Modern Banlist Update (4/4/2016): Eye of Ugin banned, Vision and Sword unbanned

In the beginning of Eldrazi Winter, there was darkness and tentacles and a Tier 0 deck where there had once been diversity. And Wizards said, “Let there be bans,” and there were bans. And, to surprise the players they had forsaken and restore balance to the Modern Force, Wizards said, “Let there be unbans,” and there were unbans too.

Announcement date: April 4, 2016
Effective date: April 8, 2016
Magic Online effective date: April 13, 2016

Eye of Ugin is banned
Ancestral Vision is unbanned
Sword of the Meek is unbanned

Thus, Modern was saved by the Wizards Gatewatch and its players opened a new chapter of glory and possibilities.

April-4-Ban-Banner

Following a week of fake banlist announcements that made all of us feel like we were living in Max Banlist Modern, anticipation was high for Monday’s update. Anxiety, too! I’d even seen some buzz about a Mox Opal ban from multiple sources, and the mere prospect of that change was enough to have me awake three hours before the announcement in a sweat of ban mania. At 9:39, the April 4 announcement went live. I dropped my breakfast muffin on the floor in excitement, my cat proceeded to eat the breakfast muffin, and Modern was changed forever. Today’s article will be a shorter piece analyzing the impact of these changes, with a deeper and more formal reaction to follow on Wednesday. With just over an hour between the update’s publication and this article’s deadline, and crumbs still on the floor, I’ll save most of my analysis for Wednesday and just unpack the high-level takeaways today.

Eye of Ugin is Banned

Get #rekt, Eldrazi. This is literally the most justified ban I’ve seen in the format’s history: not even demonstrable violators like Amulet Bloom warranted a ban quite as much as Eldrazi. At its height, the monstrosity occupied a 35% share of Modern, exceeding even the Bloodbraid Jund hegemony by 5%-10% and blowing Treasure Cruise clean out of the water. Aaron Forsythe made it clear at Grand Prix Detroit that some element of Eldrazi would be on the chopping block, and since that March weekend, it’s been a question of “When” and “What,” not “If.”

Wizards’ decision to ban Eye of Ugin has implications for both the immediate post-April 4 metagame, and for ban policy and format management down the road. Eye of UginFrom a metagame perspective, it means Eldrazi will survive in some form off of a combination of Eldrazi Temple, Vesuva, and/or the Urzatron. In their announcement, Wizards predicted such a strategy to be “powerful yet beatable” and I agree with this assessment. Expect to see a number of Eldrazi decks linger through the summer even without their precious Eye of Ugin. This will include BW Processor decks like those we saw back in December, UR Eldrazi strategies such as JC Tao’s at Pro Tour Oath, the UW Eldrazi variants which dominated Grand Prix weekend, and many others. Eldrazi decks will lose their explosive Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One starts, and the one-two punch of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher will become far rarer. That said, the deck will still exist, so pack your Ghost Quarters, Blood Moons, Fulminator Mages, and other hate cards accordingly.

By a similar token, the continued presence of Eldrazi bodes well for the best anti-Eldrazi decks of the past few months. Abzan Company is poised to remain a major Tier 1 player as we move past April 8. Naturally, Affinity will be a major player as well, although this would have happened whether Eye got banned, Temple got banned, or both walked the banlist plank. We’re also likely to see more UW Control, Lantern Control, and Living End in Tier 2, along with the types of cards (especially sweepers) that made those deck viable in the Eldrazi world.

Urza's TowerRG Tron decks take a sizable hit from the Eye of Ugin ban, something Wizards acknowledged in their announcement: “While the Eye does add a lot of late game power to the deck, the core gameplay of the deck—casting large threats with the Tron lands—remains intact.” Some players will speculate that Eye’s banning was also a backhanded safety measure against Tron. Although this might be true in practice, it does not seem to be Wizards’ primary motive, and I’m unwilling to speculate on it without more evidence. This means Tron’s share is likely to fall, although Eldrazi Tron decks may stay afloat. By a similar token, a point that relates directly to the unbans, traditional and hybrid control decks are likely to do much better in this post-Eye world. Even thrive! Eye of Ugin offered considerable inevitability to Tron and Eldrazi decks alike, and its removal secures the late-game for control deck.

