With the announcement of Stoneforge Mystic as the next Grand Prix promo, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding its unbanning. While I don't have too much to add as far discussing the likelihood of this occurring, there are two arguments in favor of it in my eyes. The first is that every Grand Prix promo since the conception of Modern has been Modern-legal. The second is that Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch is the due date for a Modern shakeup. I won't bother getting into discussing whether things should be banned, I've already done that, but I will say that Modern is beginning to stagnate since the removal of Birthing Pod from the format.
Due to these observations, I wouldn't bat an eye if before #PTOGW, Stoneforge Mystic was unbanned. Regardless of it occurring, it's fun to talk about and speculate on how decks would look if the best white two-drop of all time re-entered the fray.
Is Stoneforge Mystic too Good?
I think it may be best to start here. In short, it is incredibly difficult to say. Stoneforge Mystic is an exceptionally powerful Magic card that continues to see consistent play in Legacy and is widely regarded as the cornerstone of the “best Standard deck of all time” in Caw-Blade.
Stoneforge Mystic is a cheap threat that generates inherent card advantage by searching for an equipment. The fact that the card Batterskull exists puts a real hamper on anyone trying to play fair on the battlefield to remove Stoneforge Mystic the turn it is played due to the threat of it generating a recursive 4/4 lifelink creature. Needless to say, this is immensely powerful.
What does Stoneforge Mystic require from deckbuilding? Ultimately, not too much, and that is the most frightening implication. She can be slotted into almost any deck along the spectrum, with control decks only being required to play only her for creatures if need be alongside 2-3 equipment. She is a huge pay off for devoting a mere six cards, a massive draw to playing her.
If Stoneforge Mystic is so powerful in Legacy and has a rich history of dominance, why wouldn't it be too good? There are a few factors at play. The most important one is that Umezawa's Jitte exists in Legacy and will never be a part of Modern. If you've never played with Jitte, it is the ultimate bane of creature decks. Often time a single trigger of charge counters is enough to end a game. This is a huge distinction between the two formats as far as what equipment is accessible. In Modern, Stoneforge Mystic will merely have access to Batterskull, a variety of the protection Sword cycle, and a few fringe choices.
Mana efficiency is a huge bottleneck on what is playable in Legacy. This is not the case in Modern. Let me explain a bit more: Snapcaster Mage is regarded as one of if not the best card in Modern, yet sees only a medium amount of play in Legacy, typically in control decks, despite the fact that Legacy has a much richer suite of powerful spells to flashback.
This is due to how much more expensive three mana is than two in the context of a format containing Daze and Wasteland. Modern is far more diverse in terms of the answers that different decks have access to. They are also far more interactive with the battlefield. There are a ton of Lightning Bolts and Path to Exiles running around, while many decks in Legacy may cap out at four or five removal spells in their maindecks. The aforementioned Snapcaster Mage will also make it more difficult for Stoneforge Mystics to stick. It is reasonable to consider Stoneforge Mystic comparable to Dark Confidant and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in that they all have tremendous value if given a turn cycle of reprieve, but are all quite vulnerable to a simple Lightning Bolt. Of course, the fact that Stoneforge generates a card the turn it is played is a huge benefit.
The final point against Stoneforge Mystic is Kolaghan's Command. The printing of this card is a huge nod in favor of Stoneforge being a reasonable card to unban. Grixis and Jund are decks that are already incentivized to play a maindeck artifact hate card, while many of the combo decks of the rest of the format hardly care about Stoneforge Mystic to begin with!
Let's start looking at some decks.
Stoneforge Mystic has a rich history of success alongside Lingering Souls for good reason. Equipment when coupled with a plentiful source of cheap flying creatures is a pretty simple recipe for success. Further, Abzan's lack of Dark Confidant has sometimes put it at a slight disadvantage in the earlygame for pressuring control decks in comparison to Jund. Undoubtedly, this version of Abzan would be incredibly powerful, perhaps wanting to utilize even more discard to leverage Stoneforge Mystic.
It's not clear to me which would be the best of the Sword cycle to include. Fire and Ice has one of the best protection suites and raw stats available amongst the five, but it may be more important to target white protection specifically for Path to Exile.
