Welcome to another edition of “This Day in Magic History.” Today, we’ll take a look at the Sept. 20, 2011 Banned and Restricted announcement, when Modern saw its first bans. Consider this a direct continuation of when I took a look at the beginning of the Modern format.
That article concluded with a discussion of Modern’s first Pro Tour, and in this article I’m going to discuss the bans that were announced in the aftermath of that event. This announcement played a major role in shaping Modern’s history.
These Modern bans were announced exactly 11 years ago, and all of the cards remain banned to this day. Those cards were: Blazing Shoal, Cloudpost, Green Sun’s Zenith, Ponder, Preordain and Rite of Flame. In this article, I’ll cover why each of these cards got banned and how that ban has helped to shape Modern as a format.
Modern Bans Before PT Philadelphia
With the Modern format’s formal creation in 2011, Wizards of the Coast released a preliminary Banned & Restricted list consisting largely of cards that had been dominant in the Extended format. This made sure decks like Glimpse of Nature Elves and Dark Depths combo weren’t possible in the format.
While the list did make sure some busted strategies wouldn’t show up at Pro Tour Philadelphia, it was impossible to anticipate every single kind of deck players would come up with for the event. After all, Modern was brand new, and it put a bunch of cards together in a single format that had never been legal together anywhere other than Legacy and Vintage. Naturally, several successful decks at Pro Tour Philadelphia necessitated immediate action following the event. Otherwise they would have warped Modern as a format.
Let’s start with Blazing Shoal. Sam Black piloted an Infect deck to a Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Philadelphia, and the Shoal played a major role in allowing the deck to win incredibly quickly. Blazing Shoal was by no means a new card in 2011, and before the creation of the Modern format it had never seen any play in the formats it was legal in. It is a great example of the kind of card that completely slipped through the cracks of the initial Banned & Restricted list.
Blazing Shoal could be used alongside Infect creatures like Glistener Elf for a turn two kill. If you played a turn one Glistener Elf, you could win the game on turn two by pitching Dragonstorm to the Shoal. The Elf would get +9/+0 and give your opponent enough poison counters to lose the game immediately. You could do this without spending any mana on turn two, which also meant that you had mana available to counter any sort of disruption your opponent might attempt.
The presence of this deck in Modern led to the question of what kind of format Modern should be. Did they want there to be a deck that could win the game so easily on turn two? Ultimately, Wizards of the Coast decided that decks that can consistently win the game by turn two or three shouldn’t exist in the format. They wanted those fast combo kills to remain in Legacy and Vintage, and stay out of Modern.
This philosophy remains intact in Modern today, so Blazing Shoal is unlikely to ever be see play there again. Infect decks have been relevant in Modern at various times throughout the format’s history, but without Blazing Shoal, they don’t win in the extreme early game.
Cloudpost was another card that needed a quick ban out of Modern. Jesse Hampton Top 8’d the event with his BreachPost deck, and it was clear the deck could produce far too much mana far too quickly.
Lots of players think Tron decks are insane because they can produce seven mana on turn three, but this was even better. Once you got something like Primeval Titan in play, your mana production would skyrocket even higher, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn wasn’t too far behind.
While Cloudpost decks didn’t straight up win the game on turn two or three like Blazing Shoal Infect decks did, they could make some ridiculous plays in the early game that made it impossible for the deck to lose. The DCI decided that this kind of fast mana was just too much for the format, so they banned Cloudpost, which put an end to the deck in the format.
Tron decks became the fast mana deck of the format instead, giving us an idea about where Wizards of the Coast draws the line in terms of fast mana.
Green Sun’s Zenith
Green Sun’s Zenith also got the ax after Pro Tour Philadelphia. This powerful tutor was featured in two decks that Top 8’d the event. One of these was the very same Cloudpost deck I mentioned above!
On turn one, you could use it to search up Dryad Arbor, effectively allowing you to cast a one mana Rampant Growth. Later in the game, it could be used to tutor up powerful win conditions with all that Cloudpost mana. In short, it provided a serious mana boost and could tutor win conditions directly into play.
Josh Utter-Leyton also Top 8’d Pro Tour Philadelphia using the Zenith in an entirely different deck. His Naya aggro deck could use the Zenith to tutor up Dryad Arbor, but his deck also ran powerful singleton hatebears like Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage, showcasing how powerful Green Sun’s Zenith could be as a toolbox card.
Green Sun’s Zenith greatly enhanced the efficacy of both of these decks. It was simultaneously too good at ramping your mana on turn one and too good at tutoring up win conditions and toolbox creatures. In short, it made Green decks too consistent. This could have been particularly troubling if utilized in a creature-based combo deck! So, it had to be banned.
Rite of Flame
We have talked about some incredibly powerful decks so far, but Max Sjöblom’s Pyromancer Ascension deck might have been the most busted of them all. It was his deck that led to the banning of Rite of Flame.
This storm deck was built around Pyromancer Ascension, and it consisted almost entirely of cantrips or ritual effects to quickly fill the graveyard up with cheap instants and sorceries while also granting a huge mana boost. Then, you could win the game by casting Grapeshot.
Like the Blazing Shoal Infect deck, Pyromancer Ascension decks could win the game quite consistently on turn two, and Rite of Flame was one of the main reasons for this. A one mana ritual effect really accelerated the deck, especially if multiples could be chained together.
Banning Rite of Flame slowed the deck down by an entire turn, and made it far less consistent. Storm decks have existed in Modern at various times, and while they still can be quite strong thanks to Pyromancer Ascension, they no longer break the format’s rules about winning the game too early.
Ponder and Preordain
We’re going to talk about the last two bans together, because they are very similar cards! Both Ponder and Preordain cost a single Blue mana, let you see several cards and draw you a card. While these effects might seem innocuous, it made decks in Modern far too consistent. They were the biggest problem in Pyromancer Ascension decks, where they could dig you into more ritual effects while adding to your Storm count.
It wasn’t the only problem, though. These two cantrips were in five of the Top 8 decks from Pro Tour Philadelphia. They were used in two storm decks, two Splinter Twin decks and one Infect deck.
All of these decks relied on combos to win the game. So, while these cards don’t win games all on their own, they were too good at enabling combo decks in Modern. If these were legal in the format, combo decks would likely dominate the format, just as they did at Pro Tour Philadelphia.
It is pretty amazing that all of these cards have remained banned in Modern for more than a decade. However, I think the format is a much better place for it.
It will be interesting to see if any of these cards manage to make their way back into the format. But if I were a betting man, I would say they are going to remain banned in the format for the foreseeable future.
Jacob has been playing Magic for the better part of 24 years, and he especially loves playing Magic’s Limited formats. He also holds a PhD in history from the University of Oklahoma. In 2015, he started his YouTube channel, “Nizzahon Magic,” where he combines his interests with many videos covering Magic’s competitive history. When he’s not playing Magic or making Magic content, he can be found teaching college-level history courses or caring for a menagerie of pets with his wife.