Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Ryan Overturf, Emma Handy, and Patrick Sullivan are here to render their verdicts on five statements about the latest Banned and Restricted announcement by Wizards of the Coast. Don't forget to vote for the winner at the end!
1. Faithless Looting should have been banned in today's B&R announcement.
Ryan Overturf: Fact, but only to precede Mythic Championship London. Dredge and Izzet Phoenix are pretty clearly the two best decks in Modern at this time, and these graveyard decks have pushed the format to the point where we are seeing quite a lot of maindeck Nihil Spellbombs and Surgical Extractions. These adaptations caused Dredge and Izzet Phoenix to be only... half of the Top 8 and the winning deck at Grand Prix Los Angeles...
Both Dredge and Izzet Phoenix have explosive draws centered around the graveyard and the ability to reset their graveyard after being hit by some graveyard hate. Izzet Phoenix also just plays win conditions that aren't reliant on the graveyard and can use its Faithless Lootings to discard excess lands while it uses spot removal and some choice counterspells or Blood Moons out of the sideboard to disrupt their opponents while still putting the onus on them to target their graveyard in the first place. I've been playing a ton with the Phoenix decks and it very much feels like I'm playing Splinter Twin, where post-sideboard my opponent brings in some worthless Abrupt Decays for my Deceiver Exarchs and instead gets demoralized by Keranos, God of Storms.
The only reservation that I have about this banning is that there are some Modern Grand Prix and SCG Tour® stops coming up soon, such as SCG Philadelphia this weekend, where a lot of players are planning on registering Faithless Looting. I believe the Looting decks are already head and shoulders ahead of the field and will only be stronger at Mythic Championship London with the trial of the new mulligan rule, a rule that I think is generally a positive change that unfortunately further advantages decks like Dredge that rely on cards in graveyard more than cards in hand. An announcement where London is the effective date for a Faithless Looting ban is what I would have liked to see.
Emma Handy: Fact. How many miserable decks are we going to see enabled by Faithless Looting before it finally gets the axe? Both fair decks and unfair ones are being enabled by it, and while it was fun at first, we're at the point where other things are being pushed out of the format. That doesn't even get in to the fact that Surgical Extraction is seeing consistent maindeck play due to the prevalence of Faithless Looting-fueled nonsense. It isn't a matter of if Faithless Looting will get banned, but when.
Call me a conspiracy theorist, but a large part of me believes that Faithless Looting is only legal today because there's a mythic rare in a booster set that is still in print and playable in Modern as a result of Faithless Looting, and it'll take an Eldrazi Winter-level scenario for Wizards of the Coast to stop cashing in on that fact.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact, ignoring meta-considerations. For example, Modern Horizons is coming out relatively soon; maybe there are enough organic answers to Faithless Looting-enabled decks around the corner. Wizards wants to test a new mulligan rule; let's keep a card legal that really exploits it so we can get as much information as possible. Those are fine reasons to keep Faithless Looting legal, pending more information.
If the argument just gets isolated to gameplay and overall format health, Faithless Looting has more than worn out its welcome. It's perhaps the best card in terms of overall rate and encourages leveraging the graveyard, which produces a bunch of perverse deckbuilding incentives on both sides of the table. Combine that with the fact that it costs one and is a spell (with the associated Arclight Phoenix / Thing in the Ice / Bedlam Reveler / etc. interactions), and Faithless Looting is likely to get more powerful over time, not less. I think it is extremely challenging to manage Modern in a healthy way with Faithless Looting as a key part of it, though it's possible the plan is for a massive upheaval after the Modern Mythic Championship regardless.
2. Ancient Stirrings should have been banned in today's B&R announcement.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. Ancient Stirrings was my pick to ban instead of Krark-Clan Ironworks, but the optics of playing it safe on that one but then just chopping away on the very next update are really bad. Amusingly there were two copies of Hardened Scales in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Los Angeles, which is the only popular Ancient Stirrings deck other than Tron that I don't think makes the card look oppressive. Scales and Tron are totally fine decks to have in the format because they're just kind of slow and clunky, whereas Ironworks and Amulet Titan were the two decks I was concerned about before. Ironworks is of course no longer around, and Amulet Titan is actually being pushed down by Izzet Phoenix's current dominance of the format. Amulet just gets destroyed by the sideboard Blood Moons, and Thing in the Ice can already be a big enough problem for them. So right now, the busted Stirrings decks don't really look good, which makes a ban seem inappropriate.
