15, Sep, 22

What is Modern in Magic: The Gathering?

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How to jump into Magic: The Gathering's most diverse eternal format.
Article at a Glance

Maybe you have heard about Modern but not quite sure what it is, or how to go about playing it. Modern is a constructed Magic: The Gathering format that was first introduced back in 2011, which eventually replaced Extended as the people’s eternal format. It’s grown to become quite the popular format, allowing different strategies to flourish with an engaging competitive environment to support it.

Like other constructed formats, Modern decks must contain a minimum of sixty cards with no maximum deck size. However, you must be able to shuffle your deck without assistance, and like in other constructed formats, a sideboard of exactly fifteen or zero cards can be used.

Why Play Modern?

Modern is one of Magic: The Gathering‘s most diverse formats with an ever-expansive card pool. It may be intimidating to see so many options available in Modern, but there is something for everyone. From Control to Aggro, you can play your favorite archetype without worrying about rotation.

Honestly, that is the biggest draw to playing Modern. You don’t have a rotation cycle compared to Standard, meaning you can play the same deck for years and it will likely remain legal (bans withstanding). If you want a middle ground between Standard and Modern, then Pioneer may be an option for you since the format doesn’t adopt a rotation cycle either.

Read More: 5 Best Kaldheim Cards for Modern

What is Legal in Modern?

Sets from regular core sets and expansions since Eighth Edition are legal in Modern. As a result, the Modern format encompasses all cards that have been printed in a core or expansion set using the Modern card frame. There are a few exceptions to the rule such as Modern Horizons, a series of sets that introduces cards to Modern without needing to go through Standard first.

With the sheer number of cards available in Modern, there is a hefty ban list to complement it. The current ban list is as follows:

  • Ancient Den
  • Arcum’s Astrolabe
  • Birthing Pod
  • Blazing Shoal
  • Bridge From Below
  • Chrome Mox
  • Cloudpost
  • Dark Depths
  • Deathrite Shaman
  • Dig Through Time
  • Dread Return
  • Eye of Ugin
  • Faithless Looting
  • Field of the Dead
  • Gitaxian Probe
  • Glimpse of Nature
  • Golgari Grave-Troll
  • Great Furnace
  • Green Sun’s Zenith
  • Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
  • Hypergenesis
  • Krark-Clan Ironworks
  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den
  • Mental Misstep
  • Mox Opal
  • Mycosynth Lattice
  • Mystic Sanctuary
  • Oko, Thief of Crowns
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Ponder
  • Preordain
  • Punishing Fire
  • Rite of Flame
  • Seat of the Synod
  • Second Sunrise
  • Seething Song
  • Sensei’s Divining Top
  • Simian Spirit Guide
  • Skullclamp
  • Splinter Twin
  • Summer Bloom
  • Tibalt’s Trickery
  • Treasure Cruise
  • Tree of Tales
  • Umezawa’s Jitte
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Vault of Whispers
  • Yorion, Sky Nomad

Usually, you’ll see updates to the ban list (or any unbans) in the format through a Banned & Restricted announcement provided by Wizards of the Coast. Often they preface an announcement of some kind is coming up and the formats affected, so you can at least prepare for what is coming.

Sometimes you will see unbans as a method to keep the format fresh. A recent example is the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic that allowed Modern to fall into a creature-focused metagame instead of a graveyard-orientated one. Going further, the unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor allowed options for Jund and Azorius Control without becoming too powerful. Unbans rarely happen but when they do, they often support the overall health of the format.

Read More: Will Modern Ever Come To MTG Arena?

Staple Modern Cards

There are a bunch of staples that are worth keeping in your collection or picking up for future usage. There are too many staples to cover in one article, but there are a few to consider. A good baseline to see if a card has Modern potential is to look at its performance in Standard and Pioneer. If it’s good for those formats, it’s likely to be good in Modern too.


Modern falls on an axis of cheap yet interactive spells. The hallmark spell of the format is Lightning Bolt, which has seen continual play in Magic: The Gathering since it was first printed in Alpha. You can’t go wrong with a set of Lightning Bolt as a foundation for a red-based Modern strategy.

Going further, Path to Exile is another fantastic spell that offers a clear answer to any creature threat. You are giving the opponent a basic land, but often this a small downside since decks run few basic lands within the format. Alongside the cheap spells, Snapcaster Mage is a strong option to flashback those instant and sorceries to cast again to generate even more value. It’s the main reason you play Blue in Modern since it’s good at all points of the game. Even then, you’ll be beating down with a Snapcaster Mage a lot as small creatures go far in Modern.


What makes Modern tricky to jump into from the get-go is the pricepoint of the mana base. Often there is criticism about the mana base since the fetch and shock land configuration is the best way to play Modern. What makes fetch lands a powerful option in Modern is the ability to smooth out your mana while filtering out your deck. As a result, the fetch and shock lands remain an evergreen option in Modern.

As a result, the fetch lands command a high price since they are so integral to the format. You can get away without running them, but you may need to reconfigure your deck to accommodate. The best way to enter Modern on a budget is by playing a mono-colored strategy such as Mono-Red Prowess or Mono-Green Elves. It evades the need to run these kind of lands and allows you to pick up the fundamentals of the format with ease.

Read More: 5 Best Budget Picks for Modern from Time Spiral Remastered

Where to Find Other Players

In usual circumstances, going down to your local game store would be the best way to jump into Modern. But with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this option may not be accessible to everyone.

Fortunately, Magic Online is a great way to jam a bunch of games to see whether format is suitable for you. If you want to be savvy with your finances, going for a ManaTraders or Cardhoarder subscription will allow you to try a bunch of decks before you fully commit. For example, you can pay for a monthly subscription with either rental service, try out a bunch of decks and make a decision from there. At worst, you lose a little money from the monthly subscription but ensures you know the format isn’t for you, and the process of elimination is a huge takeaway.

Players are often caught up in picking a complete deck without any prior experience. This can run the risk of losing money if you don’t end up enjoying the deck or the format. It’s more sensible to try different decks before taking the plunge. Granted, this is a long process but it ensures you get the most out of your money, and we all care a little bit about budget.

If you happen to have a paper Modern deck but want to stay at home, you can play via SpellTable which is the remote way to play Magic: The Gathering. If you want to set up SpellTable but don’t know how– we have a neat little guide to get you on your way.

Modern is truly a great format once you get the hang of it. It’s huge, ever-changing, and promotes some of the best play experiences. It can fall on the expensive side, but thanks to sets such as Time Spiral Remastered, the barrier to entry is becoming lower with every set release.

Read More: Magic: The Gathering: Planes of the Multiverse is Coming This July

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