As this article goes live on Friday morning, the competitors at Pro Tour Ixalan sleeve their draft decks and sit for their first round. The eyes of the Magic world turn to the new Standard metagame, the new hall-of-famers, the new best-player-you’d-never-heard-of-before. But something else is also happening as the rounds of Pro Tour Ixalan fade into the past. The long march to the next Modern pro tour begins as well.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan next February will herald the return of Modern as the featured constructed format. Players had been complaining that the pressures of a yearly pro tour strained the Modern ban list—arguing that Modern was a better format with less competitive scrutiny. Eldrazi Winter put that argument to rest for a bit. Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was a developmental disaster after cheap, efficient Eldrazi made Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin into Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors. You know something went wrong in R&D when the pro-tour-winning Modern deck plays newly-printed Eldrazi Skyspawner and Vile Aggregate to get an edge in the mirror.

Here we are now, almost two years later, and the next pro tour is Modern. That means the Eye of Competition turns its gaze toward the format starting today. Yes, the Modern PPTQ season already happened, and people like me have been preparing for this month’s RPTQs for a few weeks already. That level of metagame scrutiny was fine, though. Only when the gold and platinum pros grind the format to dust, does the fun and diverse Modern metagame collapse into a three-deck dance. That the theory, at least. And now is the time to put it to the test.

My first piece of advice, at the outset of Modern season, is to get your deck together now. Demand for Modern staples will go up, and so will their prices. Even if you don’t care about price, you should make sure you have the cards you need. Card sales during the Pro Tour tend to focus on the breakout Standard cards of the weekend. Avoid that noise and pick up what you want now. In addition to beating the rush, you’ll have more time to learn your deck.

The best way to prepare for a big Modern tournament is to play a ton of Modern over an extended period of time. Get started now. Whether it’s a pro tour, RPTQ, grand prix, or one of the various mixed-format team constructed events coming up next year; the key to mastering Modern is practicing Modern. You can usually pick up a Standard deck for a few weeks and get all the reps you need to be competitive, but that doesn’t really work in older formats. You need to play games against the various decks of the metagame so you learn the pace of each matchup and see which sideboard cards make a difference.

Get ready to adapt to a changing metagame, too. For better or worse, more competitive scrutiny leads to quicker metagame shifts. The online competitive Modern leagues will get busier and tougher. It won’t just be the cheap decks showing up in big numbers. Expect to start seeing more blue cards. Steam Vents is due for a comeback. Jeskai has been picking up steam, as I wrote a few weeks ago; so as Storm and silly Humans decks proliferate, get ready for Remand, Cryptic Command, and Supreme Verdict to reintroduce themselves. Many pro players who turn rarely to Modern will look here first, and it looks like it can be a good deck again.

Settle back and enjoy the Pro Tour this weekend. But keep Modern in the back of your mind. If you plan on competing in Modern over the next six months, I suggest you start getting prepared now. The clock is ticking.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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