If I Controlled the Banned List

Everybody fantasizes about what they would do if given the reigns of power. In fact, most discussion around banned and restricted announcements perennially involves players pontificating pointlessly about their banned wishlist. I’m not immune. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do today.

I do understand how weird this article is, coming from me. I’m the guy who always stomping on banlist speculation and calling for restraint. I’m making an exception. Part of this is that it’s the holidays, so I’m treating myself. But it’s also a useful thought experiment to not only state and defend your opinions but justify them. It’s important to see if your desires are consistent with your beliefs. Going through the cards that I want to ban and trying to justify my opinions led me to discarding many suggestions as needlessly biased. Here’s what withstood my introspection.


Hating a card is not a good enough reason. You need to have a good reason; good enough that others would understand if not agree. For the most part, I agree with how Wizards has curated the Banned and Restricted List for Modern. Twin was poorly timed, but the results have been positive enough since then that I would adopt the reasoning. In other words no consistent wins before turn four, no overly oppressive decks, nothing that drags tournaments down, etc. These should be common sense rules.

What I would do differently is how I would apply them. I want the format to be as fun as possible for everyone. I think that everyone should have the opportunity to play the kind of Magic they want, even if I’d rather you do it very, very far away from me, Lantern players! I don’t have a problem with decks that purposefully create non-games. What I do have a problem with, and what I will take a more aggressive hand against, are consistent non-games. If decks can consistently lock players out early, that is a problem. I’m fine with prison decks as long as it isn’t too easy to spring the trap or it’s reasonably possible to escape.

What I won’t consider are “justice” bans or unbans. To me, each card deserves to be treated as its own issue. The idea that it isn’t fair that Ponder is banned while Ancient Stirrings is free is irrelevant. Ponder‘s crimes are Ponder‘s crimes and exile is the punishment. Stirrings is entitled to a separate trial. Speaking of…

Ancient Stirrings

I have previously written at length about why Ancient Stirrings should be banned. Lantern Control and Tron’s return to the limelight reignited debate over the card. Interestingly, my reasoning and the current discussion are very similar. Apparently, there’s consensus. This is nice, but it really doesn’t impact anything. Rather than rehash that old article, let me explain how I would justify such a ban.

By banning Ancient Stirrings, the need to potentially ban other cards diminishes. Stirrings does something for colorless decks that would never be acceptable for any color. Oath of Nissa is as close as it gets for one mana, and that’s much more limited than Stirrings. This power is not necessarily a problem, the relative justice of Ponder being banned for being too good as a consistency tool being irrelevant by my own rules. No, I would ban Stirrings so that I don’t have to ban anything else from Tron or Lantern Control.

I’ll start off with a bold declaration: Tron and Lantern are far better than their metagame shares will ever show. I’d wouldn’t say they’re the best decks by any means, but they are better than it appears. The main reason they don’t see more play is that players don’t want to play them. Many players, even pro level players, would rather chew their own arms off than play Tron—or even play Burn! Lantern is in a similar boat. Even its advocates admit it’s not a deck anyone can stand to play, both because of how it plays and its difficulty. This bias keeps their numbers down and prevents them from being a problem.

However, attitudes change. If Tron and Lantern ever become more palatable, I think they will become oppressive. Turn three Karn Liberated is a functional lock against many decks, and Lantern can hard lock you at any point in the game. Increased popularity would decrease the fun in the format. Therefore, I would take action against these decks by targeting their consistency tool. Ancient Stirrings hits both decks and some other fringe decks that have degenerate tendencies (mainly Amulet Titan), lowering their consistency just enough that more drastic action is unnecessary. Tron is slightly less likely to have Tron on turn three; Lantern will have to work harder to actually lock the game; the number of early non-games will decrease. A surgical fix.

Simian Spirit Guide

Nothing fair has ever come out of Simian Spirit Guide, nor its predecessor Elvish Spirit Guide, being legal in a format. They have always been used to do very unfair things at no cost. Yes, the mana is temporary, but if you want Guide, you don’t care. You’re using it to win the game a turn early. Remember Pro Tour Colorless Eldrazi? Its Guide-enabled Chalice of the Voids locked the game on the first turn. Chalice is a fine card as long as there’s an opportunity to either play around it or answer it, but turn one is too early. Guide’s main use is and will always be to just get players before they can play Magic.

