Another Banned and Restricted announcement has come and gone, and again there are no changes to my favorite format, Modern. I've been saying for months how Modern is as healthy as it can be, given the gigantic card pool, and any possible kind of deck that you could want is playable.
The reason why any deck is playable is because there are isn't a deck that has good matchups across the board, so no individual archetype is a very high percentage of the field at a big tournament. Even if you want to play a deck that has a weak matchup against a couple of the top-tier decks, it's possible to dodge those specific decks round after round.
With Modern being in such a good spot and with dozens of viable archetypes, I wasn't surprised at the lack of changes to the format, but what I was surprised by was the second paragraph of yesterday's announcement:
It sounds like we are very close to have some card(s) unbanned after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, but nothing will likely happen to the format before that event. If this is the case, what card(s) are the most likely to be unbanned? This has been a hot topic on social media since this announcement, so today I wanted to give my thoughts on the cards on the Banned and Restricted list and which ones would be the most reasonable to set free. By my count, there are 35 cards that are banned in Modern and I'm going to go over each of them, some in more detail than others, with rational thought behind why or why not it would be good for the format for them to be unbanned.
Ancient Den and friends are the only cycle of lands to ever have been banned haven't actually seen any Modern play, as they were part of the initial Banned List, and I don't see this changing ever. The only way these lands could be unbanned is if major changes happened with other artifacts that are currently legal in the format. Mox Opal, Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Krark-Clan Ironworks would all be too powerful with the help of artifact lands, and instead of turning the format inside out to fit these lands back in, they should just stay right where they are.
Many people have fond memories of playing Birthing Pod decks, and although they were generally fun to play, thanks to the vast amount of creatures you could have in your deck, Birthing Pod is simply too good of a card for the format. Phyrexian mana has been the culprit of many mistakes in Modern's past, with paying life being a less valuable resource than paying mana. Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies are already a powerful combo in many different Modern decks, and those two don't need Birthing Pod for even more help.
I know I'm in the minority with this position, but I don't think Blazing Shoal is too good for Modern and I'm not convinced it makes Infect any better. Ponder, Preordain, and Gitaxian Probe were all legal when Blazing Shoal was, and without those, I don't think it will be a reliable win condition for the deck. Fatal Push would still help keep this deck in check, and Blazing Shoal would only make the deck more of a glass-cannon combo deck. With this being said, does anyone actually miss Blazing Shoal and want to play a deck that in my opinion would likely be a worse version of U/R Gifts Storm? Even though I don't think Blazing Shoal would be very good for Infect in today's metagame, I don't really see a reason to unban the card, and wouldn't expect to see it unbanned.
A fan favorite, Bloodbraid Elf would be a reasonable card to unban, at least compared with the other cards mentioned so far. I think by now everyone realizes that Deathrite Shaman was the real culprit of Jund decks in January 2013 when Bloodbraid Elf was banned, but that doesn't mean this four-mana card wasn't good enough to deserve the ban it received. The biggest question is probably what Jund would look like right now with Bloodbraid Elf. For reference, here's Reid Duke's Jund list from shortly before Bloodbraid Elf being banned:
For the most part, Jund hasn't changed drastically, but there are some considerations to be had. First off, the manabases of current Jund decks are much better than in 2013, and most of that has to do with the printing of Blooming Marsh. Next, let's take a look at some cards that weren't printed at the time that would be powerful hits for Bloodbraid Elf:
Jund certainly has many more options than what it had in the past, and although it still isn't one of the very best decks in the format right now, that would change if Bloodbraid Elf re-entered the format. Cards like Collective Brutality and Kolaghan's Command could generate an incredible amount of value when cascaded into, but that's not all.
Remember earlier this year when Jund Death's Shadow was all the rage? Bloodbraid Elf would be much better than splashing for Ranger of Eos, something many of those decks did to help their matchup against removal-heavy decks. Expect this to make a comeback with plenty of Kolaghan's Commands.
