Modern has been weighed, measured, and found wanting by those at Wizards of the Coast. They addressed the issue with the following alterations:
You can read their explanation of the changes in full on this page, but I'll summarize.
Deathrite was too good a card, banning Nacatl didn't do anything but kill the Zoo deck (making it a mistake in the first place), and Bitterblossom seems good but not too good.
Fair enough. I'm willing to agree with this assessment for now. As I've said in the past, I'd much rather we experiment with diversifying the format than keep everything under lock and key out of pure fear. More change is more fun, especially given the constant concern that an Eternal format might become stale.
As a side note, I'm amused to see this sentence in the note regarding Deathrite Shaman's empowerment of decks that stifle innovation: "Having a strong attrition-based deck as a large portion of the metagame makes it difficult for decks that are based on synergies between cards instead of individually powerful cards."
Sound applicable anywhere else?
Just kidding, Standard's the funnest! I would never skip a PTQ to go shopping . . . again.
Anyway, back to Modern. Many of you probably clicked on this article in hopes of a well-informed, incisive examination of what these bans might mean for the Modern metagame.
Sadly, all I can offer you are my own opinions.
This change to the list is different from many previous because it simultaneously introduces multiple new elements to the format while neutering—but not destroying—a few high-profile options. That means there's new space to explore but a lot of solid foundation that remains largely untouched.
Birthing Pod Is The Best Deck
You could make the argument that this was always true. Birthing Pod lost its own Shamans, sure, but replacing them with Noble Hierarchs is a very profitable exchange for Pod players if it means never having to play against other Shamans. Those were very important to letting the midrange decks keep up with Pod's quick starts while generating value in the late game. In addition to mana acceleration, Deathrite Shaman represented a common maindeck option to shut down Melira-based combos with the additional upside of grinding value against persist creatures relatively efficiently.
When asked about the update, I frequently said that if Shaman got the axe something from Pod would probably need it as well; otherwise, things might get out of hand. Pod has been one of the best-performing strategies in Modern for a very long time, and taking Deathrite Shaman out of the picture only made it better.
Will the unbans present a worthy challenger? Hard to say. I don't foresee Bitterblossom itself being a major problem for these decks to deal with. They're vulnerable in the air, but the Pod engine is very powerful. And the deck is capable of playing Abrupt Decay, so it doesn't sound too rough. Wild Nacatl will need major backup to grind its way through Kitchen Finks, but depending on the deck it could work out. My early inclination is that this banned list is very good for Pod, and we'll need to see a bad matchup gain similar ground if the archetype is to remain in check.
And no, Cedric, I don't think Tron is good enough. But you have fun! [Editor's Note: You know Karn and I will!]
You Can Still Play Jund . . . But You Shouldn't!
Losing Deathrite Shaman is an incredible blow to the various B/G/x midrange decks, as they were already the fairest choice you could make and now they're strictly worse shells of their former selves. I'd expect these decks to slowly die out or transition more fully toward the poles of the format.
With Jund decks phasing in this way, things are going to change for a lot of decks. Many archetypes were held in check by Jund, and now they may have room to roam free. Take Liliana of the Veil—without the threat of a turn 2 Liliana and with fewer people playing the mirror, where its edict was so strong, will the planeswalker remain a pillar of the Modern format? I woke up Monday morning cursing at myself because I realized that Liliana was probably about to take a price dive and I'd been too slow to sell the night before on Magic Online.
Sure enough, a quick glance at MTGGoldfish confirmed my suspicions. Liliana lost about $10 overnight without anyone even talking about her, and I highly doubt she's reached her nadir. She'll recover and stabilize somewhere of course—the card is very powerful and has Legacy to support its price. It's not really worth my while to get out now that I've missed the initial wave since I will want to own the card later. I stand to make relatively little and could lose a bit if something goes awry, but if you're looking to unload her for good, then now is the time.
This is a pattern we can expect to continue. If Jund contributed heavily to a card's playability, then it stands to reason that the card will have significantly less influence on the Modern metagame than it did before. Liliana was a major player; Dark Confidant was another.