I know that Guide sees some play elsewhere, but those decks don’t exactly promote fair Magic, either. Whether it’s Colorless Eldrazi Stompy or Breach Titan, you’re surprising your opponent with a big play they could never see coming. It’s not the kind of Magic that my regime would encourage. The fact that Ad Nauseam combo takes a probably lethal hit is unfortunate, but it was disappearing under Storm anyway. Not much to lose.


Dredge is not Magic. I don’t know what game it is playing, but it’s not Magic. This is not by itself a problem. Having weird decks makes the polite euphemisms happy and makes the game more interesting. Hemorrhaging cards into the graveyard is one thing, and the point of the deck. There are plenty of tools to do that and it isn’t the worst aspect of the deck. It can be terrifyingly hard, but you can play normal Magic through a horde of recursive zombies. Therefore, I wouldn’t ban any of the enablers like Cathartic Reunion.

What I do have a problem with is when Dredge oops-es all over its opponent. The problem card that makes Dredge really frustrating is Conflagrate. It can be sweeper or a finisher, but in either case, it repowers the dredge engine by returning cards to the graveyard. Combine with Life from the Loam for ridiculous blowouts. The card just does too much for no real price in a deck that already produces a lot of feel bad games, so it’s unacceptable. In the interest of promoting more games of Magic, I’d ban Conflagrate.

Dishonorable Mentions

want to ban Eldrazi Temple, but I couldn’t gracefully justify such a decision. I want it gone because Sol lands are dangerous in a format without Wasteland. Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors are incredibly powerful in Legacy and many decks can use them, but their vulnerability to Wasteland keeps them in check. Temple is the only Sol land in Modern, but Ghost Quarter is not Wasteland. The Eldrazi get to wield an unfair mana advantage that crushes fair decks and leads to non-games. Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer are ridiculously powerful anyway; why do we want them played early? Besides, Temple directly contributes to the decline of non-Death’s Shadow midrange and the increase in big mana’s share.

Unfortunately, without Temple, I doubt the Eldrazi would see much play. I tried to convince myself that Eldrazi Tron or Bant Eldrazi could survive without Temple and failed. Eldrazi Tron is not Gx Tron, and it doesn’t naturally hit Tron on turn three often. When it cannot accelerate out its threats, the deck clunks itself to death. This would increase after a ban to the point that you’d never play it over normal Tron. I’m not supposed to outright kill decks, so I can’t justify banning Temple.

I’d like to ban a lot of other cards simply because I hate them, particularly Ensnaring Bridge. However, I don’t need to, either because they see negligible play or there are other means to fix the “problem.” In Bridge’s case, I can hurt it just by banning Stirrings, reducing its chances to hit play so it can’t hurt me as much. I still hate it though.

No Unbans

Given the opportunity, I would not unban anything. It seems pointless right now. I’m not saying that there aren’t cards could not be unbanned, just that I don’t see the value in doing so. I know that many players object to keeping cards banned forever. But I have no problem with this. Time and R&D philosophy changes do not diminish inherent power levels or forgive severe mistakes (*cough*Skullclamp *cough*).

At this point, every card on the list is there because it earned a spot. Most of the list had its time in Modern, was too good, and got axed. The cards that remain from the original banned list were all banned in other formats except for Chrome Mox, Dark Depths, and Umezawa’s Jitte. And Hypergenesis doesn’t count because it was legal for the proto-Modern Community Cup and was busted.

Most importantly, I see unbans as a resource, and want to be judicious about using them up. I’ve been over this before, but there are only a small number of cards that are serious considerations in the first place. We should only take this course with good reason, because there will be so few successful unbans. Furthermore, it is very possible that some candidates look fine on paper and won’t be in reality. The case of Golgari Grave-Troll is instructive here. Doing something for its own sake is only beneficial when the thing is random personal kindness and generosity, so I won’t shrink the banned list without good reason.


There is one good reason to unban cards: reinvigorating stale metagames. If the dynamism that we’ve seen over the last few months breaks down or grows stale, I would be willing to release a card to shake things up. Doing so may or may not have a long-term effect, but it would energize the stagnated brewing scene to get the metagame moving again. Alternatively, if a deck proved problematic before stability set in, I could see unbanning something to try and counter that problem. This option is very risky, though. There’s just not much on the list that is inherently predatory. They’re mostly banned because they enabled busted decks, and would likely do so again. What I don’t want to happen is Australia and the cane toad.

