Jumping On the Ban-wagon – April 4th MTG Banned and Unbanned

With the release of a new set, along with the speculation, brews, limited events and great pulls, comes Wizards’ update to the Banned and Restricted list for each constructed format. This can be a bittersweet time, especially for Modern format players, as they see old adversaries crippled and see the format change in ways that create a new metagame and open new construction possibilities.

The card(s) to be banned in Modern with the release of Shadows Over Innistrad is Eye of UginAncestral Vision and Sword of the Meek are unbanned.

Eye Of Ugin

A reason for the banning of Eye of Ugin hardly needs to be stated, given the deck’s gross over representation at competitive events, posting a 26 – 30% rate of making the top 8 of competitive events, and a staggering 27% of the overall meta. It would be safe to say that the player base at large is glad to see the aggressive Eldrazi strategy go. For the die hard Eldrazi fans, hope is not lost, as there have been a few designs circulated that play the spaghetti-monsters in a Tron-like big mana shell.

As many players have pointed out, the frequency of deck-crippling bannings seems to be almost a yearly event, of which ‘Eldrazi Aggro’, ‘Twin’ and ‘Bloom-Titan’ are the latest victims. From these observations have stemmed extrapolations, bordering on accusations, aimed at Wizards’ methodology for keeping the format interesting and watchable. The most commonly touted theory is that, with Modern as a Pro-Tour format, Wizards have to keep the format from becoming boring to watch and have banned (and by extension, will continue to ban) cards in such a way that the most represented deck in the format is less playable, bringing new decks into the light.

In order to better understand the reason for the frequency of bannings of late, it is necessary to take a trip back to August 2011, when the format was first unveiled.

At the time of the format’s inception, the banlist was created as an amalgamated list of the cards warping the current extended format, as well as cards that were notorious from their days in either extended or standard (type 2 for you veterans out there), and thus contains cards such as the Artifact Lands, Skullclamp, Umezawa’s Jitte, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Hypergenesis, Stoneforge Mystic and Sensei’s Divining Top. More surprising is the inclusion of cards around which some of today’s decks are built, including Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Golgari Grave-Troll and Bitterblossom.

Bitterblossom-ArtWizards also outlined their philosophy for the Modern format, in that players should not be able to win, or own a controlling stake in the game before turn four. Wizards has since taken steps in the form of bannings to prevent such decks from existing.

Coming to the time of the Worlds Championship, the format’s main contenders were ‘Zoo’, ’12-Post’, ‘Twin’, ‘Storm’, ‘Melira-Pod’ and ‘Affinity’. Of these decks, only ‘Affinity’ (discounting ‘Zoo’ as it has since lost Bloodbraid Elf and Punishing Fire, and morphed into a go-wide creature deck) has truly survived the five years between inception and today, every other deck having had key pieces banned.

The first round of bannings for the newly christened format include Cloudpost, Green Sun’s Zenith, Blazing Shoal, Ponder, Preordain and Rite of Flame. Notably, the latter four cards of that list were in response to the raw power of ‘Storm’ and ‘Dragonstorm’ decks in a format which presented few cheap countermagic spells. Ponder and Preordain were also banned as a means of reducing the reliability with which other combo decks found their essential pieces. Later that year, the combo of Grove of the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire was removed from the format with the banning of the latter piece.

In September 2012, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle got unbanned, but not before the powerhouse cards of Abrupt Decay, Huntmaster of the Fells, Liliana of the Veil, Lingering Souls and Deathrite Shaman were all printed. With these cards, ‘Rock-X’ decks (‘Jund’, ‘Abzan’/’Junk’ and WBRG decks) saw a massive jump in playability, dominating 15% of top 8 finishes for the year and subsequently the most played variant, ‘Jund’, lost its ultimate value card – Bloodbraid Elf, which was banned in January with the introduction of the Gatecrash set.

Also in the January banning was the inclusion of Seething Song, which crippled ‘Storm’ decks. The choice of Seething Song was in order to curb the consistency of Storm‘s turn three winrate and bring it in line with Wizards design for the format. This ban came largely as a surprise to the player base, since Storm decks were posting meager results and not skewing the format in any significant manner.

