If you’re a longtime Modern player, you have an opinion on Faithless Looting. The card is beloved by those who enjoy using their graveyard as a resource, or just really want to churn through their deck with reckless disregard for card advantage. It is loathed by those who grew up on the mean streets of the SCG Tour battling it out against Dredge every round. Love it or hate it, Faithless Looting is one of the most influential cards ever printed. Is there a path that would let it could come back to Modern?
The timing around when it was banned left a lot of people unhappy. At the time, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis had just been printed and threatened to envelop Modern in a graveyard-centric nightmare. The trio of Altar of Dementia; Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis; and Bridge from Below made Hogaak one of the most terrifying decks to ever exist in any format. With startling consistency, this deck ruined Modern for a month before Wizards of the Coast (WotC) eventually banned Bridge from Below.
For the next month, we got to play with Hogaak and Faithless Looting in a number of other shells, including alongside Vengevine. It was excellent still, even without the combo elements of Altar of Dementia. Hogaak was difficult to kill without static anti-graveyard measures. When it entered the battlefield, it was nearly impossible to contest in size, and would often be protected from the likes of Path to Exile by Carrion Feeder.
In the end, both Faithless Looting and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis were banned, leaving Mox Opal and Urza, Lord High Artificer to terrorize the format for months to come. This left a bad taste in my mouth, as it was clear to anyone who’d been playing Modern for any length of time that Faithless Looting was one of the cards that held the format together. So many decks existed because of Faithless Looting, and those decks failed to find their way back into the format after it was banned. Without Faithless Looting, many decks were lost, and many cards forgotten. It is truly a testament to the card that it affected so many others and helped them to become playable in one of the most hostile environments we’ve ever known.
Today’s article will focus on the effects of unbanning Faithless Looting in Modern. It will also address comments, questions, and concerns from the community that I’ve pulled from Twitter.
Let the Dead Rest
Banning cards can kill decks. We’re playing a collectible card game, so having your cards go from “worth something” to “worth nothing” is a serious cost. Bans in Magic used to be few and far between, with each seemingly done to protect the health of a format from immense pressure. It existed for years and enabled a lot of broken strategies, including Dredge, but the tipping point was the printing of Hogaak. The fact that they had to ban Bridge from Below first, followed by banning both Hogaak and Faithless Looting, meant that the deck was far too powerful to be left alone, but did they go overboard?
Faithless Looting was one of the most-played cards in Modern, influencing many different archetypes and singlehandedly holding many together. Of those archetypes, only one card comes to mind as a real problem:
I’ve never felt like the dredge mechanic ever actually did what the designers intended. For Limited, it was pretty great to continuously rebuy Shambling Shell. Other cards had their uses and were often better than a random draw off the top. Life from the Loam is a clear example of a dredge card doing what the designers intended. Stinkweed Imp is not. No one in their right mind would want to keep drawing it. It only sees play because of the abusive nature of the dredge mechanic. Because of this, you see dredge used in old formats as a way to fuel degenerate graveyard cards. In a way, Faithless Looting in Dredge is an enabler that’s turning on other enablers. The combination of those enablers makes stuff like Dread Return absolutely outrageous.
Dredge cards need something to put them into the graveyard, which made Faithless Looting the perfect tool. However, Faithless Looting was rarely as terrifying as a resolved Cathartic Reunion. The lack of cheap discard outlets has led to the slow demise of Dredge over the years. Still, I would much rather live in a world where Faithless Looting is in the format but Stinkweed Imp and all the other “bad” Dredge cards are banned.
Let me have Life from the Loam, Darkblast, and maybe Dakmor Salvage. Everything else can go.
Resurrecting Old Archetypes
I want to make things right. Many decks fell out of the Modern metagame after the Faithless Looting ban. Those decks paid for the sins of Hogaak and Dredge. With those threats out of the format, imagine how many different Faithless Looting decks could exist! Imagine Hollow One living in harmony with Mardu Pyromancer, or Mono-Red Phoenix battling it out with Grishoalbrand!
