The Standard changes – It’s all good… until the next Jace, Telepath Unbound. Then it will be terrible.

Quickly chiming in on the change from a 5-6 set Standard to a 7-8 set Standard – but mostly from a financial perspective.

A side note – all prices are US dollars unless specified otherwise. Where I don’t have accurate USD prices (specifically for 1990s historic prices), I’ve used prices in Australian dollars and my best recollection of the exchange rate at the time.


It’s not really possible to say whether this will make the format more or less interesting. I’m optimistic, but time will tell. It will depend upon the metagame, and also the presence or absence of cards (cough, Collected Company) that single-handedly transform the environment.

Generally speaking though, Wizards have been pretty good at creating interesting synergies across blocks and I expect this will continue.

One thing needs to be said though.

Just like the recent MTGO redemption changes, this is going to make Standard more expensive for paper Magic players, and this price increase will be most prominent on the most expensive cards.

Before explaining this, I want to introduce what I term the Tarmogoyf effect, named after the first rare in Magic’s history to hit $45 during its Standard tenure.

Future Sight wasn’t well regarded at release. Tarmogoyf was the most underrated card since Umezawa’s Jitte, and many of the cards that later became Modern powerhouses weren’t seen as anything amazing at the time.

But about six weeks after the set hit the shelves, people realised the little green dude was absurdly strong. He went from bulk rare to semi-chase rare, to chase rare ($20 was typical for a chase rare at the time), then kept growing in price to an unprecedented $40-$45.

This resulted in the Tarmogoyf effect – people kept buying Future Sight boosters in the hope of opening the $40+ little green man (even though opening FUT boosters was still a negative EV lottery at the time). Future Sight sold out faster than most sets from distributors and stores loved it, because customers loved buying lottery tickets.

Wizards learned from this, and reshuffled rarities around as soon as possible after they learned from the Tarmogoyf effect. The whole Alara rarity structure was designed to ensure that the next time R&D fucked up and printed something broken, the Tarmogoyf effect would be much more pronounced. And what happened? JtMS hit $100 in its Standard tenure.

Again the Tarmogoyf effect ensured that WWK sold out everywhere in record time, despite a cracked booster not actually having all that high an expected value at the time. (The dual lands that are now high $ cards were not all that expensive at the time – the set’s value was tied up in Jace and SFM, but mostly Jace).

Wizards were not in a position to fully capitalize on the Tarmogoyf effect here as they screwed up and didn’t reprint WWK enough. But they learned. They always learn.


Jump back to recent times, before the two recent changes.

Consider Jace, Wallet Unbound, as the extreme outlier of a Standard card. There was a perfect storm of factors that made it so expensive:

  • Large set (larger than usual for a large set – JVP was 1 per 126 packs, compared to Liliana the Last Hope at 1 per 88, or Chandra, Torch of Defiance at 1 per 121)
  • Underdrafted set (ORI was only drafted alone)
  • For a period, the card was a 4-of in around 75% of decks by metagame share.
  • A low mana cost and not dead if you drew multiples.

JVP hit $90-95.

Many people ask “How did he get so high?”. I want to answer a different question – why didn’t he go higher?

After all, dealers pay about $2 per pack (it’s not exactly that and a bit over $2 for smaller stores, but let’s call this $2). 126 packs cost $252 – why would dealers accept only 40% of that sum for Jace when he was the only card in the set that was super-easy to sell?


The answer was two factors.

One – more relevant to this morning’s announcement – was that at his peak, Jace was 9-10 months from rotation. Magic players do not like spending large amounts on cards with under a year’s Standard tenure left. Players are generally bad at the economics of Magic – but they perceive that buying cards that are far from rotation is better value than buying ones close to it. So the 9-10 month factor suppressed demand somewhat – and this morning’s announcement means this will not happen for the next Jace.

Two – MTGO redemption. Paper dealers had an alternative to opening cases – they could buy complete digital sets of ORI on MTGO from MTGO dealers for about $133 (at the peak) and then pay $25 to turn them into paper sets. This method of arbitrage allowed many individual dealers to source hundreds of copies of JVP at a price that was lower than cracking cases. This would be less of an impact today due to the limited redemption window – and for Jace, his price explosion would have been too late for redemption to rain it in.



