It was a Bridge too far, and now it’s a Bridge brought low in Modern!
The July 8th B&R Announcement took the banhammer to the lowdown Bridge, and the gateway to Zombie land is closed (for now). In last week’s article about potential Modern bans, I suggested three cards: Faithless Looting, Ancient Stirrings, and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.
I made the claim that Bridgevine was the most broken Modern deck I’ve ever seen, but In the comments, a reader suggested a different deck was “more broken.” My snap response was that I wanted to have a discussion, and I realized immediately, “Wow, this is going to be a fun article topic!” So, I decided to rank the most broken, ban-worthy Modern decks of all time.
I’ve played Modern since day one (PT Philadelphia 2011, the first big paper Modern event ever), and I’ve experienced all of the metagames from alpha to omega and everything in between. Today, I’ll do my best to rank the eight most broken Modern decks from “most deranged” to “slightly less deranged” and give my rationale behind each choice.
Today’s article is a little bit tricky but hopefully slightly less so once I’ve established some parameters to guide the discussion. The first problem is each of these decks represents a different context. For instance, most of these decks didn’t exist simultaneously in the same version of Modern which means ranking them becomes subjective rather than objective.
I’m less interested in a “battle of the banned” or “no banned list Modern” as a mechanism for thinking about what made each deck so busted and more interested in thinking about which decks were dominant strategies in their own context.
How can we compare different eras and metagames? Decks have gotten better overall over the course of almost a decade of new printings. Power creep is real, and the larger the card pool the more synergies emerge.
Well, imagine thinking about how good a deck is based on an imaginary WAR (wins above replacement) stat from baseball. In baseball, WAR values track many types of metrics across a wide range of gameplay scenarios (fielding, batting, base running, on-base percentage), weights them, and determines the value of a player compared to an “average replacement-level” player. This stat estimates how many more games a team is likely to have won (or lost, if the player is bad) by virtue of having that player compared to an average replacement.
I don’t have a ton of micro-level data for eight-year-old metagames at my disposal, so I’ll be going largely on memory and my impression of the metagames of yore that led up to a ban. Which brings me to my second point…
The decks on today’s list represent an archetype at a finite point in time that resulted in a banning to fix the problem. There will be no “Affinity” because it’s been a consistent Tier-1 deck since 2011. Today’s list isn’t about digging in for the long war and prolonged success, rather it is about decks where the council of cosmic beings who govern the multiverse collectively took a look and said, “Yeah, this is not OK and it displeases us. Dueling mages shall no longer cast that spell.”
And the peasants rejoiced!
- The deck had to result in a ban.
- I’m interested in how dominant the deck was at the time of the ban.
- Obviously, we are talking specifically about Modern decks, so no Extended, Legacy, or Vintage stuff today.
Because much of the list will be compiled and based on observations and impressions that are subjective, I would be shocked if people didn’t disagree with the relative placement of decks on the list. If you disagree, I encourage you to drop a comment below and discuss the “why” behind your opinion. While this is a for-funsies, nostalgia topic, it’s also a Magic theory topic: here are a bunch of things that are clearly broken enough to be banned, but how do we think about what was the most broken?
I’m not going to go too deep into honorable mentions today since the comment section tends to do a great job of bridging the gap and filling in the rest of the close choices. With that being said, Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are a perfect fit here because they were clearly format-warping, obnoxious, and ban-worthy. The thing is it’s hard to link a specific deck to the problem because these cards were just sort of everywhere!
Obviously, UR Burn decks were an extremely popular choice at the time and some of the most played decks. Personally, I played Jeskai Ascendency Combo during this period and it was one of the most broken Modern decks I’ve ever played. Basically, if you were playing blue you were cruising. I can’t say one specific deck was the problem as it was more an issue of a broken card, so I’ve decided to leave this particular card and the dozens of decks that played it in the honorable mention section.
Top 8 Most Ban-Worthy Modern Decks of All Time
#8. Invasion of the Pod People
In 2015 there was a full on invasion of the pod people, as Birthing Pod decks were really pushed to the forefront of the metagame. Not only could the deck combo you out from multiple angles, it was packed with tutors to find the missing piece they needed at just the right time.