Later in 2013, Second Sunrise was banned due to an overwhelming ‘no-fun’ factor, essentially removing the deck ‘Second Breakfast’ from Modern, though its spirit continues in the deck ‘Eggs’. This deck’s frustrating nature is perfectly summed up in coverage from GP San Diego, in a match between Nathan Holiday (‘Second Breakfast’) and Brian Kibler (‘Planeswalker Zoo’). Kibler sees that the loop is about to begin when he has no responses in hand, so he picks up a piece of paper, scrawls F6 on it (the MTGO shortcut for pass priority on all events) and watches while his opponent continues to combo. The video can be found here.

rc209_second_sunrise

As a result of the continued dominance of ‘Rock’ decks in the format, Deathrite Shaman was banned in January of 2014, ending a 16 month period of legality in the format. From this point we saw Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod banned in early 2015, the former two as a result of R&D not designing with Modern specifically in mind. The latter was banned due to the unique toolbox style options open to ‘Melira-Pod’ players. Deck construction could contain a large number of singleton silver-bullet cards to deal with the meta dictated threats, and that number increased during sideboarding. It was not at all uncommon for ‘Melira-Pod’ players to take 25 card sideboards to events, and whittle the choices down to 15 by observing the decks being played before the main event.

Earlier this year, we had another multiple banning in Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom, eliminating a tier one deck with roots tying to the birth of the format, and a fringe deck with surprising consistency and remarkable resilience. The banning of Splinter Twin upset a large portion of the player base, whose argument was that it fit perfectly into design parameters, not overly controlling, not winning before turn four and not an unbeatable combo. The reality of the situation is that the deck dominated the format since its beginnings, along with affinity, posting results no matter what was popular, or new, or the flavour of the month.

It is quite clear from observing the changes made to the B&R list that Wizards is not yet happy with the position some of its older decks occupy in the format and that further bans will follow, but what players must keep in mind is that Modern is quite a young format. Prior to this B&R list update and discounting the original banned list, the format had seen seventeen cards banned (half of which occurred in the first six months) and four unbannings in its nearly four and a half year history. In comparison, Legacy (or type 1.5), before its segregation from Vintage, received nearly 40 card bannings in its 8 year lifespan. When put in context, the changes to Modern show Wizards’ ability to both learn from past mistakes and work towards a goal for a format with increased efficiency.

Of course, anger is one of the seven stages of grieving, and with bannings come players lashing out at other cards and strategies, pointing fingers, and calls for every card under the sun to be banned. Across the internet, after the Twin banning and throughout Eldrazi Winter, players were calling for the banning of all forms of fast mana. Affinity has been around forever? Ban Mox Opal or Cranial Plating. UR Eldrazi uses Simian Spirit Guide for more explosive starts? Ban it. This approach is not only unconstructive, but speaks to the entitled attitude of the format’s players, wanting to “take their ball and go home” every time something changes.

cranial-plating-627x280

Players seem to have also drawn a false equivalency between the cost of entry to the format, and the expectation that the cards will forever maintain price or playability. The reality of the situation is that non-rotating does not mean immunity to format refinement in the form of bannings. Modern is yet to reach a place where Wizards are happy with its relative power level and diversity and, until that point, the B&R list will continue to change. Additionally, Magic and card games in general are one of the few hobbies in which the exit value is rarely less than the entry price; you can’t sell used football boots, or model kits for what you paid for them, unlike fetches, Tarmogoyfs and the like.

Wizards have given players their mission statement, to create a fun and diverse format in which losing before turn four is a rarity. Despite knowing this statement, players choose to buy into decks that win before this timeframe (Storm/Bloom), establish a standoff before this time (Twin) or win through arbitrarily long combos (Sunrise) and for that, the owners of such decks have no one but themselves to blame.

Regardless of the reactions of a vocal few, the format will endure, the recent triple-GP weekend posting massive attendance and the continual growth of the price of staples demonstrates that well enough. Though if the past is any indication of the future, players will continue to be shocked and angered when the next card is banned, so be ready to hear this all over again in 3-12 months.

The official Wizards of the Coast article can be found here.

What are your thoughts on the banning and un-banned decisions?

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