Modern, by most standards, is in a healthy place right now. Humans is dominant, but not destructive, interplay is good amongst archetypes, and there can still be creative decks that can deliver piledrivers (or Piledrivers) while being susceptible to the format’s deep roster of hate cards.

With increasing deck costs and no publicized plan to address the rising costs of competing, though, it’s clear that Modern needs one thing: a way to print cards directly into the format without having to pass through the chokepoint of Standard. Thoughtseize is beautifully positioned in Modern, but is probably a bit too good for Standard, as we learned through Theros-era mono-black mirror matches, and $10 boosters larded with casual reprints isn’t the solution, either. It follows then that Modern-legal supplementary non-Standard sets can be—and, I’d argue, will be—implemented in the near future.

Within two years, I expect to see a product that does just this—a Modern Masters that doesn’t just reprint cards currently legal in Modern, but a selection of previously-printed non-Standard cards (Commander cards, Conspiracy cards, etc.) and new answers. There’s absolutely no reason that a new Modern player shouldn’t be able to play Mindblade Render in their updated Khans Warriors deck; it seems needlessly arcane to gatekeep cards printed in 2018 from play in a format that tracks back fifteen years. I’m not saying allow every card printed in supplementary sets into the format, but to release a set—or a collector’s box—that collects cards printed since Modern, but that aren’t legal in Modern at the moment and thus engineer them into the format. Modern was originally designed as a replacement to Extended, back in 2011, but it’s become so much more. In 2018, Modern represents a living museum of the game’s developments in the new millennium. To deprive players of balanced options is to deny part of the game’s history.

I don’t play as much Modern as I would in a perfect world, although I enjoy following the format, so this is more speculative than definitive. Don’t take these as the notes of an expert, but of a theorist. I do know enough to categorically say that Modern needs two things: adequate reprints to sink the prices of staple cards and decks, and a safety-valve method to print answers without having to push them through Standard. Ixalan through M19 Standard is unique in its plethora of hate cards—Damping Sphere, Isolate, Alpine Moon, etc.—and while those have worked out fine, as did the Standard reprinting of Scavenging Ooze, it’s nice to have an emergency button. To that end, I’d recommend introducing to Modern most of the cards first printed in supplementary sets from Modern’s creation—e.g., Commanders 2011-2018, Conspiracy 1 & 2, and Battlebond—in order to create a precedent for printing cards directly into Modern.

Zach wrote an excellent article this week about the uncertain future of Masters products in the post-Iconic/25 landscape, and I agree with all the points made. So far the Masters series has been, in Wizards’ estimation (and partially to give them plausible deniability for talking about the secondary market), primarily a draft-focused set. That serves two purposes for the company: maintain reprint equity by including low-value, high-reprintability cards and move more boosters by spotlighting a Limited format. Since Modern Masters 2017, though, the value hasn’t been there, and a $40 per player Draft has been more difficult to organize because of the limited value players expect to receive from their participation.

A $75 “Master’s Spellbook” full of high-value reprints would sell out immediately and wreck a five-year plan to reprint Modern staples in moderation, so I would put forward a compromise: an expensive collector’s cube, designed for Sealed or Draft, full of Modern and casual staples. This would allow Wizards to guarantee valuable reprints balanced with low-value Limited bombs with guaranteed value. First-picking Karn Liberated is a great feeling, as is resolving a board-shredding Comet Storm; but only one feels good after the draft. Allowing players to Cube draft or break up the set for component parts would solve the reprint and availability issue without the expected value variance of, say, Iconic Masters. Call it the Masters Grimoire or something and include 360 cards in a sturdy box—they could even include Wizards-branded reusable Cube packs and sleeves—and charge $159.99 for the set. The answer to Magic’s reprint equity problem is one of curation, and a Wizards-designed, up-market Cube would benefit Modern players and Limited players in the same way the Masters series originally intended.

Reprints to Bring to Modern for the First Time

Last week’s Banned & Restricted List update went by without any changes, which is as is should be: I’d argue that it’s far healthier to shake up the format by introducing new cards than by banning previous powerhouses. Cards I’d suggest for Modern aren’t meant to be shake-up cards—no “print Counterspell, you cowards” grist for the content mills here—but interesting cards that I’d love to see included in a Modern exclusive product. Obviously, they could print effectively any of the Commanders, too, which would be a good way to bring Commander players into the format: “If you like Atraxa in Commander, imagine what you could do with more than one copy in your deck!”

With that in mind, here are my six first picks:

One of the most value-oriented and fun cards I’ve ever played with, Oversold Cemetery is a pain-free Phyrexian Arena that always draws gas (assuming you meet the terms and conditions). With enough graveyard hate in the format—and man, is there enough graveyard hate in the format—Cemetery would be a card that rewards fair play with strong answers, bringing back cycling cards or recurring threats. It would reward cycling, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fulminator Mage—basically, the most fun Rock-style cards imaginable. Honestly, this would probably be fine in Standard.

Another value card. Baleful Strix answer anything specifically, but blocks exceptionally well, slows down the format by a turn, and has great synergy with artifact decks. Would tamp down Humans a bit and coincidentally, would be great with #1 above. No, I’m not just trying to reverse-engineer pet decks into the format. Or at least not just.

I would like very much to see Modern matches turn into Monarch fights. Palace Jailer seems like the most playable way to make that happen.

Engineered Plague could conceivably be too spicy—basically a one-sided Plague Wind for certain decks or the world’s most brutal Night of Souls’ Betrayal. Name Blinkmoth to shut off an Affinity path, name Elemental to dagger Pyromancer decks, name Human to shut the door on the eponymous deck or to get some chip benefit against Dark Confidant.

A Free Counterspell Before Turn Five? Yes, this is dangerous, but I believe it to be necessary. Daze might be a little good and tends to lead to tilting games, but Thwart could be manageable. Alternately, Wizards could print a balanced alternate-cost spell and introduce it to Modern through the proposed Modern-only booster packs or see if it would work in Standard (after Teferi rotates, one would hope).

Vile Smasher the Fierce is a fun Commander who could encourage healthy shenanigans, perhaps. It’s worth testing in Young Pyromancer decks—probably too low-impact, but hilarious with Bedlam Reveler, Murderous Cut, Gurmag Angler, hell, even Street Wraith. At least we’re adding more colors to my greedy value dreams.

My model for success in reprinting cards to Modern through Standard is Scavenging Ooze, a powerful and fair card that sees Modern play without warping Standard. (Also perhaps unsurprising given the overall rockiness of my suggestions above.) Modern, as a format, is much better off with Scavenging Ooze, and it would be a better format with Palace Jailer or Baleful Strix. There’s a rich vein of cards available for reprinting into the Modern format, and I believe we need a way to do so without shackling them to the hypermanaged Standard.

Strong formats require a strong guiding hand, and, with Wizards’ stated goal of maintain Magic as a brand for decades to come, that strength has to be balanced with wisdom. Personally, I define wisdom as the ability to identify and analyze your possible options, and a Modern with fewer options is thus a poorer Modern. It’s a difficult thing to do, to balance a card set played by hundreds of thousands of people, and to do so without losing your audience, but it requires a constant infusion of new cards, even beyond those that pass through the portal of Standard. There’s a way to build a stronger Modern, and I expect we’ll see it enacted prior to 2020.

I’m especially excited to see what Guilds of Ravnica adds to Modern, as the multicolored nature of the set could lead to broad, powerful answers. Last time we landed on the plane, we saw (overly) potent cards like Deathrite Shaman, Dreadbore, and Supreme Verdict. In six months, Deathrite Shaman may be holding my beer. May Modern be better for it!

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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