Friendly Fire: The New Banlist’s Splash Damage

The latest banlist announcement did a number on Modern’s top decks, decimating the Uro piles which week and again would claim top of the heap as well as the new bullies on the block, cascade-powered decks abusing the latest Tibalt cards. In order to solve for these displays of power, though, Wizards took an unconventional route in extending their ban hammer the likes of which we’ve never seen. The nuke included hits to Simian Spirit Guide, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary, all key players in the aforementioned powerhouses. And all ones employed by far tamer tamer decks.

Guide’s demise spells doom for Colorless Eldrazi Stompy, the deck I’ve championed for the last five years. Today, we’ll examine more splash damage from the recent ban, and mourn other low-tier decks rolled by the announcement.

Simian Spirit Guide

According to many pundits, Simian Spirit Guide has been on the chopping block more or less since Modern’s inception, simply by virtue of providing generic free mana. It does seem like Wizards has finally agreed with this crowd and decided to axe the monkey out of principle; as noted last month, it’s not like Guide was fueling anything particularly devastating beyond the already-broken-enough-for-a-ban Tibalt cascade decks. But as much as I personally loved the dimension Guide brought to the format, of say a turn one Chandra being at least possible, others hated it, and are happy to see the monkey go. Balance fans are probably not among them.

As Foretold, HUGOFREITAS1 (5-0)

Creatures (8)
Greater Gargadon
Brazen Borrower
Simian Spirit Guide

Sorceries (16)
Ancestral Vision
Crashing Footfalls
Finale of Promise
Restore Balance
Serum Visions

Instants (15)
Abrade
Electrodominance
Force of Negation
Lightning Bolt
Opt
Spell Pierce

Enchantments (4)
As Foretold

Lands (17)
Fiery Islet
Mountain
Scalding Tarn
Snow-Covered Island
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Sideboard (15)
Abrade
Spell Pierce
Anger of the Gods
Blood Moon
Flusterstorm
Leyline of Sanctity
Mystical Dispute
Threads of Disloyalty
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Guide often gets a rap as a combo enabler that lets decks win a turn early. But while lower-tier decks like Neoform and Ad Nauseam do indeed wield it that way, I’d argue that most of its uses are decidedly more fair.

As Foretold‘s goal is to drop its namesake enchantment as early as possible and then immediately start resolving costless sorceries like Restore Balance, Ancestral Vision, or Crashing Footfalls. None of these spells wins the game; they’re just significantly discounted with no time investment, letting AF play the game on another level once its engine comes online.

It’s also got Electrodominance as a way to cast these for free. Both avenues were heavily reliant on Guide to generate the board wipes or 4/4s in a timely enough manner that opponents might struggle to overcome such effects. Without that possibility in the mix, I don’t see this deck hanging on in its current incarnation as anything more than a nostalgic fallback.

Since it doesn’t use cascade, As Foretold could conceivably splash green for mana dorks. Some problems with this strategy include the failure to produce 4/4s on turn one, and dorks being incompatible with Restore Balance, which checks for creatures controlled. Rather, I expect whatever new version of this deck that resurfaces to go back, way back, and include Borderposts to maximize the mana denial aspect of Restore Balance.

Mono-Red Stompy, OTAKKUN (3-1, Preliminary #12247547)

Creatures (18)
Goblin Rabblemaster
Bonecrusher Giant
Magus of the Moon
Seasoned Pyromancer
Simian Spirit Guide

Planeswalkers (6)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Karn, the Great Creator

Instants (5)
Desperate Ritual
Pyretic Ritual

Artifacts (7)
Chalice of the Void
Ensnaring Bridge

Enchantments (4)
Blood Moon

Lands (20)
Gemstone Caverns
Ramunap Ruins
11 Snow-Covered Mountain
Zhalfirin Void
Sideboard (15)
Ensnaring Bridge
Abrade
Dismember
Gaea’s Blessing
Legion Warboss
Liquimetal Coating
Sorcerous Spyglass
Tormod’s Crypt
Trinisphere
Walking Ballista
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Another fair deck slinging guides is Mono-Red Stompy, which powers out a Chalice or Blood Moon before closing the door with Goblin Rabblemaster. This deck is unpopular enough that I had to pull from a January event to get the list. Without Guide, I doubt staying Mono-Red retains much of its appeal; the deck is likelier to branch out into other colors, such as white, and adopt a more controlling role to compensate for the loss of speed. Planeswalkers like Nahiri, the Harbinger will mesh will with this gameplan, while Stoneforge Mystic seems especially attractive as a turn-two play.

A major decision point for the deck will be whether or not to continue running Chalice. I’ve found in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy that the card just isn’t worth mainboard inclusion without Guide, being dead against some portion of the field no matter how fast it hits the field on one; coming down too late to matter a larger portion of the time makes it too much of a liability. And in red, players have Lightning Bolt to consider. Naturally, we’re now talking about a very different 60!

