Ordaining the Future: January 18th Banlist Predictions

Since the rise of Dredge, Modern has undergone some frightening changes. Linear aggro-combo decks have experienced a renaissance to fight off the Grave-Troll menace. Toting Eldritch Moon sleeper Grim Flayer, Jund has secured additional metagame shares as it combats these strategies. And Tron, never a favorite against pump-based aggro, has experienced perhaps more shifts than any of Modern’s archetypes as it adjusts to an increasingly polarized metagame.

Modern is also stirring at the non-meta level, and increasingly so as our calendars approach the fabled January banlist announcement. The format is no stranger to ban-mania, as any Nexus reader knows full well. Our own team has provided some level-headed banlist content, but I’ve read particularly egregious pieces from elsewhere this cycle (the linked articles include suggestions to unban Mental Misstep and bring the hammer down on Reveillark).

We haven’t had a data-driven banlist article (outside of David’s banlist testing series) at Modern Nexus since almost a year ago, when Sheridan left our team. Today, I’ll try my (unfortunately, non-statistician) hand at a fact-based banlist prediction for January 18th in the same vein as those we used to do.

Assessing the Metagame

Any credible banlist article piece begins with a context exposé. It’s true that Modern Nexus hasn’t had a traditional metagame update since September (a situation that our editor has assured will be rectified in the fast-approaching new year). But we’re not completely lost when it comes to metagame analysis. Sites like mtgtop8 and MTGGoldfish, for all their faults, reliably release fresh data every day, pulled from both paper results and online tournaments.

Based on those numbers, here are the decks that have seemed to make up Modern’s top tier for the past two months. I used only the live tournament numbers from mtgtop8 (paper-based) and the home page stats from MTGGoldfish (online-based) while constructing this table, which is meant to provide a general sense of how Modern currently looks rather than a comprehensive breakdown.

Archetypemtgtop8 %MTGGoldfish %
Infect9%8.6%
Jund6%8.9%
Dredge7%4.9%
Tron5%5.9%
Burn4%4.1%

At a glance, this metagame doesn’t look so bad. No one deck takes up 10% or more of the metagame, and there seems to be a healthy spread of archetypes present. Infect is the clear top dog, and Jund comes right behind it, boasting one of the best Infect matches in the format. Up next are Dredge and Tron, softies to Infect that crush fair strategies like BGx. Burn takes last place, joining Infect as a linear aggressive strategy that has no problem dismantling the attrition breakers. We’re met with a classic rock-paper-scissors scenario: linear aggro beats Dredge and Tron, those decks beat BGx Midrange, and BGx beats linear aggro.

When we take a look at data from the last two weeks only (provided by mtgtop8), and allow online events, the numbers start to demonstrate something different.

Archetypemtgtop8 % (online + paper)
Dredge14%
Burn10%
Jund9%
Infect8%
Tron7%
Death's Shadow Aggro6%
Abzan6%

Same rock-paper-scissors, much larger scale. Again, we have Death’s Shadow, Burn, and Infect representing linear aggro, BGx Midrange chasing them down, and Dredge and Tron choosing paper every time. But in this table, the top-tier decks take up twice as much space. Combined, these decks fill up a whopping 60% of the Modern metagame in their two weeks, leaving very little room for the many lower-tier strategies Modern is known for to pull in wins themselves. To make matters worse, the format’s interactive top tier consists entirely of BGx Midrange, which between Jund and Abzan presents Twin-level homogenization.

Two weeks of data certainly is less reliable than an entire month’s worth, so it’s possible these numbers are just an artifact of a small sample. But, for the remainder of this article, I will proceed on the assumption that it represents the meta faithfully. We can call this format from the past two weeks polarized: a few best-of-breed contenders have emerged that fall under distinct umbrellas, and everything else struggles to keep up. In Modern, a format founded on and maintained by the principles of deck diversity, such polarization is unacceptable.

Thus, if we want to fix this issue, we must ask what factors have led to the polarized metagame. That way, we’ll know which problems need to be addressed.

May the Force Not Be With You

One of Modern’s fundamental problems (or quirks, depending on your standpoint) is its lack of generic answers. Without Force of Will and other efficient Counterspell effects, tremendous strain is placed on sideboards to address the many powerful strategies employed in Modern. When players need to beat a lot of unique decks, though, they run out of space in their sideboards quickly.

Additionally, since Modern is such a fast format and games frequently end around turn four, players must play many copies of hate pieces in order to draw them early enough that they matter, which further devastates their sideboards. Top-decking Surgical Extraction on turn three, by which time an opponent has a few Prized Amalgams in play, probably isn’t going to do a Grixis mage much good.

Players as respected as Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa have suggested solutions to this quirk (see whose side I’m on?), the most extreme of them being to increase the sideboard limit for Modern. Of course, the format has some terrific sideboard options, among them Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Ensnaring Bridge, and Spellskite. But Modern is so vast that playing too many of one type of hoser can prove fatal.

Pardoning Consistency

Modern’s playable consistency tools are Serum Visions, a significantly weaker cantrip than the now-banned Ponder and Preordain, and Ancient Stirrings, which only slots into very specific decks (Eldrazi, Lantern, and Tron—all of which, incidentally, are currently viable). If stronger consistency tools were legal in the format, interactive decks besides BGx Midrange might have better access to the tools needed to put up more of a fight against Dredge and Tron, as well as against the linear aggro decks. As things stand, players looking to locate cards with frequency in Modern are forced to run those cards in multiples. If they want the cards early, which they often do, they need to aggressively mulligan for them.