Of all the Faithless Looting decks that skated by, Izzet Phoenix was the only archetype I felt could cause problems in Modern. Arclight Phoenix is a powerful card that gives graveyard-related decks something else to do. It’s a perfect card to pair with Faithless Looting, and that synergy invalidates a lot of interactive strategies. That by itself isn’t enough to justify a ban, but I can certainly see a world where every deck is either an Arclight Phoenix deck or something with maindeck hate for it. Of all my concerns with unbanning Faithless Looting, this is perhaps the only dam holding back a torrent.
An overarching sentiment among my followers is that the banning of Mox Opal and Faithless Looting effectively killed their desire to play Modern because their deck didn’t function anymore. When a deck is built around a single card and that lynchpin becomes a brick, the person who invested time and money building said deck is not likely to do it again. We play with and collect Magic cards because we see them as both investments and fun game pieces. When a card stops being a useable game piece, the price drops, and all cards that rely on that card to be a game piece also lose their value. Banning cards should only come when absolutely necessary, and I don’t think it was a necessary ban when it happened.
Scary Pairings: Modern Horizon 2 Edition
Faithless Looting is an enabler, but the surrounding cast is just as important. When discussing a potential unbanning, you must take into account how the card would interact with new players. Some tools have been printed in the last few months that could pose some problems, so let’s talk about them.
One card that keeps popping up on people’s radars when talking about unbanning Faithless Looting is Dragon’s Rage Channeler. DRC shines in the current Modern format, being an integral threat for a number of midrange interactive strategies. It isn’t hard to turn on delirium, so I think we’re safe there. The decks that play Murktide Regent are equally fine, as Faithless Looting has rarely contributed to the success of delve creatures. Faithless Looting is certainly okay in decks that want to cast a large number of noncreature spells, but it only shines in archetypes that gain significant value from the graveyard. I would rather play Thought Scour.
DRC does seem incredible in Mono-Red Phoenix, which started to gain traction in the months leading up to the ban. In Mono-Red Prowess right now, DRC regularly finds Lava Dart and it’s exceptional when it does. I can only imagine how good finding an Arclight Phoenix in the middle of a Manamorphose chain could be. I’d wager that Mono-Red Phoenix would be a powerhouse in the format, but is that really such a bad thing?
I’m a little afraid of Persist in tandem with Faithless Looting as a way for Reanimator to become much more consistent. However, Unmarked Grave already lends to this consistency, and the restrictive nature of Persist means we aren’t facing down Griselbrand. The nature and build of the Reanimator decks would change, but that would probably make them more exploitable. At the moment, most Reanimator decks are relatively weak and often feature a Plan B like Stoneforge Mystic or Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar. While Faithless Looting would help them become more like their old selves and probably boost their strength a little bit, I’m relatively okay with that considering how beatable the nonlegendary creatures have been. Archon of Cruelty seems to be the creature of choice for Reanimator. While powerful, you can certainly deal with it and keep playing the game, unlike Griselbrand or Iona, Shield of Emeria.
I wanted to do something a little different this time around. Instead of just going over the same old points on whether or not something should be banned or unbanned, I wanted to take the time and listen to what the community had to say. They’ve already influenced much of this article, but I wanted to respond directly to some of their questions and comments.
First and foremost, I want to address this sentiment. Maindeck Surgical Extraction is not something I enjoy seeing; it means something is popular enough or powerful enough to warrant drastic reaction. There was a time when Izzet Phoenix was legal where Surgical Extraction started to see a lot of maindeck play, but the strength of Dredge contributed as well. Both graveyard decks hovered at the top of the field, which made this a reasonable deckbuilding choice.
