Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Arcane Sanctum. To say it has been a long time would be a gross understatement. There was a lot that happened since I last wrote an article, and today I’m going to cover all of it. So let’s get started.
I want to apologize to everyone who has supported my writing in the past, and who have looked for new articles from me since. I feel like I let you all down, and with how things got to me perhaps they did. I also know I let myself down during this time, and it was getting to that understanding which helped me come back to the blinking cursor on my screen.
As much as I do not play Standard, even on Arena, I do play Modern. A lot. Not only is it my favorite format, but it is a format I foresaw coming at least a year before it was announced. Modern allows me to not only play some of my favorite archetypes, but my favorite cards in those archetypes. The power level of these cards formerly in Standard are also powerful enough to even see play in Legacy doubling my chance to play with these favorite cards of mine.
Until Modern Horizons 2.
I was looking forward to this set (although not as much as the Adventures In the Forgotten Realms set which was…disappointing) reading every preview article, and watching every stream about it I could find as well as make time for. During the WeeklyMTG stream on Twitch Aaron Forsythe helped preview the Elementals with Evoke (such as Grief, and Solitude). He stated that the format has become faster with each subsequent Standard (or Premier) release, and that Modern needed faster answers. While I was not a fan of Grief this made sense as Modern had decks such as Izzet Prowess (Blitz), Dredge and Burn that won rather quickly. We were also still in a global pandemic so play in stores wasn’t back at the time (and we’re still in a pandemic now, but this time in store play is allowed *shrugs*) so the only data about Modern was through play on Magic Online. When a format becomes too fast having answers that meet those threats can help, and make a lot of sense, however when that happens eventually the threats have to outpace the answers to avoid the format becoming too stale.
…and this is what happened. The very next day after that stream. That is when this was revealed.
It broke me. The fact that WotC would release cards like the elementals to answer the format as it currently stood, and then turn around the next day wiping out that progress with just one card was bonkers. It did not take much to tell this was definitely pushed. Too far. Too damn far. As much as I really did not like the Companions, and still think all of them need to be removed from Magic for how much the game has been altered by their forced presence, this card from MH2 was at the top of my hate list. A list I never thought I would make. There are cards to dislike, think that are broken, or need addressed, but hate? That’s the emotion this card brought out of me. It started showing up everywhere. Forced into every deck “just because” with no reason beyond that. During this time people were too busy talking about how we should be glad that cards like Karakas, and Doomsday were removed from the set before it was finalized. However I was worried that this 2/1 for one red mana was going to cause problems for Magic, and not just Modern. I have called this the second coming of Deathrite Shaman, and when you think about it that comparison is spot on. There are those in the community who think this card is “fine”, however just ask the Legacy players who thought their format could absorb this card if it is fine. I’m sure they’ll mention other problematic MH2 cards as well.
My concerns soon began to feel less like criticism, and more like anger. Or just being a bitter old man. I have been correct so far in all other cards I have called problems in recent years that were banned: Oko, Thief of Crowns; Krark-Clan Ironworks; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; and Arcum’s Astrolabe. However this was different. This was going to change a lot, and for a product line like this it should not cause the Upheaval that it does.
The Modern Horizons sets were supposed to boost the power in underperforming decks to help provide more options when (competitive) players build decks for tournaments (assuming outside of FNM), however that has not been the case. Jund, Azorius Control, Boros Burn, Amulet Titan, Tron (both Mono Green, and Eldrazi variants), and Death’s Shadow decks (for example) had moments at the top of the metagame before both Modern Horizons, and Modern Horizons 2, and after each of those releases as well. This time though, with the release of Modern Horizons 2, things have changed.
If one is wanting to compete in Modern with Azorius Control, for example, one (according to those who play competitively) can not play cards such as Snapcaster Mage, Force of Negation (which is only a few years old), or Cryptic Command. The format now revolves around the newer cards from the Modern Horizons sets, as well as the recent Standard (Premier) sets released between them. You can play the older cards in the current meta, at your local FNMs, but you have an uphill battle. You could also run into situations where you lose to the current decks, and completely crush the kid playing some $50 artifact centric brew. Neither scenario is fun, nor feels like time well spent. This was an experience I had recently. What makes this worse is if you don’t have the older cards now suddenly needed for the maindeck. So not only was your investment of the three cards I mentioned above now a waste (about $400 as I write this), but you needed new cards as well as old cards new to the deck. It’s one thing to pay an upkeep cost with new cards, but to acquire other cards while setting aside cards you worked hard to acquire was too bitter of a taste for me to swallow. Especially when one is foiling their decks. Like I was (more on that later). On top of all of this I started to feel like I did not have a voice anymore. I feel as if players who play just at FNM, and have no desire to make a run at the Pro Tour (assuming this is something that will return in the future) not only do not have a voice but are left with the following options: 1: Continue to lose with your brew and be discouraged to the point you stop attending your local FNM. 2: Suck it up, and buy a deck in the current meta. Also make sure to be ready for the upkeep cost when the meta is shaken up by a brand new set. 3: Quit. “Casual Magic” should not be relegated to Commander players, and those who play at their kitchen table. There should be an avenue for those who casually want to play, not compete at, Magic. Compared to real life Magic is not my battleground, nor one that I should make into a battleground to stress about. I know this experience isn’t for everyone, but when “pros” are helping design and/or test a set essentially what we are being told is they tell us what cards to play. One of the best parts of this game, or perhaps was a part of it, is the ability for anyone to create a deck of their own choosing (if that is what they want). Currently the only place where this can be done is Commander, and yet lately there are “must run” cards showing up in that format. Why? No one should be forced to play a certain way just because a new card has hit the market. No one.