- 3 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Qasali Pridemage
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 2 Wilt-Leaf Liege
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Ironically, this deck may just be worse, at least in terms of how it is positioned in Modern. Leonin Arbiter is a fairly important piece of Hate Bear's arsenal, as the deck is typically trying to utilize “worse” cards than its opponents alongside a land denial strategy. While our overall card quality is much higher with Stoneforge Mystic, this aspect of the deck certainly takes a hit. Amusingly, Leonin Arbiter would actually only get better with Stoneforge in the format.
Perhaps it is possible to simply include a small Stoneforge package, three copies and two pieces of equipment or something similar, while playing Leonin Arbiter alongside as a minor nombo.
U/W Control has seen a bit of a resurgence in Modern lately, with some lists going as far to even include Dragonlord Ojutai. While the thought of an Ojutai wielding a Batterskull certainly makes me happy, a powerful cheap threat in Stoneforge is probably enough to replace all that nonsense that the deck had previously, drastically reducing the overall curve. Ojutai's Command is no Cryptic Command in a vacuum, but in conjunction with Stoneforge Mystic it certainly strikes me as superior.
That major decrease in stress on the mana also allows the deck to play a handful of colorless lands. Mutavault plays incredibly well with Sword of Feast and Famine, but I might be interested in even including an Academy Ruins. With Ojutai's Command, it doesn't strike me as unreasonable to trigger a Stoneforge Mystic four or more times in a game and in a Stoneforge Modern world, I would certainly expect our artifacts to be under pressure.
Near and dear to Shaheen Soorani's heart, Esper Stoneblade is another obvious direction to take Stoneforge Mystic. While it is typically difficult for blue decks to justify playing multiple Thoughtseizes in their maindeck, having access to Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull to alleviate this issue is a huge boon.
I also really like the idea of Jace in this deck as Stoneforge Mystic is already under such heavy fire, and the Vryn's Prodigy is, as we already know, an awesome tool in combination with Ojutai's Command.
These are the far more scary decks. Again, there is little deckbuilding requirement for Stoneforge's impressive pay off, making slotting the combination of cards into decks fairly easy and potentially dangerous.
Faeries has never really been more than a fringe strategy in Modern. It is typically quite good at beating control and combo decks due to the bevy of cheap disruptive creatures it plays. Anyone who is incapable of interacting with Mistbind Clique is in for a lot of trouble. That being said, typical U/B builds leaning on Bitterblossom in particular are typically heinous against aggressive strategies, and as a result, having access to Stoneforge and Batterskull is likely to be a great upgrade for the archetype.
This is really more of a descendant of the old Mono-Blue Faeries decks from Extended that leverage Umezawa's Jitte to great effect. While we don't have quite as powerful a piece of equipment, a way to find the ones we do have access to is a big deal for an aggro-control deck reliant on smaller creatures.
This deck is pretty ugly, but it does represent the kind of places that Stoneforge Mystic might push decks into. We've seen a few lists of Grixis Control running around that splash Lingering Souls, and from that point, it's not too far of a stretch to include Stoneforge Mystic. Should this deck get off the ground, it's hard to imagine that another midrange deck could ever hope to compete with it on pure card quality and resiliency.
I've saved the best for last. Anyone who played during the Caw-Blade era may remember that it was Splinter Twin splashing Stoneforge Mystic that ultimately emerged as the best deck before it was banned into the ground. If there's anything that from a purely conceptual perspective would keep Stoneforge Mystic banned, I believe it to be this:
These kinds of decks are incredibly scary, as the Twin Combo enables free wins while the Stoneforge Mystic package makes it very easy to play a fair game where your Deceiver Exarchs can quickly become huge threats. Of course, this is about as basic as the deck can come, and it wouldn't surprise me if it were correct to begin including Spellskites, more lands, and Ojutai's Commands in hopes of becoming more a pure control deck with a combo afterthought. The point is that giving your combo decks access to effects as powerful as Stoneforge Mystic can be potentially quite dangerous for the health of the format.
While today was more a thought exercise than a real analysis of the format, I hope that you enjoyed talking about one of my favorite creatures. Do you think the Grand Prix promo is an indication that Stoneforge Mystic is going to be unbanned? Do you think it should be?