My Thoughts on the Modern Banlist Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of my series where I analyze the Modern banlist and identify whether cards on the banlist deserve to come off, or whether they should stay on the banlist indefinitely. These are just my opinions on these cards, and I expect many people to disagree with me (especially with this third part with Splinter Twin and Stoneforge Mystic). If you do disagree, please comment below and give your reasons for why these cards should or should not get unbanned.

Punishing Fire

Image result for punishing fire goldfish
Buy Punishing Fire

Punishing Fire is pretty below the bar when it comes to removal in Modern. 2 mana for a Shock pales in comparison to a turn 2 Hogaak, but the reason this card is on the banlist is that it is repeatable. With a Grove of the Burnwillows, you can give your opponent one life and use the mana from the land to buy this back from the yard. When your Shock has buyback 2 it suddenly becomes a lot better, but even then you still need to find your Grove the Burnwillows to enable this, and in the current state of the format, I don’t think Shock is where you want to be. However, even though this card is extremely slow, I doubt that this card will be unbanned because it stifles creature strategies really effectively and could push them out of the metagame. Unbanning this card doesn’t solve any problems that Modern is currently facing, and fair creature decks already aren’t in a great place. Punishing Fire probably could be a safe unban due to the blistering fast speed of Modern, but if it were ever to slow down this card could push decks out the meta that WotC is trying to encourage.

Punishing Fire: BAN

Rite of Flame

Image result for rite of flame goldfish
Buy Rite of Flame

Modern’s Dark Ritual. In a format that is dominated by being able to cast as many spells as possible in one turn, and being able to dump tons of cards into the graveyard Rite of Flame would simply become another source of fuel for the already hyperefficient combo decks of the format. Simian Spirit Guide is already a card that sees tons of play even though it provides no storm count or additional value for drawing multiple copies. We already have lots of rituals in the format that do disgusting things, so I see no need to add an even better Ritual than what we already have.

Rite of Flame: BAN

Second Sunrise

Image result for second sunrise goldfish
Buy Second Sunrise

This is probably one of the weakest cards on this banlist, and it’s probably here to stay. The deck that played this card was called Eggs and it wasn’t banned because it was dominating the format. The strategy revolved around artifacts that would sacrifice for mana and draw a card and it would do this over and over again until it drew it’s deck and killed the opponent. It was a non-deterministic combo which meant that there was always a chance the Egg’s player could fizzle and required both players to play out the long sequence and see if they won or failed. It was a fringe deck that saw a medium amount of play at the time, but the main problem behind this card is that this deck took so long to play out that tournaments were constantly struggling to move at a decent pace because there would always be an Eggs player who took the game to turns. With the banning of KCI it seems that WotC is eager to kneecap this strategy permanently as it’s not healthy for tournament play.

Second Sunrise: BAN

Seething Song

Image result for seething song goldfish
Buy Seething Song

Much like Rite of Flame, Seething Song is simply one of the best options we would have for rituals if this were to be unbanned. Even without any cost reducers, Seething Song produces a massive amount of mana and can enable some really stupid stuff. Throw in a Goblin Electromancer or the brand new Baral, Chief of Compliance and you could storm off on turn 3 very consistently. Storm as a deck would be catapulted into the top of the metagame, and that’s not including other decks that could benefit from so much mana in one turn. Mono-Red Pheonix would be capable of dumping a hand of 7 cards on the battlefield with just one casting of this card. 5 mana for one card is simply too much, and like I said earlier, Modern doesn’t need any more rituals.

Seething Song: BAN

Sensei’s Divining Top

Image result for sensei's divining top goldfish
Buy Sensei’s Divining Top

Sensei’s Divining Top runs into a similar issue as Second Sunrise in that it just takes up so much time. For 1 mana you get to spend a minute or more of tournament time making a decision that may or may not matter. Combine that with the fact that this card is impossibly difficult to remove and is actually much more powerful than Second Sunrise, and you have yourself the ingredients for a bannable card. Being able to stack the top of your deck matters a lot when you can put Miracles on the top and cast a bajillion angels on your next turn. Throw in Counterbalance, which is a Modern legal card, and you have the makings of one of the most powerful Legacy decks that still continues to see play even after Top got banned. Top is a card that could enable a lot of cool strategies, but it was pushed really far and ended up being too powerful.

Sensei’s Divining Top: BAN

Skullclamp

Image result for skullclamp goldfish
Buy Skullclamp

When people talk about the greatest mistakes in card design, Skullclamp is always a card that shows up. The story famously goes that when Skullclamp was going through design, as a last-minute change to make the card less powerful they decided to make the card give +1/-1 instead of +1/+1. For any creatures with 1 toughness, for example, tokens, this card turns into a build your own repeatable Ancestral Recall (almost). Skullclamp would easily become one of the most played cards in the format, being able to slot into any deck that plays a decent amount of creatures. Combo decks could start emerging based around this card, such as Fecundity Goblins, which could easily abuse the massive card draw to kill the opponent. Skullclamp would warp the metagame, and would not be good for the format.