I want to stress that some decks are inherently good against Izzet Phoenix, and those decks aren’t the ones playing maindeck Surgical Extraction. Izzet Phoenix was explosive, resilient, and consistent. However, certain cards singlehandedly stopped it in its tracks. Chalice of the Void comes to mind, which has been seeing an uptick in maindeck play recently thanks to the versatile cost of Prismatic Ending as a one-mana removal spell. Additionally, Thing in the Ice was one of the more important tools for them to beat some of their bad matchups, which created a lot of interesting gameplay decisions when it came time to actually attack the archetype. Surgical Extraction on your opponent’s Arclight Phoenix was great, but didn’t always have the desired outcome of winning the game.
It’s okay for a deck to be naturally favored against another. If you have to play Surgical Extraction, it’s because you’re playing a deck that’s naturally unfavored against a graveyard deck. Since the banning of Faithless Looting, we’ve received a few tools to interact with these decks proactively, including Dauthi Voidwalker and Cling to Dust. There are more ways to interact with the graveyard, including maindeck Relic of Progenitus, which should likely be seeing more play than it already does. I’ve lived through Extended formats where people gladly played Scrabbling Claws. Having to maindeck Surgical Extraction isn’t a show of strength for Arclight Phoenix, but rather a show of weakness from the archetype you’re choosing to play, and shouldn’t be a consideration for banning a specific card or interaction.
This is a rather tough question to answer in one fell swoop, as it’s at the heart of the article. Long story short, I think unbanning Faithless Looting brings back cool decks that I and a lot of other people like to play. Some other cards might need to be torn down, but a future with Faithless Looting is brighter than a future without it. More decks become viable, cool interactions, more play for bad graveyard-related spells, and more Arclight Phoenix.
I agree. I think we should ban Stinkweed Imp, and maybe a few other Dredge cards. No format has ever been made better by the existence of Stinkweed Imp other than Ravnica + Guildpact + Dissension Draft.
This is basically the root of my initial argument. I understand that Faithless Looting is powerful, but it’s fun enough to justify its existence and creates a lot of fair archetypes that would otherwise not exist.
The most pressing question by a wide margin. The short answer is yes, but the long answer is probably closer to maybe. At some point, Faithless Looting might break Modern. However, I would argue printing brazenly overpowered cards like Hogaak lead to banning enablers because WotC doesn’t want to ban their new hot card. Mistakes like Hogaak led to Faithless Looting’s premature ban when Hogaak being far too good was clear from the start.
Faithless Looting died for Hogaak’s sins. I’m willing to throw a few more cards under the bus in the future as payback.
Nostalgia is a powerful mechanism for engagement. Not only do you gain a lot of old archetypes, but Faithless Looting could create some new ones as well. I love many of the decks that use Faithless Looting, yet am willing to axe archetypes that push those boundaries too far. As for DRC, I don’t think the majority of red decks that play DRC will want Faithless Looting. Many DRC decks don’t use the graveyard much other than turning on delirium, which we already know to be fairly easy. With that said, I would expect a ton of new archetypes to pop up that use DRC and Faithless Looting, including Mono-Red Phoenix/Prowess.
Banning cards has real consequences and we must take them into consideration.
Bridge from Below didn’t see much play in Dredge before Hogaak and Altar of Dementia. Banning it was an attempt to put a band-aid on a bullet wound, but Hogaak was still getting canned at some point. When they banned Faithless Looting with it, I was confused and a little angry. I mean, I guess? It’s really powerful, but it was such an integral and fun part of Modern outside of Dredge, and then Hogaak at the end.
Banning a card to potentially stifle the power level of a deck instead of banning the problematic card is usually a sign that they want a specific archetype to stick around. After they banned Faithless Looting too, I could understand the reasoning, even if I disagreed with it.
Ari is correct that both the London Mulligan and Dredge led to the eventual banning of Faithless Looting. The consistency it helped create led to some really boring games that ended well before the opponent could mount any sort of offense or defense. That’s inherently the nature of Dredge and one of the reasons why I want it gone forever.
