What We Learned—Clear Skies Ahead for Modern (Feb. 4)

Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

Get it? It’s a joke about Wizards making storm combo unplayable in Modern. You know, clear skies ahead because there won’t be any storm? Right? Oh, you get the joke, but you’re really angry about Seething Song being banned. I see. I had no idea you felt so strongly about playing combo in the one format Wizards has sworn to protect from the dreaded Johnny Magic.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. If you like to play degenerate combo decks then Modern isn’t the format for you. I’m not talking about the cute combo decks like Splinter Twin and Pestermite which are fairly interactive. I’m looking at the degenerate combo decks like Valakut, Dredge and Storm. These decks laid waste to a variety of formats long before Modern ever existed and they’ll continue to have a prominent role in Vintage and Legacy and from time to time Standard.

But Modern? No way. Just take a quick look at the Banned and Restricted list for Modern. As of last Friday there are 30 cards banned from decks. By my logic, 20 of them, which is two-thirds, are banned to keep degenerate combo decks in check. The decks that are essentially banned (or severely hindered) in Modern are:

  • Affinity (Ancient Den, Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers)
  • Infect Combo (Blazing Shoal)
  • Storm (Chrome Mox, Ponder, Preordain, Rite of Flame, Seething Song)
  • Ramp (Cloudpost, Green Sun’s Zenith)
  • Dark Depths/Hexmage (Dark Depths)
  • Dredge (Dread Return, Golgari Grave-Troll)
  • Elf Combo (Glimpse of Nature, Skullclamp)
  • Hypergenesis (Hypergenesis)
  • Thopter/Sword (Sword of the Meek)

The other ten cards on the list are fairly degenerate on their own and no explanation should be required for why they are on the list. However, these twenty cards are not terribly powerful on their own. Dark Depths is a joke of a card without Vampire Hexmage. Sword of the Meek is similarly useless without Thopter Foundry. Some of these decks, like Affinity, Ramp and Dredge, can still exist, but they’re not nearly as fast as they could be.

This brings us to the most recent announcement in which Seething Song (and Bloodbraid Elf) were banned from the format. The message could not be clearer from Wizards. Degenerate combos that don’t allow for any interaction will not be tolerated in Modern. To me, this message has been loud and clear from day one of the format’s genesis. This list is virtually unchanged from those days.

The reaction to Seething Song’s banning was mixed. What surprised me though was to find some people react so violently and lash out against Wizards. Here is a direct quote from the internet:

I would like to give a big fuck you to Wizards of the Coast today for depriving me of the one fun thing I did in Magic. Despite its ability to win on turn 3, and even turn 2, Storm Combo was one of the worst things you could be doing in modern due to the ease of hating on the deck. By taking away Storm from the format, you have made it clear to the player base that you are allowed to play decks that literally do NOTHING until turn 4.

I don’t particular care what others players do, but as of today I will no longer be playing Modern, the one format that I actually had fun playing

– Person #1

Harsh words for Wizards, but this particular friend isn’t the only one who feels this way. Plenty of people felt that it was unfair of Wizards to cripple the Storm deck any further because it is such an easy deck to hate out of the format:

 Killing on Turn 3 with Storm was pretty easy to do. Of course this required that your opponent not do a single thing to you. A Relic of Progentius with a mana open could change that. Killing the Electromancer. A single discard spell. All you needed was ONE form of disruption and you can speed bump it or worse.

– Person #2

While understandable, this logic is incredibly flawed. But Person #2 wasn’t the only one with this train of thought:

Storm is pretty easy to hate out, and even then I’d rather they just keep printing more hate card to keep it in check if they feel it’s overpowered (like how we keep getting new graveyard hate because WotC also hates Dredge).

– Person #3

For full disclosure I have played Dredge from the moment Time Spiral was printed. Before Bridge from Below saw the light of day, Dread Return was used in conjunction with Nether Shadows and Ichorids to reanimate a lethal Sutured Ghoul. Six months later Bridge and Narcomoeba would give birth to the format warping reanimation deck that has plagued Magic for the better part of the past six years.

The idea that a deck should be free from banning because it can be hated out of a format is laughable. This logic should lead us to just go ahead an un-ban Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll since everyone can just run Leyline of the Void and no one would win with Dredge. That’s what everyone in Vintage thought and then time and again they have been proven wrong. Storm is no different. Just because a Relic of Progenitus at the right time can disrupt the combo doesn’t mean Wizards can’t still ban the combo.

