To Ban or Not to Ban?

Another B/R announcement has come and gone. Some people may have expected a ban or unban, but I’m not sure that anyone had a pair of Legacy bans on the docket with nothing happening in other formats. Today, let’s talk about the consequences for every format where there was a reasonable chance of seeing a change.

Ban Goblin Chainwhirler?

Goblin Chainwhirler presents two significant issues. One is that it continues to enable red decks to have a good green and tokens matchup while not being bad elsewhere. The second is that the cost of playing the card is simply adding it to your deck—Mono-Red is too good as-is and Chainwhirler plays into that.

But it wasn’t like banning Chainwhirler was going to make red that much worse. The decks that Chainwhirler oppresses aren’t exactly real winners* against red to begin with. They have plenty of other options to replace it with. No, the biggest problem with red is that there are absolutely no bad spots on the curve. Other decks struggle to fill certain holes while with red gives you great cards across the board.

*With the exception of U/W Anointed Procession.

For Standard, the best solution to red is rotation, which will kneecap the early game while simultaneously throwing out nearly every card it utilizes to become a solid midrange deck. Sure, it keeps a handful of good cards, but unless Guilds of Ravnica fills the void, there are significant gaps in the strategy again. Which should be the point.

Chainwhirler is just a symptom of the overriding disease we’ve seen in Standard for years. Have a cycle or new mechanic you want to ensure sees some play? Add a few extra lines of text or shave a mana cost off a card that looks playable to begin with. Goblin Chainwhirler would’ve been a fine card as a 3/2 with no abilities or if it was changed to simply deal damage to 1-2 targets instead of everything. Instead, it gets a combat-worthy body with first strike and the ability has no real downside at any point in the game. Compare it to any of the other cards in the cycle and you can see how at some point somebody went, “we need this card to keep Llanowar Elves in line.”

Should Goblin Chainwhirler have been banned? I agree with PV’s perspective that if rotation wasn’t coming it would and should have gotten the hammer. There’s a reasonable chance that red decks will take such a massive beating that they won’t exist. But I think it should’ve been banned anyway and perhaps Rampaging Ferocidon unbanned instead if they wanted to play it safe for red 3-drops. Chainwhirler is just a better card and has a higher chance of being busted post-rotation than Ferocidon. There’s more counterplay to the Dino from the types of decks it hoses.

Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe Get the Axe

In Legacy, Deathrite Shaman has been a pillar of the format for so long that I have a hard time imagining what the format will be like without it. In part, I stopped paying serious attention to Legacy because decks felt a little too same-y between Brainstorm and Deathrite Shaman everywhere. But as someone who had to watch many tournament games of Legacy, Deathrite Shaman was a crutch.

Deathrite Shaman allows players to be sloppy with gameplay from turn 1. There are so many times where I’ve watched players mis-sequence land drops and mana, and go completely unpunished because Deathrite simply doesn’t care. It asks nothing from you. As an added bonus, it also let these players hose unfair graveyard decks and play Wasteland for free wins because Deathrite Shaman rewards being greedy and bails you out of careless early game decisions. Brainstorm does similar things but it also doesn’t delete an entire spectrum of decks.

Gitaxian Probe came completely out of left field, but the people claiming it was somehow fair are either vastly underestimating or purposely ignoring how strong it was. In a format where much more of the game is played on the stack and based around resources available in hand, getting to cheat on mana (Young Pyromancer, dredge, and delve say hello), and getting so much information for free, was a giant buff for the decks that played it.

Eternal aficionado and all around swell Atog, Rich Shay, had this to say:

“Magic is a game of limitations: limited information, mana, and cards. Probe removes the limited information with no cost on the other two axes. It makes the game worse, while providing nothing of value or interest in exchange. Deathrite Shaman provides a tremendous amount of power to low-mana blue decks. It provides mana early, while providing utility and a clock later in the game. It also encourages all blue decks to converge into the shells of Delver or Pile, removing a lot of interesting deck-building decisions. Both cards constrained what was viable in the format, and made for very little choice regarding what to play.”

This summarizes many of the thoughts I had when watching Legacy, in a more concise way.

Stoneforge Mystic Unban?

Stoneforge Mystic wouldn’t break Modern anymore than Jace or Bloodbraid Elf did. There’s a fairly strong possibility that it would make white decks slightly better and provide control decks with an alternative win condition. That’s about it. Otherwise, putting a 4/4 lifelinker into play on turn 3 is a joke against half of the format and that’s taking into account that this is one of the slower times in Modern’s history. Some of the same people who were most on the fence about Jace coming back are hemming and hawing about letting Stoneforge back in as well.

I’m not surprised that they didn’t unban SFM because it won’t move packs the same way the Jace unban did and there’s not a ton of upside for the format. People will jam it in a bunch of decks that don’t need it or want it and it’ll see some early play. Then if Eldrazi and Taxes or Jeskai Control with SFM are good, it’ll continue to be a factor in the format. Otherwise it’ll fade away in much the same way Bitterblossom did. I don’t even think it’s a question of if Stoneforge Mystic will be unbanned after we’ve seen JTMS come off and barely register as a blip on the radar. It’s a question of when. Wizards doesn’t have to keep unbanning cards to clean the list up either—that’s just what people enjoy talking about. They aren’t going to stop playing Modern if they stop bringing these cards back.

On the flip side of the coin, either Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings are not long for this world. One or the other is going to get axed at some point. If not soon, then the second something releases that gives Tron, Affinity, or KCI that extra push. KCI in particular is the most problematic of the bunch and hits a lot of the same notes Eggs did. Most people don’t even understand what’s happening when they lose to this deck and it’s a complete embarrassment for everyone involved when someone new picks up the deck and tries to play it at FNM.

Meanwhile, anyone arguing that Mox Opal is a fair card in the context of Modern needs to actually sit down and play a few games of Affinity and KCI when you have the card in the opener versus when you don’t. If the format shifted slightly, Affinity with Karn would be the best deck in the format. Nice Shatterstorm—too bad my deck now draws two a turn and can make Master of Etherium on a whim. Opal is only going to keep getting better and better with time and eventually something is going to push it over.

Ancient Stirrings is the best filter card in the format and would’ve already been banned had the card been blue. Thankfully it was printed in a different color so people don’t feel as strongly about it. The card is too strong for the quality of cantrip they want available in Modern, but none of the decks it calls home are at the kind of dominance where you can safely say that one of them needs to go.

Do these cards need to be banned? Not yet. Will one of them eventually get hammered? I’d be surprised if one didn’t in the next year. What do you think about the bans or lack thereof? Let me know in the comments.

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