The consequence? Decks likely to survive in a Dredge metagame are ones that can afford the sideboard slots to run three or more pieces of dedicated hate. In other words, very few. As Dredge continues to perform well in tournament settings, the format continues to become more polarized. Of Modern’s interactive decks, only those with the absolute strongest cards available (Jund, Abzan) put up results. And these BGx Midrange decks now have both Grim Flayer and Dark Confidant to provide consistency, putting them leagues above any other interactive strategy in Modern.

Neither of those creatures cares too much about graveyards, either, giving BGx yet another leg up on its interactive would-be-colleagues: with all the Dredge running around, Rest in Peace, Relic of Progenitus, and Leyline of the Void have become common hosers. The huge chunk of lower-tier Modern decks that relied on the graveyard (Storm, Chord, CoCo, Grishoalbrand, Monkey Grow, etc.) have lost even more ground—if you’re going to lose to grave hate, you might as well play the best loses-to-grave-hate deck in the format.

We’re seeing a similar trend with the linear decks. Instead of getting by on raw power, these decks live and die on the redundancy of their pieces, achieving consistency in a Ponder-less world by running a critical mass of relevant cards. It’s no wonder Burn and Infect are doing so well in this metagame—they’re full of four-ofs!

These decks have also become much faster, freeing up sideboard slots traditionally dedicated to cards with mid-game utility. Without a mid-game, linear aggro decks don’t need these cards. Savvy players are simply sleeving up the fastest linear aggro decks and spending the spare sideboard slots on Ravenous Traps, leaving “slow” linear decks like Ad Nauseam, Valakut, and Affinity by the wayside.

A Proposed Solution: Unban Preordain

I believe adding a respectable consistency tool to the format would help remedy Modern’s sideboarding problem. Preordain is weaker than Ponder in a format with fetchlands, so I would start there. But even a card as innocuous as Preordain can be controversial. In a recent piece, Ryan Overturf argued against Preordain‘s unbanning. I’ll quote him here:

…if you’re playing off the top of your deck, and I get to look at two extra cards on some number of my draws, I’m going to execute my deck’s plan more consistently than you. I will draw fewer lands and more spells that matter. Whether I’m a combo, control, or tempo deck, I’m simply going to find my relevant things more than you’ll find yours, and that enables me to beat you even if your average power level is higher than mine. You will draw more lands and ill-timed spells over time than I will. Serum Visions is widely played despite awkward templating. Preordain would make every Serum Visions deck better by a lot, and would also show up in most if not all of the blue non-Serum Visions decks.

Let’s address these points one by one.

Modern’s combo decks already achieve consistency, but more through redundancy than selection tools. Additionally, the format is so tempo-centric that I doubt many of these decks would want to run Preordain themselves, since casting the card costs them a mana’s worth of board development. Even already-blue decks like Infect, which are now far removed from their combo origins, might not want the card. And if Infect did play it, I’m confident the decks that get a boost from Preordain being in the format—namely Grixis Delver and other Bolt-Snap-Bolt strategies—would work overtime to keep it in check. I also think it’s safe to assume existing nonblue, linear aggro decks (Death’s Shadow Aggro) would not splash blue exclusively for Preordain, as doing so would further weaken them to Burn and to Blood Moon.

As for finding relevant things, that would be the point of the unban. We want slower, interactive strategies to get a boost in Modern, and to be able to draw their interaction without mulling to four only to get blown out by a Nature’s Claim.

Ryan’s final point involves Serum Visions. Yes, Preordain would give a boost to every Serum Visions deck. But is that so bad? When Preordain was banned, Storm, Twin, and Blazing Infect were ubiquitous, and also ran full sets of Ponder. Now, Ponder is banned, and these decks don’t exist in Modern anymore, having each been directly addressed by the banlist. So, what Serum Visions decks do? All I see are Grixis Delver (a fair deck) and UR Prowess (which would, if anything, cannibalize Death’s Shadow and Infect shares), which together take up just over 6% of the metagame. If a Preordain unban buffs these decks, revitalizes others, or takes a bite out of Become Immense/Cathartic Reunion strategies, it will be a huge success.

Other Unban Targets

There are a few other cards Wizards could unban to help fair strategies combat Dredge, but personally I don’t think any of them are great options.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor: It’s true that Jace is pretty slow and doesn’t help much against linear aggro. But interactive decks already do fine against linear aggro. My beef with Jace is that it’s possible that he would homogenize interactive decks. Why play the non-Jace interactive deck when you could play the Jace one and have a trump in every interactive mirror? Given how well BGx is doing, this issue may never materialize. But it could go either way. Pricing issues aside, I think Jace is way too much of a wild card for Wizards to go for it this time.

Stoneforge Mystic: Stoneforge runs the same interactive-mirror-trump risk that Jace does, if on a smaller scale. But it also helps more than Jace against certain strains of linear aggro. David’s results did suggest a trend in which Modern became even more linear to fight Stoneforge decks, which could further polarize the format. That’s a worst-case scenario, since the primary goal of an unban next month would be to help restore Modern’s diversity. Still, I don’t think Stoneforge is much more unlikely than Preordain as an unban target. We know Wizards doesn’t test for Modern, and the Mystic doesn’t have any stigma from past Modern abuse. It’s also guaranteed not to be used in linear combo decks, unlike a highly efficient cantrip.