New cards being added to the format to help keep Faithless Looting in check could also work. I think Dauthi Voidwalker is very strong, and part of a grouping of cards that I think are relatively hateful but also maindeckable without being oppressive. I would love to see more cards that function on this wavelength so we aren’t forced to play maindeck Surgical Extraction and can instead just play a cool creature with interesting play patterns that just so happens to dampen the explosiveness that Arclight Phoenix brings. It being vulnerable to burn spells is also great because it offers some counterplay.
Zach makes a good point in that the flashback of Faithless Looting is where the true strength lies. When you’re playing Dredge, your first and third turns are set in stone when you have Faithless Looting and enough mana. In Legacy, the flashback is also super annoying with stuff like Lion’s Eye Diamond, but outside of Dredge I don’t see decks using the back half of Looting unless they’re in serious trouble. That’s because most decks are using Faithless Looting as a way to mitigate flooding while simultaneously giving themselves an enabler for the first few turns. Without Dredge abusing the flashback, it shouldn’t be a problem.
I am of the opinion that Ponder and Preordain would be just fine in Modern. I also never saw Once Upon a Time be all that destructive, though it made Golgari Yawgmoth a bit stronger. A world where all of these cards are legal is more fun to me than a world where they’re not.
On the other hand, playing against Oko, Thief of Crowns was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was similarly annoying. I hope those cards stay banned forever, and I’d be happy if every copy were burned in one big pile. While you could make arguments for Umezawa’s Jitte, I consider Deathrite Shaman far too powerful to ever see play again. It just does way too much for one mana.
If you want to unban Faithless Looting, you have to bring it about in a way that coincides with the banning of Stinkweed Imp and/or other dredge cards. If you want to go a step further and ban Arclight Phoenix, I would consider it, though it would make me very sad.
Like Dauthi Voidwalker, Sanctifier En-Vec is another maindeckable tool that could stifle all the graveyard decks in the format. It’s hard to kill, which I don’t particularly love, but it offers white the ability to contain those monstrous threats without much effort. If Faithless Looting is allowed to exist and the cost is Sanctifier En-Vec, I’m hesitant but interested. As someone who absolutely despises hate cards that are powerful, cheap, and hard to interact with, I don’t know that I would like to keep playing the escalation game.
This is an interesting question because you have to consider 1) Faithless Looting versus 2) every card printed that could potentially have value when discarded. In some respects, like Hogaak, banning the payoff is much more desirable than the enabler, because it’s clear that the payoff breaks the contract. Faithless Looting is an excellent enabler, and maybe the best ever printed, but you need to consider that every degenerate graveyard card will always be paired with Faithless Looting. Are we willing to live with weak payoffs or having to ban too-good payoffs until the end of time?
I think people remember this era incorrectly. Dredge didn’t maindeck Surgical Extraction but Izzet Phoenix did for multiple reasons. It was good against graveyard decks and also a free spell for Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice. It was pretty rare that anyone else played maindeck Surgical other than some Snapcaster Mage decks or other archetypes that couldn’t hang with Dredge and Phoenix otherwise.
It’s also okay for certain archetypes, like control or midrange, to be soft to combo or graveyard strategies. Playing maindeck Surgical Extraction is definitely a signifier that there’s a problem in the format if it’s widespread. I would find it more alarming if random decks were maindecking Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace without any inherent synergy. Without Dredge in the format, I doubt either scenario will occur.
This is my core argument: I want people to play the decks that they love. So many people have responded to this innocuous tweet hoping that Faithless Looting gets unbanned in the future. Pairing it with DRC might be dangerous, but what if it wasn’t? What if pairing it with DRC just created a very fun Mono-Red Phoenix deck?
This is a great question. There was a point where the two best decks in the format were both Faithless Looting decks. There could be a point where that’s possible again, but is that much different from the two best decks playing Thoughtseize or Force of Negation? Powerful cards will see play in a number of archetypes. There was a time when Noble Hierarch was in two of the three top-performing decks, but I would never have thought to ban it. With that said, it’s all about the play patterns that the cards create. If Faithless Looting created a bad play experience for every opponent, I would argue that unbanning it would be a mistake. However, having played with and against Faithless Looting a ton, I would argue that Dredge was the only deck that created a negative play experience for me.
