The Levels Of No Banned List Modern

When Todd Anderson puts on his headset at SCG CON, here’s what he expects to see in the No Banned List Modern Open!

Modern is already a fairly degenerate format, but Wizards of the Coast has done a great job at curating a positive experience for the players. When a deck like Humans is one of the most powerful archetypes in a format with the potential for first- or second-turn kills, they must be doing something right. But what if we lived in a world where nothing was banned in Modern? Which of these monstrosities on the Banned List would reign supreme? That’s exactly the question that StarCityGames.com is asking for the first No Banned List Modern Open at SCG CON next weekend.

We’ve already dabbled in the format on the VS Series and I have to say that the format is actually pretty fun. While stuff like Hypergenesis might threaten to ruin the format, there are quite a few ways to interact with such a powerful card. And with blue decks being on the more powerful side of the spectrum thanks to Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, coupled with cheap disruption like Remand and Spell Pierce, there’s a chance that the No Banned List Modern Open will be diverse and full of interactive strategies.

Today we’re going to break down some of the most degenerate things you can do in the format and spotlight some of the best two-card combinations available in the format. Considering the banned list itself, the best deck in NBL Modern will likely contain four or more different cards currently on that list. It’s our job to figure out the best shell for these cards and make sure the deck is able to function consistently.

This two-card combination was deemed too powerful (or possibly annoying or time-consuming) for Legacy. Miracles revolves around assembling an early Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top and uses miracle cards like Terminus or Entreat the Angels to put Sensei’s Divining Top to greater use. Thanks to the existence of fetchlands, Sensei’s Divining Top could be one of the most powerful cards in the format, if only because it allows you to easily find the other busted cards in your deck.

The problem with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance is that they don’t work all that well with the best delve spells at your disposal. While playing something like Dig Through Time in small numbers is okay, loading up on them is a little more difficult than usual because your filter spells don’t all go to the graveyard. You must fill your deck with a lot more fluff like Ponder and Preordain to get enough cards into your graveyard to turn on delve. And when most of the cards in your deck are these spinning-your-wheels spells, the rest of your deck needs to do some degenerate stuff.

But Miracles is not the only home for Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. What if we paired this powerful protection combination with another two-card punch that can actively benefit from protecting you from cheap interaction?

In this scenario, where you’re using Counterbalance and Sensei’s Diving Top to protect your Splinter Twin combo, I don’t think you want to splash into another color for Terminus and friends, but that might end up being your best bet at containing some of the more aggressive strategies. That said, I have seen some talk using Punishing Fire as a means of containing early aggression, which alleviates a bit of strain on your mana.

This is, of course, just a rough draft. I’m not sold that we have enough enablers for Dig Through Time. I would like to find room for something like Thought Scour, but I don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary. Treasure Cruise might also end up being better than Dig Through Time, if only because you have the added benefit of discard excess lands via Faithless Looting. Plus, if you’re a deck centered on Punishing Fire, hitting your lands drops is very important.

I don’t even know if the Splinter Twin combo is the best win condition for this deck, but it does save you from having to play a bunch of hard removal in your deck. If your opponent can get a bit bigger than your Punishing Fire and Counterbalance, you either need to kill them or cast a Terminus. Regardless, I just wanted to share this gem with you before SCG CON because it tickled my fancy, and I thought it might tickle yours too.

Moving on…

This two-card combo has been a big factor in Legacy over the last few years. The printing of Thespian’s Stage gave the Lands a stellar win condition, and the kicker is you don’t even need to cast a single spell. In a world full of Daze and Force of Will, having a combo that doesn’t require casting a spell is a boon for any deck.

We’ve already seen a few variations on this style of deck on the VS Series and I think it could be a top contender, if only because there are no copies of Wasteland running around in Modern. Of course, people could (and probably will) use things like Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin, but a single Pithing Needle a la Turbo Depths will make quick work of those looking to interact in that fashion.

The best bet for attacking this style of deck is focusing on killing them quickly or having some way to easily handle a 20/20 indestructible creature. My guess is that these styles of decks will be built in much the same fashion as Turbo Depths more so than Lands, if only because disruption like Duress and Thoughtseize is potent in several matchups while also contributing to the protection aspect. Keeping your 20/20 from getting hit with a Path to Exile is pretty sweet.

Another route that this deck could take is focusing on Chalice of the Void and avoiding one-mana spells altogether. That would eliminate the need to play around Path to Exile but could ultimately hinder your ability to interact with other decks that are faster two-card combos. If you don’t draw Chalice of the Void, how do you beat Storm? Hypergenesis? I think you must choose one between discard effects and Chalice of the Void, but I’m not sold on which one is better. Regardless, this is how I would build a Chalice of the Void version of Dark Depths.

In this build, it’s important that we don’t have many, if any, one-mana cards. You want as much insulation from your own Chalice of the Void as possible. However, I think there’s some merit to playing something like Pithing Needle if you’re expecting people to be packing Ghost Quarter out the wazoo. I’ve already compensated a bit for Blood Moon with six fetchlands to get basics, as well as Chrome Mox being able to help play one color or the other.

Decks like this one are tricky to build because you never really know how many lands is too many lands. With four copies of Chrome Mox, as well as four Dark Depths that don’t produce mana without Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, finding that balance is key. Old versions of Thopter Depths featuring four copies of Chrome Mox and four copies of Dark Depths regularly played twenty or more lands that tapped for mana, as well as the Moxen. Here, I’ve decided to emulate that number.

