There was some surprising hype prior to the most recent banned and restricted announcement . To the surprise of many, I chose not to get into war with my Wizards of the Coast friends over the release of Stoneforge Mystic this time around. I have no doubt in my mind that they'll unban her sooner rather than later, but there's little incentive to do so at this moment. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that she'll be released into the metagame prior to their Modern Pro Tour announcement.
The campaign we all waged to see Jace, the Mind Sculptor thrive in mediocrity was a great success, and this will be too. Stoneforge Mystic has, and always will be, a safer addition than the mightiest of planeswalkers. Magic isn't what it used to be back in the days of Caw-Blade. I'd like to remind the audience that still fears that Standard relic of the era that it thrived in. Seven years ago, it made its debut and ruined a perfectly good format with the eventual arrival of Batterskull. For that reason, it and other relics that would have relatively no effect on Modern were preemptively banned. Bitterblossom, Bloodbraid Elf, Sword of the Meek, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor have all been removed from purgatory, but there's one victim still imprisoned.
I would love to write an entire piece on why Stoneforge Mystic is still safe for Modern, but another topic hit me as I began to brainstorm this evening. 33 cards are banned in Modern, a daunting number for how busted the format is. Banning cards doesn't provide a great experience for the average card slinger, but when I'm putting together a broken deck, the ban thought crosses my mind. Four Mox Opal is quite an investment that would plummet if they removed them from the format - a likely scenario in the future. That said, I agree with Emma Handy's take on Ironworks. I do think it's still the best deck in the format that has an illusion of complexity that causes its numbers to be low. If the community was willing to gamble their time and money, craft this great deck, and then it gets banned after being legal for this long, that's a feel bad situation for all parties.
Unbanning provides a slight uproar from a vocal minority that doesn't enjoy whatever card has been released, but it causes excitement among so many more. Even when they brought back Sword of the Meek, the community was all-in on trying to make the combo alongside Thopter Foundry relevant again, but it didn't work, like the Jace, the Mind Sculptor situation. Although our planeswalker hero is a staple of blue control decks, it didn't bring the doom and gloom that the haters forewarned us about. This fear that this list keeps us safe and the format healthy is preposterous. I'm piloting my usual Ironworks combo, killing opponents through hate on turn 3, and proceeding to waste ten minutes of their life while cantripping to victory. This, while other decks put twelve power into play on turn 2, constitutes a format that shouldn't be afraid of many things on this list. There are some cards that absolutely must remain here, some that would be risky, and some that should be removed from the banned list in the next announcement.
I have written an entire article on the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic , so I won't go into as much detail here. The glorified Squire is not going to ruin Modern, should have never been banned in the first place, and will barely make a dent against the top decks that haunt us all. I think that the Burn Caucus has lobbied the DCI for too long and that has prevented her release. Outside of the aggressive players that sweat profusely when they see a resolved Batterskull, midrange opponents that would normally suffer from a Stoneforge Mystic unban will release a pretentious chuckle. Cards like Kologhan's Command and Assassin's Trophy are heavily played in the format from the midrange group. These answers, along with a Shock, send enough trauma to an opposing Stoneforge Mystic to continue to play Magic. In the end, hopefully we're all here to do just that. Modern hasn't famously promoted interaction, but it has made some progress getting there.
When Birthing Pod was banned, I wanted to party the night away. I loathed playing against that card and struggled mightily with my mediocre control decks. A wiser, more format-health driven me adjusted that position. I understand why it was banned and the issue that Phyrexian mana has caused every format in Magic. If the green artifact had a hard cost of four, and an activation cost of two, this conversation would have never happened. It would have been fine in Standard and probably never had seen play in older formats. The life loss that its pilots endured was offset by Kitchen Finks as an eventual three-drop against aggressive opponents. When playing against control or combo decks that didn't punish you for Phyrexian life loss, the world was your oyster. The amount of these Birthing Pod decks spooked Wizards, and they felt the midrange decks had to conform to this strategy to be viable. While those concerns were valid then, times have changed. The format is dominated by fifty flavors of aggro and combo, giving the illusion of choice. Midrange needs all the ammunition they can get and Birthing Pod is a strong start.
Ponder and Preordain are ambitious unbans but ultimately correct. I don't think that both will ever come off the banned list simultaneously, but I'm not sure which they will be more comfortable with releasing first. Preordain helps all parties hit land drops and sees one less card than Ponder, which makes it the safer unban. These were removed to stop blue combo from running away with the show. Storm, Infect, Ad Nauseam, Izzet Phoenix, Grixis Death's Shadow, and control strategies would be the immediate beneficiaries. I'm sure there would be a plethora of other decks crafted around the powerful cantrip as well, but these are the decks in the trenches as we speak. Each of these decks are Tier 2 at best, not able to compete with green and red spells that outclass their pitiful options.
Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting makes a mockery of Garfield's color wheel, allowing non-blue decks to have seamless flow with the most powerful battlefield presence. The strength of blue decks should be their ability to use card advantage and card selection to claw back into a game that they fell behind in. Ancient Stirrings will always be better than Preordain in Modern, due to the absurd strength of colorless strategies that exist. Preordain (or Ponder) is a necessary piece of the puzzle for blue decks to rise back to the top.
These three cards would have an impact on Modern, but I don't think they would set the house on fire. Glimpse of Nature is the scariest card, due to the depth of card selection that exists in Modern. Elves would explode as a viable option, but also there could be additional decks that try to abuse the green card draw engine with free/cheap creatures. Looking at how the format is currently, it would give credence to green decks that haven't seen the limelight much in these dark times as well as some sweet combo deck that may emerge with its unbanning. With Glimpse of Nature and the other cards seen here, there's a chance that a re-ban would have to occur. This takes us back to the feel bad of banning, but we should all be aware that is a likely risk when it comes to cards like this. Golgari Grave-Troll is a perfect example of this, and most players accepted its hasty exit back out of the format.
Umezawa's Jitte is the legendary creature killer of the ancient times. The equipment costs two to play, two to equip, making it not absurdly overpowered for a format like Modern. There's simply not enough time to do these old Standard tricks in older formats, and each deck that would be mauled by a card like this has beautiful answers. Smash to Smithereens is a four-of in Burn decks, Kologhan's Command is in every Jund/Grixis list, and Ancient Grudge flies in from the Dredge graveyard out of nowhere. Other aggressive decks have additional answers, and the decks that don't are probably not afraid of Umezawa's Jitte in the slightest. The big mana, combo, control, and prison decks could care less about all three modes on the equipment. This may be a risky unban, but like the other cards freed before, it isn't as good as it used to be.
Punishing Fire is in a similar camp as Umezawa's Jitte. It, combined with Grove of the Burnwillows, makes a devastating combo for aggro decks, or at least it used to. We have recently seen this combo in Legacy, more specifically in Lands. That deck can play multiple lands per turn, put it in the graveyard with Life from the Loam, and use multiple copies in the earliest turns of the game. It's also a win condition in that deck when Dark Depths can't get it done. It was banned to protect the small creatures of Modern, but I don't think they need that much shielding from the very scary, two-cost Shock.
I will admit that it's demoralizing when your Lands opponent kills everything you play for a low cost, but this combo won't have that impact in Modern. It's obviously great against the current configuration of Humans, although I don't think it's game over for them. Rest in Peace and Surgical Extraction are already in nearly every sideboard to combat the domination of graveyard-based strategies in Modern, which hits Punishing Fire as well. This feels like a great option for Modern midrange decks to employ, but it may be much worse than I think it is. Bloodbraid Elf was supposed to transform the archetype into a dominate force but was barely a flash in the pan. Midrange has become worse than control in Modern and needs a lifeline from a card that shouldn't be on the banned list any longer.
With only eight cards that should help revitalize Modern, 25 remain locked away. The artifact lands, free spells, card draw that should have never been printed, fast mana, and mana boosts should all be kept out of a format that's currently infested with turn 3 and 4 wins. Even though some decks don't deal lethal damage that early, their battlefield presence is ultimately unbeatable. Cards that remain on this list help prevent further examples of matches without any interaction. The only card that has been getting some traction for an unbanning from the community is Splinter Twin.
Splinter Twin was removed for good reason. It was allowed in Modern, lingered a bit as one of the decks to beat, then became the king of the format. The deck was so powerful that it eliminated all other options in its class, as well as made enemy combo decks atrocious in comparison. The reason for its major success was its ability to act as a normal control deck and incidentally combo kill on any turn after three. There were some matches where the opponent had to use mana on turn 3, which resulted in their immediate demise. Even when you didn't have an answer for a Deceiver Exarch in hand, you had to bluff it and Time Walk yourself to prevent sudden death. It was miserable to play against it with any strategy and further promoted non-interactive Magic.
Modern was flailing at that time in popularity and has since exploded as one of the most exciting tournaments for a player to travel to. The Pro Tour players may not share that sentiment, but who cares? Decks like Splinter Twin reward professional players with a consistently broken deck, which required a great deal of skill to maneuver in mirror matches. Anyone that tells you there were plenty of answers that every deck had for the combo are not being forthright with the truth. The answers were minimal, counterable, or prevented with a touch of hexproof when red decks tried to get a little tricky.
This demon must remain caged if we want to continue to improve Modern gameplay.