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Tier-Ranking the Modern Banned List

The power level of Modern is through the roof, thanks in large part to Modern Horizons and, to a lesser extent, other recent sets, to the point where you could argue that current Modern is almost Modern Horizons Block Constructed. Cards printed in the last couple of years (from the original Modern Horizons forward) take up such a large part of the metagame that the format is almost unrecognizable, as compared to where it was a relatively short time ago. Take a look at the 10 most-played creatures in the format. Six are from Modern Horizons 2 and the entire top ten outside of Stoneforge Mystic were printed in the past couple of years.. If you expand out to the top 25, 17 were printed since the original Modern Horizons, either in Modern Horizons sets or in Standard-legal sets. Spells fare a bit better, but newer sets are still very overrepresented, with 12 of the top 25 being printed from original Modern Horizons to present. In some sense, rather than being the greatest hits from the past 20 years of Magic, Modern is now the greatest hits of the last two or three years.

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With so many new cards dominating the format and the power level of Modern at an all-time high, the time is right to reevaluate the Modern banned list. Many of the cards on the list have been banned for almost a decade, and while most of the cards were too powerful for the format back when they were banned, the format is so different and so new now that it seems likely that at least some of these cards would be safe in our current Modern Horizons–fueled format. Broken in 2011 or 2015 doesn't necessarily mean broken in 2021. 

So today, we're going to tier-rank the Modern banned list based on how safe it would be to unban the cards on the list. Here are the criteria we'll be using:

  • S-Tier: Why is this even on the banned list? Unban it now; there's little risk. 
  • A-Tier: The card should be unbanned, even if there is some risk that things will go wrong and the card will need to be rebanned.
  • B-Tier: We should consider unbanning the card, although there's maybe a 50/50 chance it will need to be rebanned.
  • C-Tier: It's probably a bad idea to unban the card, but there is at least some small argument about why unbanning it could work out okay.
  • D-Tier: The card clearly needs to stay banned, to the point where it's probably not worth even discussing the merits of an unbanning.

Now, it's worth pointing out that the Modern banned list is pretty lengthy, so we're not going to go over every individual card in depth. Instead, we're going to work our way through the tiers, from D up to S, and I'll share my thoughts and reasonings on select cards along the way. Anyway, let's get to it!


Not Even Worth Discussing

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D-Tier—cards that clearly should not be unbanned—breaks down pretty neatly into a handful of different groups along with a couple of outliers. The first group is cards that have been banned fairly recently. The entire reason we are reevaluating the Modern banned list is that the format has gotten such a huge boost of power in the past three years. In theory, if a card was banned in that time frame, it's clearly too good for the format because it was competing with all of the super-pushed cards that came out recently and was still deemed bannable. This group includes Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Mystic Sanctuary, Oko, Thief of Crowns, Mystic Sanctuary, Field of the Dead, Arcum's Astrolabe, and more. All of the cards were too good a few months or—at most—a year or two ago, which means it's exceedingly likely they would still be too good today.

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Next, we have a bunch of fast-mana cards, including Chrome Mox, Eye of Ugin, Mox Opal, Simian Spirit Guide, Rite of Flame, Krark-Clan Ironworks and Summer Bloom. My beloved Simian Spirit Guide is the least powerful of the bunch but also the most recently banned. If adding a single red mana one time for free is too good for Modern, then cards that repeatedly offer free mana (Chrome Mox, Eye of Ugin, and Mox Opal) or offer a one-time burst of more than one mana (Seething Song and Summer Bloom, which was primarily used as a ritual with bounce lands in Amulet of Vigor decks) are too good as well.

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Our third group is two delve cards: Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Thanks to the presence of fetch lands and tons of cheap spells in the Modern format, it's just too easy to reduce the cost on these cards. They massively warped the format for the brief window they were legal, and even though Faithless Looting is now banned, it might be even easier to fill your graveyard in Modern today. You know those Dragon's Rage Channeler Izzet decks? Imagine them with an Ancestral Recall. That would be Modern with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time unbanned. 

