No Banned List Modern? No Problem!

One of the more interesting events on the Magic horizon is the huge No-Banned List Modern event scheduled to take place this weekend at SCG CON. Let me be the first to say that I love when weird and wacky formats are given the spotlight, if only for a moment, because these types of tournaments highlight one of the elements I believe to be most special about Magic: deck building and working with unknown information.

When it comes to the “unknown,” No-Banned List Modern might as well be The Upsidedown. Everybody has their ideas about how it will work and what is good, but very few people have ever played a tournament. I’ve done a couple of small, local events over the years, but there simply are not many opportunities to play fringe formats in actual events, and especially not large ones!

When I set out to write this article, my idea was to paint a picture of the format and the metagame. But after exhaustive internet searches I realized that it was going to be a tall task. There isn’t a ton of relevant information that is easily accessible, and of the information that does exist, much of it is dated or are reports that draw conclusions where the sample size is too small and narrow to be reliable.

Not that these sources are not useful—I’m thankful that people took the time to share their thoughts (otherwise there would be little to work with!). The point is that No-Banned List Modern does not have a clearly defined metagame to paint! Which contributes to the fun and excitement.

What I can’t give you is a picture of what the metagame looks like with data and metagame percentages. What I can give you is a look at several of the decks that I think are powerful enough to give you a shot at stringing wins together, or on the other hand, decks that would be prudent to account for.

It’s Cool, I’m with the Band

The easiest place to start is by looking at the banned cards that have been made legal. These are obviously problematic for balanced tournament play, and so it makes a lot of sense that you’d want to utilize and even build around them.

Here’s the list:

Ancient Den
Birthing Pod
Blazing Shoal
Chrome Mox
Dark Depths
Deathrite Shaman
Dig Through Time
Dread Return
Eye of Ugin
Gitaxian Probe
Glimpse of Nature
Golgari Grave-Troll
Great Furnace
Green Sun’s Zenith
Mental Misstep
Punishing Fire
Rite of Flame
Seat of the Synod
Second Sunrise
Seething Song
Sensei’s Divining Top
Splinter Twin
Stoneforge Mystic
Summer Bloom
Treasure Cruise
Tree of Tales
Umezawa’s Jitte
Vault of Whispers

It’s kind of funny how I’d almost forgotten how big the banned list is! There’s something for everybody on this list. Whether you want to storm off, Clamp it up, have an affinity for artifact lands, or Counter-Top your way to the top, the list has a treat for you.


Whether you are actually planning to play in the event, or just checking in on what the format might look like, there are a few assumptions that I can share based on my research and experience playing the format.

The first is that you’ll likely face a large swath of decks, which is counter-intuitive. In the dark, I would assume that everybody would play the same handful of completely busted decks that are built around the most broken cards: Storm, Hypergenesis, and Elf-Clamp all come to mind.

While I think these strategies are obvious and busted, the format is much bigger than a handful of decks. Remember that people are playing this format for love and for fun, which means that it is a locus of brewing and rogue ideas. The rogue factor is accentuated by the fact that reliable data and information simply doesn’t exist.

It’s not like Legacy or Modern where you can look at the metagame winner’s percentage and draw obvious conclusions about what you should play. Players are left to their gut to make decisions, which means personal preference, nostalgia for certain cards and strategies, and small sample size data and experience come into play for making decisions.

My assumption is that if there were lots of data, it would be easy to draw conclusions, but without the Cliff’s Notes to explain the story to the masses, players will simply draw their own conclusions based upon what they know, what they enjoy, and what they feel comfortable playing. In many ways, a format and tournament like this is exactly what Magic should be, or used to be, rather than how it is typically played in the modern information sharing age.

Play something you like. Play something powerful. Play a strategy you understand. And be prepared to deal with fast combo decks!

Broken Deck Lists (The Bad Guys)

Let’s look at some of the known commodities:


Conor Jacob

Storm is an obvious good deck. The archetype is already close to the top tier of current Modern and this list gets to play a ton of banned cards.

I believe some similar version of Storm is likely the level 1 best deck in the format. It’s too broken not to be a solid choice and I believe that conclusion is too obvious not to be seen by 99% of players. Based on the fact that I play Storm nearly exclusively in Modern, there is a high chance that I will play a version of this deck in the event.

It wasn’t so long ago that Infect was top dog in Modern, and this version gets to play Blazing Shoal!

Blazing Infect

Collin Brady

Infect is a straight turn-2 kill deck if I’ve ever seen one.

I love that this deck gets to play Mental Misstep in the main deck and can use it to protect its own combo as well as buy time against other all-in decks.


Joseph Hoang

Elves is another strong contender that benefits greatly from utilizing banned cards:

If you want to draw your entire deck, well this is the deck for you! Glimpse Elves dominated Old Extended and this list picks up Deathrite Shaman, Skullclampand Deathrite Shaman.

It’s flexible to a point and dense on threats, but the power factor of simply crashing over the top of opponents is the draw to sleeve up green cards.

Jeff’s No-Ban-List Dredge


When people are allowed to do truly broken things in truly broken formats it seems that Dredge is always in the mix… I stumbled across this list (no sideboard posted) and liked the designer’s take on the archetype.

Dread Return is a big game in a Dredge deck as it enables extremely quick kills via Flame-Kin Zealot and Zombie tokens generated from Bridge from Below. The ability to use Dread Return makes the archetype much faster and in step with a Legacy or Vintage style list, rather than having the feel of a Modern deck.

Don’t underestimate Dredge. Pack some graveyard hate if you are going to play this format!



Hypergenesis is another one of those truly broken decks. It’s basically like Living End after drinking five energy drinks. Obnoxious.

Get it? Energy drinks make the deck hyper.

The deck only gets to play one banned card, but it’s a good one. Also, since the deck is trying to cascade into it, it’s really like the list gets to play a bunch of extra copies of its signature spell.

Between the Chancellors, Spirit Guides, and Caverns, the deck has a lot of fast mana, which means that it will reliably put its signature spell onto the stack (assuming a cascade spell is drawn) on the second turn, but it can turn-1 people as well.

The format is pretty crazy, so be prepared for a wild ride! I’m looking forward to the CON this weekend and getting a chance to play some awesome formats. Between No-Banned List Modern and Vintage, I’m going to be in MTG paradise.

I mostly touched on what I believe to be the format defining unfair broken decks, but there are other levels to explore. Counterbalance/Top is legal, after all.

If you’ve got a great list, or a great idea for a list, be sure to drop it in the comments section if you’d like to share. If you are a No-Banned-List specialist, the comments section is where you will shine! I’m sure everyone working on lists would love to hear your insights. I spent a lot of time looking for information and it is sparse and spread out.

My goal for today’s article is to create a baseline for individuals planning to attend the event and hopefully the comments can serve as a space where people who are interested can discuss and refine ideas.

I started with what I believe to be the important level 1 basics of the format, but if there is sufficient interest in the comments, I’d be happy to expand the discussion and feature some of the level 2 decks I’ve encountered: Counter-Top, Delver, etc. So if you’d like more No-Banned-List content, make your voice heard!

Personally, I love these types of formats and I’m excited for the opportunity to play them in large events. I’d play Storm because Storm is great, but there are a lot of really enticing options. What would you play?

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