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BUGing out about the Modern Banned Announcement

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

BUGing out about the Modern Banned Announcement

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

Well then.  What a week for Modern.  Not only did we see the inevitable ban of something from the Eldrazi nemesis, but two pretty large unbannings as well.  First things first, for those who’ve been living under a rock for a week and have just managed to emerge to find that Y2K still hasn’t caused robots to take over the earth and enslave mankind, the Modern banning announcement was made last week.

-Eye of Ugin is banned in Modern.

-Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek are unbanned in Modern.

First things first, almost everybody who plays the Modern format knew something had to be done to address the absolutely absurd power level and dominance of the deck in the format.  Being about 35% of the decks not only played, but seeing success is ludicrous, so a ban was imminent.

I, however, thought that there was enough evidence to show that not only Eye of Ugin needed to be banned, but Eldrazi Temple also needed to be banned.  I still think that with access to Eldrazi Temple, plus things like Simian Spirit Guide (my nomination for most under-the-radar card in Modern in terms of what should be banned) and the Urza lands, the deck is absurd.

I remember back even before Oath of the Gatewatch and all the really really really good Eldrazi cards were even released, after the Splinter Twin banning, there was a lot of chatter about how banning Splinter Twin and allowing this mid-rangy amalgam of a B/W Eldrazi deck that was beating things like Jund, Abzan, and blue decks to run rampant in the format using such all-stars as Blight Herder and Wasteland Strangler was going to push certain decks out of the format.

While that deck also had access to Eye of Ugin, that card was a lot less necessary that it was in the more aggressive Eldrazi lists that popped up during and after the Pro Tour.  That deck could very well still exist moving forward and be a very strong format staple that really hadn’t had the chance to shine before the more bloodthirsty Eldrazi deck showed its ugly face to the world.

So while the explosiveness of the Eldrazi deck has been subdued at least for now, the raw power of those cards still exists, and there are plenty of scenarios still where a turn two Thought-Knot Seer can be played realistically.  Eldrazi is certainly down, but not out.

This moves us on to the other items in this list.  Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision are now Modern legal cards.  While this makes the price of those cards jump dramatically, I think there is a lot more hype about these cards than this announcement deserves.  First, let’s all remember when such Modern-altering format staples were unbanned in the form of Bitterblossom and Golgari Grave-Troll.  Yeah, how often have you lost to those cards since they’ve been unbanned?  Probably about as many times as you’ve lost to Amulet after it was banned.

While Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek are absolutely powerful cards in their own rights, that doesn’t mean that they have the contextual power to exist as $50 dollar cards or whatever the heck Ancestral Vision is peaking at right now.

How do I know this?  I don’t, so take my words with a grain of salt.  I have very little experience playing with Sword of the Meek in general, and have experience playing with Ancestral Vision in Standard back in the day, where I don’t exactly remember it being a huge game changer or pivotal card in the format.

Let’s begin with analyzing Sword of the Meek.  A lot of people are saying a bunch of things about this card.  Like how it fits into Lantern Control.  Does it?  I think that the list for Lantern is already really tight as it is, it doesn’t really need some mediocre 2 card life gain engine against aggressive decks that is based around artifacts that die to the same cards that their 1 card answer to attacking creatures does(read: Ensnaring Bridge).

Then there’s all this hype around Tezzerator decks being good now because they have this Thopter Foundry engine with Sword of the Meek.  Like this is the thing that will finally vault the Tezzeret twins to Modern format stardom.  Come on.  By the time you’re casting these cards in Modern, there’s a good chance you’d want these cards to be something else when you’re playing against really aggressive strategies, and against controlling strategies, well, those don’t really exist in Modern right now, and I doubt Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision are the things that finally allow control decks to exist in a world full of turn 3 and turn 4 kills.

Look at Sword of the Meek in Legacy.  There’s like one fringe deck that plays the combo with Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry.  And the only reason it’s really able to compete is because it has access to Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors and the people it beats typically have no idea how the deck even works because the opponent has probably never even seen the deck before.

Let’s be real folks, Sword of the Meek will not break the format.  Sword of the Meek may fit into some tier 2 or tier 3 monstrosity the same way Vengevine finds its way into decks.  But when you’re fixing to play a resource intensive, multiple card, non-infinite combo that is susceptible to both artifact AND graveyard hate in a format full of turn 4 infinite combos, maindeck artifact hate, maindeck graveyard hate, and plenty of sideboard splash damage cards thanks to the popularity of strategies like Affinity, Living End, and Goryo’s Vengeance, I think you’re really just wasting a bunch of slots in your deck.

