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Insider: Another Look at the Modern Banned List

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Welcome back, readers!

There were certainly some people who made a lot of money with the recent changes to the banned list. I know several QS writers (myself included) had been suggesting picking up both Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision for some time now. Hopefully you followed our advice.

Whether or not you benefited from the latest bout of unbannings, we can still draw lessons from them. Of the cards currently on the Modern banned list, some are near locks for staying there, while others may get released at some point. Identifying which are which can position us better for the next change to the format.

The Modern banned list currently contains the following cards:

  • Ancient Den
  • Birthing Pod
  • Blazing Shoal
  • Bloodbraid Elf
  • Chrome Mox
  • Cloudpost
  • Dark Depths
  • Deathrite Shaman
  • Dig Through Time
  • Dread Return
  • Eye of Ugin
  • Glimpse of Nature
  • Great Furnace
  • Green Sun's Zenith
  • Hypergenesis
  • Jace, the Mind Sculptor
  • Mental Misstep
  • Ponder
  • Preordain
  • Punishing Fire
  • Rite of Flame
  • Seat of the Synod
  • Second Sunrise
  • Seething Song
  • Sensei's Divining Top
  • Skullclamp
  • Splinter Twin
  • Stoneforge Mystic
  • Summer Bloom
  • Treasure Cruise
  • Tree of Tales
  • Umezawa's Jitte
  • Vault of Whispers

Now the thing about Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek is that they have both been on the banned list since Modern's inception. This is critical because cards added to the banned list afterwards proved at one time or another (at least in Wizards' eyes) that they were too dominant. The cards banned from the start never got that chance.

That means Wizards might try at some point to give these cards a chance to prove they can "play nicely" in Modern.

The cards that began on the banned list were traditionally extremely powerful, and in many cases had broken or warped past formats. At the time Wizards didn't want to take the risk, but as the format has matured and evolved they've shown a willingness to release some of the past boogeymen. Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek are the most recent examples, but others like Bitterblossom and Golgari Grave-Troll followed this same pattern.

If we can identify cards that were mislabeled as broken, or whose power level in context has changed with new printings and metagame developments, we can be better prepared for the next B&R announcement.

Today I'll go through all the cards that have been banned since the beginning of Modern to see if we can't highlight a few that are good candidates for future unbannings.

Artifact Lands

The artifact lands have always been banned due to WoTC's fear of Affinity domination. On this front I tend to agree with them. Darksteel Citadel lets Affinity turn on Mox Opal on turn one frequently, but not always. In addition to enabling more busted starts, these lands also make Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager even more degenerate.

As a deck Affinity seems to be doing fine. Unbanning the artifact lands would make Affinity much better without contributing any additional diversity to the metagame. That being said, there's little reason to unban them.

Chrome Mox


While Affinity does get access to Mox Opal, that same effect in a combo deck is a different matter. Giving combo decks zero-drop mana ramp (even at the cost of a card) is probably a very bad idea.

Decks like Storm and Pyromancer Ascension can win on turn four a fair amount of the time. Adding Chrome Mox to the mix would likely increase the clock by a full turn, if not more. This is the type of card that makes fast non-interactive combo decks even faster but rarely finds a home in any other archetype.

As WoTC has done a pretty good job of keeping these decks to mainly turn four goldfishing, it's very unlikely they will ever unban Chrome Mox.

Dark Depths


This card was the bane of Extended for a good bit. Decks built around it could pull off turn three wins consistently. That was back when the only card to couple with it was Vampire Hexmage---since then the printing of Thespian's Stage has added redundancy to the combo.

The biggest problem is that the Marit Lage token has both evasion and indestructibility which makes it difficult to chump-block and severely limits removal options (typically to Path to Exile or sacrifice effects).

Being a land also reduces an opponent's ability to interact with it (it can't be countered, for example). Dark Depths is also very unlikely to ever leave the banned list.

