This week we had a low-key Ban and Restricted List announcement that resulted in no changes to any format.
While I expected this to be the case, I was hoping for a little more action.
As a professional player, I play more than the average player, and because of this I like to see changes in the formats for them to feel a little less stale. I know this isn’t a popular opinion, and people don’t want to see cards banned.
That said, I’d have liked to see a shakeup in Modern. Modern, while still diverse and fairly exciting, has some wiggle room to free up previously banned cards or to make some adjustments.
Should Anything Have Been Banned in Modern?
I currently believe that nothing should be banned in Modern that’s currently legal.
Ancient Stirrings tops most people’s lists. I personally believe that Tron is a fine deck for the format, and decks like KCI and Lantern are also fine from a power level perspective.
If you want to ban a card from KCI, your target should be Krark-Clan Ironworks.
Ancient Stirrings is part of the glue holding the format together at the moment. We have no idea what would happen if decks like KCI, Tron, and Amulet all were pulled out of the format at once.
KCI is the most powerful of those decks, but it isn’t too powerful for Modern. I’m convinced of that after testing it a lot and participating in Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. The deck is strong and consistent, but suffers immensely when targeted. One argument for banning KCI is that it is a boring deck to watch, play against, or lose to. While that’s partially true, I don’t think that’s enough in this instance. The deck creates loops quick enough in my opinion that it’s not as miserable as it is made out to be.
There are arguments for Simian Spirit Guide, Faithless Looting, and other such cards that are used to break the rules of the format, but nothing is too powerful right now. As the card pool grows, however, action may need to be taken.
Should Anything be Unbanned in Modern?
When I did a mailbag article a few weeks ago, I was asked multiple times what I’d want to change about Modern. I thought to myself that that’s more of an article in itself. So here we are.
There are still a few cards banned in Modern unnecessarily.
Preordain is a solid cantrip, and it became banned at a time when Storm, Splinter Twin, and Blazing Shoal Infect were dominant decks. Preordain, along with Ponder, were banned in order to keep combo decks in check and dilute some of their consistency. Decks like Splinter Twin and Storm were still available and mostly left intact. Preordain, at this time, was somewhat dangerous because it allowed these powerful combo decks a lot of consistency, especially when paired with the redundancy of Serum Visions.
At this point, Preordain would be fairly safe to unban. While the card is likely stronger than Serum Visions, the difference in having Preordain versus Sleight of Hand isn’t taking a combo deck from tier 1 to tier 0.
Some ask how Ancient Stirrings can be legal and Preordain not be. The response is always that Ancient Stirrings requires you to play enough colorless cards that matter. The deck building constraints are enough to allow one and not the other. I think these colorless decks, however, are making little-to-no concessions.
I simply don’t know what Preordain is enabling that Serum Visions isn’t. Modern is a fast format, and while Preordain allows you to dig faster later in the game by allowing you to use the scry function that very turn, I’m comfortable living in a world where the games get to the point where that matters. If I cast a turn-1 Serum Visions or turn-1 Preordain to set up my combo deck, there’s little difference. In fact, Serum Visions can protect what I’m looking for on the top of my deck from an opposing Thoughtseize where I’d have to want both cards with Preordain to receive that benefit.
While I think it’s dangerous to unban some cards, I don’t really see it with Preordain. In fact, I wouldn’t even be super excited if Preordain was unbanned. Modern would be pretty much business as usual. We already have Opt, Sleight of Hand, and Serum Visions, and getting a better version isn’t too big of a deal. That said, I’d still leave Ponder on the ban list as it’s pretty clearly the best of the bunch and starts to get to the point where we may want to be careful.
Green Sun’s Zenith
When I said I didn’t want anything banned in Modern, there’s a caveat. Unbanning one card may need to lead to the banning of another. Green Sun’s Zenith was banned because it was functionally a more powerful mana creature that scales well into the game because of the existence of Dryad Arbor. If Green Sun’s Zenith is unbanned, it may very well mean that Dryad Arbor should be banned.
As you can see in the explanation, Green Sun’s Zenith was banned because of its efficiency, which made it less optimal to play different green decks. Green creature decks would essentially all contain the card, and that would lead to all of the green decks with similar toolbox creatures.
I feel like this is no longer true with the existence of Collected Company. Collected Company is another powerful enabler for green creature decks that allows you to find non-green creatures and in many ways competes with Green Sun’s Zenith. First of all, Green Sun’s Zenith is not a creature as a hit. While this is only a small setback, as you can easily build a deck with four of each and a few other non-creature spells so that Collected Company hits well, Green Sun’s Zenith allows you to cheat on the number of specific creatures you play. You may only want to play a single copy of, say, Scavenging Ooze to tutor for, but with Collected Company, you want your good hits to be as plentiful as possible, leaving you with a deck building dilemma if you were to play both. Collected Company also lets you branch outside of green, meaning that you would still have competing green decks. Some may want Green Sun’s Zenith, others are Collected Company decks. I think Green Sun’s Zenith would be fine to let off the hook for now to see how it shakes up the format, if at all.
While I’m not sure if you’d even need to ban Dryad Arbor first, I’d play it safe and ban Dryad Arbor while unbanning Green Sun’s Zenith, and potentially unban Dryad Arbor later if it feels safe.
This is a bigger gamble than the other two cards, but one I very much want to see unbanned, at least on a trial basis. Like Dryad Arbor may need to be banned to unshackle Green Sun’s Zenith, we may need to ban Batterskull to unchain Stoneforge Mystic. Although I’m not entirely sure that it’s necessary, its the safest place to start and I think most people would be fine with the trade-off.
Some of my favorite cards to ever play with were the Swords. They’re slightly too good for Standard, yet not quite good enough for Modern. Unless, of course, Stoneforge Mystic was available. Having a Sword-of-Feast-and-Famine-equipped creature on turn 4 isn’t exactly the most broken thing you could be doing in Modern. Stoneforge would be one of the best fair creatures in Modern without a doubt, and it’s possible that all white decks would want to play it. Fair decks have been struggling outside of control for a while now in Modern, and it would be nice to see them get a push in the right direction.
A lot of the fair creatures that see play these days have some kind of deck building constraint or suffer against graveyard hate. Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler, and Tasigur all get shut off by Rest in Peace, and creatures like Dark Confidant and Young Pyromancer come with limitations. I want there to be some more fair creatures appropriately powered for Modern to fit into interactive decks.
My biggest fear with Stoneforge Mystic is that it would be one of the best threats, but also in the color with the best sideboard cards. Cards like Rest in Peace and Stony Silence have such a high impact, and Stoneforge Mystic can be splashed with these in any deck, which means that we may just see way too much of the same in Modern: U/W Stoneforge, Mardu Stoneforge, Abzan Stoneforge, etc. With so many unfair decks around, I’m not entirely sure that this would be too big of a problem for diversity, and it may not be a problem at all.
I’d much rather give Stoneforge a chance than make it sit on the sidelines forever.
As far as Modern goes, the format will evolve slowly, but it will inevitably change. We see new cards that have an impact on the format all the time. Whether it’s Collected Company, Scrap Trawler, or Bedlam Reveler, new cards are creating archetypes. I see no reason why we have to keep the archaic ban list intact if we’re not unlocking some beyond-broken cards like Skullclamp or Hypergenesis.
I’m definitely willing to unban these three cards and give them a shot in the modern era. How do you feel? Would you keep any of these cards banned if were up to you?