At the end of the day the facts are simple. Wizards will not allow degenerate combo decks to run rampant and warp the Modern format. I can’t blame them. If you’ve played Vintage or Legacy or even Extended during any of Dredge’s periods of prominence then you are painfully aware of two things. First, no one likes to test combo match-ups and second, no one likes having to dedicate half their sideboard to the same seven or eight hate cards for one or two decks in the format.

If every Modern deck you made had to start with half your sideboard full of Leyline of the Voids, Tormod’s Crypts, Ravenous Traps, Relic of Progenituses, etc. you would grow to loathe the format. Then, when you lost despite having all those hate cards because you never actually bother to test the match you would loathe the format even more. By keeping these decks out of Modern, Wizards is doing you all  a favor and making sure there are always clear skies ahead.

The Quick Hits

  • According to Channel Fireball, Bloodbraid Elf was only the sixth best card in Modern. I can only assume that Slippery Bogle is next on Wizard’s hit list. [Power Rankings]
  • Caleb Durward thinks that bans only happen when there is public outcry. I guess he forgot every single card that was ever banned before Jace the Mind Sculptor and the original banned list for Modern. [Legacy Weapon]
  • The Gatecrash Fantasy Pro Tour is live on Facebook! [Fantasy Pro Tour]
  • James Arnold is back with another sweet infographic. This time about Gatecrash. [thatguyjames]
  • Want to know who to follow in Twitter to learn all about Magic Finance? Apparently a lot of people because this is only part one… [Gathering Magic]
  • Natasha Lewis looks at the virtues of each of Ravnica’s guilds. Including Dimir. No really. Check it out. [Wisdom of Guilds]
  • Surprise! This week’s Twenty Tweets are all about the Modern bannings! [Legit MTG]
  • Some well known Magic personas had a little fun with the community just before the B&R announcment. [Sweet Tweets]
  • Patrick Sullivan is usually on top of things, but couldn’t be more wrong about un-banning Golgari Grave-Troll. [Star City Games]

Wallpaper of the Week

This week we were treated to Hellkite Tyrant as the wallpaper of the week. This likely would have gotten an A+ if it wasn’t for the weird Gatecrash stuff going on at the bottom of the image. I am thrilled to have a dragon violently tearing apart Big Ben as my wallpaper. It would have been nice if the dragon was breathing fire but I’m not going to be that picky.

Grade: A

The Week Ahead

Gatecrash is out which means we get to hear all about everyone’s amazing new deck full of secret Gatecrash tech until they get destroyed at Friday Night Magic by the decks that are still Tier 1.

10 Responses to “What We Learned—Clear Skies Ahead for Modern (Feb. 4)”
  1. Matt Jones says:

    “prominent role in vintage” is funny. I’ve never actually seen anyone play vintage, so it feels how i imagine reading “plays a prominent role in discussing goulash recipes with a bridge troll” would feel. 🙂

  2. tony says:

    Banning all the combo decks is lame. Storm wasn’t even good when they banned seething song. People are right to be angry. If you were some 13 year old with a $10 a week allowance and your only deck got ban hammered on a completely arbitrary basis you might quit the game. Even if you are not, it is highly aggravating. I still have a play set of Vesuvas i spent a lot of money on that got de facto banned when Cloudpost got the ax. I think maybe I should have mailed them to Wizards and demand compensation for my damages.

    • Rich Stein says:

      They’re not banning Combo decks, they’re making them slower. No one is stopping you from casting Scapeshift for lethal damage with Valakut, they’re just making you wait until turn four or five to do so.

      There are still plenty of middle-tier decks you can play on a budget. There’s no point crying over the money you lost on Valakut. Formats change every three months. I’m sure plenty of people are still in tears over the money they lost on Survival of the Fittest.

      Also, if you still think Seething Song was banned on a “completely arbitrary basis” then you have a really narrow view of how Wizards operates. This was never about Storm being too good, it was about Storm being too prevalent in the online metagame and the deck having too much potential to win on turn three.

      For all we know, the banning was preventative for something Wizards has seen coming in Dragon’s Maze and decided to just ban Seething Song now. You’re crying over spilt milk and it’s just embarassing.

  3. Justin says:

    I’m person #3 from your article. I think you’ll find that if you look back through the Facebook conversation that you lifted this quote from, that I never advocated unbanning Dread Return, only the troll.

    The problem with the “no turn 3 kills” rule in a non-rotating format is that as the card pool gets larger and larger, you’re just going to have to keep adding to the ban list as new decks emerge or exisiting decks get faster. If you have to end up banning stuff like Glistener Elf or Ethereal Armor, then the format just becomes laughable.

