Should We Unban Anything In Modern?

Have you ever looked around a room and thought you didn’t belong? Shaun McLaren calls out the cards he thinks don’t deserve to hang around with the rest of Modern’s infamous Banned List and makes their cases!

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!

So we just had a Banned and Restricted Announcement and with all the focus being on Standard lately, Modern barely even received a mention:

In Modern, we’ve just come off two very exciting Grand Prix in Vancouver and Brisbane that saw Death’s Shadow rise to the top, but a variety of decks put up strong results. While Modern certainly has its share of powerful cards, the format is in a spot right now that players seem to greatly enjoy.

This sounds about right and makes sense, since as far as Modern goes, it’s in a pretty safe and steady position.

If there are going to be bans in Modern’s future, you can expect them to be coming from Death’s Shadow decks or caused by new cards from an upcoming set, but that doesn’t seem like it will be happening anytime soon, since right now changes are not really warranted.

So what about looking in the other direction? Are there any cards that can or should be unbanned in Modern?

Everyone knows the risks and consequences of banning a card are often steep, but unbanning cards is also inherently risky. Cards generally end up banned for good reason, and that’s because they’re too powerful.

Have you ever heard the tragedy of Golgari Grave-Troll?

“Yes, it happened just recently, and…”

…No? I thought not. It’s not a story that Wizards would tell you. Golgari Grave-Troll was a Dredge enabler who became so powerful he was eventually killed for it.

Golgari Grave-Troll was unbanned on January 19, 2015 (right as Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pod were being banned!) and then banned once again January 20, 2017, two years later.

The thing is, when Golgari Grave-Troll was originally unbanned, it seemed like a perfectly fine decision. Golgari Grave-Troll barely had any effect on the format for some time. Then Prized Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion came along and made Dredge nearly unstoppable and we all know what happened after that.

On the other hand, Sword of the Meek was, and still is, a completely safe unban, even though it didn’t really change anything and barely even spawned new decks by being in the format.

Was it worth it to unban Golgari Grave-Troll in the first place when the coast appeared to be perfectly clear? Did it even accomplish much unbanning Sword of the Meek?

These are important questions to ask before taking action that illustrate the cautious approach that should be taken when unbanning a card.

There are 35 cards on the Modern Banned List, and today I’m going to classify them based on how safe I think it is to unban them and take a look at what it would mean for Modern if they were unbanned.

Tier 0 Modern Banned Cards = Code Red: Do Not Unban!

Out of the 35 cards on the banned list, 24 appear as though they should be locked up in Azkaban for life.

All of these cards are incredibly powerful and it would almost certainly completely warp the Modern landscape if any were unbanned, or at least make for some terribly uninteractive matches.

Approach with caution and don’t even try to start imagining scenarios where it would work to unban these cards.

Tier 1 Modern Banned Cards = Incredibly Dangerous, but Not Necessarily Format-Destroyers

So you’re telling me there’s a chance…

Well, maybe one in a million. All the cards on this list are banned for good reason, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. These cards should remain banned, but I also think they’re less powerful than the previous tier.

Ponder and Preordain are both quite a bit better than Serum Visions, and more excellent blue cantrips mean more potential for a busted non-interactive combo deck like Storm or Ad Nauseam to become completely broken. I don’t think unbanning either one would kill Modern, but it probably wouldn’t make it better either.

Mental Misstep is a very strange card; when it’s good, it makes the format weird.

But wouldn’t Mental Misstep help punish Death’s Shadow decks? Well, in theory it would be good, except that Death’s Shadow would love to have access to a playset of these babies.

At that point the format just starts becoming all about Mental Misstep and you have to start playing Mental Misstep to Mental Misstep other Mental Missteps or just stop running one-drops entirely or curl up into a ball and being weeping softly.

What’s the big deal? We have Gemstone Caverns and Simian Spirit Guide; why not let Chrome Mox come out and play? If you think Blood Moon is obnoxious now, just try playing against it when Chrome Mox is involved. In a format that is already fast and swingy, Chrome Mox would install a nitrous oxide engine in nearly every deck and push them to their limits.

I may be way off-base, but I can imagine a world with Umezawa’s Jitte unbanned not exploding. It’s kind of similar to Mental Misstep, except only for creature-on-creature matchups.

Jitte is incredibly versatile and powerful, but it also might be a little too slow and clunky now that Death’s Shadow decks and Fatal Push are so prominent. Umezawa’s Jitte might actually be slow enough in comparison to the rest of the format that it does an impression of a fair card… not that it’s likely anyone will be putting that to the test anytime soon. If Umezawa’s Jitte ends up being good, it’ll probably end up being really good.

Golgari Grave-Troll was a victim of circumstance. Dredge has always been about whether or not the deck can reach a critical mass of excellent graveyard cards, and there’s rarely a perfect balance.

Gitaxian Probe probably the objectively weakest card on this tier, yet a very scary and powerful utility card enabling plenty of synergies. It became a serious problem when it started enabling delve cards (particularly Become Immense) way too efficiently while also giving decks perfect information for what was essentially free, or, in the case of Death’s Shadow, better than free, since you wanted to reduce your life total.

Tier 2 Modern Banned Cards = Possibly Safe to Unban, but Still Risky Longshots!

