[Welcome back to Fact or Fiction ! Today, Lantern Control enthusiast Sam Black and Lava Spike aficionado Patrick Sullivan give their takes on five statements inspired by the latest Banned and Restricted announcement by Wizards of the Coast. Read their responses and vote for the winner at the end!]
1. Jace, the Mind Sculptor will be banned in Modern in less than one calendar year.
Sam Black: Fiction. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is great and will be heavily played, but a year is not very long. I think what would have to happen for Jace to get banned again would be that we'd need to see the diversity of Modern considerably shift. Currently, Modern is in a great place with dozens of viable decks where it's extremely rare for a single archetype to make up more than 10% of the field. I don't think there will be serious consideration for banning Jace unless that changes.
Modern moves slowly; it'll take people a long time to give up on their decks even if the format shifts to become more hostile toward them. Although, in this case, we'll probably see a fairly large shift toward playing Jace decks instead of whatever people were playing just due to initial excitement. Once that settles down, people will figure out how to beat Jace decks and there will be a rebalancing. If the format lands in a place where Jace is the best thing, it'll take a while to figure that out, and Wizards will still want to allow time for people to adapt and correct naturally. I don't know if Jace will need to be banned again, but if it does, I think it would more likely be one to two years from now rather than less than one.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I argued for many years that even if Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a borderline case on pure power level, secondary market considerations would make it extremely risky to unban. How do you ask people to shell out hundreds of dollars on a playset and then walk it back, especially since that was the card's history in Standard? Wizards has doubled down on that downside risk by tying the unban to the release of an ancillary product, for which Jace will be the key selling point. I do not think it is politically viable to reban so soon after taking such a strong position on the card.
I am a bit of a Jace apologist; I like making powerful incentives for control players to invest mana on their own turn, and the range of cards that interact against Jace is much greater than, say, Ancestral Vision or Search for Azcanta. But Jace might end up being busted, much better than Wizards (or many players) realized upon announcement, bringing the ire of large parts of the community in short order. Even in those scenarios though, Wizards has made their bed, and I expect them to lie in it for more than a year.
2. The return of Bloodbraid Elf makes other B/G/x Thoughtseize like Abzan and Grixis obsolete.
Sam Black: Fiction. Lingering Souls is still extremely good in the midrange B/G/x semi-mirror, which creates substantial pressure to include white mana. Maybe we'll see four-color Bloodbraid Elf/Lingering Souls decks, but four color is tricky to pull off in Modern, and there will be substantial pressure to cut a color. I think this means we'll see a mixture of four-color, Jund, and Abzan.
It's also possible that Bloodbraid Elf just isn't that good; it could legitimately simply not change the way people build their decks in the long run. When Siege Rhino was heavily played, some people felt like it was better than Bloodbraid Elf, and it's rarely played now because four is just so much mana. I think Bloodbraid Elf most likely will be played, but I don't think it's mandatory.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor also throws a substantial wrench into all this by opening up the possibility of Sultai becoming the most popular B/G/x deck, or at least another serious contender. Bloodbraid Elf and Lingering Souls are both good ways to fight Jace, which again pushes for a balance of Jund, Abzan, and Sultai, especially since, even if one build is "right," they're similar enough that it will be hard to tell which one it is and people will largely just play the one that makes the most sense to them.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. Bloodbraid Elf is super dope. So is Lingering Souls. So are Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage. In the short term, I expect most midrange aficionados to turn to Bloodbraid Elf--it's such a loud, powerful card, and lines up especially well against Jace. But Bloodbraid Elf has existed alongside other midrange decks in the past and did not invalidate all other options, so in the long run I'm optimistic it won't drown out everything else.
I think something of a middle ground might emerge-that all the three color midrange decks get collapsed into various four-color options. If it's trivial to splash Bloodbraid Elf into your Abzan deck (or Lingering Souls into your Jund deck, etc.), why not just load up on all the good cards? The non-basic land hate in Modern is good enough that it isn't a freeroll, but the mana fixing is so powerful that this path seems plausible to me.
3. The unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf should have been effective immediately instead of Monday, February 19.
Sam Black: Fact. This is a really hard question, and I almost answered fiction. It's extremely important to have reliable policies that people can trust, and if this were a banning instead, it would suck to have made arrangements to attend a tournament only to find out less than a week beforehand that you can't play your deck and need to find something new. I can say you should know an announcement is coming and you're playing a deck you think they might ban something out of, you should have a backup option in place, but it's not necessarily realistic to expect everyone to own two Modern decks.
On the other hand, I myself am skipping SCG Indianapolis, which I might be attending if the changes were in effect, and I know absolutely everyone would be more interested in watching it. Nothing feels good about playing a format you know is dead, and it would be at least as bad if there were bans instead. There's something especially miserable about the feeling of losing to a card that's already announced as being banned, but it hasn't taken effect yet. Like, okay, it's officially acknowledged that this is too good, so I shouldn't have to play against it, but here I am losing to it anyway.
