Understanding the 2019 Magic Modern ban list debate - Upcomer
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Editor’s Note (01/25/2019: 11:55AM EST): Some details about the decks and cards that Krark-Clan Ironworks would affect were inaccurate. The Krark-Clan Ironwork entry has been corrected to present accurate context for its ban.

When it comes to Magic: The Gathering‘s Modern format, few things are as controversial as the ban list and which cards belong on it. Due to an upcoming ban list update on Jan. 21, there has been a ton of talk surrounding whether certain cards should be banned, unbanned, or left alone for the health of the format.

Magic is a constantly evolving game and pulls in tons of new players each year. So, for those new players or for the veterans who want a refresher, here are a few of the cards that are being debated right now.

Faithless Looting

Modern, Ban, 2019, January 21st, Faithless Looting

Initially, Faithless Looting didn’t see a ton of play in the Modern format after its release in Dark Ascension (2012). Over the course of the last couple of years or so, this card has empowered and enabled multiple strategies that feed off the “disadvantage” of having to discard two cards. For example, consider the following:

Dredge: The plan here is to use Dredge to mill yourself super hard so that Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam are pulled onto the battlefield for free, Bloodghast is put into your graveyard so that playing lands resummons it, and Creeping Chill can drain life from your enemy. The end result is a massive board of creatures that can recur every turn and that can begin to come out as soon as turn one thanks to Faithless Looting. Looting also says “draw two cards,” which for Dredge means they get two opportunities to utilize the Dredge keyword on cards in their graveyard.

Hollow One: Faithless Looting is used in this deck to enable super cheap or even free Hollow Ones alongside cards like Street Wraith and Goblin Lore while also drawing you two cards. It further lets you put Flamewake Pheonix into the graveyard so that you can recur it for just one mana once you have your free 4/4 Hollow Ones out.  While this deck relies heavily on luck to get busted early game plays, it’s not uncommon to be facing a very scary board of one or more Hollow Ones on turn one.

Arclight Phoenix Decks: Coming out of the latest Standard set, Arclight Phoenix made a massive splash in Modern due to its insane synergy with Faithless Looting.  Looting lets you draw cards and discard your Phoenixes so that they can recur as you cycle through your deck and cast “free” spells like Manamorphose or Gut Shot. This can provide a fast clock very early in the game.

The common thread between all these decks is that the “downside” of Faithless Looting is used to enable these very fast, hyper synergistic game plans. What’s more is that Faithless Looting itself has Flashback, which means you can cast it again from your graveyard. So, in these heavily graveyard-oriented decks, the card that enables them can also be cast from the graveyard. By banning Faithless Looting, people are hoping to slow down the Modern format so that midrange and control decks can have a little more room to breathe.

Ancient Stirrings

Modern, ban, 2019, January 21st, Ancient Stirrings

Ancient Stirrings has been a point of contention for a while simply because it lets you look at five cards for one green mana when the blue modern cantrips such as Serum Visions and Opt let you look at only two or three cards. The trade-off is that Ancient Stirrings only grabs colorless cards, whereas Serum Visions and Opt will let you put any card in your hand. However, the decks below are primarily colorless so the restriction really doesn’t matter at all:

KCI: This deck, named after its main combo piece, Krark-Clan Ironworks, cycles its cheap artifacts over and over and over with help from Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever. Eventually, it will have enough mana to infinitely loop Pyrite Spellbomb until you die. This deck is insanely consistent and often kills on turn three. It’s regarded as one of the most boring decks to lose against in Modern due to the fact that the combo itself can take an extremely long time to play out, since it involves drawing basically your whole deck and then recurring tons of artifacts repeatedly until it can ping the opponent to death 2 damage at a time. It’s been doing extremely well lately in tournaments and a lot of people really want Ancient Stirrings banned because, without it, a deck composed of only colorless cards would be a lot less consistent.

Tron: This deck strives to have all three Urza lands in play at once (like with assembling Voltron, hence the name) to get their combined effect of producing 7 mana instead of 3. This allows Tron to play super late-game cards like Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine on turn three. Ancient Stirrings is very useful here because, similar to KCI, the majority of cards in Tron decks are colorless including the Urza lands. By banning Ancient Stirrings, this deck loses a lot of its consistency.

By banning Ancient Stirrings, these decks that kill fast in very oppressive ways would be handicapped and would end games of Modern on turn three less often.

Krark-Clan Ironworks

Modern, ban, 2019, KCI, Krark Clan Ironworks

This card, the centerpiece of KCI, is also a potential ban target. This is the only real ban that would only hit KCI, whereas Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal both hit a number of other decks. If Wizards of the Coast wants to hit KCI and leave other decks alone, this is the ban they would make.

Possible unbannings?

Alongside these cards marked for a ban by the community, there are a few cards that could be unbanned. The Modern format has changed a lot since these cards were in it, so having them back may be a good thing. Just last year, Jace the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf were unbanned and the format, after a bit of flux, settled with neither of them being particularly overpowered. Here are a few more contenders for an unban.

Stoneforge Mystic

Modern, ban, unban, Sotneforge Mystic, SFM

Stoneforge Mystic was originally banned alongside Jace the Mind Sculptor after they ravaged their Standard environment. They were deemed too strong for Modern, especially since they both see heavy Legacy play. However, Jace was unbanned in 2018 and hasn’t even come close to dominating the format, so many people are calling for Stoneforge Mystic to be unbanned as well. It’s becoming more apparent that Modern and Legacy are very different formats, and what may be strong in one may be less remarkable in the other.

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin, ban, unban, 2019, January 21st, Modern

Ask a roomful of people why Splinter Twin was banned and you’ll get a plethora of answers. Some say it was because the deck it was in was too consistent and oppressive; some say it was because it was too popular. And some say it had too high a win-rate, while others say it had a perfectly normal win-rate. One of the greatest divides in the Modern player base is probably whether or not Splinter Twin deserves to still be banned in Modern, and you’ll see that reflected in most discussions about the card.

A common belief right now is that Splinter Twin can answer the aggressive combo-style decks overrunning the format like Dredge or Arclight Phoenix decks. It played a lot of counter magic, and it demanded your opponent to have removal or counter spells of their own or else Splinter Twin’s combo with Deceiver Exarch would go off consistently. The other camp of people is very against this because they wonder why you would add another fast combo deck to Modern when it’s already full of noninteractive, fast decks.


There is a ton to cover with these ban/unban discussions, but hopefully this is enough to catch people up with the state of Modern right now. We’ll see what cards, if any, see a ban or unban on Jan. 21, 2019 so keep a look out!