State of Modern: 2021

Michael Rapp Modern

As 2021 comes to a close, this is a nice time to sit back and reflect on the past year in Magic. Over the last year, Modern has had some memorable moments and big shakeups. Before we start looking forward to 2022, I’m going to look back at some of the defining events of this year, and share my feelings on Modern as a whole. 

Banned List Shakeup

In February, Modern was turned on its head by a laundry list of bannings. The back half of 2020 was dominated by Simic Midrange decks fueled by Urza, Lord High Artificer, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary. After months of being the clear best deck, Simic lost Mystic Sanctuary, Field of the Dead, and Uro to bannings. This effectively blasted the deck into the sun, opening the door for another deck to claim that top slot.

Meanwhile, Tibalt’s Trickery had just been released, and was already causing issues by casting Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn as early as turn two. Because of the way the deck was constructed, it was easy to mulligan into Violent Outburst, because with 52 lands in the deck, you were nearly a lock to have three lands on turn three. 

There have been many points in Modern’s history when I thought Simian Spirit Guide should have been banned, but oddly enough, this past February wasn’t one of those times. Regardless, I agree with the decision to ban it, as it would have powered out something broken again at some point. 

Modern Horizons 2

On June 18th, Modern as we knew it would change drastically. Modern Horizons 2 ushered in a whole new era of Modern filled with plenty of powerful cards ready to take over the format. In my opinion, Modern Horizons 2 was the single most impactful event of 2021 with regard to Modern. The list of cards that see extensive play is incredibly long. Ragavan, Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Esper Sentinel, Solitude, Fury, Endurance, Murktide Regent, Dauthi Voidwalker, Sanctifier en-Vec, Urza’s Saga, Dress Down – the list goes on and on. The original Modern Horizons had its power level issues, with cards like Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Arcum’s Astrolabe getting banned, but Modern Horizons 2 seemed to strike a better balance. I would expect Modern Horizons 2 to continue to shape the landscape of Modern for a good bit of time to come. 

Paper Magic’s Triumphant Return (Vegas)

In November, ChannelFireball put on MTG Las Vegas. It was the first event even remotely resembling a Grand Prix since early 2020, not to mention the first large paper Modern tournament in well over a year. It felt so good to be back in a tournament hall, to see people who I hadn’t seen in almost two years, and to feel like competitive paper Magic was in fact returning. This event gave me and many other players hope that, despite the uncertain future of Magic organized play, there will continue to be paper tournaments of some magnitude of importance. 

Best decks of the year

Modern metagames tend to move rather quickly, but sometimes decks are good enough that they really stick around. I want to highlight some of the most dominant decks that Modern has seen this year.

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After the wave of bannings that took out Simic Midrange and Tibalt’s Trickery, Heliod Company stepped up to take the throne of Best Deck in Modern. Heliod got to play as a real beatdown deck that had a combo finish baked in. Heliod, Sun-Crowned with either Spike Feeder or Walking Ballista was an infinite combo, provided that they had at least two counters. The real strength of Heliod is that the combo was very resilient to removal. Heliod itself is an indestructible enchantment, making it incredibly difficult to remove from the battlefield. Walking Ballista with three counters made your opponent need a pair of removal spells to try and kill it. Conclave Mentor and Auriok Champion could put a third counter on Spike Feeder with relative ease, also making the combo hard to break up. It wasn’t until Modern Horizons 2 brought Prismatic Ending to Modern that Heliod would be unseated. 

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Izzet Blitz was another pre-Modern Horizons 2 all-star. Not only was the deck incredibly fast, capable of killing by turn three with ease, but it was also deceptively good at going long. Stormwing Entity and Bedlam Reveler both represented powerful threats that had card advantage stapled to them. Unfortunately for Izzet Blitz fans, Modern Horizons 2 would completely change the look of blue-red decks in the format, bringing about Izzet Murktide.

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Hammer Time is a deck that many of you are likely familiar with, as it is still one of the best decks in Modern. Hammer Time is blisteringly fast with the ability to outright end the game on turn two. However, thanks to Urza’s Saga, Lurrus, and Esper Sentinel, Hammer Time can grind deceptively well. 

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Izzet Murktide is the first true tempo deck Modern has seen since the 2018 versions of Grixis Death’s Shadow. Ragavan, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Murktide Regent built the creature core of this deck from the ground up. In fact, nearly half of the spells in this deck are from Modern Horizons 2, which gives the deck a relatively high floor. 

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Elementals was one of the most dominant midrange decks that Modern had seen since Simic Midrange. It’s no surprise that a large number of cards in Elementals come from Modern Horizons 2. The evoke Elementals with Ephemerate proved to be an absolute mountain of value. Combine that with Omnath and Risen Reef, and it was nearly impossible for any fair deck to keep up after turn four. 

Modern has changed a lot over this year, and I think by and large it is for the better. I think the February bans were definitely warranted and improved Modern. In my opinion, when Modern is clearly a one-deck format, it loses a lot of format identity. 

Modern Horizons 2 is on my list for best designed sets in recent memory, and the current Modern metagame is among the healthiest it has ever been. Even now, about a half a year later, there are still new innovations being made to existing decks, which is amazing to see as a Modern fan. 

It has been a wild year, all things considered, but looking back has been a blast! I’ll catch everyone in 2022!