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Goodbye Modern: Initial Reactions to the B&R Announcement


So, as I'm sure you know by now, this happened: 

Modern:

Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pod are banned.

Golgari Grave-Troll is no longer banned.

 

Legacy:

Treasure Cruise is banned.

Worldgorger Dragon is no longer banned.

 

Vintage:

Treasure Cruise is restricted.

Gifts Ungiven is no longer restricted.

 

Wizards pushed the big red button on Modern, and with a few short lines of text, blew up the format. While they also shook up Vintage and Legacy, with a Modern Pro Tour only two weeks away, the unbanning of Worldgorger Dragon in Legacy and the unrestricting of Gifts Ungiven in Vintage (along with the banishment of Treasure Cruise in every non-standard format) is just an appetizer; it's the upheaval of Modern that is, without a doubt, the main course.. 

Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Birthing Pod banned in Modern

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I'm not sure it's possible to overstate just how big these changes are for Modern. Birthing Pod, as I mentioned on last weeks podcast, has won nearly 30 percent of Modern GP's since the format was created in 2011. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time have dominated the format since the release of Khans of Tarkir in September. If you look at the Modern metagame, you'll see a huge percentage of the top decks lose something from this announcement. 

Some decks are just crushed. All flavors of Birthing Pod decks are banished from the format, and all the Delver of Secrets builds immediately fall from tier one to tier two. Other decks, like Scapeshift, Twin, and Burn, were playing Treasure Cruise and/or Dig Through Time because they were that good, but not because the decks needed them to function. These decks should survive, and Scapeshift and Twin will likely join Junk/Jund and Affinity builds as the default most played decks in the format — at least for the next couple weeks, until Pro Tour Washington D.C. 

If it was just the Khans of Tarkir delve cards that were given the axe, figuring out where the format stands would be easy — simply rewinding to this past summer and looking over some top 8's would be the place to start. The banning of Birthing Pod is more problematic as far as predicting the format because it is so deeply interwoven into the fabric of Modern. It has been the best deck (or close to it) for so long that we'd have to start looking over old extended lists to see what a non-Pod Modern like format looks like, and even this doesn't really work because so many other important cards have been printed in the past few years. 

Just like the rest of you, I'm still trying to make sense out of this announcement, and our understanding of where this leaves Modern will evolve over the next two weeks leading up to what should be the most interesting Pro Tour of the year. That said, I do have some initial observations on the B&R announcement that I wanted to share with you today. 

1. Birthing Pod specific cards are done for, as are the cards that beat Pod

Without the namesake Birthing Pod, it's hard to imagine Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap making a better mid-range deck than Junk or Jund. Thankfully, due to the silver-bullet nature of the deck, many of its cards should relatively less value because they were only played as one-of's. The biggest exception to this is Voice of Resurgence. A week ago I wrote that, assuming Pod stayed in the format, Voice of Resurgence was a very attractive target as a small set mythic (from an under-opened set) with a lower than average spread. Currently Voice of Resurgence looks much less appealing, and to remain relevant in the format, it really needs a control deck to emerge to make its ability relevant.

Some of the cards that stand to lose the most include Linvala, Keeper of Silence, which now is not only missing its primary home, but is also missing the deck it was best against; Torpor Orb, which is unlikely to take up sideboard slots any longer; and Archangel of Thune, which goes from Modern staple to kitchen table beater. I would guess that all of these cards have to give up at least 1/3 of their current value, and it could be even worse than that, with Torpor Orb now looking like a just-above-bulk rare, and Linvala, Keeper of Silence, a likely include in Modern Masters 2015. 

2. Delver specific cards take a big hit, as do the cards that beat Delver

While people played Delver decks in Modern before Treasure Cruise was printed, make no mistake about it: the tier one status of Delver of Secrets is attributable almost exclusively to Treasure Cruise. It was the best deck for the best card in the format, and now that this card is banned. A fall from most-played deck in the room to tier-two fringe dweller is basically a forgone conclusion. When Gitaxian Probe, Thought Scour, and Vapor Snag no longer say "add one mana (or three for Thought Scour to your mana pool, spend this mana only on Treasure Cruise", much of their appeal is gone. As commons, I expect their price to take a significant hit. 

Last week someone bought out Chalice of the Void in response to GP Omaha. At the time I said this was a misguided bet against Treasure Cruise being banned, and that once Treasure Cruise was banned and the party was over, Chalice of the Void would turn back into a Legacy-only pumpkin. Well, today the clock struck 12 on [[Chalice of the Void]. A twice-printed rare that sees only fringe- and sideboard-Legacy play should be headed back down towards its former $15 price tag over the next weeks. Its floor could even be a bit lower than that. 

