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Insider: Betting Against the Banned List

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Oath of the Gatewatch is weeks away. Along with a brand new set of cards to play with, it will bring a new amendment to the Banned and Restricted (B&R) list. For those who primarily play Legacy or Modern, the B&R announcement is likely to impact their game play over the next six months more than the new cards themselves.

The other interesting element that coincides with the B&R announcement is a Modern Pro Tour immediately following the release of Oath. In my opinion, it would be an ideal time to shake up the Modern banned list in order to create hype for the Modern format (which we already know Wizards is actively trying to grow).

Today I'll look at the individual cards I think are prime candidates to see a change in banned or unbanned status. I'll provide an estimate of each card's likelihood of a change, and discuss other cards whose price could change as a result.

I wouldn't put the odds on any given card being banned or unbanned at better than a coin flip. To be honest, I've been surprised by many of the changes the DCI has made lately. However, based on the timing, general attitudes about the format, and the opportunity to create hype, I do get a sense that a change of some type is coming.

The percentages below are largely speculative, based on my own opinions. The exact numbers here are pure guesswork, but what matters is the comparison to each other. For example, I think Summer Bloom is about three to four times more likely (25%) to get banned than Goryo's Vengeance (7%).

Possible Bannings

Let's look at potentially banworthy cards first.

Summer Bloom (25%)


It goes without saying that if a card gets banned in Modern, the value of cards in the deck it enables are apt to decrease significantly. This is certainly the case for this card's namesake, Amulet Bloom.

The deck is really good and clearly breaks the speed barrier with plenty of turn two and three wins. There are plenty of people who'd like to see it banned. I was kind of surprised it wasn't banned last time around.

If the Bloom deck were banned, I could see Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Scapeshift, and Pyromancer Ascension picking up in value.

Think about who plays the Amulet Bloom deck and imagine those players need to pick a new deck. What are they going to pick?

Some of the players are spikes who play it because they think it's the best deck in the format. They will go play some other Tier 1 deck and so I'm not concerned with them.

The two other kinds of players who gravitate toward Bloom are ramp players and fast combo players. The ramp players can take their Primeval Titans and play a Scapeshift-style deck. The deck is already good and certainly doesn't get worse with Bloom out of the format.

I could also see the players who are drawn to the fast combo draws of the deck gravitating towards Storm or Reanimator. Maybe those players move in on Pyromancer Ascension or Goryo's Vengeance (assuming Vengeance is still legal).

If Bloom was banned and Goryo's Vengeance wasn't, I think we'd see a significant rise in value on the latter. Bloom is a better deck with a turn-two nut draw but without Bloom in the format, Reanimator is the only turn two deck.

Goryo's Vengeance (7%)


If the DCI decided to make a statement that decks shall not have turn-two nut draws in Modern this card would have to go. They haven't made that statement thus far and the deck hasn't put up consistent numbers but it isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Also if Vengeance goes it will be a package deal with Summer Bloom. If they both get the axe look for other combo decks to pick up the slack:

People who want to reanimate will only have one good option without Vengeance---the Hulk Footsteps deck. It's actually a pretty good deck already and I don't see either card as a terrible investment even if the B&R announcement reports no changes.

Blood Moon (5%)


Blood Moon is one of those cards that feels like it shouldn't be legal. It comes from an era that was markedly different in what it considered acceptable. Locking your opponent out of the game with mana-denial and prison elements hasn't been a supported strategy in nearly a decade. And Blood Moon is capable of achieving this entirely on its own!

I don't think many people would be upset if the card went away. The headline would read: "World's most feel-bad card banned---everybody happy."

I think the Scars fast lands like Darkslick Shores and Seachrome Coast would become more attractive options with no Blood Moon in the format. They seem a little undervalued at the moment.

Splinter Twin (3%)


Make no mistake---Splinter Twin is the single most oppressive card in the format. Every other deck is built with the constant threat of a turn-four kill in mind.

The Twin deck is the fun police of the format that forces players to constantly respect getting "twinned" out. If it were to suddenly disappear, sorcery-speed four-drops and alternative blue strategies would be much more playable. Some cards that might benefit are Damnation, Glen Elendra Archmage, Siege Rhino or Gifts Ungiven.

