What Will Be Banned In Modern?

Pro Tour Champ Shaun McLaren knows a thing or two about the Modern format. That’s why he’s advocating for different banning announcement times and discussing everything else he expects to hear about the format come January!

The Modern Pro Tour is approaching, and with it, plenty of speculation about what might be banned or unbanned. As the saying goes: It’s never too late to speculate and never too early to jump to conclusions in a hurry. Okay, maybe no one has ever said that ever, but nevertheless, it’s fun and useful to think about what might be in store for Modern. Perhaps, more importantly, now is an excellent time to loudly proclaim that we know how to fix everything and make Modern perfect with a few simple bans and unbans.

Modern is a format that has been picking up in popularity, and I imagine it will continue to do so thanks to Invitationals switching to be half-Modern.

The last banned and restricted announcement had a massive effect. Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pod were banned; and Golgari Grave-Troll was unbanned and is once again free to dredge up some trouble. I think these changes ended up helping keep the format healthy even though they turned off more strategies than they allowed. Golgari Grave-Troll, despite being a very scary card in theory, barely ended up making a dent on the format.

The next banned and restricted announcement happens on January 18, 2016. For everyone going to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch this will almost certainly have huge implications, but it should have a large effect on the shape of the format for years to come.

How is Modern Right Now?

In a nutshell? It’s fine.

Of course you’ll get varying responses, but all things considered I think it’s a solid format that is fun to play. There are a lot of viable decks you can play, which is a really good thing. Even the lower tier and fringe decks will reward players who dedicate themselves and take time to practice, so once you pick a deck you can play it for a long time to come.

A big critique to make is that there can be very non-interactive games. The combo decks, like Storm or Amulet Bloom, can completely ignore what the opponents are doing and generally be too oppressive. Sideboard cards like Stony Silence and Blood Moon also make for uninteresting games. You’ll also often find yourself playing a deck that has terrible matchups and excellent matchups instead of being balanced against the field.

But if you look past a few quirks, it’s easy to enjoy Modern. It has a unique feel to it compared to Standard and has plenty of interesting decks and interactions.

What Should Modern Feel Like?

The ideal format rewards dedication and practice, has plenty of interaction and interesting games, has a versatility of decks, and whatever deck you choose is 55%+ against the field and almost no one else is playing it.

Competitive, diverse, skillful, fun. That’s what Modern should be.

Candidates to Unban

Some cards only exist to be broken and don’t add anything but pain and suffering to a format. It is difficult to walk the razor’s edge between playable and broken for some cards. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Bitterblossom, Wild Nacatl, and Golgari Grave-Troll might indicate that some cards have been unfairly banned, but I believe caution is a good policy. Plenty of people take a laissez-faire attitude towards the whole thing, but let me tell you, my sweet summer child, if you haven’t experienced the absolute terror of some of these cards, you should be afraid. There is a sort of automatic defense mechanism built into Modern though. If one strategy rises up, hate cards should theoretically help drag it back down, which helps make sure that a single ban or unban won’t completely destroy the format.

I think that Wizards will choose to unban at least one card with this upcoming announcement. It will keep things fresh for the Pro Tour and generate excitement for the format. Let’s take a look at what we might possibly get back from the banned list.

I still remember the very first time I laid eyes on Batterskull. I was cruising the internet (as was the fashion at the time) when I happened upon a nearly unconfirmed picture of the Germy Baneslayer. “Fake!” was my immediate cry.

I had just returned from an excellent 431st place finish at Pro Tour Paris in 2011 where Stoneforge Mystic had absolutely dominated, appearing in seven out of the top 8 decklists. (I had somehow missed the memo and played U/W Control without Stoneforge Mystic.)

There was no way that Batterskull could be created with Stoneforge Mystic already dominating so massively, so I concluded that the card I was seeing must be a fake. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Did Batterskull live up to the hype? You batter believe it did. Caw-Blade descended on us and all was in ruins. Despair gripped the hearts of the children. No one would venture outside for fear of getting battered in the skull by a skull.

Eventually a hero wielding the ban hammer struck so hard that the Mystic was banned all the way out not just of Standard but also completely out of Modern at its inception, and we’ve only seen her in Legacy since.

Stoneforge Mystic was not really even on my radar as an unban candidate until it was announced the Grand Prix Promo card is none other that our old friend Stoneforge Mystic.

With an enigmatic message “I wonder how many promo Batterskulls we’ll see next to these new promo Mystics by springtime next year…”

I wonder indeed.

Someone might be planning on breaking Mystique out of jail.

The Grand Prix promos have so far had a track record of being legal in Modern (since Modern became an official format) so this shifts some of the probability mass towards the possibility of Stoneforge Mystic being unbanned. This would also be a good way to hint at what’s going to happen before the official banned and restricted announcement.

So far in Modern, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Bitterblossom, Wild Nacatl, and Golgari Grave-Troll are the cards that have been unbanned. I think all of these have been excellent choices as none have been overpowered, and having more card options is always a good thing.

If Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned, I think it will shake things up much more than any of these previous unbannings. I might not have even considered it as a potential card to be unbanned without the announcement, but the more I think about it, the more it might be a plausible card to unban.

Let’s take a brief look at the metagame to see how Stoneforge Mystic fits in. It doesn’t slot into many high tier lists, the only one that comes to mind is Abzan. This actually demonstrates how weak white is currently in Modern. Kolaghan’s Command and Abrupt Decay are very powerful cards that encourage decks to not run white, and both seem like they might help keep Stoneforge Mystic in check. Introducing a powerful card that doesn’t fit in the current best decks is a great idea for shaking up the format and promoting diversity.