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Group four is two free spells in Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep. Gitaxian Probe is a pretty easy one: it's basically a very upgraded (discounting Lurrus of the Dream-Den loops) version of Mishra's Bauble, giving you a card in the graveyard and a prowess trigger for the low cost of just two life. You know the feeling you get when your opponent chains together three copies of Manamorphose and kills you out of nowhere with a Murktide Regent or Monastery Swiftspear? You'd have it much, much more often with Gitaxian Probe in the format. As for Mental Misstep, at first glance, it might seem like a reasonable card to consider unbanning. In general, defensive free spells are much less problematic than offensive free spells are, and being able to counter a Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon's Rage Channeler, or Colossus Hammer no matter what colors you are playing might sound appealing. The problem with Mental Misstep is that if it's legal, everyone will play it and the format will quickly devolve into weird Mental Misstep wars where you need Mental Misstep to counter your opponent's copies of Mental Misstep. While I could get behind a similar card designed to hate on the plethora of powerful one-drops in the format, the Phyrexian mana cost of Mental Misstep puts it over the top and allows it to warp the format.

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Finally, we have a couple of oddballs. Dark Depths combos with cards like Thespian's Stage to make a free 20/20 indestructible flier without having to manually remove all of the counters from Dark Depths. While there might be some long-shot argument that it could be safe in a world where Solitude and Prismatic Ending are heavily played, both of those cards (along with Swords to Plowshares) are legal in Legacy, and Lands is still one of the top decks in the format. Plus, any self-respecting Dark Depths players will have a plan to recur their combo pieces (like Life from the Loam), so answering a single Marit Lage isn't likely to be enough. Skullclamp is a historically broken card and would easily slot into the best deck in the format (Hammer Time), making it even more difficult to beat with interaction thanks to the huge amount of card advantage it can generate. As for Golgari Grave-Troll, we already tried unbanning the best dredger one, only for it to be quickly rebanned, which doesn't especially make me want to give it another shot in Modern.


A Bad Idea, But...

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C-tier cards are cards that are very unlikely to be safe to unban, but there is at least some small argument that can be made in favor of their unbanning. I'm very much not advocating for any of these cards to be unbanned. With that in mind, here is how I would argue for their unbannings, if I were so inclined.

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Cloudpost is basically an upgraded version of Tron that is easier to assemble (you don't need three different lands to get the benefit) and can make even more mana (three Cloudposts make nine mana, while Tron makes seven), with the drawback being that the lands come into play tapped. While I personally hate Tron, and the thought of  having a better version of it in the Modern format makes me recoil in horror, Tron isn't all that good in Modern at the moment, and there is plenty of hate for non-basic lands. A hypothetical Cloudpost deck would likely be better than Tron, but would it be so much better that Cloudpost would become the best deck in the format? I'm not convinced.

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Dread Return is incredibly powerful, allowing Dredge and other graveyard decks with cards like Narcomoeba and Bloodghast to reanimate something for free. It's also a key piece to Legacy Oops All Spells. If Dread Return were legal in Legacy, we'd likely see something similar develop. However, Dread Return's power is based on the graveyard, and we've got a ton of strong graveyard hate in Modern. If I play against Dredge, I'm likely to lose if I don't find my Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, or Relic of Progenitus anyway. Maybe I'd lose even more convincingly if Dread Return were in the deck, but dead is dead.

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Mycosynth Lattice is banned because of its interaction with Karn, the Great Creator, and rightly so. The ability to lock the opponent out of the game (with a card tutored from your sideboard) for six mana is incredibly strong since it only takes a single sideboard slot in a deck that already runs Karn. There's no way we want the lock in the Modern format, so why are we discussing Mycosynth Lattice? Because there's an argument that Karn, the Great Creator should be banned instead. Without Karn around, Mycosynth Lattice is a fine (and mostly unplayable Against the Odds) card in Modern. While Karn isn't breaking anything and shouldn't be banned, if we ever get to the point where Karn, the Great Creator finds itself on the banned list (which is unlikely but not impossible), then Mycosynth Lattice would be 100% safe to unban.

