Constructed Criticism – Modern Moving Forward

What’s wrong with Modern? Todd wants to make some major changes to the banned and unbanned lists. Do you agree? Speak up in the comments!

Before we begin, I would like to say that last week’s article was not a normal article, and very rarely do I dig that deep and produce something so personal. My life is part of my writing, and I very rarely hold anything back because that is the kind of person I am. Those of you who know me personally can vouch that I tell things how they are, and I expect very little sympathy from anyone, and I treat everyone equally.

With that said, I went a little “all-in” last week with my article and didn’t give you guys a lot of the finer details. For starters, I’m going to school next year. For now, I have a lot of extra income due to my big win a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to never work again, and it doesn’t mean I’m going to invest the rest of my life into a competitive card game. Would it be awesome to work for Wizards of the Coast creating and playtesting new sets? Sure. Would I like to be grinding PTQs when I’m 35? Probably not the best idea.

The main emphasis of my article last week is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be shoved into a box and left there to rot. I know my actions at my job were a bit immature, but the fact remains that it held me back from doing something I loved. The pay was paltry at best, and I know for a fact that I could easily make more money just writing more, trading more, and grinding Magic Online more. I know the going won’t be easy, and I don’t expect it to be, but the cushion I’m sitting on makes things a lot easier for us until I get back in school.

With that said, on to some real business: Modern. Possibly the fastest Pro Tour format in recent history, Modern displayed aggressive and consistent third turn kills, which is faster and possibly more degenerate than Pro Tour: Tinker early last decade (I wanna say New Orleans, but I can’t be sure). Sure, the combos can be “easily” disrupted with a Path to Exile, assuming the combo player is a fumbling idiot and doesn’t play cards like Dispel, Spell Pierce, Spellskite, and even Disrupting Shoal. That’s right, Disrupting Shoal, acting as a pseudo-Force of Will since 2005.

And the funny thing is that it wasn’t even the best “Shoal” of the tournament. Blazing Shoal showed people who was boss, combining with Dragonstorm or Progenitus to deal a lot of poison damage on the back of Inkmoth Nexus and Blighted Agent. Sam Black loss in the Top 4 was especially ludicrous considering he played three Peer Through Depths and a handful of Ponders and Preordains, missing over and over again. 

As most of you know, my performance wasn’t quite as awesome as I hoped it would be at Pro Tour Philadelphia. My team—consisting of Michael Hetrick, Ricky Sidher, and Noah Koessel, a bunch of grinders from Northern California who are infamous on Magic Online as the “_Holla” clan—worked for the short weeks leading up to the tournament on a variety of decks.

Since we are all fairly new to the PT scene, we had a few misconceptions about the entire process. For one, we found a really good strategy and tried to keep it secret. Once we found “the nuts,” we decided to move all in and just test it against a lot of different decks we thought might be popular. Since we didn’t live near each other, all of our testing was done strictly on Magic Online. However, since the deck seemed really powerful, we wanted to keep it under wraps and didn’t want to play it in any Daily Events.

For whatever it’s worth, unless you have a large team playtesting with a bunch of different cards, variants, and post-sideboard strategies, keeping anything a secret is absolutely garbage. Even if I had the perfect list for my deck, I still was about one turn slower than the rest of the combo decks, and my combo was solid but not that difficult to disrupt. For what it’s worth, here is what we played, with a few cards different in each list based on preference:

Cards like Gaddock Teeg and Aven Mindcensor were real problems for me, and the latter was something we never once thought to test against. Let me begin by saying that I AM NOT ADVOCATING THIS DECK FOR THE CURRENT MODERN FORMAT.

Sure, it has some awesome things going for it. Scapeshift, Amulet of Vigor, and four lands let you grab all of the Cloudposts, then cast either Emrakul or Ulamog. If you had Primeval Titan in hand, you could just grab a pair of Cloudposts and two Forests, allowing you to cast the Titan. With Zenith, you could get a single Forest and three Cloudposts, allowing you to search out Primeval Titan or Terastodon (which was used in a lot of our testing, but cut late into the game).