Individually, Bloodbraid Elf is probably not more powerful than Thought-Knot Seer, something that many people who would like the card unbanned point out. The biggest difference lies in the decks the two cards can be played in. Thought-Knot Seer requires a very specific cost, colorless mana, when putting it in your deck that makes it hard to play with other powerful cards in the format. Bloodbraid Elf, on the other hand, slots nicely into a deck filled with the best cards of the format.
Overall, Bloodbraid Elf is a comparably safe card to unban in Modern, but it would drastically change the metagame, something that is an expensive side effect for players that need to scramble to put together new decks. It also has the risk of making one archetype too good for the format, and a bigger percentage of it than desired.
I'm going to lump the next five Banned List cards together as I have the same thing to say about all of them: no chance these will get unbanned. Chrome Mox and Cloudpost can generate mana much too quickly for the format. The new ruling with Blood Moon makes Dark Depths even better than it was before, and I can't imagine why we would want Marit Lage flying around. Deathrite Shaman, also known as the best creature ever printed, has a much better chance of being banned in Legacy than unbanned in Modern, and as for Dig Through Time, well…why did delve come back, exactly?
Dread Return has been banned since the beginning of Modern also, and it's a card that I'm less familiar with than most of the rest of the list. I loved to play Four Horsemen in Legacy back in the day when I first started, but as far as Modern applications for Dread Return, I'm not exactly sure how the card would be used. Would it make Dredge far too good? Is there a combo deck that would love to have it? I don't really have the answers to those questions. Ancestral Vision, Bitterblossom, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle were all originally banned at the same time and have since come off the list to have varying impacts on the format. It's possible that Dread Return could be similar. I just don't know with this card.
Another pocket of cards that don't need to be unbanned for any reason. Eldrazi Temple would certainly need to be banned for Eye of Ugin to come off the list, but all that would do is kill Eldrazi decks and make G/X Tron much better. They banned the correct Eldrazi land the first time. Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll were cards that needed to be banned at the beginning of the year when they were, and that hasn't changed. Elves is already a very good deck and Glimpse of Nature would only make it too strong, again not adding to the health of the format in any way.
Some people believe that if Dryad Arbor were banned, then Green Sun's Zenith would be a safe card to unban, but I'm not sold. It may be a similar card to Chord of Calling, but the biggest difference is Green Sun's Zenith is a quality card early in the game, allowing you to put Noble Hierarch onto the battlefield on Turn 2, while still being an amazing late-game card like Chord of Calling. Sure, you can only find green creatures, and at sorcery speed, but is this really a card that needs to be in the metagame? [Yes.—Ed.]Do we need Green Sun's Zenith, Chord of Calling, and Eldritch Evolution? The latter two need for you to either have creatures on the battlefield already or an abundance of mana, and that is why I prefer them in the format over Green Sun's Zenith.
Better luck next time!
This is something I have written about before, but Jace, the Mind Sculptor should never be unbanned for Modern. Some people have tunnel vision when it comes to the best planeswalker of all time, thinking only of unique scenarios such as, "If Turn 3 Karn Liberated is okay, then why isn't Turn 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor?", and they don't realize what the rest of the deck that has Jace in it would look like.
The format would simply evolve into who has Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the battlefield, and that isn't an enjoyable experience over the long term. Grixis Death's Shadow would play it, every midrange or control deck would start with it, and even Collected Company decks would have it in the 75. Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be everywhere and make the format miserable to play in short order, as the only thing that could compete with Jace, the Mind Sculptor is having your own.
There isn't anyone who wants this card unbanned, right? There's no possible way it would be good for the format. I honestly have to think long and hard whether Mental Misstep or Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be a better card to be unbanned, especially taking into consideration the financial aspect with Jace. There's a very good chance that Mental Misstep would hurt the format less than Jace would, which is pretty ridiculous, considering it's Mental Misstep, so let's just leave these two cards on the Banned List forever and not worry about them ever again.