Green Sun’s Zenith: Synergy-based toolbox decks are deader than ever right now, but Zenith would undoubtedly make an appearance in every Chord/Company deck going forward. Either way, I don’t think it homogenizes deckbuilding the way it used to. Modern’s top decks are extremely strong and have all carved out their niche. I doubt many of them would play Green Sun’s Zenith.

The biggest strike against Zenith is that it might slot right into Infect, where it serves as Noble Hierarch and Glistener Elf while searching up sideboard bullets like Loaming Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Kitchen Finks. For this reason, I think Zenith is quietly the most dangerous card people have talked about unbanning this cycle and would prefer it stay on the list.

What About Bans?

Elephant in the room: I didn’t suggest any bans. At this stage, I don’t think any are necessary.

Explaining It All

It wouldn’t be difficult to argue for a Dredge ban with the information presented in this very argument, but none of the reasons I listed are ones that Wizards has ever used to defend a ban. Using only the criteria we’ve been given, arguing for a Dredge ban would actually prove quite difficult. Every card Wizards has banned since Modern’s inception falls into one of five categories based on the company’s careful language.

Of these five categories, only the final point can be applied to Dredge in any capacity. There are a couple issues with this bullet point, though. For one, while the deck hovers between five and ten percent of the meta, Dredge is not nearly represented enough to be on par with Cloudpost, Deathrite, or Cruise. Second, it’s not what Dredge does on its own that suppresses other archetypes—it’s how Dredge warps the format. Modern gets a lot faster and a lot more hateful to graveyards with Dredge around, and many decks that can’t spare multiple sideboard slots to beat Dredge become unplayable.

“Warps the format” sounds like a new categorization to me, and I wouldn’t put it past Wizards to create this new category if they felt they had to. But I also think there’s a much more elegant route available. Explicitly endorsing this categorization also opens the door for pundits to call for bans on cards like Lightning Bolt and Tarmogoyf, who indeed greatly limit the card pool’s viable options and strategies.

Nobody Likes Bans

The Modern community has become incredibly vocal about bans since the format was removed from the Pro Tour. For the most part, players don’t like them, and would vastly prefer cards be unbanned to address problems when possible. “When possible” is the operative term here—in many cases, it just isn’t.

But, as argued in this article, I think the stars have aligned for Preordain to smooth out the format. Wizards has no existing justification for banning Dredge, Modern houses zero successful spell-based combo decks, fair blue decks could use a helping hand, and letting a consistency tool back into the format might remedy one of Modern’s age-old idiosyncrasies.

Other Ban Targets

Like Dredge, Infect doesn’t currently fit into any of Wizards’ five bannable categories. Arguing for a Become Immense ban at this point seems silly to me, since this card is clearly not responsible for Modern’s strife. A hit to Dredge would equally hurt Infect and other pump-based aggro-combo decks, which would suffer both from the loss of a popular, favorable matchup and the loss of a deck that polices its own policeman.

Similarly, Gitaxian Probe and Mutagenic Growth are unlikely targets, as they specifically represent Infect (which hasn’t broken any rules) and are indirect hits to that strategy (whereas Wizards historically prefers to leave enablers alone and target cards that do overtly powerful things). After all, we haven’t ever seen the Simian Spirit Guide and Manamorphose bans some pros still clamor for, and unless Wizards totally changes the way it handles the Modern banlist, we won’t until they become clear offenders in a problematic deck.

A New Start for Blue

Hopefully I’ve made a compelling case for Preordain‘s unbanning. Even so, we don’t know if Erik Lauer reads Modern Nexus. If you’re me, you’ll spend the next couple of weeks hoping he does. And if you’re anybody who’s anybody, you’ll be looking forward to the update on January 18th!

One year ago, Wizards banned Splinter Twin and fragmented the Modern community with a nightmarish Pro Tour. This year, the stage is set for blue’s reparations to begin, and for Wizards to continue its recent trend of transparency with the playerbase.

Jordan is the copy editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. A devoted theorist, he always brings tuned brews to events. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies.

61 thoughts on “Ordaining the Future: January 18th Banlist Predictions

  1. How can you say infect doesnt fall into one of the bannable categories? It consistently makes a mockery of the turn 4 “rule”, winning often on turn 3 and occasionally T2. Other than that this I agree with the rest of the article. I havent seen a lot of talk for unbanning preordain but it makes a lot of sense.

    1. This is a typical response from someone who doesn’t understand the Turn 4 Rule. Infect is easy enough to interact with (using some of the most played cards in Modern, Path and Bolt) that it has a win-rate closer to turn 5 in actuality. See the piece linked below for more, or check out Wizards’ comments specific to the archetype.

      Understanding the Turn Four Rule:
      http://34.200.137.49/understanding-the-turn-four-rule/

      Aaron Forsythe on why Infect remains legal in spite of this rule:
      https://twitter.com/mtgaaron/status/295763761774612482?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

      1. Kind of a flippant response. Infect can and does win on turn 3 and 2. Does it win that early a “significant” amount of the time? We could probably look at games and figure out a good estimate of how often it happens – we would not know whether that crosses wizards definition of significant. It is fair to say the more competitive a deck gets the more problematic any turn three win becomes. Infect has way more t3 kills than anything else in tier one.

        1. Having more turn 3 kills than anything else in tier 1 is also not a violation of the t4 rule. Unlike you, instead of theorizing about how often infect kills early, i went and watched every infect game on camera this year, recorded the kill turns, and got real data. I found that infect kills before t4 around 13% of the time in real games. For comparison, it was found that bloom and seething song storm killed on t3 25% of the time. Clearly infect is nowhere near high enough to warrant a ban

        2. Look at the games and figure out an estimate of how often it happens? This is exactly what Wizards does. Their data far outreaches ours, since they also have MTGO as a huge pool, but even with the data we do have access to, it seems that Infect does not win on turn 3 or earlier a significant chunk of the time. Bobby, do you mind publicly posting your spreadsheet here so Darcy and others have more numbers to look at?

