So here's the thing...
Stoneforge Mystic should come off the Modern banned list. And while that sentence might sound terrifying, I think most people thought Jace, the Mind Sculptor was an even scarier card to cut loose. And look where Jace, the Mind Sculptor is now! Not only does Jace, the Mind Sculptor see less play in U/W Control or Jeskai Control than Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but it just seems the format is too fast for it to even be viable.
It's possible that Jace, the Mind Sculptor seeing very little play is a product of tools at your disposal. After all, not having access to something like Force of Will or Mental Misstep means protecting yourself while you tap out for Jace is pretty difficult. Sure, if you get to untap with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, you should be in good shape, but that's true for just about every Planeswalker ever printed. Getting two or more activations out of a Planeswalker is what every deck playing one of those cards dreams of. It's where you start to gain an actual advantage from your spell as opposed to just having it die and (usually) replacing itself.
But we're not here to talk about Jace, the Mind Sculptor. We're here to talk about the health of Modern, and the implications of what unbanning a card like Stoneforge Mystic could potentially do to the format. So, let's begin in earnest and discuss exactly why I think Stoneforge Mystic is more than fine for Modern.
One of the easiest arguments for unbanning Stoneforge Mystic is that it is an inherently less powerful two-drop creature than either Baral, Chief of Compliance or Goblin Electromancer. I've had so many people argue that untapping with a Stoneforge Mystic is too powerful, and that landing a Batterskull on the third turn means most fair decks won't be able to keep up. There might have been a time when that was true, but things change. Modern is continually growing, and the strength of every deck grows along with it.
I would argue that untapping with a Baral, Chief of Compliance means you win much more often than Stoneforge Mystic. Have you ever seen a Storm deck not combo off on the following turn once they have access to one of their cost-reduction creatures and all their lands? And wouldn't you rather promote fair decks playing Stoneforge Mystic as opposed to decks like Storm, where interaction is both difficult and rarely effective?
Killing Stoneforge Mystic takes away a lot of its inherent value, which is reducing the cost of Batterskull. Yes, you could use Stoneforge Mystic alongside any powerful equipment in Modern, but equipment means combat, and artifacts tend to be vulnerable thanks to decks like Affinity, Ironworks, and Lantern being major players. Even if you have an easy go of it against an opposing fair deck by putting in a cheap Batterskull in the first game, virtually every deck in the format has a way to interact with that after sideboard. The same cannot be said for a number of combo archetypes.
Don't get me wrong here: I don't think banning Baral, Chief of Compliance is a smart move. In fact, banning anything at the moment would be rather foolish. With eight different archetypes showing up in the Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com® Season One Invitational, Modern looks to be as healthy as ever. Aside from Krark-Clan Ironworks being relatively boring to play against, I don't think it's actually all that good. As of right now, a lot of decks that would normally prey on Ironworks have fallen out of the metagame thanks to the high volume of Hollow One and Humans. And when decks like Grixis Death's Shadow are getting forced out of the format, you're left with relatively flat archetypes trying to play fair against it. Either the decks have too much removal, and therefore dead cards, or they can't apply enough pressure because their threats are built for grinding as opposed to speed.
The best argument I've heard against unbanning Stoneforge Mystic, especially when comparing it to Baral, Chief of Compliance, is that the opportunity cost of putting Stoneforge Mystic in your deck only requires about six total cards. Four copies of Stoneforge Mystic, one Batterskull, and one other equipment of your choice is usually enough to make Stoneforge Mystic into a real threat. When you put Baral, Chief of Compliance in your deck, in order to kill your opponent when you untap, most of your deck needs to be full of stuff like Pyretic Ritual, card draw, and other combo cards. In essence, putting Stoneforge Mystic in your deck isn't that difficult, where getting full value out of Baral, Chief of Compliance takes building your entire strategy around that card.
While I agree with this notion, I think that promoting fair, interactive gameplay by putting creatures in your deck that can only win via combat justifies the low opportunity cost. After all, what's the opportunity cost of Snapcaster Mage? You must play great removal spells, card draw spells, and other blue cards that you would (likely) already play in the first place. No one would willingly put Batterskull or Sword of Fire and Ice in their maindeck in this format. At best, both cards should only see sideboard play, if that.
And if you draw one of your two equipment, it isn't like you have a ton of ways to shuffle them back into your library. That means every additional copy of Stoneforge Mystic you draw is going to be worse, and actually drawing those equipment without Stoneforge Mystic means you're drawing a spell that doesn't do much of anything in the current Modern format.
