiends before he can establish a boardstate.
And that’s it! My first 2-1 round in Modern!
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
I end the night 2-2 in the standings, but that’s a bit deceptive thanks to the bye. I’m 3-5 in actual games played—much higher than I thought I’d be, largely thanks to my Round 3 opponent’s advice! And I’ve learned a bunch of important Modern precepts, like using your sideboard to shore up your weaknesses and not letting Infect creatures through (don’t let them through). Finally, I’ve seen three tiered decks in action—out of 19 players present, that’s not a lot, but I’m starting to get an idea of the meta.
All in all, a good night!
Next up—playing a few more Modern nights here at AMNG so I can learn the meta. In my next column, I’ll be taking that knowledge and using it to tinker with my deck. (Especially the sideboard, which as it turns out is extremely important!)
You should come down! I’ll see you there! And if you’re already a modern veteran, A Muse N Games does have a Modern Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier coming up!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for the Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic—except for this summer, where it’s about all things Modern!