Bob is now homeless, with no other deck in Modern playing him outside of B/G/x midrange strategies. Will Dark Zoo give him a new home? I doubt it, but we'll see. It's difficult to make a strong case for any deck that I'd consider a fit for Dark Confidant, though his personal power level remains roughly the same.
One other major player is especially relevant to acknowledge in conjunction with the departure of Deathrite Shaman.
Can Scavenging Ooze Keep Off The streets?
Jund has been the best home for Scavenging Ooze for months, and Ooze's surge into Modern staple has affected many decks and cards. Storm, Living End, Dredgevine—all of these decks and more felt the Ooze bearing down upon them, and its presence in the maindeck of one of the format's most ubiquitous decks was a constant nuisance. Jund gave up nothing for the privilege of what could in these matchups be a very powerful hate card.
Naturally, Shaman's departure and Scavenging Ooze exerting less influence on the field leads to an inevitable outcome.
Graveyard Decks Get Better (For Now)
I expect graveyard decks (especially Storm and Living End) to pick up a fair bit of speed. Everyone's used to the current level of hate keeping these decks reasonable, but that level existed in a world where Jund could grind percentage points off them without really trying. In the new world, these decks won't be taking nearly as many match losses to Jund or Jund-like decks because a) game 1 is better for them and b) there will be fewer of these decks.
That means Storm, Living End, and other graveyard decks will be more popular and more successful until everyone adjusts again. I was initially pretty excited about Storm, but the return of the Fae is not thrilling for the combo deck. Still, with every other matchup improving, it's not going to be a bad deck to play for the first few weeks of the post-ban format, especially if you're looking for a cheap option.
Going long, these decks will become a little worse and possibly wind up lower on the totem pole than they started. With Shaman around, people were pretty willing to skirt on hate—now that he's gone, you can expect a more dedicated effort to occur in the average sideboard, resulting in weaker post-board games in the months after the initial boost. Working your way around Deathrite wasn't so hard for practiced pilots, but when people are showing up with Relics, Rest in Peace, and even Leyline of the Void, life gets harder really fast.
Cards That Rely On Graveyards Improve Forever
This might seem like an odd prediction given my previous assertion that graveyard hate will get better, but allow me to explain. Attacking a deck like Storm with Rest in Peace can really matter—you're cutting off a major resource to them and denying a number of their cards functionality while weakening their core engine. They have to adapt to win.
Doing the same to Knight of the Reliquary or Snapcaster Mage? Not so much. Not only can these cards still generate value by their very nature—they're creatures—but the decks that play them are also not often affected very significantly by graveyard hate outside of the card in question. They don't have to adapt because they can play through the pain and ignore what you're doing at a minor cost.
Of the individual cards that felt the sting of Shaman and Ooze, Snapcaster Mage and Knight of the Reliquary are the most relevant. Both found room to maneuver within that hellscape, so it seems very likely that with two of their tormentors gone each of these cards will gain more ground. I expect general popularity increases from Snapcaster Mage decks, notably U/W/R Control and various other removal-heavy decks filled with card advantage, which might help check Pod. I've always liked to have the Colonnade side of that matchup, and it's not difficult to tweak a Snapcaster Mage deck in whatever direction you see fit.
It's worth noting that these decks only ever seem to win matches on Magic Online and in the World Championship, so consider that your grain of salt.
Knight of the Reliquary however offers us several new dimensions. The first and most obvious is to look to Brian Kibler (no surprises here) and the Naya deck he championed over the course of a couple Grand Prix many moons ago.
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 2 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
Yes, this is a Shaman deck, but it can clearly play without them—Birds of Paradise is nothing to be ashamed of.
I expect something like this to take over the midrange mantle in the coming months, with the only other challenger being B/W Tokens. Tokens will suffer from splash damage since many of the cards people play to combat Faeries will hit it just as hard. So I'd be surprised to see the deck dominate in that way, but it's possible.
