Wizards of the Coast finally released the Grand Prix promo for 2016 and it’s a doozy. Stoneforge Mystic has returned!
The last non-Modern playable promo was Umezawa’s Jitte back in 2010. Could this mean an unban is on the horizon?
Well, no. It’s almost certain that the DCI haven’t met to discuss potential bans/unbans yet before the next announcement and that the promo was picked long in advance.
But that doesn’t stop people from asking, “Could Stoneforge Mystic be safely unbanned in Modern?”
That’s the topic I want to tackle today.
UWx (Control and Delver) and Abzan both come to mind as the obvious gainers, but what else? Twin already had a reasonable board-into-control plan that Stoneforge Mystic could nicely slide into. GW Hatebears gets a huge boost as one of the decks best able to take advantage of equipment. Obviously this analysis discounts any new decks sparked by an unban, but those are the obvious ones.
Typically fair decks, but the above list is mono-fair decks with the potential exception of Twin. So either they’d already be taking advantage of SFM or they would adapt to it. Burn doesn’t exactly have issues dealing with 1/2s or racing Batterskull. Zoo can just run a few more Pridemages and actually capitalize on the mana/tempo loss that casting an SFM would have. Unfair decks will kill you if you tap out to equip a Sword, and putting a 4/4 lifelinker into play on turn 3 (that took your turn 2 as well) is actually embarrassingly slow against decks like Amulet, Infect, Twin, or Affinity.
Even decks like Merfolk can tap down or islandwalk around the Germ token. Any deck with black has access to Tasigur and Gurmag Angler to just block and profit, and unfair creature decks like Affinity usually involve the opponent losing to a flier or Etched Champion. The number of decks SFM & Batterskull outright crush is minimal. It does give Delver or a similar tempo strategy a somewhat scary threat without needing to tap out early.
The best immediate reason to keep SFM banned is fear of her potential ubiquity in any fair deck with white mana. An SFM-plus-equipment package is a tiny number of slots and has a high payoff. Still is this a bad thing? Going 4 or more colors for the easy splash hasn’t been the case since Deathrite Shaman got the axe. Ancient Grudge is one of the top sideboard cards in the format and Kolaghan’s Command is a main-deckable “ruin all your hopes and dreams” card against an SFM package.
Here’s an example of a deck that could potentially exist if Stoneforge Mystic were unbanned.
Modern Esper StoneBlade
Obviously the major shift is toward discard as your primary interaction and you can no longer cruise through the deck with cheap cantrips. Still the creature base represents some of the strongest options at their cost in Magic history. The deck gives you a reasonable amount of cheap interaction, and you can quickly go on the offensive with Souls plus equipment, SFM plus Batterskull, or Mentor plus spells. With the ability to max out on Souls and access to Painful Truths it’s also difficult to grind the deck out in the traditional method of eliminating a few key threats and forcing discards.
When thinking of tempo shells for Stoneforge, it’s worth mentioning that Monastery Mentor frequently competed for the same slots in the white decks. Making a few prowess Monks is often just as scary and doesn’t require any specialized slots in the deck. Tasigur in the black shells also makes a tough argument since he can cost even less mana, bricks Batterskull, and is an actual draw engine in the late game. The one thing SFM brings to the table that these other threats can’t is the ability to just jam uncounterable instant-speed threats if she doesn’t get dealt with immediately.
While I think Stoneforge Mystic is a scary card to unban, the more I considered it the less I was worried about it on power level. With the one caveat that I think could keep her out of the game and stuck in Legacy forever: Stoneforge Mystic puts a cap on how good an equipment can ever be. If it’s anything better than Batterskull, then it’s likely every fair strategy adopts SFM. While this is a valid concern, it’s not worth keeping a powerful option out of the Modern metagame versus the embarrassment of another potential banning down the road.