The tricky parts came when you got to five lands. With Scapeshift and Amulet along with five lands in play, you could acquire four Cloudposts and Eye of Ugin, with enough mana to search out and cast Ulamog. If you had six lands, you could search out four Cloudposts, Glimmerpost, Eye of Ugin, allowing you to search up and cast Emrakul.

That was our “combo,” but we had a lot of other ramp elements in the deck that allowed us to get big really fast. Scapeshift allowed us to annihilate the mirror, which was a pretty frequent occurrence on Magic Online, but virtually non-existent at the Pro Tour. Sure, people were playing the deck, but it just wasn’t a good choice for such a combo-filled environment.

Just to give you an example of how hostile the format was, the StarCityGames.com booth at the event sold 40 copies of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker on the Friday before the tournament. There were a decent amount of other vendors there, and I’m sure a lot of them brought various older rares with them that people would be desperate for. By the end of the weekend, dealers were buying Disrupting Shoal for $12 each. Blazing Shoal and Disrupting Shoal have both gone through the roof as far as price is concerned, and StarCity has been sold out since this past weekend.

For now, Modern is done for, at least until they make some more announcements. There are no Modern Grand Prix this year, and PTQs shouldn’t start until January if the format replaces Extended. With that said, there will be another round of bannings, and possibly unbannings, in order to make the format more accessible and fun. A lot of people have different opinions about this entire ordeal, but I’m going to present you with my arguments for banning and unbanning certain cards, and why.

Cards to Unban:

Stoneforge Mystic

How is this card unfair when the entirety of the format revolves around trying to not interact with your opponent? Stoneforge Mystic does the exact opposite of this. Interaction is what Stoneforge Mystic is all about. My only concern is that unbanning this should lead to the banning of Batterskull. Batterskull was the card that really sent Stoneforge Mystic over the top in Standard and led to a lot of degenerate mirror matches that weren’t really fun or interesting. While it would be awesome to be able to beat people to death with Batterskull, I don’t think it would be healthy for the format. Without it, Stoneforge Mystic is just really good, but probably still worse than Blighted Agent, and definitely still worse than Inkmoth Nexus.

Mental Misstep

This might be a mistake, if only because it would allow Splinter Twin to have another potent answer to Path to Exile, but overall I think it would let Control decks back into the format. As of now, they have no real way to stall the early turns of a combo or aggro deck without a large drawback. Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce are pretty poor against Zoo, and most removal spells are dead against anything involving Rite of Flame. Mental Misstep is part of the reason that combo decks don’t go nuts in Legacy, along with Force of Will, and both are used in combo decks to help protect combos. If they unbanned Mental Misstep, control decks would have a strong tool for gaining an advantage against aggro decks, as well as a way to force through their disruption against combo decks.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Again, control was virtually non-existent at this Pro Tour, making it “unhealthy” in that the three big archetypes weren’t represented. Control, aggro, and combo make up a balanced “pie” of a healthy format. The combo piece of the pie is much more prevalent in formats like Legacy, but is still very much a part of Standard as well. Without the existence of one part of the pie, another part of the pie would run rampant.

In Modern, Control decks just can’t function without draw engines and good disruption. Bringing Jace back to the playing field would help give them a mid-game advantage. How can a four-casting cost sorcery-speed spell be good in a format where people are regularly dead on turn three?

Ancestral Vision

Ancestral Vision should never have gone into the ban list, in my opinion. The card is slow, easy to see coming, and pretty bad when not suspended on the first or second turn. Honestly, there are plenty of other degenerate cards out there that should have been banned over this, but I don’t think WotC wanted Modern to be a functional copy of Standard, with control decks running rampant. They definitely over-banned, but now they have to fix it.

Cards to Ban:


While this archetype was not well represented, it did contribute a lot to the warping of the format. Cloudpost and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle are very similar in how they interact with the rest of the format. Both cards virtually invalidate midrange strategies, keeping people from playing decks like Death Cloud, Bant, and even Zoo in a lot of cases.