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Ponder was banned primarily to keep combo decks in check by making them less consistent, but remember: this was back during an era of Magic when Storm was consistently one of the top-performing decks in the meta. Today, Storm and other similar big-turn combo decks are mostly non-factors in Modern. While Ponder would certainly see a lot of play if it were unbanned, and powering up Izzet even more does worry me, in a world of Consider and Expressive Iteration, is Ponder really too powerful?

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Sensei's Divining Top and Second Sunrise are the rare cards that aren't banned so much because of their power but because of how tedious they are to play with and against. Less experienced players (and some experienced players as well) often take a very, very long time to resolve a Sensei's Divining Top activation, and Top is often activated multiple times in the same turn with the cracking of a fetch land in between. It's really miserable, and there are plenty of horror stories of every round in a tournament going to time because of the one-mana artifact. Second Sunrise is infamous for 20-minute combo turns involving looping a bunch of Eggs (like Chromatic Sphere and  Chromatic Star), which is probably even more tedious than Top. The only question is, do we really want cards banned because people play them too slowly?


The 50/50 Cards

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Cards: Faithless Looting, Green Sun's Zenith, Hypergenesis, Preordain, Punishing Fire, artifact lands, and Bridge from Below.

We've got six cards in our B-tier—cards that may or may not be safe to unban but are worth talking about, at a minimum. Let's start with an easy one: Preordain. We just discussed Ponder, and the reason Preordain is banned is exactly the same: it made combo decks too consistent. If we look at the current Modern format, our one-mana blue cantrips are Consider, Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Opt. Preordain would immediately jump to the top of the list (although some decks might still prefer Consider thanks to its ability to fill the graveyard). On the other hand, Preordain is weaker than Ponder, which is why it comes in a tier higher. 

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Does blue need a better one-mana cantrip in Modern? Probably not. The color seems to be doing just fine as is. At the same time, Serum Visions doesn't really see all that much play in the format. Even decks that you would assume would really want it, like Izzet Murktide, only play a couple of copies, so I'm not sure how much Preordain would really change. Decks like Storm and Ad Nauseam would get a slight boost in power, but those decks are far enough down in the metagame that a boost of power might be a good thing. While I feel pretty strongly than unbanning both Preordain and Ponder at the same time would be too much, I am intrigued at the idea of unbanning one of the cantrips, and Preordain, as the weaker of the two, would be the ideal starting point. 

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Speaking of cheap cantrips, I've always sort of felt like Faithless Looting got a bit of a raw deal by being banned alongside Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis as its primary enabler. While it is true that Faithless Looting greatly powered up Hogaak, Dredge, and Izzet Phoenix, it also allowed grindy fair decks like Mardu Pyromancer and various Hollow One piles to exist. More recently, we've seen the card unleashed on Historic and not really break the format, even though many of the same synergies (like Arclight Phoenix) exist. 

If you had asked me about unbanning Faithless Looting a year ago, I likely would have been fully on board, although recent developments in the format (like the printing of Dragon's Rage Channeler, new madness cards like Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, and reanimation like Persist in Modern Horizons 2) give me pause. Would adding Faithless Looting back to Modern improve the format by bringing back Hollow One and Young Pyromancer, or would it just further power up Izzet Murktide and Dragon's Rage Channeler? The answer is probably a little bit of both, which is probably reason enough to leave it on the banned list, at least for now.

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Green Sun's Zenith has two problems: it makes green-based creature decks much more consistent with its toolbox play pattern and offers a Turn 1 Rampant Growth with the assistance of Dryad Arbor. When you add these two things together—being a Llanowar Elves on Turn 1 and a Primeval Titan on Turn 7—the card becomes quite scary. Speaking of Primeval Titan, I think it's the main reason to keep Green Sun's Zenith banned. Being able to snag Dryad of the Ilysian Grove or Primeval Titan along with sideboard silver-bullets like Foundation Breaker or Knight of Autumn would make various Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks incredibly consistent. 

