This week, Wizards R&D announced that three new cards would be joining the Modern banned list: Oko, Thief of Crowns, Mox Opal, and Mycosynth Lattice. In the past few months, Oko has been running roughshod over more or less every format it has touched, so it’s not surprising to see a ban there—but Mox Opal has been a mainstay of Modern for years, and its departure will have immediate consequences.
There is no doubt that these bans will have an enormous impact on the future of the format—let’s talk about how things will look as Modern develops from here.
This is an interesting ban. It gave Eldrazi Tron decks a free “I win” button with Karn, the Great Creator, locking opponents out of the game in a truly miserable fashion. Ian Duke even pointed out that the ban isn’t necessarily about power level—it’s more about gameplay patterns that aren’t particularly fun. I like the ban, but of the three cards, it will have the smallest impact moving forward.
Decks with Karn, the Great Creator still have lockout options such as Liquimetal Coating, which is a much fairer way to take advantage of Karn’s passive ability. It won’t change the way the decks are constructed—Karn is still way too good not to play, even without Mycosynth Lattice, so the end result is a free sideboard slot in Eldrazi Tron and a renewed reliance on cards like Reality Smasher and Ugin to close out games.
Oko, Thief of Crowns
As it was the most egregious mistake to come out of R&D in a long time, I don’t think too many people will be surprised (or disappointed) by the banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns. A brutally oppressive and unfun card, the writing was on the wall when it came to Oko.
Decks using Urza, Lord High Artificer as the centerpiece win condition will obviously suffer as a result of the ban, as Oko was a critical part of the success of Urza decks. Between the banning of Oko and Mox Opal, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that the dominance of Urza decks will come to an end. They performed strongly before adopting Oko—the old “Whirza” lists—but without Mox Opal, the strategy suffers a huge nerf and will likely be unable to recover.
Urza decks aren’t the only ones affected, however, as Oko was seeing play in a wealth of other archetypes. Various Bant Snow strategies, built around Ice-Fang Coatl and Arcum’s Astrolabe, also incorporated Oko—usually alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Time Raveler. The prognosis for these decks is a lot more positive.
Whether you want to play a creature-focused strategy with Noble Hierarch, Stoneforge Mystic, and Spell Queller, or a slower game with Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command, the loss of Oko isn’t fatal to Bant Snow decks. As this is a somewhat unknown format, it pays to be proactive, so if you’re still wanting to play Ice-Fang Coatl, I’d definitely take an aggressive posture with creatures, rather than play a reactive control game.
4 Birds of Paradise 4 Noble Hierarch 4 Ice-Fang Coatl 4 Stoneforge Mystic 4 Spell Queller 2 Brazen Borrower/Petty Theft 3 Teferi, Time Raveler 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 4 Path to Exile 3 Force of Negation 3 Arcum's Astrolabe 1 Sword of Fire and Ice 1 Batterskull 4 Misty Rainforest 4 Flooded Strand 1 Breeding Pool 1 Hallowed Fountain 1 Temple Garden 1 Horizon Canopy 1 Waterlogged Grove 2 Field of Ruin 2 Snow-Covered Island 2 Snow-Covered Plains 2 Snow-Covered Forest Sideboard 3 Damping Sphere 3 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 On Thin Ice 2 Veil of Summer 2 Dismember 2 Winds of Abandon 1 Vendilion Clique
Finally, nothing demonstrates Oko’s dominance of Modern more than its inclusion in Death’s Shadow decks, a deck known for its fast pace of play. Four-Color Shadow, splashing for both Tarmogoyf and Temur Battle Rage, is nothing new—but these decks haven’t played a real 3-drop for years! You can expect a return to the normal Grixis configuration in coming weeks—or perhaps Traverse the Ulvenwald and Once Upon a Time are enough to keep people playing green.
No matter your opinion of Mox Opal, you can’t deny it was a pillar of Modern for a very, very long time. Love it or hate it, we lost a Modern legend with the banning of Mox Opal. Don’t fall for the trap of thinking that Mox Opal died for Oko’s sins—Mox Opal has, at various points through the history of Modern, been the most powerful card in the format. The ban is justified—and, in my opinion, a good move. Not all agree, however.
RIP Modern Affinity: 2011-2020
— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) January 13, 2020
Frank is obviously correct in his assessment that Affinity is dead in the water in Modern—what’s not correct, however, is that this ban is what killed it. The Mox Opal ban may have been the nail in the coffin, but generally when you put something into a coffin, it’s already dead. That was definitely the case with Affinity.
Hardened Scales overtook traditional Affinity as the best Mox Opal-powered aggro deck in Modern a few years ago, relegating Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating to the fringes of playability. The only thing that has kept the deck around since the rise of Hardened Scales is the rusted-on die-hards that have played the deck for too long to play anything else.
Affinity wasn’t good enough for Modern any more. The format has sped up to the point that Affinity’s turn-four goldfish kill isn’t fast enough, and Affinity has been fighting an uphill battle to stay relevant in a format that has become, increasingly, a race to see who can do the most degenerate things.
Think of it this way—how many recent additions have there been to the traditional Affinity lists? Ghirapur Aether Grid is, reasonably speaking, the only card that has meaningfully changed Affinity lists in the last five years, and it’s only a sideboard card!
In any case, no matter the histories of decks like Affinity and Hardened Scales, they’re both no longer decks you need to worry about in Modern. Mox Opal was the real power behind the Arcbound Ravager throne, and without it, the robot kingdom will wither and die. All is not lost, however, for those in possession of Affinity cards—Heliod, Sun-Crowned offers an extremely potent combo with Walking Ballista, so don’t go offloading your cards just yet—Heliod might be about to break Pioneer in half!
8 Forest 2 Plains 4 Temple Garden 4 Sunpetal Grove 4 Fortified Village 4 Hangarback Walker 4 Walking Ballista 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Llanowar Elves 2 Elvish Mystic 4 Voracious Hydra 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade 4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned 4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar 2 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger 4 Hardened Scales Sideboard 3 Rest in Peace 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 2 Evolutionary Leap 2 Fragmentize 1 Scavenging Ooze 1 Tireless Tracker 1 Mistcutter Hydra 1 Questing Beast 2 Shapers' Sanctuary
The final consequence of this ban in Modern is the permanent freeing-up of 2-5 sideboard slots. Throughout the history of the Modern format, packing artifact hate like Stony Silence, Collector Ouphe, or Shatterstorm varied between being prudent and essential—now, there’s hardly any need for it. Tron might play artifacts, sure, but there’s no need to target that part of their game plan with splash damage from Stony Silence. Disenchant effects are still fine, but all the dedicated artifact hate cards can hit the bench. Don’t sell them, however!
Don’t Sell Your Cards
I want to leave you with one final piece of advice—don’t sell any of these banned cards, or the cards whose prices have been hit with collateral damage. The price of these banned cards is plummeting, and while you might feel like you can get out ahead of the crowds all madly rushing to offload their banned cards, now is the worst time to do it. Why is that? You can thank me and my ilk, the Commander-playing filthy casuals. In time, we’ll restore some of the value to those banned Okos and Mox Opals.
Take a quick look at the general response to the bans, and it won’t be long before you see an EDH player happily announcing their intention to buy into banned cards as the price nosedives. Additionally, cards secondary to the ban, such as Stony Silence, will be bottoming out, and savvy speculators will snap them up at their nadir. Give it a few weeks, allow the price to recover and stabilize, and then reassess your position. After all, Sensei’s Divining Top is banned in Modern and Legacy, and it’s still worth $40 thanks to Commander!