It's been quite a while, but your eyes do not deceive: this is another full banlist test series! It's been almost two years since I did one of these. Not for lack of trying, mind you, but there are only so many viable test subjects in the first place, and I've done a few already. Plus, it's really hard to get a crew together and commit to test these things. But I persevered and finally got another one done. And unexpectedly, it's one I never thought I'd need to test.
For those new to this series, I take a card from the Modern Banned and Restricted List, slot it into the current version of the deck that got it banned in the first place (if possible), then run it through a gauntlet of decks alongside a stock list (serving as the experimental control) to see what impact it might have on Modern if legalized. The intention is to see if the reasons for it being banned are still valid, and what its power level could be in an updated model. I have previously tested Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Preordain, Bloodbraid Elf, Green Sun's Zenith, and Punishing Fire. This time, I tested Hypergenesis.
I attempted to test Umezawa's Jitte last year, but failed due to logistical issues. It turns out that having nothing to do really eats into people's time. Everything involving lockdown made scheduling testing time so complicated that the test dragged on far too long. It took five months to get to the 1/3 mark; the data was by then hopelessly out of date. That's the problem of testing an interactive card in a slower deck: it takes a long time to finish games.
Jitte is also a more complicated card to fit into a deck than I appreciated. I thought I could cheat by playing a singleton as part of a Stoneforge Mystic package, but it didn't work. I was warping my play around Jitte in order to get the data, but that wasn't the same as Jitte actually being warping. Was my play based on Jitte being good, or because I had to test it? I have no answer. Tutoring for the test card made the whole situation muddier than expected. As a result, I scrapped the test and tried to start over.
However, I still haven't fixed the problems of Jitte. Modern's metagame was such that the most natural home for Jitte was still DnT, and the time commitment was still prohibitive. In other words, time had not fixed all wounds. However, it did provide an outlet. Around the end of October/early November, I started seeing chatter about streamers testing banned cards. And then they starting coming out with their conclusions about Hypergenesis.
They're all up in my house, trying to eat my lunch, and not even bothering to put in half the effort! That could not stand. So I took up the gauntlet. And then wielded my righteous indignation to light a fire under my semi-willing assistants to get the test done. (Which, in retrospect, would prove unnecessary.)
An Odd History
Hypergenesis is one of the strangest cards on Modern's banned list. Not that it looks out of place (Mycosynth Lattice) or requires a lot of context (Second Sunrise), but due to its history and impact on the format. Despite never being officially part of Modern, Hypergenesis had a huge impact on its development. Hypergenesis had some Extended success, but it never made much impact.
When Modern was first invented, Hypergenesis wasn't banned. However, Hypergenesis never saw sanctioned tournament play before being banned. If this appears paradoxical, it's because you don't remember that Wizards beta-tested Modern for the 2011 Community Cup. Which was a good thing, as the Cup proved that the initial banlist was too small. Combo Elves and Dread Return-fueled Dredge killed turn 3, and Hypergenesis could win turn 1. These decks, and Hypergenesis in particular, were so powerful and yet so unfun that it tainted the Cup. So they were all banned as part of Modern's official release. Naturally, PT Philadelphia was busted enough to warrant another massive ban wave.
Since then, Hypergenesis keeps lurking around unbanning discussions, but never seriously. When No Banned List Modern was proposed, it was the presumptive most-busted (and therefore best) deck. The absurdity of Eye of Ugin-powered Eldrazi put rest to that notion, and there hasn't been much on NBL Modern since 2018 for that very reason. As a result, a lot of players are unaware of this history or the potential threat. New players look at Hypergenesis, then back at Living End, and ask themselves: huh?
I strongly suspect that the events of the past month have stifled all such thinking. However, that certainly wasn't the case back in November, when this all got started.
For the Record
I had no foreknowledge about all this Tibalt nonsense. Which should be obvious, but the timing is such that I want there to be no confusion. I started all this in November. I told Jordan back in January I planned to spend February rolling out this test, well before everything blew up. [Editor's note: he did indeed.] I've actually pushed back my schedule because of this dumpster fire. There are a lot of parallels to what I found in this test and what everyone's seen in the past two weeks. I even alluded to that fact already. It is completely coincidental, though it will certainly color everyone's opinion on the matter. Banning Simian Spirit Guide has also impacted things, though not as much as I expected.
For those new to this series, the premise is to test banned cards in as close to scientific conditions as are feasible. Speculation is worthless, and small scale testing doesn't generate reliable data. So I take a banned card, fit it into an existing deck that is as close to the deck that got it banned as possible, and run both that and a non-altered deck through a gauntlet of stock decks from the current metagame. I play 50 full matches apiece against each gauntlet deck, record the results, and then statistically analyze the results to see if adding the tested card made a statistically significant change. I also record the overall gameplay experience and any interesting details that come up during testing, because raw data doesn't tell the full story.
