The Best Decks And Best Brews In No Banned List Modern

What are the best decks for the first-ever No Banned List Modern Open? Gerry Thompson serves up established builds and brews for SCG CON!

Despite Modern being in basically the best spot it’s ever been, people want to see what would happen when the kid gloves are off. Banned lists exist to keep cards out of a format that are too powerful, restrict playable options in the format, or create unfun play patterns.

The assumption is that No Banned List Modern would be a cesspool of broken decks with no Force of Will to keep things in check, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Honestly, NBL Modern isn’t a paragon of openness or anything, but the dreaded combo decks like Dredge and Hypergenesis are merely fine rather than format all-stars. Instead, cheap disruption, like Thoughtseize, Mental Misstep, Chalice of the Void, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, rules the day.

Disruptive aggro decks are kind of my jam, so this format looks appealing to me. What have I been brewing?

U/R Delver

This one should be obvious. “Cheap interaction, a quick clock, and Treasure Cruise” is a recipe for success for powerful formats.

My list is slightly different from many of the lists you’ll find on the internet, simply because most people seem far too attached to Monastery Swiftspear for no real reason. You would think that Monastery Swiftspear and burn spells are the best ways to close games with Treasure Cruise, but later on, everyone figured out that you could play a more controlling version of a Treasure Cruise deck and basically dominate the mirrors.

I don’t think that’s entirely true in NBL Modern because there’s no Force of Will and no Counterspell, so it’s more difficult to take full control of a game. To that end, you need some semblance of a clock, which is where Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer come in. Monastery Swiftspear is mostly a weak card that, despite helping you close games, doesn’t provide much in the way of a defensive tool.

My removal is a mix of things that are good against Deathrite Shaman, Eldrazi, Death’s Shadow, and indestructible Avatars, while also trying to hedge against some of the powerful artifacts in the format like Chalice of the Void. There are also some go-wide decks in Affinity and Elves, so Forked Bolt is nice. The more I think about it, the less appealing Lightning Bolt is because of its narrow range of application in the format.

One Skullclamp seems like a fine inclusion in most decks with Young Pyromancer. I don’t want to flood on them, and it isn’t necessarily what I want to be doing with my tokens anyway, but one copy seems like it could get you out of some tough spots.

Sulfur Falls is a better land for this deck than Spirebluff Canal because it’s not uncommon to get to five or six mana thanks to Treasure Cruise. At the point where you want to play Young Pyromancer and a flurry of spells in the mid-game, you’d prefer that your lands enter the battlefield untapped.

The format is ripe with colorless cards, cheap spells, graveyard decks, and go-wide strategies, so I’ve built my sideboard accordingly. Of course, there’s no telling what the actual metagame will be, so it’s mostly just guesswork and hoping for the best.

U/R Splinter Twin

Objectively, Splinter Twin might be a stronger choice than Delver. A combo finish could be a better way to close games than with small creatures, but that remains to be seen. The real question is what sort of backup plan your Twin deck wants to have. Players have tried a Prison-esque strategy with Chrome Mox, Chalice of the Void, and Blood Moon, but there are also versions with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance.

I’d find it hard to believe that plain old Tempo Twin isn’t the best version.

The correct way to build a “Delver” deck might include zero copies of Delver. Splinter Twin will typically end the game more quikly than a Delver will, but it’s a little awkward, more vulnerable to removal, can be difficult to set up, and requires you to play more lands because of your higher mana curve. There are some additional benefits, like being able to beat up on decks who try to lock you out of the game with Chalice of the Void and Counterbalance, but it’s unclear which is strategically superior in the format.

Splinter Twin gets to play some of the best interaction, the best card selection, and the overpowered Dig Through Time. Abrade gives you game against Chalice of the Void, Affinity, and Skullclamp, plus there’s Snapcaster Mage to top it all off. What’s not to love?

Mono-White Eldrazi

There’s basically no reason to not play a color in Eldrazi, and white seems like by far the best option.

This deck is pretty simple. You mulligan until you find a land that adds two mana, play some disruptive elements, and attack your opponent from there. Adding white into the mix gives you Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and some cool stuff out of the sideboard like Rest in Peace and Stoneforge Mystic. Eldrazi Displacer is your end-game.

Eldrazi isn’t fancy. All you do is spend your mana as best you can, hit the F6 button, and wait for your opponent to eventually give up. That’s not the most fun way to play Magic for me, but it is enjoyable occasionally. I would get around to playing Eldrazi in maybe my fourth tournament of the format, but that’s only because I’d value fun above winning when playing new formats. It wouldn’t surprise me if Eldrazi was actually the best deck in the format.

