The Modern banned list has been updated once again, and this go-'round I find myself agreeing with everything that happened. It's possible that I wanted to play with Deathrite Shaman this season, but it is definitely bannable in the same way that Green Sun's Zenith is. In case you missed the announcement, here's a summary:
Banned in Modern
Unbanned in Modern
There's still no Jace the Mind Sculptor- in addition to a bunch of other cards on the banned list that are even more likely to be fine (looking at you, Golgari Grave-Troll!)- but I believe that these updates are a move in a positive direction. This change actually generates more new decks than kills old ones. The banning of Deathrite Shaman probably makes things like four-color Delver impossible, but Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom are all but guaranteed four slots in some very good decks.
Now, it's true that they're going to necessarily spawn anything that we haven't seen before from the history books on Standard and Extended- or even Modern in Nactal's case- but they'll at least shake up the format. I particularly like the way that both cards pull the format in opposite directions. Wild Nacatl gives incentive to players willing to halve their life-total just by playing lands and Bitterblossom gives incentive to play more Darkslick Shores than Watery Graves.
The last time Wild Nacatl was legal Josh Utter-Leyton took second at the Pro Tour with it. Normally, that would be a great place to start when looking for current applications of the card. The problem here is that Channel Fireball's "Counter Cat" deck was very much a Green Sun's Zenith deck- a card which is still very much banned.
Of course, there are still many viable, legal directions to take Zoo now that the deck has regained its most relevant incentive. With no Deathrite Shamans in the format Knight of the Reliquary gains quite a bit of stock. Knight gives the deck a neat toolbox with Tectonic Edge, Bojuka Bog, Horizon Canopy and a few other scattered goodies, but I feel like Knight-based aggro decks are better tools for more explored metagames. A Knight deck could be the best build of Zoo once the metagame becomes more solved, but for now I'd probably try for something a bit more proactive.
I've been thinking a lot about what Zoo "should" look like in Modern today, and their are just a ton of options. Personally I'm inclined to play these:
These are the most efficient spells for actually killing opponents. One card. Five Damage. We've come quite a long way since the days of Gaea's Might Get There in Extended, but these spells in particular have not lost much if any of their pull. Boros Swiftblade is unlikely to make the cut these days- most notably due to weakness to both Spell Snare and every actually played removal spell- but also due to how many playable one drops there are in Modern. A non-exhaustive list includes far too many to actually fit into a deck before even looking at creatures which are "just" 2/1s:
Just jamming a bunch of these and some burn spells is probably better than most decks you'll run into in a Modern PTQ. I'd almost definitely throw some Tarmogoyfs into the mix, but there are plenty of other options worth exploring. These guys are certainly appealing:
Speaking of Bitterblossom, I'm very intrigued to see where it finds its home. Faeries is the obvious choice, but one has to wonder how good Faeries actually are in Modern. Faeries likely beats all the combo and control decks, but does it beat Zoo? What about Affinity? Heck, how much can it really beat a Lava Spike?
Forget wondering what it's good against- what does the deck even want to play? This much is obvious:
After that things get a little fuzzy. Do we want Mistbind Clique? Scion of Oona? What counterspells do we want? Is the format too fast for Cryptic Command? Are there good enough removal options to make aggressive matchups favorable in game one without giving up too much in against other decks? Can we afford to stretch our mana for Path to Exile or Terminte?
On the other side of things, BW Tokens was already playable without Bitterblossom and gets access to Path to Exile as a two-color deck. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if tokens sees more success in Modern than Faeries.
Lingering Souls strikes me as a huge winner with this update. No Deathrite to make you wait for five mana to flash it back, the best token generator ever printed to back it up... The fact that it was already very strong. I wouldn't count on Lingering Souls maintaining its fifty cent price tag for long.
Secluded Glen has spiked quite a bit already, but I'm more interested in Scars lands like Darkslick Shores and their potential going forward. Fetchlands get a bit worse considering that their synergy with Deathrite Shaman is no longer relevant and that the presence of Wild Nacatl will make life a more precious resource. Not to mention that decks need to be fast enough to cast their relevant spells before turn four anyway.
The last two cards worth mentioning as Modern progresses are Griselbrand and Life from the Loam. It's possible that the Goryo's Vengeance decks are inconsistent and weak to the format in their own right, but I could see Life from the Loam doing some work now. Aggro Loam might not have ever been dominant in Modern, but it sure won a Grand Prix- so take that for whatever its worth.
A lot of the value to be gained from this update in terms of speculation has already been made, though I do think that there's a good amount of money being made by scooping up uncommons for token decks. Playable Modern uncommons have been known to hold stupid values. I don't expect this to change anytime soon. Specifically, I don't see how you lose money on forty to fifty cent Lingering Souls.
From a player perspective, these bans definitely look to improve the format. A major hate card has been removed and the unbanned cards look like they push the power of the format, which I much prefer to updates that power-down formats- see every other recent ban list update.
Whether you're looking to speculate or break the format, this is an awesome time to build and test new decks. I was ready to begrudgingly register for the Modern GP in Minneapolis, but barring a disappointing outcome from the Modern PT I think I might even have fun playing.
Thanks for reading.