Getting Into Modern: MTG

Modern, Magic’s most popular format, shows no sign of slowing down. Originally created by Wizards to appeal to Legacy players’ desire for a competitive, non-rotating format, Modern starts with 8th Edition and includes all sets that have been standard-legal since. This includes sets released in the last year, like Ixalan. Because of the large card pool, jumping into the format can be daunting: 8th Edition was printed in 2003 and there have been 3-to-4 sets released every year since meaning Modern decks have access to nearly 60 unique sets worth of cards. How does one get started with Modern? The best way is just that — to start.

To get started, your first task will be to decide on a deck. Since the card pool is so large, I recommend borrowing cards, or even an entire deck, from friends who already play. This will keep your startup costs low while you learn more about the format. Being able to try a few things out before starting to collect the cards you’ll need for your deck will give you the feel of the format and maybe push you into a particular direction for what deck is the most fun for you.  Whether borrowing is an option or not, starting with one powerful card or core strategy is the best way to go about building a deck. Want to cast some expensive cards? Maybe start with Urza-Tron lands. Want to attack for 10 flying damage on turn three? Affinity and Cranial Plating might be the place for you. Do you want to take all your opponent’s best cards and kill them with a cheap, large creature? Thoughtseize and Tarmogoyf have your back.

Choosing a particular style of deck or strategy will make you safer from format fluctuations and new set releases which can shake up the format as well. For example, if you decided Tarmogoyf and Thoughtseize are the safest starting point for you, then take a look at the two decklists below:


Creatures: 13

4 Dark Confidant

2 Scavenging Ooze

3 Siege Rhino

4 Tarmogoyf

Spells: 24

2 Abrupt Decay

3 Fatal Push

3 Inquisition of Kozilek

3 Lingering Souls

1 Maelstrom Pulse

3 Path to Exile

3 Thoughtseize

1 Engineered Explosives

4 Liliana of the Veil

1 Liliana, the Last Hope

Lands: 23

3 Blooming Marsh

2 Forest

1 Gavony Township

1 Godless Shrine

1 Marsh Flats

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Polluted Delta

2 Shambling Vent

2 Swamp

1 Temple Garden

1 Treetop Village

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Windswept Heath


Sideboard: 15

1 Choke

2 Collective Brutality

1 Damnation

1 Engineered Explosives

2 Gaddock Teeg

1 Lingering Souls

1 Painful Truths

1 Pithing Needle

2 Stony Silence

2 Surgical Extraction

1 Worship


Creatures: 15

4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Dark Confidant

3 Scavenging Ooze

4 Tarmogoyf

Spells: 20

1 Abrupt Decay

1 Fatal Push

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Kolaghan’s Command

4 Lightning Bolt

1 Maelstrom Pulse

1 Terminate

1 Thoughtseize

4 Liliana of the Veil

1 Liliana, the Last Hope

Lands: 25

4 Blackcleave Cliffs

1 Blood Crypt

3 Bloodstained Mire

1 Forest

1 Mountain

2 Overgrown Tomb

3 Raging Ravine

1 Stomping Ground

2 Swamp

1 Treetop Village

1 Twilight Mire

4 Verdant Catacombs

1 Wooded Foothills


Sideboard: 15

1 Abrupt Decay

1 Ancient Grudge

2 Anger of the Gods

2 Collective Brutality

1 Dreadbore

4 Fulminator Mage

1 Golgari Charm

1 Grafdigger’s Cage

1 Nihil Spellbomb

1 Thoughtseize

These decks are extremely similar with lots of overlapping cards, but each one has been better or worse than the other depending on the state of the metagame. Should you decide that Jund is the deck you want to play, but you haven’t been winning as much lately and a card like Lingering Souls could change that for you, then you’re only around 20 cards away from a completely different deck instead of having to change all 75. This is another good thing to keep in mind to keep your costs low and enjoyment high.

Getting Into Modern: MTG

The longevity of the core part of a strategy is usually found in the proactive nature of that strategy. What this means is that if you are casting Karn Liberated on turn three with the help of Urza’s Tower, then it doesn’t matter if your opponent is playing a deck you weren’t prepared for. Choosing a card or small sample of cards that are powerful and give you advantages in the game while forcing your opponent to react will often have more staying power than something like Snapcaster Mage and Mana Leak. With decks like this, you aren’t focused on answering your opponent’s cards: Instead, your focus is on having strong threats. That won’t change regardless of which sets get introduced down the road. Your strategy will stay the same, and therefore your deck will stay largely the same. (This was a philosophy created by David Price. His article can be found here – The Art of Beatdown. This is a very old article, but the theories still hold to this day if you’d like to read a great piece of Magic history.)

Lastly, once you’ve overcome the struggle of making your own deck, do not be afraid to play games. Go to your local store and ask people to play. Find your local Friday Night Magic that supports Modern. The more games of Modern you’re able to play, the more you’ll learn how different cards interact with one another, new ways you should be sideboarding, and how to fight different strategies.

The most important part of this process is to just have fun. If you’re having trouble with a particular match up, rather than getting frustrated, change a few cards in change your decklist to help. If you’re losing to a burn deck, you could put some life gain in your sideboard and surprise your future opponents with some cards you didn’t have last week. This is another benefit of choosing a deck with a core package of powerful cards. You can change a lot of the cards surrounding the main focus of your deck to help in different metagames without losing the reason you’re playing your deck altogether. Just keep trying new things and make sure you’re having fun on the ride. Modern is a format full of powerful, unique things so don’t miss out.

If you’re the type of reader who likes to jump straight to the end or looking for a wrap up of things to focus on, then I’ve got good news for you!


  • Choose a deck with a core game plan that is powerful.
  • Choose a proactive strategy.
  • Get out and play Modern!
  • Don’t be afraid to tweak your decklist.
  • Have fun!


Until next time,

Stephen Ayers

The author recommends:

Getting Into Modern: MTG

Daryl Ayers

Daryl is known for his love of all things Temu and can normally be seen waiting for standard tournaments to end so he can indulge his real loves for both Modern and Legacy. This normally is not the best strategy for a Magic player, but it has proven somewhat successful, resulting in multiple Pro Tour appearances as well as a handful of top 8’s on the SCG Open circuit and Grand Prix stage.

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