It begins, gentle seekers of glory. Today is a day of great opportunity and gangrenous rot. The pallid sun meekly illuminates the great ravenous hordes as they linger, eager and anxious, waiting for their moment, when they shall be unleashed upon the world to slack their unending hunger for inadequately-proportioned sugary confections. For those whose time has passed, however, there is business to attend to. Business both eldritch and neoteric. This article is being published on Halloween, in case that wasn’t immediately obvious. Therefore, I recommend reading it in Doctor Orpheus’ voice. For today we shall contemplate both the All-Consuming Metagame and The Wrongly Banned Things.
Two great tasks remain before the sun again rises, relegating their purpose to eternal exile in the purgatory of missed deadlines. And not one has anything to do with candy, to the lament of all. Unless you accept that knowledge is the candy of the mind.
Let us begin at once with the new, for new knowledge has been granted to us of the All-Consuming Metagame. Though not as potent as previous revelations, we are now able to observe its shape, and may infer insight of things to come. The next, I must at last renew the Great Work. Investigating the truth behind the faith of The Wrongly Banned Things now has more import than ever, and though I am loathe to do so, I know what must now be done. Let it commence!
They Who Rose Above
Let us begin with the new. A great contest was held in the nation’s capital this weekend past, though it was not of the Modern format. Instead we must content ourselves with a sideshow. Fear not, though—the Great Feeding to come at week’s end will certainly sate your appetite for data. Though of minor note comparatively, the SCG Washington D.C. Classic Top 16 results are another piece of the puzzle, and do indicate our target’s movements.
|Bant Counters Company||1|
The Gatekeepers of Data (Star City Games), in their great inscrutability, have classified Timothy Taylor’s deck as Jeskai Tempo. This despite it clearly being another Jeskai Geist deck, not dissimilar to Joe Jancuk’s Jeskai Control list. I defied their will and combined it with its brethren, as it rightly ought be. ‘Tis worthy of note that the Ghostly versions of Jeskai have far outshone other variants these past few weeks. While the more staunchly defensive decks are seeing success, the ability to become the aggressor is far more valuable.
Of worthy note is the deck of mere mortals that defied the Elder Horrors to win the day. Though they be weak in abstract, the whole is always greater, and powerful clocks and disruption will still slip through to victory. Ryland has far more insight on that subject, but I do note that this field appears less than favorable. Humans exists to punish Storm, as the villagers may sack Frankenstein’s castle. Control and creature combo should collapse the ground beneath their feat, yet that did not happen. A testament, perhaps, to the ceaseless fortitude of humanity.
Amassed Compilations of Accomplished Magicians
It is with this in mind that we turn our attention back to the true purpose of this endeavor. Though the vision remains clouded, clarity is finally within reach. The results of the Classic do not count as strongly as an Open or Grand Prix, but they do serve to reinforce the pattern of results we have witnessed so far. Sadly for me, the Lords of the Deep did not appear in these results. Apparently they’re only interested in the big event, not the sideshow.
|Grixis Death's Shadow||4|
|BW Eldrazi and Taxes||1|
|Death and Taxes||1|
|5-Color Death's Shadow||1|
I know that I pledged to begin culling the list this week, but only two new decks emerged so it seemed pointless. Doubtless, the list will not escape the delete key again next time. Sun and Moon always lurks along the fringe, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting. As I have repeatedly noted, one would expect that the Blood Moon, Herald of Non-games and keystone of prison strategies, would be putting up more results. Apparently they of the Federal District heard my call, as both the Breach decks and the prison deck wielded the Moon. Does this harken to a world of safer manabases? Highly unlikely, but the clever may yet exploit this.
Intriguingly, the resurrection of Infect has progressed. Could it be, that the declaration of Gitaxian Probe‘s exile, coupled with the advent of Fatal Push was erroneous?! No, almost certainly not, the deck is far worse now than it was. But when you keep watch for giants, it is the ants that get you. Black-based interactive decks have suffered greatly over the past year, with even that which killed them, Death’s Shadow, failing to maintain its ascendancy. Rather than a return on its own merit, I suspect that the disappearance of predators is far more to blame for the diseased menace’s return. Again, only time and data will tell.