Cloudpost decks are much stronger against control than Valakut decks ever were and definitely should get the axe if only to let other decks have a chance to breathe. I’ve often cast Emrakul on turn 3 with the Amulet-Scapeshift deck, and it was even easier to cast him on turn 4. In a format as big as Modern, you have too many ways to search out the pieces, and the decks becomes really hard to interact with once they hit the third Cloudpost or Vesuva. I honestly think they should have banned Cloudpost to begin with, but it was an oversight that I really hope they correct.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

From Through the Breach to casting it straight up with Cloudpost, Emrakul is a very unfair card that rarely finds itself in a fair deck. I’ve even seen a few people reanimate him with Goryo’s Vengeance and Makeshift Mannequin. There could be an argument for leaving him alone if they ban Cloudpost, but I don’t think you’ll ever see anyone tap fifteen lands to cast Emrakul. With Overgrown Battlement tagging along with Green Sun’s Zenith and Wall of Roots, it really isn’t even that hard to cast him without Cloudpost.

Inkmoth Nexus

While you can argue until your face turns blue, this card is not good for the game. If you ban everything around it and make it the lone win condition of a control deck, it would probably still be too good. However, cards like Blazing Shoal become overpriced staples in a format where this is still a card. The worst part about this card is that it helps make Affinity viable again. I’ve already watched a ton of replays where people used Arcbound Ravager and moved a bunch of counters onto it to kill them a turn or more earlier. With Cranial Plating, as well as various other ways to pump it, I think it would be easier and cleaner than banning everything around it.

Rite of Flame

Probably the most degenerate of the ritual effects in the format, this card certainly won’t fix any problems you might have with storm as a mechanic. This, at least, would be a solid start to fixing the problem that is Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens, and even Dragonstorm. I have also seen plenty of Pyromancer Ascension decks running this card to great effect, making it my #1 pick for ritual effect to get the hammer. Things like Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, Seething Song, and Simian Spirit Guide are also candidates, but none are as potent as Rite of Flame. Additionally, Manamorphose could get some consideration, since it helps to generate an absurd number of storm copies, as well as create infinite loops with Pyromancer Ascension. I don’t think it is bad enough to get banned, but definitely a card I would watch in the coming months.

While these cards might not necessarily be what you would ban or unban to “fix” the format, I think that this is definitely a decent start. There are a lot of cards and strategies that can be tamed by the unbanning of a few control staples. With these new weapons at our disposal, combo decks will have a much tougher time assembling all the pieces in a short period of time.

While Zoo made the finals in the hands of Josh Utter-Leyton, I don’t think it is a good representation of the format. Zoo is not a good call in a format as hostile as this one. Sure, you’re well prepared against Splinter Twin due to cards like Path to Exile and Bant Charm, but Josh lost in the finals 3-1 against Splinter Twin. When this is the case, you should know that something is definitely wrong. How could he hope to interact with a storm combo deck that makes 14 Goblins on the first turn? Would it then become worth it for them to sideboard Pyroclasm? Engineered Explosives?

When they created the banned list for Modern, they took a lot of old archetypes into consideration, including Dredge, Elves, and many others, but the tools exist for people to build pretty much any combo deck they desire. The answer should be to unban a few cards instead of banning a ton of others.

Some people have jokingly suggested reprinting certain cards specifically for Modern play, but not for Standard. Force of Will was the biggest card in the talk of this matter, but I honestly think that would do nothing to correct the current situation and probably only extenuate the reign of combo.

Also, I’m sure WotC doesn’t want Modern to become “Legacy Lite.” That would almost be a slap in the face to anyone who owns Legacy staples. If that was the intention, what did they fix about this format? The cards are just as expensive and growing more and more expensive every day. Popularity breeds demand, which leads to an increase in price. The market drives the value of cards, and it doesn’t matter what you do. The hard-to-find cards that everyone wants will always be pricey. Just look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard a few months ago.

If Wizards of the Coast wants to have the “right” banned list, it can only come from weeks, or even months, of grinding events. There was no one combo that overran the tournament, but instead a lot of different combos that used various engines. Control decks getting wrecked by the previous bannings did little in containing these new monsters, but hopefully a bit of action can help restore control to correct the archetype balance. Otherwise, I think the format will become stale and people will lose interest. People love attacking. People love countering spells. Don’t let Blazing Shoal be a real card in Modern. Please, for the love of the game, just let me cast Stoneforge Mystic and call it a day.


Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL