Friday, October 7, 2016

Buying Into Modern

Buying into Modern can be an overwhelming prospect. For many players, it happens after a few cycles of playing standard. A favorite card rotates out, or the price of keeping up with standard becomes too much and players look to make a foray into a non-rotating format where they can cast Siege Rhinos until the end of days. Players constantly ask, “How do I get into Modern?” But there is no tried and true method to getting into Modern. Some people will say collect staples low and then worry about a deck, others will tell you to buy the deck you want to play. Personally, I prefer the latter approach, but I don’t think there is a “one size fits all” approach, so we are going to talk about the pros and cons of each.

Buying Staples


There is a lot of intrinsic value to Magic. People like to own stuff. It is in our hoarding nature. I think that is the beginning of the appeal of buying staples, just having stuff on hand. Opening up your binder and seeing a play set of Path to Exiles and Lightning Bolts makes you feel good. But beyond that there is an upside to collecting Modern playable staples, the price. With products like Modern Masters, Conspiracy, and Commander products hitting shelves at different times throughout the year, it is possible to get some really good deals.
Inquisition of Kozilek is a 4-of in any midrange black deck, a very quality card to pick up on the cheap and it was recently reprinted in Conspiracy: Take the Crown. On August 26th, release day for the new Conspiracy set, Inquisitions were going for $5.95. There was a lot of speculation around CN2 that the card prices in the set would tumble because of the unlimited printing run, and because of that many players were shying away from investing in them. But the price of Inquisition has slowly risen from that release day low. And at $10, the current price of Inquisition is a far cry from the $25 that we saw earlier this year, which is something to take note of. A savvy investor, or a player looking to get into Modern, could have walked away with a playset of Inquisitions for less than $30. With so many reprints taking place each year, it is easy to pick up cards while the prices are in lulls. A lot of players like older arts or newer arts or older frames or Future Sight printings, but if you are less picky, and just interested in owning the cards so that you can take part in the format, buying these reprints can really get your Modern collection started in a hurry.
After the release of Modern Masters 2015 in May of 2015, there have been five supplemental products released including Commander 2015 and FTV: Lore. The following modern staples have been reprinted in those sets:

  • Eternal Witness
  • Eldrazi Temple
  • Inquisition of Kozilek
  • Birds of Paradise
  • Beast Within
  • Serum Visions
  • Heritage Druid
  • Wrath of God
  • Wall of Omens
  • Young Pyromancer

If you bought all those cards, what you would have is a pile of cards and no deck, but you would have saved quite a bit of money (compared to buying them before the reprint). And while this might not be the sexiest list, all of these cards have seen high level play in the 2016 calendar year in Modern in large events. If they languish in your binder, then you have wasted your money. But if you can turn them into cards that you will play (whether by putting them in decks or trading them for cards that you put in decks) then it is money in the bank.
Through the fall and into next summer, there are three more supplemental sets: Commander 16, Planechase Anthologies, and Modern Masters 2017 that promise to bring the prices on other staples down to recent lows. If you want to build your Modern staples collection, start paying attention to products like this when the spoilers come out. Getting deals on cards like Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, as well as commons and uncommons like Lightning Bolt, Gitaxian Probe, and Kitchen Finks will save you a lot of money.


The huge drawback to this method is that you have no deck to play at FNM. Sure, you have banked a lot of value by constantly hunting for bargains, but what you have is a binder full of modern playable cards and not a deck. If the end goal is to get to the table with a deck, buying staples when they are at their lowest prices isn’t going to get you there. At some point you are going to have to turn that value into 75 cards that you can play. Which means you are going to have to trade or buylist them, which really sucks (I am going to go into why trading sucks in a later piece. It is worth a whole article).
Getting from these value cards to a deck can take some serious time and probably a lot more money (There is always going to be that ONE card in the deck that no one has for trade). And waiting to finish a deck can keep you on the sideline when you are trying to get into the Modern game. Those factors are less than appealing to a player who really just wants to play. It also takes a long time to build a collection like this. With the exception of the Modern Masters sets, most supplemental sets will have two or three modern staples (if that). At that rate, it is going to take you several years to gather a collection of any substance.

