There’s just been a major shakeup in the Magic: the Gathering world.
“Announcement Date: April 4, 2016
Effective Date: April 8, 2016
Magic Online Effective Date: April 13, 2016
Eye of Ugin is banned.
Ancestral Vision is unbanned.
Sword of the Meek is unbanned.
Lodestone Golem is restricted.”
Let’s talk about what it means.
Most of us expected that something would be banned from the Eldrazi deck, but we didn’t know exactly which card (or cards), and what other changes might come along with it. Many die-hard Modern players cross their fingers for an unbanning each and every time an announcement is made. This time, they weren’t disappointed!
Eye of Ugin was one of the Eldrazi deck’s two “Sol Ring lands,” and is a tremendous part of what made it so powerful and explosive. A common strategy among dedicated Eldrazi players was to mulligan any hand that didn’t contain either Eye of Ugin or Eldrazi Temple. With 8 cards to look for, such a strategy was not only feasible, but made for one of the periods of greatest dominance we’ve ever seen in Modern! With Eye of Ugin gone, Eldrazi players can no longer expect a “Sol Ring land” in every opening hand, and the deck will face a level of inconsistency that ought to keep it from being quite so oppressive.
Will Eldrazi still exist in Modern? Absolutely. In particular, with the unbanning of Ancestral Vision, it becomes appealing to play with Processors like Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder. I predict that we’ll still see a healthy number of Eldrazi decks in Modern, but they’ll be forced to grow and evolve. Whatever happens, the bottom line is that tapping 4 or 5 lands to cast a Reality Smasher on turn 4 is well within the scope of Modern’s “normal” power level. What existed before this banning was most certainly not.
Outside of Eldrazi, Eye of Ugin was also a major player in UrzaTron (and specifically RG Tron). Often, the deck would only play a single copy of Eye of Ugin, and it certainly wasn’t Tron players’ most common route to victory (as anybody who’s ever faced down a turn 3 Karn Liberated knows). However, the single Eye of Ugin was very important to the structure of the deck. It meant that you could build RG Tron with a high concentration of mana sources, but still be confident that you wouldn’t flood out in the late game. Once you reached 7 mana, Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying would suddenly represent a deadly threat, since either could find Eye of Ugin, which would in turn find something like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
So RG Tron, like Eldrazi, will lose a lot in the realm of consistency. Instead of being content with mostly mana, it will have to strike that delicate balance between ramping and playing with expensive win conditions. Will Tron survive it? Of course. In my opinion, it will actually make building the deck more fun, since players will now be forced to choose their win conditions—Platinum Angel? Sundering Titan? Ugin, the Spirit Dragon? Now each pilot will get to put their own mark on the deck, instead of everything being so uniform and formulaic.
Tron is the type of deck that’s resilient to all-out extinction. It has a self-balancing mechanism which is that: The worse Tron gets, the fewer people play Tron. The fewer people play Tron, the fewer Fulminator Mages and Crumble to Dusts show up in sideboards. The fewer sideboard cards against Tron, the better Tron gets. So if you’re a dedicated Tron player, don’t despair, you’ll get through this!
Interestingly enough, it might be a great time to transition towards a blue-based UrzaTron deck. These decks get Academy Ruins to play the role that Eye of Ugin might’ve filled. Also, Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry might make for a perfect end-game win condition for such a deck, especially when paired with Gifts Ungiven.
Sword of the Meek is now unbanned. Why, one might fairly ask, was this card banned in the first place? It’s because of this card.
Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek is an extremely powerful combo that can slot into a variety of midrange, control, and combo decks. Speaking generally, the return of this combo is good news for combo decks like Storm and Scapeshift. It’s terrible news for aggressive decks like Zoo and attrition-based decks like Jund.
It seems like the goal of this banned/restricted announcement was to revive control as a viable archetype in Modern. Eye of Ugin neuters ramp decks, and allows control decks to have a fighting chance while going to the late game against UrzaTron and Eldrazi. Ancestral Vision is now the cleanest and most direct card advantage spell legal in Modern. Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek offers a win condition, life gain, and a way to lock out creature and burn decks in the late game.
What Decks Might We See as a Result of These Changes?
Let’s start with some easy ones:
Blue Moon, Esper Control, Temur Midrange, Faeries, and UW Control with Ancestral Visions slotted right in.