It’s possible that Beseech the Queen is trash, but I like having more ways to search for your lands that don’t involve getting hit by your own Chalice of the Void. With that said, something like Expedition Map might be worth the effort. We’ve seen Eldrazi Tron have both in their deck for some time, but they also lack a way of casting Chalice of the Void on the first turn (since they’ve moved away from Simian Spirit Guide). I think the correct move might end up being something like two copies of Expedition Map over Beseech the Queen, and cutting the cheeky Oracle of Mul Daya for something else.

Next up:

The most popular decks, by and large, will almost assuredly feature one of these two cards, if not both. Blue decks are pretty sweet when you get to do disgusting stuff, and a No Banned List Modern tournament is the perfect place to showcase why these cards were banned in the first place. Ancestral Recall is restricted in Vintage, so why not just play four of them in this NBL Modern tournament and call it a day?

My best guess is that U/R Delver will be the deck to beat.

This deck hits hard and fast, and can withstand a swath of removal. The cheap disruptive elements further solidify this as a dominant force in NBL Modern since the clock is so strong. Sometimes, all you need is a single Spell Pierce, Remand, or Mental Misstep for Delver of Secrets or Monastery Swiftspear to lock up the game. And if that plan fails, you still have Young Pyromancer and Treasure Cruise to put yourself right back in the game.

It’s possible that this style of deck needs more disruptive elements, but you have to find the right numbers of each. You need some amount of removal to ensure you can win the mirrors. You must find ways to kill your opponent or all the disruption in the world isn’t going to do you any good. But yes, this deck is soft to stuff like Hypergenesis and Dark Depths. You can’t afford to play a bunch of stuff like Vapor Snag because it won’t have many valid targets.

The flex slots are tough, though. You want some outs in the maindeck to beating an early Chalice of the Void. I like Abrade as the go-to answer, since it has merit outside of just killing your opponent’s Chalice of the Void. I also don’t mind something like Dead // Gone to help fight off Marit Lage, but your opponent will more than likely have some number of discard spells to throw at you, making an instant-speed answer less reliable than something like Ghost Quarter or Pithing Needle.

Cards I Want to See: Quick Hits

I want more people to play Disrupting Shoal. With Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time gaining back those lost cards, and so many decks hinging on two-card combos, I think something like Disrupting Shoal could make a huge impact. The trick is finding the right deck to house it and having enough variation on casting costs to make it worthwhile.

When Sword of the Meek got unbanned in Modern, I was surprised more people didn’t try to build around it. However, with Chrome Mox still on the bench, it was a little too slow. And truthfully, a two-card combo that doesn’t win the game immediately isn’t exactly desirable right now. But in NBL Modern, I could easily see a Thirst for Knowledge / Chrome Mox / Thopter Foundry deck making some waves.

I think this is the best card in the format, and no one is going to be prepared enough to beat it. Hypergenesis has been one of the most disgusting cards I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with and we’re at an all-time high with giant monsters you can put onto the battlefield with it. And for the uninformed, this card works exactly like Living End. Just cast a cascade spell like Violent Outburst and make sure your deck doesn’t contain any two-or-less mana spells.

I want to know, once and for all, if full-powered Affinity with all the artifact lands is actually better than the current Affinity deck running around in Modern. I don’t think it is, to be honest. Skullclamp might ultimately be the deciding factor on this, but I don’t think the artifact lands are all that great. And I honestly believe Darksteel Citadel is better than all of them.

I played a sweet match against Ross Merriam this week featuring a take on Cloudpost and Amulet of Vigor + Summer Bloom. The deck felt quite good, but I think there’s probably a better Cloudpost deck out there. The trick is making sure you’re fast enough to play against the other combo decks, while still having enough inevitability to beat the midrange and control strategies. If you’re curious about the deck and how it performed, check out the video!

I’ve been afraid of Dredge for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only really been afraid of Dredge when it contained Cabal Therapy. The odds of winning a game against Dredge after they mill over 30 or so cards is pretty low, but my only experience there is when they had access to both Ichorid and Cabal Therapy to tear your hand apart. The free sacrifice outlet and disruption aspect of Cabal Therapy does not exist in Modern, so I think Dread Return might not be good enough. However, if one of the Dredge masters finds a way to make it busted, I’d definitely be interested in giving the deck a try for myself.


The truth is, NBL Modern is so volatile and unexplored that I don’t rightly know how to build any deck. SCG CON is hosting what will be the biggest NBL Modern tournament in history and I wouldn’t be surprised if you played against ten to fifteen different archetypes through the fifteen rounds. Your best hope, if you’re playing a fair deck, is to value versatility in your spells over power level.

If you come into the event looking to play fair, interactive Magic, chances are you’re going to miss in a few matches and lose to some overpowered combination. It’s just science. Regardless, I do think that control decks featuring Counterbalance have a great shot at winning, if only because Counterbalance is such a powerful card in combination with Sensei’s Divining Top. As for Delver decks and their soft counterspells, I’m not convinced just yet.

Unfortunately, I will be doing commentary instead of playing this awesome format. But if I were going to play, I’d likely brew up some sort of Goryo’s Vengeance deck featuring Dread Return and Young Pyromancer. That’s just what I like doing. And in NBL Modern, like regular Modern, you can do virtually whatever you want to do, so long as it’s powerful.

Welcome to hell. Make sure to bring some sunscreen.