The Modern format is much maligned because every single Magic format is much maligned. The distribution of tastes is wide, and no format wins everybody over. Modern also has many, many fans. I’m a huge fan of the format. There’s no true objectivity in a discussion like this, but I think if you zoom out and try to locate a somewhat-objective viewpoint, Modern going into 2018 is one of the most diverse, healthy, and interesting formats that has ever existed in any moment in time.
If you head to a Modern GP, play a Modern PTQ online, or hit up a local event, your best guess about what deck, or even what type of deck your opponent will present is widely distributed.
Deck list aggregator mtgtop8.com presents the following statistics (as of 12/12/2017):
It can be both exciting and frustrating to have to prepare for more decks than you can even keep in mind at any one time. It’s exciting for obvious reasons—you don’t know what movie you’re walking into. When you try a new deck, there are a ton of matchups to learn and explore. It’s frustrating because the decks are powerful and sideboards are only 15 cards. This is part of why Modern isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. For me, I love the balancing act you have to play with every “fair” deck and the challenge of coming up with the right balance of speed, resilience, and consistency in the “unfair” decks. The fact that you don’t know exactly what your opponents will be up to in the tournament adds some variance and unpredictability.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Even though you will go mad if you try to control or predict what your opponents show up with, you get to choose what deck you play. The style of that deck will go a long way toward what your tournament feels like, and there are so many choices that are potentially viable.
What do I mean by style of deck? Well, if you want to play a “glass cannon” combo deck that tries to kill as fast as it can, Storm and Bloomless Titan come to mind. Want to combo people out but also have some interaction points? The list there is a mile long. Want to do the midrange thing? Jund and Abzan never go away—Jeskai makes it easy as well. Pure control? Go watch Gab Nassif’s stream for an evening—U/W Control is a great deck. You can lock people out (really firmly with Lantern, relatively firmly with Blood Moon decks, or softer with Eldrazi and Taxes). You can attack people, and I mean really attack them (with little regard for what they’re doing with Affinity or Burn, or with so much regard for what they’re doing that you have to know what card to Meddling Mage with the Humans deck). You can brew a deck. Pyro Prison, Hollow One, some of the new Saheeli takes—there are new decks popping up from time to time and they’re scary. You can ramp (a little with Eldrazi Tron, a lot with green Tron or B/G Tron, or really quickly with Bloomless Titan). You can blow up your opponent’s land or their hand. You can make tokens, cast Auras onto hexproof creatures, tap three Elves to make 3 green mana, etc.
What’s absolutely insane is that these are all powerful, viable decks. It’s not like Legacy, where you don’t know what your LGS opponent is going to show up with, but that’s because of pet decks and the retail price of Underground Sea. In Modern, someone could show up with Bogles and truly believe that it’s the best deck that week. And they could be correct (I’m trying to make sure Big Dan Ward doesn’t put me in a headlock at the next GP I go to). I don’t think I’ll be playing R/G Land Destruction (the names “Gruul Land Death” and “Gruul Land Loss” make me want to puke) at the next event, but I’ve lost to it multiple times. I haven’t played against Infect in a while for whatever reason, but next time I do I’ll be scared as hell, not relaxed in any way because “oh, this isn’t tier 1 anymore” (which is how I might feel against a fringe deck in a less robust format).
Modern is this unicorn format where a ton of decks are viable and no deck has all good matchups or even all-but-one good matchup. If your friend claims their deck beats everything, you have found an overconfident friend, not a breakthrough.
Deck Choice Is King, But Card Choices Matter Too
About that 15-card sideboard… you sometimes hear the argument that “it’s just random—you can put Leyline of the Void in your sideboard and never face Dredge, or you can leave them at home and play against Dredge twice, and the same is true of 50 other sideboard cards.” There is some truth to this. 15 cards feels really small in this format. But uncertainty does not equal pure randomness. Many tools are flexible. Will Anger of the Gods be good enough against Dredge compared to Leyline of the Void? Is Grim Lavamancer good enough against Affinity compared to Shatterstorm? If so, your Elves and Humans matchups just got better. Can you use Kolaghan’s Command to solve multiple problems?
Main decks are just as interesting. How many Scavenging Ooze should be in your Jund deck? Should U/W Control use Spreading Seas or rely on additional countermagic? How many Relic of Progenitus and Anger of the Gods or Sweltering Suns should be in your Valakut deck (which is really at least two decks, Scapeshift and Through the Breach)? Is the Through the Breach version of Valakut the way to go because it’s better at racing decks you can’t interact with?
Back to deck choice for a second. When other people’s card choices seem to be skewing in a particular direction, that might influence your deck choice. You might say to yourself, “people are really skimping on cards like Timely Reinforcements and the 4th Lightning Helix these days. It might be time to dust off the Burn deck.”
Something Different–It’s What a Format is Supposed to Provide
Maybe you are having trouble “embracing the variance” when it comes to the good and bad matchups that Modern is sort of famous for. I’ve heard players remark that there’s a reason they don’t enter rock-paper-scissors tournaments. They want to play Magic, not have their Tarmogoyf exiled by Karn or whatever they have in mind when they think “not a real game.” In my experience, those rounds show up, but not as often as you’d think. Even in your tough matchups, games are tight, outcomes sometimes surprising, and card choices and play sequencing can be the difference. But at the end of the day, there’s also the possibility that Modern isn’t for you. It’s true that if you play Temur Energy in Standard, you will have relatively few really bad matchups. But that gets tiresome in its own way—trust me—and I hope that you’ll at least check in with Modern when you get bored elsewhere.
What About Lantern, Should it be Banned Because It’s Frustrating to Lose to?
Oh, you wanted the reasoning too? First of all, once you have some familiarity with Lantern, it’s not much different than playing against a control deck that builds its advantage in a hidden zone (the hand) and runs relatively few win conditions. Yes, it can be annoying because hidden information makes it hard to scoop without sacrificing 0.5% or 1% wins, but Lantern pretty quickly moves into game states that are below 0.5% opposing equity based on public information. Playing versus an incompetent player is frustrating, but that’s true of any control deck that drags the game out. The competent Lantern players are fast and efficient.
I’ve played with and against this deck, online and in paper, and I think banning any part of it would be a big mistake. It’s fun that something so different thrives in Modern. It lets competitive players who enjoy a puzzle/lock deck scratch that itch. Modern is really all about scratching these itches and this one feels important to me. There isn’t another Lantern waiting in line to fill the void. It’s unique.
Just like Modern.