On the other hand, Green Sun's Zenith doesn't seem all that powerful in any other top-tier deck at the moment. Yawgmoth's Hospital wouldn't want it since it can't find Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, decks like Elementals have too many colors, and various Arbor Elf ramp and midrange decks are mostly built around non-green creatures. If you look at the top 50 creatures in Modern, only 13 are green, and most of those are mana dorks that, like Arbor Elf, are ramping into non-green creatures. Having access to Green Sun's Zenith could also help power up decks like Elves, which could certainly use the help, and maybe even allow for something similar to Maverick (a creature-heavy Gx midrange deck) to develop in the format. Plus, Modern is super fast at the moment, thanks to all of the new one-drops added in Modern Horizons 2. Paying a one-mana tax on your creatures seems like a good way to get run over by Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and friends. 

All in all, the presence of Primeval Titan and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove makes it tough to say that Green Sun's Zenith is safe to unban, but if it weren't for Prime Time decks, I think that Green Sun's Zenith could be a really fun and positive addition to the Modern format that could power up some tier-three archetypes and possibly make for some new creature-toolbox builds, which are sadly lacking in Modern at the moment. Maybe it's worth considering a Primeval Titan ban so that Green Sun's Zenith could be freed.

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You probably think I'm crazy for even suggesting that Hypergenesis could be unbanned, but hear me out. Right now, in Modern, the plan of cascading into a zero-mana-cost card is extremely popular. Between Crashing Footfalls, Living End, Glimpse of Tomorrow, and even Restore Balance, there are already a ton of decks looking to abuse this synergy. Is Hypergenesis that much better than Living End or Glimpse of Tomorrow? It's clearly better but maybe not by that much. In general, if your opponent resolves a Living End or Glimpse of Tomorrow on Turn 3, they are very likely to win the game. The same is true of Hypergenesis.

In the past, the main argument against Hypergenesis is that it was more powerful than Living End because Living End can be hated out by graveyard removal like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace, although this argument is weaker now because of Glimpse of Tomorrow, which doesn't need the graveyard to win. There are drawbacks to Hypergenesis as well, like needing to fill your deck with super-expensive cards that you aren't going to be able to cast fairly if your opponent can shut down your plan of cascading into Hypergenesis, which is a real risk in a format where Teferi, Time Raveler, Chalice of the Void, and Force of Negation are among the most played cards in the format.

Basically, I think Hypergenesis would likely be some amount of an upgrade over Living End and Glimpse of Tomorrow, and those decks are already good enough that any amount of improvement would be a bad thing for the format. But Hypergenesis gets shut down by the exact same hate cards, and it would play exactly the same as Living End or Glimpse of Tomorrow do in a relatively high percentage of the games (either you find a hate card or counterspell to stop it, or you lose when it resolves). The safe choice is to leave it banned, but I don't think Hypergenesis is as far away from being safe (or as safe as the other cascade-into-free-spell cards) as many people think.

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Punishing Fire was one of the first bans in Modern, way back in 2011, thanks to its ability to be a repeatable two-mana Shock with the help of Grove of the Burnwillows to force the opponent to gain life. According to the banned announcement, "tribal decks relying on two-toughness 'lords' see very little play, and this (Punishing Fire) is a major barrier to their success." Unfortunately for Merfolk, a decade has gone by, and tribal decks relying on two-toughness lords still see very little play, even though Punishing Fire is banned. 

Honestly, when I think of Punishing Fire in the context of current Modern, it's either laughable (against Primeval Titan, control, Crashing Footfalls, 3/3 Dragon's Rage Channeler, reanimated Archon of Cruelty, etc.) or potentially even a positive, as a repeatable answer for the repeatable cheap threats from various Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks. 

Think about how the card actually works: the first time you cast it, you get a Shock for two mana. The second time you cast it (assuming you are playing Grove of the Burnwillows to get it back into your hand), you get a Shock for three mana and also give your opponent a point of life for the pleasure. It's incredibly slow. Seeing it all written out like this makes it even funnier that Punishing Fire is on the banned list, to the point that I almost want to bump it up to A-tier. Modern is in such a fast, powerful place that it's hard for me to believe that a repeatable three-mana Shock that requires a two-card combo to work (Grove of the Burnwillows) is all that scary. 

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Bridge from Below was banned because of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, although it's banning did little to stop the Avatar's reign of horror. With Hogaak gone the enchantment is technically probably safe to unban - for now. Bridge from Below never really does anything fair or healthy, so what's the point? It's is one of the rare cards that is either completely broken or completely unplayable - there's no middle ground. If it was unbanned the immediate impact would likely be minimal, although eventually some broken graveyard combo would come along and it would go back to being busted and likely needing to be banned, which means we might as well just leave it on the banned list since it's already there.


Unbannable but with Some Risk

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We've finally made it to the fun part of our tier list: A-tier cards that I think should be unbanned, even though there is some amount of risk that a rebanning could be necessary. Here, we have four cards, including some of the most discussed cards on the Modern banned list. 

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It might sound crazy to even consider unbanning Deathrite Shaman—one of the best one-drops of all time—but the more I think about the current state of Modern, the more I want to at least give it a try. The biggest reason I think Deathrite Shaman should be unbanned is that the overall power level of one-mana creatures has greatly increased since Deathrite Shaman was released back in 2014. Back then, the next best option was something like Noble Hierarch or maybe Grim Lavamancer, making Deathrite Shaman significantly above the curve. Today, Modern is littered with cards like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Dragon's Rage Channeler, Esper Sentinel, Monastery Swiftspear, Ignoble Hierarch, and more. While Deathrite Shaman would still be good, rather than being the lone 10 out of 10 in a sea of five out of 10s, it would just be another strong one-drop (in a color combination that could use a strong one-drop). 

While Deathrite Shaman offers a lot of flexibility, as a mana dork that can also gain life against aggro or drain to finish out the game, its non-mana-dork modes are pretty slow as compared to aggressive one-drops like Dragon's Rage Channeler and Monastery Swiftspear. Deathrite Shaman is great when the game goes long, but if a Modern game goes long, it's usually because Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Jace, the Mind Sculptor is drawing tons of cards, or Elementals are playing through their deck, play patterns that Deathrite Shaman can't keep up with. 

Another huge change in the seven years since Deathrite Shaman has been banned is the addition of a ton more removal to Modern across colors. Back in 2014, there were Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. Now, cards like Unholy Heat, Prismatic Ending, Solitude, Fatal Push, and more have joined the mix. Back in 2014, decks like Jund were literally playing Putrefy in the main deck. Putrefy! Needing to spend three mana to kill a one-drop is a huge loss of tempo. But today, most decks have ways to kill a Deathrite Shaman for one or zero mana. It's hard to imagine it getting out of hand.

The other reason to unban Deathrite Shaman is that it might actually help fight some of the degenerate cards from the last few years. Having a mana dork that can also attack the graveyard seems like a good way to power down opposing Dragon's Rage Channelers and Lurrus of the Dream-Dens. In our current Modern format, I think it's more likely that Deathrite Shaman plays the role of the hero rather than the villain. I've gotten beaten down by enough Dragon's Rage Channelers and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferers lately that the idea of facing down a Deathrite Shaman almost sounds nice. Could Deathrite Shaman end up still being just too flexible and powerful? That is a possibility, but I really think the most likely outcome of unbanning Deathrite Shaman is that it just becomes another strong one-drop in a format overflowing with them.