I wouldn't expect Ponder or Preordain to go anywhere soon with the printing of Opt. Opt is a nice test spell to see what the power level of cantrips in Modern can be, and now that it joining Serum Visions and Thought Scour, the pressure for either Ponder or Preordain to be unbanned is lifted. U/R Gifts Storm is already the best deck in the format in my opinion, and the closest one to receiving a ban of some sort. I don't expect these cantrips to be unbanned to help the deck out.
More cards that don't have a chance to come off the Banned List. Punishing Fire is much too good of a removal spell against the bevy of small creature-based strategies and would require Grove of the Burnwillows to be banned for it, something I don't see the reason for. Again, both Rite of Flame and Seething Song would simply make U/R Gifts Storm better than it is now. Second Sunrise will likely never see the sun rise again, and Skullclamp is too good for Legacy, much less Modern.
Splinter Twin is the card I'm most biased on out of the entire list. Yes, that includes Jace, the Mind Sculptor; even though I have strong feelings of what Jace would do to the format, it isn't because I don't like the card.
Splinter Twin is a card I don't like in the slightest. I never enjoyed playing against a Splinter Twin deck, just like I never liked playing against Felidar Guardian in Standard. I don't like the type of gameplay it promotes, and I was glad the day it was banned.
Now, I understand that many people adored Splinter Twin and loved staying alive long enough to put together their arbitrarily large combo, but it's something that I'm glad is gone and don't want back. Is it too good for Modern at face value? Could it be safely unbanned? To be completely honest, something I always want to be, my bias against the card and the gameplay means I don't have an objective answer to these questions.
There is a direct correlation to when Splinter Twin was banned and when I started putting in tons of time into the format, and I personally hope to never play against my least favorite Modern card (including Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) again.
Stoneforge Mystic is the most interesting card on the Modern Banned List to me, and the one that I think is the most likely to get unbanned. It was another one of the cards that was banned at the beginning of the format's existence, most likely since it was too good for Standard. The power level of Equipment has not increased since August 2011 when Stoneforge Mystic was banned, as there hasn't been anything printed that competes with Batterskull or the cycle of Swords, none of which sees much Modern play. If the Equipment alone isn't good enough for Modern, would Stoneforge Mystic then be too good?
Honestly, I don't think it would be, especially with the printing of Kolaghan's Command. I think the most likely place to find Stoneforge Mystic would be in a shell with Aether Vial, similar to Death and Taxes in Legacy, that would put Stoneforge Mystic on the battlefield at instant speed when your opponent's guard is down. Stoneforge Mystic could also be used to find Sword of the Meek for Thopter Foundry decks, or Cranial Plating for Affinity.
Stoneforge Mystic is the card that I think is the most likely card to be unbanned after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan if any card does get unbanned. Obviously, that doesn't mean that it will, but in my opinion it's the most likely.
Finally, the list concludes with three more cards that don't have any business getting unbanned any time soon. Summer Bloom would require Amulet of Vigor to get banned for it to be unbanned, but like with the other previous situations, there isn't a reason to do this. For Treasure Cruise, see Dig Through Time from earlier, and Umezawa's Jitte is simply much too good for the format, with or without Stoneforge Mystic, similar to Skullclamp.
There's no reason to expect any changes to the Modern format before Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and I hadn't expected anything to happen. However, the language from yesterday's announcement did make it seem as though it was likely there would be a shake-up in the format after that Pro Tour, and that the likely shake-up would be an unbanning rather than a banning. If this is the case, I don't think there are many cards that are possible to be unbanned in the format, as discussed today, which makes it somewhat easy to speculate what could happen after the Modern Pro Tour if only an unbanning would occur.
If a banning were to occur, the most likely deck to receive a reduction in power, as of today, would be U/R Gifts Storm. It's no coincidence it has won two of the last three Modern Opens on the SCG Tour®, and I think it's the current best deck by quite a ways. Now, will that still be the case in four months? Four months ago, Grixis Death's Shadow was the best deck of the format, and some people were calling for bans. That time has safely passed without anything happening. Only time will tell what the format will look like four months from now.