It’s been nearly four months since I last played Modern, and in that time, the metagame has evolved quite a bit. So much, in fact, that I have nearly no experience playing against many of Modern’s current top decks. That lack of knowledge has me feeling a bit disadvantaged, as I prepare to re-enter my local Modern scene.
However, I’ve taken breaks from Modern before – and I have a system for learning as much as I can about the current metagame, recent updates to my deck, and how my deck matches up against the field. I’m going through this “Modern reorientation” process right now, and I figured it might be helpful to formalize it – so others can learn how to quickly catch up on Modern, too.
First, Review the Current Meta
When catching up on any competitive format, the very first thing I do is click over to MTGGoldfish’s metagame page. MTGGoldfish is kind enough to track not just top deck percentages, but also individual tournament results. I like to review both, prioritizing the top ten listed archetypes and the results from the last month or so’s high-level tournaments (I don’t prioritize MTGO League results, though I tend to look at the last couple batches).
When reviewing MTGGoldfish’s info, I look for:
- The list of top-performing decks that I should be attempting to beat. This will likely inform my deck selection and construction choices (especially sideboard choices) later on in the process.
- Top decks that I do not know very well. For example, from the picture above, I know that I have not played against the Bant Urza or Bant Snow Control decks that appear there. I’ll plan to learn more about those decks later.
- Changes to decks that I thought I knew well. For example, from the picture above, Amulet Titan has changed greatly since the last time I played against it. I also add these decks to my “learn more” list.
- Where my deck(s) sit in the current metagame. Thankfully for me, it appears that Grixis Death’s Shadow (and other Death’s Shadow variants) are performing fairly well. They’re not winning a lot of tournaments, but they’re holding their own.
How to Learn More About Unfamiliar or Updated Decks
At this point, I have a good sense of what the overall Modern metagame looks like, as well as which decks I need to learn more about before heading to my local tournament. To learn more about those decks, I usually watch gameplay videos from the following sources:
- StarCityGames’ Twitch Channel, where they store videos from their Modern tournaments.
- ChannelFireball’s Modern videos.
When learning a new (or updated) Modern deck, I prefer watching videos to reading text content. I find that I learn more watching an unfamiliar deck in action than I do reading about how it is supposed to work. I also like to hear experienced players (or commentators) talk through their in-game decisions and thought processes, as there’s a level of depth and nuance to those discussions that is often missing from (or buried deep within) primers and other sources.
That said, if I can’t find video of a certain deck in action, I’ll certainly attempt to find a text primer in the Modern subreddit or elsewhere online.
Remember, Your Local Shop Might Not Reflect the Meta
If you play Magic only locally, the above advice is still good to follow – but you might not reap the benefits of learning about new or unfamiliar decks right away. Local metagames can be slow to change, and many players choose to keep playing their favorite deck over the latest meta-killer.
When choosing and constructing your deck, it’s always best to prepare for the decks you’re most likely to see. In some areas, that means you need to be prepared to face the latest competitive Modern decks, every time you play. In others, you could be wasting your time (or worse, actually hurting your chances of winning your local tournament) by adjusting for the “professional-level” metagame.
That said, reviewing the latest decks is usually fun, anyway – and if it’s been awhile since you last played Modern, you might be able to surprise your shop by showing up with a new deck that they’re unprepared for.
Then, Choose a Deck
Now that you’ve reviewed the current Modern metagame, you’re ready to attack it. For those with access to more than one Modern deck, this means it’s time to choose your deck.
Personally, I have access to only one Modern deck currently: Dimir Death’s Shadow. But in the past, I’ve had access to Dimir and Grixis Death’s Shadow, Storm, Esper Gifts Ungiven, Blue Moon, Jeskai Tempo, and Izzet Delver variants (among others). Of those decks, only Death’s Shadow seems to be doing well recently, and Shadow is the deck I enjoy playing the most. So while I’m locked into Dimir Shadow right now, these are the factors I usually consider when choosing my Modern deck:
- Will the deck be fun to play?
- Is it performing well in the current metagame? (Or if it’s not a popular deck, do I think it will perform well?)
- If not, is there any way to adjust the deck so that it does perform well?
- Do I have all the cards I need for the current version of the deck?
- Could I see myself winning a local tournament with the deck?
Note that, as a casual-competitive player, I prioritize fun over competitiveness. Even if 8-Rack was the best Modern deck, and someone gifted me all the cards I needed to play it, I’d play Izzet Delver first. I also believe that players play better when piloting decks that match their play style, which is why I prefer to pilot (mostly tempo-based) Blue decks over others.
Possibly the Most Important Deck Choice Consideration
Whatever your own deck selection considerations, just remember that it’s likely best to play a deck you know well when stepping back into Modern after a long absence. You’re already going to spend a good amount of time learning what your opponents’ decks do – so you’ll want to know your own deck as well as possible. That way, you can spend your in-game mental bandwidth figuring out how to beat your opponent, not figuring out how your own deck works.
And Finally, Review Your Deck’s Recent Updates and Play Patterns
After you’ve chosen a deck, you’ll want to learn exactly how it matches up against the decks that you’re likely to play against, as well as how your deck has changed in the time you’ve been away from Modern (if it existed beforehand).
If your deck (or a variant) is popular, you’ll be able to find a ton of up-to-date primers, recent tournament reports, and even videos of your deck in action online. A quick Google or Reddit search should point you in the right direction, with additional resources (including noted streamers and even Discord channels) flowing from there.
For example, I popped in to the Death’s Shadow subreddit while writing this post and found this excellent primer on fighting Simic Whirza – a popular deck that I don’t have much experience playing against. I read through this and several other threads in the Death’s Shadow subreddit, hoping to learn more about how my Modern deck has fared in the last four months.
Then, I clicked over to MTGGoldfish again and found the Grixis Death’s Shadow archetype page. From there, I looked through the most recent high-performing Grixis Shadow lists, noting main deck and sideboard choices that I’d not seen before.
For my purposes, it looks like I could benefit from picking up one to two Drown in the Loch, an Ashiok, Dream Render, and possibly some Damping Spheres – though none of those cards seem like essential upgrades. My existing sideboard options will likely perform fine during my first week back to Modern. And after I see what my local metagame looks like, I’ll be able to iterate from there.
The Very Last Step
Finally, if I have time and there are some available, I like to watch recent videos of my deck in action.
Recent videos of your specific deck can sometimes be hard to find (especially if you play a homebrew or rogue deck). But seeing someone else pilot your deck and hearing them explain their deck construction and in-game choices can be invaluable. I’ve picked up lots of little tricks and learned about a variety of weird interactions watching Death’s Shadow videos online, and I find that they make great lunch hour viewing (especially the afternoon before a tournament).
Welcome Back to Modern
If you don’t have time to do everything above, don’t worry. You can always just show up and play in your local Modern tournament, using whatever decks you currently have, and learn about new cards and decks as you go.
But if you have time to prepare, the process above should get you ready to play Modern again. And with knowledge of the current metagame, your own deck, and the new cards you need to know about, you’ll be in good shape to win games against decks you’ve never seen before.