First things first:
Hooray! It was starting to feel like the format was revolving around decks that abuse Treasure Cruise and/or Dig Through time, decks that abuse Birthing Pod, or a deck that is tuned to beat them. It also seemed like the piece of the metagame that could put up a fight was continually shrinking. Perhaps you'd run into Burn, Affinity, or Zoo here or there, but there were fewer and fewer reasons to not just play with the three best cards in the format.
There were also some other announcements. Rise from the dead Golgari Grave-Troll, as you are free to muck around in Modern once more! Also:
Today, I'll be focusing on the changes to Modern, since those are the most interesting and we have a Modern Pro Tour fast approaching. Let's go over them.
But they said this Ancestral Recall was unsinkable! Well, I hope you brought a life vest because Treasure Cruise just sank. Or maybe the format represented an iceberg it smashed right through. Whatever the case, it smashed right through Modern and Legacy and even managed to crack Vintage.
We need to handle this situation like Tom Cruise[sic] did in that movie. It's like Speed. Only with a boat instead of a bus. We needed to diffuse this situation, or slow it down, or whatever it was that happened. Never saw that one.
Anyways, sure, there were other strategies you could play in Modern (we'll get to you later, Pod), but I think it was easily the most powerful and defining card in the format. It was essentially able to single-handedly wipe certain strategies off the map. Trying to make me discard cards and out value me with Dark Confidant? Cruise. Trying to remove all my creatures and go over the top of me? Cruise. We got to parity and are topdecking? Oh, look at that. It's Cruise.
Treasure Cruise is very hard to go over the top of. Perhaps for more aggressive players like Tom Ross, an eight-mana spell isn't a huge problem, as they can attack that and kill them before it gets cast. But if you are trying to simply out-value a Treasure Cruise deck, it's unlikely to happen and will seem like an insurmountable hill. There is room for differing viewpoints, but it's probably not a good a thing to be constricting the number of viable strategies.
The cost to playing Treasure Cruise for one mana is to play spells that go to the graveyard. Cheaper ones are better, but any spells will do. Everything I know about Magic is suggesting that this is not a particularly restrictive drawback. Chalice of the Void was starting to see play to combat all the cantrips. That's right: Chalice of the Void was seeing major play because of an eight-mana spell. Bon Voyage, Treasure Cruise. I like drawing cards as much as the next mage, but you had to go.
Verdict: 10/10 would ban again. Slow delivery, but overall a good ban.
Some delved too greedily and too deep and awoke the wrath of the Banrog.
This was an incredibly necessary ban. We needed to ban this thing harder than Tom Cruise from the furniture store. (Because he jumped on Oprah's couch once... no more Tom Cruise references for me.) We need to ban its children and its children's children.
The incentives to play some form of Splinter Twin, Scapeshift, or Ascendancy Combo with Dig Through Time would have been very high. I'm also in the (ban)camp that feels that Dig Through Time is a very acceptable replacement for Treasure Cruise when it isn't outright better. It would have been easy to update U/R Delver with Dig Through Time. Banning Treasure Cruise would only have been a speed bump for the delve machine.
Verdict: Excellent forethought. Preventative ban so we don't have to go through the entire song and dance again.
The second saddest Pod banning since Podrick Payne was banned from Littlefinger's brothel. I imagine this ban will make plenty of people sad, but it isn't unwarranted. I'm actually a little sad to see Birthing Pod go. I want to beat Pod in a fair fight, not like this. It's sad to see a powerful competitor you respect pulled from the game in his prime. Led out behind the barn and... they're all at the Hasbro Ranch now, Podding up Reveillarks and Entomber Exarchs for max value.
The good thing about Birthing Pod was it was a very diverse deck. It was one of a kind. It was an iconic and an interesting part of the metagame like Affinity. The deck was hard to build, pilot, and it rewarded dedication. It was fun to watch. It was also not overly oppressive by any means, it was more of a 55-45 against the field kind of problem. Just a little oppressive, in that if you were doing anything in the realm that Pod does, you should probably just be playing Pod.
The problem was it was possibly the best deck even post-Treasure Cruise and solidly the best deck before Cruise. To beat it you needed to be very prepared for it, and it's no cakewalk playing against it skill-wise either.
Verdict: A little necessary. You were too powerful for your own good, though not by much. You had to go.
What's holding Dredge decks back in Modern now? Only Dread Return is banned for them. They have access to City of Brass and Mana Confluence if they need it. Plenty of delve cards, Vengevine, and Bridge from Below. Consistency is still an issue, even with Grave-Troll back in the mix, and there's the question of whether or not what the deck is trying to do is good enough or fast enough.
Verdict: Seems like a safe unban here, maybe Dredge will appear in small numbers, but hopefully not in large ones.
With these troublemakers out of the way, let's take a look at a few of the suspects that remained untouched:
Have you forgotten? The terror, the pillaging; no Jace, the Mind Sculptor was safe. While it would be interesting to see how Siege Rhino and Bloodbraid Elf compete for midrange players' affections, I think this is a card that needs to stay banned.
Verdict: Leave the campaigning to the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare and be glad your children are safe.
Verdict: I can't even... stay banned!
This is still a threat waiting to bubble and boil over. Probably safe to keep around without Cruise threatening to break it. Abrupt Decay owning it hard goes a long way to keeping it in check. The biggest strike against it is that it's a very annoying combo, for the combo-er and the combo-ee. It takes a long time and a bunch of different things happening that you need to keep track of.