There are two very important things to realize about the Naya decks above, and the first is that they successfully play Scavenging Ooze! I've noted that the card is valuable for its power level and for the percentage points it gives you in specific matchups, and Naya can leverage the card exactly how Jund did. Maybe even better, thanks to Domri's fight! A lack of hand disruption does sting, but I think the red will be better than the black due to Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom.
This brings me to my second point: these Naya lists play both Voice of Resurgence and Thundermaw Hellkite. With every pro on the planet suddenly thrilled that they can play Faeries again, having natural access to two haymakers in the matchup sounds really good! I'm not thrilled about trying to resolve a five-drop against Faeries, although Knight might make Cavern of Souls enough to do the job. Voice just seems like a fantastic card in the new metagame, as it's useful against the Nacatl decks and a powerhouse against Faeries while remaining efficient elsewhere.
Currently, its best-known home is Birthing Pod. Talk about a plethora of riches . . .
I'm interested in exploring more Voice of Resurgence decks because the card's best matchups are among the archetypes gaining the most ground right now. You can even build the above list to be a little more aggressive and incorporate Wild Nacatl a la Big Zoo from Pro Tour Austin, but I'll leave the Knight brewing to
the many qualified professionals Kibler and look forward to the results.
Wary Of Faeries
Faeries will be a popular deck, certainly at first and likely for some time.
I'm not entirely sure how good it will actually be.
Sure, it'll keep Twin from running everyone over—a real concern with the loss of Jund—but there are bigger Cats to cook. I was PTQing when the Fae had to face down Nacatls, and one finals saw me nearly lose to a Zoo player's mulligan to four and narrowly win the third game thanks to pilot error on my opponent's part. It wasn't the first escape I'd made that day, and the matchup was in general a yucky one. Granted, this was back when we had Riptide Laboratory and kept our Bitterblossoms in the sideboard, but the Zoo decks were actually pretty close analogs to what one might expect today.
Wild Nacatl is much more exciting to me personally than Faeries because there are so many interesting things you can do with the Cat. U/B Faeries is much narrower, although the previous iterations may or may not be ready for Modern.
Voice of Resurgence? Cavern of Souls? Abrupt Decay? Electrolyze? These aren't the cards Faeries had to fend off on a regular basis back in the day, but they're relatively common enemies in today's world. I can't say for sure where Faeries will land, but my suspicion is that the hundred decklists we saw pop up on Facebook and Twitter are going to need some significant revisions. Thinking that they won't seems a little naive.
Heck, people splashed Lightning Bolt back in the day.
Things got cray in the Glen sometimes, yo.
Gifts-Rites Is Dead
I'm calling her—February 3rd, 2400 EST.
Sorry Lew Laskin!
These are my initial thoughts on what the banned and restricted changes mean for Modern. I'll go ahead and give you guys a quick TL;DR for the Modern metagame over the next couple weeks. Keep in mind that these are just initial shifts—as Fae and Zoo solidify their place, a lot of these will change accordingly. For now, I'm relatively confident in them.
Birthing Pod (No Shamans? No problem!)
Splinter Twin (Jund was a bad matchup.)
Storm (Less Shamans, Oozes, and Thoughtseizes.)
Living End (Less Shamans and Oozes, more creature decks.)
U/W/R (Snapcaster gets better, and creature decks are good matchups.)
Infect (This deck was on the rise, and it could continue.)
Affinity (Very curious to see how this goes long term.)
Burn (Fae and Zoo matchups could make it better, but I doubt it.)
Green Midrange (Uh, duh.)
Tron (Rises in Twin are bad, and Pyroclasm got worse.)
Gruul (Why, hello there white cards!)
Scapeshift (Not happy to see Faeries and a turn 4 aggro deck join the party.)
Gifts-Rites (Uh, duh again.)
I've got high hopes that we'll see a lot of sweet brewing in the coming weeks, and I'm much more interested in what winds up going down at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. If you'd like to join me in predicting the future for fun and no profit, feel free to chime in!