Modern Musings: The Modern Pro Tour

Hey everyone, and welcome to another Modern Musings! Now that we’ve gotten Pro Tour: Ixalan out of the way I wanted to take a second to examine what’s next for the pro tour.  Specifically, I wanted to talk about Pro Tour: Rivals of Ixalan.  I know it’s pretty far away, but this next Pro Tour is special because it’s the first Modern Pro Tour since Eldrazi Winter last year, and the first since WOTC said they weren’t doing any more Modern Pro Tours.  So this week I thought I’d talk about why Modern stopped being a Pro Tour format and why it seems to be making a return now.  

 

Why Modern Pro Tours Disappeared

There were two reasons that I could see why wizards eliminated the Modern Pro Tour:  

  1. It didn’t encourage the purchase of magic cards from the new sets.
  2. Having a Modern Pro Tour inevitably makes Modern worse.

 

First up is the money issue.  Wizards of the Coast has one key way of making money: selling packs of Magic cards.  It’s what drives their entire business model for Magic: the Gathering.   Long ago Wizards of the Coast realized that they couldn’t just keep selling packs of the same cards all the time, so every couple of months they released new cards to keep the game fresh and generate more revenue.  To further incentivize players to buy packs they made their premier tournaments restricted to only their most recently released couple of sets (Standard). Some players got tired of having to buy new packs all the time and preferred to play with older cards, so WOTC offered some tournaments that allow older cards—enter Legacy and Extended (now Modern).  Recently, Modern has exploded in popularity and started to rival Standard in terms of availability of play (exacerbated recently by a series of very bad Standard formats).  

This presents Wizards of the Coast with a problem; because Modern contains such a large card pool, the decks are fairly optimized, thus it’s relatively difficult for cards from recent sets to see play in Modern.  This brings us to our second reason why Modern Pro Tours disappeared.

Having a Modern Pro Tour inevitably makes Modern worse. One potential solution to the problem mentioned above is to make the cards in the most recent set powerful enough to compete with the existing card pool in Modern.  While we should see some cards in every set that can impact Modern, we saw what happens when a single set is so powerful that it creates an entirely new archetype (Oath of the Gatewatch for Eldrazi).  A side effect of this strategy is that Standard would be power-creeped considerably if they weren’t careful.  

Printing more powerful cards is out, but another potential solution is to change up the banlist.  We actually saw this happen in the banned and restricted announcement just before Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.  In the article “Where Modern Goes From Here” Aaron Forsythe talks about the reasons why Modern should no longer be a Pro Tour format. One of the reasons stated is that to keep the format interesting and fresh they would need to ban or unban cards. The problem with this is that it creates a sort of anxiety in the player base, never knowing if their cards are safe to invest in or not. Imagine buying a playset of a card for $200 only to have it banned in the next announcement.  It’s not a good feeling, and can lead to a lot of resentment from the player base.  It can even cause people to leave the format, or possibly the game entirely.  It would also probably create an extremely volatile 3rd-party market, damaging the game as stores become more reticent to buy any good cards (at reasonable prices) in Modern for fear they might be banned.  This would most likely lead to inadequate supply and more unstable prices.

 

The Return of Modern Pro Tours

 

So, if Modern Pro Tours are that bad for the game, why are they coming back?  As best as I can tell it’s for a couple reasons, though they are speculative:

  1. Wizards of the Coast has decided that showcasing Modern at the Pro Tour will drive their supplemental product lines enough to offset not showcasing the most recent set.
  2. Modern is diverse enough that it doesn’t need shakeups from bans or powerful new cards to stay interesting.

It seems as though this move could be hinting at more supplemental products for Modern in the future, though it’s also possible this was a PR move in response to the call from players to reinstate it as an official Pro Tour format.    

 

Are you excited about the return of the Modern Pro Tour? Let me know what you think in the comments, and join me next week when we get back to some good ol’ fashioned brewing.

 

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