At peak, Jace was 60% of the wholesale value of a redemption set (the most efficient way to source the card). Without redemption, if the 60% remained constant, he would have had to be $150 (60% of the wholesale price of 126 boosters). The 60% assumption may be an exaggeration, but $500 a playset would have been likely even before today.

Now add in more demand because of today’s announcement and you have an even worse perfect storm.


I’ll jump in with something about a counterveiling factor that many hope will suppress prices – Masterpieces. I think the Masterpiece effect is being overstated.

I played when Urza’s Legacy hit and introduced foils, and the hype was incredible. Foils added over $1 to the expected value of a cracked booster, with bulk foil commons worth the retail price of a pack, and bulk foil rares (yep, even trash that’s worse than Champion’s Helm) were AUD35 (USD20 at the time).

The hype ended, but people kept opening foils in new sets. Foil Urza’s Legacy sets that were lovingly hand-collated at a cost of over $2000 hold nothing like that value today, and today, foils in typical sets add around 20 cents to the EV of an opened booster.

I expect Masterpieces will fade away somewhat in time, and much of their EV share will come at the expense of pack foils and low demand casual cards, rather than cards with Standard competitive demand.

The cards that lose the value in Masterpiece sets will not be the extreme chase cards (Polluted Delta, Mana Vault) but will instead be the next tier of cards (Godless Shrine, Sol Ring, Cascade Bluffs). Mediocre to bulk foil rares once held values of AUD35-50 but this lasted only five sets. The last time I was excited to open a booster and see a shit foil rare was Prophecy – even a couple of sets later, by Planeshift, the demand was just gone. I expect Masterpieces to follow the same trajectory.

I hope to be proven wrong on this point. Time will tell.


In summary: Today’s announcement will make Standard more expensive. Players will need cards from more sets, increasing the barrier to entry to the format, which everyone already realises, but additionally, the most undersupplied cards will see larger price spikes than in recent history.

If Wizards’ present policies (Masterpieces, Redemption and 21-24 month Standard tenure) had all been in place when Origins hit, I expect JVP would have smashed the $100 barrier and maybe even hit $125-150.

MTGO’s ‘Treasure Chests’ and competitive online play

Weighing in on another controversy here.

There’s a lot of unease or even doom and gloom about the MTGO prize changes.

I’m not someone who jumps on board every MTGO change. At the time I was quite hostile to the introduction of Play Points, although MTGO later added enough PP sinks to allay my fears.

That said, I think the Treasure Chest system is actually fairly positive overall – with caveats and room for improvement.


I’m not talking about the redemption changes here, other than a three paragraph aside (skip ahead if you want to avoid a rant). While I disagree with the prevailing opinions on the Treasure Chest system, the redemption changes are a steaming pile of shit that will enrich speculative traders at the expense of Standard players.

In the short term the redemption changes will also seriously hurt the high-volume low-margin bot chain traders that (in the absence of a good in-client MTGO trade system) serve as the lubricant that makes MTGO so smooth. Dealers like MTGOtraders, Goatbots, Clan Team and Cardhoarder have the largest collections on MTGO, and so changes that reduce consumer confidence in the MTGO platform (and hence reduce the secondary market value of Event Tickets in USD) hurt them more than anyone else. If tickets fall from USD 0.98 to USD 0.92, this might cost my collection USD 200 but might cost Goatbots USD 10000 or more.

Many people think ‘I never redeem so this doesn’t affect me’, but people that played MTGO when Zendikar was the newest set know how much restrictions on redemption fuck over players that have never redeemed a set and have no plans to ever do so. Those players saw their collections lose a third of their value during the redemption freeze.

But that’s enough ranting for now.



On MTGO, any prize that is available from Constructed events can and will flood the market unless it is desirable in extremely large quantities. As an example, Theros boosters spent much of their second year in Standard valued at around 80 cents.

It wasn’t that people didn’t want Theros packs. Drafters destroyed them all the time, even after the focus moved on to KTK drafts. Theros still had some cards that were in considerable demand and after FRF launched, it had a higher EV than KTK packs.

But there had just been too many of them awarded for drafters to absorb them all.

The most common reaction to Treasure Chests is to assume the same will happen. I dispute this. The very high rarity of the most desirable cards will prevent this happening, even with a large number of Chests being paid out as prizes.


So far the only information we have on Treasure Chest contents is the announcement, plus a video of Lee Sharpe opening ten of them.