When you play Stoneforge Mystic in Legacy and it dies to a removal spell, either your entire deck is full of small, white creatures, or you have Brainstorm to turn that extra card into something more useful. Since Brainstorm doesn't exist in Modern, I think the fact that the latter scenario makes Stoneforge Mystic a lot less powerful. Raw card advantage is not something we have a ton of in Modern, and having that extra card be a relatively unexciting card on its own makes it so that there is a real cost to having Stoneforge Mystic in your deck. And while that cost isn't as high as something like Baral, Chief of Compliance, it's certainly more of a cost than Snapcaster Mage.
One argument I've heard for keeping Stoneforge Mystic on the banned list is that it would make too many white decks into Stoneforge Mystic decks. In essence, you would be taking away the heart and soul of white and replacing it with Stoneforge Mystic.
But let me ask you this: don't you think white decks need a bit of an upgrade? Aside from Path to Exile and/or Supreme Verdict, there aren't actually a lot of white cards running around in Modern. Sure, the Humans deck has quite a few white creatures in it, but that doesn't count. When you get to play Noble Hierarch, Kitesail Freebooter, and Mantis Rider in the same deck, you aren't really a white deck.
What you will get is a bunch of fair Modern decks getting a boost in the two-drop slot. And even if a bunch of decks decide to incorporate Stoneforge Mystic, is that a bad thing? Is having three or four different decks using Stoneforge Mystic actually all that bad? Virtually every blue deck plays Snapcaster Mage, and I don't see that one hitting the banlist anytime soon. And if you really want to build your deck around Stoneforge Mystic with the likes of Lingering Souls or Squadron Hawk, that seems like some good clean Magic to me when most of the unfair decks are killing you outside of combat.
Green Sun's Zenith suffers from the same problems when it comes to deckbuilding, in that most green decks would likely want one copy of Dryad Arbor and a bunch of tutor targets that are situationally good. But would that even be problematic? Giving green creature decks more virtual copies of hosers like Gaddock Teeg or large monsters like Knight of the Reliquary has rarely been the most dominant thing you can do in an Eternal-esque format. Birthing Pod was legal for years after Green Sun's Zenith was banned, and it was egregiously more powerful.
But Green Sun's Zenith is a much different animal, though it's the easiest comparison when talking about homogenized deckbuilding. Sometimes one card defines an entire color, but I don't really think that's a problem when that card's main intent is playing fair. What I would love to see is some old-fashioned Death and Taxes getting a major upgrade, or possibly a resurgence of Caw-Blade to help control decks fight off these crazy-fast combo decks.
I think the biggest reason Stoneforge Mystic remains on the banned list is because of the fear that comes along with its name. For years, Stoneforge Mystic was a dominant force in Legacy, and it even got banned when it was in Standard. But for a few months when it was legal in Standard, Caw-Blade was one of the most fun decks I'd ever played. Of course, that usually means it's too good, but Modern is a much different animal than Standard. We have more tools to interact, and we have more checks and cheap removal to contain it in the earlier turns.
When Stoneforge Mystic dies, it's effectively an Elvish Visionary where the card you drew isn't exactly great. While Batterskull is a fine card to cast on the fifth turn, it doesn't do much when every deck in the format is trying to kill you on the fourth turn or take complete control of the game by killing all your creatures. In both scenarios, the phrase "Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull" just doesn't seem all that scary to me.
Some cards on the Modern banned list have never been legal in the format. Others were banned shortly after the first Modern Pro Tour because they were a bit too fast, or dominant, or promoted an unhealthy environment. Blazing Shoal is a member of the second camp, getting banned because of how "easy" it was to kill your opponent on the second turn. But was it actually easy? After all, it used Muddle the Mixture to find some of its combo pieces. How blazing fast could it be? And with the current iteration of Infect regularly killing you on the third turn, I don't even know that Blazing Shoal would even be good. It would, however, play a lot like Splinter Twin, where the opponent must hold up removal/interaction or just die to the strength of Blazing Shoal plus an Infect creature. And perhaps that's just a play pattern they don't want running around in Modern, and I'm completely fine with that decision.
Banning cards that are part of a degenerate combo is acceptable. Banning cards that have helped one deck (or decks) dominate the format is also acceptable. When Eye of Ugin allows for three or more different versions of Eldrazi to ruin things and the entire format revolves around "finding the best Eldrazi deck for the mirror," then something needs to be done. And while Stoneforge Mystic could promote most white decks to adopt an equipment strategy, it would be tough for most of them to get full retail out of their equipment. And as a result, it would require any deck playing Stoneforge Mystic to play more creatures to utilize that equipment, ultimately resulting in more combat, which is a fine place for an Eternal format to be.
