The Modern Banned List
By Cody Balsizer
By Cody Balsizer
With all of the discussion across various online forums, the twitterverse, and personal blogs about the upcoming B/R List announcement and how Modern may or may not be affected, I decided to write a small article on my opinion of the ban list and what I feel should be addressed, changed, and left alone. My voice may not carry the weight as somebody like Brian Kibler or Sam Black, but I am hoping that after you read this you will have a greater understanding of the ban list’s purpose and a stronger grasp on how to interact with it.
Before we delve into the Modern ban list we need to establish just what exactly the ban list’s purpose is for the format. First, and let’s be very clear on this, the ban list is not some kind of molding tool used to shape the format to one’s liking. Just because GBx Midrange is the best deck does not mean you need to turn on the ban hammer as a way to balance the format. Almost always formats can be balanced and worked by new card entering the pool either from a new release or, in a more rare case, by unbanning something already on the list. So remember, the ban list is not our personal pottery wheel. We do not use it to shape the format to our liking. That is the job of card design. The ban list exists as a permanent check for the format. It is the Supreme Court to the Executive and Legislative branch. It merely exists to ensure the format it governs over is still playable and relatively healthy.
Because the ban list is as such, a last line of defense, it is something to be treated with respect and care. When something is put on the ban list there is a much greater repercussion then that card simply not being legal anymore. It sets a precedent for any and every future card and it alters the player’s views on the format. The banning of a card carries a significant weight, and that weight is often left even if the card is unbanned. This makes banning cards a very serious and very tough decision. There is a reason only twice in the history of Modern Magic has something been banned from Type II (Standard). There is a reason there was no action taken during Fae’s dominance or Jund’s dictatorship. There is a reason the banning of Stoneforge and Jace came so late into the CawBlade era. Banning something, especially in smaller formats, lead to player distrust and overall apprehension on participating in formats with a very liberal ban list.
Abuse of the ban list leads to play hesitance and a poor image in the gaming community. “Yea that Magic Game is fun, but they ban stuff too much. How can I trust that the next deck I build won’t get banned?” Much of the discussion I see on this upcoming announcement is treading on some of this seriously dangerous water.
Also, before we delve into actual discussion of what can/should be removed and added, we must also be reminded that it is a format’s goal to have as short of a banned list as possible. You want your player base to be able to play with as many cards as your format allows. Obviously there will be cards that simply cannot be unbanned, but more often than not, and especially with Modern, the banned list is inflated and could easily be trimmed down.
First, before we look at unbanning anything from the list, we need to see if there is anything worth banning. Often you want to ensure the format is balanced and healthy before you start injecting 20cc of format altering cards into it. So in our current Modern metagame, there have been a few candidates for banning. Let’s go over them to see if they meet the criteria:
Deathrite Shaman: The most popular card being talked about as a potential ban is our little friend DRS. Many point to Deathrite as a card that is far too efficient for its cost. Its ability to deter graveyard bases strategies while providing reach, acceleration, and in times of need life gain, all for the low low cost of one mana, make him fall into the same ban principle as Wild Nacatl and that he deserves a ban.
While I personally don’t believe Deathrite should be banned (and I will explain in a second why), I do think if you had the itch to ban something from the format using the principles set out in front of us by WotC, then DRS would be the card to hit. However, I think Deathrite is not a good card to be put on the chopping block. First, Deathrite isn’t really all that degenerate. It is a strong card sure, but it’s a completely fair card.
Birthing Pod: I know a lot of people have also looked to Birthing Pod as another potential ban in the same vein of something like Survival. Birthing Pod is probably the strongest card in the format; you can see just strong Pod is by watching basically any Pod match. Many have added that if Green Sun’s Zenith is banned for being an efficient tutor then Pod should also be banned. However, Pod requires a whole deck skeleton to function whereas GSZ just requires playing green dudes (which is already the best thing!). The fact is Pod will probably end up being a card, like Survival, that will have a critical mass of creatures that abuse its tutoring power. However, as of now, Pod permits midrange green decks (besides Rock) to exist.
Fetchlands: I also see some people commentating on the removal of fetches. Personally, I think banning fetches has to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. FetchShock is ICONIC to Modern. Not only are fetches benefactors to the format by single handily making a ton decks actually possible, but it is one of the first things people identify with this the format, even now Modern struggles with identity. What does it mean to play Modern? Can you sum the format up in a few sentences? What are the poster cards of the format? Modern is still trying to answers these questions ut everybody who knows Modern knows that FetchShock is the popular mana base. It is the Modern equivalent to FetchABUDual for Legacy. Are fetches incredibly powerful? Yea, but like Brainstorm in Legacy they do more for the formats identity and bring more players to the format then they deter. The only problem with fetches right now is that they are very expensive and need to be reprinted en-masse, but that is a different problem entirely.
That said, the format is not without its problems. People often cite the format as being unhealthy because of the dominance of midrange and combo and the lack of aggro and control. I agree that the format could be healthier, but it’s not because the midrange and combo cards are so absurdly bonkers, but rather because aggro and control are suffering. This leads to midrange becoming inbred to the point where playing the best midrange deck is one of the best options and since the best midrange deck has a strong combo matchup; it is a natural fit to be the boogeyman of the format.
Now that we have determined that the format is healthy enough to not warrant any bans, let’s look at what could be unbanned. Now when deciding what to unban, we want to be sure that the card being considering isn’t breaking any rules for the format. Given that, these are my suggestions:
Wild Nacatl: I understand why WotC banned Nacatl, though I didn’t agree with it. They wanted aggro to be a archetype that wasn’t just Zoo and Nacatl made it so if you aren’t playing Zoo, you weren’t playing the best aggro deck.. Sadly, all the banning of Nacatl did was eliminate aggro as an archetype. You can’t ban things because it is the best of a class of decks. There are always going to be the best decks and the best cards, no matter how much you ban. People mock the banning of Kird Ape in Old Extended; Nacatl banning is suffering the same mockery.
Sword of the Meek: Ah yes Thopter-Sword, half of the Gerry Thompson special ThopterDepths. This combo was once a feared component of Old Extended but was only truly broken because it sad next to HexDepths. Nearly every deck in the format couldn’t attack both combos. Now the card pool is bigger and HexDepths is banned. The format can support this combo and this is a great inevitable win con for the future of control decks.
Bitterblossom: Bitterblossom is a very strong card but is it broken? Bitterblossom will help push Fae up to top tier level, creating another aggro-control deck similar to UWR. It has been nearly 6 years since Bitterblossom was running Standard and now with cards like Abrupt Decay this card has much more competition and many more checks.
Personally, I think all three of the above cards should be unbanned. By strengthening the extremes of the format you begin to stretch the midrange decks thin. They have to playing less “good stuff” cards that is all around fine in favor of more streamlined cards more dedicated to either aggro or control. This will help diversify the midrange decks, creating an all-around more balanced metagame.
Not to mention it would make a hell of a pro tour!