Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Emma Handy, Todd Anderson, and Cedric Phillips 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. Banning Bridge From Below was a good decision.
Emma Handy: Fact. Obviously.
Hogaak Bridgevine was barely a Magic deck. Sure, it operated within the rules of Magic, but many of its play patterns resembled some of the more broken strategies from early deckbuilding games. Bridge from Below was the card that helped the deck cheat so much on mana and keep going, despite looking like it was out of gas.
The deck can possibly try something like Narcomoeba from here, but even Narcomoeba is capped at four bodies it can produce. The fact is, a Hogaak, an Altar of Dementia, and two copies of Bridge from Below was all that it took for a Hogaak player to deterministically flip their entire library into the graveyard and then take the opponent's as well.
Good on Wizards for taking care of the actual problem card in the archetype, instead of beating around the bush and seeing what something like an Altar of Dementia banning would've done.
Todd Anderson: This is a complicated question, so I'm going to get to know this one a little better before I make a final decision. Let's start with the obvious: when paired with Bridge from Below, Altar of Dementia is an absolute nightmare. Throw in Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, and you have a self-contained combo that mills your whole deck, and ultimately mills your opponent. The games just weren't very much fun, and Bridge from Below has always been a "problem," even though it isn't actually the problem.
I think this is a cowardly ban, as it shows that Wizards of the Coast is more concerned with their bottom line than they are of the health of Modern. It's not like Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is a fine card. In fact, there are many draws featuring that new monstrosity that are nearly unbeatable from a fair standpoint. The floor on this free 8/8 trampler is that you need some cards in your graveyard and two black or green creatures on the battlefield. Is it "fine" in a Modern sense? It's probably "fine" in the same way that Simian Spirit Guide is fine. We're just propelling toward disaster, as each deck becomes an increasingly more degenerate superpower. We're in the Modern Arms Race, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is just another ridiculous thing that Faithless Looting decks get to do.
Banning Bridge From Below will certainly knock the deck down a peg, as it eliminates some of the more degenerate draws from the deck. But it's just another Band-Aid on a major problem, and I'm wary that it will ever well and truly be fixed. If your goal is to fix Modern in the short term, banning Bridge From Below is a reasonable call, but not one I would have made. (So…Fact.)
Cedric Phillips: Fact. Banning Bridge from Below was the easy part. Like many cards in Future Sight, the card is total nonsense and has no business even existing, let alone being legal for tournament gameplay. There's no such thing as a fair and interactive Bridge from Below deck; it has always been waiting for the right piece(s) to be broken and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Altar of Dementia checked that box and then some.
That said, I do have a quick message to those who say Bridge from Below having a casting cost is stupid. I've cast Bridge from Below before! Yes, it was only to Nature's Claim it, gain four life, and win a game I had no business winning, but it has been cast before!
And, thankfully, it will never be cast in Modern again. Good riddance!
2. Faithless Looting should have been banned in today's B&R announcement.
Emma Handy: Fact…ion…? By most metrics, Faithless Looting stands out as a problem card in Modern. It's completely abusable, decks that play it are going to be inherently more powerful than those that don't specifically because of Faithless Looting's existence, and the longer that Looting is around, the more powerful it's going to get.
That being said, in Magic, as eternal formats develop, they tend to have sacred cows that are integral to the format's identity. In Legacy, it'd be hard to reasonably argue that Wasteland and Brainstorm aren't all ubiquitous to the point that they don't stifle (heh) deck diversity to some point. You can make the same case for Mishra's Workshop and Bazaar of Baghdad not being restricted in Vintage; the things they enable when the full playset is allowed are nothing short of exclusively degenerate.
Regardless of this, they remain untouched in their respective formats, largely on the back of the fact that they're part of what defines their formats.
Wizards of the Coast doesn't acknowledge the secondary market, but there is certainly a factor to consider, price or not, that it isn't exactly easy to construct decks in eternal formats. Cards are… "difficult to acquire" (without spending a healthy sum of money), and banning cards that are popular format staples could run the risk of invalidating a large chunk of decks that are played in the format. Some quantity of the people who only play Dredge are going to feel like they've been alienated, and rather than rebuy into Modern, they'll just be done with Modern and spend their time somewhere else. The same can be said for Mardu Pyromancer players, various Arclight Phoenix players, and so on.
If Faithless Looting has reached this point with Wizards of the Coast, it'll be fairly easy to tell pretty soon, because it's certainly at the power level that will demand some sort of action in the future. We'll be able to tell how important Faithless Looting is to Wizards when they choose to either ban Faithless Looting or just ban some card that it breaks once or twice a year.
Todd Anderson: Fact. I've heard a lot of arguments on both sides of this issue. On the one hand, banning Faithless Looting literally kills thousands and thousands of decks that Modern players own, effectively making them unplayable and crippling the economy of cards built around the powerful enabler. On the other hand, Faithless Looting is ubiquitous in decks that abuse the graveyard and will always be the primary reason some graveyard-related card gets banned.
