No Banned List Modern For SCG CON!

Brad Nelson has played a few games of No Banned List Modern for VS, and now he’s bringing his knowledge to Premium! Don’t get caught off-guard at SCG CON!

Can you believe #SCGCON is right around the corner? Rationally, I know the event was announced almost half a year ago, yet it still has given me the sensation of sneaking right up on me. The Invitational, of course, will be the usual Modern and Standard formats, but StarCityGames.com is also running tons of other tournaments on the weekend.

There are many cool formats to participate, in whether it’s Old School 93-94, No Banned List Modern, Legacy, Vintage, or Pauper that excites you. Seriously, #SCGCON is going to be exciting, as it’s the first time every format imaginable will be accessible in the same location. For all the information, be sure to check out the website made specifically for the event!

The Invitational excites me most, as I’ve wanted another token of my likeness for some time now, but the format that has piqued my interest the most has to be No Banned List Modern. It embodies what I imagine the Pro Tour was like pre-Internet and before many of the top players wrote about the game on a weekly basis: so much information to get through, yet no data to help in the process, just good old theorycrafting and practicing to get to where you need to be.

Those who put the work in will have a significant advantage over those who didn’t. I guess that’s still how it is on the Pro Tour to some degree, but not to the level it was or might be in a month at #SCGCON for this Open. That’s what makes this tournament so appealing. There’s such a limited amount of information about the format on the internet that most of what you’ll find is just a bunch of over-opinionated people voicing nonsense on forums.

Those who seem to have played the format, even just a little, make it sound much more enjoyable than those who just assume it’s a format filled with Mental Missteps and Turn 2 kills. I also assumed the format was far too degenerate until I started playing it on the VS Series and started to realize it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong, though – it’s volatile, finicky, and even crazy at times. Some of the games are messed up, but that’s what one would expect from a format without restrictions. It’s just not as oppressive or difficult to jump into as many have made it out to be.

Given the complexities of this format, there’s no way I could get through everything I’d want to say in just one day. Instead I thought it would be interesting to go through all the cards on the banned list and rank them from least to most relevant and start painting the picture of what you should expect next month.

I said I’d be going through every card and that means every card. Summer Bloom was taken away from us in peculiar fashion, as it got lumped in with its biggest adversary; Splinter Twin. Amulet Bloom was a powerful deck and many considered it broken, but it never really got the chance to prove it, since Splinter Twin was always its worst matchup (a quick combo that also happened to play Blood Moon).

With so many out there playing this two-card combo, there really wasn’t much reason to play Amulet Bloom, but those who chose to still had relatively decent results. That said, this card was banned as more of a precaution than anything else. Given this, I expect Summer Bloom to be the least-played banned card, as it will have to compete with more degenerate decks.

Melira Pod was another deck that dominated Modern for some time, but that was thanks to all the other more broken things getting “benched” by bans. This deck’s biggest strength was that the format was so grindy, which let it take advantage of the extra time to generate small amounts of value every turn.

This would make Birthing Pod potentially something players could get behind, but only once the format had time to settle down. That’s not going to be the case at #SCGCON, so a deck like Melira Pod would end up being too slow and non-interactive to compete against the rest of the field.

I’m starting to see an issue with discussing every card on the ban list: there’s, like, too many of them! We’ll really need to speed this up a bit if I’m ever going to get to the interesting parts of the format.

Eggs doesn’t beat Chalice of the Void. The. End.

Dredge is another deck that should be too slow for the early days of the format. I’d also guess that graveyards will be overtargeted, as many players won’t exactly know what to put in their sideboards. I wouldn’t put it past some Dredge fanatics to find a working formula for this deck, though.

Artifact lands were absurdly broken during their time in Standard, but they by no means will power-up Affinity in these modern times. The deck just doesn’t operate the way it used to. I’d expect these lands to show up in lists trying to break Krark-Clan Ironworks or being discarded to Thirst for Knowledge. I don’t believe anything busted will come from them though.

Punishing Fire would be a great addition to current Modern but hasn’t been terribly impressive in our VS Series testing of the format. It’s just too low-impact, even against the decks it would be good against. That’s not to say it wouldn’t perform well against something like Jund or Abzan, but it isn’t what you’re looking for against fast creature combo unless you’ve already taken control of the game. Let’s not even discuss what it would be like against all the degenerate combo decks out there!

Cloudpost will live or die by how good it is in an Eldrazi shell that wants it. The list above isn’t tested, but what I would consider a mock-up would look like. I’d assume this type of strategy will be bad but it could be worth a small amount of testing just to make sure. After all, big Eldrazi always seem to trump little Eldrazi, and I expect Eldrazi to be one of the format’s best decks.

I’ve lumped these cards together since they all want to be played under the same roof; one, I believe, is not strong enough for this format. Elves is going to be good against decks trying to grind out the game, but not too much, since mass removal will give this deck a difficult time.

