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Insider: Virtually Infinite–Options for Going Modern

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Today’s article is part four in a series on getting more gaming for your dollar on Magic Online. Part 1 focused on basic tools, Part 2 focused on how to avoid draining your portfolio through drafting, and Part 3 showed how to play Magic Online like an insider—by targeting high-expected value (EV) events such as constructed Daily Events (DEs).

The barrier to playing constructed DEs is the upfront cost of a deck, so at the end of last article I showcased some budget yet competitive Standard and Modern decks you can start playing in Daily Events to build value. I also examined the pros and cons of investing in a deck for Standard vs Theros Block Constructed.

Today I will focus on Modern as a third option. Modern seems a counter-intuitive place to start when looking to play MTGO on a budget, but playing and investing in this format offers some of the best opportunities to go infinite.

Modern is probably the best format for MTGO investment, and buying into a deck gives you a foothold on one of the most profitable card pools. Other Insider articles and forum posts have focused on the benefits of investing in Modern.

In brief, one of the main attractions is Modern’s regular and predictable annual cycles, with peaks during a defined season and valleys in the offseason. The format also contains a number of low-supply cards that can spike under the right circumstances.

Getting acquainted with the Modern market will allow you to capitalize on flashback drafts, taking advantage of most MTGO players' short-term thinking and building long-term value in your collection.

Finally, Modern continues a steady climb in value, so even absent direct speculation the value of your deck should grow.

We will delve deeper into pure investment opportunities in the Modern market in future articles. But for the moment, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of investing in Modern from the perspective of a player on a budget (for comparison, check the pros and cons of Standard and Theros Block Constructed here.)

Pros

  • Stability: While Modern sees occasional metagame shifts, the core strategies remain relatively constant. This means that if you invest in a deck today, you are going to be able to play that deck for a long time. You may occasionally add or subtract cards based on changes in the metagame, but need not worry that your whole deck will be invalidated by the printing of a few cards, or by a fall rotation.
  • Opportunity to build expertise: Connected to the point above, there are people who have been playing a core strategy like Affinity or Splinter Twin for several years now. Doing so will allow you to truly master your weapon of choice. Patrick Dickmann’s victory at GP Antwerp last October with Tempo Twin was the result of over a year of testing with the deck, primarily online under his MTGO name “Ofelia”. In his Top 8 interview Dickmann mentioned that he had put in over 1,000 matches with his current build alone! Having a deep knowledge of the deck led him to innovate further, adding green for Tarmogoyf and playing the new version to top finishes at PT Valencia and GP Richmond. This kind of extended familiarity with a deck is hard to get in Standard and impossible in Block.
Patrick Dickmann, right, played a thousand matches on MTGO before hitting PT BNG. He is shown facing off against noted MTGO grinder Michael Hetrick, who is 7-0 with a Living End deck he also mastered online.
  • Portability: Modern is here to stay, and grows in popularity with every major tournament. Every serious Constructed player now has a Modern deck alongside their Standard deck, their Commander deck, and their Legacy deck. That means that your deck is portable, allowing you to play the same 75 at a Grand Prix as in your living room. If you master a deck online, you’ll be able to translate those skills into a place at the top tables.
  • Choice: Modern has dozens of viable deck options, many of which draw on previous strategies from Standard. That means that if you’ve played Magic any time in the past seven years you can probably find a deck that suits your play style and which you are broadly familiar with.
  • Growth trajectory: Modern cards go through cyclical peaks and values, but if you compare them year to year you can see considerable growth. Modern staples basically doubled from 2012 to 2013, and appear on track for 50% growth in 2014. For long-term value, you want to be in Modern rather than Standard or Block.

Modern index since 2012

Cons

  • Cost: On average, a competitive Modern deck will cost you a lot more than a competitive Block Constructed deck, and significantly more than a Standard deck as well. The most expensive Modern decks can top 1000 tix. However, there are many affordable and competitive options that cost less than the average Standard deck, and buying into Modern should not be a barrier to entry for most MTGO players.  In a minute we’ll take a look at some cheap Modern decks and discuss which are best for players buying in today.
  • Convenience: As we noted in the last article, there are 39 Standard Daily Events per week, which means about one DE every four hours. In contrast, there are only 26 Modern events per week. The Modern two-man and eight-man queues fire regularly, though those are lower EV than DEs. In paper, Standard and Legacy remain more popular, reducing some of the advantages of portability described above.
  • Cycles: Playing Modern will require you to stay on top of the Modern cycle. Over the past couple years, Modern prices have hit in-season peaks that are 50% (or more) higher than their out-of-season value (check the historical price trends here.) This is great if you are making your purchase out-of-season. But you will need to manage your collection actively in order to avoid losing value at the end of each season. This stands in contrast to Legacy, which has no regular cycle and which we’ll discuss next week.
  • Reprints: This past year, Wizards has cycled through a series of flashback drafts on MTGO. These have had a dramatic short-term impact on many of the Modern staples. Lorwyn/Morningtide and Shadowmoor/Eventide flashbacks over the past two weeks have created strong targets. As a player/investor, I see these flashbacks as an advantage because they allow me to target cards on the cheap, allowing me to build playsets and increase my bankroll. However, it does mean that you’ll need to stay on top of things in order to maximize your value.

