Banning Lurrus Won’t “Fix” Modern

Michael RappModern

It’s no secret that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is one of the most successful cards in Modern. And once a card reaches a certain level of popularity or success, talk of bans inevitably follows. Today, I want to address the elephant cat in the room.

To be clear, I don’t think Modern is in need of bans for balance reasons. In fact, Modern is the healthiest it has been in some time, and I don’t believe that banning Lurrus would have the effect that many players are hoping for in Modern.

“The Modern Metagame is a Product of Lurrus”

The most common complaint I’ve heard about Lurrus is that it dictates which cards can be played in Modern. I think that used to be true…before Modern Horizons 2. When Lurrus decks were full of Monastery Swiftspears, Soul-Scar Mages, Bomat Couriers, and Seals of Fire, Lurrus was needed to make those decks attractive. At the time, Lurrus decks needed to win with raw cards, because – well, the cards they were playing with weren’t particularly powerful. 

Modern is in a different spot now. Modern Horizons 2 brought Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Dauthi Voidwalker, and other cheap, powerful creatures. Now that most Modern decks have a powerful core of one- and two-mana creatures the cores, Lurrus becomes more of an added bonus than a necessity. While Lurrus clearly makes these decks better, the impact that it has is much lower now that these tempo and midrange decks have access to individually powerful creatures. This may seem like it would make Lurrus too strong, but I believe that Lurrus is easy enough to answer that it isn’t a huge problem. In fact, I’m increasingly of the mind that Lurrus‘s popularity is dictated by the increase of cheap spells in Modern, rather than the other way around.

Deck Building Costs

Another common complaint is that Lurrus pushes many cards out of Modern that would otherwise see play. However, it’s worth asking: if Lurrus were banned tomorrow, would these cards become popular? Taking a look at the popular Lurrus decks, we have Death’s Shadow, Hammer, Jund Saga, Burn, and Mill. While removing Lurrus would certainly make these decks worse, I believe these decks – or similar versions of them – would remain competitive.

Death’s Shadow has always had an extremely low mana curve. Yes, losing Street Wraith is a cost, but it isn’t a large cost, and Wraith is likely the only card Shadow decks would add if they could. There is an argument that could be made for Murktide Regent, a la Gurmag Angler, but it’s probably still better to stay lean.

Hammer Time isn’t giving up much to play Lurrus, either. Nettlecyst, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Kaldra Compleat are the most likely cards that Hammer would consider. However, those cards – with the possible exception of Nettlecyst – diverge from Hammer’s brutally fast and efficient plan and might not be what the deck wants.

Jund Saga likely wouldn’t change much, either. The core of the deck is still built around efficient interaction, which lets Jund freely sink its mana into Urza’s Saga. Adding permanents that cost three or more mana makes it harder to maximize the effectiveness of Urza’s Saga. Endurance and possibly Fury are the only cards that fit the bill, because they can be cast for free. The downside of Endurance and Fury is that the Jund mana base is a little shaky as it is, so supporting double-pip spells can be tough.

Burn seems to go back and forth over whether or not it even plays Lurrus. The decision of whether or not to include Lurrus in Burn doesn’t hinge on meeting its companion requirements, but instead on whether you’d prefer a different 15th sideboard card. Even if Lurrus were banned, I’m fairly confident that Burn wouldn’t change, with the exception of the odd three-mana sideboard card – but Burn players could be doing that now, and aren’t.

Mill is the last popular Lurrus deck, and much like Burn, I don’t think that Mill is giving up anything of substance to play Lurrus. Mill could be interested in Ashiok, Dream Render, but given how powerful Tasha’s Hideous Laughter and Fractured Sanity are, space for Ashiok seems tight. 

Modern is Healthy when Fair Decks are Good

In my opinion, Modern is healthiest when fair decks are good, but not dominant. Currently, Grixis Shadow, Izzet Murktide, Four-Color Blink, and Temur Footfalls are all good, and only one of them plays Lurrus! That’s not only a good number of decks, but a variety of fair strategies. For a long time, Modern’s threats were far better than the answers, but with the addition of Unholy Heat, Prismatic Ending, and Counterspell, I believe that the answers have finally caught up. There are no threats that truly feel dominant, like Krark-Clan Ironworks or Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath did before their bannings. 

When speaking about balance, it’s also necessary to recognize both sides. Combo is also relatively healthy at the moment, despite tempo decks being strong. Amulet Titan, Hammer Time, and Belcher have all been putting up consistent results. If the fair decks become worse, that balance is disrupted, and the format slants too far towards combo, which is much harder to combat in a traditional game of Magic.

I understand at the end of the day that everyone has a different definition of “fun,” which is why talking about bans can be dangerous. I will say, people tend to pull out their pitchforks when the cards they like just aren’t good anymore. Modern passes by all but the best of cards eventually, and if you look at the cards that have been staples for years, they’re almost always cheap and efficient spells. While Lurrus rewards playing low-to-the-ground, efficient Magic, banning the card won’t suddenly change which cards are the best. Cheap and free spells reign in Modern, and the same eventually becomes true in any non-rotating format. Modern may have become too efficient for cards that players enjoy, but I don’t believe banning Lurrus will fix that.

As always, you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for any questions or comments. I’ll see everyone next week!