Bans And Unbans In Modern

With the next Banned and Restricted announcement just a week away, Magic Pro Tour veteran Alexander West returns to give his thoughts on the format’s immediate past and future!

After reading Patrick Chapin’s article on cards
to unban in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, I did quite a bit of thinking about his proposals. Here is my response on which of the cards he suggested
considering should be unbanned and why. I also throw a few of my own suggestions for consideration into the mix:

Cards to Unban

This card is best in midrange decks like Jund and the top end of aggro decks like Zoo. These are fundamentally fair strategies that cause interactive
games. Aggro has very little share in the metagame right now and could use any boost it could get. Midrange decks have many options for powerful four-drops
like Huntmaster of the Fells and Siege Rhino; Bloodbraid Elf is a comparable option. Bloodbraid Elf was banned during a period where Jund was dominating
the format in an attempt to promote diversity. However, Bloodbraid Elf was not the problem card – it was Deathrite Shaman – and its ban did little to end
the reign of the deck. However, the ban of Bloodbraid Elf did end quite a bit of brewing with cards like Boom//Bust or Congregation at Dawn. I believe it
is safe enough to bring this back.

Ancestral Vision has been banned since the beginning of Modern. Part of the reason it was banned was to make sure Faeries didn’t dominate the new format
(it had been a bogeyman for a few years) and another part was a powerful Temur deck in Gavin Verhey’s early “Overextended” testing (the precursor of
Modern) that cascaded Ancestral Visions off Bloodbraid Elf for big windfalls. It’s important to consider that those decks had Ponder and Jace, the Mind
Sculptor to set up plays like that, whereas they would not currently. Blue decks haven’t really dominated Modern (the most oppressive decks have been Zoo,
Jund/Abzan Midrange, and Birthing Pod depending on time period), and could use the boost that Ancestral Vision offers. An additional plus is that it’s more
of a midrange/control card because of its slowness to resolve, so it’s a way to power up blue without also powering up combo decks. And with the likelihood
of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time being banned, I believe it’d be good timing to give those players something back at the same time.

Golgari Grave-Troll was banned since the beginning of Modern due to a fear of Dredge dominating the format like it had at different points in Extended.
However, the key card for those decks was always Dread Return, and as long as that stays banned, this card isn’t doing much that is dangerous. There are
some fringe recursion strategies involving black and green creatures that come back from the graveyard (mostly based around Vengevine), but they currently
aren’t close to Tier 1 decks. I think giving them a boost with Golgari Grave-Troll is a positive because it’s good to give players room to explore during
the deckbuilding process.

Sword of the Meek was banned since the beginning of Modern due to the dominance of Thepths in Overextended. Thepths was a combo-control deck that was hard
to answer because it had two individual combos that operated on very different axis – Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage and Thopter Foundry + Sword of the
Meek. Banning the Dark Depths part makes a lot of sense since it could win on turn 3, something that is against the nature of the format, but the Thopter
part’s “win” consists of popping out one Thopter on turn 3, and then 3-4 Thopters on Turn 4 if it goes as fast as possible and faces no disruption. This is
well within the parameters of Modern, and it looks silly next to infinite Pestermites or going off with Jeskai Ascendancy. It’s a powerful synergy, but as
far as two card combos in the format go, not out of line.

Punishing Fire was banned after the 2011 World Championships in San Francisco. Zoo decks had become an oppressive part of the metagame, and it was thought
that midrange, the natural predator of Zoo, was being kept out of the format by Punishing Fire. Indeed, Jund and Melira Pod went from being less than 5% of
the format each, to double digit percentages of the format when Punishing Fire was banned. After Punishing Fire was banned, cards had to be banned from
Jund, which became oppressive, and following that, there have been calls to ban Birthing Pod, which had oppressed the format until the recent printing of
Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Rather than banning key Jund and Birthing Pod cards, it makes sense to return a card that preys on them to the

Cards to Watch

Changing the banned list changes the dynamic equilibrium of a format. Umezawa’s Jitte is complicated, as it helps aggro-control and midrange archetypes
more than others. Thus unbanning Jitte would help Jund, Abzan, Faeries, and Delver decks the most generally by powering up Dark Confidant or Bitterblossom.
Almost everyone who liked Deathrite Shaman likes a Jitte, so the conditions for returning Jitte to the format would be aggro-control not being too powerful
with the return of Ancestral Visions, or midrange being particularly hurt by the return of Punishing Fire. In general, this card makes the format more
about itself, but there is probably already enough artifact hate people have to play for Affinity that this Umezawa’s Jitte isn’t overly warping people’s
card choices.