The Telltale Trend
What is most significant is that the top three decks are the same now as they were weeks ago in Charlotte. Storm, Affinity, and Jeskai Control have maintained their lead, while contenders have risen and fallen around them. This speaks strongly to their potency, but the true test comes next week. If this trend is sustained by Regionals, then we must conclude the omens were true, and Tier One will be established.
Based on this data, it appears that interactivity is being pushed down. Jeskai remains at the top, but BGx and Grixis Death’s Shadow are falling away, and only occasionally surface in the rankings. In their place, Infect, Eldrazi, Affinity, and Storm reside. Why is an open question. Perhaps this is just a fluctuation, and the coming results will vindicate their place. I hope the opposite is not true.
The Impending Resurrection
In truth, I had intended to respond to the unfortunate rash of ignorant attacks on Modern. However, Ari Lax and others descended upon the ill-informed before I had the chance, and did excellent service. Lend your eyes to them, it is well worthwhile. I have nothing to add to their responses, so instead I will contemplate an older topic. Argument, speculation, dogma, and vitriolic emotion have always clouded discussions of the Modern Banned List. Players all have their own agendas and beliefs and seek out those who agree with them. Every time the discussion revives, the tribes return to perpetuate this stalemate. Like clockwork, it has reemerged, and requires addressing.
I have attempted to bring verifiable truth into the morass by actually testing the candidates. This is not done without considerable effort, and a touch of madness, on my part. As a result there is not time to test everything, nor do the methods allow it to be done quickly. If there exists a way to personally play 500 matches of Magic when it’s not your full time job in a month or less—which does not require sacrifice to elder gods most dark and vile—I am open to suggestions. That said, Wizards has implied that my endeavor is more important than ever, and I must recommence the Great Work immediately, lest I be overtaken by the march of time.
For the uninitiated, in their October Announcement, Wizards strongly implied that they will unban something following the next Pro Tour. As expected, a firestorm of speculation followed. Much has been written on this already, some articles better than others. I have attempted to tame the wild claims and banish the baseless claims to the dark corners where they belong, but I have a problem. While I have covered all the plausible candidates previously, there is one that has never merited a full investigation. Now, I fear its pull has become inexorable.
Voices from the Past
There are those, whom I can only assume are possessed by madness, who argue for such abominations as Cloudpost or Umezawa’s Jitte to return to the world. Such cards should never have been at all, and do not deserve to feel the fabric of a playmat against their card-backs again. However, there is a small group that consistently make the lists of the more sober observers. These are Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Bloodbraid Elf. Frequent, though less consistent, considerations are Green Sun’s Zenith, Preordain, and Splinter Twin.
Much of the discussion about the also-rans is the continued lamentation of Twin’s demise coupled with distaste over the circumstances of other bannings. In many cases, it comes down to unprecedented swap bannings, wherein the offender is released in exchange for something taking its place. I believe a better name is in order, but maintaining this Lovecraftian-Gothic tone is draining my creativity. Something that invokes A Tale of Two Cities would be appropriate. This is not how Wizards behaves, nor does it make sense in the rational world, so I will not address it here.
The discourse over the primary considerations is far more meaty. There are actual, intelligent arguments against their continued banishment. Fortunately, I have tested two-thirds of these cards and have actual data to back my claims.
As They Stand
Let me remind you of the results of my inquiries. Both Jace and Stoneforge have had the chance to make their cases, and I don’t feel either was strong. Bloodbraid has not been tested. I felt no need to do so. My time is finite and I wished to use it to answer actual questions. The effect of Jace, Stoneforge, and recently Preordain was unclear. There was knowledge to be gained and value in seeking it because the world had changed so much since their exile.
