22, Jan, 22

It's Time to UNBAN Deathrite Shaman in MTG Modern

Article at a Glance

Sometimes Magic cards are too good. They’re overpowered and warp the balance of the game. This was the case with Deathrite Shaman in Modern and as a result, Wizards of the Coast banned the card from the format.

Modern’s banned list is pretty long and is comprised of notorious cards that at one point or another broke the game. But just because a card is banned doesn’t mean it is necessarily banned forever.

Jace and Bloodbraid Elf were banned in Modern since the format’s inception in 2011. When WOTC unbanned the cards in 2018, many players were skeptical the cards would take over Modern. Turn to today, and these cards blend into the format with no cause for concern.

Still, the banned list is a touchy topic amongst Magic: the Gathering players.

Some people rally behind unbanning fan-favorite cards. But other people argue that unbanning those exact same cards would turn Modern on its head.

In my opinion, it’s always worth hypothetically asking, “Does this card deserve to be banned?” And in the case of Deathrite Shaman, I believe the answer is no. It is time to free Deathrite Shaman and I have several reasons why.

Will Deathrite Shaman be Unbanned in MTG Modern?

Deathrite Shaman | Wizards of the Coast

“Will WOTC unban Shaman?” vs “Should WOTC unban Shaman?”

These are two very different questions.

Wizards of the Coast tends to be overly cautious when it comes to unbanning cards. As they should be! Banned cards have ruined the game before, and they could ruin it again. So, will they unban Deathrite Shaman? I wouldn’t put any money on it.

But I do think they should unban Deathrite Shaman. Modern is in a very different place now compared to when Deathrite Shaman was originally banned. The overall power level of the format rose. There are new ways to deal with Shaman. And the entire metagame transformed. Let’s analyze each of these points in more detail.

#1) The Power Level of Modern Rose

Here’s the reason WOTC gave for unbanning Jace, the Mindsculptor, and Bloodbraid Elf: “Over time, the power level of Modern increases naturally as the card pool grows… The rest of the format has caught up in power level [to these cards].”

I think this holds true for Deathrite Shaman. Modern is in a very different place than it was when Deathrite Shaman was originally banned. Amongst other factors, Modern Horizons 2 was released. This set alone turned up the power level of the format with cards such as Solitude, Murktide Regent, and Urza’s Saga.

MH2 even released Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, a card that is quite comparable to Deathrite Shaman.

Ragavan vs Deathrite

Ragavan checks a lot of the same boxes that Deathrite Shaman does. It can be played early in the game and produces mana. But it still holds tremendous value in the late game as it can accrue card advantage every time it hits an enemy player.

While Ragavan is undoubtedly strong, it isn’t ruining the format. If you want to know more about this, I wrote an entire article on this matter: Ragavan is a Perfectly Acceptable MTG Modern Card

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#2) New, Prevelent Removal Spells Kill Shaman

“Bolt the bird.”

This is a classic expression amongst Modern players. If your opponent plays a Birds of Paradise on Turn 1, you should almost always respond by killing it with a Lighting Bolt (if you can).

You don’t have to literally have Lighting Bolt in this situation. Any one-mana removal spell will do. Like this one:

If you look at the top decks in the current Modern format, there is a lack of noticeable lack of Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. These cards were once Modern staples, but now they are practically extinct.

What happened?

Prismatic Ending was printed in Modern Horizons 2 and the card pervaded the Modern format. It can answer any permanent your opponent plays on Turn 1, including Deathrite Shaman.

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#3) Where Would Deathrite Shaman Fall into Today’s Modern Metagame?

The Modern metagame of today is drastically different than the metagame of 2014, when Deathrite Shaman was banned. Just take a look at the top 10 decks:

The Modern metagame on 1/21/22 | MTGGOLDFISH

What Decks Would Play Deathrite Shaman?

The scariest part about unbanning a card is that it could take over the format. There have been cards in the past like Oko, Thief of Crowns which got banned because nearly every deck was playing it.

But I don’t think that’s the case with Deathrite Shaman.

Looking at the top 10 Modern decks of today, I only see one deck that Deathrite Shaman naturally fits into–Jund, the deck that Shaman was banned from in the first place.

Other decks that could adapt the card are Yawgmoth Combo and possibly Gruul Midrange. And new decks could pop pop up as a result of unbanning Deathrite Shaman. But I don’t think Shaman would overrun the format.

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What Decks Would Lose to Deathrite Shaman?

There are reasons for banning a card beyond it being in every deck. Even if a card is only played in one deck, it might push that deck over the top of the remaining metagame.

But would Deathrite Shaman dominate the metagame? Looking at the top 10 decks, I don’t think so. Shaman is good against slower decks like Azorius Control and possibly Blink. But the rest of the decks are either extremely interactive or aim to win before Deathrite Shaman could really make an impact on the game.

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