A Modern Ban List Rant

Anthony Lowry loves Modern, and he’s tired of the constant begging for things to be banned and unbanned all the time, as if Magic is capable of being catered perfectly to every style and player. Here, he lets loose and sounds off against the noise!

I’ll lay it out here right now.

If you try to play Modern like Legacy, wanting things like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Ancestral Visions unbanned, yet bat an eye to Sensei’s Divining Top in Legacy, then chances are you have no idea how to make a format attractive for players to play.

There is no question that Modern is not without its problems. It’s no different than any of the other formats. It isn’t a special snowflake, no matter how much I personally may enjoy it and thrive off of it. My qualms with the format may be different than many others; however. I don’t think the “turn 2 problem” of Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand are that big of an issue. Yes, it sucks to get turn 2’d once out of every tournament, even if the chance of it happening is ultra slim, but I find it really suspect to be frustrated at that, but be perfectly fine with getting turn 2’d in Legacy by Sneak and Show. And no, I don’t accept that Force of Will, Daze, and the like are answers when the majority of these decks can also play the same answers to your answers.

So, what are my actual qualms with the format, a format that I vehemently push constantly and will continue to until the end of my playing days?

The lack of sideboard diversity. I think that this is a big deal, especially when you’re dealing with a format as huge as Modern. I know that a lot of people think that there are too many hyper-oppressive sideboard cards like Blood Moon, Choke, and Stony Silence, but I think the real problem lies in how few catch-all cards are actually good in comparison. It’s extremely difficult to find cards that cover multiple roles without being washed out by hyperlinearity or transformational shenanigans. Fixing this is hard, but the impact of the offending sideboard cards, save Blood Moon, is a lot less felt than it’s ever been, which is a good thing.

Most linear decks feel the same.There isn’t much that makes Zoo different than Merfolk, or Merfolk different than Burn, or Burn different than Affinity. They all need a critical mass of cards, play the best interaction simply because it’s the best interaction, and have nut draws that are simply impossible to deal with. While some say that they’re all “Dredge” type decks, I don’t think it’s necessarily as bad as that, but I can see how many can be annoyed with how much most of these aggressively slanted decks feel. The more frustrating part of it is that while many of these decks feel the same, the answers to them are massively different. Bringing in an Anger of the Gods against Merfolk may be just okay, but Burn may not be affected by it at all if they draw the burn half of their deck. Leyline of Sanctity won’t be great at all against Zoo or Merfolk. The redeeming quality of these decks is their built-in hate against countermagic. Zoo with Loxodon Smiter, Merfolk with Aether Vial, Affinity and Burn hitting the ground running and never looking back. Still, all of these things still “feel” very similar in pattern, and it’s tough to know how to break such monotony.

There are many issues that players have that I feel aren’t really as big a deal as they make it out to be, however.

The “turn 4” rule is overrated. Now, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of flack for this one, but hear me out. I have a hard time believing that the same people who are so adamant about retaining the turn 4 rule are also the same people that want things like Ancestral Visions and Jace, the Mind Sculptor unbanned. It feels to me that people just want to play with busted cards and have no interest in a healthy format, which by all intents and purposes, is what Modern is right now, even with its issues. There are a ton of decks that can completely crush you by turn 3, but are very easily stopped by almost anything, really. What about the virtual turn 3s? Are we just complaining about the turn 4 rule because you recently got turn 2’d by Amulet Bloom? Are we just slow to adapt accordingly? We can offer ways to defend against that, but if you’re just going to say “who plays cards like Mana Leak and Spell Pierce?” then is it really the format’s issue, or your stubbornness to compensate for it? Obviously it’s a problem, but exasperating the issue instead of actually doing something about it, then failing, is where my problem lies. While this is going to sound like confirmation bias, among the people that I know that really put a ton of work into Modern, I have yet to hear of any of them getting turn 2’d by either offenders that often. Maybe twice.

Again, it’s not that the problem doesn’t exist, but it’s my inclination to believe that many of the people complaining about this issue are only playing Modern when a tournament is coming up, and can’t break the format, so they settle on something without really trying to figure things out, then wind up hating it because they can’t spike it. Harsh.

Blue is great, but since it isn’t busted, it sucks. Oh, blue mages…

Just because your color isn’t far and away the best color in the format doesn’t mean it sucks. Blue has a ton of the best spells and synergies in the format along with the best aggressive build, and some of the absolute best cards available. And you still aren’t satisfied? Please, give me a freaking break.

Your color doesn’t have Brainstorm. What a hard life you live.

Yes, you can absolutely play control in this format. It may not be exactly the kind of control you want to play, but we can’t have our cake, eat it too, then get upset because we sugar crashed from all the cake we ate. Again, put the time into the format and you can come up with some awesome things that, contrary to popular belief, can actually win a tournament. Just because everything isn’t Stoneblade level powerful doesn’t mean it’s bad.

In fact, I think my gripe with these things is that many players have this fixation of shutting down everything that isn’t the perceived best thing you can be doing, but when someone else succeeds with it, they act as if their perception never happened, and they forever follow this sheepish pattern with no will to actually get a step ahead. You don’t grow as a player by snap-dismissing everything, especially in a format you don’t have as much experience in. Be more open.

(Funny how we are so prone to absolutists only when things negatively affect us, in a game that generally punishes you for being just that.)