Not having access to the bombs it has in Legacy like Wirewood Symbiote and Quirion Ranger really puts a strain on this deck when it’s trying to combo off. Usually the deck casts a Glimpse of Nature, draws a few cards, and then passes the turn, hoping the small army will be good enough. Noncreature combo decks will always take advantage of this, and such decks should be plentiful in the format.

Skullclamp, in particular, is a card I want to talk about though. It’s another card housed under the Elves umbrella, but what it does in other strategies is no longer a good thing in Magic. Skullclamp gained its iconic status back when it dominated Standard over a decade ago.

Back then, there weren’t creatures as powerful as there are now, making the time spent to draw cards while losing battlefield position not as big of a deal. The games aren’t as grindy and the effects not as anemic. Skullclamp isn’t a good card in this format and should only be used in grindy mirrors.

Blazing Infect is about as degenerate as you can get in the format. Well, it’s probably the second-most-explosive deck behind Hypergenesis. It’ll be great at fighting against other combo decks, but will struggle against Jund, Abzan, B/G Depths, and other strategies with black-based disruption. That doesn’t mean I don’t expect it to be a part of the metagame, as it’s one of the only decks to abuse Mental Misstep as a way to push through a combo as quickly as Turn 2, yet not be highly impacted by the free counterspell.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Storm to be one of the more popular decks at #SCGCON, given how cheap, yet powerful the strategy is. It’s also one that is difficult to interact with, given how redundant the strategy will be with access to Rite of Flame and Seething Song. I know I won’t be playing a deck like this, but you’d have to imagine Ross Merriam and Caleb Scherer with be chomping at the bit to play powered-up Storm in this Open!

Finally, we get to what many consider the best deck in the format. I once was also in this camp but have had a change of heart after playing with this deck some. It’s just too inconsistent and it’s not like there much we can do about that. Sure, the dials can be worked on here and there, but that won’t change much.

The best version of the deck is out there and should make the deck a competitor, but I wouldn’t expect Hypergenesis to dominate the format (especially since everyone has access to four Chalice of the Void in their sideboard specifically for this matchup).

This is a rough draft for where I would start with Stoneforge Mystic, as it’s always overperformed alongside hand disruption. I’m unsure how many copies of Mental Misstep will be good in a deck like this, but there’s always Liliana of the Veil around to allow you to discard excess copies.

Oh, and don’t judge me on this manabase!

Miracles is the go-to location where you’ll find Sensei’s Divining Top. There’s nothing revolutionary about this decklist, but that doesn’t mean the strategy doesn’t have legs. I’ve played Miracles a few times now on the VS Series and the big takeaway is the deck has always overperformed.

Those first couple of turns each game may feel scary, as the deck’s rather top-heavy, but few strategies out there can really take advantage of them before you get the opportunity to interact. Miracles may not be the best thing you could be doing in the format, but it’s far from the worst.

U/R Twin makes Mental Misstep look the most impressive. Years ago, there were a few players discussing if Mental Misstep could be unbanned and I remember laughing directly in their faces for this exact reason. Twin will most likely represent a large percentage of the metagame just because of Mental Misstep, as much of the interaction for the combo has a converted mana cost of one. Not only that, the deck will have Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Preordain, and Dig Through Time to find the combo consistently. I’m scared of this deck and you should be too.

No Banned List Modern is not the same as Legacy and one of the most glaring examples is the format’s lack of Wasteland. Ghost Quarter can act as a replacement from time to time, but it won’t have the raw power Wasteland has. That’s why we won’t see many copies of Ghost Quarter running around and thus Dark Depths becomes that much scarier.

I thought this deck was a joke until I played against it and now believe there’s something there. The combo can also be slotted into a Maverick shell or any deck that played Knight of the Reliquary. Don’t sleep on this combo!

Let’s just say all of these cards are tied for second on my list, as many of them have already popped up in earlier lists. These cards are the heart and soul of this format and it isn’t surprising that most of them are blue. It wouldn’t shock me to find that blue decks dominate this format, but there is one strategy that can help keep them in check, and that’s why I’ve saved my top slot for a card that may very well break the format.

Colorless Eldrazi just has to be “the deck” when starting your preparation for this format. Everything on San Black’s “Levels list” is also what I would consider to be a good Level 1 gauntlet, but this is the deck you must test with and against before registering for the Open itself.

I wouldn’t count on this list being the way it eventually gets built or that it will take down the tournament with ease, but I know it will be one of the most-played decks. There’s just no way it won’t be.

My last piece of advice today: Do something powerful. Don’t try to contain the format’s power.

There are tons of “degenerate” decks to choose from and I would advise picking one of them over any of the fair decks. It will be like the Wild West out there, so knowing exactly what you need to be prepared for will be difficult. It’ll just be easier on you if you join in on the explosive action and play something disgusting.

I know I will!