          1. I completely agree that actual data is better than guesswork. But saying you watched every on camera infect game is meaningless in isolation – was that nine games or nine hundred? If youre only seeing finals how many times did infect t3 the early rounds to get there?

            Assume your number is accurate – 13 percent is no joke for a tier one deck. You might think its 25 percent that triggers action, and you might be completely wrong. Wizards has intentionally said “significant” and “competitive” without giving hard numbers as thresholds. They may decide that broadly t1 is too linear and rather than spin the wheel and pick something stupid like conflagrate they start with the tier one deck thats killing on t3 more than one in every ten games as a measure to slow things down (complimented with a stoneforge unban ofc).

            If someone said dredge or burn have to go because of t3 kills youd be right to laugh them down. The claim against infect is far more legitimate even if ultimately wizards finds the deck can continue to get a pass for now.

          2. Wizards has access to way more data than any of us do. Infect has been fine so far according to that data, so much that they’ve directly referred to it a number of times and said that it doesn’t consistently win games pre-turn four enough for the deck to be considered a violator of the rule.

            I don’t think they have any reason to lie to us, and given how consistent they’ve been with their bans, I trust them. If it becomes an issue, I’m sure they will ban Infect.

            I just don’t see what data you have that’s causing you to assume that Infect winning before turn four is a problem now even though it wasn’t one before. (Although I would love to, do you mind sharing?) A simple increase in metagame share (which is relevant to what decks are being played, and not to how fast the deck is on its own) is not going to magically speed up the deck.

          3. New cards come out. Metagame shifts. The fact Infect was ok in 2014, 2015, and 2016 doesn’t mean its still ok in 2017. Perhaps you heard of a deck called Splinter Twin that was around for a few years and then eventually became not ok anymore?

            I don’t have numbers to tell you infect is a t4 violator. I don’t have numbers to tell you it isn’t either. I know it can win before t4. I know its gotten a lot better with Become Immense and Blossoming Defenses. I know Twin is gone and I know Dredge isn’t that good at killing or blocking an early Infect creature. I know this top tier metagame is probably more “aggressive and non-interactive” than is ideal for the format. Based on all these things I would not flippantly dismiss the idea that Infect could be in the crosshairs on Jan 16. If it passes without a change I won’t cry that the sky is falling either, but I won’t be shocked if BI or probe leave the format either.

      2. Minor note: The link to Sheridan’s article here is wrong. I assume this is the article Jordan was trying to reference:

        http://34.200.137.49/understanding-the-turn-four-rule/

        In it, Sheridan explains what WotC means by this term in detail, and uses past bannings to illustrate how it’s applied in practice. For anyone looking to understand Wizards’ methods in B&R decisions, I can’t recommend this article any higher.

  2. You could argue that Dredge invalidates control and midrange archetypes given its resilience. I don’t think they’ll come with that argument though, and thus I don’t think Dredge will get banned in January.

    In addition to winning too much, Splinter Twin was said to be supplanting other archetypes. So I guess that argument also became valid for Wizards.

    Nice article, especially the part of the unbans. Since nobody tests these cards, it’s hard to figure out if any of these will be safe in Modern.

    1. “Invalidates” is the wrong word to describe this situation, since BGx Midrange is still pretty ubiquitous. But it does seem like Dredge invalidates non-BGx midrange decks. The takeaway from that section, though, is that Dredge doesn’t really violate Modern’s stated rules in its current form. Wizards will have to provide us with a novel defense if they want to ban something from Dredge, which would at least improve our understanding of how they approach bans each cycle.

      In regards to Twin: some of the banned cards sorted into the five categories offended on multiple metrics (Eldrazi limited diversity AND won too much, for instance), but for the sake of simplicity, I chose the more offensive of each offense to sort each one.

  3. Isn’t the update on January 16th? (first Monday after prerelease)? The 18th is a Wednesday. Infect is also capable of numerous turn three kills and the more competitive it gets the more this is a problem. Also where the heck is Affinity in those metagame lists?

    1. Affinity has been notably absent of late, as mentioned in the article. It’s proving too slow to survive in this metagame, and too weak to splash hate from Infect and Dredge (who ever thought we’d see THAT day?). Anger, Bolt, Brutality, and Path are all mainboard staples that hassle Affinity, and the rebirth of Chalice strategies has players (including Infect) packing more artifact hate than usual.

      My bad about the dates, you’re probably right. Fine by me if we get the update two days earlier!

  4. Great article. It’s not quite as rooted in verifiable numbers and stats as the banlist predictions of old, but it’s definitely going in the right direction, and makes a lot more sense than most of the downright ridiculous “ideas” posted on some other sites.

    I agree with the Preordain conclusion too, and it was my front-runner for testing by David when he asked for suggestions a while ago, for pretty much all the same reasons you stated. I can’t help but laugh a little at the people claiming it’ll break the format by unleashing combo decks upon us. The only currently viable(ish) combo decks that would play Preordain are Ad Nauseam and UR Prowess, which make up 6% of the metagame (on mtggoldfish).

