Last year the DCI banned Splinter Twin on the eve of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and a lot of people were shocked. It wasn’t that people didn’t think Twin was great—they did—but because there hadn't been strong public outcry against Twin.
I wrote an article immediately after where I expressed a desire for a DCI-issued watch list of cards that were on high alert for a potential banning. Easily one of the most unfortunate experiences in competitive Magic is investing time, money, and practice into a deck only to have it banned off the face of the earth a few months later.
In today’s article I’m going to take a look at a few cards that have the greatest potential for a banning with the release of Aether Revolt.
Why Cards Get Banned
There are 3 primary reasons that cards become banned in Modern, and understanding these reasons is a good baseline from which to discuss future bannings.
1. The card creates logistical problems for tournament play.
Second Sunrise is a great example of the first criteria. Eggs didn't dominate the tournament scene, but it took forever to go off, held up events, and was generally miserable to play against.
Trinisphere was notoriously restricted in Vintage because it was “unfun.” The fact that so many games boiled down to Workshop + Trinisphere and the other player never got to do anything ever again was enough for the DCI to make a move.
One reason cards get banned is because they create undesirable play experiences and are justly removed from tournament play.
2. A deck is too dominant and needs to be taken down a peg.
Sometimes a deck is too overpowered compared to the rest of the field and needs to be brought back down to earth.
The Eldrazi decks from the “Eldrazi Winter” are a great example of the DCI surgically bringing an overpowered deck to an acceptable power level by banning Eye of Ugin. The DCI could have banned Eldrazi Temple (which would have been more devastating for the archetype) but instead made a ban to reign in the power level of the deck rather than destroy it outright.
Another banning intended to reign a deck in was Deathrite Shaman. B/G/x decks were fine before DRS and fine after DRS, but the move was made to weaken an archetype that was too dominant.
3. A deck is too dominant and needs to be obliterated.
There are different reasons that the DCI would want to do this, but sometimes it is time to say goodbye to an archetype forever.
When Splinter Twin was banned it wasn’t to weaken an archetype—it was done to end it completely. Twin was seen to be too consistent and too format warping for too long, and so it was removed from the format in order to foster new room for other decks to thrive.
The Summer Bloom ban falls into this category as well. It also has a little bit of category 1 at play too. People hated playing against the deck and believed it was too fast and too consistent. The banning of the signature card, Summer Bloom, wasn’t designed to weaken the archetype but to end it entirely.
Cards that Could be on the Chopping Block with Aether Revolt
Personally, I enjoy Modern a lot right now. Yeah, the format is fast and combo-rrific but there are a lot of good decks and the games feel interactive.
With that being said, there are a lot of people who are unhappy with Modern and whenever enough people are unhappy with a format, there is always a chance to see things shaken up.
The biggest problem that the majority of dissatisfied Modern players tend to have is that the format is framed by fast, linear combo decks: Infect, Burn, Death’s Shadow, Affinity, and Dredge.
Mox Opal is a card that people have suggested should be banned for years now. It is easily the best card in Affinity and a major player in Lantern Control.
The only way I could see Opal getting banned is if the DCI decided to ban all of the uber fast decks from my list above across the board. The chances of that are low, and so despite being one of the five most bannable cards in the format, I believe Opal is safe.
Infect is easily one of the best decks in Modern and its power, speed, and consistency are undeniable.
When I hear people talk about what should be banned from Infect, the most commonly suggested card by a wide margin is Become Immense.
Delve is a mechanic that has been extremely problematic in Eternal formats where fetchlands are ubiquitous. Trading cards in graveyard (that were going to be there anyways) to fuel hyper-mana-efficient spells is wonderful, or should I say wonderfully broken.
Become Immense is really powerful in Infect because the +6 power boost is worth 2 pump spells for the cost of a single G in most circumstances.
I wonder if the printing of yet another amazing Infect spell foreshadows a possible ban. Defense made Infect better and deeper and the deck has been putting up very consistent finishes over the past month.
As a player who has played a ton of Infect, I actually believe that taking away Gitaxian Probe would hurt the deck more than Become Immense.
It is also worth noting that Probe, a ridiculous Phyrexian mana card that should not exist, is uniformly only played in unfair linear decks.
The key to Gitaxian Probe is that it replaces itself for free while also generating advantage in other ways. It generates storm, prowess, cards in graveyard for delirium or delve, and more.
In the Death's Shadow Aggro deck, the act of throwing life away for free is an advantage because it powers up Death’s Shadow!
Probe is particularly great in Infect because knowing what is in the opponent’s hand when you're playing a fragile combo deck is super important. If a card gets banned from Infect (which I think is a coin flip in terms of likelihood), Become Immense is more likely, but Probe could actually be the better banning.
Reunion has really pushed Dredge into the forefront of Modern. The deck is consistent and extremely powerful, and is arguably the format-defining deck.
No offense to anybody who enjoys playing Dredge, but a lot of players find Dredge annoying to play against. You sit down and keep a reasonable hand of lands and spells against an unknown opponent, and then they suddenly have half their deck in the 'yard and 15 power in play on turn 2. What did I do to deserve this fresh hell?
If Dredge continues to put up great finishes, I would be surprised if the deck doesn’t get some attention from the DCI.
A Cathartic Reunion ban would be the equivalent of a Deathrite Shaman ban, which is to say knocking the deck down a peg. Dredge can easily replace Reunion with another similar (albeit less potent) effect like Tormenting Voice. In this scenario, the deck would still likely be very good, just less explosive.
The second option for banning a piece of Dredge would be to ban Prized Amalgam. Amalgam transformed Dredge from blah to busted and there is no doubt in my mind that hitting Amalgam is the equivalent of dropping an A-bomb on the archetype.
Dredge was a fringe competitive deck before Amalgam but would certainly not be a powerhouse sans Amalgam. The major thing the deck was missing before was a critical mass of creatures to bring back from the graveyard for free, and Amalgam was the missing piece of the puzzle.
There is also a chance that the DCI could go another way and bring some currently banned cards off the list in order to combat these fast combo decks.
Personally, I’ve played my fair share with all of these cards and while they are awesome and exciting, I’d err on leaving most of these cards alone. I know I’m in the minority in thinking that Jitte is the the most “unbannable” of the bunch, but I don’t feel strongly that it needs to be in Modern one way or another.
Bloodbraid Elf is the most likely card to be unbanned of the four, but I’d also prefer to see Bloodbraid stay banned. I don’t especially enjoy playing with or against the card and have always felt that it creates a very random element to games where its value fluctuates wildly depending upon what card you spin the wheel into and what the board state is. I lived through BBE → Liliana, of the Veil and it wasn’t as fun as you’d think.
Obviously, there is still a whole two months of results yet to come before the DCI will need to make their decision about what will happen next in Modern. Personally, I don’t mind Modern the way it is, and would be all right with no changes as of now, but do reserve the right to change my mind if the format begins to feel stale after two months.
Based on how unpopular Dredge is among the average player, I anticipate there is a 50% chance that if the deck continues to grow in popularity and tournament success that it would be a prime candidate for a banning. I’m unsure about whether the DCI would impose an end-the-deck or knock-it-down-a-peg-type banning of Prized Amalgam or Cathartic Reunion. The same case can be made about Infect if it keeps putting up strong performances. We still have months to go before anything will or won’t change on the B&R list and I’d like to see more data and results (which seems very reasonable). Yet, from where I’m standing now, it looks like there are a few narratives that we can speculate as we get deeper into the winter season.
What do you guys and gals think? If it were up to you what would you change? Would you ban things or bring back some busted cards that have been long absent?