I began to hate playing Magic. I had already stopped writing because the game was not fun anymore (especially due to it’s obvious forced direction towards “play/pay to win”). I believe in my heart of hearts that Wizards of the Coast does not need to try so hard, like they did with Modern Horizons 2, to push new cards for us in order to gain sales. I updated one of my decks to the new meta, begrudgingly, and hated every second of it. I drew my line there. None of my other decks would receive any unnecessary updates. My bitterness from my online posts then began to spill over into playing, and when I noticed it I stopped going to play Magic altogether. It was already bad enough that I often felt like the only one wearing a mask when playing (and I hate wearing one), but the fact that I was always behind in not only play but also with my collection, right upon set release, was something I did not handle well. So I withdrew. I eventually came back to playing, but it took a lot for me to make the effort at first.
…however this is not where the problems truly began.
Where the problems really began.
It wasn’t until recently where I began to address the core issues that lead up to this. While a lot of them were related to Magic some of them were not, and sharing them here not only will allow me the means to address them myself, but maybe help one of you reading this with things going on in your life.
For a few years I was writing articles on various websites. Many of you who have followed my work know that I have been writing for several years, and that after a few sites went belly up I made my own Word Press page. Eventually this hard work led me to write for a store known in the community, and be paid for it as well. Sure it was store credit, but I was finally able to take what I love about the game, put it into words, and receive something tangible in return. Even during a pandemic this was happening, and it was great. I was able to use that money, instead of my income from my regular job, to buy cards I needed. Along with moving into a house in 2020 life was feeling good even when considering the struggles the pandemic has caused. I did not take it well when it first hit. My employer sent all of us at our site to work from home permanently, and my connection to people (not just my co-workers) was severed. Even though my family is all in town it would be 8 months before I would see any of them. I never dealt with this. Perhaps due to my focus on work, on writing, and my (then newly created) podcast. I have a bad habit of putting things off, and should not have done that.
Then the paid writing gig stopped. Cold turkey. No explanation was really given, and as much as the content manager for that store tried to get one he never did. It’s really a shame as he was my biggest fan appreciating all of my work, and letting me know if there was some issue with a link or a typo that I could fix before publishing an article. Our working relationship was great, and we still have great conversations online to this day. Hopefully our paths will cross one day so I can say “thank you” in person. I even tried calling the store, posing as someone else to find out why this happened, and never really got a reason as to why things stopped. They still owe me $100 in store credit, and I can’t use it as their website is still down (has been for over a year). It’s not on my conscious though as I’m not the one that owes me. I chose to sever my relationship with them in order to move on, and let it go. Maybe I shouldn’t have. It didn’t help that the Companions were still legal in the game. They really have harmed the overall health of the game now, and going forward.
Money. The root of all evil.
I screwed up. Everything. Or that’s what I tell myself. Often. It took me a long, long time to come to this understanding too. Sure I have a house, have been married for over 25 years, raised a child who is out on her own doing great things, and even adopted a dog (see why I don’t feel the need to “compete” in Magic?). I’m holding down a job that allows me the ability to do the things I enjoy outside of work, and I have great friends (whom I recently played D&D with too which was great). However it still does not mean mistakes have been made. You see I have no savings. I am in my mid-40s, am crawling out of some serious debt (not counting the house), am not in the best of health (which I am working on), have my own mortality on my mind, and have aging parents (who have their own health issues). When thinking of all of that my Magic collection looked like wasted money, and in many ways still does. My bitterness towards the new cards grew to become bitterness towards myself via self reflection. “Great! Now I have to find a way to get Chalice of the Voids because of MH2″ or “I worked hard to get Bloodbraid Elf unbanned just to see it discarded over these new MH2 cards?” were constant talking points. Both online in Magic conversation, and with myself. How could I justify staying with Magic in any format after this? Was this how my time with this game would end? I have told my wife on more than one occasion that if she were to play I would leave home less. I don’t remember how I engaged with the game before my first FNM (back in 2006). Maybe she likes the fact that I do get out of the house, but I truly wish we would play. I would damn near give up going to stores just to play “Kitchen Table Magic” with her. She hasn’t played regularly since Interrupts became Instants, and since then Magic has felt like a lonely hobby at times. I do enjoy it, and have met wonderful people through it, but it would be nice to share my enjoyment of this game with her (plus I wouldn’t have to put pants on!). My cards felt like a waste of money, and I began parting ways with many of them.
Things then turned for the better.