The one caveat here is that if you ban Faithless Looting I would expect a down-tick in Blood Moons, which then threatens to make Amulet Titan a more oppressive contender. That's probably not enough to go off of to just ban both outright, but one thing that I would like to see is to at least have these cards that are obviously really pushed addressed in the B&R update. There was a lot of discussion about Nexus of Fate on this announcement and it would have been nice to see mention that Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings are the class of card that is on their watch list but that they're just not taking action at this time. Entrenched players are going to know that these powerful cantrips are pushing it, but a reminder in the name of transparency for the Modern community at large would be better.
Emma Handy: Fiction. I've been a longtime advocate for leaving Ancient Stirrings alone when possible, and that hasn't changed. Choosing to ban Ancient Stirrings today, rather than when Tron, Hardened Scales, and Ironworks Combo were three of the biggest decks, would be a slap in the face, particularly when there's another enabler warping the format in such a marked way.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction now, Fact in the past. If you aren't going to axe Faithless Looting, it would be a bizarre time to take action on Ancient Stirrings. Even if Faithless Looting was banned, I would still hold off on Stirrings—a major part of getting the bans "over" with the public involves the card having a bright spotlight on it at that particular time, and Ancient Stirrings just isn't in that spot right now. However, the case has existed before with more visibility on Ancient Stirrings, and I wish Wizards had taken action at a previous point.
When I read threads on Modern, it is very hard for me to square the dissonance between the common complaints of "Modern is too fast, not interactive, just about brute-forcing your opponent out, too hard to win on the draw" and "I really enjoy these enabling spells that cost one"—they are interconnected. Ancient Stirrings facilitates draws and decks that don't produce meaningful points of opposing interaction until the game effectively ends, and the card itself has an incredible ceiling and floor. Both Looting and Stirrings help decks produce the same draw over and over again, so even if the decks they facilitate feel novel, that novelty quickly dulls.
I don't want Modern to feel like fighting with foam swords. It's okay that the format is considerably more powerful than Standard, and part of that is having impactful cards that cost one. I just wish the cheap, defining cards were more things like Noble Hierarch, Aether Vial, or even Thoughtseize (cards that cause the game to take a certain shape on the table, cards that suggest the game will go on for a long-ish time, cards that are bad to draw sometimes) than cards like Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings.
3. Mox Opal should have been banned in today's B&R announcement.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. Much like Stirrings, if it was Opal's time, then it should have been banned over Krark-Clan Ironworks. The Whir Prison decks have been putting up some results lately, but we really haven't seen anything that suggests that artifact hate isn't cutting it against artifact decks. Others have said that Mox Opal is just the most powerful card in the format and it's hard to argue with that, but the deckbuilding constraints of Opal are really felt. I hate this argument when it's used to defend Stirrings and Looting because they're not really that limiting and still have found their way into many busted decks, but if you want Mox Opal to be good, that means you're making your opponent's Ancient Grudges into two Vindicates. A sideboard card that has been gaining traction recently is Shatterstorm, which more or less knocks out the Whir decks just by being in your 75.
Opal is an eminently ban-worthy card and one deserving of a blurb in the update, just not one that it makes a ton of sense to take action on now.
Emma Handy: Fact…ish? Technically? With Whir Prison starting to really take hold in the format, we're on to deck number 456243 that abuses Mox Opal and has starts that are near-impossible to interact with when fueled by Mox Opal in the first or second turn of the game. If there were a single card that was the most-consistently pointed to as the fundamentally most-busted card in the format, Mox Opal would easily top the list, barely dodging a ban time and time again. Fast mana isn't much available in the format, and doesn't seem to line up with most goals of Modern, but Mox Opal has always been around somehow.
Now that there's a deck that can cast Chalice of the Void on one with a Welding Jar on the first turn, Mox Opal draws have somehow become even more miserable than they were previously; at least Steel Overseer and early Arcbound Ravagers could be answered via traditional removal!
All of that being said, Mox Opal hasn't ever reached a point where it's particularly oppressive, and format identity is important to a lot of people who play eternal formats. Mox Opal is one of the cards that has most consistently been a defining feature of Modern, and people like playing with it. Think of it like Brainstorm in Legacy. By several metrics, Brainstorm is too powerful for the format, but people like playing with it, and as long as people aren't particularly upset that it exists, it's better to live and let live.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I will go to bat for Mox Opal. It gets bundled together with Ancient Stirrings because they often appear together, but I think Opal is a significantly better design to promote. Metalcraft is something—it does inform the cards you choose to play with, and the puzzle of "enough cheap stuff to turn on Opal quickly with enough powerful stuff to do with the extra mana" is a more interesting set of parameters than Ancient Stirrings's…play with lands and artifacts? Artifacts are colorless but Opal makes any color of mana, which is another interesting deckbuilding wrinkle and set of incentives (some overlap there with Glimmervoid and Spire of Industry, but it's still something). Also, unlike Ancient Stirrings, Mox Opal is bad to draw sometimes, and I have more sympathy for cards with lower and regularly realized floors.