Skullclamp: BAN

Splinter Twin

Image result for splinter twin goldfish
Buy Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin is one of the most famous cards on the Modern banlist and for good reason. Since the beginning of Modern, Twin has always been a mainstay of the format and was considered the police of the format. If your deck couldn’t beat Twin then it wasn’t worth bringing it to any major tournament. In order to beat Twin, you had to play removal. Removal has come a long way since the time of Twin, with cards such as Fatal Push, Warping Wail, Walking Ballista, Force of Negation, Thing in the Ice, and Lava Dart becoming very common cards in the format.

Twin, of course, can play around this removal in several ways. First, they can tap down the lands you have in play and combo off even with the removal in your hand. Second, and more importantly, they can switch to a tempo gameplan and force you to hold up mana to respect the combo, allowing them to gain a lot of advantage when you don’t tap your mana. Twin could effectively play many different strategies, leveraging its potential to combo as a tool to keep other decks in check. Twin could play everything from turn 4 combo, amazing tempo, and hardcore Blue Moon control. Despite its many different angles of attack, Twin was still held in check by many different decks such as Jund and Pod up until it’s banning. If you had a good suite of removal spells and could back it up with a clock, you stood a good chance of beating Twin.

Twin was considered the police of the format because it kept a lot of strategies in check that a lot of players considered degenerate or unfun to play against. Tron struggled against Twin in the past because it did nothing for the first 3 turns of the game, giving Twin plenty of time to set up and win. (New Tron might stand a better chance with Warping Wail and Walking Ballista). With Twin out of the format, Tron became one of the top decks of the format pushing Jund out of the metagame. In order to beat Tron, you usually have to go faster than it which started to warp the metagame. Twin was a check on the format because if you wanted to go faster than turn 4 Twin could slow you down by a turn and combo you on turn 4. Interactive decks reigned supreme at the time because they were one of the best answers to Twin, but without Twin, it’s much less appealing to play interactive decks when you can just kill your opponent before turn 4.

Some would argue that Twin should stay banned because it has unfun play patterns for the opponent. You could die at any moment so you’re forced to hold up mana for kill spells even if they don’t have the combo. They can then exploit you holding up mana and flash in cards like Vendillion Clique. To this, I argue that it’s equally unfun to lose to natural Tron or to see 16 power on turn 2 with Hogaak or to get my entire board bounced to my hand and get smacked by a 7/8 and a bunch of Phoenixes. Twin may be hard to play against, but a 4 mana aura is a very beatable strategy. I believe that unbanning Twin would be a net positive for the format as Twin would force the format to slow down, something which Modern desperately needs right now.

Splinter Twin: UNBAN

Stoneforge Mystic

Image result for stoneforge mystic mtggoldfish
Buy Stoneforge Mystic

Stoneforge Mystic is a card that has never seen the light of Modern and is one of the cards most asked for to come off the banlist. When this card was banned, the initial reasoning behind it was that it would limit the design around equipment, and prevent any powerful equipment from being printed. In the past 8 years since Stoneforge Mystic was banned, they still haven’t made any equipment that are better than what was already available. Stoneforge Mystic was banned due to its crimes in Standard, but we now live in a world that is very different from that Standard environment.

One of the main arguments against Stoneforge Mystic is that in the decks that it would see play (UW Control and Abzan midrange) it would become polarizing and force all other decks of that ilk to play Stoneforge. Stoneforge is a very powerful card, but I doubt that it would have this kind of effect on these decks. If UW control were to pick up this card, they would be sacrificing one of the strengths of the deck of turning off removal spells in their opponent’s deck. Abzan is a variant of midrange that is seeing less and less play as time goes on, with the options in GB or Jund simply being better than anything White can offer.

Stoneforge Mystic is also a card that folds to removal. After they tutor up a Batterskull go push it off a cliff and that Batterskull will be doing them no good for a very long time. Stoneforge also lacks one of the main tools that makes it so powerful in Legacy in Umezawa’s Jitte. Without that card, the next best option is a Sword of X and Y which also costs 5 mana to use effectively. Stoneforge Mystic would still be a pain for creature-based decks, but there exist many tools to deal with Stoneforge even with just creatures, such as Reflector Mage, Knight of Autumn, Deputy of Detention and of course casting normal removal spells.

Stoneforge would be a very powerful card to add to Modern, but that doesn’t mean it will break Modern. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was a card many people believed would never be unbanned, and if it were to be unbanned would break the format. Instead, it sees play as 0-2 copies in UW control and occasionally sets up Terminus. Almost every card that was initially placed on the banlist was there for good reasons when the format was created, but times have changed and Magic is in a completely different place now than it was in Worldwake Standard. Stoneforge would see play, but the odds of Stoneforge breaking Modern in the way that Hogaak did is slim to none and makes it one of the safest unbans in my opinion.