After parting with a lot of my cards I was left with the one group of cards I probably should have sold first: my foils. You see I made my online identity based on my love for original pack foils. No reprints. If a card was first made available in a booster pack in foil then it was on my list to acquire. By the time 2021 started I had the following Modern decks 100% foiled:
· Azorius Control
· Boros Burn
· Death & Taxes
· Dredge (with the exception of 5 fetchlands)
· Golgari Elves
· Izzet Storm
· Mono Green Tron
My goal was to be able to have enough decks, and keep them up to date, in order to run an event for friends. There have been times I have loaned decks out while at FNM, but to have a gauntlet to test with (or just have fun with) was something I desired. However with the recent power level of cards, plus coming to the realizations of things I have done, I began to see this as a big mistake.
I am fortunate with my job that I have every bank holiday (here in the USA) off and paid. While I like those short weeks the amount of work needing done makes up for it the following week. I have had plans to dig myself out of debt, and had things scheduled to be paid off if I was patient, and focused (two flaws I have, and still do). When working I’ll usually have music playing, or a movie, or may watch YouTube videos. I always find something to not only provide me entertainment, but also use as a means to progress through the day, A 30 min video launched at the right time might get me to my lunch break when it ends (for example). Recently on one holiday I access YouTube and find these finance videos seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t search for them prior to this day, but something in it’s algorithm must have brought them to my attention as suggested videos. Once I found one from a creator that made sense I spent nearly 2 hours watching one video after the next, and taking notes as I moved along, until I could not hold anymore information. It was then that not only did I know I was in deep trouble financially, but what I was doing was not sustainable. As fate would have it within a week someone at my local game store (LGS) asked me as I was unfoiling my Breya, Etherium Shaper Commander deck: “do you have any foil Thoughtseize“? That was when the dam broke, and for a week I would take a few cards up at a time until all of my Modern cards (in a deck or not) were unfoiled, traded in for store credit, or sold for cash. Once that week was done I was able to pay off my car, and a loan I had, getting myself ahead by 6 months to a year from where I originally had planned.
I still have a long way to go (perhaps another 3 years from now), and by then I would almost immediately have to focus on getting this house paid off well before I hit retirement age. Along the way will be a lot of the normal upkeep costs that come with owning a home. While I don’t have much left to move I could look at my excess playmats. Those may be a lot harder to sell. However I am definitely in a much better spot than I was just a mere 2 months ago.
During these last few months I have been taking part in other hobbies. Even though we may not gather regularly I am DMing for my friends (taking them through Lost Mines of Phandelver). It’s been a long time since I DMed Dungeons & Dragons, and this is my first time doing so with 5th Edition. I’m glad they are having fun as that is the focus. I also picked up a Nintendo Switch using some rewards as well as my bonus from work. As much as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was great my favorite system of all time is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). I have a lot of fond memories playing great games on that system for more hours than I care to imagine. Now it’s in the palm of my hand. When I want it, and I can play how often I want as well. I also have been picking up more Masterpiece Transformers. Some from Takara, the official company of Masterpiece Transformers. Some from third party companies such as FansToys, MMC, and X-Transbots among others. Transformers is my favorite non-Magic IP, even over Star Wars, and collecting them has been a lot of fun.
Then there is of course my dog. My wife & I adopted her a year ago when she was 6 months, and I would not change anything at all. She has definitely been a highlight of my life, and I would not change a thing. In fact the nights I did not play Magic I spent with her and my wife. We would play fetch with our dog outside, take her for walks, or just relax watching TV. These moments were a lot better than stressing out about making optimal plays, proper side boarding, or having a deck built for a metagame that currently is mostly (if not only) represented by data on Magic Online.
Understanding the formats.
Beyond all of this I finally came to an understanding of the Magic formats as they are now. I don’t like it, but here is what I have concluded.
1: Modern is what Standard used to be, and you need to change your decks with every set (and sometimes more than once between sets) in order to stay relevant.
2: Legacy is what Modern used to be in that you are best playing one or two decks, and knowing them inside and out.
3: Commander is the only casual format played at stores. Or at least that is how Wizards of the Coast views it.
4: Standard is dead. All thanks to the Arena format Alchemy, and that abomination is something I may discuss in a future article.
Once I came to this realization I decided to just try to just enjoy playing Magic. Am I playing with the cards I want to play with? No. Will I update my Jund deck with the cards I don’t want to play with? Also no. Will I continue to play Azorius Control as is (without the cards I like) or make changes? Who knows. All I know is that I simply don’t care anymore. I hate saying that, but what choice do I have? I know I will try to provide more constructive criticism going forward, but will I truly be heard, or ignored because “I just play FNM”? Who knows. Only time will tell.
Just like with many things in life there were things I am proud of with what has happened, and things that I am not so proud of. However each moment provides an opportunity to learn, and unlike playing a game of Magic there can be take-backs to do things over again.
Thank you all for reading. If you have any comments please leave them below. You can also reach me on Twitter, and Facebook. Also check out The Astrolab Podcast where Joe Dyer and I discuss Magic: the Gathering, and our favorite shows.
Next time I post an article I will be discussing something I hope will be constructive about the game. At the moment I can’t promise anymore than that, but I can promise more articles going forward. Hopefully I can get back to a regular schedule again.
TAP MORE MANA!!!