Buying A Deck


I love the Modern format. Some people will say it is too fast, some people will say it is too linear, but I love it. I love playing Modern, I love thinking about Modern. It is a non-rotating format wherein you can buy a deck and come play now or three years from now. The large card pool creates a lot of different synergies, and the lack of rotation makes you feel a little better about investing.
But the first step to getting into the format is having a deck to play. Sure you can borrow a deck from someone for a few weeks to get your feet wet, but eventually, they are going to want to play that deck or need something out of it. Having your own deck just feels right. You can explore card choices and tune the sideboard to your meta game. Nothing is quite as rewarding as having the absolutely correct sideboard for an event. You get total creative control over the deck. This upside cannot be undersold.
Maybe you want to make Grixis Delver-less Delver a thing at your LGS, or maybe you think Stitchwing Skaab is Dredge’s next break out card. When you own your own deck you can do whatever your heart desires. You can make whatever pile of cards that you like, and once you can get it tuned, you can make a reasonable showing.
But the main pro of owning your own Modern legal deck is playing the game. No matter where you are, there is a chance that an LGS is having a Modern event sometime that week. Vacation, business, visiting family, someone nearby is playing Magic. I have snuck away from more than one family reunion to sling some cards at a local LGS.


Now, owning a deck can come with some serious downsides. You are going to have to commit some money to playing Modern. Getting Dark Confidants and Arcbound Ravagers isn’t going to be cheap. And life demands moderation. If you are on a budget (as many of us 20 somethings are), it is hard to spend $200 on cardboard. But if you are already dedicated to playing Magic, you know the costs that are involved. You know that those overtime shifts are going to help you get your Modern deck together a week faster. But, in this regard, Modern feels almost like a safer investment with your money, as there are fewer changes in individual decks from cycle to cycle.
I think the major drawback with buying your deck outright is not loving it. It is easy to play test a deck a lot, (using MTGO, borrowing from a friend, using XMage or Cockatrice) but there is a different feel to playing your deck in paper, and sometimes you just don’t love it. Maybe it is because of the meta game at your local LGS, maybe it is because the deck doesn’t run quite the way you thought it did, or maybe you just get burnt out. But the sad truth is that sometimes you pick something up, thinking the play style is right down your alley, and it isn’t.
I recently walked into this exact trap with Burn. I traded for some Eidolon of the Great Revels, and thought it might be fun to have Burn together, after all it is a format staple. I have been playing Jund for awhile now and I wanted a change of pace in terms of decks. But, as it turns out, that change of pace I was looking for was not Burn. The deck frustrated me to no end. It felt like I was dying with opponents at 1 in roughly 1000% of games.
Now, most of that is on me. You can’t just pick up a Tier 1 deck and expect to win three-quarters of your games. But I just felt wrong playing Burn. That is a hard feeling to overcome. When you have put hard earned time and money into a deck, it is hard to just not like it. It feels like you have let yourself down. But sometimes that is just the case, and while it is always rough, it is something you have to overcome when you take this route.

So, now that we have walked through the pros and cons of each way of buying into the format, there is one inescapable question: Which method is better? Unfortunately, I am totally going to take the easy way out on this one. I think it is a little bit of both. Sometimes it is easier to just collect staples on the cheap. In areas with active trading scenes and a scarcity of cards, this method can really generate some value, and you can put a playable pile of cards together in a fair amount of time. But there will still be cards you have to go on TCGPlayer to get.
And sometimes it will be easier to just buy the exact cards you need for the deck. It is a more direct approach to getting into the format. While it will cost you more money upfront, having a deck and polishing it is a very rewarding experience. Either way, just get out there and get involved, there is Magic to be played.


  1. I'm looking forward to your trade article. I hate trading, and I don't know how people will hold out months to trade for an inexpensive card. Just spend the $4 for the playset and be done with it!

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