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With our impending return to Kamigawa this winter, the time is right for the most iconic card from original Kamigawa block to make its way into Modern. Umezawa's Jitte, another card from the original Modern banned list that has never had an opportunity in the format, is undoubtedly a powerful equipment, offering a flexible package of lifegain, removal, and creature pumping. It does still see some play in Legacy, in Death and Taxes or Stoneblade, although it's not as much of a staple as it used to be a few years ago, to the point where some Stoneblade lists don't bother to run it at all. 

Let's start with the reasons that Umezawa's Jitte should remain banned. First and foremost, Stoneforge Mystic is in Modern, and Stoneforge Mystic decks will be able to run it as a one-of, hope it hangs out undrawn in their library in matchups where it is bad but find it consistently with Stoneforge Mystic in matchups where it is good. Speaking of matchups where Umezawa's Jitte is good, the second reason to be skeptical of unbanning it in Modern is that it wrecks decks full of little creatures. The combination of always being able to attack (because of the pump ability) and repeatedly shooting down small creatures (with the –1/–1 ability) can essentially lock decks full of little creatures out of the game once it gets going. 

On the other hand, there are several reasons to think that Umezawa's Jitte would be fine in Modern. Most importantly, it's pretty slow, costing two to cast and two more to equip, and not doing anything until you start dealing damage and generating charge counters. Furthermore, while Umezawa's Jitte has great matchups, it also has some pretty bad ones. Decks with big creatures or few creatures, like control, might take some extra damage from the pump ability but won't be that worried about the equipment hitting the battlefield. It's also way, way less scary than Kaldra Compleat coming into play off of Stoneforge Mystic on Turn 3. Kaldra Compleat often feels unbeatable. Just dealing with a Jitte might be a relief, like when your opponent tutors up a sweet Sword of X and Y rather than something like Kaldra Compleat that just murders you immediately. 

The other reason that giving Umezawa's Jitte a test run in Modern might make sense is the number of answers in the format. It seems like "destroy target artifact" has been tacked on as a secondary ability to a lot of spells in the last couple of years. Between Abrade, Prismari Command, Force of Vigor, Wear // Tear, and Kolaghan's Command, not to mention cards like Assassin's Trophy, Abrupt Decay, Stony Silence, and Karn, the Great Creator, most decks will have some sort of answer to the artifact. Maybe it's some form of recency bias driven by the endless beatdowns I've taken from Kaldra Compleat since Modern Horizons 2 was released, but Umezawa's Jitte doesn't feel all that scary compared to everything else happening in 2021 Modern. There could be a world where Stoneforge Mystic snagging Umezawa's Jitte drives creature decks out of the format and necessitates a rebanning, but we won't know until we try, and with our return to Kamigawa this winter, the time to unleash Jitte into Modern is now.

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Unban Twin! 

Seriously though, we really should unban Splinter Twin, which holds the record for least logical banning of all time, based on the justification of shaking up the Modern meta for a Pro Tour (Remember when those were a thing?) to get people to watch coverage (Remember when that was a thing?) for a paper Modern tournament (...). Splinter Twin was a consistently good deck that was regularly near the top of the Modern meta, but it was never a problematic deck if you dig into things like metagame percentage, and it wasn't even the top deck in the meta at many points during its lifespan in Modern.

Now, I will admit that there are legitimate concerns about unbanning Splinter Twin, with perhaps the biggest being that having a combo-control deck at the top of the meta tends to drive some people a bit crazy (see: Alrund's Epiphany in Standard). As much as people long for the good ol' days of Splinter Twin Modern, in reality, most people wouldn't be happy with a Modern format where they played Twin all the time. My other big worry about unbanning Twin now is the overall dominance of Izzet in various formats ever since Expressive Iteration was printed. Even though the Twin combo itself—Splinter Twin with Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite—hasn't really improved since the banning, the support pieces for the deck have gotten much, much better. You could probably take the Izzet Murktide deck; drop Murktide Regent and some of the other random creatures for Splinter Twin, Deceiver Exarch, and Pestermite; and immediately have a tier one deck because the Izzet support shell is so strong.