Dread Return


This is the card Dredge decks in Modern need to break out as a real contender. That isn't to say, however, that I believe full-on Dredge would dominate Modern.

The power of Legacy Dredge is that it has two spells that can be flashed back for no mana (Dread Return and Cabal Therapy). Cabal Therapy provides much needed protection and disruption that furthers their game plan. The other major component of the Legacy version is Ichorid, a free creature that can be played from the graveyard, with a built-in sacrifice clause so the Dredge player can build up a zombie army slowly if need be.

Without Ichorid or Cabal Therapy, I honestly don't think Dredge as an archetype could dominate Modern, and certainly not before turn four. At one point both Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll were on the banned list, and when the Grave-Troll was removed no Dredge deck materialized.

I feel like this card could be safely unbanned. We might see a decent Dredge deck appear in the format but I don't think it would be any faster than any of the other existing linear decks. There's also a decent amount of graveyard hate available in Modern to keep it in check.

Glimpse of Nature


Glimpse, in my opinion, is the hardest card on the banned list to analyze. It's an incredibly powerful draw engine in a color that doesn't typically get those. We've seen Modern CoCo Elves win previous GP's; this card would certainly find a home in that deck and most likely speed it up at the same time.

The question is whether Modern's card pool is large enough for this deck to consistently go off on turn three. Legacy Elves has Wirewood Symbiote, Gaea's Cradle and Quirion Ranger to quickly accelerate its mana. Modern Elves is limited to Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel. These are strong in their own right, but not likely to generate the same explosive openings seen in the Legacy version.

I believe WoTC is more likely than not to keep this card on the banned list. But I also don't feel like it's one of those cards that is truly "locked in" indefinitely.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor


It amuses me that with WoTC's stated goal of "no wins before turn 4," they have kept a four-mana planeswalker on the banned list all this time. Jace, the Mind Sculptor dominated Standard to the point of eliciting an emergency ban, and there's a good chance his continued place on the banned list is simply due to residual fear on WoTC's part.

Another problem WoTC may or may not consider in its decision-making process is price. We've seen cards go up a hundred- or thousandfold after being unbanned and Jace's price tag already rivals that of Scalding Tarn, the third most expensive card in Modern (behind Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil). Even doubling or tripling up would create a serious obstacle for Modern players, and likely generate a lot of bad press for Wizards.

With the recent unbanning of Ancestral Vision (the other big control card on the banned list), WoTC will likely be testing the waters to see if control decks can thrive with Ancestral Vision alone. If not they may eventually unban JTMS, but likely only alongside a reprinting in some form.

Mental Misstep


Mark Rosewater is on record saying Phyrexian mana was a mistake. During its brief period of Legacy legality, Mental Misstep was quickly added to virtually every deck (many which couldn't even make blue mana), and often just to counter opponents' Missteps... Not a good sign for a format.

As much as I would love for Misstep to be unbanned (I'm currently sitting on about 80 copies), this one is almost certainly locked in for life.

Sensei's Divining Top


Personally, I love Top and how it plays in Legacy, but coupled with fetchlands the card tends to make games go long and often to time. Add to this problem the presence of Counterbalance in Modern, and we have a recipe for multiple undesired outcomes.

While it's a powerful deck manipulation tool that isn't restricted to any one color and would make several cards with the miracle mechanic playable in Modern, the fact that so many games would take so much longer simply by having it in the format makes me believe that it's very unlikely to come off.

Skullclamp


This card got banned almost immediately upon its release into Standard and Wizards has repeatedly said it was a mistake. It provides a ton of card advantage for very little cost, leads to hyper-consistent combo kills, and threatens format diversity all in one go.

This one isn't going anywhere. It's banned in Legacy and will remain so in Modern.

Stoneforge Mystic


Stoneforge already saw a bit of a spike when rumors surfaced that it was getting unbanned before a previous announcement. That rumor proved false, but the price has remained high simply because plenty of people still think it will eventually make its way into Modern.

