The Modern banned list has been around since the inception of the format. The powers that be decided that some cards are too powerful to let into the format, without evidence and data from competitive tournaments. Using the testing team within, WotC crafted a list of cards that were never to see the light of day. With these blocks in place, the format still had rocky eras where the format’s health was grim, raising the question of the banned list efficacy.
I have been on the front lines of both sides of this war in Modern. Some cards I was a staunch advocate for their removal from the format, while others I fought to release. There was some bias that went into some of my stances, but most were only for the overall health of competitive play. Cards like Arcum’s Astrolabe and Krark-Clan Ironworks were near and dear to my heart; however, I wrote many hit pieces trying to get them chased out of Modern. These were not the only cards that I knew had to be banned, but they are prime examples of my love for cards not getting in the way of my objective evaluation of their place in the format.
Krark-Clan Ironworks was a clear offender, whereas the Arcum’s Astrolabe issue was more nuanced. I caught a lot of heat and engaged in multiple debates over the latter, even calling for its execution in Legacy as well. I have always been passionate about keeping problematic cards out of competitive play, while at the same time pushing for iconic spells of the past to get a second chance when applicable. Cards like Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom, and Bloodbraid Elf were laughably included in the initial banned list, due to an oppressive history in their respective Standard formats. That is not a good look, especially when the first Pro Tour had folks consistently dying to an Inkmoth Nexus on Turn 2. It took a long time to get some of the more obvious cards off the banned list and then the momentum to free obvious cards picked up.
My largest campaign coalesced around the most iconic card in the game, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, as he was convicted of a crime that was never committed. A four-mana, sorcery-speed planeswalker that was as fragile as they come was not a threat to the stability of Modern. This was true from the first day of the format’s unveiling to present, recently proven by its Modern application. I refuse to put the card down, but there are experienced control mages that do not include it in their traditional control decks. Whether it’s a tap-out or reactive style control deck in Modern, Jace, the Mind Sculptor sees fringe play as a one or two-of at most. I stand by its usefulness in the format; however, it’s abundantly clear that it will never tear the Modern fabric of space and time.
This was the final article in a series of pleas to unban Jace, the Mind Sculptor in 2017. In addition to articles, I would not shut up on social media, receiving love and hate for my efforts. The hate centered around the fear competitors had on unleashing this powerful being into a relatively stable metagame, primarily led by aggressive decks. For the question in the title description, my answer was a “loud and clear no” when asked if it would be too good for the format. The resistance to this washed up planeswalker was illogical, based on the speed of the format. Once it was unbanned and people saw it in action, more and more followers of the game began to inspect the banned list with a fine-tooth comb to identify other prisoners held there unlawfully.
Fast forward a few years later, a few of my articles began to address the status of another control superstar from the past. Stoneforge Mystic was locked away from the start as well, without having the opportunity to be tested in tournament play. The same argument that kept Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the list applied to Stoneforge Mystic, preventative measure taken to stop a card that ruined Standard from doing the same to Modern. The frailty and speed of Stoneforge Mystic was just as obvious, an argument I made abundantly clear in my writings.
In this article, I made a final push to release Stoneforge Mystic before the banned and restricted announcement that would follow the week after. After multiple unbannings in the years prior, I thought most content creators would be onboard with this one. We all saw how these cards released into Modern did not destroy it and Stoneforge Mystic was a mere-mortal that could easily be dealt with. I went through the merits of its release, the boon control would gain from having another angle to attack with, and the other non-control decks that would benefit. Presenting these arguments, while maintaining it would not hurt the health of the format, created more contentious interactions than with previous examples. Players are very passionate about bannings and unbannings, for good and bad reasons. It can range from pet cards to price fluctuations, but many people have motives that are not rested solely in making the format better. With my personal philosophy, when trying to ban and unban cards, is a mix. I like a lot of these cards and know they would not negatively impact Modern due to their weaknesses, while advocating for cards to get banned (many that I like) if they present a danger to Modern’s health.
My Unban List
1. Umezawa’s Jitte
Once Stoneforge Mystic was unbanned, my next “joke” was to get Umezawa’s Jitte released. I said it with levity at the time to my pal Donald Smith and prompted the Aaron Forsythe response you see above. I presented it as a funny follow-up right after the successful unbanning of my favorite Kor Artificer, but secretly was as serious as a heart attack. Umezawa’s Jitte should have been unbanned then and should see freedom at the next ban announcement.