It’s now my firm opinion that Snapcaster Mage and Ancestral Vision are two of the very best cards legal in Modern. The fact that these archetypes now get both will make them major players. Typically when a format is first shaken up, control decks take a while to get their legs underneath them. However, as time goes on, expect these decks to make up a healthy portion of the field.
UW Urzatron, UB Tezzerator, and dedicated Thopter/Sword decks.
The requirements for playing the Thopter/Sword combo are quite low. If you wanted, you could probably just toss 2 copies of each into a UW Control deck and have some success. That said, the combo becomes more powerful when you have more artifacts (making Thopter Foundry a more reasonable card in its own right). It also becomes better when you have a few ways to search your library for the combo pieces such as Gifts Ungiven or Muddle the Mixture.
UW Tron is a natural fit since it has lots of mana, lots of artifacts, and ways to draw extra cards and search its library.
I could also imagine something like an Esper Control deck playing a few Signets, Thirst for Knowledge, and Gifts Ungiven with both an Unburial Rites + Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite Package as well as a Thopter Foundry+Sword of the Meek Package.
The possibilities are many, but these changes certainly favor blue-based controlling decks more than anything else.
What’s Still Here?
It wasn’t long ago that my teammates and I were trying to find the absolute best Modern decks we could for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta. At the time, Eldrazi was a question mark hanging over everything, but from my perspective, the format at that time looked much like it does now, after this announcement.
The best and most obvious decks seemed to be Affinity, Infect, and Burn/Naya Blitz. Nothing has changed about that. Fast, streamlined, explosive decks will remain excellent choices in the new format.
Then there were Abrupt Decay decks like Jund and Abzan. Those decks can be geared to beat a small handful of known opponents, but in a diverse field, they sometimes lack the raw power necessary to do well. The banning of Eye of Ugin is great news for these decks, but the unbanning of Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision is catastrophic. Jund is my favorite deck in Modern, and it’s been good to me over the years, but I’m not willing to take it into a field of card-advantage based Snapcaster Mage decks.
Along those lines, blue midrange decks were already pretty good, and are clear winners from these changes. My first instinct is that a card like Ancestral Vision will pull us away from cards like Delver of Secrets, and more toward midrange decks that hit their stride around turns 4, 5, and 6.
There are also creature-based combo decks like Abzan Collected Company, Kiki-Chord, and Elves. These strategies remain basically unchanged. If you’re a master of these archetypes, you should stick with them. If you’re looking for a new deck to pick up, they’re not at the very front of my list.
Finally, there are combo decks like Storm, Scapeshift, Living End, Ad Nauseam, and Goryo’s Vengeance. When the rest of the format slows down, one good strategy is to try to speed up! Winning the game before Ancestral Visions comes off suspend is very appealing, as is punishing anybody wasting their time making 1/1 tokens off of Thopter Foundry. The biggest question mark with regard to these decks will be how well they match up against permission spells. The ones that can fight through permission easily will be good choices—the one’s that cannot should probably be avoided.
Vintage has gotten a bit of extra attention lately between its arrival on Magic Online and the weekly Vintage Super League, recently won by our own Luis Scott-Vargas.
The Vintage Super League players largely made the statement—both in their words and in their deck choices—that decks focused on Mishra’s Workshop were too powerful in Vintage, and needed to be nerfed somehow.
Personally, I’m glad to see that it wasn’t Workshop itself that got the axe. Mishra’s Workshop is an iconic card, and an iconic strategy that feels to me like an important pillar of Vintage. Restricting it would probably make the deck unplayable, and cut the number of individual cards being played in Vintage to a fraction of what it is now.
Aside from the Workshop itself, Lodestone Golem is the deck’s best card that to this point had remained unrestricted. At only 4 mana, it could often be played on the first turn of the game, and represents both tremendous disruption, and a fast clock. In its absence, Workshop players will now be forced to strike a balance between disruptive cards and win conditions.
In that way, the restriction of Lodestone Golem in Vintage feels similar to the banning of Eye of Ugin in Modern. It weakens the best deck without destroying it. Even better, it ought to increase diversity by forcing Workshop players to find creative replacements. Will we see decks with Hangarback Walker and Arcbound Ravager? Will we see decks with Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds? Will we see decks with Coercive Portal? How about Uba Mask? Hopefully, the answer to all of these questions is yes!
Vintage remains structurally the same. Workshop has gone from “pretty clearly the best strategy” to “still one of the best strategies.” In my opinion, that’s the sign of a perfectly reasonable, subtle change to the Banned and Restricted List.
Enjoy what these new environments have to offer!