Now, let’s talk about the big one, the one I’m actually kind of excited about: Ancestral Vision.  A lot of people have already decided that their blue deck ABSOLUTELY MUST PLAY 4 COPIES AND THAT’S IT.  No questions, just jam four of these bad boys right into your 60, sleeve it up and rip it.  If there’s anything Legacy has taught us about this card is that it’s only good on turn 1, and when you don’t have to wait for it.  Cheating this card is the thing that you have to do if you’re not playing it on turn 1, and without Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor to put this card back into your deck or setup your Shardless Agent cascades, I feel like this card is really a very medium card in Modern.

First, I think that just playing this in just any Blue deck is incorrect.  While it’s fine against decks like Jund or Abzan, something you can just set and forget, and I do mean really only fine, it doesn’t get you ahead or even affect the board on the turn you play it fairly.  It doesn’t do anything for four turns.  Pretty much, as I’ve said already plenty of times, you want this either on exactly turn 1, or you want to cheat it, so playing it in just your favorite Blue deck?  You could probably find a better draw spell.  I bet you could probably just play some number of Darksteel Citadel and Thirst for Knowledge and that would be better.

Second, I think four of this card is incorrect.  This is related very much to the statement made in the paragraph above.  While logic indicates that you should run four of this card if you want it in your opening hand, I think that actually having it on turn 1 is not justification enough to run 4 of the card.  I think you don’t want more than two of this card.

If you’re still reading and haven’t closed your browser in disgust at the comments I’ve made, I commend you.  I probably would have closed it if some guy on the internet was telling me a card I was really excited about wasn’t as good as I thought it was.  And I am very excited about this card, but I think you have to approach these things cautiously.  Not running four of the new hotness is a practice in restraint, and while I might be wrong about running two Ancestral Vision, I want you to see the deck I think you should be playing the card in.

Now, when I think of this card being Modern legal, if I was to point to one person I think would be able to find the best place to put this card, I think of one Gerard Fabiano.  Granted he’s not allowed to play Magic until next month due to some wonky issue a few months back, I think we have to look at something like the deck he used to smash Modern last year:

I think this, much like Sultai Midrange, or as the hip people call it, Shardless BUG, in Legacy, is the best shell for Ancestral Vision going forward.  This would require a few changes though I would think.

“But Tim, how does this deck cheat Ancestral Vision?  Snapcaster Mage can’t Flashback Ancestral Vision.”  Correct.  Snapcaster Mage and Ancestral Vision are a nonbo together.  So what is a deckbuilder to do?  Swap out the Snapcaster Mages.

“But Tim, Snapcaster Mage!?  He’s our best friend, why would you do this to a mate?”

There’s a better blue card that plays the kind of game this deck is trying to play better than Snapcaster Mage.  Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.  This Sultai deck isn’t a Lightning Bolt deck (obviously).  Look at how many instant speed spells Gerard is playing with.  Nine?  And a lot of them have a pretty hefty mana investment, especially when we’re casting them with Snapcaster Mage.

If we shift this playstyle more toward a sorcery speed midrangy deck, think of your Jund or Abzan, or even Grixis, we can take advantage of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy better than we can of Snapcaster Mage.  And if we’re playing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and focusing more on a midrangy shell, we would do well to shove a few Liliana of the Veil into this deck as well.  Both Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Liliana of the Veil are outlets for us to discard our Ancestral Vision so that we may cast them with Jace, Telepath Unbound.

The other thing that Shardless BUG has taught us is that Ancestral Vision plays superbly well with Liliana of the Veil.  So why not make that a thing we do?  I think the updated list would look something like this:

So we make some deck building concessions to play with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy here.  We cut a few counterspells in Cryptic Command and Mana Leak because they don’t play as nicely with Liliana of the Veil and Jace, Telepath Unbound, but still having them is a solid reason to play Blue, even though Cryptic might need to just be removed altogether.

We shuffle the mana around a bit more, replacing some of the green sources with a few more black sources, going from 2 Breeding Pool 1 Watery Grave to 2 Watery Grave 1 Breeding Pool, and we swap Polluted Delta and Overgrown Tomb numbers as well.

We also replace the Compulsive Research with Painful Truths.  Especially with the Thragtusk gaining us life in the maindeck, Painful Truths is just the better card.  We also play a Murderous Cut over the Golgari Charm just in case those pesky Eldrazi cards are still around, as well as a way to keep Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy from flipping when we need to dig for more cards.

So I think this is my starting point for playing and testing with Ancestral Vision.  Without any actual decent Cascade cards to cheat Ancestral Vision, we seem to be resigned to playing a more midrange, grindy type strategy and cheating it in with Jace, Telepath Unbound.

What decks are you all excited to play these new cards in?  How wrong do you think I am in my evaluation of the unbanned cards and the future of the Eldrazi deck?  Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @bachmanntim.

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