The announcement states the following:

  • Specific rares (e.g. Snapcaster) are twice as common as specific mythics (e.g. Godsire) in the ‘Modern legal rare slot’ found in some treasure chests.
  • Curated cards are in different rarity tiers and there is no information on these tiers.
  • You get an average of 1.25 of the ‘good items’ (Modern rares/mythics, bundles of PP, curated cards) per chest, with a minimum of 1, and an average 1.75 of the ‘chaff’ (Standard commons/uncommons).

In the ten opened chests, Lee gets 2 curated cards, 6 modern legal rares/mythics, and 50 PP. While this is not enough information to determine the rarity of each of those prizes, I will make the assumption that this prize pool was fairly typical, and so will assume the following distribution:

  • 50% of the ‘good items’ are Modern rares/mythics
  • 35% are 10 Play Point bundles
  • 15% are curated cards.

This distribution would make the probability of opening a specific Modern rare (for example, 8th Edition Ensnaring Bridge) at around 1 per 5000 Treasure Chests. 1 per 10000 for a specific mythic (for example, Magic 2012 Time Reversal).

There is not enough information to determine much about the rarity of individual curated cards. However, given Wizards’ past practice with PZ1 (the most similar set conceptually), it’s reasonable to estimate that the most desireable curated cards will be 5 times as rare as the non-chase ones. (For example, PZ1 True-Name Nemesis, a mythic, is about 5 times as rare as PZ1 Arcane Sanctum, an uncommon).

If this is accurate, it’s plausible that Rishadan Port is 1 per 15000 to 1 per 20000 Treasure Chests.

This won’t trash the card’s value overnight like the Lion’s Eye Diamond reprint did (that card fell from 183 tickets to 60 with a promo reprint of only 2000 copies, then down to 12 with VMA).

To get 2000 copies into circulation would require of the order of thirty million treasure chest openings. MTGO is bigger than people think, but it is not that big.

Expect a price impact that is more like the effect that Zendikar Expeditions had on the existing cards on MTGO – ultra-low supply cards like Kor Haven and Dust Bowl did fall, but even low supply cards like Horizon Canopy and Cascade Bluffs were not impacted much.


Expected Value and Variance of Treasure Chests

Most analysis of Chests has been predicated on the assumption that the chests are worth almost nothing. This is wrong.

Expected Value is a term used to describe the average results of a random event, ignoring variance. For example, roll 3 dice and add the numbers showing, and your expected value is 10.5 (even though you cannot get exactly 10.5 at all, and the probability of getting exactly 10 is 12.5%, with exactly 11 also only being 12.5%).

For example, when Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy was 94 tickets, he added 0.75 tickets to the EV of opening an ORI pack, even though over 99% of ORI packs did not contain a copy of the card.

Variance can be ennumerated via a statistical term called the Standard Deviation, but I won’t go into that here other than to state that variance on Chests is very high.

The EV of a chest under my above assumptions is given by:

  • 0 value for the chaff (Standard commons/uncommons). It’s not technically 0 (you might get a Reflector Mage) but it’s close enough to be just a rounding error.
  • 1.25 ‘good items’ – that’s 0.625 Modern rares/mythics; 0.4375 bundles of 10 PP, and 0.1875 curated cards.
  • Each Modern rare or mythic has an average value of about 0.7 tickets (thanks to the guy on Reddit that determined that 0.8 tickets dealer sell price is the average at present – his post is here). This may seem hard to believe as a large majority of Modern legal rares are less than five cents. But the EV is propped up by the large number of 5+ ticket cards in the format and in particular by the 20+ ticket cards you will rarely see.
  • So the Modern rare/mythic slot contributes about 43c to the EV of a chest.
  • The PP slot contributes 44c under our assumptions.
  • Finally the curated cards can’t be estimated because we do not know their relative rarities. The mean value of a curated card ignoring their rarity weighting is about 5 tickets (thanks to BenBuzz790 on Reddit for this information), so I will estimate 2.5 tickets once we factor in rarity weighting (which may be miles off but it’s the best estimate we can do for now). That puts the curated card value also at around 45c.

So under these assumptions the EV for an opened chest is actually $1.35. The assumptions could be wrong, but I don’t see these errors tremendously changing the overall EV.

Once more the variance is high. Not as high as entering an Origins draft was back when Jace was 94 tickets, but it is still high, and it will not be rare to open 8 chests and to find the best things you got were 20 PP and an Anger of the Gods.


