With the banned and restricted list update looming in January, I’m surprised at the lack of discussion about it. Major changes could have a huge impact, especially on Modern.
The last time that the Modern banned list changed was right before Pro Tour Valencia last February. Preceding the unbanning of Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl and ban of Deathrite Shaman, speculation was all over the internet. Whether it was Brian Kibler or Josh Utter-Leyton, everyone had a say in what they thought were the most reasonable unbanning(s) and banning(s), Deathrite Shaman being on the top of the list of potential bannings and Wild Nacatl dying to be released. But it was to the surprise of everyone when Deathrite Shaman was actually banned and Bitterblossom, a card previously thought to be too powerful for Modern, was unbanned.
There is no good way of accurately predicting what will be banned or unbanned, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t clues along the way. Before the B&R announcements on February 3, prices were well in flux. Although bans do affect the format, the biggest potential money makers will be the unbans. Here are the graphs for the two unbans for the previous announcement.
Bitterblossom showed the most obvious movement, though it was never clear whether the movement was the result of insider buyouts or speculation. Bitterblossm jumped from about $18 to $31 a week before the announcement, and at the highest point, reached $70 before settling down.
There was plenty of talk about a Wild Nacatl unban, and I personally bought into the speculation. Wild Nacatl also saw increases in price leading into its unbanning, most pronounced in the FNM version of the card. The prices also abated after it was discovered Zoo wasn’t really the deck to beat in the format.
So the million-dollar question is, what are the potential unbans coming up this year, if any?
I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but here’s the only card that I picked up on my radar.
There’s been a good amount of movement on FNM copies of Bloodbraid Elf, a card that has proved to be powerful in the Modern format. There is currently only one copy of FNM Bloodbraid Elf on TCGPlayer at $9.25, and it’s not even near mint. Last time Bloodbraid Elf was legal in Modern at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Jund was far and away the most popular deck in the format, sporting almost a third of the metagame. I would be shocked if Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned, but then again, the B&R Announcement has been more about shaking up the format for the Modern Pro Tour rather than equalizing the field.
In a world where Treasure Cruise exists, Ancestral Vision for all intents and purposes is safe to come out to the party. While the price has only gone down since its Duel Deck Anthology reprinting, Ancestral Vision would give blue-based control decks a foothold in the metagame by providing them with a much needed source of card advantage. I don’t think there is a good money to be made speculating on Ancestral Vision, foil copies are already $55 on TCGPlayer, suggesting that speculators have already moved in to the card. While prices will certainly move in the case of an unban, there are plenty of copies available that it would be difficult to make money off the buylist.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Treasure Cruise is on top of the potential banlist. It’s not so much that the card is overly powerful for the format, the Modern meta is quite able to adjust to any card, broken or not. I would attribute the Chalice of the Void’s 180% growth and Choke’s 700% growth to this one card. But the fact of the matter is that Treasure Cruise has sufficiently warped the format such that it’s really come down to either playing Treasure Cruise or finding the combination of cards to beat Treasure Cruise. The fact that Burn is running Treasure Cruise should be alarming, because the last time that Burn splashed a color, Deathrite Shaman was banned. There’s already a precedent for a card being banned in Modern while it’s still in Standard, so that argument is right out the window. If Wizards wanted to shake up the Modern format, banning Treasure Cruise would be the way to do it.
It’s anyone’s guess what would happen if Treasure Cruise were to go, but I would say that Pod would displace UR Delver as the deck to beat, which has already been the case on Magic Online. As is the case for decks that become public enemy number one, hate cards will invariably come around. I liked Grafdigger’s Cage at below $2, and I still like Grafdigger’s Cage at $3.50 especially in the case that Treasure Cruise is banned and Birthing Pod remains untouched. Will Birthing Pod be banned? Eventually, but who knows when?
The next card is a lot less uncertain because an argument can be made for and against its banning. Dig Through Time gives blue combo decks a fighting chance against Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Liliana of the Veil. It’s also not as degenerate as Treasure Cruise as a draw engine, though arguably a much more powerful effect even at twice the mana cost. In the scenario that both draw engines are banned, Steam Vents decks would once again be left to the whims of Overgrown Tomb decks, and will presumably go back to the Grim Lavamancer plan. In the case that Treasure Cruise is the only ban, UR Delver will likely step back to its previous spot as a tier-two deck. Combo decks will definitely benefit from this shift in the metagame, particularly Splinter Twin and Scapeshift, which have hugely benefited from the addition of Dig Through Time. Because of this uneven exchange, if Treasure Cruise is banned, I would expect Dig Through Time to also go as it would otherwise pigeonhole blue decks to play the midrange, control, or combo game without elements of aggro or tempo.
Whatever the B&R Announcement brings, I hope that the Modern metagame will become as engaging as it was when Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were first released into the format. Khans of Tarkir has done much to shake up the Modern format, and here’s to hoping that more goodies for eternal formats will come out of this block!
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