I have a decently high stakes, multi-format tournament coming up that I should be preparing for (#MTGSuper), but instead, I’ve spent the last weeks playing the Vintage Cube on Magic Online, as well as updating my own physical Cube. I tried playing in a Standard League, but I just couldn’t bring myself to keep playing, even though I like my deck! In the New Year, I’d like to see some changes to Magic’s competitive formats, which I think all have some problems right now. This will be a list of the changes I’d like to see, and the reasons I think they’d be good, or why they’re necessary.
No deck has ever dominated a format as long or as thoroughly as Miracles has dominated Legacy.
I think Miracles has literal years on its next closest competitor, though I’m not exactly sure how it compares to Shops in Vintage. Yes, something has to be the best, and yes, it’s more likely to stay the same in an Eternal format, but this deck in particular being given free rein just doesn’t make sense to me.
Top/Counterbalance is not now and never has been a fun interaction to play against, and should never have been allowed to be one of the defining pieces of a format.
This would be annoying, but understandable if it were simply a slightly above-average combination of two reasonable cards, but Sensei’s Divining Top is a card that was banned in Extended for a combination of power level and impact on tournaments because it simply takes too much time. This was never a problem that was unique to Extended; it is a problem with the card, and the ban should have immediately been applied to Legacy for the exact same reasons, but was given a pass because Wizards just didn’t care enough about Legacy as a competitive format to apply the same reasoning to it.
I don’t know how many years it’ll take before they decide we’ve had enough, but I’m hoping 2017 will be the year Sensei’s Divining Top is finally banned in Legacy.
Patrick Chapin’s article on possible changes to Modern was excellent, and I agree with most of what he says, but that was mostly looking at alternate formats and different philosophies for Modern, which are interesting, but I don’t think we should expect a radical shift to Modern in the near future, since I believe it’s actually in a relatively good place right now, even if several vocal pros don’t like the format.
Within the context of Modern as it is, I think there are some small changes that would help. First, I’d support banning any of the following:
This is simply the most powerful card in Modern, and seeing it legal while Chrome Mox is banned is just incongruous. It gets a pass on power level because there are serious restrictions about where it works, and while Affinity is always near the top, it’s never actually the best deck, and it’s a good deck to keep floating near the top because it’s easy to hate if it ever is the best deck, so it’s gotten a pass.
Okay, I get that. I get that we somehow live in a world where Affinity is the good guy, because it’s easy enough for players to keep in check if they have to, but banning Mox Opal doesn’t ban Affinity; it just makes it weak enough that people play less hate, which ultimately might not change its position that much (though it does likely end up a little less successful). Still, the deck is playable and would feel very similar without it, which may not be true if Cranial Plating were banned.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 3 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
Really, a Mox Opal ban, as I see it, isn’t about hurting Affinity. It’s about two different things. First, I like when the banned list contains all the cards that are just objectively too good. Banning cards on pure power level rather than context to attack specific decks just feels more objective, which makes it feel more fair and more just. It’s hard to feel like my deck was specifically targeted and feel a personal affront if the card that was taken out of it really was just too good.
The second purpose is that it cripples Lantern of Insight.
Lantern of Insight is a deck that a lot of people really, deeply hate, but others think it’s kind of awesome that it can exist, and I think that’s about right; it’s the kind of deck that’s cute in really small numbers, but I could see it getting miserable if it’s too successful. I believe that banning Mox Opal keeps the deck out of competitive Modern as anything but a fringe strategy.
Yes, simply banning Lantern of Insight or Ensnaring Bridge just destroys the deck, but the deck relies more on Mox Opal than you might think. Mox Opal isn’t just the best card in it, but it’s specifically critical to the strategy of emptying its hand quickly enough to turn on Ensnaring Bridge. This deck simply can’t afford to lose the speed boost Mox Opal offers. Not only would its best draws slow down, but if it replaced Mox Opal with lands, the “one land per turn” rule would frequently make it impossible to play out your hand. Yes, there are simple adjustments that could be made, like playing Faithless Looting or Collective Brutality, but I think the deck would lose too much.
Note the interaction between these two points. I’m one of the players who really enjoys playing Lantern Control, so I’d feel targeted if they banned Lantern or Ensnaring Bridge, but even though it would force me to change decks all the same, I’m advocating for banning Mox Opal because it just feels right and just, so I couldn’t take it personally.
Cathartic Reunion and Prized Amalgam have pushed Dredge over the top. Yes, it’s Dredge, so one can always play enough hate to beat it, but current Modern Dredge is actually relatively good against Dredge hate because it’s so good at shifting into “dig for answers” mode. Modern is a large enough format where sideboards are important enough that expecting everyone to just devote four to seven sideboard slots to Dredge is a ridiculously big ask, but that’s not even my biggest problem with it.
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 1 Haunted Dead
My real problem with Dredge is the splash damage of making everyone have lots of graveyard hate in their sideboard.
I really like playing with new cards in Eternal formats. When I update my Cube, I always try to put as many new cards in as possible, even if I don’t expect them to stay (which is why my current Cube has Contraband Kingpin over Shadowmage Infiltrator, as well as Gonti, Lord of Luxury and Fleetwheel Cruiser). Delirium is a recent mechanic with a ton of sweet cards that haven’t really gotten to shine in Modern, partially because any other deck that heavily uses the graveyard is basically just a worse Dredge deck: you won’t win as much Game 1, and then their sideboard cards will still be great against you.
Most of my favorite cards use the graveyard, so whenever Dredge is good, all the cards I actually like just because they’re sweet become (even more) unplayable.