EV of events

Under the assumption that chests are worth 1.3 tickets, the ‘friendly’ events have the following absolute EVs at various win percentages:

50%: -10.6 PP

55%: -1.4 PP

60%: +8.15 PP

65%: +18 PP

70%: +28.4 PP


And under the further assumption that boosters are worth 10 tickets per draft set (an assumption made because of the draft entry fee changes occurring at the same time), the competitive events have the following absolute EVs:

50%: -13.5 PP

55%: +14.8 PP

60%: +46.3 PP

65%: +80 PP

Because the competitive events have better competition I will not give figures for 70%. That win rate is not sustainable.

Note that this provides a strong incentive for good players to get out of the kiddie pool and to swim with the sharks. This is definitely a good thing for MTGO’s future as it helps people who aren’t yet at an elite level play weaker opponents while getting tournament experience.



Improving the Chests

The four things I think Wizards should do with the Chests to make them more appealing are:

  • Make the damn things tradeable. Some people find a thrill in variance, others hate it. Let people make their own decision on what level of variance they will tolerate. Otherwise you will get a flood of rants from people that win 16 chests and open pure shit in them, and these people will speak louder than the people that open 3 chests and get a Port and a Liliana.
  • Publish transparent rarity information on everything in them. I helped Goatbots design the EV calculator after stopped being updated, and it is a tool that a lot of people use. Magic players like to know the odds and are usually suspicious of any situation in which they do not know the odds.
  • Consider replacing some of the PP ‘consolation prizes’ in casual leagues with fair amounts of Chests. I think everyone that enters a friendly league should get a consolation prize of a chest instead of the 10PP consolation prize you get for a 0-5 record.
  • Reduce some of the complexity in explaining what you get in them. I don’t see any need to have the 1-in-200 possibility of triple ‘prize’ packs – this should just be rolled into a better chance of getting a double prize pack.

Anyways this is pushing 2000 words now so I’ll leave it there and will respond to Reddit comments and comments on this site over time.


  • sirgog


Kaladesh Standard – First Thoughts

I’ll preface this by saying these thoughts are theorycrafted only, not tested.

Smuggler’s Copter is arguably the strongest Kaladesh card, and it can fit into any strategy that plays small creatures.

This card will dramatically affect the power of Planeswalkers in Standard.

Almost none of the Standard Planeswalkers can defend themselves or their controllers against a flying creature that is not a creature during the Planeswalker’s controller’s turn. Nahiri is an exception.

This means that Walkers other than Nahiri are much more vulnerable in the new Standard than they used to be.

Sorry, Liliana. You had a great ten weeks in the centre of attention, but you aren’t there any more.

Ob Nixilis and Big Sorin in particular are looking a lot worse. They can still kill a crew member, but often the Coptor’s controller will just cast a new creature – almost every creature will do – and then proceed to get revenge against the Walker.

If you want to play Walkers, you will need actual flying creatures to defend them, and/or quite a bit of instant speed removal.

I also think that the mythic vehicle, Skysovereign, may see play as an occasional curve topper. This card will also mess up Walkers like there is no tomorrow.

For this reason I believe the coming Standard will be the Standard where Walkers have the least impact they have had in the past ~9 years that the card type has existed.


Interesting times.

The Fundamental Rules of Magic, Part 2

This continues on from, which is worth reading first.

Every year, a few cards are printed that are much more powerful than they initially appear. Treasure Cruise, Gurmag Angler, Nahiri the Harbinger – each of these cards was initially dismissed by most players, and then became a major Constructed card.

Two of the three (Cruise, Angler) I correctly identified as Constructed powerhouses early. This is because of my methodology – looking at cards through the prism of several fundamental rules of Magic. Any card that obeys all of these rules is inherently fair, and will not be in the upper echelon of Constructed cards in the larger formats.

Any card that breaks one or more of these rules must be taken seriously, even if it looks terrible. Those cards may simply be too expensive for a format, or the support for them might not yet exist, but they should remain on your radar.

The first two Fundamental Rules of Magic:

1) Cards cannot impact the gamestate unless they have been drawn. This was discussed in Part 1.

2) Players have reliable access to at most X+1 mana on turn X, except for turn 1, where they are limited to 1 mana. Exceeding this limit requires extreme investment of resources.

The Second Rule isn’t as fundamental as the first rule.

In Vintage, it’s not true at all – you have access to various ridiculous mana artifacts from the ridiculously broken Black Lotus, Sol Ring and Mana Crypt, to the slightly less broken (but still ridiculous) original Moxen, and a lot of less powerful cards that still break this rule in half.

Vintage is balanced around the assumption that the Second Rule does not apply, and the presence of Force of Will and Mental Misstep in the format as 4-ofs serves as glue that keeps the format from totally breaking.

However, in the other formats it holds much more true.

Cards that break it – Simian Spirit Guide, Dark Ritual, Summer Bloom – are all cards that allow backbreaking lategame plays or outright game-ending plays to be made earlier in games than is the standard for the format in question.

For that reason, any card that breaks this rule – no matter how terrible it might seem if assessed in a vacuum – must be taken seriously.

Corrollary to the First Fundamental Rule of Magic

This refers to the following article:

The Commander format allows you to take any legendary creature and make it break the First Fundamental Rule.

This is the primary reason that Commander, when played with a Spike mindset, is such a fundamentally broken and combo-dominated format. Not only does your Commander break the First Fundamental Rule by starting the game effectively in your hand, but each time it is dealt with it breaks this rule again, albeit at a lower rate.

Commander still works fine when everyone at a table goes into a game without building their decks to win. If one player wants to grind value with boardwipes and Gearhulks, while another tries to ramp toward the biggest and silliest Dragons from Magic’s history, and a third seeks to cast spells that cause battlefield chaos, Commander can still be fun.

It’s when people push at the edges – which Spikes are always looking to do – that the format breaks apart.

After all, if Prossh is your Commander, Food Chain is a one-card combo that creates infinite Storm, and infinite mana (restricted to creature spells), and infinite board presence. Any card that can tutor for Food Chain is also a one-card combo.

It would do a lot for Commander to partially restore the First Fundamental Rule by restricting players to casting their Commander from the Command Zone at most one time per turn.

Comments on the state of Modern

Modern as a format has some issues. But in the last year they have become a lot worse.


From Wizards of the Coast’s perspective, Modern’s primary reason for existing is to provide Standard players the illusion (and historically the reality) that the expensive cards they are buying for Standard will have some future use.


This isn’t really true any more. Since print runs dramatically increased a few years back, the only truly expensive card to have its value propped up by Modern demand has been Voice of Resurgence. Powerhouses and format staples like Thoughtseize and Wooded Foothills are too common to hold serious value.


However, the illusion is there that Modern will ensure that a Standard collection doesn’t become worthless after rotation. This player confidence matters a lot for Wizards’ business model.




Modern is starting to fall apart. Recent design trends have seen proactive threats get better and better, while defensive answers become weaker. Additionally, several decks that attempt to overload on one strategy (Infect and pump spells; red hyper-aggro with burn; Zoo hyper-aggro with Death’s Shadow; the metalcraft artifact aggro deck that is colloquially known as Affinity despite playing no ‘Affinity for Artifacts’ cards) have reached a critical mass where the fundamental turn of the format is now about 3.75.


There’s also a fair number of decks that are one or two card printings away from becoming extremely good. While all-in mill (with Archive Trap, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Hedron Crab and Mind Funeral) is at best a casual deck to take to FNM right now, I firmly believe that one more high-quality mill spell being printed will push it into the upper echelons of competitive play. I was saying the same thing about Dredge a year ago.



Compare Modern to Legacy.


Modern’s best interactive cards against an unknown field are Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile – one mana answers that eliminate opposing threats at tempo gain. Lightning Bolt does so at card parity, Path to Exile at card disadvantage in the early game, and virtual card parity in the lategame (when the land is irrelevant).


These two cards are better at protecting a winning position than they are at pulling you back into a game where you are behind. There are few feelings worse than a burn player saying “Bolt your only blocker. Swing with Guide and Swiftspear. I cast Atarka’s Command choosing Lava Spike and the team buff, any responses?”


On the flip side, Legacy has a number of interactive cards that are mostly mediocre when you are winning, but are outstanding when you are behind.


Force of Will. Misdirection. Pyroblast. Flusterstorm. Swords to Plowshares. Or the criminally underplayed Pyrokinesis and Abolish.


For zero or one mana, all of these cards can turn around a gamestate where you are losing badly, and get you back into the game.