Faithless Looting is the Brainstorm of Modern. Too many decks exist because of Faithless Looting, and therefore banning the card will ultimately be too costly. But the downside is that we have to continue playing against Dredge, neutered Bridgevine, and a fully powered Izzet Phoenix for the foreseeable future. It's not like playing against Dredge and Izzet Phoenix was all that fun in the first place. They're just slightly less egregious than fully powered Bridgevine.
Our goal is not to eliminate graveyard strategies from the Modern metagame, but rather to weaken this version of the graveyard combo archetype that has proven too powerful for other decks to reasonably adapt to. In fact, we believe that targeting Bridge from Below specifically will still allow for other strategies in this style to continue to be a part of the metagame, like the Bridge-less Dredge decks that did well earlier this year at Mythic Championship II in London.
I don't necessarily disagree with this take, but graveyard strategies can also exist without Faithless Looting existing. We just have no idea what that style of things would look like because Faithless Looting has been around for so long. But I like the idea of a format where the graveyard decks is just ok and people have to make a real decision on if they're supposed to load up on graveyard hate or ignore things entirely. With Faithless Looting continuing to remain legal, we're still going to see things like Surgical Extraction maindeck, which, while smart and innovative when it began a few months ago, now resonates with me as 100% necessary for quite a few decks and a horrible look on the format.
Perhaps the London Mulligan does enough to make Modern interesting, but if the goal is to make Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona a must-watch event – and, given my decade-long thoughts on what coverage should be looking to accomplish, I always believe that to be the goal – I believe a grandiose change like banning Faithless Looting is necessary. Further, Faithless Looting will continue to generate problems, not solutions.
3. Mox Opal should have been banned in today's B&R announcement.
Emma Handy: Fiction. Mox Opal falls into a place similar to Faithless Looting in the "sacred cows" discussion, and "needs multiple artifacts on the battlefield for a single mana" is both a more restrictive deckbuilding ask, as well as a lower payoff, than the effects that Faithless Looting offers.
On top of that, Wizards just gave us some new anti-artifact tools in Modern Horizons. It's hard not to imagine that they were made with fully powered Mox Opal decks in mind, so nerfing them now, rather than pre-Modern Horizons, seems out of place.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. While Mox Opal has been a real problem in the past, it hasn't even been on the radar lately. Mox Opal is one of the best accelerators in Modern, but it ultimately requires you to play an artifact-based deck, which comes with restrictions. Is Mox Opal too good for Modern? Probably, but I doubt artifact decks even stand a chance if Mox Opal isn't in the picture. Plus, it's really hard for Mox Opal to enable a Turn 2 Chalice of the Void, so that insane fast mana isn't usually online until the second or third turn.
Mox Opal is a great card, and it should definitely be on some sort of watch list, but there would be little reason for banning it today.
Cedric Phillips: Fiction. As busted as Mox Opal is, I've never really minded the card for some reason. I can't really put into words why I feel this way, as I know the card is completely out of bounds, but much like Ancient Stirrings, it comes with what I consider to be considerable deckbuilding restrictions – you have to play artifacts to enable metalcraft – whereas with Faithless Looting, said deckbuilding restrictions cease to exist.
If you're Wizards of the Coast, you have to put your power points somewhere. Something has to be the best card in a format. Is it better for Faithless Looting to be that card or Mox Opal? That's a very difficult question to answer but I will note that the idea of banning a $100 card is a rather tough pill to swallow. Further, Mox Opal isn't a replaceable effect, so once Mox Opal is gone, the decks that play it are significantly worse to the point of being almost unplayable.
I've never felt that way about decks that contain Faithless Looting. Would Izzet Phoenix still be playable without Faithless Looting? Probably, but admittedly, it would look quite different. Would Bridgevine still be playable? I don't even think Faithless Looting is that good of a card in the deck to begin with – it's obviously still good but Stitcher's Supplier is the real offender – but it would absolutely still be playable.
Basically, I don't mind the swingy nature of the games Mox Opal enables, whereas all the Faithless Looting games feel completely the same. I want something different for Modern. Right now, Faithless Looting decks are the best thing going on. Are things that much worse if Mox Opal decks are the best thing going on instead?
4. Stoneforge Mystic should have been unbanned in today's B&R announcement.
Emma Handy: Fiction. Stoneforge Mystic can probably get unbanned someday, but that's something that Wizards of the Coast wants to save for a stale Modern format. There's a Mythic Championship coming up in three weeks with a completely fresh Modern format, having just been shaken up by a new set and banning. The risk that the Mythic Championship is defined by Stoneforge Mystic rather than Modern Horizons is too high.