Top 32 GP Omaha 2015
4 Windswept Heath 4 Razorverge Thicket 2 Overgrown Tomb 1 Godless Shrine 4 Verdant Catacombs 2 Gavony Township 1 Temple Garden 1 Swamp 1 Plains 3 Forest 4 Birds of Paradise 2 Noble Hierarch 1 Scavenging Ooze 3 Voice of Resurgence 1 Orzhov Pontiff 1 Reclamation Sage 3 Kitchen Finks 1 Murderous Redcap 1 Restoration Angel 1 Shriekmaw 1 Thragtusk 1 Archangel of Thune 3 Siege Rhino 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence 1 Spellskite 1 Sin Collector 1 Eternal Witness 2 Wall of Roots 1 Spike Feeder 4 Birthing Pod 3 Abrupt Decay Sideboard 1 Sin Collector 1 Entomber Exarch 4 Thoughtseize 2 Lingering Souls 1 Disfigure 1 Kataki, War's Wage 1 Eidolon of Rhetoric 1 Memoricide 1 Path to Exile 2 Chalice of the Void
The Birthing Pod archetype was also invigorated by a Khans of Tarkir printing, Siege Rhino, which gave the deck a real exclamation point to its plan B. In this case, B was for beatdown. The extra life gave the deck extra activations of Pod and a little more time against Burn. The deck also gets a feather in its cap because it performed well in an era that included Treasure Cruise. I’m not sure which pillar was the bigger problem, but these decks together made life difficult for anybody who chose to do something else!
#7. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
There are few decks as feared (and hated) as Eggs.
1st Place PT Seattle 2012
7 Island 1 Plains 4 Ghost Quarter 1 Hallowed Fountain 2 Misty Rainforest 2 Scalding Tarn 4 Chromatic Sphere 4 Chromatic Star 4 Conjurer's Bauble 4 Elsewhere Flask 4 Lotus Bloom 1 Pyrite Spellbomb 4 Faith's Reward 1 Gitaxian Probe 4 Serum Visions 3 Sleight of Hand 4 Reshape 4 Second Sunrise 2 Silence Sideboard 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Nihil Spellbomb 2 Pithing Needle 4 Leyline of Sanctity 4 Echoing Truth 1 Grapeshot 2 Silence
The deck also notably won the following Modern Grand Prix. Other than the fact that the deck was completely busted, the biggest thing people remember about it is how boring it was to play against. Your opponent’s deck would loop artifacts for mana and card advantage until the game ended.
Brian Kibler famously asked to take a bathroom break in the middle of his Top 8 match against Eggs while his opponent was comboing off! When he returned his opponent was still looping.
#6. When the Iron Was Hot
I wanted to feature Matt Nass’s winning list because he’s so synonymous with innovating the deck, and I had to scroll through almost seven pages of KCI Top 8 lists to find it. A testament to what an absolute workhorse KCI was in its time.
1st Place GP Las Vegas 2018
2 Aether Hub 3 Buried Ruin 4 Grove of the Burnwillows 3 Inventors' Fair 2 Forest 4 Darksteel Citadel 2 Myr Retriever 4 Scrap Trawler 4 Ancient Stirrings 3 Chromatic Sphere 4 Chromatic Star 3 Engineered Explosives 4 Ichor Wellspring 4 Krark-Clan Ironworks 4 Mind Stone 4 Mox Opal 2 Pyrite Spellbomb 4 Terrarion Sideboard 1 Defense Grid 2 Ghirapur Aether Grid 3 Guttural Response 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Nature's Claim 1 Wurmcoil Engine
When you think about it, this is just Eggs 2.0. At least KCI had the common decency to eventually “go actual infinite” and end the game rather than spinning its wheels with loops for so long.
#5. Izzet Safe?