These cards are also the reason that Goblin Charbelcher is not a big force in the format despite being the deck with the highest percentage of turn 1 and 2 kills using Legacy-legal cards.




Some say that the answer to Modern’s woes is better card selection. Adding Preordain and/or Ponder back into the legal cardpool (or even more dramatically, adding strong tutors like Enlightened Tutor to the cardpool) would indeed allow players to play smaller numbers of narrow hate cards to beat the hyper-focused decks.


But here the cure is worse than the disease. Better tutoring – whether from card selection cantrips or from actual tutors – would significantly strengthen combo. And combo has a lot of powerful offensive interaction available to it – cards like Pact of Negation – that become far stronger when they can be reliably found when needed. Adding Legacy-level card filtering (or even going halfway) would create new monsters worse than the current Burn/Affinity/Suicide Zoo/Infect format.


And that’s not even touching on Force of Will, or its little brothers Daze and Mental Misstep.


Yes, FoW is the glue that holds Legacy together, but in Modern it would be much more at home in Affinity countering Hurkyl’s Recall, or in Storm protecting a Pyromancer’s Ascension. Mental Misstep and Daze would love to protect a Death’s Shadow from Path to Exile, or to protect a Blighted Agent from a Lightning Bolt.


What Modern needs, more than anything else, is strong zero and one mana defensive interaction, that is maindeckable, useful against a variety of decks, and far weaker at defending a winning position but strong when you are behind.


Some cards like this already exist, but they are not good enough. Condemn and Oust don’t get there. Porphyry Nodes, while extremely strong, is not enough on its own. Sunscour often goes 3-for-3 at a tempo gain, but requires too much of a commitment to white cards and is often uncastable.




The heroes Modern needs are reprints of two fringe-playable Legacy cards.


Pyrokinesis and Abolish.


Abolish encourages playing less fetchlands, answers every hard lock piece in Modern (Ensnaring Bridge, Worship, Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void), buys a turn against Affinity, and most importantly does so even when you are locked out of casting spells.


Pyrokinesis is everything Sunscour wishes it could be, and is fast enough to kick Affinity, burn, infect and maybe even Death’s Shadow Zoo.


Those cards would provide the tools Modern control needs to have a chance against aggro and aggro/combo decks. This then allows control to keep combo in check.


These cards are safe to print into Standard – Abolish would do nothing, and Pyrokinesis would be a good card but unlikely to seriously influence the format, just like Dispel and Negate have been.


Both were originally printed as cycles, but that doesn’t matter. Cards can be reprinted out of the context of their cycles – for precedents, see Leyline of the Void, or the most recent reprint of Liliana Vess.


I’ve wanted these cards in Modern for some time, but with the current state of the format it is more urgent than it has been before.


Wizards have five options of what to do with the Modern format, and I do not like the first four of them.


Option 1:

Restore the turn 4 rule with a wide swathe of bannings (starting with Death’s Shadow; Glistener Elf; one of Cranial Plating or Mox Opal; and one of Atarka’s Command or Monastery Swiftspear or Goblin Guide). I think most players would find this unpalatable for obvious reasons. Hell, I’m one of the players most sympathetic to using bannings to improve formats and I would find this unpalatable.

This option would probably kill off player confidence in Modern, which is a bad thing for Wizards’ bottom line.


Option 2:

Acknowledge that Modern is now a turn 3.5-3.75 format, and unban accordingly. Unban cards that are bad or not oppressive in such a format (Umezawa’s Jitte; Splinter Twin; Ponder; Preordain; Stoneforge Mystic; JtMS; BBE; Seething Song; maybe even Sensei’s Stalling Top) and just let the format rip.

This might work – but it would make it harder for new cards (such as Nahiri) to break into the format. This makes it harder for Wizards to grow the format, and risks it losing its appeal to Standard players who see some of their collection rotating.

Retaining players who lose some of their collection to rotation is critical to Wizards, and so I don’t see this working for them. Additionally I’m not sure that a faster Modern would be fun – the existing menaces going away doesn’t necessarily result in a healthy format either.


Option 3:

Reboot Modern.

Let Modern go the way of Legacy (little to no Wizards support) and introduce a new format, perhaps with cards from Innistrad and up, or RTR and up, or even M15 and up. I’ll call this hypothetical format POMO (for POstMOdern).