I don't feel like the format would be worse with Stoneforge, though the concerns about diversity are troubling. The Stoneforge package is very lean and easy to slot into decks, which has led many commenters to speculate it would be included in every white deck. The argument Wizards cited in the Green Sun's Zenith banning, that it was too ubiquitous and ruined format diversity, is most likely the main reason Stoneforge has remained in exile thus far.

I imagine if Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek don't enable a good control archetype in Modern, Wizards may seriously consider unbanning Stoneforge to give control the tools it needs.

Umezawa's Jitte


This equipment entirely dominated Standard when it was legal. In any creature-based deck it was a near-mandatory four-of, and even answer-based decks ran copies to legend-rule opposing copies... As with Misstep, this is a sign of a truly degenerate situation.

While Batterskull is a powerful piece of equipment, Jitte is a truly broken one. It presents a fast clock and protects to the creature that wields it, all while acting as removal against opposing creatures. An active Jitte can completely take over a game, often even locking the opponent out of casting creature spells.

I don't imagine we'll see this card get unbanned ever.

7 thoughts on “Insider: Another Look at the Modern Banned List

    1. Definitely an interesting idea….that would likely slow down affinity enough that adding the additional artifact lands would be balanced out….they also suffer from getting turned off by Stony Silence which would simply make that card even better against Affinity (if they went with the all artifact land base…though I imagine they’d keep glimmervoid as well).

    1. Well it was added to the banned list after the format was created so it had some time in modern before it got banned. I think it’s powerful, but it was banned at the same time as Wild Nacatl (Dec 2011) which is now unbanned. With WoTC bringing Sword of the Meek into the format it shows they are clearly willing to allow for a slower graveyard based “inevitable” win condition…which is basically the same description as Punishing Fire. I can see it coming off again in the future, especially since it was banned before modern got both Scavenging Ooze and Rest in Peace (two really powerful graveyard hosers).

  1. The opinions on Umezawa’s Jitte seem to be all over the place. It’s interesting that Ari Lax wrote an article earlier this week that reached the opposite conclusions on Jace, Stoneforge Mystic, and Jitte. He said Jace and Mystic would likely never be unbanned, and that Jitte would not be an issue if it was unbanned (though it wouldn’t add much to the format).

    1. I’ll look up that article, mainly because I’d like to see opposing reasoning, so thanks for bringing that to my attention. After I read it, I’ll respond more in depth.

    2. I read his article. Ironically, we shared the same thoughts on JTMS, but I don’t see “it’d be too expensive” as enough of a reason to keep something banned…if they wanted to stop that make another Jace vs somebody dual deck and put JTMS in it. Problem solved. In writing my article I had the WoTC “reasons” for bans page up and referred to those as the ONLY rules behind their decision making process…if they have other unwritten ones I didn’t consider those. As for SFM, his argument behind it’s power level is based on playtesting done several years ago…since then we’ve had a great deal of new additions to modern. My reasoning behind thinking SFM is acceptable to unban is simply seeing it’s massive decline in Legacy. In the last 3 SCG Legacy Classics we’ve had 2x X-Blade decks and 2x Death and Taxes, far from it’s previous level of dominance. Sure modern is a different format, BUT Stoneforge mystic does NOT create any archetypes that win by turn 4 (at least not with the current equipment packages we’ve seen). I did mention that it might remain banned simply for the same reason as Green Sun’s Zenith though. As for Jitte, I used to play Maverick in legacy decks and we didn’t run Batterskull….we only ran Jitte and sometimes SoFaI (but not for quite awhile). Jitte provides a HUGE advantage against any decks playing small creatures (1 or 2 toughness). Ari mentions that it’s unbanning might push creature decks to “bigger”, but w/o mana dorks that also means “slower” which would make combo decks even more powerful as they’d have more time to combo out (or potentially just allow them to remove what little interaction they do have to increase speed).

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