Cards to Keep Banned

Green Sun’s Zenith offers too much utility to green decks. Specifically, it allows ramping with Dryad Arbor at too cheap a cost while getting to double as
silver bullets/extras of your best threat/extra combo pieces for the low price of one mana to tutor. As long as Birthing Pod is legal, it just doesn’t seem
reasonable to give it more consistency with this alongside it. Moreover, since G/B/x Midrange and Zoo decks dominated prior to it, it just doesn’t seem
like green decks need any more power. If Pod was ever banned, this could go to the Watch list.

Cloudpost makes a lot of fast mana in a way that is superior to Urza’s lands. The major difference is that Glimmerpost brings a pile of life to it, which
is often the difference between successfully racing aggro/burn to whatever the big ramp goal was and dying before quite making it there. Even though
Cloudpost decks didn’t have a high win percentage at the first Modern Pro Tour in Philadelphia, the card shaped the format and, if unbanned, there would be
turn 3 wins waiting in the wings (even if less consistently without the boost from Green Sun’s Zenith).

Jace has too much baggage to risk unbanning. It’s an expensive card that people will be really unhappy about if it has to be rebanned later. Additionally,
it was banned during its own Standard format, which is an extraordinary measure and reminds us of its absolute power level. An often overlooked issue with
this card is that it is a powerful alternate win condition for combo decks, since they can advance their hand with it, leaving the opponent to deal with
the threat of a combo, or with having to deal with Jace. Those kind of options are just too powerful for blue decks.

Those were Patrick’s suggestions. These below are my own additional ones.

Cards to Unban

In discussions, all five artifact lands are often considered together. However, there is a big difference between one more being unbanned (for eight
possible artifact lands) and a bunch of them being unbanned (for as many as you want, in any colors you want). The danger in too many artifact lands is
making Mox Opal a reliable accelerant for combo decks and making Affinity too degenerate with Disciple of the Vault + Arcbound Ravager shenanigans. Alex
Majlaton, an Affinity expert, seemed to think that even with all the
artifact lands, Affinity wouldn’t play more than a couple, and that Disciple is not a preferable kill to the current deck configuration. The purpose of
unbanning one of these lands is to make Thirst for Knowledge, Trinket Mage, and other artifact-centric (primarily blue) cards more functional. Seat of the
Synod is the one that makes sense thematically since blue is the most artifact aligned color. Seat of the Synod being legal would meaningfully open up
brewing space for non-Affinity artifact-centric aggro-control, midrange, and control decks.

Cards to Watch

If midrange decks get really hurt by Punishing Fire being returned to the format, or if Umezawa’s Jitte isn’t safe to put back because of aggro-control,
Deathrite Shaman seems like it could return to the format. Deathrite Shaman is very powerful, but also a card that contributes to fair games (he’s an
honorary hatebear!) It is also a potential aggro-control card but puts strong deckbuilding constraints in place that Jitte does not require, which balances
it out relatively speaking. However, if midrange decks keep on top of the heap, there’s no reason to let Deathrite Shaman out of the cage.

Cards to Ban

Storm is still a very consistent deck with occasional turn 3 kills and proof that the bans of Rite of Flame and Seething Song weren’t quite directed at the
right card(s) to stymie the archetype. The heart of Storm is Pyromancer’s Ascension, but I’m assuming we’re trying not to ban that because there are so
many cool decks that can build around it. I thought banning the ritual cards might be effective initially, but then Goblin Electromancer was printed at the
same time, which provides much more mana than either Rite of Flame or Seething Song. One of the real tricks is that Storm has trouble producing blue mana
to power its cantrips while going off. Manamorphose provides that blue mana, ensuring that once a certain number of cards have been seen, that the Storm
deck will likely be able to draw and play everything. It’s a free Storm count, and it’s simply bonkers with an active Pyromancer Ascension. It’s even
possible Rite of Flame and Seething Song could be released back into the wild if the right parts of Storm are gutted.

These cards are both incredibly powerful in a Modern format where there are many cantrips that can fill the graveyard quickly, in particular Thought Scour
and Faithless Looting. In the very short time they’ve been legal, they’ve warped the format heavily towards Delver decks and blue combo decks like
Scapeshift, Storm, and Jeskai Ascendancy. These being legal in a world where Ponder is banned seems barely conceivable. I know I’m likely preaching to the
choir here, but it’s time for these to exit Modern.

What do you think? What cards should come back? Which cards should go? And are there any that should be on the watch list that you think I missed?