POMO might be a good format, and in the longer term it could serve the same role Wizards want Modern to serve. But the short-term lack of confidence from the enfranchised Modern playerbase would likely hurt Wizards badly.

I do not endorse this option. But if it is to happen, there will be warning signs – Wizards intentionally fucking up the Modern format via printing cards that warp the format, and/or via shock bannings that undermine confidence in the format. Wizards did something similar when they killed off Extended – they changed the format legality rules creating a horrible format, then announced a while later “Players don’t like Extended, we are killing it”.


Option 4:

Let Modern go as-is, with minimal or no changes. Let players abandon it.

Again, I cannot support this option. Modern is in a bad state right now, but another year of the status quo will probably wreck it.


Option 5:

Intentionally print cards into Standard that will address Modern’s weaknesses; and/or change the rules about supplementary sets and print such cards there.

This is the solution, IMO.

I pointed out Abolish and Pyrokinesis as Standard-safe cards that would have a huge positive impact on Modern.

There are other possibilities too. At the safer end, Pulverize and Cave-In. At the riskier, Misdirection, Flusterstorm or Submerge. All of those provide powerful defensive interaction at 0 to 1 mana.




Modern is not dead like Extended was. It may not even be dying, and dying isn’t a quick process anyway.


But Modern is seriously sick. It’s time to fix it.


  • sirgog

The Fundamental Rules of Magic, Part 1

This is going to be a series of articles that are aimed at making you better at card evaluation.

Every year, a few cards are printed that are much more powerful than they initially appear. Treasure Cruise, Gurmag Angler, Nahiri the Harbinger – each of these cards was initially dismissed by most players, and then became a major Constructed card.

Two of the three (Cruise, Angler) I correctly identified as Constructed powerhouses early. This is because of my methodology – looking at cards through the prism of several fundamental rules of Magic. Any card that obeys all of these rules is inherently fair, and will not be in the upper echelon of Constructed cards in the larger formats.

Any card that breaks one or more of these rules must be taken seriously, even if it looks terrible. Those cards may simply be too expensive for a format, or the support for them might not yet exist, but they should remain on your radar.


The First Fundamental Rule of Magic:

1) Cards cannot impact the gamestate unless they have been drawn.

Dread Return is one of perhaps five cards on the Modern banned list that is never, ever getting back into the format, and Unburial Rites is a solid card in Modern.

This isn’t because returning a dead creature to the battlefield is too powerful an effect – Zombify and Resurrection both do the same effect for 4 mana, and Makeshift Mannequin does so at instant speed with a modest drawback.

Dread Return and Unburial Rites are so strong because a number of cards (most notably the Dredge mechanic, but also others like Gifts Ungiven and Quiet Speculation) allow you to get them into your graveyard without ever having to draw the card.

Of the two Dread Return is the stronger, not because sacrificing three creatures is a lesser cost than paying 3W (it generally is not), but because the incredibly hard-to-spell card Narcomoeba exists and has such synergy with it.

Dread Return and Narcomoeba (and Bridge from Below) are examples of cards that break this fundamental rule, by being able to have an effect on the gamestate without ever entering your hand or costing you a draw step. In Modern this interaction is so strong that it is not possible to have both Dread Return and Narcomoeba legal, nor is it possible to have Dread Return and Bridge from Below both legal. Consequentially Dread Return is banned in the format.


Some examples of other cards that break the First Rule. Notice there is a lot of Dredge here:

  • Raven’s Crime.
  • Life from the Loam
  • Demonic Tutor. DT (and other tutors) don’t break the First Rule by themselves. You must draw your tutor for it to impact the gamestate. However, it allows your other cards to break the First Rule in exchange for the mana cost and possibly other costs (such as life and/or card disadvantage) of the Tutor you use.
  • Panglacial Wurm. Notice that this card is still terrible, because in the formats where it is legal, there are not many gamestates in which paying 7 mana and a fetchland activation for a 9/5 trample creature is worth it.
  • Deathmist Raptor. This card can get into your graveyard at little to no cost, and is often better there than in your hand.
  • Soul of Innistrad. Don’t laugh – this guy is at the heart of many ‘not-good-enough-to-be-viable-but-almost-close’ combo kills in Legacy, and will undoubtedly see play if Hermit Druid is ever unbanned. All of these kills involve putting your entire library into your graveyard, then casting Ice Age forgotten enabler Songs of the Damned (possibly with the help of Recoup), then using that mana and exiling the Soul and put three creatures from your graveyard into your hand to win on the spot.