    • Rich Stein says:

      Yes. Cards are going to get banned. You already have a bunch of commons on the list of banned cards. In fact, a lot of the banned cards are just plain awful on their own, as I pointed out.

      I don’t understand why this is such a hard point for players to get. If you want to play degenerate combos go play Legacy. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. Wizards doesn’t want you playing those decks in Modern. Take them somewhere else.

      What’s laughable is your suggestion that a card like Glistener Elf or Ethereal Armor would be banned. What always gets banned are combo enablers. This is why Golgari Grave-Troll is banned instead of every single reanimator spell in the format. It’s why Cloudpost is banned instead of Emrakul. It’s why Glimpse of Nature and Skullclamp and the artifact lands are banned instead of half the elves in the format and Arcbound Ravager. A card like Glistener Elf would never get banned because a card like Blazing Shoal is what fuels that kind of combo.

      Eventually cards will come off the banned list as well, as we learned from Valakut’s unbanning. Wizards wanted an interactive non-rotating format and they got it. If that costs them a handful of players who want to play degenerate combos but don’t want to shell out the money to play Vintage/Legacy then so be it. They’re clearly willing to let those players go in order to keep turn-three kills out of Modern.

  4. Li Xu says:

    Very well written and informative post. Now that I think about it, it makes a ton of sense for Wizards to hose the non-interactive combo decks, of which Storm was pretty much the only one remaining. All of the remaining combo and semi-combo decks have a high degree of interactivity (Pod, Twin, Tron, Scapeshift), and as a player of fair decks, those matchups are just as fun and interesting to me as the fair versus fair matchups.

  5. Justin says:

    You realize Infect can kill on turn 3 without Blazing Shoal right? Those two cards being banned make the most sense if WotC decides to power down those decks without having to ban multiple cards from each archetype (i.e. the pump spells or the 1/1 hexproofs). Same goes with G/R Tron: Karn if you want to power it down or Urza’s Tower if you want to kill it completely.

    The main thing about the bannings that irks me is the timing of Wizards deciding to kill a whole deck during the middle of a PTQ season. Not to mention, it would’ve made alot more sense to just ban it back when they banned Rite of Flame. I also find it funny that Wizards wants to make Modern affordable, but just killed one of the cheapest decks to build (especially online, which certainly didn’t help Seething Song’s case and doesn’t bode well for Infect or Bogle.dec).

    I still maintain my stance that Troll can come off the ban list as long as Dread Return stays on it. Sure, GGT is a combo enabler, but so is Stinkweed Imp and that’s legal. Goryo’s Vengeance, Unburial Rites, Living End (and maybe Diabolic Servitude if someone breaks it) are the only remotely playable reanimate spells in the format, and can’t be used until turn 4+ at the earliest anyways, which is well within WotC’s rules for the format.

    • Rich Stein says:

      As Li points out, there are still plenty of fair interactive combos in Modern. Infect’s Turn 3 kill, which is something I enjoyed thoroughly in Standard not too long ago, is one of these decks. It is part of a balanced metagame that Wizards is fostering. Tron is a similarly interactive deck and a resolved T3 Karn isn’t an auto-win the way Seething Song would be.

      I mentioned this to you before on the FB thread but I guess it bears repeating: Having Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Grave-Troll in the same deck is what powers degenerate graveyard strategies. You are statistically doubling your odds of being able to play a T1 Faithless Looting into a T2 Goryo’s Vengeance for some silly Legendary Creature. It doesn’t even have to be good. Reanimate Nicol Bolas and deal 7 damage and Mind Twist your opponent on T2. Or you can Unburial Rites any creature you’d like on T3 with amazing consistency.

      Dread Return would fuel the Bridge from Below/Flame-Kin Zealot Deck, but that doesn’t mean being able to Dredge for 6-18 cards by turn 3 isn’t going to allow for something similarly degenerate.

      Also, I don’t know why you think Wizards wants to make Modern affordable. That’s never been their goal. They want to make it accessible and interactive. They don’t care if Tarmogoyf costs $100, they just want to make sure there are enough Tarmogoyfs out there for everyone to pay $100 each for them. That’s the problem Legacy has with the cost barrier. Wizards doesn’t care about a cost barrier for modern so long as the cards are in circulation.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Monday, Rich Stein defended the banning of Seething Song in Modern, while Jess Stirba explored the world of ramp without […]

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