Examining the Modern Banned List

Modern is often a heated subject for Magic players. Some people love things just as they are, and others would like to see major changes to the format. Everything from new bannings to unbans are common points of discussion about the format.

I tend to fall into the latter camp of wishing Modern was a bit different than it is now. Today, I am going to break this article up into two different parts. First, I am going to examine some of what I consider to be inconsistencies in the Modern banned list. By this I mean I am going to look at cards that are currently banned that are fairly similar to cards that remain legal.

Second, I am going to describe my ideal Modern format. People often ask me what Modern would look like if I had full control of the ban list, so I am going to share what my perfect Modern format would look like as a rough draft.

Inconsistencies in the Banned List

Fast Mana

Banned: Chrome Mox and Rite of Flame

Legal: Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide

Mox Opal
Simian Spirit Guide

These are the cards that stand out the most to me with regards to the Modern banned list. Chrome Mox and Rite of Flame are banned because they allow players to create too much mana too quickly. Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide, on the other hand, do the exact same thing and remain legal in the format.

Fast Combo Kills

Banned: Summer Bloom

Legal: Goryo’s Vengeance

Goryo's Vengeance

While there are a number of things that goldfish a turn two kill that are still legal in Modern, I feel like the most direct comparison to Summer Bloom is Goryo’s Vengeance. For those unfamiliar, Summer Bloom was banned because Amulet of Vigor, Summer Bloom, a bounce land (such as Simic Growth Chamber), and a Primeval Titan could end the game on turn two.

Goryo’s Vengeance, on the other hand, simply requires a discard outlet, such as Faithless Looting, and a copy of Griselbrand. Then you can fill your deck with cards that let you win the game from there when you draw 14 or more cards on the second turn.

In fact, both of these combos in conjunction with a (still legal) Simian Spirit Guide can end the game on the very first turn with the right draw.

Value 4-drops

Banned: Bloodbraid Elf

Legal: Collected Company

Collected Company

Bloodbraid Elf often gets us two cards for the price of one, but sometimes it cascades into a discard spell while your opponent is empty handed or finds a removal spell while your opponent has no board. Collected Company often finds us two creatures, but sometimes it whiffs on finding anything useful or anything at all.

Bloodbraid Elf is good against counter magic because it casts two different spells. Collected Company is good against counter magic because it is an instant. Bloodbraid Elf has the drawback of being two colors. Collected Company has the drawback of a deck-building restriction of the creatures you need to play.


Banned: Ponder

Legal: Ancient Stirrings

Ancient Stirrings

Ponder is banned because it gives powerful strategies like Storm too much consistency. It allows the caster to see up to 4 cards to find what they are looking for. Ancient Stirrings gives decks like Tron and Lantern Control lots of consistency. It lets them see five cards to find what they are looking for. Yes, Stirrings comes with a deck-building restriction, but the decks that get to play this powerful cantrip want to be playing colorless cards anyways.

Delve Cards

Banned: Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise

Legal: Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Gurmag Angler
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are banned because cards like Thought Scour and fetch lands make getting extra cards into our discard pile far too easy in Modern. These cards provide powerful card advantage that can be difficult for other decks to keep up with.

Tasigur and Gurmag Angler are easy to cast for the same reason as Dig and Treasure Cruise. Instead of providing powerful card advantage, though, they simply kill your opponent very quickly. The best source of card advantage is killing your opponent with cards still in their hand.

Big Mana Lands

Banned: Cloudpost

Legal: Urza Lands

Urza's Power Plant
Urza's Tower
Urza's Mine

Cloudpost is very good at casting very large spells in the midgame (turns 4-6). Urza Lands are very good at casting imposing threats like Karn Liberated and Wurmcoil Engine on turns 3-4. In a format as fast as Modern tends to be, having large threats consistently on turns 3-4 is often better than having something even larger later on.

My Ideal Modern

I would like to preface this section with the comment that if you enjoy Modern as it is now, that is great. Different people like different things. I almost certainly do not expect everyone to agree with the list of cards I am about to present. I prefer formats where fair decks are the best decks because they encourage longer more interactive games of Magic. I enjoy playing games like Magic because they let me solve puzzles by making decisions. Longer games are more complex puzzles, so I tend to enjoy them more.

From the current Modern banned list, I would unban:

From the cards that are still legal in Modern, I would ban:

The goal of these changes would be to push the format toward more midrange decks. Not just fair midrange decks though — but also reintroducing the midrange / control-combo decks that Splinter Twin and Birthing Pod were in the format. Win or lose, playing against Pod and Twin often left me feeling like I played “good” games of Magic. While they did have fast combo kills, they were both easy to interact with via creature removal, and often they generated longer games of Magic where both players had lots of chances to make meaningful decisions.

Green Sun’s Zenith, Bloodbraid Elf, Stoneforge Mystic, and delve spells that draw cards would open up a variety of powerful midrange and control decks in the format. They also all come with enough individual deck-building restrictions that we would not see all of these cards fit into the same deck. In fact, none of these cards would fit into Grixis Death’s Shadow, which is currently the best fair deck in Modern.

There could be an argument that Ponder is too strong of a card for Modern, especially alongside the Blue delve spells. Without decks like Tron terrorizing fair creature decks, though, I think there is likely a Voice of Resurgence / Eternal Witness / Green Sun’s Zenith powered deck that can generate similar amounts of value and consistency.

My banned list is kind of harsh, but I feel it removes the decks that create the largest “feel bads” in Modern and which beat up the decks trying to play interactive Magic. Most notably, though, my list of cards to ban does not touch powerful decks like Dredge, Titan Shift, or Burn — so there are still powerful linear decks to keep the format in check.

Grapeshot may seem like an odd ban, but honestly I think it is a correct one. I am tired of seeing supporting pieces from Storm get banned every time the deck gets a new card to make it too powerful again. Just rip the bandaid off and make Storm players combo off with Empty the Warrens, which is much easier to interact with. Interactive Magic is the goal of these changes.

Wrapping Up

What do you think of the Modern banned list? Do you think the inconsistencies I pointed out are odd as well or am I missing something? What does your ideal Modern banned list look like? Would you like a more interactive format as well, or do you prefer the more linear format we have now?

Let me know in a comment below!

—Jeff Hoogland

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