The State of the Modern Banlist
Wizards made a conscious decision to not ban or unban anything in Modern until after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Now that the Pro Tour is over, will we see the format shaken up once again? We have seen plenty of bannings within the past couple years if you include Standard, so it's clear there is no fear when it comes to making a banning. I want to break down the factors that come into play when making this decision.
There is No Deck That Beats Every Other Deck
In Modern there is no Temur Energy deck that can potentially have good matchups across the board. Even if you consider Lantern Control or some other archetype the best in Modern, there is some way to beat those archetypes. This means that the format can balance out, and no single deck should be overwhelmingly dominant. It wasn't that long ago that players were asking for a Death's Shadow ban, but lately that deck hasn't been dominant.
The fact that there is no deck that is too good for the format is a huge reason to not ban anything., but there are other factors that are important as well. People play Magic to have fun, and there is definitely an argument for certain cards to be banned because of how they impact games.
I consider hate cards to be Blood Moon, Chalice of the Void, Ensnaring Bridge and friends. These are cards that can completely shut down what the opponent is doing, and potentially end the game on the spot. Getting down a Chalice of the Void on two against Storm is pretty much game over, at least in game one. Similarly, a Blood Moon in play against a player with only nonbasic lands creates a situation where your spells are essentially useless.
These hate cards fit into a variety of different decks, and while it is nice to play fun and interactive games of Magic, sometimes hate cards are a necessary evil. While Blood Moon isn't a fun card to play against, it does help keep decks with crazy mana bases in check, so I actually think it is an important card in the format.
Lantern Control is the deck that is the most likely to have a card banned from it, if indeed there is a ban. The reason is similar to why players don't like hate cards in Modern – playing against Lantern is generally not very fun. There are many decks who simply fold to Ensnaring Bridge once it gets into play. The feeling of helplessly getting milled out is not a good one. Once the appropriate lock of Lantern of Insight plus mill rock, and having a stable board is assembled, the game is effectively over.
Before Whir of Invention, Lantern Control was a good deck, but now that the deck has access to Whir it has much more redundancy. It is easy to find specific artifacts, and allows you to play single copies of high-impact artifacts. For instance, Burn used to be quite a bad matchup for Lantern Control. Now that Witchbane Orb is in the deck, that matchup has changed to the point that Lantern is actually favored.
If a card gets banned, I expect it be Ensnaring Bridge. Without that card, Lantern Control can't continue to exist in its current form.
I Don't Think There Will Be a Ban
If I had to guess, I don't think that Wizards will actually ban anything. If the decision is close and there is no deck that is obviously dominant, it seems like generally their preference would be to not take action. There are certainly many viable decks in Modern, and this will not change regardless of a banning. There are also many players who like playing decks that would be on the chopping block like Lantern Control. In addition, the most popular decks at the Pro Tour are certainly are not worthy of having any cards banned from them.
In the end, the Pro Tour was a diverse field and the Top 8 featured seven different archetypes, which should be considered a win.
What About an Unbanning?
I would love to see some shifts to the Modern format, and an unbanning or two might just be the way to do this. Seemingly whenever a card is taken of the banned list in Modern, the format doesn't change very much. I remember a time when Wild Nacatl was banned, and clearly that wasn't necessary. There are definitely cards that are on the list that could easily be unbanned and improve the format. The issue is that the very act of unbanning a card is dangerous, because to a certain extent we don't know what would happen as a result.
Since unbanning cards is dangerous, it's hard to expect Wizards to do it. In fact, there is a good chance that there will be no changes at all to the Modern format, but let's live in a world where Wizards does decide to unban cards. Which cards make the most sense to unban and why?
I am going to start with the easiest card to unban. If Bloodbraid Elf got unbanned, I don't actually think it would see that much play, which means it shouldn't be banned at all. It rarely sees play in Legacy, and really only in Jund decks there. In Modern it could make Jund Midrange a bit better, which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. This is also a four-mana card, and is it really more powerful than a card like Collected Company?
The haste creature is nice, but you don't know what spell will come off cascade. I have heard players cite the reason not to unban Bloodbraid Elf being they don't like the cascade mechanic in general. Personally, I see no problem with it. Part of playing this game is some amount of randomization, and that's what you are getting when casting Bloodbraid Elf. There will be times where you hit a Thoughtseize off the cascade and the opponent only has land in hand, or you find a Terminate but the opponent has zero creatures in play.
Bloodbraid Elf never felt like a card that was too good for Modern to me, and I don't see an issue with its return. Perhaps you could play some sort of Temur deck that tries to cascade into Ancestral Vision, but Bloodbraid Elf is nowhere near as good as Shardless Agent.
In many ways Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor get paired together when it comes to bans and unbans. The reason for this is that Bloodbraid Elf is a pretty effective trump to the powerful blue planeswalker. Three loyalty is not a lot, and there will be spots where you can simply cast Bloodbraid Elf and immediately take Jace, the Mind Sculptor off the board. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is more powerful than Bloodbraid Elf, but still isn't too good to unban.
There are some indicators that if there is an unbanning in Modern, Jace, the Mind Sculptor could very likely be the card chosen to legalize again. Masters 25 will in fact feature Jace, the Mind Sculptor, this we already know. The value of Jace, the Mind Sculptor has also shot up in the past week or so, so clearly there are plenty of people who believe this unbanning is going to happen. This would be one of the most exciting changes we have seen in Modern.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is arguably the most powerful planeswalker ever printed, but it wouldn't be played as a four-of in decks in the same way Liliana of the Veil is. Jace would give control decks a boost, but would it help any other archetypes? Cryptic Command is already a card control decks rely on for four mana, and you don't want to have too many cards at that mana cost. I don't see more than a couple copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the typical control decks.
Of course, we may see decks that aim to fully utilize Jace, the Mind Sculptor if its unbanned, so the control decks may look very different. Perhaps we could see a Miracles-style deck that aims to maximize the use of Jace, the Mind Sculptor's Brainstorm ability. Overall, while there is some risk with unbanning Jace, the risk is worth the reward. This is such an iconic planeswalker that players are itching to get a chance to use again..
Both Jace and Bloodbraid Elf are four-mana cards that certainly don't just win the game by themselves. There are a lot of very fast decks in Modern, and I think cards like these don't need to be removed from the format. They are both ways to win against midrange and control decks, but do very little against combo and super aggressive strategies. If Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets unbanned it will make many players happy and the format will adapt to the change.
I think it is extremely unlikely that Chrome Mox gets unbanned, but I will make a case for it to happen nonetheless. Chrome Mox sees some play but not very much in Legacy, and decks almost never play the full playset. This is one of the least powerful Moxes ever printed, as having to exile a spell from your hand is a pretty big cost. This could potentially help fast combo decks, although I'm not sure how much. Certainly, the thought of a turn-one Goryo's Vengeance is pretty scary, though that would require getting very lucky.
I understand that there is a legitimate concern about fast mana and busted combo decks. This concern is what will stop Chrome Mox being unbanned. It isn't clear that unbanning it would actually make the format any healthier. It would allow another Simian Spirit Guide effect, and that is something that Wizards likely doesn't want. Personally I don't think we are ready for a Chrome Mox unbanning, but there is a world where I could see it making sense.
Thanks for reading,