3. Today is a happy day for Junk/Jund

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Treasure Cruise pushed the former kings and queen of Modern off their throne, but now things are looking up for the trio of Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant, along with their friends Abrupt Decay and Scavenging Ooze. While I'm not ready to say that Junk/Jund mid-range is back to being the best deck in the format, today is a step in that direction. Thoughtseize could also gets a bump, as filling your opponents graveyard in Modern or Legacy no longer feels so bad. 

Siege Rhino is in an interesting place. It loses its play in Pod, but has been adapted as 4-of in Junk and Zoo builds, so I'm not sure how this all plays out. I did see the German Juggernaut (Kai Budde) mention on Twitter than he thought Siege Rhino was better than Bloodbraid Elf in Modern, and we all know how busted Bloodbraid Elf was, so this is a pretty big vote of confidence from one of the best Magic players of all-time. 

4. The biggest immediate winner is likely Affinity

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When a format is fresh, Aggro decks generally dominate because it's easier to recognize a good threat than a good answer. Modern will never be fresher then it is right now, and while Zoo could see a jump in play, Affinity should be the starting point for aggro players. It loses nothing, which makes Frank Karsten very happy.

The trouble for the longer term is Modern Masters 2015. With one of the two known cards being the Affinity staple Etched Champion, and Mox Opal being widely viewed as an auto-include, it's not that far-fetched to assume that other Affinity pieces could get another reprinting. I'm not sure that even an increase in play is enough to save the price of Arcbound Ravager or Blinkmoth Nexus in this instance. 

One way around this problem is to buy cards that are good against Affinity and unlikely (or at least less-likely) to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015. This could include Stony Silence, Shatterstorm, or Creeping Corrosion, along with some other options that I'm probably missing at the moment. 

5. Twin and Scapeshift do not care about the announcement

Sure, both of these decks played Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time, but both were very strong before Khans of Tarkir was printed. I'll let the pros discuss the matchups, but my initial reaction is that today was somewhere between neutral and good for both of these decks. Of course, they are slightly less consistent today than they were yesterday, but so is pretty much every other deck in the format. I'm not going deep on Splinter TwinScapeshift, or any other cards from these decks, but I could see the logic behind doing so, especially Splinter Twin. At this point I don't have any strong feelings either way. 

6. Golgari Grave-Troll is unbanned in Modern

Golgari Grave-Troll is gone. Sold out everywhere. This reminds me of the username of an MTGO opponent I played in a cube draft yesterday: ReadingIsTech. Have you actually read Golgari Grave-Troll? It's basically a Stinkweed Imp as far as dredging is concerned, and more dredging isn't what separates the basically non-existent Modern Dredge deck from the very scary Legacy Dredge deck. What is the difference between the Legacy and Modern versions, you ask? Let's see.

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First off Dread Return, which is the card that Wizards would have unban if they wanted us to be playing Dredge in Modern. Sure, you can run Unburial Rites as a dredge-able alternative, but it's a pretty lacking alternative since flashing it back doesn't trigger Bridge From Below. This second point is perhaps even more important: there are very few good ways to sacrifice your own creatures for profit (and thereby trigger Bridge from Below) in the format. In Legacy, you get Cabal Therapy, Ichorid, and Nether Shadow. In Modern? Umm... Varolz, the Scar-Stripped

This is why, even with the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll, Modern dredge just isn't very scary. At its foundation, Dredge is a Bridge from Below deck and I don't see the pieces in Modern to make Bridge from Below work. This said, I fully expect Travis Woo or Conley Woods to post a video of some off-the-wall Modern Dredge build before too long, and every unplayable dredger will probably spike to $5, which sounds awesome to me because I have like 100 Stinkweed Imp]s that I can never bring myself to bulk out, but also can never manage to sell for any reasonable price. 

7. Worldgorger Dragon is unbanned in Legacy

 

So, now that Treasure Cruise is banned in Legacy, the best-card-in-the-format crown is waiting to be filled. Apparently, two possibilities are Kaervek's Torch or Stroke of Genius. In theory, this deck can win on turn one with some variation of this hand:

 

Stroke of Genius [UZ] Entomb [OD] Lotus Petal [TE] Lotus Petal [TE] Underground Sea [LEA] Animate Dead [LEA]

Here's how it works. You Entomb a Worldgorger Dragon off of your Underground Sea (or Careful Study it from your hand). Then you cast your two Lotus Petals and use them to Animate Dead (or Dance of the Dead) your Worldgorger Dragon. This creates an infinite loop where the dragon enters the battlefield and then exiles all your permanents (at this point, an Underground Sea and the Animate Dead). This puts Worldgorger Dragon back to the graveyard, but also returns Animate Dead, which returns the dragon again, and so on.

In the midst of all this, your Underground Sea untaps with each loop, so you net one mana by tapping it. Once you run through the loop 60(ish) times, and you have enough mana to Stroke of Genius away your opponents entire library. While this is undoubtly very cool, and I hope someone tries it, I still think that reanimating Griselbrand is probably more reliable, and just as game winning. 