Umezawa’s Jitte is another piece of Equipment that would join Team Stoneforge but would arguably be ineffective in the current Modern format. It would see play alongside Batterskull and now Kaldra Compleat, maybe overtaking the slot of Sword of X and Y. Depending on the metagame, a sword may even win the main deck slot, delegating Umezawa’s Jitte to sideboard duty. This is another bold claim that will summon scoffs around the world, but I implore my readers to think about its application closely. The trick is to forget its impact in Standard a decade ago and focus on what it would do in a volatile Modern that easily dispatches artifact-based threats on a regular basis.
The tools at each deck’s disposal are vast when it comes to dealing with artifacts. I don’t need to go through each spell, but you would be hard-pressed to find a deck that didn’t have a devastating answer against a player that has invested a pile of resources into an Umezawa’s Jitte cast and equip. Having the answer is not the strongest argument to deflect away from those that think it should remain banned. Just because something can be targeted by Doom Blade, does not absolve it from being a problem. That same truth holds with Umezawa’s Jitte, a card that can be beaten if it resolves.
Back in my day, a resolved Umezawa’s Jitte often meant game over for aggro players. The first Pro Tour I played in was in Philadelphia in 2005, where I played a Simic Snakes deck with four copies of Umezawa’s Jitte. It was a deck I developed for Block Constructed and I was elated when I made Day 2 of a rare, triple-elimination tournament. The matches I won and lost were primarily to this two-mana Equipment, which was to be expected. It was bad for that Block Constructed and Standard, but it will not end the life of every opponent in Modern when it hits the battlefield. Modern has swatted away old card after old card that has returned from a banning vacation. Umezawa’s Jitte needs to be unbanned and added into the Equipment pool, where it will see play and the format will not rupture.
2. Birthing Pod
While I’m most passionate about the unbanning of Umezawa’s Jitte, there are other cards that should not be on this list. They have either served their time for their oppression early-on in the format, or they would not have a negative impact in the current Modern configuration. The second card that should be unbanned is Birthing Pod, a card that was responsible for a spree of victories over its tenure in competitive play. For all the reasons mentioned above, the answers to artifacts are a dime a dozen, some of them so punishing that they bring the two-for-one pain each time. There’s nothing inherently broken about Birthing Pod, as it requires the same creature commitment that a Selesnya Company deck based around Heliod, Sun-Crowned requires, typically without even having an infinite combo. The value that Birthing Pod produces was irritating, caused frustrating gameplay for control players, and has had some interactions that infuriated me. All that considered, it is still a fine addition back into the format.
3. Punishing Fire
The final card that should immediately come off the banned list is Punishing Fire. A commitment to deliver many two-mana Shocks to enemy targets is not something that would cause the rapture to occur in Modern. The format is as sturdy to low-damage removal as it gets and would not fold to the ultimate value duo being summoned here. Punishing Fire was banned early on, even after seeing very little play from the start. With such a new format, having a continuous source of two-mana removal could have hindered the viability of many aggro decks. The safe call was to ban it early, see how the format evolved, then release it back into the wild. After the dust has settled many years later, it is time to bring it back in.
Yes, Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows will see play immediately if it’s brought back. My argument here is that this is a good thing, providing another value-driven outlet for fair decks to kill some creatures in the early-game with upside. Lands in Legacy abuses this mechanic, having many more resources than any player in Modern would have that takes advantage of this engine. The format is saturated with graveyard hate, providing decks that would be petrified of this have an avenue to success.
I’m confident that Umezawa’s Jitte and Birthing Pod will not hurt the overall health of Modern, but there’s a chance that Punishing Fire may have to be sent back to the void. With the size, efficiency, and graveyard responses of creature-based decks, I think it will be a fine addition; however, there’s room for error on this one. This brings me to my last point in the unbanning discussion — that it’s fine to take a risk, see if the card plays well, and send it back like Golgari Grave-Troll if it proves to be problematic. That leaves two cards that must be unbanned and one that should be tried and tested, but there are some cards that should never see the light of day.
My Never Unban List
Most of the cards on this list have committed egregious crimes against format health or are cards that are too obvious to let loose. The fast mana, free, or spells that produce more for cheap, should never be allowed into the Modern format. Mox Opal was an obvious ban, one that I called for year after year. This offender remained legal for far too long and Modern has been much better without it. The second worst row contains graveyard-based foolishness, most of which were legal from the start. Good riddance to Faithless Looting and Bridge From Below, another couple cards that should not have survived that many banning announcements.
I’m not going to get myself heated by going through the evils of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, and a bunch of free spells. We all have beaten that dead horse over and over, scolding the research and development team for the mistakes made over the last few years of production. Mistakes were made and now, as we stand on the precipice of Standard rotation, repair is on the way across the board. Bannings fixed up Modern and rotation will hopefully fix Standard, making the formats whole again.