This is intended to provide a clear picture of what could happen if the tested card was unbanned. It's not perfect, and a larger sample size would be better. However, such sampling is prohibitive, because I don't farm out the work: I play all the matches as the test and control deck, with various other players I know playing the gauntlet decks. Having other people do it for me means I don't get any insight into the matches. And it's unforgivably lazy. It's also why these tests typically take months to perform, though this time it went incredibly quickly. However, it's worth it to ensure that differing skill levels don't affect the results. Every player is unique; changing out players will affect how matchups play out, and thus the data. Science is about removing variables, not adding them.
All that said, everything I just said about deck selection doesn't apply to Hypergenesis. There is no deck in Modern that I could just slide it into and have a valid deck. It's the first flagship card I've ever tested, which means it's the first deck I've had to build entirely from scratch. I cheated a bit on Green Sun's Zenith because while it was banned for prevalence, Zoo was clearly the deck which benefitted most, and that style of Zoo isn't good anymore... but that was the only exception. So to Google I went, hoping that whatever's left of the No Banned List crowd would have a deck for me.
I didn't find much. I don't know what I was expecting, really. NBL Modern didn't exactly set Magic on fire, and Hypergenesis is a dog to Chalice of the Void, which is a four-of in NBL Eldrazi. There hadn't been much innovation since the original lists, and 2018 decks looked the same as 2020 ones. While I could have left it there and just grabbed a deck, some quick Googling suggested that the lack of change was due to a lack of interest and success thanks to aforementioned doghood rather than a tuned, solved list existing. Hypergenesis loses to Chalice for zero; Chalice is everywhere, so why bother tuning? I had no choice but to re-work the deck myself:
The idea was to maximize the chance of a turn 1 combo, so Chancellor of the Tangle and Simian Spirit Guide were necessary. Chancellor of the Annex is a Legacy Reanimator staple for protection against Force of Will. I wanted it against Force of Negation specifically, but also to generally slow my opponents down. I anticipated having to mulligan a lot, which also meant a lot of doing nothing, and enforcing some of that on my opponents at no cost seemed good. Plus, this deck was never not going to be a frustrating experience to play against, I might as well maximize that aspect.
Most lists ran a full set of Terastodon and several Ashen Riders, and I'm not sure why. They didn't do much in exploratory testing, so they were cut down to make room for Annex. I cut back on legends generally because I had multiple copies too often. This despite Emrakul and Progenitus being the main threats. It's also responsible for the split between Urabrask and Dragonlord Kolaghan. Both are mainly there to give everything haste, and having the split meant that I could have both out and protect against Path to Exile.
The sideboard was me spitballing. I took the common cards Living End used to play, maxed them out, and was done. They also happened to be the only common cards in NBL lists, though the numbers were all over the place, but the alternatives seemed too targeted for NBL to consider. And this board worked fine. Not great, but fine. Ingot Chewer didn't end up mattering at all, but I'm not sure what I could have played that would have been better. Sideboarding with a combo deck is an exercise in doing as little as possible, and the other three cards did enough work that the wasted slot wasn't relevant.
Then, I had to choose the comparison deck, a much bigger problem. Again, I couldn't just make a Hypergenesis list and replace Hypergenesis. There is no replacement card, so I had to use an entirely different deck. Which meant replicating the gameplay as closely as possible. Hypergenesis is an all-in, glass cannon, win-early-or-lose combo deck. The only deck that came to mind, or that I could find after poking around the internet, was Neoform.
Belcher was also a consideration, but oddly, it was too good. Hypergenesis can only win by resolving the namesake early. Belcher likes that too, but it can also win via Storm or Blood Moon. It also can simply wait, survive aggro thanks to all the incidental burn it plays, and look for the opportune moment. Thus, it has options and can adapt to the opponent, and doesn't have to mulligan aggressively. This is not true of Hypergenesis or Neoform, so the latter was picked.
As always, the gauntlet decks are high tiered decks from as wide a range of archetypes as possible. And that I can find willing pilots. Sometimes, I just have to make do, but this time I did get a good selection of highly tiered decks to test against.
It was actually a fight to get this deck. It was The Deck in October/November, but my control guy (who had the deck and was doing well with it online, by the way) didn't actually want to play it. He's been part of every test and wanted to help again, but he wanted to play his pet UW Control deck. Because, in his own words, "I can't show up to MTGO with UW and be taken seriously. Or win." I turned that around on him with "Then I can't use UW in the test and have it taken seriously either, can I?" He relented, whining the entire test about having his arm twisted. I'm retaliating by publicly calling him out.
I was expecting a fight with this one, as my DnT pilot usually takes great pride in making his own decks. However, he was playing a stock list and was very happy about DnT actually being good.
While my usual Death's Shadow guy was happily playing Scourge Shadow at the time, by the end, he wished he'd played Grixis instead. The data will make it clear why.
Usually I have Tron for the ramp deck. The Tron player wasn't available, and I didn't know any other regular ramp players. Amulet was going through a weird period in November and there were players willing to test their deck. I randomly found one on Cockatrice willing to fill in and commit to the test. Thank you S3quoia-Ult1ma for the help, whoever you were in December 2020.
I couldn't get a Storm or Ad Nauseam player for the combo slot. However, a Dredge player I knew offered to run Oops, and it's close enough.
Stage Is Set
Thus, the decks were chosen, and the test was set. Join me next week as I reveal the hard data from the test.