The latest banlist announcement did a number on Modern's top decks, decimating the Uro piles which week and again would claim top of the heap as well as the new bullies on the block, cascade-powered decks abusing the latest Tibalt cards. In order to solve for these displays of power, though, Wizards took an unconventional route in extending their ban hammer the likes of which we've never seen. The nuke included hits to Simian Spirit Guide, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary, all key players in the aforementioned powerhouses. And all ones employed by far tamer tamer decks.
Guide's demise spells doom for Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, the deck I've championed for the last five years. Today, we'll examine more splash damage from the recent ban, and mourn other low-tier decks rolled by the announcement.
Simian Spirit Guide
According to many pundits, Simian Spirit Guide has been on the chopping block more or less since Modern's inception, simply by virtue of providing generic free mana. It does seem like Wizards has finally agreed with this crowd and decided to axe the monkey out of principle; as noted last month, it's not like Guide was fueling anything particularly devastating beyond the already-broken-enough-for-a-ban Tibalt cascade decks. But as much as I personally loved the dimension Guide brought to the format, of say a turn one Chandra being at least possible, others hated it, and are happy to see the monkey go. Balance fans are probably not among them.
Guide often gets a rap as a combo enabler that lets decks win a turn early. But while lower-tier decks like Neoform and Ad Nauseam do indeed wield it that way, I'd argue that most of its uses are decidedly more fair.
As Foretold's goal is to drop its namesake enchantment as early as possible and then immediately start resolving costless sorceries like Restore Balance, Ancestral Vision, or Crashing Footfalls. None of these spells wins the game; they're just significantly discounted with no time investment, letting AF play the game on another level once its engine comes online.
It's also got Electrodominance as a way to cast these for free. Both avenues were heavily reliant on Guide to generate the board wipes or 4/4s in a timely enough manner that opponents might struggle to overcome such effects. Without that possibility in the mix, I don't see this deck hanging on in its current incarnation as anything more than a nostalgic fallback.
Since it doesn't use cascade, As Foretold could conceivably splash green for mana dorks. Some problems with this strategy include the failure to produce 4/4s on turn one, and dorks being incompatible with Restore Balance, which checks for creatures controlled. Rather, I expect whatever new version of this deck that resurfaces to go back, way back, and include Borderposts to maximize the mana denial aspect of Restore Balance.
Another fair deck slinging guides is Mono-Red Stompy, which powers out a Chalice or Blood Moon before closing the door with Goblin Rabblemaster. This deck is unpopular enough that I had to pull from a January event to get the list. Without Guide, I doubt staying Mono-Red retains much of its appeal; the deck is likelier to branch out into other colors, such as white, and adopt a more controlling role to compensate for the loss of speed. Planeswalkers like Nahiri, the Harbinger will mesh will with this gameplan, while Stoneforge Mystic seems especially attractive as a turn-two play.
A major decision point for the deck will be whether or not to continue running Chalice. I've found in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy that the card just isn't worth mainboard inclusion without Guide, being dead against some portion of the field no matter how fast it hits the field on one; coming down too late to matter a larger portion of the time makes it too much of a liability. And in red, players have Lightning Bolt to consider. Naturally, we're now talking about a very different 60!
Field of the Dead
Another target of the ban announcement was Field of the Dead, a card banned for "decreasing diversity of gameplay patterns." I'll grant that a swarm of 2/2 Zombies was never too excited to watch assemble, and also that Field seemed suspiciously low-effort for the decks splashing it. But I do wonder whether the card would have continued to leave a bad taste in so many players' mouths without Uro propping it up. Still, Field did make its way into some non-Uro decks:
I'd call Field a core component of the Elvish Reclaimer-powered Lands deck, which counted on the card as a tutorable win condition. Minus Field, the deck becomes much more reliant on resolving Primeval Titan, which lowers the stock of Reclaimer itself, which used to be both enabler and payoff in this shell.
It also loses much of its long game potential without Dryad in play to ensure those Valakut triggers go off; keep Dryad off the table, and Titan isn't scary at all any more. Heck, a lot of Goyfs just wall it, not to mention Scourge of the Skyclaves. In other words, Field was this deck's lifeblood, and without it, I don't think the core can sustain itself.
Amulet Titan, on the other hand, should hang on. After all, it was a thing before Field of the Dead came to Modern. If anything, I would say Field made the deck even a little too powerful, giving it an alternate win condition that was easy to find and assemble; we didn't get to appreciate its full power because of all the Uro decks playing Field better, although the deck did make our metagame charts last month. Dryad remains an upgrade for the deck, and I'd bet it hovers around the lower-Tier 2 mark without Field and with a neutered Tier 1.
Yet another land banned for "decreasing diversity of gameplay patterns," I feel that Mystic Sanctuary may not be the culprit we think. That repetitive pattern we're all thinking of is to loop Cryptic Command, which indeed the Uro decks toting Sanctuary were notorious for. But which other decks ran the card?
It turns out precious few, although whether that's because Uro ate all their shares may now never bee seen. UW Miracles, one such deck, could be found running a full four copies of Sanctuary as an all-purpose utility tool with applications throughout the game. Running the full suite like this makes a high count of fetchlands even more advantageous. And notice: this deck only plays 2 Cryptic Command! Archmage's Charm and even Path to Exile are common loop targets for this build.
Then there's Mill, which doesn't run Cryptic Command at all! This deck would much rather draw yet another Archive Trap. To Wizards's credit, Mill did fetch for Sanctuary as soon as it became live in most games, which was generally turn 4. And while it's looping different cards, it gives the deck a more linear trajectory.
I still would have liked to see Sanctuary in a non-Uro metagame to witness which other decks, like Mill, found themselves emboldening their gameplan or, like UW Miracles, could repurpose the card as more of a Swiss Army knife.
Settling the Wreckage
My plans for a brew report were dashed in January when the announcement dropped, as the metagame looked absolutely nothing like it was certain to in the very near future. This month, we'll examine that future in detail, and see what innovation grows from the concrete. Until then!