As may be surmised, if I needed to shake things up in a stale metagame, I would unban Stoneforge Mystic. Of the cards I’ve tested, it is the most tame. If its advocates are right (no evidence one way or another), turn three Batterskull wouldn’t even be very good anymore. I have my own doubts of this, but I do know that unbanning Stoneforge would generate excitement and get the juices flowing for brewers. Unlike other banlist residents, Stoneforge doesn’t have an obvious forever home in Modern, so it would encourage testing and experimentation. This is the best case scenario that I can foresee for an unban.

It may be surprising that I didn’t say Preordain, given my test results. While the most inoffensive card I’ve tested, I don’t think that it would really shake things up as I intend. For the most part, it just replaces Serum Visions, and that’s not interesting. Also, we have Opt, which is worse but close enough—especially for diversity’s sake. As for Bloodbraid Elf, I’m not saying one way or another. Next month, I’ll focus on that card. You’ll find out what I think soon enough!

Food for Thought

I thought this list would be longer when I started planning this article. There are a lot of cards and decks I really dislike. However, personal bias isn’t a good enough reason to ban something so I’ve had to let them go. Not that I actually advocate any changes. There’s no proof that anything needs to change. But it is fun to speculate. I’m off for the holidays, so everyone have an excellent time and I’ll see you for Cascade Month.

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

7 thoughts on “If I Controlled the Banned List

  1. I feel like your inherent assumption is that modern should be a fair format. You mentioned many, many times that these decks are ‘unfair’ or ‘not real magic’ but that is what separates modern from standard. I don’t think the rational for banning a deck should ever be “this isn’t what magic is intended to be like,” barring excessively painful decks (like how eggs was banned because it took too long to win and screwed with tournaments.)

    This feels honestly more like a structured rant and you venting anger against “unfair” decks.
    Modern shouldn’t be the “fair” format; that’s what standard is. Its a format which features decks of all sorts, including ones which don’t win with combat damage etc.

    1. Like I said at the top, it is more me venting. Next month is going to be very heavy and academic. Have an extra piece of pie for the holidays.

      As for the deck arguments, what I mean is that I want Modern games to be actual games. I’m fine with Lantern, Tron, Dredge, and other non-traditional decks existing, I just don’t like them locking people out of the game too early. Players should be given the chance to fight back. Even if their deck cannot, that should be a deckbuilding choice and not just because something insane happened early. Losing to a turn 1-2 Blood Moon is unacceptable. It’s fine in Legacy because Force of Will exits, but Modern needs to be slower because it doesn’t. Losing to turn three or later Moon is a choice in my book, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      I’d also dispute how fair Standard has actually been over the past year, but that’s completely irrelevant.

    2. I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Ba doom tiss. I’m punny

      But really it’s not that they aren’t fair. Storm isn’t fair. Lots of decks aren’t fair.
      It’s when other players don’t get to interact or operate their own decks.

      Storm feels like you have lots of gameplay lines and interaction. there’s a ton of interplay.

      Add nauseum? Not so much
      Lantern? You don’t get to play.

      The problematic element of tron is the land destruction turn 3 on the play and forever afterwards basically.

      Big fat things are still fun to play against. Wurmcoil is fun.
      Karn a land is not

  2. I know this article was more of an opinion piece, but I really don’t think any of those cards are ban worthy. That being said, I agree that they are all problematic by your reasoning, and I absolutely abhor the fact that green has the best card selection spell in modern (deck building requirements aside). On the other hand, the cards on this list were not at all what I expected to see, so that was refreshing in a way.

    Maybe, for the next time you “treat yourself” when wiring an article, as another thought experiment, it would be fun to invent 3 to 5 police/answer cards that solve problems in modern. I would be interested to see what you come up with since you seem have a well reasoned, grounded approach to the game.

  3. I think BBE would be a better unban than SFM. Yeah, sure, it’s obviously a really good Jund card, but Jund is virtually dead at this point anyway. It definitely has nowhere near the raw power of a card like SFM, which would really hurt the last vestiges of fair aggro in the format like Humans, Merfolk, and Burn.

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