Experimenting with the Banned List
I think that there's a lot of value in experimenting with unbanning cards. So far, they've unbanned Bitterblossom, Golgari Grave-Troll, Wild Nacatl, Sword of the Meek, Bloodbraid Elf, and even Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Of those cards, Golgari Grave-Troll was the only card that gave an unfair deck a significant boost, as Dredge overran the format just over a year ago. And even with Golgari Grave-Troll banned, Dredge continued being a part of Modern, albeit a significantly weaker version.
But which of these other spells, if any, ended up being a significant nuisance in Modern? Jace, the Mind Sculptor could still end up being a problem. But for now, it has become "just another card." Bloodbraid Elf is in a similar spot, with Jund getting a bit of a boost, but still not quite giving it the boost it needs to fight either the combo decks or linear aggressive decks like Humans or Affinity. It is possible that we just haven't found the best version of the decks that could play either Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf, but my gut says that both are just fine. And the fact that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is "just fine" in Modern is a ridiculous statement.
So here's what I'd like to see: Unban one at a time with a "parole" period. After a three or six month period, they can decide to ban the card again. So I'll leave you with these thoughts on some of the less notorious cards currently on the Modern banned list.
If every single white deck ends up playing Stoneforge Mystic, or it leads to Caw-Blade (or similar) becoming the absolute best deck in the format, then I'm fine being proven wrong and having it banned again. Otherwise, let Caw-Blade loose, let Jace, the Mind Sculptor have its oldest friend back, and let Death and Taxes be one of the best fair decks in the format.
Like Stoneforge Mystic, if every green deck becomes a Green Sun's Zenith deck, then kick it back on the ban list. I could see it getting pretty dicey alongside Primeval Titan, but that's because Primeval Titan is just an insanely powerful card, and I don't think that's Green Sun's Zenith's fault. I just want to tutor up Gaddock Teeg and/or Scryb Ranger.
This one might be too good, but I'm honestly surprised it was banned in the first place. Alongside Splinter Twin, Birthing Pod was one of the better decks in Modern once upon a time. But now they must grind through Kolaghan's Command, which could be rather difficult. And like Stoneforge Mystic, if that leads people to start playing more stuff like Abrade or Kolaghan's Command (versatile removal spells), that's a good thing. And while Birthing Pod would certainly be a solid deck, you would still be playing a creature-based strategy that's soft to Anger of the Gods and all-in combo decks. If unbanned now, along with a few other powerful things, there's a good chance that Birthing Pod would just be "another Modern deck."
I think Chrome Mox could give some fair blue decks a bit more speed. It would also encourage blue mages to adopt the old combo of Thirst for Knowledge to recoup some lost card advantage. Of course, Chrome Mox is a potentially dangerous addition to Storm or other "all-in" combo decks, but the card disadvantage is a steep cost. Would I want Chrome Mox in the same format as Stoneforge Mystic? Probably not, but there's a reason why Chrome Mox sees very little play in Legacy. Even though it's a powerful effect, the cost is pretty high, and the fact that Modern has never seen Chrome Mox on the battlefield means it could be a potentially fine unban. And with Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide legal, Chrome Mox doesn't seem all that disgusting. The biggest potential downside is having it be legal alongside Chalice of the Void, which discourages positive interaction.
I always thought it was pretty dumb for Brainstorm and Ponder to be restricted in Vintage. I mean, there's a reason Preordain is a four-of in most blue decks in Vintage, and it's the same reason why most blue decks in Modern play four copies of Serum Visions. That type of effect is desirable, but rarely is it oppressive, and banning or restricting one variation just means they're going to play four copies of the next best thing. Storm is strong enough to be a dominant force in Modern without these two cards, which leads me to believe that these types of cards aren't the reason why Storm was too good in the first place. And with Splinter Twin banned, there aren't a lot of blue-based combos left. There's a reason why many of the formats combo-esque decks are running green instead and focus around the strength of Ancient Stirrings. Just give blue their toys back!
I'm hesitant to unban Umezawa's Jitte, and I don't know if I would want it legal alongside Stoneforge Mystic, but there's a chance that it just isn't as good as we all remember. The problem is that Umezawa's Jitte might discourage people from building certain types of decks. Like Goblin Chainwhirler in Standard, Mental Misstep before it, punishing people for building a certain type of deck by ruining their entire strategy with a single card is a dangerous proposition. This is certainly one card I'd want to keep an eye on during the "parole" period, but I think there is a lot of value to shrinking the banned list as a whole.
I just want people to play with the cards they love, and experimenting with unbanning potentially problematic cards is important.