Field of the Dead

Another target of the ban announcement was Field of the Dead, a card banned for “decreasing diversity of gameplay patterns.” I’ll grant that a swarm of 2/2 Zombies was never too excited to watch assemble, and also that Field seemed suspiciously low-effort for the decks splashing it. But I do wonder whether the card would have continued to leave a bad taste in so many players’ mouths without Uro propping it up. Still, Field did make its way into some non-Uro decks:

Lands, FJ_RODMAN (5-0)

Creatures (15)
Elvish Reclaimer
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Primeval Titan
Skyclave Apparition
Springbloom Druid
Tangled Florahedron

Sorceries (4)
Explore

Instants (8)
Eladamri’s Call
Path to Exile

Lands (33)
Blast Zone
Bojuka Bog
Castle Garenbrig
Cavern of Souls
Field of the Dead
Flagstones of Trokair
Forest
Ghost Quarter
Plains
Radiant Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Selesnya Sanctuary
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Plains
Temple Garden
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Vesuva
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Aven Mindcensor
Boil
Celestial Purge
Dismember
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Force of Vigor
Knight of Autumn
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
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I’d call Field a core component of the Elvish Reclaimer-powered Lands deck, which counted on the card as a tutorable win condition. Minus Field, the deck becomes much more reliant on resolving Primeval Titan, which lowers the stock of Reclaimer itself, which used to be both enabler and payoff in this shell.

It also loses much of its long game potential without Dryad in play to ensure those Valakut triggers go off; keep Dryad off the table, and Titan isn’t scary at all any more. Heck, a lot of Goyfs just wall it, not to mention Scourge of the Skyclaves. In other words, Field was this deck’s lifeblood, and without it, I don’t think the core can sustain itself.

Amulet Titan, IDAVEW (3-1, Preliminary #12258786)

Planeswalkers (4)
Karn, the Great Creator

Creatures (12)
Arboreal Grazer
Primeval Titan
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Azusa, Lost but Seeking

Artifacts (4)
Amulet of Vigor

Sorceries (7)
Ancient Stirrings
Explore

Instants (4)
Summoner’s Pact

Lands (29)
Boros Garrison
Breeding Pool
Castle Garenbrig
Cavern of Souls
Crumbling Vestige
Field of the Dead
Forest
Golgari Rot Farm
Gruul Turf
Radiant Fountain
Selesnya Sanctuary
Simic Growth Chamber
Slayers’ Stronghold
Snow-Covered Forest
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Tolaria West
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Vesuva
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Bojuka Bog
Dismember
Engineered Explosives
Ensnaring Bridge
Force of Vigor
Ghost Quarter
Liquimetal Coating
Reclamation Sage
Relic of Progenitus
Tireless Tracker
Tormod’s Crypt
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Walking Ballista
Wurmcoil Engine
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Amulet Titan, on the other hand, should hang on. After all, it was a thing before Field of the Dead came to Modern. If anything, I would say Field made the deck even a little too powerful, giving it an alternate win condition that was easy to find and assemble; we didn’t get to appreciate its full power because of all the Uro decks playing Field better, although the deck did make our metagame charts last month. Dryad remains an upgrade for the deck, and I’d bet it hovers around the lower-Tier 2 mark without Field and with a neutered Tier 1.

Mystic Sanctuary

Yet another land banned for “decreasing diversity of gameplay patterns,” I feel that Mystic Sanctuary may not be the culprit we think. That repetitive pattern we’re all thinking of is to loop Cryptic Command, which indeed the Uro decks toting Sanctuary were notorious for. But which other decks ran the card?

UW Miracles, ASPIRINGSPIKE (5-0)

Planeswalkers (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler

Sorceries (5)
Entreat the Angels
Terminus

Instants (18)
Archmage’s Charm
Cryptic Command
Force of Negation
Opt
Path to Exile
Remand
Spell Snare

Enchantments (8)
Counterbalance
Omen of the Sea

Lands (23)
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mystic Sanctuary
Plains
Polluted Delta
Prairie Stream
Scalding Tarn
Sideboard (15)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Aether Gust
Commandeer
Condemn
Deafening Silence
Pithing Needle
Timely Reinforcements
Torpor Orb
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It turns out precious few, although whether that’s because Uro ate all their shares may now never bee seen. UW Miracles, one such deck, could be found running a full four copies of Sanctuary as an all-purpose utility tool with applications throughout the game. Running the full suite like this makes a high count of fetchlands even more advantageous. And notice: this deck only plays 2 Cryptic Command! Archmage’s Charm and even Path to Exile are common loop targets for this build.

Mill, MZBLAZER (3-1, Preliminary #12261149)

Creatures (8)
Hedron Crab
Ruin Crab

Sorceries (8)
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Maddening Cacophony

Instants (20)
Archive Trap
Drown in the Loch
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction
Visions of Beyond

Artifacts (4)
Mesmeric Orb

Land (20) (20)
Darkslick Shores
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Island
Mystic Sanctuary
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Polluted Delta
Swamp
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Aether Gust
Bloodchief’s Thirst
Crypt Incursion
Echoing Truth
Extirpate
Force of Negation
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Soul-Guide Lantern
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Then there’s Mill, which doesn’t run Cryptic Command at all! This deck would much rather draw yet another Archive Trap. To Wizards’s credit, Mill did fetch for Sanctuary as soon as it became live in most games, which was generally turn 4. And while it’s looping different cards, it gives the deck a more linear trajectory.

I still would have liked to see Sanctuary in a non-Uro metagame to witness which other decks, like Mill, found themselves emboldening their gameplan or, like UW Miracles, could repurpose the card as more of a Swiss Army knife.

Settling the Wreckage

My plans for a brew report were dashed in January when the announcement dropped, as the metagame looked absolutely nothing like it was certain to in the very near future. This month, we’ll examine that future in detail, and see what innovation grows from the concrete. Until then!

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