Eldrazi TempleFrom a banlist and format management perspective, Eye’s removal is equally significant. For one, it shows Wizards is willing to do limited bans of even major offenders. It is possible this is motivated by ulterior, economic agendas (e.g. the infamous “sell packs” argument), but it is more likely this relates to format diversity. Wizards wants Modern to have diverse strategies, and they believe a depowered Eldrazi contributes to that. The ban also shows Wizards prefers to make surgical bans on engines, not sweeping bans on win conditions. As they said in the update, “Rather than ban multiple creatures, we find it preferable to ban a single land.” We’ve seen this at play in previous announcements, including Seething Song‘s and Summer Bloom‘s banning, and I imagine we’ll see it again. Banlist discussion should reflect this policy preference. As a final point on format management, the announcement suggests how R&D considers Modern in testing:

“When Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch were in development, the development team knew that all the Eldrazi creatures in the block would be more powerful in Modern because of these two-mana lands. While there was some risk that Eldrazi decks could be too strong, there was also the possibility that a fun new competitive deck would emerge.”
Wizards of the CoastApril 4, 2016 Banned and Restricted Announcement” (4/4/2016)

This quote, although potentially an after-the-fact justification and excuse for the Eldrazi Winter, most likely shows how Wizards “tests” and “designs” for Modern in their development process. We’ll want to consider all of these high-level consequences, and many others, in more detail on Wednesday. For now, this is a good starting point in understanding the Eye of Ugin ban, and I’m happy to talk more about it in the comments.

Rest in small, banned pieces, Eye of Ugin. You will not be missed.

Ancestral Vision is Unbanned

The Eye of Ugin ban was more predictable than an 11th hour Bulls loss to the Detroit Pistons this past weekend. The Ancestral Vision unbanning, however, was much more unexpected. To be sure, I and many others predicted this would be the probable unban in July, after Wizards had seen how the post-Twin metagame shook out with no Eldrazi to gum everything up. Wizards defied our conservative expectations and unbanned Vision today. They identified a notable lack of control in the metagame (“it is an underplayed portion of the metagame”) and chose to act in advance of the June Grand Prix events, perhaps as a consolation for the miserable Eldrazi Winter, and perhaps knowing that Modern was unlikely to get less linear even after Eye’s departure. Get ready for the blue-based control renaissance!

Ancestral VisionFrom a metagame perspective, Ancestral Vision is unlikely to break the format or plunge us into a Vision Spring of blue decks. There will certainly be an immediate uptick in these strategies as players try out their new toy, but it probably won’t last and in all likelihood will fold into the rest of Modern’s powerful strategies by June. That said, Vision is certainly going to have an impact, even if that impact doesn’t outright break the format. Jeskai, Grixis, Esper, UW, Blue Moon, Temur Midrange, and a host of other strategies are drooling over this card and are all likely to benefit from its addition. Similarly, BGx Midrange decks are going to struggle with the turn one suspension before discard comes online, although this won’t be nearly as back-breaking as the topdecked Treasure Cruise from Winter 2014. I’ll be doing plenty of Ancestral Vision testing in the coming weeks, so you can be sure we’ll report back on the card’s prospects soon.

Thinking about banlist management, I see two immediate takeaways from the update. First, that Wizards is following through on the Splinter Twin ban by freeing some other control cards into circulation. This will likely be a net positive for the format, and I’m excited to see how control plays out in its new, Twinless, Visionary form. Second: Wizards expressed some worries about Bloodbraid Elfs power alongside Vision, which suggests the card may be a less probable unban than many believed. Jund mages may yet see the Elf but the announcement’s phrasing makes it seem less likely.

Break out the Goblin Dark-Dwellers and get ready for control to rise again!

