Tilt is quite a mighty thing. Re-reading my fevered scrawlings from last week proved deeply concerning. I knew I was unwell, but I didn’t know how unwell. While I’m better now, I may need to refocus before things get worse. Therefore, it’s time to torture myself by beginning another Banlist Test.
In Moby Dick, Ishmael goes to sea to center himself when teaching gets him down. When I start to feel too sane and begin perceiving the truth behind reality (again), I dip into the insane with complicated and strenuous academic research. I’m once again prepared to exhaust myself (along with the poor souls who acquiesce to being my testing partners) in an investigation of Modern’s banned list.
I’ve done this twice before, and it has not gone well for those who advocate for a shorter list. Stoneforge Mystic and Jace were highly impactful against fair decks but ineffective against unfair decks, which does little to address the problems players have identified with Modern. Suppressing fair decks allows more unfair deck to rise, to the detriment of the format. Everyone should have expected this result. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were very oppressive to fair decks in Standard and, reportedly, Extended. This time I’m looking to the other end of the metagame, with a new strategy for testing the banlist.
First thing’s first: I need to close a previous thread. During last week’s fugue, I noticed that Death’s Shadow is far more fragile than the old Jund decks. I postulated that this would make Surgical Extraction a maindeckable card for the first time (that I can remember) in UW Control. However, enough of my rationality remained to solicit opinions about my conclusions. As the feedback was guardedly optimistic, I thought it reasonable to actually test my idea. Not in paper, you understand. My rational mind would not allow it. I was still conscientious enough to be ashamed of myself for conceiving this idea. Public humiliation just isn’t my thing. I have a reputation to uphold. While the Paper Sack Mask of Shame is always an option, I decided to test for free online. With actual free software. I wasn’t willing to pay MODO for this crazed idea.
It was a colossal failure. I’m not going to share the decklist I tried because it was an appallingly bad idea. Surgical Extraction proved itself wholly unworthy of maindeck inclusion in my UW list. However, I could not tell whether this was a result of Extraction itself providing a marginal effect, or of the surrounding shell. UW Control cannot make full use of Extraction because it cannot actively put targets into the graveyard. The deck is purely reactive, and only has the opportunity to extract what opponents want extracted. Path to Exile‘s “upside” of exiling doesn’t help matters. All I really found is that UW cannot maindeck it profitably. The question of its actual maindeck potential was uncertain.
Question of Home?
So I changed over to an Esper list. I thought that Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize would enable Extraction enough to actually test my hypothesis. It didn’t. At least not verifiably. Having either discard spell in hand with Extraction and then hitting a card you wanted to Extract didn’t happen very often. Having Fatal Push to get Shadows into the graveyard was better, but it didn’t always matter. My win percentage only incrementally increased, which may have just been variance. I didn’t acquire enough data to give a good answer, which might be the answer by itself. Extraction may only be good in games you’d win anyway with control decks.
I cannot say that this disproves my overall theory, because I’m told the strategy actually works in Lantern decks. I’ve even received testimonials on this subject. I don’t know if they’re true or even plausible, as I’d rather chew my own head off than play Lantern. That may be the real answer though. If you have to go as far as to play Lantern Control for an idea to be good, it might not be worth it.
One last thing, and this one is just shameless bragging—I was right about the bicyclers. Sam Stoddard shared developer comments that clearly showed that they did cost these away from Modern playability. Life from the Loam is one lesson that Wizards has actually learned from.
Anyway, back to the plot. I asked for feedback on my the Banlist series and you responded. The main request was for me to do Preordain, followed by Dig Through Time. Conveniently, those would have been my own picks for another test. The problem is how. I still intend to test cards in the decks that got them banned. If the old offender still offends, then the card should probably remain banned. However, neither you nor I care about that part. We want to know if these cards would boost the fair blue decks. Most of the clamor about unbanning centers on this idea, and the cards I’ve tested so far are believed to boost fair decks. This was borne out by your feedback.
The thing is that unbanning a card to boost a deck can be dangerous, as Golgari Grave-Troll demonstrated. I need to proceed delicately with this test because I cannot ignore the impact that the test cards would have on unfair decks. No, it really isn’t the point of the test or what we all care about here, but it is the gatekeeper to their actual acceptability in Modern. Therefore, I need to alter my methods. I’ve already decided how to proceed, and I will lay out my plan shortly. Before I get to that, I need to address something that I will inevitably be asked about, again, and explain why I will continue not to test Bloodbraid Elf.
Because Bloodbraid Elf
Here’s how the argument for Bloodbraid goes: It’s not fair. Bloodbraid Elf wasn’t the problem, it was Deathrite Shaman. It’s powerful but fair. It died for Shaman’s sins. Bring back Bloodbraid Elf! It’s not that good anymore.
Look, I’ve heard it all. It all. You’ve made these arguments about unbanning the Elf repeatedly, and I have repeatedly answered them. Henceforth, I will respond simply with “No, because Bloodbraid Elf.” Deathrite was the real problem at the time, but Bloodbraid was never innocent. It has always been a format-defining card and frustratingly overpowered. Cascade for value has never been fun to play against or good for the game as a whole.