    Anyone who thinks upgrading Sleight of Hand to Preordain in these decks suddenly makes them Tier 0 is delusional. Even in the unlikely event that it pushes them to tier 1, so what? Like you said, UR Prowess would be taking shares from similar decks (Infect/Zooicide) and having a Tier 1 spell-based combo deck (Ad Nauseam) would probably be good for the format. No amount of wishful thinking will take any lower tiered combo decks than these and propel them to format domination with Preordain alone, so what are we so afraid of?

    As for fair blue decks, it certainly helps Grixis Delver, Grixis Control and Jeskai (Nahiri or otherwise), but those decks are doing pretty poorly as it is, so once again, a shot in the arm is unlikely to create any kind of apocalypse.

    The other card I agree might help balance the format without resorting to bans is Stoneforge Mystic (note, I don’t think it’s necessarily the only other potentially safe unban, only that it’s the only other one that solves the problems we have). It might lead to too much homogenization of lists (i.e. all fair decks with White run 4), but otherwise I think it helps more than it hurts. The two linear decks which are hurt the most by turn-3 Batterskull are Burn and Dredge, and they’re sitting at the top of the heap now anyway, so it can’t be a terrible thing to knock them down a peg. Otherwise, Infect and Affinity largely don’t care, but both struggle against Jeskai Control decks, which is one of the potential homes for SfM, so overall I think it’s pretty likely unbanning SfM keeps linear decks in check, rather than make the problem worse.

    I’m definitely with you on no bans for now, I think unbanning either of these cards (I doubt they’re ballsy enough to unban both at once, but you never know) should help push the format in the right direction, and if not, it’s only a few months to the following update to either unban more stuff or bring down the banhammer if that turns out to be necessary after all. Let’s cross our fingers, wait for January and hope WotC comes to these same conclusions.

      1. Only if Dredge takes a huge hit IMO. Preordain does make the deck a bit better, but it was dead before Dredge was a thing, and all the extra grave hate in people’s boards are really bad news for Past in Flames/Pyromancer Ascension.

      2. I believe you’re right about storm, though in its current state, the modern meta may still be too hostile for a graveyard-dependent spell deck to dominate. Currently storm is non-existent (<.5% according to Mtggoldfish), so it getting a boost probably isn't a bad thing.

      3. A Tier 3 (or 0.5% deck) being sent straight to Tier 1 with an unban has never happened in the format’s history, so I don’t see why we should be concerned about that happening now. What made Storm too good was extra mana, which allowed it to win earlier (i.e. Seething Song). Without those cards, all Preordain does is make the deck more consistent. The format has plenty of tools to address Storm, many of them even played in mainboards (Decay for Ascension, Bolt for Electromancer, Ooze, Inquisition, Thoughtseize, Relic, etc.) and Modern’s aggro-combo decks goldfish faster than Storm does, which would also keep it in check. Finally, if Preordain came off, there would almost certainly be a surge in Delver strategies, which are Storm’s worst matchup by a mile.

    1. “It might lead to too much homogenization of lists (i.e. all fair decks with White run 4)”

      Already the case with Goyf, Snapcaster, Bolt, Path, and Inquisition of Kozilek, so I don’t see this as a particularly major strike against SFM.

      1. I personally agree with you on this, but I could easily see WotC using homogenization as an argument to keep her on this list. I’m ready either way, I was going to need her in Legacy, so I got my playset before the last banlist update, so if we’re lucky and she comes off, I won’t be caught with my pants down!

  5. Hi Jordan, thanks for the article, I appreciate your insight and analysis based on the information available. I hope you’re right about preordain, I’d love to see it back and benefiting the blue-based control decks and combo decks that don’t really exist right now. However the powers-that-be (MaRo and Aaron Forsythe, I believe) have repeatedly said that ponder and preordain are untouchable because they’re just too good.

    Personally, I’m betting on no changes; I think they’re going to give it another 3 months to see what happens with the meta before deciding if they’ll shake things up.

    1. Actually, they have never said this. What they did say is that P&P were printed in a time where design did not understand how powerful one-mana selection effects were, and that they were too powerful for Standard. Source: http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/development-risks-modern-2015-05-22

      The reason these cards were banned is specifically that they enabled combo decks. Source: http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/explanation-september-2011-br-changes-2011-09-20-0

      This passage suggests that Wizards is not concerned about consistency in a vacuum, but in combo decks. All the combo decks P&P helped have now had additional cards banned from them (Blazing Infect, Twin, Storm), so none of these decks would prove problematic in Modern with a Preordain unban. The only blue decks left are of the fair variety (Delver, Nahiri) and of the aggro-combo variety (Infect, UR Prowess). The latter bunch might run Preordain, but wouldn’t benefit from it that much, since those decks already have tremendous consistency by redundancy. Fair decks, on the other hand, could really use a filtering effect to help get to their relevant answers faster.

  6. What i fear the most of a Preordain unban is that it will boost combo more than control and midrange.
    By nature, the format has many unfair/unbalanced cards available. Mox Opal, SSG and Phyrexian mana spells for example. Every card that gets into the format, is abused by unfair strategies. Quick example: Collective Brutallity seems a good versatile tool to fight aggro. Which is the best Brutallity deck? Dredge!, not Grixis nor Abzan/Jund.
    I really can’t get what makes those who carry the Preordain flag think that it will make Control/Tempo/Midrange better, and not Ad Nauseam and Reanimator.

    To me, the winner of this unban is Ad Nauseam. Not Snap-Bolt .

      1. You could see it like that, also you can think of it like highly potential for Ad Nauseam to make it into Tier 1. It is too uninteractive no matter you like the deck or not. I love the deck personally, but that’s not what we are looking for the format.