There are some people who will find themselves with plans to attend a tournament they now don't want to play in because of changes to the format's legality in places where a change happens immediately and they need time to react, but they're a substantial minority, and the tournament will feel way more interesting and legitimate to everyone else playing in it or watching it if they get to play the new format. I don't think delays are worth it at this point.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I definitely get the other side of the argument-some players will be dispirited playing in a "dead" format, and from a coverage perspective you'd much rather show the new, flashy stuff. But I think fidelity to announcements is a huge part of building up and sustaining credibility, and it isn't some all-or-nothing situation-players will get to play the new format in short order, and people will get to watch it, too. I think it is also easy to overestimate the effectiveness of your communication channels-I do not believe 100% of players would know the changes had gone into effect prior to arriving at the tournament site.
Even if I thought it was close in the other direction, I believe the monetary cost of Jace makes my position more compelling-even if it is just perception, people believing that they need to scramble to buy Jaces (right after the card spiked in price) to play in an event they had no reason to believe would involve that card last week feels deeply exploitative.
4. You'd like to see a rotating banned and restricted list for Modern.
Sam Black: Fiction. Also fiction: my answer. By that I mean, yes, it is a fact that I personally would like to see this. I have the cards to build almost every Modern deck, and what I don't have, I can easily borrow. I've been playing Magic for over 23 years and I do it professionally. I've had a lot of time and incentive to build a collection. I also enjoy new formats and new challenges. This would be fun for me, but I answer fiction because I think this world would be worse, and I care more about other people enjoying Magic and Magic doing well.
When I played as a teenager, I was extremely resistant to picking up Standard when it became the default tournament format. I had a Vintage deck because I played when that was the only format. A rotating format where my deck would need to consist of new cards was prohibitively expensive for me. Yes, my Vintage deck was more expensive than a Standard deck, but I already owned it, and it wouldn't cost a lot of money each year to update. I didn't have the money to keep up with a rotating format.
For a lot of players, Modern offers that stability, where they can play Magic without needing to keep up with every set because they own a Modern deck or two that they can always play. Some people get really invested in their Modern decks. It's like their character in a roleplaying game. They don't want to have to suddenly play a different character; they're invested in that one. Modern is diverse enough that they can have a wide range of play experiences because of all the different decks they'll face with their one deck, and this diversity that keeps the game interesting means that a rotating banned list really isn't needed to keep the format fresh--if it does start to feel stale, you can always choose to play a different deck.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I understand the appeal of this path to heavily invested players---they are more likely to tire of playing the same handful of decks and have large enough collections to build whatever happens to be legal. Part of the charm of non-rotating formats, though, is that you can build your deck and show up whenever you want. And it is regularly mentioned that Modern is Magic's most popular format-this means that a lot of people play this format that don't play other formats, and that characteristic disproportionally captures less invested players. These are the types of players who are likely to only own their one deck, or show up to their local store with a Burn deck, not knowing that these are the three months out of the year in which Lava Spike is randomly banned.
I also think a rotating list dampens the credibility of the format-an effort to force diversity through artificial efforts, a publicly-declared list of cards that are "too good," an inability to read old deck lists and extract any meaningful information. The capricious nature of the Modern banned list has at times damaged the integrity of the format for some, and a rotating banned/restricted list is a far more extreme version of any present or past execution.
5. After Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Grand Prix Toronto, Modern needed the shake up that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf will seemingly provide.
Sam Black: Fiction. As far as I know, almost everyone who has ever liked Modern likes Modern as it is. The format is in an extremely healthy place and accomplishing all of its goals. When asked my opinion on unbanning Bloodbraid Elf, my answer has been, "It definitely doesn't need to be banned, it's silly that it's on the banned list and almost certainly not too good. The only reason to unban it would be to do so at a time when you want to get people more excited about the format."
The fact that this change wasn't needed doesn't necessarily mean it shouldn't happen. When there's a clear path to adding excitement now, it's hard to say that you shouldn't take it and the excitement will for some reason be better later. If nothing else, this will somewhat definitively answer whether Jace, the Mind Sculptor should be legal--if the format is bad and you unban Jace and it's still bad (or bad in a different way), it's hard to know if Jace should be legal. If the format is good and you unban Jace and then it becomes bad, you know for sure that Jace was a problem and you can ban it again; and if the format stays good, great, you got to add a well-loved card to the format that will also help sell an upcoming set.
As to the "cash grab replies"--remember that this goes both ways, a lot of people have been pushing for Jace to be legal again and held back only by the fear of what that would do to its price and making Modern inaccessible. The reprint is required to allow the move even if the move is for the health of the format. If the reprint also happens to make Wizards money, it's just a win-win.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I tweeted as much at the time. Modern seemed to be about as healthy as one could expect. You can always find complaints-Lantern's play pattern, how few of the decks play "in the middle," how much the format is about cards that cost a single mana-but for a heavily iterated, non-rotating format, Modern appeared to be in good shape. I doubt the recent unbannings were motivated by a desire to "shake things up," however.
This is my best guess on the chain of events (with zero inside information, to be clear): Jace was slotted into Masters 25 a while back, sales of the last few ancillary releases were softer than Wizards would have liked, and the unbanning of Jace is something they hope they can "get away with" from a format perspective while juicing sales of the upcoming release. Bloodbraid Elf then makes sense as an additional unban as it helps message "we're just trying to give midrange some love" while also putting something into the ecosystem that has been powerful against Jace in the past. Maybe Modern ends up better for all of this-after all, I think midrange could use some love. However, I would wager that Wizards' target for success here isn't "Modern is healthier" so much as "Modern doesn't become appreciably worse."