When formats change due to cards getting banned or unbanned, players need to react to the shifting metagame. These decisions often hard to make. Any time someone has to make a decision, especially one with a lot of unknown information, there is a real chance they get things wrong.

When making these kinds of judgment calls it is common for people to try and play things safe and stay to the middle of the spectrum. In Magic especially, I think people tend to over or underreact to these changes instead of taking a more measured approach to start things in a “new” format. As you may know Faithless Looting and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis were banned in Modern, while Stoneforge Mystic was unbanned. I’ve witnessed a number of players end up on both sides of the reaction scale when choosing how to build their deck.

These common trends are often traps, but hopefully by examining the more common ones I can save you some time and frustration.

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Similar to the True-Name Nemesis arms race in Legacy, I believe we are seeing the “Stoneforge Mystic Olympics” in the early weeks of the format. The Stoneforge Mystic Olympics occur when people all try to find the best shell for Stoneforge at the same time.

What actually ends up occurring is players who hate losing the mid-range mirrors will start to tune their deck to beat the mirror. These decks continue to try and best each other at the cost of other matchups, leading to an inbred section of the metagame where these decks lose sight of the rest of Modern. The punishment for this type of thinking tends to be certain decks, in this case Burn or Tron, popping up to take advantage of these Stoneforge Mystic decks.

Be careful to avoid doing yourself a disservice in the coming weeks by assuming the format is going to be dominated by these Stoneforge Mystic decks. Instead look to play the best version of whatever strategy you’re playing; it won’t be long until Modern normalizes itself.

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead . . . Kind of

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Looting are banned in Modern.” These are the words that interactive decks have been waiting to read for over a year now (in the case of Looting, at least). “Fair magic is unbanned and we can cut all the graveyard hate we’ve been required to play, right? Right?” Sorry, maybe next time.

Just because the best enabler and the best graveyard threat have been banned, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop using the graveyard. As early as Monday night I had already seen people adapting their Dredge decks to replace Faithless Looting with cards like Tome Scour and Insolent Neonate. I’ve also seen people adapting Vengevine in new shells.

In reality while the graveyard decks may be weaker, they’re still present. Disrespecting these decks by cutting graveyard hate from your sideboard is an easy way to lose to them.

Valuable Real Estate

Sideboard space has historically been priceless in a format as wide as Modern. Getting just fifteen cards to cover twice as many archetypes can be tough. So when looking at the current Modern flavors of the week, we see various Stoneforge Mystic decks, and Urza. That is a lot of important artifacts, so Shatter-type effects should be good, right? Well, only kind of. Shatter effects like Abrade and Kolaghan’s Command have strong cases against the Stoneforge Mystic decks because they handle both the Mystic itself and the equipment. However, filling your sideboard with cards like Disenchant can be dangerous as they are quite narrow.

In the case of the Urza decks, being loaded on artifact removal isn’t actually a great way to stop their game plan. A variety of decks are soft to Ensnaring Bridge, so having a certain density of ways to deal with it may be necessary. But having too many ways could instead make your deck weak to Urza, Lord High Artificer and Sai, Master Thopterist. The best way to avoid this trap is to do your best to build a balanced sideboard for the metagame as a whole instead of calling your shot on a moving target.

Escaping the Temple

Like Indiana Jones hopefully you now have the knowledge to spot these traps and the appropriate reactions to avoid them. Whether it be not overestimating the metagame percentage of the new hotness, avoiding falling down the rabbit hole of beating the mirror, or freeing up sideboard real estate; tthese mistakes are lethal to your win percentage and progress as a player.

Remember, especially in early weeks like this it is often better to play a powerful and robust strategy than try to hit a moving target. That being said, making card choices with these decks in mind is important and can yield excellent results. Just be sure to make sure these decisions are measured and founded in logic.

Until next time—Mike

Bonus Decklist!

I’ve had some people ask for my latest Grixis Death’s Shadow list going into SCG Dallas, and here it is!

Grixis Death's Shadow

Creatures (15)
Death’s Shadow
Gurmag Angler
Snapcaster Mage
Street Wraith

Spells (27)
Stubborn Denial
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thought Scour
Kolaghan’s Command
Fatal Push
Lightning Bolt
Temur Battle Rage
Serum Visions
Lands (18)
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Blood Crypt
Steam Vents
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Collective Brutality
Seasoned Pyromancer
Plague Engineer
Kolaghan’s Command
Surgical Extraction
Disdainful Stroke
Lightning Bolt

Michael Rapp is a Boston-area grinder who started playing competitively in 2014. Loves Modern but plays everything. His favorite card is Thoughtseize has a soft spot for Tarmogoyf. GP Toronto 2019 Champion. Always happy to answer questions or just chat on Twitter or Facebook.

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