Well, it happened. As Modern players, we had known it was coming for a long time; we joked about it, argued about it, even prayed for it to come sooner! But now that the event is upon us, we must make sense of the new world we’ve woken up to.
AUGUST 26 MODERN B&R:
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is banned.
After a period of cautious B&R announcements and attempts at allowing Modern to “self-correct,” new bully on the block Hogaak has worn out its welcome. Few Modern mages are shocked – least of all the many tournament grinders who gleefully exploited Hogaak.
But WotC was not content to simply hammer down Hogaak. Modern has followed an increasingly narrow line of deck development lately, and Mono-Red Prowess or Izzet Phoenix could easily rise up in Hogaak’s place. So instead, they did what they had to do to protect the format’s future.
Faithless Looting is banned.
While many players will no doubt be hit hard by the banning of such a ubiquitous and powerful card, it is precisely those properties which led to Looting’s demise. WotC themselves argue, “As new card designs are released that deal with the graveyard, discarding cards, and casting cheap spells, the power of Faithless Looting‘s efficient hand and graveyard manipulation continues to scale upward.”
The idea that Looting hampers the design of new graveyard effects is the strongest reason to ban it. Filtering cards between hand and graveyard gives too many decks a head start, and makes them play too similarly. Looting leaves a hole in the format big enough that, hopefully, several new cards will have their chance to fill it.
ALL OVER BAR THE LOOTING
So, in the meantime, which decks are most affected by these bannings? Can any of these Looting-powered archetypes live on by adopting different tech?
Traditional Dredge lists, which might have been happy to see Hogaak go, are now bleeding badly. They, along with the various Arclight Phoenix builds, are extremely reliant on being able to quickly sort their payoff cards into the graveyard. No other card can match Looting’s efficiency in that respect. The Dredge deck might now reach for Burning Inquiry to retain its critical turn one kick-start, even at the cost of some control.
Unlike Dredge, Phoenix decks were not already on Cathartic Reunion, which stands out as the next most efficient way to discard payoffs while drawing fresh gas. The blue-playing variants can also consider Chart a Course and Ideas Unbound. I expect these versions to be resurgent over the mono-red ones, since losing Looting will slow all of them down significantly, and Izzet Phoenix seems better able to adapt to that pace.
Other Looting decks with fewer options for card selection, like Skelemental and Mardu Pyromancer, might not survive. The exception is likely to be Hollow One decks. Its trademark use of Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore might allow it to rebound from the loss of Looting, and even inspire other archetypes to try these cards out. I can see a highly redundant deck like Phoenix getting surprising consistency from such random discard effects!
RAMPING FROM THE ASHES
While these graveyard decks are picking themselves up after their B&R beatdown, other archetypes prepare to seize Modern’s spotlight. Since Faithless Looting has been the fuel for almost all the fastest aggro clocks, its banning should mark a period of dominance for ramp and control.
Green Tron, that ultimate predator of fair Modern environments, was already doing just fine considering Thoralf Severin’s MCIV win. The EldraziTron variant has also seen a resurgence since the printing of Karn, the Great Creator. Pro players have identified both builds as among the decks to beat in a post-Looting Modern.
Scapeshift is another fast, reliable archetype which is difficult for non-blue decks to disrupt. We may also start to see Jeskai or Esper control variants return now that exiling removal is less important and self-damage from lands less punished.
Finally, if the meta does proceed toward greed, it would not be unreasonable to see an uptick in Ponza, or just Blood Moons in general. But there is another very strong argument for fair decks having a part in the new Modern, and it’s all down to the THIRD line of this week’s B&R announcement.
Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned.
FORGING A LEGACY
After years of protesting from incensed white players, the patron saint of equipment has finally been released from Legacy jail. Stone Forge Mystic is undoubtedly powerful, tutoring up either Batterskull against aggro or the powerful “Sword of X and Y” cycle to blank interaction.
While her function as “card advantage” can be overrated (having a CMC 5 Batterskull stuck in hand doesn’t feel very advantageous!), she remains a must-kill threat and will no doubt be tested in many decks. But which ones is she best in?
In Legacy, SFM has long been synonymous with the deck Death & Taxes. Unfortunately, her tutoring abilities clash with modern D&T’s other great two-drop, Leonin Arbiter. The catty cleric is simply too essential to disrupting opponents’ mana; some lists even add Aven Mindcensor to double down on blocking searches.
In these decks, SFM and her swords seem like a sideboard package at best. To enable her, some D&T players are ready to abandon disruption for value beatdown, building around Squadron Hawk and Force of Virtue.
But that is far from the only white creature deck in Modern! I have no doubt people will try jamming her into the flex slots of Humans. Personally, I’d be more excited to explore SFM in new metagame challenger Mardu Shadow.
Batterskull offers a potent threat if you can’t lower your life total. Swords making a Death’s Shadow impossible to target or block will end a game on the spot.
THOSE OLD BATTERSKULL BLUES
The other deck that players have always longed to add Stoneforge to is UWx Control. Here, Batterskull provides a one-card answer to aggro decks. The slow-paced games this deck creates mean that you build up enough mana to really leverage the full text of this powerful equipment.
But I’m not convinced that this addition will be open and shut. Where once UW had to win at a crawl with Snapcaster and Celestial Colonnade, now it sprints away from opponents with various Planeswalker threats. While Stoneforge generates an extra card, neither the 1/2 body nor the equipment seems especially valuable, and the Planeswalkers can draw cards themselves.
This is another deck where players are considering the Mystic package as a sideboard tool rather than a main deck upgrade. We’ll have to wait for results, but if anything, this reluctance is the strongest proof that this B&R was right: Mystic is a more balanced Modern card than Faithless Looting.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.