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What to do With the Modern Ban List


The Modern ban list has always been a huge point of contention among Magic players.

The format, although it's been through some rocky times in the last few years, has always been one of the most organically loved and appreciated for years, providing a sandbox for an extremely large pool of cards and possible decks. The card pool is so vast that there's a huge variety of things you can do, while it being a nonrotating format means you can buy into your deck knowing you can play it for a very long time.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Urza's Saga

With Modern Horizons 2 bringing both a renewed interest to the format as well as a whole host of powerful new cards and reprints, all eyes are once again on the format. This has been very interesting as we still live in the COVID-19 world of no major events, which allows for much innovating in low stakes Magic Online leagues but doesn't stress test the limits of how good these new cards/decks are without high stakes events like the SCG Tour or the Pro Tour/Grand Prix circuit.

As such, there's still a lot of things we don't know about the final effect of Modern Horizons 2 on the format.

That being said, the overall health of the Modern format has always been carefully curated by the ban list. Forty-six cards currently reside on said ban list, with everything from fundamentally broken cards like Skullclamp and Bridge from Below to cards like Arcum's Astrolabe and Preordain which were too ubiquitous for a healthy format. The semi-stated goals for Modern are to be a turn four format and for a wide variety of decks and strategies to be viable.

Today I want to examine the Modern ban list.

It's important to note that this is discourse, not a hardline stance on what I think should be done. As I said, we still haven't either had much time to work with Modern Horizons 2 cards or had any major, high stakes events with the set (or even in a while), so it's not entirely clear if anything is truly problematic at present. There is still information to be gathered, but I am working both with what we have alongside a decade of playing Modern competitively.

With that being said, let's get started!

Unban - Faithless Looting

Faithless Looting

We're going to start on the unban side of things, with a card I think was incorrectly banned two years ago. I've given a pretty in-depth analysis as to why I think this was a mistake in an article I wrote then, but I will reiterate briefly here.

Put frankly, Faithless Looting decks care about something.

While at the time Faithless Looting was likened to Brainstorm in Legacy where so many decks were playing it, the reality is that the two cards are extremely different. Brainstorm in Legacy is far more akin to Ponder or Preordain in Modern - cards that are just so efficient on rate that your Blue decks will essentially just be 56 cards and 4 Ponder regardless of whatever the other cards are in your deck (barring something specific like wanting Chalice of the Void). Ponder doesn't ask anything of you, but Faithless Looting does, as in a complete vacuum Faithless Looting isn't a good Magic card; Without graveyard synergies it wouldn't make most draft decks.

Instead, what Faithless Looting does is prop up decks that care about executing some sort of plan rather than just playing good cards on raw rate, and synergistic archetypes have been the backbone of Modern since the very beginning.

Stinkweed Imp
Arclight Phoenix
Goryo's Vengeance

Now you may be saying "but Jim! What about the many sins committed by graveyard decks over the years!?"

You're not wrong that the graveyard has been on the forefront of Modern for many years, but rather than remove one of the best synergistic enablers in the format I've also advocating for removing the cards that are causing the true problems.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Creeping Chill

Of course, Hogaak is already banned, but it's really the free effects in Creeping Chill and Manamorphose that put Dredge and Izzet Phoenix over the bar respectively. Creeping Chill speeds Dredge up to dangerous speeds while removing both offensive and defensive elements of interaction, while Manamorphose is the key component of Izzet Phoenix that allowed for such easy turn two Arclight Phoenix returns and turn three Thing in the Ice flips, while also being problematic in other places like Storm, Prowess, and other combo decks.

Cut out the cards that are the actual problem surgically, don't just take away the fun enabler used by a dozen different decks.

Force of Negation

Lastly, there has been so much good and fast interaction printed in the last two years that plays very well against any sort of brokenness that may push Faithless Looting over the edge that it balances out well; there are simply just more good tools for fair decks to fight back.

Stay Banned - Artifact Lands

Seat of the Synod
Vault of Whispers
Great Furnace

I've been a very vocal proponent of unbanning the original Mirrodin artifact lands since the banning of Mox Opal, yet now here I am changing my tune, and the reason for that is the influx of new powerful artifact cards from Modern Horizons 2.

Urza's Saga
Thought Monitor

It's pretty likely that Urza's Saga may not be legal the next time we have this talk anyway, but for now it would be better to let things settle and make a choice on the artifact lands later when we have more information.

It's not the time for this fight!

Everything Else - Stand Pat

Splinter Twin
Birthing Pod
Umezawa's Jitte

Aside from Faithless Looting, leaving the rest of the banlist alone feels prudent.

There's a time and a place to discuss things like this, but that time is when things are stable and, for lack of a better term, uninteresting. These are not those times. Modern is still feeling the waves of the first Modern Horizons, let alone the recent Modern Horizons 2 and a torrent of power crept new sets and recent waves of bannings. These are the kind of things that can be discussed when the dust settles and we have a better idea of what the format looks like as a whole.