Four-Color Death’s Shadow

Do life totals matter very much in this format? I haven’t heard too much about NBL Zoo or NBL Burn. Aside from U/R Delver, I assume you aren’t going to be damaged too much aside from the turns when you’re actually dying.

With access to Deathrite Shaman and as many colors as you want, it’s unclear what the best build of Death’s Shadow is. Traverse the Ulvenwald seems unnecessary when you have access to Treasure Cruise, as you shouldn’t be short on threats. There are also stronger ways to utilize your graveyard.

No matter what, I’m starting with Treasure Cruise, Gitaxian Probe, Mental Misstep, and Death’s Shadow. Where you go from there is unclear, and I highly doubt my list is the best one. It’s also possible that this is just a bad U/R Delver deck, but the addition of Thoughtseize likely covers you against a wide variety of strategies.

The biggest secret to Death’s Shadow is that you don’t need Street Wraith anymore. There are plenty of ways to pay life to enable Death’s Shadow while not diluting your deck with cards that are bad topdecks from Treasure Cruise.

Faithless Looting and Lingering Souls could be an option. You could also try to set up Kiln Fiend kills with more copies of Temur Battle Rage.

Maybe Manamorphose belongs in here, but who knows. Either way, this deck is quite scary, especially if it had an out to Chalice of the Void in Game 1. Maybe some of those Lightning Bolts should be Abrades?

B/G Dark Depths

If I had to name two addictions I have in my life, they would be Death’s Shadow and Dark Depths.

This melding of combo decks is typically what leads to the most broken decks. Making a 20/20 Avatar from Dark Depths is certainly among one of the most powerful things you can be doing in the format, since most decks don’t have convenient ways to stop the Avatar or even Dark Depths itself.

Playing cards like Expedition Map and Sylvan Scrying to set it up doesn’t seem like a good use of your time in NBL Modern, so I wanted to explore Traverse the Ulvenwald. Obviously that package pairs well with Death’s Shadow, so it was pretty easy to merge the two together.

Instant is going to be the most difficult type to get in the graveyard for delirium, so I wouldn’t mind a couple of copies of Manamorphose in the deck. As it turns out, when you start every decklist with Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep, you run out of deck slots quickly. If they don’t play something for you to Misstep, a creature for your removal, or you don’t draw Mishra’s Bauble, things can be rough. Maybe those situations are few and far between, though.

It might look like I have way too many lands in the deck, but I don’t believe that to be the case. Think of Dark Depths as a spell because it’s only going to count for mana once you have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth on the battlefield. If you’re keeping a two-land hand with Dark Depths, you’re almost always keeping what amounts to a one-lander. That should be more than fine in a deck like this, but that means you have sixteen lands total, which is something you need to be cognizant of.

Traverse the Ulvenwald is a huge upgrade to this archetype and even enables a rock-solid backup plan.

Mardu Pyromancer

Naturally, I’m going to see what NBL Modern has to offer one of my favorite decks of all time.

Surprisingly, the Banned List features numerous cheap spells that each slot well into Mardu. Gitaxian Probe speeds up your engine, while Mental Misstep is like a free Inquisition of Kozilek. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of one copy of Skullclamp to go with my Young Pyromancers.

The real pickup is Dread Return, though. You might think that Dread Return is most useful for Dredge, but realistically, a deck with Faithless Looting and Young Pyromancer can support it as well. While Bedlam Reveler isn’t quite Griselbrand, it does a fine impression and allows you to truly explode in the mid-game. Juggling multiple Bedlam Revelers each turn should allow you to find whatever it is that you need.

The one thing I’d worry about with Mardu Pyromancer is that it’s a bad version of something else. Using Dread Returns to chain Bedlam Revelers is sweet and everything, but is there something more powerful we could be doing?

R/B Reanimator

This is a Todd Anderson-inspired joint after he casually mentioned having Goryo’s Vengeance and Dread Return in the same deck.

If you’re trying to kill your opponent on the turn you put Griselbrand onto the battlefield, you should look no further than Fateful Showdown. With Chrome Mox and Simian Spirit Guide, you should be able to get the four mana necessary to cast it. If it’s not quite lethal, some amount of Lightning Bolts should finish the job.

Just be careful to not deck yourself!

Maybe both of my Dread Return decks should have Deathrite Shaman, since that card basically does what I want to be doing while also being a potential sacrifice outlet for Dread Return. There are only so many slots in each deck, though.


Hopefully I’ll be playing in the Invitational Top 8 this weekend and won’t have an opportunity to play in the No Banned List Modern Open on Saturday, but that’s kind of a big ask. If I must sleeve up Delver of Secrets and Treasure Cruise again, I won’t be mad.