Some lower tier decks that could receive a significant boost from Stoneforge Mystic are Martyr of Sands decks, W/B Tokens, Reliquary Retreat Combo, G/W Hate Bears, and Control decks (ahem, Jeskai decks). Well let’s just go ahead and say that most decks playing white will likely be eyeing Stoneforge Mystic as a possibility.

This shift would hurt aggro decks, which I think is a good thing. Slowly and surely Burn and Zoo decks have been accumulating cards and becoming tier 1 powerhouses that are becoming very difficult to stop. Turn 3 Batterskulls will be a very effective roadblock, keeping them in check despite numerous Skullcracks and Atarka’s Commands.

Stoneforge Mystic might not seem like it will help against combo decks, but it allows control decks to get more powerful and dedicate more of their maindeck and sideboard to dealing with combo. Dropping a Stoneforge Mystic and then backing it with disruption, countermagic, and card draw is a deadly strategy.

Equipment to fetch: Batterskull, Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of War and Peace, Sword of Body and Mind, Mortarpod, and of course, Elbrus, the Binding Blade (just try and tell me you don’t want to flip that bad boy).

Here’s a potential Jeskai deck that would use Stoneforge Mystic:

Is Bloodbraid Elf really still too good?

Bloodbraid Elf is the lategame punch that made Jund such a powerhouse for most of its lifetime. Jund hasn’t been putting up dominating results lately, and I think that it would create a very balancing effect if it got unbanned alongside Stoneforge Mystic. If you make Abzan better, isn’t it only fair to make Jund better as well? They both add to the midrange nature of Modern that makes it interactive and help keep combo decks in check. Cascading into Kolaghan’s Command and returning another Bloodbraid Elf from the graveyard to hand seems like a filthy amount of value. I see no problem with unbanning Bloodbraid Elf, other than the issue of potentially having the format become a thick midrange soup.

Probably not a good idea to unban if Stoneforge Mystic is also unbanned, but perhaps it’s fine to re-enter the mix if not. The combo with Thopter Foundry turns every spare mana you have into a 1/1 Thopter and a life, which completely destroys certain strategies. Abrupt Decay, Kolaghan’s Command, Stony Silence, and Scavenging Ooze would go a long way to keep it in check, but there really isn’t a reason to risk this unbanning unless it looks significantly worse now than it used to.

The exchange of time for card advantage is exactly what a control deck wants. The minor investment in mana and major investment in time allow for a card that mostly control decks want to utilize. It is a very swingy card though. When you draw them early in multiples with cheap interaction you’d quickly snowball your competition out of the game. I think that the cost running of Ancestral Visions is too low to make this a safe unban, but as the power level of the format increases, it becomes more and more realistic that this would be a fair card.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor truly is better than all. Although it costs four mana and doesn’t win the game immediately, it is just too powerful and versatile. A card like this warps the format too strongly. I don’t think it would completely break the format. It would just shift it heavily towards blue control decks.

The others: I don’t see any other cards on the ban list that I can make a good argument for giving a second chance. They are all just too cheap and powerful.

Candidates to Ban

Giving either of these the boot would remove the possibility of the ridiculously fast kills from Amulet Bloom. They can even go off as early as turn 1. (Simian Spirit Guide, Amulet of Vigor, Simic Growth Chamber, Summer Bloom, Hive Mind, Summoner’s Pact). Getting turn 1 kills in Modern should be a red flag. The consistency and speed of their average draws and difficultly disrupting their combo also seem ahead of what the rest of the combo decks in Modern can do, which might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or at least be the nail in the metaphor. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which combo decks are too oppressive and why though. Amulet Bloom doesn’t have too many high profile results or take up too much of the metagame, which might save it from elimination.

Splinter Twin has been tier 1 since the dawn of Modern. I would be surprised to see a ban here, since it’s an iconic deck of the format and not oppressive. Somehow the threat of Splinter Twin has been allowed to survive despite its level of consistency, which has always been unparalleled. Splinter Twin is good, but you can beat it if you want to and interact with their combo easily, so I doubt it’s going to be banned now.

This would be a brutal hit for Affinity to take. Affinity adds to the diversity of Modern while skirting the line with “too good.” It’s been one of the premier demonstrations of how important your sideboard slots are, and Affinity is always the first deck you have in mind when building a sideboard. When people forget about the robotic menace it always rises up again. I do not expect Cranial Plating to be banned.

So what will happen?

I think at least one card will be banned and at least one card will be unbanned, although making no changes seems reasonable to me as well.

But they are likely going to shake things up.

My Prediction

Stoneforge Mystic unbanned

Summer Bloom banned

What do you think will be banned or unbanned? What do you think should be?

As it stands we’ll have to wait until the new year and then some before we learn the fate of Modern. Which seems a little unnecessary. Only giving two weeks time to test after announcing what’s going to be banned seems like a mistake. Modern is a complex format, and it takes extra time to try out new cards in every viable strategy. It’s okay to have Modern Pro Tours feel a little different than Standard. Announcing the banned and restricted list a week or two earlier would only serve to build hype and give people an opportunity to try out their own brews and make a mark in the new format. It also makes it so there is less reason to play Modern before bans are announced, especially if you’re playing in the Pro Tour, since testing you do is going to be obsolete.

Implement the banned and restricted announcements a week or two earlier when there’s a Modern Pro Tour coming up!