Of course, not every player has this view that I have and not every player falls into the description I’m talking about. The fact that I have to say the previous sentence shows just how ridiculous the hostility toward Modern has gotten though. Hating Modern is the cool thing to do. It’s great to share an opinion that the masses share because of the sense of belonging. It’s awesome when well-known players want to “kick out all of the Modern players,” but when someone says the slightest thing negative about Legacy, it’s the pinnacle of sacrilege. Can all of this negativity be rectified by a complete overhaul of the banlist? I don’t think that’s the question we should be asking.

My biggest concern is Wizards changing the banlist to cater to the loudest complaints. The ones you hear are absolutely not the ones that are shared amongst the majority of the competitive community, because if that were the case, Modern wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is now. It is easily the most played non-rotating format, and is still growing at a massive rate. People have decks, they stick with them, and there’s a ridiculously high chance that their deck is going to be good for a very long time. That’s the sense of security that players love, and the amount of play in Modern is absurdly high, despite the problems I listed earlier and despite how many times the loud ones want to drown that out. Turnouts are overwhelmingly positive, and those who love Modern stick to it. It is disrespectful to players like Todd Anderson, Tom Ross, Shaun McLaren, and Jacob Wilson to just chalk up the majority of wins in Modern to luck, as they’ve routinely displayed dominance and prowess across multiple phases and eras of Modern. It would be even more disrespectful to those players and the huge amount of supporters and specialists to the format to allow something absurdly busted to enter the fray just to satisfy the loud minority. The last thing I want to see is something like Stoneforge Mystic getting unbanned just to “shake things up.” I never thought it was a good reason to unban cards unless something is oppressive, and right now in Modern, the only arguable thing that can be considered oppressive to me is Blood Moon (and that’s a stretch).

We need to stop with the selfishness. Not everything is going to be catered to you, and that’s okay. Modern isn’t for everyone. Neither is Legacy or Standard or Limited.

My other concern with the bannings extends from the “shaking things up” portion. Because Modern is a Pro Tour format, it’s a lot more prone to seeing something big happen simply because the Pro Tour is coming up. I never, ever thought that Modern being a Pro Tour format was a good idea, but I was “stupid” for thinking that. I mean, how could it not be? The format would die if it weren’t highlighted at the grandest stage, right?

That’s exactly the problem.

Pro Tours, at least to me, seem to be great grounds for taking a few more risks in terms of deck and card selection. Many pro players echo this sentiment. The issue with doing that in Modern is that there’s too many decks to go around, and taking a risk feels more like a leap of faith, even with the smallest adjustments. Additionally, you are going to lose to something, and that’s just how it is. This is where the Force of Will/Daze argument should be placed, but since Modern doesn’t have things like that, you have to either suck it up, adjust heavily, or play a different deck if it’s a weakness you aren’t comfortable having. Pro players want to do well, obviously, so the safe choice is often made a lot more at Modern Pro Tours. This is why you saw a million Abzan decks at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, for example, despite the deck not actually picking up that much more steam afterward. This gives off the impression that nothing has changed, or things are stagnant. Which isn’t quite the case outside of that environment. It makes the format look really, really awful.

Legacy would have the exact same problem if it were a Pro Tour format, and in an alternate world, it would not surprise me at all if cards like Sensei’s Divining Top and even Brainstorm would be on the hot seat, if not outright banned if that were the case.

So, what does this mean for Modern and the ban list?

I don’t really know.

I can safely say this: Keep the busted stuff out of here. No one actually wants things like Mental Misstep, Birthing Pod, Blazing Shoal, Skullclamp (shudder), and Hypergenesis. Your Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Umezawa’s Jitte dreams are dead. People actually like to play Magic with cards they have. Things like Chrome Mox aren’t okay either, and I think the rest are pretty self-explanatory.

This brings us to the seemingly fair cards.

I’ve always wondered if Bloodbraid Elf would be okay, but then they printed Kolaghan’s Command, and that’s an absolutely ridiculous sequence that changes everything, so I’ll pass on that. I have the same deal with Ancestral Vision. I thought it was borderline (though it took a lot of thought), but Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy changed everything. I think Cloudpost is okay if they do something about Amulet Bloom, especially since Green Sun’s Zenith isn’t around. Outside of that, I don’t think there’s much room to budge in terms of unbanning things at this point in time, especially when there’s not much wrong with how things are playing in Modern now.

Now, bans. This is a tough one because all eyes are on Amulet Bloom, and it’s really easy to just snap a card from that deck off and call it a day. Summer Bloom is fine to ban, but the Cloudpost theory doesn’t hold up at all, because they’ll just replace the bounce-lands with Cloudposts and add Through the Breach. Granted, this makes the deck a turn 3 deck instead of a turn 2 deck, and I think that that’s perfectly fine, but I can hear the “turn 4 rule or riot!” claims now.

I actually think the biggest offender is Simian Spirit Guide.

I think that if you are going to make any changes in bans and unbans, then any sort of immediate mana acceleration needs to go, because that’s what enables busted things to happen more often than not. Yes, I know that you don’t see very many of this card in Amulet Bloom, but that isn’t the point. Whenever Modern gets a major ban, the first thing most players will look for is the absolute fastest way of killing someone. Ad Nauseam did it for a while, Grishoalbrand does it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if someone else figured it out for the Pro Tour. Outside of that, nothing else strikes me as insanely oppressive or detrimental to the growth of the format.

So, if it were up to me, this would be my massive change to the banlist:

Bans: Summer Bloom, Simian Spirit Guide

Unbans: Cloudpost

And honestly, that feels more cosmetic than anything. I’m not confident in that change at all.