As far as combo decks go, Twin is pretty fair in the sense that you can interact with it through removal. A banning of this card would revolve around Wizards' decision not to let Twin continue to be the format-defining deck. I think the chances are low but greater than 0%.

Possible Unbannings

Ancestral Vision (4%)


Vision surprised me when it appeared on the first Modern banned list, and it's still kind of a head-scratcher. The problem with unbanning it is the possibility of it making Twin better, rather than leading to the development of a new archetype.

The archetype that immediately comes to mind as a big winner with Vision is Faeries. If this happens (and the archetype isn't completely obsoleted by Twin with Vision), expect cards like Bitterblossom and Mistbind Clique to benefit as a result.

Vision seems like a risky unban but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.

Bloodbraid Elf (25%)


I feel pretty good about the chances of everybody's favorite cascade Elf of returning to Modern. In my opinion, it was a mistake to ban the card in the first place. Deathrite Shaman was actually the problem card at the time (and was subsequently banned).

In a format where Twin can just win on turn four what is the problem with a four-drop value creature?

If Bloodbraid does get released from her prison, the obvious result will be an increase in Jund's stock, and cards like Abrupt Decay, Scavenging Ooze, Liliana of the Veil and Fulminator Mage.

Green Sun's Zenith (2%)


I don't think this one is likely, based on a line of reasoning one of my friends explained to me: "If they unban Green Sun there is literally no reason for every green creature deck from now until forever not to just play four."

It makes sense. The card would certainly stifle diversity and it's insanely powerful. It tutors and puts creatures directly into play. It's the best card at every number up the curve.

Fundamentally, Dryad Arbor is the reason Zenith is banned. Allowing your mana sink and late-game business spell to double as a mana dork for no additional cost is pretty busted. That makes Arbor an auto-include in Zenith decks, and a clear gainer in the event of an unbanning.

With Zenith legal, green creatures (unsurprisingly) get better too. This applies especially to ones you'd want to tutor up in a pinch, like Scavenging Ooze, Knight of the Reliquary or Gaddock Teeg.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor (4%)


I don't think Jace will ever get unbanned unless Bloodbraid does as well. The two are just linked that way and the Elf has historically been a piece to keep the overpowered walker in check.

I am of the opinion that Jace is crazy-powerful and deserves to be banned, but there are a lot of people who have been advocating unbanning him. I think it would certainly be a popular decision with fans---unless the card became a big problem, in which case the revolt would be swift. Such a decision would certainly be flashy, but risky as well...

Some cards I'd be excited to play alongside JTMS include Wall of Omens and Noble Hierarch.

Stoneforge Mystic (5%)


People have been speculating on Stoneforge Mystic because it was announced the card would be the next Grand Prix foil. I don't think that means a ton, since Batterskull was the foil two cards ago and that card has never seen much play in Modern. Yes, it is at least legal, but Batterskull and Griselbrand are clearly more Legacy staples than Modern.

Anyways, the card is super popular and I wouldn't be shocked to see it come back, but I would be surprised. Stoneforge tutoring up Batterskull is a pretty big game... Although, I have heard people suggest they could unban Stoneforge and then ban Batterskull.

Equipment cards seem like a solid spec target if you want to bet on Mystic coming back. Mystics themselves have a low threshold because there will be thousands of GP foil versions suppressing the price, but the equipment will be in high demand.

Sword of the Meek (2%)


I haven't bothered to playtest any Sword of the Meek decks in the blind, but I wonder if these decks would even be particularly good in the Modern metagame. Yes, Thopter Sword is a cool, powerful combo, but is it really any more degenerate than Twin, Amulet, or Affinity?

I'm not sold that it is, but I wouldn't want to be the one making the risky call.

An unbanning will obviously raise the price of the other half of the combo, Thopter Foundry. I also feel Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas would be a good fit in the deck, since he can dig for whichever half you don't have, and is a powerful threat all by himself.

Umezawa's Jitte (4%)


I'm going to go on record: I think it's dumb Jitte is banned and the card wouldn't even be that good in Modern. Especially without Stoneforge to tutor up a singleton copy in the handful of match-ups where it is really good.

Modern is dominated by Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, and the tempo swing from investing four mana to equip a creature only to get blown out in combat seems like a death trap.

