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The Cards that Should Really be Banned in Modern

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Another Modern banned and restricted list announcement, another day where Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings emerge unscathed. With Krark-Clan Ironworks getting the axe last go around Ancient Stirrings has had a bit of a reprieve, but Faithless Looting is under more fire than ever.

Arclight Phoenix

With Izzet Phoenix stepping up as the new "clearly best" deck in Modern while Dredge nips right at its heels, cries for a Faithless Looting ban have been louder than ever. Modern players are notorious for crying for bannings every time a deck gets popular, but there a few reasonable reasons why Wizards of the Coast chose not to act this time around.

Modern Horizons

With Modern Horizons on the, well, horizon, Modern is about to experience perhaps the biggest shakeup in its long history. Cards typically enter Modern at a slow trickle, with one or two cards each set making minor impacts here and there. The full format effect of a card like Arclight Phoenix happens very rarely, and while a card is occasionally banned or unbanned, change usually happens slow.

Modern Horizons promises to be a tidal wave of new tools for the format and will probably have large and lasting repercussions on the format as a whole. This unprecedented surge of change is going to be huge for the format, presumably twisting things in new and unexpected ways.

The London Mulligan

While not an official rule yet, Wizards of the Coast is serious enough about the London Mulligan that they are willing to test it out on the biggest possible stage, a sure sign they are serious about it being part of Magic's future.

If implemented, the London Mulligan will also have a drastic impact on Modern as a whole. It remains to be seen if this impact is going to be positive for negative, but with linear decks caring more about specific cards than card quantity and sideboard cards being so powerful it's certainly going to have an impact.

As such, with two major changes to Modern already on tap it makes a lot of sense that there's no changes to the ban list. It's simple science; the more changes you apply at once the harder it is to figure out the problem if things go wrong.

However, that's not the real reason that Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings didn't get banned. The real reason is much more simple.

Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings are fun and healthy cards in the Modern format.

Each is certainly the lynchpin behind many broken decks, but the reality is that both cards are not that good in a vacuum; they require careful deck-building and prop up other interesting cards that may not see play. It's often the cards alongside them and the broken things they produce that are the real problem, but we will get to that a bit later.

Faithless Looting

Careful Study 2.0 is obviously one of the best cards in Modern, but that's more a product of what it enables rather than the power level of the card itself. At its core, Faithless Looting is just an enabler and that is awesome! Here's an incomplete list of viable strategies that Faithless Looting helps enable:

  • Izzet Phoenix
  • Dredge
  • Mono-Red Phoenix
  • Mardu Pyromancer
  • Bridgevine
  • Griselshoalbrand
  • Hollow One
  • Electrodominance Living End

...And many more off the wall brews.

Obviously most of these decks use the graveyard, but they range from all-in combo all the way to slow midrange and that's awesome! They're also all very different and use a lot of cool and unique cards. Yes, some of these decks border on broken, but is that exactly Faithless Lootings' fault? If you shave off the cards that cause the actual problems, Faithless Looting is a lively and fun piece of the format.

Ancient Stirrings

Ancient Stirrings is very similar. It is a simple card that only slots into decks that want to work for it, and it helps enable them to perform their strategy. It is very good at what it does, but all it does is set up other cards. Again, here's an incomplete list of Ancient Stirrings decks:

  • Ironworks
  • Tron
  • Hardened Scales
  • Whir Prison
  • Lantern Control
  • Amulet Titan
  • rg or Bant Eldrazi

Again we see a wide variety of decks, of course all involving artifacts or Eldrazi because that's the deck-building restriction, but running the gamut from beatdown to big mana to control/prison. There's also a bunch of fun brews that Ancient Stirrings enables. Yes, sometimes things go to far and we get something like Ironworks, and sure people love to complain about Tron, but Ancient Stirrings is usually just propping up cards that would never see play otherwise like Hardened Scales and Codex Shredder which is great.

Ponder

A quick word on Ponder before I get to the real problems of the Modern format.

You may be saying "hey Jim, if Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings are okay because they are one mana enablers that smooth out decks, why isn't Ponder okay?" Well that's a very good question you, thanks for reading and asking the question that I wanted you to ask so I could progress my article!

Yes, Ponder is a similar enabler in what it does to decks. For one mana it smoothes them out and helps them to do the things they want to do. The difference is that Ponder has no requirements. It is just a good card that helps your deck consistently do what it wants to do, but doesn't ask anything of you. As we see in Legacy, pretty much every deck with Blue mana plays Ponder (and Brainstorm), whether they're combo, aggro, or control. This homogenizes deck-building and makes formats very dull.

Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings have the exact opposite effect; they force you to play certain cards to make them good, increasing variety and propping up fun and unique cards and decks.

The Real Problem Cards Of Modern

Banning Faithless Looting or Ancient Stirrings kills or irrevocably damages a large swath of the format. The better thing to do is directly target the cards that push things over the line.

How do we find these cards? It's not hard; just look for the ones that do things for free.

Manamorphose

It looks so innocent, but the reality is that Manamorphose is a messed up Magic card.

When it comes down to it, cards that do things for free really mess up the game overall. With "whenever you play an instant or sorcery" mattering so much on so many cards, Manamorphose goes from cute little mana fixer to super turbocharger. Without Manamorphose, returning Arclight Phoenix on turn two or flipping Thing in the Ice on turn three becomes far more difficult, rather than how comically easy it is now.

Manamorphose is basically only played when it's doing busted things, in Arclight Phoenix decks now and previously as a super cantrip-ritual in Storm. Its removal from the format has a very small impact, only hurting the format's current top dog in Arclight Phoenix decks and rarely played Storm decks.

Mox Opal

It's amazing how Mox Opal has managed to avoid so many of these banlist discussions. In the decks that play it Mox Opal is almost better than Mox Sapphire, and while it does bring with it deck-building constraints but the payoff is just so high.

Again, free cards are a problem!

Mox Opal powers many of the most broken starts in Modern. Ironworks is no longer around, but it's just a matter of time until the next broken artifact deck comes around. While things like Affinity are mostly reasonable, Mox Opal also is ripe for abuse in combo decks as well as miserable prison decks based around Ensnaring Bridge and/or Chalice of the Void.

If Mox Opal leaves the format then Seat of Synod and friends are also safe to reenter the format, which would help Affinity with the loss and may help out new strategies as well.

Creeping Chill
Narcomoeba

Neither Creeping Chill or Narcomoeba are fundamentally broken, but they do things that are free and outside the realm of what we expect Magic cards to do. Dredge is the kind of deck that can be kept in check with large amounts of graveyard hate, but the question remains if having Dredge be a major player in the format makes for a healthier format.

Losing Creeping Chill or Narcomoeba would not outright kill Dredge, but it would do a good job at helping it feel a bit fairer.

Street Wraith

This one is a bit off the deep end, as nobody is doing anything too broken with Street Wraith at present, but it falls under the same paradigm of "free stuff is bad." Right now the worst things that Street Wraith does are allow for far too early Death's Shadows and help power out Hallowed Ones on turn one, and these sorts of ahead of the curve draws add a lot of volatility to the format.

The Right Targets

Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings are both very powerful Magic cards and huge parts of the Modern format. But they have both deck-building costs as well as mana costs. Typically the most broken things that happen in the early game do so not because of them directly, but more so due to the various free effects that push players ahead a turn in development.

Banning these free turbochargers, rather than the fun enablers that help facilitate many different decks, makes much more sense.

We're not exactly in a spot to be banning things anyway with such major changes to Modern on the horizon, but when the time and discussion comes again it would be better to look at the real problems rather than the most commonly played ones.