Monday is the big day, everyone. Banned and Restricted Announcements usually do not get much attention, unless there's a new villain terrorizing the streets of a competitive format. When something like this occurs, the masses raise their pitchforks and march toward the manor of the perceived best deck with a special type of bloodlust. They want to remove the head from that best deck, ultimately returning the format to its former glory. What ends up happening is a curveball from Wizards of the Coast, removing a surprise card or unbanning something out of left field along with the original threat.
We have seen this scenario unfold on multiple occasions. The banning of Rampaging Ferocidon is one I do not think anyone saw coming. That Standard ban is still applicable today, as the mild-tempered Dinosaur remains in purgatory. Although that ban was confusing, the banning of Splinter Twin was a more seismic move by those in charge.
Modern has always been an unforgiving format for decks that do not abuse early victory or big mana strategies. This does not mean other decks can't win, but their road to victory is always more difficult than that of their competitors. Blitz aggro and hyper-speed combo are the usual champions of the format, and people liked that. Even though the world was never safe for control, there were enough Tier 1 options out there to please most competitive players. Those options have been burned to the ground, as Bridgevine has destroyed the competition.
Bridgevine isn't an unbeatable deck in Modern, but it is clearly the best deck with the lowest fail rate of the broken options. Most other broken decks in Modern's history have a certain percentage where their strategy fizzles and they're left with a bunch of individually terrible cards. This was the great equalizer for the format and allowed other decks to rise and fall in the competitive world.
That is no longer the case due to the consistency of Bridgevine. Since this deck easily trumps creature matchups, the format has shrunk to an abysmal few decks. It has chased out a few of people's favorite decks, crushed big mana dreams, and made combo players question their life choices. The only decks seeing traction are those that deploy graveyard hate maindeck, as well as a sideboard dedicated to beat Bridgevine.
That is not a healthy format. Decks should not have to dedicate their entire existence to prevent dying from graveyard causes on Turn 2 in the first game. While that threat has always loomed from Dredge, the speed was halved, and the consistency was even lower. Most decks still struggled to beat it Game 1, but it wasn't an impossible feat without maindeck Rest in Peace or Surgical Extraction. Those of you reading may assume my criticism comes from a biased place, but you all would be mistaken. When formats are at their absolute worst, fair control decks can easily exploit them.
I wrote an article a few weeks back that called this outcome. I had to defend against a few Twitter criticisms that made fun of a Turn 2 Rest in Peace strategy to combat this Bridgevine threat. Control decks that have access to older, broken cards yearn for a metagame that shrinks, even if it means having a terrible format.
The Achilles' heel of control decks in Modern was not having access to a 25-card sideboard, which is what's required to handle Modern on a good day. I have written extensively on this topic, making sure players that pick up Azorius Control understand why they can't ever win a premier tournament with the deck. Austin Bursavich made history by being the first control deck to win a Modern Grand Prix and I couldn't be happier. He farmed the Bridgevine menace for two days, making sure he had Game 1 action to assist in their fail rate, as well as four Rest in Peace to lock it up after sideboard.
I do not care how broken your graveyard deck is – Rest in Peace will end you. The logic used against this is speed; however, the amount of Turn 2 (on the play) explosions is not above 50%. Not only do they have to have that type of draw, they must avoid both Surgical Extraction and all the interactive spells that can be used on Turn 1. Even if they manage to do that, they must amass lethal damage through a variety of removal spells on Turn 3 and the ultimate reset of Supreme Verdict on Turn 4.
Azorius Control was ready to handle business in this shrunken format, happily seeing the reduction of required sideboard slots for some extinct decks. Basic aggro decks that can't compete on the ground watched as Narset, Parter of Veils and Jace, the Mind Sculptor cleaned house. As a DNA-confirmed control player, part of me wants to sit back and enjoy the show. But even though I'm in love with Cryptic Command, my passion will always be for format health.
I'm not saying anything groundbreaking here, but Bridgevine needs to be torn apart limb from limb. This would require at least a Faithless Looting ban, which has been in the discussion for years. This would cripple the most broken starts from most of the decks out there and allow variety back into the format. If players are selecting an aggressive deck that does not use the power of the graveyard, they are lessening their chance of victory in Modern. Bridgevine would be the foremost casualty from this, but many other Tier 1 decks depend on the "Red Brainstorm" to remain competitive.
I think Izzet Phoenix is a sweet deck, but I don't think it would be playable after this. This former king of the hill would be the friendly fire causality from a Faithless Looting ban, but the other decks hit by this banning break the rules of Magic and continue to limit competitive choice. There will still be cards out there that allow players to put Bloodghast onto the battlefield; however, I do not see them competing anywhere near the level they have since Dark Ascension came out.
Like with any huge banning, a power vacuum will exist immediately after. In order to stay ahead of the game, I do not think they can ban Faithless Looting without also banning Ancient Stirrings. In a world where Ponder and Preordain are too good, these two card-draw spells are guilty of bringing consistency to decks that never deserved it. I don't think the blue cantrips are ban-worthy in Modern, but I'm also certain they won't be released. Management loves that we're fumbling around with Opt and Serum Visions, which is fine. If green and red are losing their Brainstorm-strength options, the scale is balanced.
Ancient Stirrings is arguably the most powerful card draw spell in Modern's history. Mono-Green Tron, Amulet Titan, Ironworks, Lantern Control, and many others have stretched Richard Garfield's dream into a nightmare. Each deck that has used Ancient Stirrings can be hated out, but their success rate over those cards was staggering. It's demoralizing to an opponent to cast Surgical Extraction, pop a Nihil Spellbomb, and still get comboed the next turn by their Ironworks opponent. Each time a deck like this pops up, the strategy has been to ban just a piece of the offender. This time around, Wizards of the Coast needs to take down the enabler to all these decks if they want a long-term solution to this problem. Design space continues to get limited as we move forward, and the health of Modern must be a huge contributor to that.
There shouldn't be any additional bans in Modern outside of Faithless Looting, Ancient Stirring, and possibly one other piece of Bridgevine. Those pulling the strings are probably tired of graveyard decks, so I wouldn't be surprised if they gave a specific piece of the deck the axe. It doesn't really matter if they attack Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis or Altar of Dementia, as either would weaken the deck out of the competitive world. These suggestions aren't breaking news, but the additional ban of Ancient Stirrings should shake up the format in a positive way.
With all the discussion centered around banning, there are still cards that should have been released off that list long ago. I mentioned Preordain and Ponder, but I do not think they'll see their day in court. Blue is operating fine without them, even though that victory was only temporary due to the Bridgevine occupation. Modern control decks will return to being at the cusp of greatness, which is not the worst spot to be in.
The card that must come off the Banned List is Stoneforge Mystic. The movement to release this moderately powerful card was kicked into gear last year, as the panic surrounding Jace, the Mind Sculptor finally dissipated. There were doomsayers taking to the street, denouncing the best planeswalker of all time as "format-killing" or "unbeatable." This was of course a silly protest, as those who truly understood Modern knew what Jace was capable of. It was never a threat to Modern's health – Jace was banned for its Standard sins and that is the exact fate of Stoneforge Mystic.
Both cards are far too weak to dominate any older format, as the card pool is saturated with punishing answers and much faster, more powerful strategies. Players that are on my side with this argument enjoy posting screenshots of typical Modern starts and analyzing the impact a Stoneforge Mystic would have on the other side of the battlefield.
This is done in jest but does help illustrate the important point that is trying to be made here. Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are role-players that enhance decks and improve deck building options, not a pair of format destroyers that Wizards of the Coast had to save us from. With some predictable bannings, cards like Kolaghan's Command and Lightning Bolt will become popular again, making Stoneforge Mystic have a rough maiden voyage in the format.
Putting aside the removal options, a Turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic will be met with faster starts from most the format's decks. This isn't old Standard and too much has been printed for Stoneforge Mystic to dominate in any capacity. What it will do is resuscitate a few white-based aggro/midrange decks that could really use some late game pressure.
There have been Orzhov decks that resemble Death and Taxes from Legacy, Martyr, and white-based Eldrazi decks that would love to have Stoneforge Mystic join the team. Each of these decks are in the lower tiers, which is exactly why this unbanning would benefit the format drastically. It doesn't break any of them, but it does help push them up the food chain and further diversify a format that has been plagued by unfair speed.
Control would also benefit from an unban of Stoneforge Mystic, but it may fade as quickly as the excitement for Jace did. At the beginning, each control deck jammed three or four copies of my planeswalker hero, but people quickly realized it wasn't going to save the archetype as advertised. It's still a staple in Azorius Control and in a few sideboards of other decks, but that's about where Jace's influence ends. Stoneforge Mystic would immediately join the ranks as a four-of with its Batterskull buddy, but I suspect it may enter and exit control, as the hate is just too powerful.
I know if Grixis Death's Shadow becomes big and they're packing Fatal Push (which is normally a dead card) with Kolaghan's Command again, I would return to my all-planeswalker strategy. But having those type of deckbuilding options is what a healthy format is all about and it is time this fair card joins the Modern card pool once and for all.