        However, Ad Nauseam being Tier 1 it’s not the end of the world. It’s still a turn 4 combo.

        Ultimately, it doesn’t bolster as much as you would want fair decks.

        1. “However, Ad Nauseam being Tier 1 it’s not the end of the world. It’s still a turn 4 combo.”

          This is exactly why I don’t think giving it Preordain is a problem. It’ll probably make the deck a bit more consistent, but it does absolutely nothing to help it get faster, and currently, it’s quite possible to stop Ad Nauseam before it can go off on turn 4. BGx destroys its hand, Uxx decks can dig for countermagic, and some of the faster goldfish decks can kill it by then. Helping the deck not lose to itself so much is a net positive as far as I’m concerned, and this is coming from someone who plays Affinity, so I don’t think I’m biased in the matter.

        2. A card being unbanned and then bringing a Tier 3 archetype straight to Tier 1 has never happened in the history of the format, so I don’t think this is a fair argument. It just doesn’t have any numbers behind it.

  7. Fair point, and this is also why I was willing to consider it for testing as you mentioned. I don’t think Ponder is ever going to be a serious consideration as it is far more powerful, but “fixed” Serum Visions might not be too much to handle. It’d be nice if decks that aren’t colorless got to select their cards like Ancient Stirrings in Tron or Eldrazi.

    There is a danger of a critical mass of cantrips making up for the depowered fast mana in Modern for Storm and similar combo decks, but we’re likely a ways away from that scenario.

    Coincidentally, I was planning on talking about your consistency points in my article next week. We don’t coordinate on topics here, I will swear on whatever you like, but we keep doing “themes” every few weeks.

    1. You may be right. But personally, I think DTT is a lot scarier in combo decks than Preordain, and the reason Preordain was banned is because it gave combo decks too much consistency. I also think Wizards’ reason for banning DTT (that Cruise decks would just run DTT instead) still holds ground, so nothing has changed enough for DTT to have a reason to come off.

      Preordain, on the other hand, was banned specifically for giving Storm, Twin, and Blazing Infect too much consistency. All three of those decks have been directly addressed by the banlist since then.

      1. What combo deck can easily hit UU and delve 4-6 in a reasonable time frame? UR Kiln Fiend decks and Ad Naus? If they become too good then you should ban a card out of their decks. I’m really tired of the we can’t unban any good U selection/draw because XYZ combo deck is going to become T0 with it. At that point is the binary choice – control sucks because WoTC is not going to print the needed answers into standard and the good U fair cards on the banlist will just make XYZ combo better so we’re going to say combo should be better than control indefinitely. If that’s their line they’re taking then I’ll just stick with Frontier and Legacy.

        TL;DR Fair Ux decks should not be punished for Ad Naus/Kiln Fiend.

        PS: DTT is way worse than TC in delver decks.

        1. DTT has the same issue as Ponder: it’s just way more powerful than Preordain. I’m with you that blue needs some selection. I just think it makes a lot more sense for Wizards to start small, especially considering they have no idea what the impact of DTT might be. The card is banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage, after all. Two Ponders on one card is pretty gross.

        2. Dig Through Time is powerful. Believe me. Getting 4-6 cards in yard for a spell based combo deck is barely difficult at all. T1 thought scour + fetchland gets 4 into the yard on t1 and sets up dig through time on t3. Combo decks fill graveyard quickly using cantrips to find their pieces anyway.

  8. I can’t really say I agree.

    Yes Infect does not currently play serum visions, but they have in the past, and I wouldn’t put it past them to play Preordain was it ever to come off the banlist. UR Kiln Fiend may speed ahead of become immense strategies like Zooicide, but I fail to see how this is an actual improvement, that deck is just a variation on the strategy.

    If anything preordain slots into unfair decks before fair blue decks. And I’m not even sure fair blue decks need it. Grixis Delver is doing fairly well as-is without preordain.

    1. Have you looked at the hard numbers? Grixis Delver possesses a miserly 3% metagame share at the moment (mtggoldfish as of today). You’re entitled to your opinion, but be aware that you’re disagreeing with facts.

      Infect was only playing Serum when it didn’t have a critical mass of consistency-by-redundancy pieces to play like Blossoming Defense. It wouldn’t be caught dead with the card right now, which is why nobody is playing SV in Infect. This may or may not be true for Preordain, but since Modern is a tempo-centric format, I personally doubt Infect would give up its solid tools for mana-eating cantrips.

      The only way Infect takes a ban down the road is if it violates one of the five reasons Wizards has given for banning cards (listed in the article). Realistically, the only ones I can see it violating ever are metagame share and the Turn Four Rule. For the former, I’m sure they’d rather ban an actual piece from Infect than a card that stands to power up other strategies. For the latter, a Preordain unban will not help Infect frequently win before turn four. If anything, it will make the deck slightly slower but more consistent.

      1. I have looked at the hard numbers. Have you?

        Grixis Delver is currently the fifth most prevalent deck on MTGGoldfish. I’m not sure by what standards 8th(3.38% @ 1/1/2017) out of a couple dozen decks qualify as a miserable position, we’ve had tier 1 decks in Modern Nexus’ own updates with some 3 odd percent prevalence before. Even if 3.4% doesn’t qualify the deck for tier 1, it’s definitely in the top half of tier 2.

        You’re of course entitled to your opinion that a fair, blue tier 1.5 deck isn’t enough and we need to blue fair decks to have a more prominent position in the meta and that we should unban cards to get them there, but calling Grixis Delver’s position miserable is still a step too far and disconnected with reality.

