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Against the Odds: Banned Tribal (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 261 of Against the Odds. This week, we're trying something a little bit different with a special episode! A few days ago, Adriano Kitani (who happens to create the amazing thumbnail art that you'll see in articles on the site and on the MTGGoldfish YouTube) tweeted about how it was possible to build a relatively functional-looking Modern deck out of cards that had recently been banned in Standard. While the deck looked surprisingly functional, it was more a thought experiment than anything. Well, today, we're going to move the idea of Banned Tribal from theory to practice and find out if a deck that only features cards banned in Standard can actually compete in Modern! That's right, outside of lands (which don't get banned all that often), every single card in our main deck and sideboard has been banned in Standard over the past few years, which I guess should mean we're playing the most broken deck in the history of Magic. Can Banned Tribal actually compete in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out in today's Against the Odds; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Banned Tribal

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The Deck

Once I decided to try to build Banned Tribal, it became clear almost immediately that there are some huge benefits and drawbacks to the idea. The good news is that a lot of the individual cards in our deck are incredibly powerful. In fact, rather than not having enough power, the biggest challenge with Banned Tribal is that some of the most broken cards (Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time) are so broken they are banned in Modern as well as Standard. Even excluding banned-in-Modern cards, our decklist is stuffed full of extremely powerful and arguably broken cards, with Teferis, Jaces, Emrakuls, Uros, Omnaths, and more!

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While our cards just not being good enough is unlikely to be a problem this week, there are a couple of big drawbacks to Banned Tribal. Most problematic is that removal spells don't really get banned in Standard. If something like Fatal Push or Path to Exile were legal for our deck, things would be a lot easier against aggro. As a result, we have to make do with some pseudo-removal, with cards like Reflector Mage, Teferi, Time Raveler  and Agent of Treachery

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The other big challenge with Banned Tribal is the sideboard. Much like removal spells, the utility spells and hosers that often form the basis of a Modern sideboard don't really get banned in Standard, so along with cheap removal, we're lacking cards like Tormod's Crypt and Rest in Peace to deal with graveyard as well as counterspells like Negate and Dovin's Veto to fight unfair decks. The good news is we do get sideboard all-star Veil of Summer to fight against discard and counters; Emrakul, the Promised End as a game-ending threat for control matchups; and planeswalkers like Teferi, Time Raveler and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which can be incredible against slower decks and those looking to play at instant speed.

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So, what's the plan of Banned Tribal? Thanks to Wizards' love of printing broken ramp spells, we do have a pretty strong ramp plan in Growth Spiral, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Omnath, Locus of Creation, and Escape to the Wilds (which is a sneaky all-star in the deck and might deserve more love in Modern). These cards can get us to our big finish, which usually involves making a bunch of Zombie tokens with our one banned land Field of the Dead or hard-casting Agent of Treachery (and then maybe blinking it with Felidar Guardian).

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Speaking of Felidar Guardian, while its combo-y partner in crime Saheeli Rai isn't eligible for our deck since it was never banned in Standard, it can still pull off some cool tricks in our Banned Tribal deck. Casting a Reflector Mage to bounce one of our opponent's creatures into Felidar Guardian to blink Reflector Mage to bounce another creature is one of our best ways to stabilize against aggressive decks. Meanwhile, blinking Omnath, Locus of Creation resets its landfall count. Something like Omnath, Locus of Creation into a fetch land, to gain four life and make four mana, into Felidar Guardian blinking Omnath, Locus of Creation allows us to use something like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath or Growth Spiral to put another fetch land into play, gaining us four more life and making four more mana to have some absurdly explosive turns. 

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If you're wondering why cards like Reflector Mage are in the main deck while powerful planeswalkers like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Teferi, Time Raveler are in the sideboard, the answer is primarily Smuggler's Copter. The downside of playing the banned Vehicle is that we actually need creatures to crew it, which increases the value of cards like Reflector Mage. Once Smuggler's Copter gets going, not only does it provide an evasive attacker, but its looting also fills our graveyard for a potential Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath escape in the future.

The Matchups

So, does Banned Tribal actually work in Modern? The answer is sort of. Against fair decks, Banned Tribal is legitimately insane. We played against decks like Jund and Death's Shadow, and our cards were just more powerful and generated more value than our opponents' cards, making these matchups fairly easy. Maybe the most surprising aspect of our deck is that it seems to have the ability to hold up against aggro, mostly thanks to the crazy amount of life we can gain with Omnath and Uro. Against aggro, our opponent usually gets off to a fast start, only for us to eventually start gaining seven or more life a turn to quickly put the game out of reach. We can get run over before we stabilize if we have a bad draw, but in general, the matchup felt better than I expected, considering we don't have cards like Path to Exile or Fatal Push.

On the other hand, we're in tough shape against unfair combo decks, mostly because we lack sideboard hate cards and counterspells since they never get banned in Standard. Against decks like Storm or Ad Nauseam, we're unlikely to be fast enough to kill our opponent before they combo off, and we are also very unlikely to be able to stop their combos because we don't have the random utility spells that often fill out sideboards to improve these matchups. 

The Odds

All in all, we want 4-1 with Banned Tribal, crushing poor Jund twice and also taking down Boros Ponza and RB Shadow. Our only loss came to a deck looking to Goryo's Vengeance  or Through the Breach Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand into play, which is a matchup that we'll likely never win since we don't have graveyard hate or other ways to interact with our opponent's unfair combo. While the deck would obviously be more competitive if it were slightly less meme-y (and played more real sideboard cards and removal), apparently, just playing as many of the most broken cards possible together in the same deck is good enough to win a lot of games in Modern, especially in fair or fair-ish matchups! All of the creatures in our deck represent at least a two-for-one, which is a lot of value for opponents to keep up with. Plus, many of them also ramp us, which means Field of the Dead starts making Zombies relatively quickly, which is also tough for some decks to beat. Basically, Banned Tribal was a lot better than I had imagined, and we're probably a Negate and Path to Exile banning away from it being a legitimate Modern archetype, as funny as that is to say.

Vote for Next Week's Deck

With Standard being good again, let's head to the format next week! What card should we build around? Click here to vote!


Anyway, that's all for today! Don't forget to vote for next week's deck. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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