Last year was big for Magic: the Gathering. We revisited both Ravnica and Dominaria, MTG Arena is poised to become the face of future Magic and competitive play, the top Pro Players are to be paid a salary through Wizards of the Coast, and the entire competitive landscape has been redesigned. But what about Modern?

Modern went through plenty of changes in 2018, evolving and becoming a reasonably wide format with a diverse metagame. Without a doubt, Modern is the most popular constructed format at present; and with the events that happened in 2018, it’s easy to see why. So let’s delve into the last year, recapping the important moments for the Modern format.

A Modern Pro Tour

The year started with the highly anticipated Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, which featured Modern and Booster Draft. Player of the Year Luis Salvatto took down the event with Lantern Control, defeating Gerry Thompson on Mardu Pyromancer. Despite the finals match being somewhat underwhelming given the matchup, the Pro Tour was well received and provided a signal boost for the already-popular format.

Six different decks populated the top eight, proving that Modern is a diverse format and rewards those who play decks they know well. The event was a fresh change of pace to the traditional structure of Pro Tours. Importatly, it brought new archetypes into the format, such as Mardu Pyromancer and B/R Hollow One, which is discussed further below. Modern Pro Tours are uncommon given the focus on Standard, and adding the Standard-focused MTG Arena to the mix won’t help that. But Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan showcased why Modern should remain in the mix for Mythic Championships in 2019 and beyond.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf Unbanned

Shortly following the Pro Tour, a surprise Banned & Restricted announcement brought us the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. And there was much rejoicing. The unbanning warped Modern briefly, and this led to debate on whether the two powerful cards improved the format. Admittedly, I was concerned at the time about the havok Jace, the Mind Sculptor wreaked on Standard, and I was afraid the same would happen in Modern.

Now with hindsight, the decision was relatively safe. Bloodbraid Elf is back in Jund (no shock there) without ruining the metagame. Jace has been stuck in the shadow of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted when the unbannings occurred. It wouldn’t shock me to see another unbanning of some kind in 2019, as it seems Wizards of the Coast like to freshen up Modern without relying solely on new set releases.

New Modern Staples

With each new set released in 2018, there seemed to be more Modern standouts than the last. This was a good year for new Modern cards. The most significant was Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which found the perfect home in U/W/x Control decks and compliments Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this shell. Core Set 2019 reprinted Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds, but it also introduced Supreme Phantom and Sai, Master Thopterist to the format. Supreme Phantom pushed Bant Spirits into Tier 1 status, and Sai made Ironwork Combo even better. Stitcher’s Supplier has also fit into new Vengevine decks.

With the last set of the year, Guilds of Ravnica gave us another chance to grab cheaper copies of Steam Vents and friends. More significant to the metagame, it also opened doors for new decks with Arclight Phoenix, Experimental Frenzy, and Runaway Steam-Kin. Those have reinvigorated burn decks and helped Thing in the Ice win Grand Prix Oakland last weekend. Creeping Chill brought Dredge back to the top tier, which triggered a shift in the metagame like Dredge always does when it gets popular.

Lots of New Decks!

Modern players developed quite a few new decks last year, showing that the format constantly changing. Some of these came out of brewing with old cards—remember that Astral Cornucopia deck from Grand Prix Prague? On a serious note, Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan proved the theory when R/B Hollow One had its breakout at the hands of Ken Yukihiro, as well as Mardu Pyromancer piloted by Gerry Thompson.

As mentioned previously, B/R Vengevine saw plenty of traction thanks to Stitcher’s Supplier. For a period it became one of the top graveyard archetypes to play. Dredge has risen up to reclaim that title, but B/R Vengevine is still an excellent aggressive deck which will have its time in the future. During the summer we saw a different take on Lantern Control with Whir of Invention.

And then there’s Arclight Phoenix, which is one of the biggest winners to come out of Modern late last year. Thing in the Ice decks have popped up in Modern before, but Arclight Phoenix makes the deck stronger and more consistent. The new U/R Phoenix deck took down Grand Prix Oakland last weekend in the hands of Eli Kassis, although he only had to beat two Ironworks Combo decks before getting a free pass in the finals.

Old Decks Adapt

The old style of Affinity has struggled to keep up with the speed of Modern, so it evolved into Hardened Affinity. This new build exploits the broken Ancient Stirrings and a more extended and stubborn gameplan by abusing the ability Hardened Scales. Don’t worry, Arcbound Ravager still has a job. Additionally, we saw Bant Spirits become the preferred Aether Vial deck by forcing opponents to interact with you. In a metagame full of non-interactive decks,  this was a huge draw to play Bant Spirits over Humans.  Amulet Titan also adapted to the 2016 banning of Summer Bloom by using Sakura-Tribe Scout as a replacement. It has proven resilient and the deck has few bad matchups.

Finally, we saw success from the elephant in the room, Ironworks Combo—mostly at the hands of Matt Nass. (He only made it to the semifinals of GP Oakland.) Ironworks Combo’s popularity has conjured plenty of conversation about new bans, and Ancient Stirrings is seemingly the top contender. I expect some unbans in 2019, but it feels like something will get the axe as well. The next announcement comes in two weeks!

Oh and by the way, U/B Mill became decent in the tail end of the year. That’s a lesson to never knock casual Modern decks out of future consideration—unless it’s Ad Nauseam.

Sideboards Came After Tron—Again

A trend we typically see in new Standard sets is the bogus Tron hate card for people to get excited about for a few weeks. Last year was more of the same. Damping Sphere met the hype pretty well, but that’s because it has broader application in the format. Assassin’s Trophy is similar, but not many decks can play it, making the colorless artifact the “star” of the 2018 Tron Hate.

Remember Blood Sun and Alpine Moon? Exactly. Tron doesn’t care about those cards, because Tron has a better gameplan than decks with bad reactive cards jammed in them. Will we get more hate cards this year that fall short yet again? Probably. Maybe we can build a deck with all of them together one day.

The Ultimate Masters

Wizard’s of the Coast announced late last year that Ultimate Masters was going to be the final Masters set “for a while.” If so, at least it didn’t disappoint. Tons of reprints from the set have provided tremendous support to the format. Karn Liberated, Liliana of the Veil, and Cavern of Souls captured the headlines, along with other high-demand staples like Through the Breach and hard-to-find uncommons like Conflagrate. Unfortunately, this may be all we get for a while.

I’m interested to see Wizards’ plan to maintain support to the popular and still growing format. I’d love to see the return of Modern Event decks—taking a similar role to the Challenger decks in Standard. These pick-up-and-play decks help newer players get into the format on a budget.

A lot has happened over the last year for Modern. With Magic entering a year focused on MTG Arena, it’s difficult to predict what will happen with Modern. I hope Modern won’t be an afterthought despite the change in priorities. Let’s see more Modern Magic events, more new decks, and more Tron hate to disappoint us all. With that, I’m excited to see what’s in store for this entertaining and growing format.

Emma resides in Suffolk, England and started playing Magic back in 2014 when Khans of Tarkir first hit the shelves. She dabbled in Standard for a while then shifted into Modern, in particular playing Eldrazi Tron and Commander where she has found her home. Follow her on Twitter @emmmzyne to join in on the conversation!

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