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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Feb 13 2018 1:00pm
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(Manager's Note:  Typically we do not run more than one piece from a writer a week, outside of special circumstances.  The recent unbanning in Modern is one of those circumstances, and we're happy to have Oliver's thoughts on the exciting news!) 

Hello!

 

Welcome to another Modern Musings!  This article is written on the day of 12th February which provided big changes to the banned and restricted list in Modern.

BACKGROUND

There was a lot of talk about the ban list coming off of the first Modern Pro Tour in a long time in Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.  PTRIX was an overwhelming success; with many stating it was the best Pro Tour event in some time.  The Modern format really shined showcasing a huge number of different decks and archetypes and demonstrating a well balanced format with lots of deck options.  The Top 8 of the Pro Tour featured 7 different archetypes in Lantern Control, UR Pyromancer, Mardu Pyromancer, Five-Colour Humans (x2), RB Hollow One, Abzan and Traverse Death's Shadow.

Lantern of Insight

There was some concern expressed about the power of Lantern Control coming off its Pro Tour win but little evidence of dominance.  This was backed up by Grand Prix Toronto where a wholly different set of decks made it to the top.  This saw a Top 8 of Bogles, Grishoalbrand, Jeskai Control, Elves, Affinity, Burn (x2) and Traverse Death's Shadow.

Overall my perspective was that the format was in a very healthy place going into the banned and restricted announcement.  I saw little evidence to really support a ban with such a wide open format.

There was also some intrigue about unbans.  The most prominent rumour being that as Jace, the Mind Sculptor is confirmed for the upcoming Masters 25 set, Wizards might look to unban Jace in Modern to increase demand for the card.

ANNOUNCEMENT

On 12th February 2018, Wizards made the announcement that two cards would be coming off the banned and restricted list.  Two cards that some people have been clamouring to get off the list for a long-time:

Jace, the Mind SculptorBloodbraid Elf

So, why are these cards being unbanned?  Wizards general reasons were several:

  • Modern's return to the Pro Tour, shining a spotlight on the format, makes this a great time to revisit past decisions and see if they still make sense in the current era.
  • The data we gathered both from the Pro Tour itself and from the several weeks of Magic Online play as pro players tested for the event have helped us cross-check our decisions against what's doing well in the real world.
  • Compared to other B&R windows, this one has the maximum amount of time before another Modern Pro Tour. This will allow the format to breathe and evolve without immediately undergoing the pressures of the world's top competition.
  • The reprint of Jace in Masters 25 will provide greater availability for our player base.

The most prevalent reasoning to me is that Jace is going to be in Masters 25 and this is a good marketing tool.  I also query when card availability became a reason for a card to be banned or unbanned in any format, as I have never heard this used as a justification before.  I honestly thought Wizards would have more integrity than to unban a card to sell a product but this smacks of what they are doing here.  I am quite disappointed in Wizards in that regard.

I also query how any of the data they got from the Pro Tour can really inform their decision as to whether Jace and Bloodbraid Elf are safe to unban.  How does a information on the format without those cards truly inform what the format would be like with them in play?  The conclusion seems to be that not a lot of successful decks run 4-drops so unbanning 4-drops is probably alright.

JACE, THE MIND SCULPTOR

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Let's take the unbans in turn and take a look at their potential impacts.  Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been banned in Modern since its inception which was not too far off its Standard dominance.  As such it's difficult to have a true frame of reference for how good Jace will be in Modern.  In Standard, Jace was extremely powerful and the player who kept Jace in play the longest would often win the game, not usually immediately but in the long run.  Jace has a frightening ability to Brainstorm, which considering you cannot Ponder or Preordain in Modern is pretty nuts.  It can also Fateseal, bounce creatures to protect Jace and if you haven't already won the game his ultimate is very likely to win the game.

That said, in Jace's defence, there are a limited number of 4-mana spells that see heavy play in Modern.  Four mana cards that are good in Modern are admittedly limited to cards like Cryptic Command, Collected Company, Thought-Knot Seer and Scapeshift.  They are certainly a rarified breed but it would silly to suggest that Jace, TMS is not up there in terms of power level.

Perhaps the Jace unban will not amount to much but I find it hard to imagine that a card of its power will not be at least somewhat problematic.

BLOODBRAID ELF

Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf is an unban that I am much more on-board with.  Bloodbraid has history in the format and was banned at a time that Jund had really secured its position as the top deck in the format.  However, it can be very strongly argued that BBE died for Deathrite Shaman's sins.  Deathrite Shaman was a fairly new addition to the deck at the time - and as such either a lack of understanding or a desire to keep a newly released card playable led to BBE taking the ban and not Deathrite Shaman.

Deathrite Shaman
The banhammer eventually caught up with Deathrite Shaman

Deathrite was eventually banned but Bloodbraid Elf remained banned in spite of this.  This unban finally looks to correct that situation.  Bloodbraid is certainly a powerful card, and at times quite an unfair one, but it is primarily played in Jund (a midrange and fair deck).  Jund has seen a major downturn in play since its heyday and Abzan has increasingly become the colours of choice for that deck.  The return of BBE may help revitalise the Jund archetype which for me isn't unwelcome.  Also, we have seen a drop off in players running  Siege Rhino, which is a card that is somewhat akin to BBE, even in Abzan decks which might indicate that Bloodbraid might not shine too brightly in the current metagame.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, I have rather mixed emotions about the latest banned and restricted announcement.  For me this was a case of a format not being broken, so I query why Wizards felt the need to shake things up.  The main motivation seems to me to sell packs of Masters 25 by making the chase mythic a more desirable card - which I do not think is a very fair way to decide on a format's banned list.  I also do not think it sets a great precedent for the Modern banlist which has been criticised a few times for having unclear and/or inconsistent rules that make it difficult to understand.

We will see how things play out and if Jace and Bloodbraid improve the format or end up generating a dominating deck that make the format less diverse that it currently is.  Perhaps this will all be overblown and the unbans will not be overly impactful, as has been the case with some past unbans like Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision.  However, I think these are bigger risks than they have taken recently.

Let me know your thoughts on Jace, TMS and Bloodbraid Elf coming back into the format.  I will be interesting to hear everyone's point of view.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)

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