Over/Under? Bets On Modern, Bannings, And Todd Stevens

It’s time to run some numbers! We’ve posed five tough questions about SCG Cincinnati and the Modern format to Ari Lax and Todd Anderson. Read their responses and vote for yourself: what are you putting your money down on?

[Welcome to Over/Under! We’ve given Ari Lax and Todd Anderson five “numbers” to consider for Modern, SCG Cincinnati, and beyond. Learn what the experts think and then cast your vote!]

Number of different archetypes in the SCG Cincinnati Modern Open Top 8: 6.5

Ari Lax: Under. This is just the birthday problem. No specific deck is likely to put two copies in the Top 8, but it is likely some decks have doubles. That probably accounts for the first duplicate, but the second? I think Modern is reaching a point with Storm where there is an actual, consistent force pushing the metagame in a direction. A couple of decks will be good choices this weekend, or maybe there’s just one really good choice, and that will cover an extra slot or two.

Todd Anderson: Under. I fully expect the tournament to be dominated by Storm, pushing out a large percentage of the random archetypes. I expect at least two copies in the Top 8, followed by two copies of either Death’s Shadow or Eldrazi Tron. Both of those decks have solid matchups against Storm, but the strength of Storm might just be unrivaled at the moment.

With Storm winning two of the last three Modern Opens, there could be some major backlash in the form of random hate cards. Decks like Death and Taxes could make a comeback and adopt more cards like Ethersworn Canonist and the like to put the needle to Storm. If people keep playing the same old stuff without adopting more directed hate for Storm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three copies break into the elimination rounds.

We’ve had a good run, Modern, but the time has come for the top-tier decks to start dominating again. I couldn’t even tell you how or why Storm got so good in such a short period of time. And if Emma Handy can win with it, then you know it has to be busted (please don’t hit me).

Number of Modern cards that will be unbanned at the next announcement: 1.5

Ari Lax: Hard Under. Bloodbraid Elf is probably fine. It isn’t like Thoughtseize decks killing faster is a concern in a Death’s Shadow world, Snapcaster Mage has found its place there as basically the same card if not better, and it would be nice for people to get to play four-drops again.

Past that, it isn’t close. Nothing has a chance.

Todd Stevens had the second-safest card on the banned list as Blazing Shoal. I don’t agree, as I think it is Umezawa’s Jitte, but still. Stoneforge Mystic is messed up; Jace, the Mind Sculptor is mega-messed up; and Splinter Twin sucks.

Unbanning is also a resource. One big shakeup to a fine format isn’t as useful as being able to do another in the future, tying it to a ban as a feel-good, or just not risking two things at once.

Todd Anderson: Over. While Modern is in a fine spot, I have always been a fan of unbanning cards here and there to shake things up. In the last five years, we’ve seen some unbans do very little to the format (Thopter Foundry, Bitterblossom), while others have had perfectly fine decks built around them (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle). Experimentation with the Banned List is crucial to the health of the format, and we’ve only had one card be a major offender after getting unbanned (Golgari Grave-Troll).

Green Sun’s Zenith is my easy pick for allowing a card to come off the banned list. Though it did define green decks while it was legal, there are plenty of green archetypes that don’t really want that kind of effect. The power level is fairly small, since you’re paying an extra mana for whatever creature you’re getting. Obviously, tutoring up specific cards can be a little too good, which is why it was banned in the first place. Plus, it acts like an incredibly versatile Llanowar Elves alongside Dryad Arbor, so I could see some downside to bringing it back.

I would love to have Bloodbraid Elf and Splinter Twin come back, if only for a test run, but I don’t want to get my hopes up. With Death’s Shadow being “king of the midrange” decks, bringing back Bloodbraid Elf to give Jund a bit of a kick doesn’t seem all that dangerous. And if we’re being honest, Bloodbraid Elf was never the offender. It was Deathrite Shaman.

Number of Standard archetypes you’d consider competitive in the current metagame: 5.5

Ari Lax: Over. I’ll make a list.

Temur, Ramunap Red, U/B Control, Abzan Tokens, Esper Tokens, Mardu, Sultai Energy, U/W Approach, Esper Gift.