Stoneforge Mystic: UNBAN

Summer Bloom

Image result for summer bloom mtggoldfish
Buy Summer Bloom

When they designed this card they probably thought that it would end up being a cute card that might see some play in EDH. Of course, as many things go in Modern, once people are able to figure out an unintended interaction, things can go awry. With Amulet of Vigor and the Karoo lands from Ravnica, this card could easily cast a Primeval Titan as early as turn 2 which is extremely fast and puts the game far out of reach of most decks. Banning this card knocked Amulet Titan down a few pegs, but the deck is still a consistent performer, even if it has to use sub-par pieces such as Azusa. Even if Amulet Titan were to disappear from the metagame, unbanning this card would probably lead to more harm than good and as a result should probably stay banned.

Summer Bloom: BAN

Treasure Cruise

Image result for treasure cruise mtggoldfish
Buy Treasure Cruise

The fact that they printed this card at common just goes to show how badly we underestimated the Delve mechanic. There have been a lot of cards in the past that can get a cmc as low as one to draw 2 cards, but drawing 3 cards for one mana was just unheard of in Modern. And instead of having to play artifacts or deal damage to the opponent, all you have to do is fill your graveyard with cards, something that is trivially easy to achieve in Modern. Your reward for filling the graveyard with 7 cards is an Ancestral Recall which only helps to enable future Treasure Cruise’s. Treasure Cruise was a design mistake and the format is healthier without it.

Treasure Cruise: BAN

Umezawa’s Jitte

Image result for umezawa's jitte mtggoldfish
Buy Umezawa’s Jitte

Umezawa’s Jitte is a nightmare of a card to deal with in creature matchups. With this card in the format, creature matchups evolve into who can connect with Jitte first. Deal combat damage once (doesn’t even need to hit face!) and you can dictate the pace of the game however you want. The one place where Jitte struggles is against control decks as they can just keep your field free of anything that could swing in, and the modes on the card become pretty irrelevant. Even if Jitte does bad against creatureless control, Jitte is still much too polarizing of an effect for any creature decks in Modern and would become a must-play card. Unbanning Jitte would damage the format more than it would help.

Umezawa’s Jitte: BAN

Conclusion

With this article, I finally conclude my discussion of the banlist! In general, I feel that the Modern banlist is fairly well-curated with most of the cards deserving of their place. However, there are quite a few cards on the banlist that I feel should come off the list that could actually provide some very positive benefits to Modern. I feel that it is important to start a discussion about the banlist, and see whether the cards on the banlist deserve their exile or not. Many people are sure to disagree with me, and I hope that this can create a conversation that can reveal more insight into the banlist. Here are my verdicts for all the cards on the banlist:

Artifact Lands: BAN
Birthing Pod: UNBAN
Blazing Shoal: BAN
Bridge From Below: BAN
Chrome Mox: BAN
Cloudpost: BAN
Dark Depths: BAN
Deathrite Shaman: BAN
Dig Through Time: BAN
Dread Return: BAN
Eye of Ugin: BAN
Gitaxian Probe: BAN
Glimpse of Nature: BAN
Golgari Grave-Troll: BAN
Green Sun’s Zenith: BAN
Hypergenesis: BAN
Krark-Clan Ironworks: BAN
Mental Misstep: BAN
Ponder: BAN
Preordain: BAN
Punishing Fire: BAN
Rite of Flame: BAN
Second Sunrise: BAN
Seething Song: BAN
Sensei’s Divining Top: BAN
Skullclamp: BAN
Splinter Twin: UNBAN
Stoneforge Mystic: UNBAN
Summer Bloom: BAN
Treasure Cruise: BAN
Umezawa’s Jitte: BAN

Artifact Lands through Dread Return discussion

Eye of Ugin through Preordain discussion

Only 3 cards on this list are easy for me to happily say that I would unban them. Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, and Stoneforge are all cards that operate along a much fairer axis of Magic than most of the banlist. There are some cards on this list that I could see getting unbanned, either because power creep has caught up and made other options much better (Preordain) or because Modern is degenerate enough that we might as well try to fight fire with fire (Deathrite Shaman) but these cards have the potential to shift the format in the wrong direction. Then there are other cards that could come off if other cards were to ever get banned such as the Artifact Lands and Mox Opal or Green Sun’s Zenith and Dryad Arbor. I don’t support banning one card so another one can be tested, but these are cards that I feel could almost be safe except for one small problem that stops them from even being in the question of unbans. If you disagree with me, please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to read and respond to what you guys have to say. Thank you all for reading, I hope you have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!

Sharing is caring!