Ban - Mishra's Bauble

Mishra's Bauble

This is in major part a response to the ubiquity of Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Modern, as well as the cards overall power level as an enabler for all sorts of other things that are just far too efficient for what the early turns of a game should look like.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Starting with Lurrus, the number of different decks and macro-archetypes that play Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion in Modern is preposterous. This tweet from Modern brew master aspiringspike sums it up nicely:

Honestly, it almost harkens back to before the companion rules change, when things were really out of control:

Things aren't that ridiculous anymore, but the fact that they added an entire 3 mana to Lurrus's cost and it's still one of the most played cards in the format is just beyond belief. Aggro, midrange, control, even combo, Lurrus is one size fits all.

And a large part of the prevalence of Lurrus is how well Lurrus synergizes with Mishra's Bauble.

Mishra's Bauble, while not even really a fundamentally "good" Magic card in the sense of playing basic A-B-C Magic, is essentially a free resource that assists virtually everything that is good in a game of Magic. It triggers prowess, fills the graveyard, is a free artifact for affinity, enables delirium, is a perfect free recursive card draw element, etc etc. The list just goes on and on, which makes this a very similar scenario to Arcum's Astrolabe.

Modern would be a better format with Mishra's Bauble banned.

Ban - Manamorphose


This was already covered partly in the Faithless Looting section, but honestly many of the things that were said about Mishra's Bauble apply here as well.

What it really comes down to is that proactive, free material in Magic often leads to things happening too quickly or in a degenerate way. The entire mana system in Magic exists for a reason, while cards like Manamorphose and Mishra's Bauble exist in a space that circumvents that with very little opportunity cost or effort. While fairly innocent on their own (and both amusingly barely playable in limited), when you use them as tools to turbocharge all of the these already awesome Magic cards, things become problematic.

Ban - Creeping Chill

Creeping Chill

Also mentioned in the section on Faithless Looting, this ban is only necessary if Faithless Looting is unbanned.

Sensing a pattern yet? Free stuff is bad!

Creeping Chill is the card that pushes Dredge over the edge, and if Dredge were to get Faithless Looting some correction would be necessary. Better to target the free effect that only goes into one deck and is not even an essential piece to the deck functioning then the fun enabler card that goes into a dozen decks or more.

Watch List - Urza's Saga

Urza's Saga

While there have been grumbles already about banning Urza's Saga, it's not the same kind of card as something like Hogaak.

There's no doubt that Urza's Saga is an unreal Magic card. The amount of material it produces for a land drop is astounding, not only as an uncountable, stand alone threat in and of itself, but also as a combo piece for its ability to search out cards like Amulet of Vigor and Colossus Hammer. It feels like an oversight that Urza's Saga is allowed to make a second token with chapter 3 on the stack, as it really pushes the card above and beyond. Yet, while the power level of the card is off the charts, it hasn't quite completely broken through yet.

This is something that can't hold.

Over the course of the next year the optimal Urza's Saga build will be found, which will put us back into a spot similar to when Mox Opal and Oko, Thief of Crowns were both legal alongside Urza, Lord High Artificer. When this happens, Urza's Saga will likely need to go.

However, until then I am fine waiting to pull the trigger.

Watch List - Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

It's almost amusing to even put Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer on this list, as there's a good chance it's not even the best Red one-mana creature in the set (similar to how in the NHL years back, there was an argument against Sidney Crosby being the best player in the NHL, saying he wasn't even the best player on his line, Evgeni Malkin was - not a slight against Crosby, but a testament to how good his teammate Malkin was).

Dragon's Rage Channeler is a better overall card than Ragavan on almost every turn of the game besides turn one, providing basically everything you could want from a one-mana threat. However, the issue here isn't really power level so much as it is how swingy Ragavan is, especially on the play vs on the draw. Ragavan is very similar to Goblin Lackey, once a card that was very close to the ban list in Legacy, however has none of the deck-building restrictions.

I don't necessarily think that Ragavan needs to go at the moment, but it is an extremely polarizing and sometimes frustrating card that is one of the worst exploiters of being on the play in some time. Magic design would do itself a favor by minimizing cards like Ragavan that exploit being on the play, while pushing cards like Spell Snare or Loyal Warhound that are specifically better on the draw.

Watch List - Street Wraith

Street Wraith

This one may feel a bit out of left field, but it really just operates under the same paradigm as Mishra's Bauble and Manamorphose - Street Wraith is a free way to gain velocity and synergistic advantage at almost zero opportunity cost.

Death's Shadow
Living End

Street Wraith is the only low opportunity cost way to cast Death's Shadow on turn two (or even one) in Modern, speeding that deck up considerably, it makes casting Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar through its cast restriction trivial, and it gives more velocity and power to Living End, a deck that received considerable gains from Modern Horizons 2.

Like Urza's Saga, I have concerns that when the correct Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar shell is found that it may end up being too good, and this ban would help get ahead of that, as well as slow down the current and future decks that would be sped up by the card.

Let God Sort 'em Out

Amusingly enough, the proper way to figure out exactly what should be on the ban list is probably to just treat it like Pioneer - unban everything and then take an aggressive an active approach to banning things as they prove themselves broken.

Dark Depths
Chrome Mox

Of course, the problem with that is that we live in the real world. Not everyone has every Magic card ever; Modern decks are a real investment, and that sort of upheaval would likely cause the format to implode.

So, instead we're stuck with this! Taking in information, talking it out, and trying to figure out what is best for one of the best formats in Magic. With that, I leave the floor open to you.

What do you think should be done with the Modern ban list?

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