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15, Feb, 21

Modern Is a New Format After The Bans

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen the latest stunning Banned & Restricted announcement from Wizards of the Coast. A total of 15 cards got the axe over multiple formats. A single unban and a rules change also contributed to the huge Magic: The Gathering shakeup. You can find our coverage of the groundbreaking B&R update here.

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Of course, the Uro ban in Modern won’t come as a surprise to many. It was bizarrely teased in a Secret Lair announcement last week. More notably, the creators of Magic decided to ban several other cards that the community has identified as problematic. WotC also banned Field of the Dead, Mystic Sanctuary, Simian Spirit Guide, Tibalt’s Trickery, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.

As a competitive player who has enjoyed the Modern format for several years, I have several big-picture thoughts about the format post-nuclear apocalypse.

What do you think about this Modern format shakeup? Let us know!

The Modern Omnath Deck is Dead

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The most straightforward takeaway from these bans is that the Four-Color Omnath control deck that has dominated Modern since the release of Zendikar Rising is likely unplayable. This deck played Uro, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary. In fact, these three cards combined perfectly to shut other decks out of the late game by presenting so much inevitability. Omnath, Locus of Creation was pretty much just an enabler for all the broken things the deck could do, including taking infinite turns with Time Warp.

With three powerful control cards out of the picture, slow decks will have to find new paths to victory or face annihilation by aggro. I see two ways forward for control mages. First, control decks can rely on busted Planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to close. While the late game is no longer a sure thing without Uro, Field, and the Sanctuary, these ‘Walkers can still provide a ton of value. Modern still boasts good, cheap interactive spells like Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Mana Leak. The challenge will be to use these effectively when you don’t have recursive threats like Uro and Mystic Sanctuary to back you up.

The second option I see is for control players to pick up good old Jund. Before Uro’s printing, this pile of good cards like Thoughtseize, Liliana of the Veil, and Bloodbraid Elf was the best way to painstakingly grind out the W in Modern. Most importantly, Jund gets to play the new best Titan in the format, Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger!

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I would love to see a new control deck emerging, like a phoenix, from the pile of ashes left over by the bans. You can catch me trying to make Temur Reclamation happen in Modern on Magic: The Gathering Online!

Modern Combo Decks Were Blown Up

Modern bans have a history of causing unforeseen ripples through the format and destroying fun decks that played problematic cards. When Faithless Looting was axed to suppress the Izzet Phoenix menace, that ban also killed the Hollow One deck. The same thing happened with the Mox Opal ban, which blew up several cool decks like Dice Tron and Affinity.

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This time, Modern combo players will have to pick up the pieces after the surprise banning of Simian Spirit Guide. At first glance, you might think that WotC did this to help deal with newer busted decks like Valki Cascade and Tibalt’s Trickery. But the banning of the card Tibalt’s Trickery and the Cascade rules change already achieved this.

What this ban has actually done is to kill or depower a whole swathe of unfair Modern decks. Decks like Neobrand, Ad Nauseam, and Prison all relied on SSG to accelerate their kill by a turn. This ban represents a clear statement of intent by Wizards to dial back the speed and volatility of Modern.

I don’t dislike this decision, as Guide existed solely to do broken and often unfun things. This ban might allow midrange and slower beatdown decks like Eldrazi Tron to see more play.

Magic is Changing Its Ban Philosophy

While browsing social media after the announcement, I found this take that summarized my thoughts on this B&R update as a whole very well:

WotC stated several times in their announcement that they were shaking up the formats after listening to community feedback. This reflects a paradigm shift for Magic‘s publishers, as they seemingly did not rely exclusively on hard data on win rates and matchups for their decisions.

At a time where so many matches are being played every day on platforms like Magic Arena and MTGO, I think it’s pretty refreshing that WotC is willing to make big changes when things get stale or when the community voices real concerns.

Skeptics might argue that this could lead us down a slippery slope, where complaining on Twitter could get cards banned. I actually think that WotC is actively addressing their design mistakes of 2020, rather than just folding to pressure from loud community voices. In fact, I think they waited too long to “unprint” Uro by kicking him out of multiple formats.

Hopefully, Play Design has learned their lesson about broken cards that cheat on mana, and moving forward we’ll see fewer bans.

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