In years past, the Modern season online has corresponded closely with the season for Modern PTQs (in paper and online.) However, earlier this year Wizards announced the suspension of online PTQs until server stability issues are addressed. If online PTQs don’t return in time for paper PTQ season, online Modern prices should be muted, and we won’t see the peaks we’ve become accustomed to.

The good news is that Wizards scheduled several zero-ticket-entry “test” events this week to test “new tools and processes” they are putting in place for PTQ and MOCS events. I expect we’ll see MOCS and PTQs back soon, but even if they don’t return in time for Modern season, it’s clear Wizards wants to see Modern succeed.

I would not be surprised if they bring in some special Modern events, like Gold Queues or other special events, to bring some of the Modern buzz to Magic Online. I also expect we’ll see another Modern Masters flashback draft before or during Modern season, which will allow Wizards to monetize the growth of the format.

Coming soon to a server near you?

Today is a pretty good time to buy into Modern. Modern peaked on March 21, shortly after Pro Tour Journey in Nyx featured Modern as the constructed format, but has fallen 10% since then. The paper Modern PTQ season (feeding Pro Tour “Huey”) starts June 7. Once JOU release events wrap up we should see a steady climb by the Modern index through the summer.

Choosing a Weapon

Modern decks range widely, with competitive decks ranging from 100 to 1000 tix. The main drivers are the mana base (fetches being a major component) and a few chase cards. For the price of a playset of Tarmogoyf or Lily you could build most decks in the format.



Here are some deck options grouped by cost:

If Cost Is Not an Issue

RUG Flash            1030.15

B/G Rock                   964.93

URG Tarmo Twin     711.22

Melira Pod              628.31

Tier 1 Decks with a Tier 2 Price Tag

Gifts                             596.48

Aggro Loam               571.97

UWR Control            530.92

U/R Twin                    448.06

A lot cheaper than Tarmo Twin, and with several potent variants.

W/U Control               576.70

Blue Moon                   545.23

Affinity                        409.54

Would be budget if not for the 4x Mox Opal, which comprise half the cost.

U/R Storm                    345.34

Storm rewards extensive play and skill--and costs half as much of many Tier 1 decks.

R/G Tron                      372.72

Tron decks run from dirt cheap to moderate. Different versions share many core cards.

Scapeshift                   378.14

A nice target since the expensive cards (Cryptic Command, Scapeshift and Flooded Grove) are depressed.

Modern Decks With Standard Price Tags

The decks in this tier are especially attractive because they provide Tier-1.5 power at a fairly modest price. The ones in bold are good to target because many of the core cards are “on sale” right now due to flashbacks. If I were new to Modern I'd probably start with one of the decks in this tier.

U/R Delver                   275.19

Very popular lately--easy to build, fun to pilot.

Bogles                        285.94

Dirt cheap except fetches, Leylines, and Daybreak Coronet (which is on sale because of flashbacks).

Ad Nauseam            257.04

Living End                224.89

Key pieces like Living End and Fulminator Mage are "on sale" right now because of flashbacks.

Nyxwave                      287.45

Merfolk                        216.16

Boros Burn                   178.03

Amulet Pact                188.99

This is a powerful deck and includes many cards that will rise during Modern season.

Dredgevine                 239.71

W/U Timewalks           171.67

True Budget Decks

These are rogue strategies or sub-optimum builds that are not top tier but can still be competitive. Mono-Blue is probably most likely to put up results from this tier.

Death and Taxes              154.40

Martyr Proc                       112.20

Soul Sisters                       59.54

Mono-Blue Tron              69.85

One of the cheapest decks to put up consistent numbers in DEs.

Mono-Green Infect            56.36

Mono-Red Aggro               38.46

Finding a Deck for You

As you can see, there are lots of options, and price need not keep you from playing Modern. The most important thing, of course, is to find a deck that you enjoy playing. Life is too short to play decks you don't like. If you have any experience with these budget decks--or have some good options that I missed--please let us know in the comments.

Keep your seatbelt buckled. Next week we take on Legacy--and the impact of Vintage Masters.

- Alexander Carl (@thoughtlaced)

2 thoughts on “Insider: Virtually Infinite–Options for Going Modern

  1. Great article as always, can’t wait for the next one:). Now here are my 0.02$
    1. For most decks you mentioned fetches compose for more than half of their price tag. Although some of them would be almost unplayable without them, decks like Storm or U/R delver can function pretty well without them. Also, i don’t think adding 8 fetches would improve your chance of victory enough to earn back that 200$ you would end up paying for them.
    2. I cannot stress this enough, before you buy into any format, look if you have any chance of playing it! I recently bought remaining pieces of block reanimator only to discover that in my timezone only block DE are either late into night (11 pm), ubelievably early (4am) or accessible only on weekends (1pm, although i don’t know if my wife would be happy that she has to do all the shopping, cooking and cleaning while i play).

  2. Thanks Simon! To respond:

    1) Absolutely, fetches are a big part of the cost of most of these decks. You can do without them, which will give you a budget version of the deck that is not as consistent. If you can afford the investment, fetches are a good place to put your money, since a reprint is very unlikely in the short term and future appreciation is likely. That $200 is a lot, but don’t look at it as a pure cost–it’s an investment that you will recoup when/if you ever sell.

    2) This is a very good point. It’s unfortunate that the timing is locked up like that…my condolences to your wife 🙂

    Good luck in the queues!

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