Wizards may have gotten the order of the bans wrong, but both cards needed to go. Elf was just better than anything else you could do, and even now it still would be. I tried it. It’s stupidly good. Return it to Modern and you make everything about Jund again. And it would be Jund. Elf gets better the more individually powerful your cards are, and Jund has always had the highest density of high-impact cards. It defines the deck. Jund is its home and one true love; all the other decks are just pretending. I know what will happen if I test the deck, you know what will happen, and there’s nothing interesting to learn. I’m not testing Bloodbraid Elf.
Bloodbraid and Shadow Together
Midrange Jund has been replaced by Death’s Shadow Jund. It has dropped to low Tier 2 status everywhere. It’s provably not as good anymore. At four mana, Elf is too expensive for DSJ to reliably support currently. It also doesn’t play well with all the discard and Mishra’s Bauble. Ergo, the Elf partisans are already pointing to this as a reason to unban the Elf. It isn’t, but they will argue it is. The best-case scenario under current conditions is that midrange Jund and DSJ coexist and split their metagame share. This would still make both Tier 1 decks. Considering that the two decks share a card pool, it’s mostly a case of different win conditions—it would be more reasonable to combine their metagame shares, pushing them well above everyone else. I would consider this a metagame warp.
More likely, players would simply alter DSJ to accommodate Bloodbraid. DSJ is Jund, just pushed to a Shadow-facilitatating extreme. Playing two spells for the price of one is good. Playing two spells for the price of one is very good. In fact, cheating on mana is busted. Why wouldn’t you play Bloodbraid in DSJ? I don’t have an answer, and neither did any Jund experts I asked. I’ve asked a wide range of current and former Jund players, including my Jund test partner, and they would all play Bloodbraid Elf in DSJ. In fact, several independently gave me the same recommendation about how to build such a deck. Both of them would cut the Traverse the Ulvenwalds and Baubles for Elf, some extra lands, and Kolaghan’s Command. Shave some discard for an extra Tarfire, and you have a less explosive, but more powerful and grindy deck.
So, how do I intend to actually test the next card? First of all, I have already chosen both the possible cards and decks that I will use. As you will see, I need to get started as quickly as possible. This test is not just about the cards being “okay” for Modern. We are investigating whether or not they are “worth it.” In other words, we are looking to see if their impact on fair control decks is greater than their impact on the decks that got them banned. I have every expectation that the unfair decks will see a boost. How big I don’t know, but it will be there. That’s not a question worth investigating. Whether that impact is greater than that on other, fairer decks is.
The cards will first be tested in the decks that got them banned. This will be done like the previous tests. After that, I will repeat the tests with UW Control. I picked UW because it is a fair blue deck that is performing reasonably well in the current meta, or at least better than other versions. Yes, there may be better homes for both cards in a vacuum, but looking at the current metagame, I doubt either card will have much effect outside of UW. Grixis Control is not doing as well, and RUG Scapeshift is no longer viable. Even if either card is utterly busted, I don’t think the deck will get enough of a boost to produce a decent result. Going from unplayable to reasonable would be an interesting result, but I’m not willing to spend all my time on such a gamble.
After that, I will compare the two results. I will look not only for which deck performed better in the tests, but the size of the difference too. Similar results would indicate a general boost in power, while significantly different results would show that one deck is favored by that card. Exactly what either result means depends greatly on context. Control and test deck receiving a similar boost may indicate that a card is safe, or it could mean that it is metagame-warping. The test decks doing significantly better obviously means that unbanning is a bad idea, but a massive boost to control could indicate that it would be oppressive in a different way. A lot will depend on why the results happen.
Finally, to forewarn you, I am not gong to play 500 matches with each deck. It took four months to get the data for Jace, and I will not make you wait eight-plus months for this test. It’s just not acceptable. I will have to play more matches in total this time, and I’ve committed to that, but I don’t know yet exactly how many. I’ll see how the first test goes.
Make Your Choice
I imagine everyone has figured it out already, but I will make it explicit. You have two choices for the next banned test. They are:
- Dig Through Time – Banned because Wizards feared that it would just replace Treasure Cruise. It will be tested in an updated UR Delver shell based on the deck that got Treasure Cruise banned.
- Preordain – A victim of Modern’s severe brokenness at inception. Preordain was banned along with Ponder to slow down combo decks, specifically Storm and Splinter Twin. Since Twin is also banned I will use a UR Gifts Storm list.
Once again, you can exercise your voting rights to pick my next torment/project. Write in the comments of this article which card you want to see. Note that only comments to this article will be counted—I won’t be tallying votes from other social media or other articles. Discuss it as much as you like elsewhere (not like I can stop you), but if it isn’t written here, it won’t count. Voting closes next Sunday at 11:00 Pacific time. Any vote after that point will not be heard. Go.
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.