So, this deck was pretty good…
4th Place PT Philadelphia 2011
4 Misty Rainforest 4 Scalding Tarn 3 Steam Vents 6 Island 1 Mountain 1 Banefire 4 Gitaxian Probe 1 Grapeshot 2 Ideas Unbound 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Manamorphose 2 Muddle the Mixture 4 Peer Through Depths 4 Ponder 4 Preordain 4 Remand 4 Rite of Flame 4 Pyromancer Ascension Sideboard 3 Blood Moon 4 Flame Slash 1 Shattering Spree 3 Spell Pierce 3 Vendilion Clique 1 Wipe Away
It’s also worth noting there are four Gitaxian Probes in this deck. This means that more than 25% of the main deck is currently banned in Modern! The deck was so busted there wasn’t even room for Seething Song which got banned about a year later.
You may be asking, how is this ridiculous, comical pile of brokenness not #1? In truth, it’s because it wasn’t even the most broken deck of its day. It was roughly, in my opinion, the third best deck in the format at the time. Remember, the metric we are trying to think about is “how broken was the deck in the context of the format from which it was derived.” No matter how you cut it, context or no, this deck was bonkers.
OK. That’s the first half. Now let’s get to the really broken decks. It’s like I said in the introduction, these decks are on a scale of “completely deranged” to “slightly less completely deranged.”
#4. Please, Mr. Cloud Postman, look and see is there an Emrakul in your bag for me?
Breachpost, and other Cloudpost variants, were the defining element of Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011. Everybody knew Cloudpost was bananas, and that knowledge shaped the metagame. Despite being the only true known commodity of the tournament, it still managed to perform strong and make Top 8.
I would describe this deck as very focused on throwing Emrakuls at an opponent’s face. Not only could the deck Breach you quickly, but it could ramp up and hard cast her consistently and quickly via the Post engine.
Top 8 PT Philadelphia 2011
1 Dryad Arbor 4 Glimmerpost 4 Cloudpost 4 Grove of the Burnwillows 1 Stomping Ground 1 Eye of Ugin 2 Misty Rainforest 1 Mountain 3 Forest 4 Vesuva 1 Terastodon 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre 1 Oracle of Mul Daya 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder 4 Primeval Titan 4 Overgrown Battlement 4 Wall of Roots 4 Green Sun's Zenith 3 Beast Within 4 Through the Breach 4 Gruul Signet Sideboard 1 Brooding Saurian 3 Chalice of the Void 2 Dismember 3 Firespout 3 Punishing Fire 1 Qasali Pridemage 2 Seal of Primordium
If you think Tron is bad, this was much, much worse. It also featured Eye of Ugin which eventually found its way onto the banned list.
#3. A Hard Candy Eldrazi Christmas
The Starks always caution that “Winter is coming” and that winter is a bad thing. Well, they’ve never even experienced an Eldrazi Winter. The Eldrazi menace began at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch where it was the breakout deck of the tournament.
Over the coming months, the deck changed and adapted to counter whatever hate decks emerged to try and fight it. It was clear that a deck with two straight up Sol Ring lands was not something to be trifled with in Modern.
1st Place GP Melbourne 2016
3 Cavern of Souls 4 Eldrazi Temple 4 Eye of Ugin 4 Flooded Strand 2 Hallowed Fountain 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 4 Adarkar Wastes 1 Caves of Koilos 1 Island 1 Plains 4 Drowner of Hope 4 Eldrazi Displacer 4 Eldrazi Mimic 4 Eldrazi Skyspawner 4 Endless One 1 Matter Reshaper 4 Reality Smasher 4 Thought-Knot Seer 4 Dismember 2 Path to Exile Sideboard 1 All Is Dust 2 Chalice of the Void 3 Hurkyl's Recall 1 Oblivion Ring 2 Oblivion Sower 2 Rest in Peace 2 Stony Silence 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger 1 Vesuva
Eldrazi was simply a problem that could not be solved without removing one of the lands from the mix. A deck where “all the king’s horses” from the rest of the format simply cannot solve the problem is pretty much my definition of a ban-worthy deck.
