Today, Wizards of the Coast sent out a ban announcement that ultimately resulted in nothing getting banned in any format. This comes a little over two months after Preordain was unbanned in Modern and Mind’s Desire was unbanned in Legacy. This ban announcement in particular came as a big surprise to a lot of players. Part of the reason why had to do with the fact that neither The One Ring nor anything from Rakdos Scam in Modern were touched. On top of that, though, unbanning cards doesn’t happen super often.
Wizards of the Coast in their announcement of unbanning Preordain made it clear that they wanted to reduce the overall size of the banlist when appropriate. Preordain was unbanned, in part, to help improve blue decks like Izzet Murktide that were starting to fall out of favor, especially with the dominance of Orcish Bowmasters. Secondly, while Preordain added a lot of extra consistency to Izzet combo decks like Storm and Splinter Twin combo, those decks have since seen bannings, making the unbanning of Preordain more reasonable.
It is interesting to see, though, that multiple of the unbannings in recent years, especially in Modern, weren’t outrageously impactful. For example, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf were unbanned in Modern back in 2018. Frankly, neither of those cards have completely stood the test of time. Are there other cards that could be unbanned that wouldn’t be too impactful? Today, we’re going to look at what cards we believe have the highest chance of coming off of the banlist across multiple Constructed formats. Here are the top five MTG cards that are most likely to be unbanned.
Earthcraft is an interesting combo piece that has been banned in Legacy since way back in 2003. It was actually banned at the same time as Entomb, which would later be unbanned and eventually help solidify Reanimator’s place in the Legacy metagame. The overall power level of cards in Legacy is extremely high, and elite reactive elements like Force of Will help protect players from fast combo decks.
In this sense, despite Earthcraft being a solid combo piece with cards like Squirrel Nest, the card doesn’t seem oppressively powerful when compared to other combo decks, like Dark Depths decks that utilize Crop Rotation. Earthcraft only works with basic Lands, so there’s no harm in using it to untap Gaea’s Cradle in decks like Elves, either.
Given how strong blue decks with Brainstorm are in the format, introducing a likely outdated, green-based combo into the format doesn’t seem to be very problematic. With the likes of Mind’s Desire having recently been unbanned, it also seems perfectly reasonable that Wizards of the Coast will continue to try to cut down on cards that have been on the banlist for decades.
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#4 Splinter Twin
Splinter Twin is another combo card, this time banned in the Modern format. Before Splinter Twin was ultimately banned, it had a pretty big stranglehold on the format. The goal of the deck was to use either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite alongside Splinter Twin to generate infinite copies of the Enchanted Creature. There were a couple factors that made this combo so strong at the time.
First, Exarch in particular having four toughness made it a bit tough for many decks to kill. Second, the ability of Exarch or Pestermite to tap down the opponent’s Land on their end step forced the opponent to constantly leave up extra mana and play scared. This allowed Splinter Twin players to play a longer game, which it was fully capable of doing. Using Snapcaster Mage in conjunction with Lightning Bolt and some Counterspells was a fine way to win the game.
The reality is that, in today’s game with cards like Solitude and Force of Negation available, executing this four-mana combo at Sorcery speed seems much more difficult. Similarly, the backup plan of beating down with Flash Creatures is much less likely to work. While unbanning Splinter Twin soon after Preordain would be a bit odd, it wouldn’t surprise me if Splinter Twin is eventually freed in the coming years.
#3 Walking Ballista
Walking Ballista was banned at the same time as Inverter of Truth, Kethis, the Hidden Hand and Underworld Breach in Pioneer. This came soon after Dimir Inverter absolutely crushed the set of Regional Pioneer Players Tours back in 2020. The thing is, the white-based Devotion decks featuring Heliod, Sun-Crowned that could give Ballista Lifelink and combo kill the opponent weren’t a huge representation of the metagame. Rather, it seemed like Wizards of the Coast was trying to make Pioneer significantly less combo heavy.
Since then, combo decks like Lotus Field combo and Rona, Herald of Invasion combo have emerged as top tier archetypes. White Devotion featuring Ballista doesn’t seem significantly better than either of these combo decks. Ballista would likely see play in the sideboard of decks with Karn, the Great Creator as well, but shouldn’t alter anything drastically. Given that Heliod sees basically no competitive Pioneer play, it seems reasonable for Ballista to be unbanned at some point in hopes of diversifying the metagame.
#2 Punishing Fire
Punishing Fire was largely banned because of how powerful it was alongside Grove of the Burnwillows. For three mana, you could kill a small Creature and return Punishing Fire to your hand. Eventually, you could recur Punishing Fire enough times to simply burn the opponent out. The problem is that this process is unbelievably slow. On a similar note, Punishing Fire costs two mana to deal two damage, plus another mana to recur it.
Modern is significantly more fast-paced than it was before Punishing fire was banned. While Punishing Fire did weaken small Creature decks a fair bit, this doesn’t seem to compare to how much Fury, Orcish Bowmasters and Wrenn and Six have done the same. Unbanning this card does sort of add fuel to the fire, but it simply seems too slow to compete in the current state of the format.
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#1 Green Sun’s Zenith
Green Sun’s Zenith is at the top of this list for a reason. Wizards of the Coast when unbanning Preordain mentioned that unbans could also be used to try to improve the health of the format in addition to chopping down on the lengthy banlist. Green Sun’s Zenith in Modern feels like one of the few cards that could actually accomplish this feat. As stated above with Punishing Fire, small Creature decks, such as those that utilize Aether Vial, have been relatively nonexistent in Modern. The existence of Fury and Orcish Bowmaster is a big reason why.
Green Sun’s Zenith is indeed a versatile card, allowing you to find Dryad Arbor on turn one or a win condition later in the game. This is the type of card, though, that can potentially help elevate Creature-based toolbox decks or Elf typal decks that see little to no play at the moment. Given how many ways there are to keep cheap Creatures in check, the card seems very reasonable on power level in the format too.
The only concern is possibly making Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo much stronger, but the ability for Green Sun’s Zenith to only tutor for green Creatures does help a bit in that regard. Overall, these five cards seem relatively safe to unban, and the risks associated with unbanning them appear low. Unbannings may not happen super frequently, but the surprise unbannings of Preordain and Mind’s Desire showcased that they may be more likely moving forward. Only time will tell if some of these cards see the light of day again.