Honestly, it is just a card that creature decks use to fight other beatdown decks. I don't have an issue with a trump in the creature mirror existing in a format where Twin and Tron exist.

As for strategies that get better, I think Jitte could help a deck like Faeries find its footing in the format. The fae were always good at carrying a Jitte.

A Jitte unban would for sure also spike the price of everybody's favorite kitten, Qasali Pridemage.

Wrapping Up

If you've been paying attention to my quoted percentages so far, you'll notice I believe two things are more likely than anything else: the banning of Summer Bloom and the unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf.

The thing is I could easily see the DCI going way beyond just two changes to shake things up and create hype for the Pro Tour.

I also think there's a significant chance the DCI chooses to do nothing. I mean, everybody knew Goryo's and Bloom could win on turn two months before Battle for Zendikar was released and nothing got banned then. The decks haven't dominated Top 8's so what's to say they won't just play it safe and make "No Changes?"

Either way, Modern is a breeding ground for money cards. I have no doubt we're going to see lots of big spikes and gains from Modern once the Pro Tour rolls around. The big question is, will the B&R announcement spike anything beforehand?

4 thoughts on “Insider: Betting Against the Banned List

  1. I was surprised to see your percentage for Sword of the Meek being unbanned so low. I think it will be unbanned, at least some point, for exactly the reasons you listed; it will make artifact decks better but most likely not thrive as much as people think with how hostile the current metagame is towards the combo. Many cards that Wizards has unbanned this past year haven’t had much of an impact on Modern, unbanning Sword seems more likely considering their track record of safe unbans.

  2. I think it’s interesting to suggest a ban on blood moon or twin when they’ve been reprinted in modern masters sets, the latter being in the most recent

  3. Great article Brian. I think the real money to be made on unbans/bans is the effect on the the format, not the cards themselves. It was easy to see, for instance, that a Treasure Cruise Ban would spike Liliana of the Veil.

    My prediction is that nothing gets banned. The format is really diverse right now. I don’t know if WOTC feels that they need to shake up the format. I think we’ll see a pretty diverse Pro Tour as things stand right now.

    As for unbans. Jitte, Jace, and SFM all suffer from the same two strikes against them which are that are simply too good, and they are cards that people associate very negatively with. People hated playing against these cards in standard. The Cawblade era soured so many players, both due to the lack of diversity, as well as the price tag of Jace. It was one of the few times in standard history where the best deck was super expensive, and it was barely worth showing up with anything else. As for Jitte, that card was so funsucking in it’s time in standard. Creature matchups were usually decided by who connected with Jitte first. Sure, you can bolt or path, and 4 mana is a lot to invest when your creature dies to bolt. The other side of the coin is that creature matchups are sometimes attrition based, and not pure speed. I remember sideboarding Jitte in Vintage to get an edge on creature matchups. Surely Modern isn’t too fast for Jitte. Lingering Souls alone makes me want to play it. I agree with you that Jace is simply too good. I would think some type of MIracles deck would be nuts with Jace, even without Top.

    I believe GSZ is in a coffin, nailed shut with concrete poured over it. I do not think this card will ever be unbanned. Diversity aside, it would make some already strong decks that much better. I hope I’m wrong, as I have more of this card than any other. I mostly bought them because they were super low and playable in legacy (and they have gone up from where I bought them) but not because I thought there was a realistic chance it got unbanned.

    I think Sword is a fine unban, and Thopter foundry is a great spec, especially on mtgo where it’s like .03 tix. So much artifact hate in the environment. One possible repercussion is that Affinity cards could lose value as people pack even more artifact hate.

    I think BBE would also be a fine unban. I don’t think Jund is that good right now, but surely people would be trying it out. The cards that are good in Jund are already pretty expensive, but Maelstrom pulse might see an uptick.

    Visions is an interesting one. On the surface it doesn’t seem that good. It can’t go off until turn 5, which is a full turn past the Modern turn-4 threshold. It would give pure control decks a great attrition card, and allow them to make a comeback. If it doesn’t get unbanned, I’m going to assume they’ve tested it thoroughly and have a good reason for keeping it banned. I doubt that both Sword and Visions get unbanned, as they would seem sweet in the same deck.

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