Insider: Assessing the Modern Banned List

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The announcement of the Stoneforge Mystic GP promo has a lot of people speculating that the card's time on the Modern banned list might be coming to an end. Sheridan wrote a great piece presenting evidence for and against this possibility this week. Today I thought I'd share my own thoughts on the state of the Modern banned list.

Stoneforge Mystic GP Promo

The Obvious

As Modern has developed as a format, we've seen the banlist get more and more refined. WotC has made decisions to ban oppressive cards to better the format, while also unbanning cards that they correctly believed would not ruin anything. The banlist still isn't perfect, but I would argue it's better than ever.

There are some cards on the banlist that are obviously going nowhere, because they're just way too overpowered. The front-runner for this category in my mind is Skullclamp. You will never see this card legal in regular Modern play, unless something very weird happens to the fundamental rules of the game.

The other category of cards that are all but exempt from an unban in the near future are the ones that recently got the ax. WotC doesn't waffle on things like banlists. Decisions to ban and unban cards aren't taken lightly, and as such there's no way that Birthing Pod will be returning to the fray just yet.

There's really no reason to waste time discussing cards of this nature.

On Stoneforge Mystic Itself

Prior to recent discussions, I would have reflexively lumped Stoneforge Mystic into the category of "obviously too powerful." This stems partly from the strong language they used in the original banlist announcement, and partly from the significant role Stoneforge played in the decision to replace four-year Extended with Modern.

Mystic literally killed that format. Mind you, that was an Extended where Thoughtseize, Lightning Bolt, Ponder, Preordain, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Bitterblossom were considered fair play. It was one of the most high-powered Extended formats that ever existed, and Stoneforge Mystic was considered the biggest stain on that part of Magic history.

There are definitely differences between Extended then and Modern now that you could use to argue for unbanning Stoneforge Mystic.

Kolaghan's Command is a real, maindeck threat to Stoneforge decks, and decks like Tron that go completely over the top of Batterskull weren't a relevant metagame force back then. The prospect of simultaneously unbanning Stoneforge and banning Batterskull is also worth entertaining.

Conversely, the notion of a Twinblade deck with a Modern manabase is a frightening one. Even without Batterskull, giving the deck access to a tutor for Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Fire and Ice to increase the relevance of Deceiver Exarch is alarming.

Twinblade was considered the best version of the best deck in the Caw Blade era, and a high-powered version of this deck is a problem for obvious reasons. You really don't want to burn your player base in the same way twice.

Cards as efficient as Stoneforge Mystic are the ones that can easily strangle a format. Seeing as the banlist generally prevents players from winning before turn four, tapping out on turn two is generally a non-issue.

I fully believe Stoneforge Mystic in Modern would be beatable, and have bad matchups. But more than most staples, it would have a warping effect, significantly restricting the types of cards you can play without just snap-losing on turn two. I wouldn't speculate on this potential unbanning, and I'll believe it when I see it.

That said, Bloodbraid Elf once saw a significant spike when players expected it to be unbanned. So there is the possibility of hitting even if Stoneforge remains banned, but tread cautiously. You will only be able to sell to greater fools and the GP promo will damage the card's value for the immediate future.

Potential Unbans

Sword of the Meek

Sheridan has been suggesting that Sword of the Meek could potentially be unbanned in Modern. It gets hit by all the same hate as Affinity, while also having weaknesses to graveyard disruption.

Initially I was taken aback by this suggestion, though upon further reflection I think it might be fine. I'm not entirely sure what Thopter Sword combo decks would look like in today's Modern, and I'd entertain discussions about them.

The combo is as close to a hard lock against aggressive decks as they come, and wouldn't be easy for midrange or controlling decks to beat either, barring direct disruption. I don't think this would be a healthy addition to the format for that specific reason, but it strikes me as possible.

There's no reason for the price of Sword of the Meek to budge much at all in one way or the other for the time being, so there are definitely worse specs. Be warned though, if the card isn't unbanned then moving copies won't be terribly easy.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

This one remains a long shot, but if you look at the potentially unbannable cards in Modern, the list is quite short. The reason for nearly every banning in Modern holds true in significant ways, and the banlist is in a solid place right now. In fact, the main reason why I say Jace could be unbanned in Modern is because he has never actually been given a fair look.

Jace has a horrible reputation. People don't like losing to him. He does everything, and he does it well. This is the part of the Stoneforge Mystic argument that applies to Jace.

On the other side of things, Jace has nowhere near the potential of Stoneforge to be oppressive. There are plenty of decks that are either winning the game on turn four, or patently don't care about Jace. I think it's clear that Jace would see Modern play if unbanned, but I don't believe he'd be anywhere near the dominant force he once was.

That said, I can't imagine Jace ever getting that fair look. The negativity far outweighs any argument to the contrary.

I think Jace is a fine card to own, and realistically Jace should see the light of Modern at some point in time. Jace has held a price tag over $70 without needing any assistance from Modern and will show up in EDH and Legacy decks until the end of time. I've had my set since the card was Standard-legal, and who knows, maybe one day it will pay off in a big way.

Ancestral Vision

I hear people talk about [card]Ancestral Vision05 being unbanned, and let me tell you, Jace is more likely in every way.

Ancestral Vision is similar to Jace on the card advantage front, except it has the same efficiency problem as Stoneforge Mystic. Vision would stink a lot like Treasure Cruise in Modern.

Developing a deck to efficiently trade one-for-one and then reload and overwhelm the opponent is not difficult. When your refuel spell costs a single blue, things get abusive fast. At least with Jace you have to tap out.


Speculating on an unban is risky territory no matter how good your information is. If you feel lucky or prescient then by all means, go for it.

Your best bet is to speculate on cards with proven strong price histories, regardless of their time on the banlist. Otherwise you could find yourself with a card that never appreciates and is difficult to sell, or in the case of Stoneforge, one that goes down in price due to an already announced reprint.

On a limited budget, you're much better off buying into proven staples. They yield less explosive returns, but the matter is much more certain.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

One thought on “Insider: Assessing the Modern Banned List

  1. Well done Ryan. The ending part of your post is the most valuable information regarding “investing” into these kind of scenarios.

    We’re already taking risks when investing into cards, why add to that % with these? Investing into proven stuff is something I like to convey frequently.

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