This category is for risky cards that might just be fine in the current landscape if they were unbanned, but also might not be.

Stoneforge Mystic (in conjunction with Batterskull as the main target) is a scary card, but it might attack the format in the right kind of way by giving decks that don’t see much play a boost.

The idea of Stoneforge Mystic being unbanned picked up steam when it was announced it would be a foil Grand Prix promo. It might be a little optimistic (and a little bit too optimistic) for Stoneforge Mystic to get unbanned in the future, even though the format might be able to accommodate it.

Fatal Push is not only good at killing Stoneforge Mystic, it also kills Germ tokens with ease, which means you can spend four mana setting up for Batterskull, just to be left with a Squire.

Stoneforge Mystic might be what slower controlling decks need to make a comeback into the format.

The big risk is something like Abzan or Death and Taxes getting completely unstoppable, since Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic seems amazing. Or Death’s Shadow decks could just end up playing their own Stoneforge Mystics.

Then there’s Jace, the Mind Sculptor, better than most.

If I’ve learned one thing playing Magic, it’s that you respect Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

In theory, Best Jace is just too slow for Modern right now. There are plenty of ways to kill it, disrupt it, or ignore it. That is assuming you’ve built up enough of an advantage playing against the rest of the deck that’s designed to support Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

But what would happen to Modern if Jace, the Mind Sculptor was really good? Plenty of people would like that for a while, just because it would be such an interesting change to the way Modern was played. But that would also eventually get old, assuming things didn’t happen to be perfectly balanced somehow.

The ideal situation if you unban a card is that it creates or revives a Tier 2 or 3 archetype that isn’t that dominant. Maybe this would happen with Jace and control decks, but it probably wouldn’t work out exactly as planned.

I still wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to at least try to blink Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Felidar Guardian.

Tier 3 Modern Banned Cards = Probably Safe to Unban!

Finally we come to the category of cards that I think would actually be safe to unban in Modern. That isn’t to say that I think they will be unbanned anytime soon, they probably won’t be, but I think the format would be fine if they were.

I don’t think Splinter Twin should’ve been banned in the first place. That said, we have to work with the way things are now.

Any change can be risky, and it’s often better to just keep a card banned unless you’renearly certain it won’t hurt the format, and confident it will help the format.

Can we make that case for Splinter Twin?

For starters, we now have the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo in Modern, which hardly made a ripple as it dove into the gigantic Modern pool.

While Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian are similar to Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin, they are likely just worse in most ways for Modern. For starters, the flash on Deceiver Exarch is a game-changer and you’re only forced to play two colors.

But would the Splinter Twin combo actually be good in the current metagame as it stands?

It doesn’t seem like it would be great against Death’s Shadow decks. A fast clock, plenty of disruption, and Fatal Push makes it seem like Death’s Shadow would eat Splinter Twin decks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Other than that, we have plenty of old faces like Affinity, Ad Nauseam, and Tron decks, which should all admittedly struggle a little against Splinter Twin.

I imagine Bant Eldrazi, and even Eldrazi Tron, would be able to hold their own against Splinter Twin. Fatal Push also just seems like a solid card for dealing with Deceiver Exarch.

Splinter Twin would be unlikely to dominate the format, and it would probably just slide back into the metagame approximately where it was before as a good combo deck that helps police against degenerate combo decks. Which is not what Wizards wants, apparently, but that seems fine to me.

The thing is, Splinter Twin just seems fair in Modern and actually makes for interesting and skill-testing games, especially when you’re comparing it to… well, pretty much any deck in Modern.

As long as Death’s Shadow is around, it seems especially safe to unban Splinter Twin, but it might not actually improve the format. After all, we don’t really need another deck that struggles against Death’s Shadow, assuming Death’s Shadow is the deck to beat.

Now then…

I think it might finally be time to unshelf the Elf and not be afraid of the Bloodbraid.

It mostly just seems like Bloodbraid Elf is a safe card for Modern right now.

But if the best deck in format is quite possibly just Jund Death’s Shadow, why risk unbanning Bloodbraid Elf now? Because Bloodbraid Elf is likely just too expensive, slow, and not synergistic in a Jund Death’s Shadow deck.

On the other hand, Midrange Jund is the worst it’s been in quite a while, mostly because it’s inferior to Death’s Shadow in many ways. There’s little reason to play Midrange Jund at the moment, but tossing a Bloodbraid Elf would likely change that without making the deck overpowered.

The Modern format is very fast and a four-drop is looking expensive, especially if you’re running Dark Confidant.

Bloodbraid Elf has real opportunity costs and risks attached, like hitting Inquisition of Kozilek when your opponent’s hand is empty, or Abrupt Decay with no targets.

Beyond that, what other decks can play Bloodbraid? It might help revitalize fringe midrange archetypes like Kiki Chord or Big Zoo decks.

Speaking of which, is Bloodbraid Elf even a stronger card than Collected Company? Bloodbraid Elf will even compete with Collected Company in certain decks and make for interesting deckbuilding choices. Seems safe to me.

It’s been a long time since Bloodbraid Elf has been relevant, and it might just be fair, and even fun.

What do you think? Would you keep Modern exactly as it is? Would you ban something? Or do you think something should be unbanned in the near future?

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!