Anyway, I think things would have to get really bad before Wizards really considered banning Mox Opal. It's worth a ton of money, and it's been used as a flagship reprint to drive demand for a Masters edition. That commitment, along with losing the ability to reprint in the future, suggests to me that Wizards will ride it out with Mox Opal even at the expense of format health.
4. Regardless of results, you expect significant changes to the Modern B&R list after Mythic Championship London.
Ryan Overturf: Fiction. My interpretation of "significant changes" would be multiple cards coming on or off the list, which I don't foresee. The long stretch of no updates followed by the Ironworks ban suggests that there is little interest in massive changes to the format by way of bannings. Not to mention that the tournament is happening right before Modern Horizons, which is likely to shake things up somewhat. I know I'd get a lot of votes if I shouted about the wrongful imprisonment of Splinter Twin or something like that, but the only change I would really expect after London would be Looting getting axed after strong showings from both Dredge and Izzet Phoenix at that event. Even on that front, though, I expect their bar to be very high to take that action that in my mind is already justified. Modern is too popular to make radical changes lightly.
Emma Handy: Fiction. There's a set with almost 300 new Modern cards coming out a month or so after Mythic Championship London. This gives players a chance to play with their favorite decks from the Mythic Championship for a few weeks before the format gets a different kind of shakeup: cards being added to the format, instead of removed.
It's entirely possible that Wizards of the Coast decides to knock some pillars down in order to encourage brewing and revisiting old archetypes, similar to the banning of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom right before the Pro Tour that featured the various Eye of Ugin-fueled Eldrazi decks crushing the event, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Cards were designed for Modern Horizons with Modern power level in mind, so it's unlikely to need much help shaking up the format a bit.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I guess this supposes how we are defining "significant," but between being able to walk back the mulligan rule and having a new set of Modern-specific content shortly thereafter, Wizards has enough plausible deniability to forgo major upheavals even if the Mythic Championship casts a poor light on the format. A lot can change between now and then, but with the format as presently constructed, I would happily take the "under" on 2.5 cards.
Modern so rarely gets to be up on the big stage, and I think there are major consequences to communicating to players "When there is a Modern Mythic Championship, we will have to be more aggressive banning cards." Maybe that's the reality, but that still isn't a reason to abandon discipline. Bannings shortly after the fact reduce the credibility of the event and the format more broadly. The Mythic Championship would have to go extremely badly, and badly in a way divorced from the new mulligan system, for Wizards to bring about wholesale changes to Modern.
5. It's time to unban something in Legacy to breathe life back into the format.
That aside, I honestly think that Ravnica Allegiance has done more to refresh Legacy than any unban could, at least in a positive way. Both Pteramander and Arclight Phoenix are putting new spins on Legacy deckbuilding, and the Legacy Open at SCG Syracuse was the most interesting Legacy tournament that I have ever covered. If you think Legacy needs a shakeup right now, you haven't seen this deck:
Emma Handy: Fiction. Legacy is in one of the best places it's ever been.
Two weeks ago at #SCGNY, we saw seven different archetypes represented in the elimination rounds of a Legacy Open, with no deck taking more than ten total spots in Day 2. Legacy is as diverse right now as it ever will be, and that's a good thing. Let people play non-blue decks if they want to. Let people cast their Brainstorms if they want to.
Whatever you do, please don't try to fix something that isn't broken.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I challenge you, dear reader, to comb through the Legacy banned list and find cards that seem palatable to unban. I think my most likely candidate is Earthcraft, maybe Memory Jar (???), and Skullclamp, and from there you enter a sea of non-starters and recently banned cards. There is not a deep well of acceptable cards to draw from.
To whatever extent there are plausible cards, what would motivate Wizards to unban them? It's hard to imagine they make the format better overall, but perhaps different enough to make a slight decrease in quality acceptable. I think it makes sense to hold them until the format has been stagnant for a long period of time. It's hard for new cards to influence the format, and I think leaning on the Commander products too heavily dampens the feel and credibility of the format, so I'd prefer a light touch there as well.
Arclight Phoenix has done real work in shifting the format—Buried Alive is getting run for the first time in forever, and some spells-matter-adjacent strategies and hybridizations are beginning to emerge. The decks showing up are materially different—this isn't True-Name Nemesis "finally" making Brainstorm and Stoneforge Mystic playable. In light of a new card making a major impact in Legacy, now seems like a poor time to unleash some dubious goofball from the Banned List onto the format.