Maybe next time there's a Modern Mythic Championship, Wizards of the Coast can look into unbanning Stoneforge Mystic instead of completely changing how mulligans work or printing a couple hundred new cards directly into the format.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. As much as I think Stoneforge Mystic would have been fine for Modern, you have to take things one step at a time. When introducing new variables or eliminating problems, you can't do two things at once without some serious risk involved. Stoneforge Mystic is not a problem for Modern's power level, but I'd rather wait for a stable format before unbanning anything.
I've written quite a few articles on why I think Stoneforge Mystic deserves to be unbanned, but there's been a much larger issue to handle, and I'm glad they handled that first before "shaking up the format."
Cedric Phillips: Fact. Fact. Sure, why not? If it would get Shaheen Soorani to shut the hell up, that's good enough for me!
All kidding aside, I don't see what the big deal with allowing Stoneforge Mystic is. I think having players decide what Equipment to play is an exercise you want them engaging in. Batterskull is the auto-include, but once players have to decide what Sword of X and Y to play, I think things actually get interesting. And if things go deeper than Sword metagaming, I think we're in an even healthier spot.
But more importantly, I don't think there's anything terribly broken about Stoneforge Mystic putting a Batterskull onto the battlefield on Turn 3. Looking at the decks that have performed well in Modern over the past handful of months pre-Bridgevine, I'm not seeing a lot of decks that care about such a game action:
- Izzet Phoenix
- Amulet Titan
- Azorius Control
I believe each of these decks' responses range from "That's kinda annoying, I guess" to "LOL OK PAL!" if a Batterskull entered the battlefield on Turn 3. It would be one thing if Stoneforge Mystic could search up a Skullclamp or something similarly busted that encourages unfair things. But Stoneforge Mystic is encouraging combat, a card type that sees essentially no play in Modern (I didn't forget about you, Cheerios!), and an interesting deckbuilding decision as mentioned above.
Also, what's the price on my Shaheen's happiness? As we can see, not very much!
5. Rampaging Ferocidon should have been unbanned in today's B&R announcement.
Emma Handy: Fiction. Who really cares at this point?
Sure, having a zero-card Standard banned list looks much cleaner than having a one-card banned list featuring a card that was banned to check a bunch of cards that aren't legal anymore.
On the other hand, nobody is really opening Rampaging Ferocidons out of Ixalan packs anymore, so the "disappointment from opening a banned card" factor is down. People were generally upset when Mono-Red Aggro looked dominant, and Ferocidon isn't exactly adding any fresh new effects to the format. Are there people out there who think Rampaging Ferocidon would see more play than Goblin Chainwhirler? Come on.
I literally forget that Ferocidon is a card, and it's easier if everyone else follows suit. Just let it stay banned for a couple of months.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. Let it go, Cedric! While Rampaging Ferocidon is unlikely to have a real impact on Standard if unbanned, it will certainly have a major effect on people's DCI records. I actually think Rampaging Ferocidon was banned because of how many warnings it accrued in a short period of time in tournament play, as missing your own life-loss trigger counted as a detrimental trigger, and three of those bad boys would give you a game loss.
I've seen similar judge interactions with a different card in the past few weeks: Narset, Parter of Veils. The "can't draw extra cards" part of Narset has led to dozens and dozens of judge calls that I've personally seen, and countless others that I haven't. These static effects that change the rules of the game are tough for a lot of players, me included, and having them be associated with detrimental game actions that result in warnings is really awkward.
Rampaging Ferocidon will be gone in a few months, so just let sleeping dogs lie. No one is really missing it except for that one person at FNM who's really into Dinosaurs and really annoyed that someone would have the audacity to gain some life points against their precious Dinosaur deck.
Cedric Phillips: Fact. Unlike many, I was totally fine with Rampaging Ferocidon being banned. Red-based strategies were already good enough and the addition of a card that fights a traditional way of beating red (gaining life) struck me as over the line. Throw in the fact that it's aggressively costed (I don't think it would be as offensive if it was a 2/3 or a 2/1); hard to block (why on earth does this thing have menace?!); and has relevant text for a red deck (the way to block it is to play more creatures which causes you to take damage), and that was more than enough for it to kick the can.
However, I spent some time playing Core Set 2020 Standard this weekend and it feels like Standard is in a very different place from when Rampaging Ferocidon originally arrived. Decks are grinding out card advantage via planeswalkers, playing huge effects like Flood of Tears and Mass Manipulation, or taking infinite turns with Nexus of Fate. This format does not strike me as being about tribal pairings or generating a battlefield advantage, where Rampaging Ferocidon thrives. Further, it appears that the best tribal deck is Vampires, a deck that Rampaging Ferocidon would do an admirable job in countering.
Is it weird to unban a card that only has a few months left of shelf life? Yeah, for sure. But so is printing Bridge from Below in the first place, banning Stoneforge Mystic but allowing people to play the intro deck in Standard that contained two copies (remember that?!), and having Corpse Knight be a 2/2 sometimes and a 2/3 other times (I kid, I kid). We live in a weird world playing a weird card game. Let the Ferocidon loose and let's have some fun for three months!