On Monday, Wizards of the Coast dropped an October Banned and Restricted update of “No changes to announce for formats.” While this was always a possibility, and probably the most likely outcome, many players were hoping to see things shaken up — at least in Modern. As is natural, there are a number of different outcomes when it comes to a decision of this magnitude, so let’s take a look at them before I give my feelings on the situation.
There were a few available cards that Wizards of the Coast could have banned. Banning, however, isn’t the only action available during a B&R update.
Unbanning cards is something that comes up a lot in the days before a B&R update. While Preordain was recently unbanned and hasn’t ripped the fabric of Modern in half, frankly it hasn’t had a huge impact either.
That said, the remaining list should stay where it is. In general, the risk of unbanning something is too high, and needing to ban something a second or third time (Looking at you Golgari Grave-Troll) is a disaster.
That said, let’s go through the possible routes Wizards might have taken, at least with the Modern format, and weigh each of their merits.
No changes was the frontrunner for a reason. This was the natural choice if Wizards doesn’t want to disrupt the current Modern RCQ season by changing Modern part way through.
Personally, I’m a fan of fixing the format sooner than later for a couple of reasons. First it improves the play experience while Modern is the focus. Second, it saves people from investing in a deck as it becomes the obvious best list to play before something gets banned.
And even though this ended up being the ultimate decision, I think it is a when, not an if, that something will get the ax.
Grief seemed like the leading candidate to get shot into the sun. Scam has been a dominant force on MTGO over the last month. While Wizards doesn’t publish the full data from events anymore, we do get top 32 data, so we’ll make do with what we have.
In the last four weeks of challenge level events, Scam not only leads the pack in terms of top 32 appearances with 143 (which is more than double the next deck at 65), it also leads the number of top 8 appearances for the same timeframe, with 41 (again more than doubling 2nd place, which had 18).
Scam has the highest number of wins, with five, meaning it was the winning deck in 25% of challenges in the last four weeks. Finally, of the five most popular top 32 decks, Scam had the second best conversion rate into the top 8, with 28.7%, just behind Yawgmoth at 39.1%. Despite another deck being ahead of Scam, it also sees about 3.5x the play that Yawgmoth does.
Grief itself creates a lot of matches that play like non-games. Scam is often trading its two worst cards for the opponent’s two best cards and gets left with a 4/3 menace creature. By the time turn one is over, both players are left with incredibly low resources, and likely both players have weak plans for the next few turns.
This means the game kind of revolves around being able to remove the Grief or end the game before the Grief plus whatever backup the Scam player has ends the game.
Grief is also the most low impact ban with regards to the rest of Modern. Living End would take some splash damage, but outside of that, only a couple of fringe decks would end up suffering collateral damage.
Fury is only really here as a formality, as it is the other half of the Scam duo. The case to ban Fury is mostly that it invalidates small creature decks, especially when you get two ETBs out of it, and that it puts a serious clock on non-interactive decks.
The former is more of a concern than the latter, mostly because Midrange decks should have some strong tools against combo or otherwise linear decks. However, since the printing of Fury, we haven’t seen much in the way of small creature, combat focused decks perform well.
Hammer and Hardened Scales are two obvious archetypes to point to. And while those decks are somewhat vulnerable to Fury, Hammer is secretly a combo deck. Meanwhile, Hardened Scales can outscale Fury in a short amount of time or otherwise mitigate its impact with modular creatures.
I don’t think Fury is going anywhere for the time being, but for completion’s sake, I included it.
Up the Beanstalk
Let me preface this by saying the following: Up the Beanstalk is only a problem due to free spells like Solitude and Fury. Assuming they aren’t going to ban those cards, I believe that Up the Beanstalk is next on the ban list.
I would also like to add that I think Up the Beanstalk should only go in conjunction with Grief. If Grief stays, I think Up the Beanstalk should as well. This is largely because Scam and Four Color Omnath have separated themselves from the field in terms of success, and if they were to ban something from Scam, also banning something from Four Color Omnath is important so Modern doesn’t end up with us talking about how Omnath is dominating (again).
Speaking of Omnath dominating, it is noticeably behind Scam but ahead of the rest of the field by a significant margin. Four Color Omnath has the second most top 32 appearances, with 65, beating out Yawgmoth, which had 46. Omnath had 17 top 8s for a 26.1% conversion rate.
For me, the concerning part about the power level of Up the Beanstalk is two fold. The first is we’ve seen Four Color Omnath trimming copies of The One Ring, which was arguably the best draw engine of all time until the printing of…some beans.
Second, we’ve started seeing decks pop up built around cascading into Up the Beanstalk intentionally. To add additional perspective, Four Color Omnath, the deck that wins almost entirely on card quality, has been putting Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf in the deck because finding Up the Beanstalk every game is so important.
A proposed alternative
So what would I have done? It’s probably no surprise, but I would have banned both Grief and Up the Beanstalk.
Looking at the metagame shares and seeing Scam over 20%,while Omnath is over 10% — with most other decks in the 3-5% range — tells me something needs to change. Scam is a hard deck to nerf because the cards either have a lot of overlap with other decks or the cards are unique to Scam.
Doing this would have opened the format up to level off the play rates of the top decks and bring some diversity back to Modern. I also think it is an eventuality, so waiting to rip off the bandaid wouldn’t have mattered much in the end.
At the end of the day Wizards of the Coast’s decision is the one that matters, and we have to play within the rules they’ve outlined. However, as someone who plays a lot of Modern and cares about the health of the format, I would have liked to see them take action they may end up taking before the Modern Pro Tour anyway.
As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne and on BlueSky at @RappaciousOne.bsky.social. Until next week, be well!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.