When Wizards tests cards, most of their efforts go toward balancing Standard and Limited, with the idea that if a card is too good in an older format then at least it shakes things up a bit and they can always fix it with the Banned and Restricted list.

On Monday, they dished out some serious fixing.

Announcement Date: January 19, 2015
Effective Date: January 23, 2015
Magic Online Effective Date: January 28, 2015

Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pod are banned.
Golgari Grave-Troll is no longer banned.

Treasure Cruise is banned.
Worldgorger Dragon is no longer banned.

Treasure Cruise is restricted.
Gifts Ungiven is no longer restricted.”

I’ve seen a variety of reactions to the ban list update, and in general people seem to be taking it better than usual. There are exceptions, of course.

Every time a card gets banned, someone will get angry. I know the feeling. I once wrote an article arguing that Survival shouldn’t get banned (it definitely should have). Later, when Seething Song got banned in Modern, I wrote one of my worst articles lambasting the decision. People do strange things during times of mourning.

It’s important to keep perspective. I’ve seen apps that help people refrain from texting while inebriated. In a similar vein, it’d be nice to have technology that stops us from making decisions while nerd-raging.

I believe it was spiderman that once said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This applies to Magic cards. Cards that once fought the good fight can become the enemy and need to be culled.

If you play long enough, you’ll eventually see a loved card get the axe.

The flipside is that Wizards has the power to energize stagnant formats and nerf dominant decks. It’s one of the things that gives games like Magic and League of Legends their replayability.

– Birthing Pod (Modern)

I’ve heard a lot of random stats that both support and contradict the banning of Birthing Pod—like diversity of Top 8 or the frequency of Pod making the finals and yadda yadda yadda.

According to mtgtop8.com, the top two winning decks in Modern are (were) Pod and UR Delver at an almost identical 16% of winning decks apiece. This is a big % for Modern. For context, the next highest deck is at 10%.

Siege Rhino made Pod better, and people were already talking about banning Pod before. The reason Survival got banned instead of Vengevine is because even if the printing of Vengevine was the tipping point that made Survival too good, there’s always the danger of printing some new creature that breaks Survival again down the line. It’s almost always correct to ban the tutor effect.

Modern was diverse even with Pod around, but that doesn’t actually matter much. Looking at past Modern bannings, Wizards has shown a willingness to ban cards whenever there’s a clear top deck, as opposed to Legacy and Standard where a card needs to have a stranglehold on a format. I think that because Modern doesn’t rotate in a traditional sensethey’re worried that the release of a new set isn’t enough to make things interesting, and so long as Modern is a Pro Tour format they’ll lean toward banning because it has the side benefit of shaking things up and building excitement.

“What will the Pros do with this crazy new metagame?”

It makes sense. Heck, I’m interested to see what happens. It’s definitely more exciting than watching a neverending trudge of Pod and Treasure Cruise mirrors.

I will miss some of the interesting games that Pod, in its complexity, brought to the table. It seemed like every time I watched Josh McClain in the later rounds of a Modern GP, I regretted actually playing the event, wishing that I’d just followed him around all day to bird.

In my Facebook feed, I’ve seen a myriad of reactions from Pod players, but many were playing Pod because they realized it was the top deck in the format. They saw a banning as overdue, and that’s why they were playing the deck in the first place.

The main complaints were from people that were concerned that Pod’s banning would increase the price of the format. I understand the sentiment, and I had that reaction when Brainstorm got restricted in Vintage. The difference is, the only viable budget decks in Vintage were Null Rod-style fish decks, and without 4 Brainstorms they couldn’t compete with the rest of the format. In a real way, Vintage became much pricier for the budget-minded, as there were three less commons to fill out slots with.

Modern is a bit different because cutting Pod is only trimming one deck among many, and Modern has recently seen fetchlands and Thoughtseize reprinted, which helps costs quite a bit. Sure, if you only play the top deck, and you expect the next top deck to be some form of Tarmogoyf/Dark Confidant/Liliana deck, then yeah the format gets more expensive. But Modern is diverse, and there are a ton of competitive options out there.