To summarise: Cards which are “live” in zones other than your hand or the battlefield should always be taken seriously, especially if they have efficient effects in those zones.


Late edit: I’ve added a little corollary to this rule in a new post,, which talks about how this rule affects the Commander format.


  • sirgog

Magic, and the Fundamental Theorem of Poker

Ask experienced Spikes what the most skill-intensive card to play with or against in the history of Magic is, and you will usually get an instant that costs 3U as the answer.

Many will name Fact or Fiction.

Others will name Gifts Ungiven.

I agree with the Fact or Fiction people, but that argument is not what this article is about. This article is about applying poker theory to Magic.

Notice something about these cards? Both are extremely powerful, having long and proven histories in Standard, Modern or Extended, and even in Vintage once. Both are high impact cards and resolving one can decide the result of the game.

Both require high-stakes decisions to be made with incomplete information, and both have extremely high skill ceilings.

The results of the decision are sometimes immediately obvious – a player with a lethal spell on the stack splits a Flusterstorm against four non-counterspells, and the Fact or Fiction caster takes the 4 cards and then casts Mana Drain from their hand. Congratulations, you just got played.

But other times it does not become obvious who made the correct decisions until other decisions have been made, several turns down the track.


On the flip side, ask a less experienced player the same question, and they will usually name a Planeswalker. Planeswalkers also require high-stakes decisions to be made by both players, but because the hidden information aspect is less important to the card, the newer player can see more of the decision.

Games are won and lost on decisions to -3 or +1 Jace, Telepath Unbound, or whether to attack the Walker or the controller, but the players involved usually know if their decision was right or not quickly. This means they can identify the crucial moments of the game more accurately, and so more often associate them with the Planeswalker.


The highest skill ceilings on cards seem to come from those that require players to act on hidden information.

Compared to top players of other games, Magic players are terrible at doing this.

In Magic, hidden information is never totally hidden. It’s hinted at by decisions both players make. This should influence both how you play against acknowledged skill tester cards like Gifts, but also against cards that have nothing openly to do with hidden information.

As an experiment, play mirror match games against an opponent who plays with their hand revealed, and watch how often you win. If you normally split games with this opponent, it is reasonable to expect a 70-30 or better win record.


Poker players have a rule called “The Fundamental Theorem of Poker”.

I’ll quote it verbatim.

“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

This is every bit as true in Magic as it is in poker.



Hidden information doesn’t just matter when the Spike conventional wisdom says it does – during the resolution of spells like Gifts Ungiven.

You should treat every card you play as a skilltester card, and always look for unexpected opportunities to puzzle together clues to hidden information, and to use them.

If your Modern opponent is visibly unhappy with their 6 card hand on the draw, but then undergoes a significant release of tension upon their Scry 1, that should tell you something. Maybe it’s time to do something really unusual, like ‘Scalding Tarn, mainphase crack for Island, Thought Scour you’.

That’s not the reason Thought Scour was in your deck – you play it to fuel your own Delve spells so you can deploy a threat like Tasigur for almost nothing. But your goal should be to play as close as possible to how you would play if you could see all hidden information your opponent has, or previously had, access to. And you have strong reason to believe that your opponent’s top card completes an otherwise incomplete hand.

Just as in poker, you want to be looking for hints your opponent drops about hidden information all the time, not just during big decisions.

You will never completely achieve this goal, but you can work toward it.

  • sirgog

Introducing MTGBrainstorm

Hello all!


This site is being published to post strategic insights related to the Magic: The Gathering® trading card game.


Unlike larger sites that try to keep up with every minor metagame shift, it is my intention to post infrequent but more timeless articles. I work full time in a job with nothing to do with Magic, and this is a side project for me.


I started playing Magic in 1995, and shifted from a paper player to an MTGO player between 2005 and 2010. I now solely play online, but do follow paper news and events.


I’m a Spike at heart, but a Spike that feels the urge to innovate and that is willing to try off-the-wall strategies to try to make them work. I’d rather lose and improve from the loss than win and stagnate, and I’m at my happiest when winning with something the opponent never sees coming.


  • sirgog



This concludes the first article. Obligatory legal crap (sorry, important reading) follows.


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