        1. I never called it miserable. I called it miserly, which is a relative term that means small or pitiable. Compared with BGx’s 15% share and Dredge’s 14% share, I stand by the claim that 3% for all interactive blue strategies is pretty small! If we disagree there, though, we probably won’t agree on much.

          1. I’m not really sure where you’re getting 14% for dredge, both MTGTop8 and MTGGoldfish lists it lower than that(8 and 5 percent respectively) or why you’re combining decks into a more generic color combination and then comparing it to a single blue deck.

            It’s a dishonest tactic to combine Abzan and Jund to make Delver look smaller than it is, not to mention both Junk and Jund don’t even make it to 15% on either MTGTop8 nor MTGGoldfish, so you must be including more decks to get it that high!

            The simple fact of the matter is that Grixis Delver has been doing well in the current meta without Preordain hanging out between 5th and 8th on MTGGoldfish. If you find tier 1.5 like that pitiable or inadequate, I’m sure we won’t agree on much.

          2. It’s explained in the article where I got that number from. I’m very happy to discuss my arguments with readers, but you should really read my arguments first!

          3. The last 2 weeks on MTGTop8 includes a whopping 92 decks. That’s hardly a decent basis for any analysis when it spans more than 20 archetypes and no major tournaments. That’s still terrible foundation for any kind of ban talk. Not to mention, the 3% for delver comes from a different data set that you can’t just compare to a different, much smaller data set that is also primarily online results.

            What’s more, you’re combining both abzan and jund to make up that figure at which point you should do the same for blue decks. In those 2 weeks, if you combine the blue decks you get 12% of the meta playing blue interactive magic(and this doesn’t even include the 2 grixis control decks that top8d the 31/12 PTQ because MTGTop8 hasn’t been updated). There are 4 Grixis decks, 3 UW, 2 Gifts, 1 Fae, blue moon and Nahiri. That’s 12 out of 92 decks or 13% of the format. Compared to BGx’s 18 percent, that’s still not pitiably or inadequate.

          4. All good points. Forgive me for mishandling the data—not my strong suit! I still think my points stand, but we’ll find out whether Wizards agrees on the 16th. Thanks for checking me.

          5. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I don’t think the data supports you. In your own preferred data set blue interactive decks make up 13% of the field which, while lower than BGx at 18%, is certainly still respectable and a far cry from blue needing help whatsoever to stay relevant. In larger data sets the trend holds. The 2 month running tally on MTGTop8 has blue decks ringing in at 13% too with 101 out of 773 decks. MTGGoldfish presents similar numbers, with Grixis Delver as a singular deck ringing in as one of the 8 most prevalent decks.

            None of those sites are perfect and this sites prior work on metagames is preferable to both as they overrepresent the online meta due to the simple fact that it produces far more decklists than any other source with 300~ per month. But insofar as nexus’ updates aren’t updated, that’s what we have to work with, and I don’t see a picture of blue needing cards to help them.

            I won’t cry foul if they do unban preordain, I’ll happily include it in my UR Kiln Fiend deck, but I don’t think it’s needed for Modern based on what evidence we have access to.

    1. I was in the unban shoal camp for a while but now I’m pretty sure blazing shoal with bedlam reveler is too strong. Being able to do 8 for free with a card thats actually playable in a quick burn/spell deck is pretty strong. Depending how aggro it is, just being able to chuck a rift bolt for 3 free damage when tight on lands is also probably pretty strong (but not alone the problem).

  9. Jordan, I think you’re being a little disingenuous about Dredge’s prospects for banning. On point, I think Wizards is more inclined than not to look at the board state a deck is presenting when they consider whether or not it violates the Turn Four Rule.

    By this I mean, Dredge will frequently have a board presence on turn three that is virtually the same thing as just winning outright. The only way to interact with it that is even remotely main-deckable is Anger of the Gods (Scavenging Ooze is both slow and neatly handled by Conflagrate).

    By the same token, I think something should be banned in Lantern. It also frequently presents a board state on turn three and sometimes two that is virtually the same thing as winning. I seriously doubt Wizards will do anything about it, but I still think it’s a reasonable position.

    1. I’ve heard this argument many times but I don’t buy it. “A board presence on turn three that is virtually the same thing as just winning outright?” What? A horde of 3/3s is only scary for fair decks. Burn, Infect, Ad Nauseam, Lantern, Grishoalbrand, and others could frankly care less about how many 3/3s their opponents have. And even out of the fair decks, Anger of the Gods would like a word.

      If you honestly think Lantern should be banned, I strongly recommend you read Wizards’ positions on Modern and on the ban list, or just re-read this article. For readers who don’t understand how Wizards manages the ban list, the article supplies a bullet list of reasons they have for banning cards from the format. Lantern falls under none of those five criteria.

      1. In reverse order:

        I didn’t say I think Wizards will ban something for Lantern, I said I think they should. There’s a huge gap there bruh.

        You’re right that Dredge is really only scary for fair decks; the problem is that it strangles fair decks with respect to their sideboard, which polarizes all of the unfair matchups into either “I had my sideboard card and crushed them” or “I didn’t, and I lost horribly”.

        You yourself advocated for, potentially, a larger sideboard to help combat this. How can you not also say that decks that drive this polarization don’t need looked at, even if their game plan doesn’t fall neatly into one of Wizards’ pillars?