It also helps that there have been a number of other reprints with Modern in mind. Hopefully, they have plans to reprint Tarmogoyf as a rare—not a mythic but a regular rare.

– Treasure Cruise (Modern)

Absolutely no one was surprised by this banning. A large part of why Ponder and Preordain are banned is because Wizards doesn’t want blue to absolutely dominate Modern, and Treasure Cruise was doing that.

Raw card advantage spells are almost impossible to hate out because even if you draw your hate card (say, Rest in Peace), the rest of the deck still works, and there’s a very real chance to draw the hate card when it isn’t relevant. Note that this is similar to trying to hate out Pod, where you can lose to random creature beatdown while holding a Shatter effect.

I’ve heard a lot of players ask me questions like, “With Treasure Cruise banned, will deck X be playable again? I liked that deck but couldn’t play it with UR Delver in the meta.” The answer is yes, whatever deck you were playing pre-Cruise will likely be viable again with its banning, whether that was Affinity or Tron or 4c Gifts. Heck, even UR Delver itself will still be viable, though it’ll be much less resilient and popular/dominant. I was having success with UR Delver even before Cruise was printed (look for my post-banning primer next week!).

– Dig Through Time (Modern)

Another smart ban. A few Delver variants were playing 1-2 Digs as Treasure Cruise 5-6, and it was primed to take over where Cruise left off if it was left untouched.

Plus, combo decks like Scapeshift and Twin were already on the Dig plan, and it’s possible that they would’ve become dominant without Pod and Cruise in the format.

In the last Modern GP, I played a Junk deck, and getting the Scapeshift matchup to 50% was difficult. Post-board I had discard spells, Aven Mindcensors, and Memoricides, but even in games where I resolved Memoricide on Scapeshift, I was still in danger of losing to a chain of Dig Through Times with burn/Inferno Titans as the kill.

+ Golgari Grave-Troll (Modern)

A holdover from when the Modern Banned list was first created, this unban seems incredibly safe, especially considering how other unbans (Bitterblossom, Wild Nacatl) have done.

Stinkweed Imp hasn’t done anything of note, though it’s possible it was missing the redundancy of another large dredger. For the most, most people agree that Dread Return is the scary card in Dredge.

Will I be brewing with Troll? Who knows, but probably not. I usually try and avoid decks that can randomly get hit by splash hate, and even when dredge isn’t popular people will still sideboard graveyard hate. I am interested to see what Travis Woo does with the card, if anything.

– Treasure Cruise (Legacy)

A lot of people were complaining about Cruise in Legacy, and Wizards listened. This ban is a bit more controversial than the Modern one, but Cruise decks were still about 30% of the meta and it would’ve been embarrassing to ban it in only Modern and then have to come back and ban it in Legacy later.

When blue mages like Shaheen Soorani are complaining about a sweet draw spell, something’s probably wrong. For as long as Cruise was legal, it felt like it was correct to play it in just about everything, and if you follow that line of reasoning you figure you might as well play the best Cruise deck and all of a sudden everyone’s playing UR Delver mirrors. There have been worse Legacy formats, but it has also been much better.

One bad thing about Cruise in Legacy is that it made Brainstorm decks better, and they didn’t exactly need the help. I don’t support a Brainstorm ban since it’s absolutely one of the most fun cards to cast in Magic and a large part of what makes Legacy special, but I’m all for banning other cards that might put blue decks over the top.

There have been periods of time where I thought Liliana of the Veil was better positioned than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I’m not sure we’re going to have one of those, but at least the card can compete again.

Without Treasure Cruise, people will go back to playing Nimble Mongoose and Tarmogoyf. Aside from the obvious nombos with delve and threshold, Cruise rewarded you for curving out with spells and loading up the graveyard, and spending a land drop on Wasteland (instead of fetch + cantrip) or holding up Stifle was incongruous with that plan.