Faithless Looting could enable some dangerous archetypes like Reanimator, but they’re not consistent. Even with Faithless Looting, I could rarely get Grishoalbrand to work in the face of a little disruption. Dredge was always problematic because it could function on low resources, which let it mulligan hyper-aggressively and still play a normal game. Dredge broke the rules, so I want to break Dredge.
This happened with Survival of the Fittest in Legacy about a decade ago, but a swift ban ended its reign. I don’t think control decks will want Faithless Looting, but plenty of other archetypes do. I don’t recall Burn ever playing Faithless Looting, but it did help spawn archetypes like Prowess, and used Faithless Looting to trigger their creatures and prevent flooding while enabling Bedlam Reveler. Of all the Looting decks in Modern, I was never in the camp that this was problematic. Like all powerful cards, there is a chance that it could fundamentally shape the format, but I’m wagering that it would do so in a healthy way as long as you’re willing to take necessary steps to prevent incursions.
A lot of the anxiety about Faithless Looting seems to be stemming from DRC. I can assure you that this will be the least of your troubles should Faithless Looting become a serious problem.
- Re-banning a card is not a good thing to have happen, and I would never advocate for unbanning Faithless Looting if I knew that would happen within a year or two.
- There could be a time where the best deck every week changes, but they’re all playing Faithless Looting. That would be a serious problem.
A subjective question, but I think so. I know I certainly had fun playing a bunch of weird Faithless Looting decks all the time. More cards and combinations and decks usually mean more fun. Faithless Looting could singlehandedly revive the relatively dead graveyard archetype.
Best Case: tons of new decks and people getting to play with their old decks.
Worst Case: you have to re-ban it in a few months because it has taken over the format.
Personally, I think it is worth the risk.
This is a lot of information to wade through, so let me sum up the discussion in a concise way.
- Faithless Looting was banned prematurely.
I don’t think this is debatable. It was banned after Hogaak singlehandedly ruined Modern. Everyone knew it was too good but they couldn’t ban it too early while Modern Horizons was still in print.
- Faithless Looting was good, but was it oppressive?
Yes and no. I think it made Dredge too consistent, but Izzet Phoenix was right on the cusp. It was the best deck for a little while, but Dredge was the real nightmare. Banning Dredge could solve this problem. Other decks were more explosive but less consistent, like Grishoalbrand and Hollow One.
- Faithless Looting could be too powerful with DRC and other new cards.
Nothing printed in the last few years seems all too scary. DRC with Faithless Looting just seems like fun. While DRC is great and seeing a lot of play at the moment, I don’t know that Faithless Looting would make it that much better. If anything, it just puts the usual suspects back in the game. With that said, DRC could definitely make other old Faithless Looting archetypes better, and is definitely worth considering if you’re going to unban something.
- Faithless Looting could bring back lost players and fun decks.
With every ban, you lose players and decks. Faithless Looting was one of the four cards that helped build Modern, and losing it was a disaster for a lot of people. I was incredibly excited about Historic when they announced that Faithless Looting was going to be added there, and I can only imagine how much my enthusiasm to play Modern would increase if it were to be unbanned there. I can only surmise by the overwhelming response on Twitter that many others feel exactly the same.
There is risk to unbanning things, just like there is risk to banning them in the first place. I am under the impression that Modern was better off with Faithless Looting than without it. Modern keeps getting new tools to punish Faithless Looting, like Sanctifier En-Vec and Dauthi Voidwalker, and I can only assume that trend will continue. Even Force of Negation, a card that was relatively new at the time when Faithless Looting was banned, could be a major player in stifling the Phoenix decks. The only reason it wasn’t good against it in the beginning was because the Hogaak decks played mostly creatures.
Will Faithless Looting ever get unbanned in Modern? Probably not, but it’s fun to think about. If enough people want it to happen, we could probably make it happen. All we can do is put our good vibes out into the world and hope for the best.