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Modern Banlist Talk

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For Magic players who follow non-rotating formats, there is a special time that occurs four times a year that is often cause of excitement, disappointment, and, in some cases, sadness: The Banned and Restricted Announcement. Coming up again before the end of the month we will have another possible set of changes to the Magic ban lists. Today I would like to weigh in on my thoughts on the topic as they specifically apply to Modern as this is the format I spend the most time playing.

To cut right to the chase, if I was in charge of the ban list I would make the following changes in the next update:

Ban:

Unban:

First I would like to talk about the cards I would remove from the format - the cheap card selection. In the last year, my opinion on cantrips in Modern has slowly changed. Once upon a time I suggested that we unban a card like Ponder or Preordain, whereas today, after playing more of cantrip heavy formats like Legacy, my feelings on this have changed.

In my opinion, Wizards got it right when they removed powerful one mana card selection from Modern with Ponder and Preordain, and I would like to see them move further in this direction by getting rid of Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings as well. One of the things that makes Magic a great game with such replayability is the fact that game to game tends to play out a bit differently. This variety of game play tends to be greatly reduced when powerful, cheap card selection gets involved.

Something that is important to distinguish when I say this is the idea that variety of gameplay, does not automatically mean high variance like some people take it to mean. What I mean by this is that you can have decks that are still consistent, without literally playing the exact same combination of cards every single game. Modern Burn is a great example of this. It plays a variety of different cards with similar, but slightly different effects. This means while you can have a game plan that you execute consistently from game to game, the sequencing decisions you get to make while playing out your cards is going to differ depending on which of your tools you draw.

Past this, I think these bannings are reasonable because while they would be power level reductions from a number of tiered decks in Modern, I do not think removing them would single handedly kill any major archetype. While some people will disagree with this assessment, I would like to remind everyone out there that people thought banning Eye of Ugin would kill Tron or that banning Summer Bloom would kill Amulet Titan. As with those bannings, though, they simply made these strategies weaker, but still competitive.

Banning enablers, rather than the payoffs, allows people to still play with the powerful cards they like casting.

As far as my unbanning suggestions go, the first of them is the last time Wizards actually banned a payoff in Modern: Splinter Twin. Twin is a deck I always enjoyed playing against. It is a deck that encouraged other decks to be interactive, rather than linear. Its multiple angles of attack made for interesting play patterns. While it could sometimes win on the fourth turn, more often than not, Twin decks won the game by executing a tempo game plan.

While it might have been true at one point that Splinter Twin was possibly too strong for Modern, I would be surprised if this is still the case. I think as the format has continued to develop over the last two years, other strategies have both gotten new tools and gotten more efficient to the point that this is no longer the case. Beyond this, we have gotten other new tools printed into the format, such as Fatal Push, to give a wider variety of decks efficient ways to interact with the Twin combo.

The next card on my list is one that has come up enough in the talks of unbanning that it is almost a meme at this point - Stoneforge Mystic. This card has always been banned in Modern due to the sins it committed in formats of old. While the threat of Batterskull on turn three seems powerful in general, when you put it in the context of the Modern format it loses some of its wonder. This is a format of both brutally fast combo decks and extremely efficient disruption. This means even when your opponent is not killing you through your Batterskull, they will often be able to interact with either Stoneforge or Batterskull.

In fact, if we look at the 30 most played cards in Modern at the moment according to MTG Goldfish, the ones that interact with Stoneforge or Batterskull include:

That is a lot of ways to interact with a two mana 1/2 or an artifact.

The last card I would like to see come off the banlist is another that was once legal, but was eventually banned due to its flexibility in Green decks - Green Sun's Zenith. This card was removed because it performed too many different actions in most decks that could make Green mana. The hope was that by removing Green Sun's Zenith, Green creature decks would have more variety in the cards that they choose to play.

Instead of creating diversity in Green decks though, what happened was simply Green decks have been left largely without the tools to compete. As of my writing thi,s the top fifteen decks in Modern according to MTG Goldfish do not include a single Green creature deck. For reference they are:

  • Humans
  • Green Tron
  • Hollow One
  • wu Control
  • wr Burn
  • Jeskai Control
  • Mardu Pyromancer
  • Ironworks
  • Bridge Vine
  • Bant Spirits
  • Storm
  • Grixis Shadow
  • wu Spirits
  • Dredge
  • Jund

While the goal of trying to increase diversity among Green decks in Modern reads well for a reason to keep Green Sun banned, the actual result of this banning simply pushes Green decks out of the format, hurting overall diversity in my opinion. I would rather see Green creature decks rally around Green Sun's Zenith than be pushed out of the format altogether.

Wrapping Up

Honestly, while I would love to see the few changes I listed above potentially happen in Modern, my expectations are extremely low. I would not be surprised to see another "No Changes" update come banlist time.

What do you think of my logic for changes presented here? Could existing decks survive without their card selection? Would the format fall apart with Splinter Twin, Stoneforge Mystic, and Green Sun's Zenith? Let me know what you think in a comment below!