The same was not true of Bloodbraid Elf. It and Jund were always one. Yes, it did dally with other colors, but the Elf requires a deck with only good cards to truly rise. That is the entire gameplan of Jund. The outcome was certain. I would play Bloodbraid in Jund, a Tier 1 deck. Jund would get better because card advantage tacked onto free mana is very good. I proved this to some dissenters previously. The world is at last sufficiently different that there is something to gain from this inquiry.
Where I Stand
In case this is not yet crystalline, I am testing Bloodbraid Elf next. My approach won’t be surprising or novel—I’m gathering Jund lists and will slot in the Elf. I must do this now because in February it may be unleashed, and the world must know what to expect. I do not relish the thought, as I don’t expect to be surprised or even illuminated by the results. Yet, we are all bound by forces outside our control, and my quest for knowledge will not be complete without a full test.
As for the others, it is worthwhile to consider not only the demonstrable power of the cards but also the consequences. What does the format actually gain by their inclusion? A card may have nothing to offer with its power and yet be unworthy thanks to other detriments. That is why ne’er again will you durdle with Sensei’s Divining Top.
The first test. The progenitor. This is the card that I strongly consider revisiting, as I don’t feel Abzan was the best home for the card. What that home is, I’m not certain, though Death and Taxes and Jeskai are strong contenders.
The Test Results: My testing did not show a consistent power boost. Stoneforge into Batterskull or a Sword is very hit-or-miss. Sometimes it is overwhelmingly powerful. Sometimes it is just a cantrip. The context, and how it’s wielded, made far more impact than anything intrinsic to the card itself.
What Would Be Gained: The primary consideration is that Stoneforge Mystic is white. White is heavily underplayed in Modern, something Wizards has lamented on several occasions. Stoneforge would provide a strong incentive to play white, which may bring more midrange diversity.
What Would Be Lost: Fair creature decks would greatly suffer. A typical aggro deck cannot force its way through Batterskull. The impulse would be to go over or under the card, which would push aggro decks—already suffering in the metagame—to the brink.
Where I Stand: I believe that Stoneforge is plausible power-wise. However, the consequences make it less clear. Perhaps allowing white to be a real color is more important than harming Burn or Zoo-style decks. Perhaps not; it is unclear.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
My second test. The most contentious. The totality of the data gave a very clear result, but the inadequacies of my method diluted the details. There is still a very clear message to be gleaned.
The Test Results: Jace’s inclusion in Jeskai Control was a significant improvement over Nahiri, the Harbinger. Every matchup was improved by Jace, an impact which increased as the matchups became more fair. His value against unfair decks was limited, but utterly devastating to Jund.
What Would Be Gained: Jace is a very strong incentive towards midrange and control. He fits in well to the strategies and matchup plans and requires no additional support. His cheap cost also makes him easy to defend.
What Would Be Lost: Non-blue midrange would suffer. Jace wins attrition games. Jund had Liliana of the Veil to counter Jace and she couldn’t do it. Lili’s impact is symmetrical, Jace’s is not. He allowed Jacekai to stay ahead of Liliana’s discard and find answers. There would be a strong disincentive to play any non-Jace midrange deck. It is likely that other fair decks would suffer as a consequence.
Where I Stand: Sing not the praises of the Mind Sculptor. Do not sacrifice all other midrange upon his alter. The consequences will not be acceptable. In any fair matchup Jace wins the game, and not quickly. Unlike other planeswalkers there is no coming back from an unanswered Jace. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion‘s tokens can be swept and the value is lost, but many turns of Brainstorming generates card advantage both real and virtual that cannot be overcome. You cannot go through him, only over or under. This would generate pressure to move towards faster combo or aggro decks, which is a return to Gitaxian Probe Modern. We are better for not living beneath his shadow.
I Gaze Into the Abyss…
I will have the Bloodbraid results ready before the Modern Pro Tour. It must be done. Hopefully next week the Regional results will be in, and the true nature of the metagame will be revealed. I’ll see you then.