What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re gonna talk about one of the strategies that’s been effective in Magic deck building since tournament play’s inception: simply playing all the best cards.

Ever since the creation of “The Deck” back in 1996, players have used a deck building strategy that’s worked for more than 25 years: play all the good cards, and then play cards that allow you to draw cards so that you can see more of those good cards.

“The Deck”, pictured below, functions a lot like current control or good-stuff decks. The goal of the deck was to play the most powerful cards like Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall, and eventually finish the game with an efficient threat like Serra Angel.

There are still decks in every format that aim to achieve this exact same goal: 4-Color Control decks exist in both Legacy and Modern, Niv to Light has been a thing in Pioneer since its inception, and even Standard has a deck focused around Atraxa, Grand Unifier as its primary win condition.

To find out what the best cards are, we’ll take a look at the most popular format on Magic: the Gathering Online, Modern!

Okay, Modern has a LOT of cards. How do you know what the best ones are?

Modern is an extremely efficient format in which every single turn can make or break your game. There are decks like Hammer Time and Neoform that aim to pressure you as early as Turn 1 or 2, but there are also decks that overwhelm you with card advantage and threats so powerful that they see play in Vintage and cEDH!

The first pillar of Modern we’ll cover is Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.

Ragavan (Rags) is great for multiple reasons, and is the most powerful Turn-1 play allowed in Modern. An unopposed Rags, especially on the play, allows players to amass damage, extra mana via the Treasure tokens, and the fact that he’s got Dash invalidates Sorcery-speed removal like Prismatic Ending and Fury! All of these factors combined led to Rags being banned from Legacy, but for now the Pilferer has nimbly evaded the Modern ban list. The best deck in the format, Izzet Murktide, plays Rags as its primary early threat, but other decks like Rakdos Scam, Jeskai Breach, and even some versions of 4-Color Control play Ragavan!

Next up is everyone’s “favorite” card-advantage spell:

Expressive Iteration is one of those cards that people have built decks around the entire time it’s existed. UR to “draw 2” is incredibly efficient, and looks like a card that’s banned in Modern, banned and Legacy, and even restricted in Vintage: Dig Through Time. There have been “pay 2, draw 2” effects in Magic’s history since before I even started playing the game, like Night’s Whisper, but Expressive Iteration has the perfect color combination for pilots in basically every format to take full advantage of the extra cards.

Expressive Iteration is banned in Legacy and Pioneer, but it sees plenty of play in Modern and Vintage in some of the best decks! (Rags is in those decks too, so uh, yeah) Izzet Murktide has been the best deck in Modern for some time now, and even Vintage pilots get to enjoy the shenanigans that are Expressive Iteration, put a good card into your hand, and exile a Black Lotus. Very powerful stuff!

The last extremely powerful pillar of Modern may be one that’s not obvious when you go to think of a list:

The fetch lands provide Modern with an unreal amount of mana stability, synergy, and in other formats/formats of old the fetch lands have allowed for some incredibly broken interactions. Here’s a very short list of the more messed-up things fetch lands allow for in a game of Magic:

– fetches put cards in your graveyard to fuel Delve cards
– fetches allow for near-complete play around cards like Blood Moon
– fetches allow players to use the life loss as a benefit for cards like Death’s Shadow
– fetches allow players to optimize the use of card-filtering effects like Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor
– fetches allow for always-perfect mana, especially with the recent printing of Triome lands

That was nowhere near a comprehensive list of the things that fetch lands allow for, but even this short list shows some wild interactions from effects that have either led to cards being banned, or are currently not even allowed in some formats.

Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are banned in everything/restricted in Vintage due to the ease of casting them with fetch lands. Wild Nacatl was banned from the first iteration of the Modern format because of how reliably fetches made it into a 3/3. Legacy players use Brainstorm with fetch lands to emulate Ancestral Recalls every single day. Leyline Binding is a multi-format all-star because of how easy it is to cast for just W. The list really can just go on forever, but the point is that the fetch lands are an incredibly powerful pillar of the Modern format (as well as Legacy and Vintage), to the point where they were all preemptively banned from Pioneer play.

So is my deck bad if I’m not playing any of these cards?

Not necessarily! Modern, more than anything else, is a format that cares a lot about how your cards play with each other a lot more than the individual power of any one or two cards. There are exceptions like the 4-Color Control deck we mentioned earlier, and the best deck in Modern, Izzet Murktide, plays all three of the above pillars. But this doesn’t mean they’re necessary by any means.

Decks like Merfolk play a huge pile of Basic Islands, and don’t even want Red mana for things like Expressive Iteration or Ragavan. Decks like Amulet Titan and Tron just ignore these cards and look to play way above what any deck featuring these cards bring to a match, and even decks like Hardened Scales get to be really powerful without having, or even wanting, access to any of “the best cards in the format”. So if you do play a deck that doesn’t play any of the above cards, so what. Keep doing whatever fun thing you’re doing, and know that it can work!

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