When it’s no longer a race to see who can Treasure Cruise first, the tempo mirror is once again going to lean toward who can screw with the other person’s mana or resolve the more resilient threat. While Young Pyromancer is still a fine card, and matches up well against Tarmogoyf and Nimble Mongoose, it’s a bit weak to cards like Forked Bolt and Rough // Tumble.

Since Dig Through Time wasn’t banned in Legacy, Young Pyromancer decks will want to run 3-4. It’s a bit slower than Cruise, but the card advantage is still there and it’s great for chaining spells and pumping out tokens. If you don’t have the cards for RUG and still want to play tempo, testing UR Delver with Dig is a solid place to start.

+ Worldgorger Dragon (Legacy)

A lot of people have been referencing my banned series on the card, which you can find here.

Basically, Wizards cited the same conclusion that I came to: reanimating a Worldgorger Dragon isn’t necessarily better than just reanimating a Griselbrand, especially since it’s weaker to cards like Swords to Plowshares and requires a more specific type of reanimation spell than Reanimate or Exhume. Meanwhile, comboing off with Dragon can be a lot of fun, and it has some nostalgia value for some oldschool Vintage players out there. Remember, much of the reason Dragon was good in Vintage was the existence of Bazaar of Baghdad.

Already, I’ve seen people talking about different win conditions, including special lands like Nephalia Drownyard, Shivan Gorge, and Stensia Bloodhall. While I don’t think Dragon has what it takes to dominate, it will be interesting to see what the Legacy community comes up with.

With Dragon’s unbanning, I’ve heard a few players question other cards on the banned list. It’s not that Wizards thinks Worldgorger Dragon is OK and Black Vise needs to stay banned, but rather they want to unban things slowly, saving cards for later to keep things interesting. You can see a pattern over the last several years with cards like Mind Over Matter and Land Tax and now Worldgorger Dragon all getting stretched out.

If you’re curious about my thoughts on the rest of the banned list, I cover it all in my Banner Series Conclusion back in June, which you can find here if you haven’t read it yet.

Treasure Cruise is Restricted (Vintage)

This is even more controversial than the Legacy banning since this is the format where Gush is legal, but once again Wizards doesn’t want to have to come back and restrict it later. Plus, I’ve heard some people worried that Vintage was slowly shifting to a quad-Cruise format, which this limits.

On a selfish note, I love this because I was only running a miser’s in Survival anyway (yes, that’s my Vintage deck of choice).

Gifts Ungiven is Unrestricted (Vintage)

When Gifts was restricted, people were running 4 and using it to tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, Recoup, and who cares what else—we’re getting a Yawgmoth’s Will. At the time, it was just a bit better than the rest of the format, giving the Mana Drain decks an edge, and the restriction made sense. Remember that everything was slower, and Darksteel Colossus was still the Tinker target of choice.

Nowdays, we have more compact and mana-efficient wins with cards like Gush, Time Vault, and Young Pyromancer running rampant. In that context, the mana-intensive Gifts packages of old might not be good enough, and at the very least they’re much less scary. In the 4-drop slot, Gifts didn’t have Jace to compete with.

Will Gifts Control be viable? Of course. Currently, I’m happy to play the first Gifts in my Mana Drain decks, and the card is pretty good at finding the win with packages like Yawgmoth’s Will, Snapcaster Mage, Time Vault, and Voltaic Key. Will 4x Gifts Control be viable? Probably not since it’s competing with cards like Gush, Jace, and the odd delve spell, but I expect to see 2-3x builds popping up.

That’s it for this week. I’m happy with the announcement—I was getting a bit tired of the “first to Cruise” subgame—and I’m hopeful that the loss of Pod might help make aggro viable in Modern.

What decks are you excited to play with after the bannings?

Caleb Durward

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