In summary, Dredge has all the problems of a deck that’s too good combined with splash damage that shrinks the format in exactly the wrong way, disproportionately preventing both new cards and fun cards from showing up.
I don’t think this is necessary, but it feels like the easiest ban to take Death’s Shadow (and incidentally U/R Battle Rage) down a notch. It’s fundamentally broken enough that no one would really complain, and every deck that uses it could continue to exist in slightly weakened form without it, but I think prowess and delve have just pushed this card a little too far, and we’d be better off without it.
Of course, what I really want to see is the banning of Scalding Tarn, Arid Mesa, Misty Rainforest, Windswept Heath, Wooded Foothills, Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Marsh Flats, Verdant Catacombs, and Polluted Delta, but I understand that that just isn’t going to happen, and that I’m best off hoping that Patrick Chapin is right that the next Eternal format will start with Magic Origins, or otherwise not include these cards, which are not only horrible for gameplay but particularly horrible for viewers, so I’m hoping that, as that becomes a higher priority, eventually steps have to be taken to keep these lands off-camera.
There are a lot of other cards that I think it would be reasonable to ban (off the top of my head: Inkmoth Nexus, Simian Spirit Guide, Become Immense, Ancient Stirrings), but at this exact moment, I don’t feel strongly enough that any of them should be banned for them to make my wish list.
All that being said, If I had to choose between banning and unbanning cards in Modern, and I couldn’t do both, I’d actually rather unban at the moment. These are the cards I think should be unbanned:
Ancestral Vision was a decent first step to reinvigorating control in Modern, and I think we can safely say that that was a safe card to unban for now, and while it has seen a little play, I don’t think it’s accomplished its goal. I think Jace, the Mind Sculptor is safe for Modern.
I think Jace, the Mind Sculptor was safe enough in Standard when Bloodbraid Elf was legal, and Modern has better tools. I actually think it’s reasonable to look at Legacy as a point of comparison here, and while Jace is good enough, it’s not oppressive or ubiquitous there.
I understand hesitation on unbanning Jace, as the cost of the card would bother some people. It’s not the kind of card they want to see dominating Modern, and it would be disastrous, given the price, if they have to ban it again after unbanning it, but I genuinely think it would be fringe enough that this wouldn’t be too bad. I’m not saying it wouldn’t see play, but it’s not the kind of card you’d have to own to play Modern, and I really don’t think it would be oppressive.
I think this was mostly a situation where they just hit the wrong card when they should have banned Deathrite Shaman, and then they didn’t fix their mistake when they actually banned Deathrite Shaman. There was a brief moment where I was worried about just how much value you could get off this and Kolaghan’s Command, but I’m looking at Death’s Shadow and Dredge, and I’m over it. What I really want is Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor unbanned together so that we can watch these competing card advantage engines square off.
Those are the only two that make the wish list, but as with bans, there are several others that I wouldn’t mind. I think Blazing Shoal is basically just a worse Become Immense, and without Ponder/Preordain, I don’t think anyone would bother trying to infect someone that way, so it could come off the banned list, but it’s not important because no one would play it anyway, so it wouldn’t shake things up, and if it ever did see play, it wouldn’t be doing anything good, so there’s no compelling reason to unban it.
Birthing Pod could probably come back, especially if Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf were also legal, but I think it’s the riskiest of the three, so I don’t need to start there. As for Green Sun’s Zenith, I don’t think this should be considered unless Dryad Arbor is banned, which has the advantage of incidentally banning that horrific From the Vault Dryad Arbor, but without Dryad Arbor, it’s probably a fair card.
Standard is in a bad place right now. I know that there are people who defend it, and it’s actually not even that hard to defend; the metagame both changes over time and has a good amount of diversity at any given time. At its worst it’s been a “three-deck metagame,” but even then there were substantial variations within each of the big three, and in reality, there have always been at least four serious contenders, and which three are the big three has changed over time. Even the last Grand Prix featured Seth Manfield’s great run with a new deck late in the season.
Despite these mitigating factors on paper, people just don’t like the format. As a content creator, I’ve been asked to avoid the format for weeks because people just aren’t interested, and as a player, when I went back to test it, getting Emrakul, the Promised End cast against me certainly made me remember when I wasn’t excited to work on it more.
I understand that cards shouldn’t be banned in Standard lightly, and I loved Emrakul when it was spoiled, because it was an awesome, powerful, flavorful design. That’s all still true, but the game play just doesn’t hold up to as many castings as Emrakul’s getting.
As such, my top wish for Magic in 2017 is banning Emrakul, the Promised End from Standard with Aether Revolt.
I know there’s some debate about whether Aetherworks Marvel or Emrakul, the Promised End is the problem, but I know what the format looks like with Emrakul and without Aetherworks Marvel, and I’m not excited about it. I don’t know what the format looks like with Aetherworks Marvel and no Emrakul, especially if Aether Revolt has more energy cards (which I’d hope and expect it does).
I can actually imagine energy decks using Aetherworks Marvel in a relatively fair way and that being kind of cool, so I’d rather not ban that at this point (I hope it doesn’t need to be banned at all, but I’m not ready to rule out the possibility, depending on what support it gets from Aether Revolt, and then how much of a problem casting Nicol Bolas with it ends up being once that’s in Standard).
Happy New Year
That concludes my wishlist to Wizards for this year. I tried to keep it to things like “I want a Nintendo” rather than “I want a pony” (maybe dating myself a bit there), so I didn’t include things like “a Modern-legal Cabal Therapy reprint,” so I’m hoping to actually get some of these by the end of January.
I’ll feed it and take care of it.