On the other hand, while Izzet cards have improved in the past few years, so have the answers to Twin. Back in 2016 when Splinter Twin got banned, decks without Path to Exile had to lean on some pretty questionable removal spells to deal with Deceiver Exarch and fizzle the combo. Today, blue has Force of Negation, Counterspell, and things like Brazen Borrower; white has Solitude to go along with Path to Exile; black has Fatal Push; red has Unholy Heat; and green—well, green deserves to be bad at something, and if that something is beating Splinter Twin, so be it. And this is from an exhaustive list of Twin answers that see heavy play in the Modern format. 

Another reason to think that Twin might be fine for 2021 Modern is that the speed of the format has shifted. Back in 2016, we used to talk about Modern being a Turn-4 format. Well, in 2021, I'd argue that Modern is a Turn-3 format, in part because Turn 3 is when all of the cascade spells come online (although it's also the turn when Tron combos online or when you could be dying to a Colossus Hammer, infect threat, or board full of dredgers). Is being a Turn-4 combo deck, even one that can play the control role as well as Twin can, even something to be worried about in 2021 Modern?

While I do think part of the push to unban Twin is generally nostalgia for the yesteryears of Modern and part of it is that the reasoning for banning Splinter Twin in the first place was extremely lacking, I also think that the meme is at least correct enough that we should give it a try. As I said before, I do have some worry that the strength of the current Izzet shell would vault Twin to the top of the meta almost by default, which could require another banning. Yet, there are enough answers to the combo today that it doesn't seem outright foolish to give it a shot. Will it work? I'm not sure, but there's at least a chance that it could, which is enough for me to want to give it a try.


Why Is This Even Banned?

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Blazing Shoal was banned back in the earliest days of the Modern format thanks to its one-hit-kill power with Infect creatures. During the first Modern Pro Tour, Sam Black made it to the finals by playing a build of Infect that looked to kill on Turn 2 or 3 by exiling a Progenitus or Dragonstorm to Blazing Shoal and pumping an Inkmoth Nexus or Blighted Agent to 10 power, making it a lethal attacker. 

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As someone who doesn't especially like getting janked out by infect, you might be surprised to learn that I actually think that Blazing Shoal is reasonably safe to unban in Modern. Thanks to cards like Scale Up, current builds of Infect can kill on Turn 2 fairly consistently. While Blazing Shoal Infect is slightly faster (since it's free, you can animate an Inkmoth Nexus and still be able to win on Turn 2, which is something Scale Up and other pump spells can't do), it's also much less consistent since you have to play a bunch of dead cards like Dragonstorm and Progenitus in your deck to support the kill. When you add in that we now have cards like Force of Negation and Solitude in the format, my guess is that even if Blazing Shoal were unbanned, the best builds of Infect would look more or less like they do currently, without Blazing Shoal and various 10-mana red cards.

Maybe there's another Blazing Shoal–based deck or combo that could be scary, although it seems like it would have the same problem as Shoal Infect (needing to play a bunch of expensive, uncastable cards to make Blazing Shoal work). If you want to try to kill me in 2021 by putting Progenitus into your aggro deck, more power to you. While I think that Modern is better in general without free spells that can be used offensively, which gives me pause when it comes to recommending that Blazing Shoal be unbanned, I think the card would be fine on power level alone.

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Glimpse of Nature is one of the handful of cards that have been on the Modern banned list from the start. It had proven its power as a combo piece, primarily in Elfball decks in Standard and in Legacy. In theory, Glimpse of Nature could do something similar in Modern, with Heritage Druid providing the mana to play through your entire deck in a turn before eventually winning with something like Craterhoof Behemoth. But there are two big reasons to think that Glimpse of Nature could be a safe card to unban in Modern.