Personally, I'm going to be searching my forgotten bulk rare boxes for some copies, and if I find some, I'll be trying to get rid of them ASAP, because I have to imagine this is much ado about nothing and the spike to $14 isn't going to last very long. Plus, two just sold on eBay for $60. $60. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for people to stop paying these crazy prices 

8. Treasure Cruise is banned in every non-Standard format and restricted in Vintage

Oh how the might have fallen. From best card in Legacy and Modern, to a fringe Standard only-card (and one-of in Vintage). I can't see an in-print, currently-being-drafted, in-redemption common being able to maintain a foil price of near $20, despite its power and price memory. Actually, this drop is already happening. Last night, foil Treasure Cruises were selling for $15 or more on eBay according to completed listings. Today, there are multiple completed listings for between $5 and $6 and rumors on Twitter of people picking up copies for as little as $2 (which is getting close to the point where buying foil Treasure Cruise becomes attractive again). 

9. Don't Forget the Pro Tour

Pro tours can do crazy things to card prices:

Pro Tour Washington D.C. is February 6-8, a bit over two weeks from today. Even more than most Pro Tours, this one has potential to be extremely profitable if you keep your ear to the ground and make some smart and timely purchases (I'm sure I'll be writing more about this over the next two weeks). With today's bannings, all of our ideas about Modern are suddenly theoretical. While I expect Junk/Jund, Scapeshift, Affinity, and Twin to be the most played decks immediately, it is the Pro Tour that will move this theory into practice and there are sure to be some surprises. In short, Pro Tour D.C. is going to define Modern until Modern Masters 2015 is released. Any cards that make a good showing in the suddenly wide-open Modern format are going to be great investements for the short term. 

With all of the default decks gone, what the pros will play is anyone's guess. Can you imagine if team CFB puts a couple members in the top eight with Bloom Titan? How high could Master of the Pearl Trident spike if the Europeans win with Merfolk? Is there really a dredge deck out there? Right now we have a million questions and very few answers. This is a time when making the right bet can be extremely profitable. Just imagine that yesterday you were the guy or gal who bought 100 copies of Worldgourger Dragon for $1 each while everyone else was buying Stoneforge Mystics and Bloodbraid Elfs. Today would be a very good day. If you were not that person (and I'm not sure he or she actually exists), you get another chance over the next three weeks. 

10. Quick Hitters for the Road

In Legacy, the banning of Treasure Cruise means we get the old Delver of Secrets decks back - especially RUG and BUG. This is good for Wasteland, Hymn to Tourach, Thoughtseize, Stifle, and a bunch of BUG cards including Dark Confidant, Shardless AgentLiliana of the Veil, and Tarmogoyf

Also, today is a good day for Joe Lossett. Miracles should be back on the rise in Legacy.

I'm keen on UWR Control/Tempo pieces in Modern. While it wasn't Treasure Cruise that pushed the deck out of the format, the cruise coming to an end should move the deck up in the hierarchy of Modern blue decks; you know how the pros love blue decks. Some possibilities include Celestial Colonnade, Snapcaster Mage, Sphinx's Revelation, Restoration Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, and Supreme Verdict

I have no idea what the unrestricting of Gift's Ungiven does to Vintage, but it probably only matters on Magic Online anyway since Vintage demand is almost an oxymoron in the paper world. 

I don't think Jeskai Ascendency is dead in Modern, but it is way less consistent. Without Ancestral Recall, the chaining-cheap-spells-plan is going to fizzle way more often. On the other hand, its price may have been depressed due to the uncertainty surrounding the card — people have been calling for a ban since day one. Now that we know it's sticking around Modern, maybe people will feel safer paying real money for it? 

Today was another confirmation to me that Modern is not a format to park your money in. Did you spend the last two years foiling out your Birthing Pod deck? Oh, sorry. 

Finally, I think that Wizards was backed into a corner with this announcement. While I'll talk more about it on the podcast this week, just remember, they didn't want to have any Modern Pro Tours this year. It was the community that forced their hand, and by extension (at least in my opinion), this B&R announcement. If it was a Standard Pro Tour in February, as originally intended, I'm very confident things would have went differently today. 

Conclusion

This is an exciting time for Modern, and while obviously not the the same extent, in some ways it feels like the beginning of the format. There is so much unknown and so many decks possible. While I don't necessarily agree with the way the Modern banned list is handled (generally, I would rather see unbannings rather than bannings), today's announcement wasn't really shocking to me. The trio of Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time were all 50/50 or better to get the axe in my opinion. I'm sure I'll be talking more about this in the coming weeks, and I will be keeping a close eye on the Magic Online decklists as the bannings go into effect. 

Anyway, that's all for today. What are your thoughts on the banning? Are you surprised? What cards or decks do you think get better because of this? What gets worse? As always, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @SaffronOlive.

Until next time, have fun digging through your bulk for those Worldgorger Dragons. 


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