Verdict: Probably safe power wise but about as annoying as Second Sunrise mechanically. Don't count Jeskai Ascendancy out of the running for breaking the format though, it has been consistently shattering expectations since it was printed.
The Future of Modern:
Modern got shook up like a snow globe. What's the correct way to evaluate where it will go from here? For starters, old decklists from before Khans of Tarkir are more useful than current decklists. You want to start your gauntlet with decks from the past with a splash of the future. Just make sure to compensate for Treasure Cruise bias when you see tons of Chalice of the Voids or Boils.
Strategies that aren't affected should increase in relative power level. The format had been tightening up, but now it's going to let loose and spill out all the fringe decks once more. Keep in mind there are plenty of unturned stones in past sets that might have gotten boosts from the new sets.
The obvious big winner is Abzan. Siege Rhino is a hit, and Anafenza, the Foremost is seeing some play as well. Combine that with Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, Lingering Souls, and Liliana of the Veil (maybe throw in Pack Rat for good measure), and you might just have the best deck in the format. I think it's the starting point for the deck that gains the most from the bans and could be the most played deck at Pro Tour Fate Reforged.
Affinity is also a winner. There are few good reasons not to play Affinity. It wins every game 1 ever, and while it will be a dog after sideboard against a prepared field, it can still steal wins and crush an unprepared field. Affinity will be a major player at Pro Tour Fate Reforged as well.
Splinter Twin might not fare too well if Abzan decks are running rampant, since it is without any free ridiculous card draw anymore. It's still a great deck that will see play. Blood Moon becomes a major player again.
Jeskai Control, my precious deck of choice, gets a boost by not having to deal with Treasure Cruise anymore. It's unclear how well it will fare against upgraded Abzan lists, but it's possible that Siege Rhino tips the scales enough in their favor that it becomes a problem. More aggressive versions trying to abuse Geist of Saint Traft, Young Pyromancer, and Monastery Mentor might put up a better fight.
Tron (probably) gets a boost with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. If Abzan is the top deck, it will be able to prey upon it, which might create a mini rock paper scissors between it, Abzan, and Affinity. Ugin seems rather poor versus Affinity.
Scapeshift, Temur Twin, G/W Hexproof, and Storm will all return to their former glory of being medium level players.
Ban All The Things!
I'm a fan of banning cards. Bans have to happen. Things are almost guaranteed to go wrong and break. Bans are a sad event that means something went wrong, but they are also acknowledging and fixing a problem.
I think most people can agree banning Stoneforge Mystic from Standard was a good idea. Imagine if Caw-Blade had been dealt with earlier than it was? Pulling that trigger could have saved a bunch of months of stale Standard.
1. Powerful cards are shiny and fun... in moderation. We need powerful new cards. Sometimes, a broken one slips through.
2. For every door a ban closes, they open ten others. I like having to discover a new format and try new cards that were once not considered playable. Bans are great at keeping things fresh. Bans weaken a format. I prefer weaker formats where you have access to more viable cards. The more broken cards in Modern, the more it tightens up and become harder to penetrate. Powerful strategies are impossible to attack. More cards, more broken cards. More interactions, more broken interactions. I want Modern to be loose, with plenty of viable decks. This also keeps power creep in check a little, since these powerful new cards can simply be lined up and guillotined.
What if we just unbanned everything in Modern and let everyone run wild? It could work for a little while. You'd have a bunch of powerful strategies to choose from that overshadow the rest of the format. But soon certain strategies would become obviously too powerful and start consuming other decks until a winner engulfs the rest of the format like a black hole, and we head down this very path again by banning the key cards in the deck.
Some might prefer Modern to be more powerful and like Legacy, but I prefer it to be more like Standard 2.0: slower and weaker. Bans help that happen.
The Banned Wagon
Bans for the ban god! People love to overreact and cry for things to be banned. It's so much easier than taking a cautious inquisitive approach. Bans must still be handled relatively carefully. I say I like bans, but they do have a negative effect on the game even if they are necessary.
1. Bans are ugly. You have to look up the banned list to see what cards you can play with. They are a mark against our beautiful game.
3. Bans cause people to lose their investments. People who bought a specific deck are out of luck if their key cards get the axe. This is big deal for more casual players, and shakes the trust consumers may have that they'll get to play with the cards they buy. What's good for the competitive scene and for the format might not be good for the individual. This is probably the biggest problem with bans happening, and there is no good solution except to ban fewer cards.
4. Bans probably also cause other unseen problems. Imagine if Birthing Pod was getting reprinted in Modern Masters 2 and then it goes and gets itself banned.
I don't think we should place blame very often for broken cards. Sometimes Caw-blade or Affinity completely destroys things, and I don't think this is on that level. Mistakes happen. It's how they're handled that matters more. Here's what I would change about how things were handled this time
1. Ban Faster. This was a late announcement for anyone wanting to start testing for the Pro Tour. Bump up the announcement date by at least a week for Modern Pro Tours, and ideally, for every Pro Tour. We should know what we can play with by the time the full spoiler is revealed.
2. I suppose this falls into the entire "Look upon MTGO, ye Mighty, and despair!" but apparently the changes to the format don't go into effect until January 28th, essentially a week before the Pro Tour. Why why why why why? Why!
These bans didn't need to happen, but I think they are very good for Modern and good for the game. I would rather have too many cards banned rather than too few.
Let's keep the power level in Modern in Modernration while we still can. The format isn't getting any smaller, and there will always be new cards. I think these changes are incredibly beneficial to the health of the format of Modern. Magic has been great. Legacy, Modern, and Standard all feel unique and well-balanced. I think Modern can join Standard in being called excellent again.