That’s over, even if you don’t consider “Anointed Procession and 56 cards” different from “Anointed Procession and a slightly different 56 cards.”

That said, if I came back in a couple of weeks after Pro Tour Ixalan and said “Nothing but Temur is good, try again next set,” I wouldn’t be shocked. This is just a part of five-set Standard. There aren’t enough cards for non-Temur decks to just have all good stuff in the right balance, so the pile of best cards wins. G/W Tokens did it, Abzan did it, Thragtusk did it, and so on.

Todd Anderson: Under. While there certainly are more than five Standard decks that you can win with, I think the more important question is why would you play anything other than Temur Energy or U/B Control. Those are the two clear front-runners in the format, and everything else is just trying to play catch-up. We had a virtual three-deck metagame at the World Championship, and I don’t know if much has changed since then.

Ramunap Red and various token strategies aren’t bad, but they’re far enough behind that I would need a very good reason for playing anything other than Temur Energy or U/B Control. Have you ever cast Whirler Virtuoso against an aggro deck? Have you ever cast Torrential Gearhulk on an empty battlefield?

Have you gotten to flip Search for Azcanta yet? Spoiler alert: it’s good.

I don’t know if I’ve played against more than five different archetypes in the last two weeks. At the very least, the different decks are usually similar archetypes with different color splashes (Esper Tokens versus Abzan Tokens, U/B versus Grixis Control, etc.).

Todd Stevens’s finish in the SCG Cincinnati Modern Open: 8.5

Ari Lax: Under if he plays Spell Queller, Over if he plays some other trash. I don’t run Todd Stevens’s life, so he can always make horrible mistakes I can’t control. But he seems to be talking about playing good cards instead of cute cards in his Collected Company deck.

Spell Queller has been the truth in Modern for over a year, but people haven’t quite caught on. It’s broad interaction for the creature toolbox decks that are short on it, and it’s a clock for the interactive decks that can’t afford to play non-interactive cards. If Todd plays Bant Knightfall with four of this card and a good sideboard, he has this in the bag.

Otherwise, it’s up to fate. Fate has been on Todd’s side a fair amount lately, so this might be a bad bet, but I’ll choose overspending his luck bankroll over inertia in the nonsense department any day.

Todd Anderson: Over. Todd Stevens can only get so lucky for so long before…

Eh, just kidding. Todd Stevens, the name that people regularly call me now that he’s become big-time, has been killing it lately. Even though both of the decks he likes to play are utter garbage…

Man, I gotta stop ripping on that guy. He’s too nice! But still. Over.

With the rising popularity of Storm, I don’t think the old G/W Do-Nothing Doofuses deck is going to cut it. Unless, of course (Todd, are you reading this?), you decide to pack your sideboard full of real hate cards. And I mean something like two Eidolon of Rhetoric, three Ethersworn Canonist, and maybe even splashing some Meddling Mages.

Copies of Search for Azcanta in the SCG Cincinnati Modern Open Top 8: 0.5

Ari Lax: Under. You can’t pay two mana to do nothing in Modern.

You. Can’t. Pay. Two. Mana. To. Do. Nothing. In. Modern.

Geist of Saint Traft is barely playable in half the matchups Jeskai plays it in because it involves tapping mana to do nothing, and it actually kills your opponent in three turns!

Search for Azcanta doesn’t kill anyone in three turns. It does basically nothing for two turns. Then it makes you slightly more effective at doing nothing. That is not a winning plan in this format.

The only out is Search for Azcanta as a narrow sideboard card for control mirrors out of Jeskai Full-On Control or Blue Scapeshift. I will bet against both of those decks any day.

Todd Anderson: Over. I don’t know why we’re talking about Search for Azcanta in Modern. The card is great and all, but I’m just going to strictly talk about Standard so I can say over. Maybe someone puts one in their Jeskai Control deck for funsies? Hey, Mr. Editor, are you trolling me? Are you trying to win a bet with someone? [I am not trolling you. Also note a third piece about it had to be changed to prevent too many people from writing about it.– Ed.]

Hopefully someone heading to SCG Cincinnati reads this and decides to play one in their Burn sideboard as a joke, just to give my editor the business. So yeah, go play one Search for Azcanta in your sideboard. It’s great! (It’s not.)