        The bottom line is that nobody wants to play a game where their decision tree, apart from deck choice, has nothing to do with the outcome of a match. Lantern and Dredge are, to me, the largest offenders of this ideal.

        1. But why “should” they? Because it’s in line with your own personal vision for the format? Wizards is in charge of the format, not individual players with varying opinions. That’s why I don’t find it very productive to talk about what they “should” and “shouldn’t” do, and prefer to focus on what they may actually do based on their past actions.

          To be very clear, I never advocated for a larger sideboard. That was Paulo Vitor. With all due respect to Paulo, I find this idea damningly inelegant.

          As for decision trees, I don’t think you’re right. I personally know a player who plays Valakut specifically because he would rather play the matchup lottery and doesn’t want to have to make many decisions (or have his decisions matter that much) in a Modern tournament.

          That brings us back to my original point: everyone interacts with Modern differently. You might not like playing against Lantern, for instance, but I actually find the matchup fairly enjoyable when I pair with it on Temur Delver or Colorless Eldrazi. A substantial group of players also like paying the deck itself, with pros like Adrian Sullivan among the most vocal.

          All this to say I’m happy we have a single consistent, data-rich entity (Wizards) in charge of the banlist, and not Modern’s diverse, conflicted playerbase.

  10. 1: i also think preordain would be very safe to unban. love the card, would play it in a heartbeat, but i dont feel any decks would gain more than half a tier in terms of power. seeing as there are no tier 1 blue decks really (infect is only technically blue) if every single blue deck jumped a full half tier… we still would have nothing oppressively strong

    2: i dissagree about the no need for bans. I believe that dredge is proving to meet another criteria thats been stated and demonstrated.

    dominance in the face of consistent targeted hate. Any competent dredge player wil ltell you a single rest in peace resolving will not end the game by any stretch. sideboards and mainboard are heavily warping around it, mostly innefectually.
    RW prison and skred have so much hate that it works but for instance my sultai deck and many abzan decks run nihil spellbomb mainboard. its double utility for combating snapcaster decks, and hosing unfair grave strategies while building up your goyfs etc.

    im forced to run a full 4 sideboard cards on top of 2 spellbombs and my scavenging oozes. and i still feel that i am at the disadvantage heavily.

    players are running incredibly narrow hate in the form of the trap, and still losing after their specific targetted hate resolves.
    dredge is the deck that has a huge target on its head, everythings warped around it, and it remains dominant.

    i cant find where it was stated. but I distinctly remember “continued dominance in the face of targeted hate”

    i for one actually like dredge in general but… i would be not at all surprised to see at least one ban. I actually hope its not the troll and its something like cathartic reunion. i think this would be in line with how eldrazi was pulled back but not gutted.

    1. Dredge’s numbers are worse than Jund’s. I wouldn’t call that “dominance,” even though the deck is doing very well for itself. And we know that Wizards also wouldn’t call it “dominance,” since they have never banned a deck for dominance reasons that had a sub-10% share. So far, Dredge violates none of Wizards’ five criteria for bans.

  11. I don’t see dredge winning every GP or SCG open. I don’t see it getting a third of the MTGO league 5-0 results. I think you can argue Infect to be the best deck but it still has games that are just…derpy.

    I am looking at spoilers for Aether Revolt, and Fatal Push has me full attention. That is a potential third awesome one-mana removal spell for modern alongside path and bolt that could really shake things up.

    1. This card is sure to become one of the defining removal spells of the format, joining Path and Bolt to create a trifecta of superb one-mana blanket answers for creatures. If my reasoning can’t, hopefully Push’s reveal manages to quell the “ban Infect” crowd’s bloodthirsty chants.

      1. it has for me. i no longer feel awkwardly penned into path. bolt is pretty innefectual against them in general.

        i never considered infect “absolutely must ban” but its always been toe-ing the line. a third color havign access to effective removal at 1 mana is a huge breath of air for fair decks, and fair decks tend to do just fine vs infect

  12. I’m totally in agreement with the unbanning of Preordain. Ad Nauseam is a good deck and it will get better with Preordain, but it’s not threatening to take over the format. Storm is a non-entity, and Preordain won’t bring it back. Granting more consistency to blue interactive decks doesn’t strike me as the worst thing in the world, either. Delver will get better, but again, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing given the metagame. Bring on the cantrip upgrades!

    I’ve heard rumblings about banning Become Immense because of Infect’s rise post-Blossoming Defense, but given that BGx and Delver decks seem to have now held it in check, I don’t see that happening. These past few months have also proven that Dredge dies to hate, so I don’t expect a ban there either.

  13. Theoretically, Infect and Dredge are really the only decks worthy of ban talk. Kiln Fiend as a card can also join the category, though practically speaking, the decks that sport him aren’t dominant or anything.

    Like was said above, I would be incredibly surprised if Wizards printed a bossy removal spell that can deal with all the infect creatures and kiln fiend, but then banned something from those decks. It makes much more sense to see how this obviously meta-changing new removal spell shapes the format first.

    As for Dredge, I definitely think it’s a possibility. Cathartic reunion would be the obvious ban, here, as the deck was good, but definitely not broken, before that. Currently, it’s brokenness is clearly, at the very least, debatable, but only theoretically. Practically speaking, the numbers don’t really violate the stated rules, and I do believe you, and Nexus in general, are correct to focus on these stated rules, rather than stipulate like so many other sites.

    Now, it would be nice to have some criteria they use for unbans, but since that’s always something people like (vs bans that people, usually, hate), I don’t think anyone is really clamoring for transparency in unbans.

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