First, its primary home—Elves—isn't an especially competitive deck in Modern. Even with some recent additions, it mostly dwells in the second and third tiers of the format and has for a long time. If Glimpse of Nature already had a ready-built top-tier home, I'd be more worried about its potential impact on the format. But Elves is far enough away from being good that giving it a new card, even a powerful one like Glimpse of Nature, might be a good thing. Having a competitive Elf deck in Modern would be sweet.

Second, we've gotten multiple similar cards, in Beck // Call and Rite of Harmony, that do the same thing as Glimpse of Nature for one more mana with upside, and none of these cards has been playable in Modern (outside of a brief, weird window when Beck // Call worked with Brain in a Jar). Either allowed for the same Elfball-style combos, but none was good enough to make it happen. Basically, we know that two-mana two-color Glimpse of Nature isn't good enough for Modern, which suggests that it's at least worth testing the effect at one mana.

Of course, there is still risk. Even if Elfball Combo isn't good enough for Modern, it's possible another creature-combo deck could develop around Glimpse of Nature, although whether such a deck would be anything more than lower-tier Against the Odds fodder is anyone's guess, and it could be more of a fun, semi-competitive brew than a format-breaking deck of concern. My feeling is that we should unban Glimpse of Nature. We can always reban it if it ends up being a problem, but odds are that it would be perfectly fine in the format.

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Can you believe it's been nearly seven years since Birthing Pod was banned in Modern? While writing this article, I looked back on the last Birthing Pod list to post a tournament finish before the banning, and I have to say that it looks almost quaint by today's standards...

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Ah, 2015 Modern, when Siege Rhino was an all-star and Birthing Pod was all the rage. If you never got to see Birthing Pod in action, it was mostly used to try to assemble combos like Archangel of Thune with Spike Feeder, while also getting to play a value-y toolbox game plan. Back in 2015, the deck was very good—consistent and powerful—but it's not 2015 anymore. Beneath everything else, Birthing Pod is a four-mana artifact that requires additional mana to do anything. Back in 2015, this was pretty scary. It was competing against decks like UW Control using Consecrated Sphinx as its finisher; Jund, with four Siege Rhinos, four Scavenging Oozes, and some Kitchen Finks; Blood Moon running main-deck Vedalken Shackles... You get the picture. I'm not sure most of the top-tier 2015 Modern decks could compete with the decks from Throne of Eldraine Standard.

By 2021 standards, Birthing Pod looks fair, slow, and easy to disrupt. Remember: back in 2015, cards like Force of Negation, Force of Vigor, Assassin's Trophy, Fatal Push, Karn, the Great Creator, Counterspell, and friends didn't exist (or weren't legal in Modern), and decks were much, much slower and fairer, giving Birthing Pod a leg up on the metagame thanks to the consistency it offered. In 2021 Modern, in a lot of matchups, you'll be dead before you even resolve a Birthing Pod, and in the matchups where you are still alive, your opponent will likely have a Force of Negation or Solitude to disrupt your combo. 

Another layer on top of all of this is that Lurrus of the Dream-Den exists in 2021, and for some creature-based combo decks (like Vizier Druid Combo), playing Birthing Pod will cost you a shot at having the most powerful card in the game's history as your companion. 

Sure, there are plenty of combos for Birthing Pod to tutor up. It would be perfect for something like the Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo, but even there, in one of its best possible homes, is it better than just using the cheaper Eldritch Evolution to grab Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to win the game? Maybe not.

All things considered, I'd love to see Birthing Pod unbanned in Modern. My worry isn't that it would be too good. I think there's very little chance that Birthing Pod could break 2021 Modern. The format is just too fast and has too many answers. My worry is that Birthing Pod wouldn't be good enough, which might tarnish its memory as one of the top cards in one of the best eras of the Modern format. I'm hopeful that maybe Birthing Pod could power up some sweet combo-ish toolbox deck in the format, but I think there's a much higher risk that it is unplayable than of it breaking the format.


Anyway, that's all for today. Now that you've seen my take on the Modern banned list, what do you think? What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive, or at

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