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Why is Mental Misstep Banned in Modern?

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Mental Misstep created quite the stir when it was printed. In Legacy, it became an automatic four-of in just about every deck in the format. Although non-blue decks were packing it as well, its printing did a whole lot more for the blue decks. Aggro and combo decks, especially ones that focused heavily on one-drops (and this is Legacy, so they all do), started performing poorly. The DCI admitted as much in its statement regarding Mental Misstep being banned:

Mental Misstep is banned.

Force of Will has long been thought of as a card that helps keep combination decks in check in Legacy and Vintage. However, it doesn't directly help decks that aren't playing blue. One idea that was floated was creating a similar card that could be played in nonblue decks. When Phyrexian mana was designed, it was an opportunity to create such a card. R&D wanted a card that could help fight combination decks, and could also fight blue decks by countering cards such as Brainstorm. Clearly printing a card like this has a lot of risk, but there is also the potential for helping the format a lot. The risk is mitigated, because if it turns out poorly, the DCI can ban the card.

Unfortunately, it turned out poorly. Looking at high-level tournaments, instead of results having blue and nonblue decks playing Mental Misstep, there are more blue decks than ever. The DCI is banningMental Misstep, with the hopes of restoring the more diverse metagame that existed prior to the printing of Mental Misstep.

In Modern, Mental Misstep has never been played. It was on the original banned list for the format, with this reasoning:

Of blue cards that are legal in Modern, Mental Misstep is the most played in Legacy, and it also has one of the more damaging effects on Modern by sitting on beatdown decks that want to start on turn one. We chose to ban it rather than put that much pressure on beatdown decks.

This is all perfectly fine reasoning, and I'm generally okay with Mental Misstep not being in Modern.

mentalmisstepfull

But here's the thing: is it really too powerful?

Those who slogged through Legacy events during Misstep's reign of terror will probably snap off a "yes" and be done with this article, but I remember Standard during New Phyrexia's legal days. Misstep was a powerful card to have available, but was hardly format-breaking, and this was at a time when Delver decks—with all their one-drops—reigned supreme.

Mental Misstep would be powerful in Modern, there's no doubt. It counters mana dorks like Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch, the best removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, and efficient beaters like Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and Wild Nacatl.

But despite these powerful one-drops, Modern has a much wider range of casting costs and win conditions than Legacy, meaning that Mental Misstep would merely be a utility spell to answer certain problematic cards—not something that would completely take over the format and lock everyone out of their hopes of hitting lands off Brainstorm (after all, there are no good cantrips in Modern).

On top of that, Modern is a format where players do a whole lot of damage to themselves by fetching untapped shocklands turn after turn. Paying two life to cast a Misstep seems a whole lot less attractive in the format than in Legacy—the life loss is a much more concerning cost when you're already spending tons of life.

Just to be clear, I'm not really advocating for an unban of Mental Misstep. The harm it could do in the format probably exceeds the utility it might provide, so it's likely just safer to leave it banned.

It's just that there are a handful of cards that have been banned since Modern's inception, and frankly, I'd like to see how they do in the format. In my opinion, cards should earn their bannings, and Mental Misstep was never even given the chance. What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Why is Mental Misstep Banned in Modern?

  1. I think that second to last paragraph completely invalidates your entire article. It was a compelling argument until you concluded with “Yeah, but I’m probably wrong.”

  2. Misstep’s main offence is that the best card to counteract Misstep is your own Misstep. This leads to terrible sequences of plays.

    Me: Delver (or whatever)
    Opponent: Misstep your Delver
    Me: Misstep your Misstep
    Opponent: No, Misstep your Misstep

    Et cetera. If I’m holding a Misstep and so are you there will always be a point where these cards trade. No one has any cards left in hand and we go through 4 turns of draw-go. Sounds like Vintage to me. I love Vintage but I do not want to see Modern become like it.

  3. Mental Misstep is incredibly unfun. If you play any one drops, you’re kind of obligated to playing 4, and then many games with player’s on a functional mulligan to 5 or 6 with multiple missteps played on turn 1.

    As for real data, according to MTG Goldfish, 18/50 of the most played spells in the format are 1 drops. Doesn’t sound very narrow to me.

  4. It would violate one of the golden rules of banning a card. If a card shows up too frequently in the top 8 of high rel tournaments, it will be banned. Mental Misstep would be a four of in any and all decks.

      1. So I’ve been talking about this on the Modern Enthusiast podcast. And Bolt is pretty distorting to Modern and card choices. It’s something strange when combo decks like Twin and Storm are still running four Bolts.

        1. I’ve heard your points about bolt in the past and at first disagreed but I seem to be coming around to the idea that bolt might be wrong for the format. What I don’t understand is how bolt can be so prevalent as a spashable efficient removal but misstep eats a ban before we get any testing of the card. Its things like that, how the format is handled that can be so annoying.

  5. I have played this game for many years, since it started and I have always been against banning cards. That said I believe that misstep only remains banned in modern because it offers answers top top tier cards like Thoughtseize. It should be given its chance to play.

  6. There aren’t that many 1 drops that are crucial for decks, only delver comes to my mind, and the deck isn’t tier 1 anymore. That said i think it will be heavily played by blue decks, to counter bolts, path to exiles and discard effects, but it shouldn’t see that much play in non-blue decks, there aren’t that many 1 mana spells that can hurt an aggro deck (including misstep itself). The format lacks powerful cards that would give control decks a chance and maybe misstep is that card. I believe the main reason it’s banned is not for how it can affect the metagame now, but because of how it would affect 1 mana spells that have yet to be printed.

  7. I’ve played this game the end of The Dark, so I’ve seen many changes. I understand Wizards of the Coast’s desire to change the game up to keep things fresh and to promote new deck designs. This said, I wonder why WotC doesn’t change the banned lists annually. Each year, all the banned cards (except for the ante cards in Type 1)come off the list and a new banned list of completely new cards is posted. I think the formats are getting a bit stale and need a good shake up.

  8. If Mental Misstep is banned, then why isn’t a card like Thoughtseize? Card type difference aside, they both basically do the same thing, except Thoughtseize is more powerful, and can be played before your opponent has the mana to counteract it. In fact, if it weren’t for cards like TS, MM would never have been so widely used. Think about it, TS is a card that removes any strategy, often before you have a land on the field. MM would be only one of a few cards in all of Magic that can protect from a basically turn 0 TS blue needs that protection, since it is a color based around combos.
    And I’m not defending MM because I play blue and want an advantage. I most often play black, and rarely use counterspells in my blue strategies. My only complaint is that if you’re going to ban something, be consistent throughout the format(s) and do the same to other cards that deserve it.

  9. I’m ok with it being banned, as long as you ban the Myr endless combos as well. Which has not happened. O would rather see 4 of these per deck than half the modern decks being endless myr combos

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