#2. Hogaak to the Future
It was tough for me to decide between Bridgevine and Eldrazi Aggro for #2. Ultimately, I went with Bridgevine as the more broken strategy, although I think they demonstrated a similar trajectory in decimating the metagame.
The DCI was pretty quick to put an end to this deck, which tells me something. There was no wait-and-see approach because although it had been a relatively short period of time they’d seen enough. While I have nothing but respect for how powerful the Eldrazi were in their moment, I never saw them combo me out on turn two or three.
2nd Place GP Dallas 2019
3 Blackcleave Cliffs 3 Blood Crypt 3 Bloodstained Mire 1 Gemstone Mine 2 Godless Shrine 2 Marsh Flats 3 Polluted Delta 1 Verdant Catacombs 1 Swamp 4 Bloodghast 3 Gravecrawler 4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis 4 Insolent Neonate 4 Stitcher's Supplier 4 Vengevine 4 Carrion Feeder 4 Faithless Looting 2 Lightning Axe 4 Bridge from Below 4 Altar of Dementia Sideboard 1 Abrade 3 Bomat Courier 1 Darkblast 2 Fatal Push 3 Leyline of the Void 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 3 Wispmare
I’d also like to add that Bridgevine wasn’t some slow-burn, cream-will-rise scenario. When Hogaak and Altar of Dementia entered the format, the impact, the warp, and the format domination were immediate and continued to escalate. It was consistent. It was fast. It had an easy “win the game” combo. And, it played through hate like a champ. This is a very, very broken deck, and it was very close to earning the number one spot on this list.
#1. Gemini of the Tiger
While I do think Bridgevine is one of the most absurd Modern decks I’ve ever seen, I have to give respect where respect is due.
3rd Place SCG Cincinnati 2016
2 Desolate Lighthouse 4 Misty Rainforest 4 Scalding Tarn 3 Steam Vents 4 Sulfur Falls 5 Island 1 Mountain 4 Deceiver Exarch 2 Pestermite 4 Snapcaster Mage 1 Vendilion Clique 2 Cryptic Command 2 Dispel 2 Electrolyze 1 Harvest Pyre 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Remand 4 Serum Visions 1 Spell Snare 2 Twisted Image 4 Splinter Twin Sideboard 1 Anger of the Gods 2 Blood Moon 1 Izzet Staticaster 3 Jace, Architect of Thought 1 Keranos, God of Storms 1 Negate 2 Rending Volley 2 Roast 2 Vandalblast
I want to say that Twin was able to fly under the radar for five years in Modern before the ban finally came, but that is a difficult statement to make considering everybody knew it was the “best deck” the whole time.
The DCI takes away Preordain or Ponder in 2011? Twin just keeps on winning. In the first half of Modern’s lifetime, there are plenty of examples of absurd decks and Twin was queen bee of the format the whole time, for all of it. ALL OF IT.
The Splinter Twin banning was one of the most divisive bannings in the history of Magic, and to this day there are many, many people who long for the good old days to return.
On the one hand, metrically speaking, Twin Exarch did everything to exemplify being a “broken, format-warping, dominant, best deck.” It was played at a huge rate by players and outperformed the majority of the field. On the other hand, it still felt like “playing Magic” in the sense that the metagame that emerged to meet it was diverse and admittedly a lot of fun to play.
In fact, a lot of players consider that period of time to be the Golden Age of Modern in terms of the format being at its peak playability. The explanation for why Twin was able to carry on for so long, despite being so broken, is a direct result of the fact that its dominance helped foster a pretty sweet metagame around it.
It wasn’t easy to narrow this list down to just eight since any deck that gets a card banned has obviously “broken the format.” There are at least four more decks on my list of potential choices that didn’t make the cut, but I had to draw the line somewhere. Feel free to show those lists some love in the comments, and, if you do, let me know which deck you’d bounce off my list to make room for it.
Modern has had a long and storied history over the years. One fun thing today’s list shows is that there is almost always something broken happening in the format, and when it gets banned something new rises up to take its place! These are the decks, based around specifically problematic cards, that have taken over the format and simply refused to give it back to the rest of the card pool.