Sword of the Meek is Unbanned

April’s final unban is Sword of the Meek, a card that has long appeared to be the most ridiculous and unjustifiable entry still on the list from the initial 2011 bannings. I’ve wistfully called for a Sword unban in numerous updates, and I’m thrilled to see it finally released from undeserved imprisonment. Sword’s most important impact swordwill be to stave the tide of linear, aggressive decks in Modern. Burn and Zoo hybrids, as well as Affinity, will struggle to punch through the repeated lifegain and Thopters in the Sword/Thopter Foundry engine. Some aggro players have expressed concern about Sword pushing these decks out of the format, but I believe this is unwarranted. The decks affected by Sword already enjoyed commanding pre-Pro Tour shares and are unlikely to retreat too much in the face of the new combo. It will also force them to run more interaction and, potentially, diminish the need for future bans or banlist speculation. That’s a net win as far as I’m concerned, and I hope other players agree.

As for what decks actually use Sword/Foundry, the sky is the limit! Tezzeret strategies are the most obvious and immediate winners, but the hybrid cost in Thopter Foundry really opens up the combo in Jeskai, Grixis, Esper, or anything based in blue. Lantern Control, blue-based Tron, and perhaps even my beloved Puresteel Paladin decks may find the card useful as well. This kind of depth ensures players will be trying to “solve” the Sword/Foundry puzzle for months, and I don’t expect anything definitive to emerge until at least September.

Sword’s release suggests a number of banlist management points, but the most significant for me is the continued overturning of the initial banlist. Since Modern’s start, we’ve seen Valakut, Bitterblossom, Golgari Grave-Troll, and now both Vision and Sword removed from that list. It’s looking less and less sacred by the month. Of course, some monsters like Hypergenesis deserve to stay right where they are, but Swords’ unbanning might start raising further questions about cards such as Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. We’ll need to watch Vision and Sword closely to see if any ofthe other initial banlist rationale can be challenged.

The New Modern

Many players and pundits are going to focus on the immediate metagame implications of these cards, which are certainly huge. That said, it’s important to also consider the long-term management consequences of these decisions. Like it or not, Modern is defined by its banlist and Wizards’ use and understanding of that banlist. The three changes today give us significant datapoints as we look to the future and see how Modern is likely to change in 2016 and into 2017.

Lightning BoltOne big question mark still surrounds this update: is it enough to push back linear decks or are they just empty appeasements for control players? Time will tell, but I’m leaning heavily towards “Yes” on the former and “No” on the latter. Between the additional incentive these cards provide to control mages, and their immediate impact on games, we should see a new Modern with fewer linear deck and more interaction. For instance, Jeskai decks have always been favorites in the aggressive matchup, but have struggled mightily in other contests and can run out of steam in protracted aggro contests. Vision immediately addresses that, to say nothing of Sword doing its part. Remember: it’s not like control mages will just settle for “turn two Sword, turn two Foundry, go.” Lightning Bolt and Electrolyze will still be there to hold down the first few turns before the control gets online. These new control gems just strengthen existing strategies and make players more likely to invest in a control game-plan, which is a net win for format diversity and a net loss for linear dominance.

More academic analysis aside, this update frikkin rocks. It’s the most significant unbanning in the format’s history and the most appealing ban, all bundled into one awesome way to start the week. Looks like no one will have a case of the Mondays today! Join us this week as we explore the post-April 4 metagame in more detail and keep unpacking the consequences of this high-impact announcement. See you all in the comments and I hope you all bought those new staples from reputable dealers who won’t rescind your purchase!

Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.

25 thoughts on “Modern Banlist Update (4/4/2016): Eye of Ugin banned, Vision and Sword unbanned

  1. As an esper control enthusiast I could not be happier with this update. Eye gone means tron can no longer be the deck with superior inevitability over the dedicated control deck. Thopter/Sword means we can try different flavours of esper control. I’m not certain esper will want to use visions over charm/revelation but again the option makes things very interesting. These unbans help underplayed and non-existent strategies, and an uptick in control will hopefully suppress the linear decks and make for a more balanced modern overall.

  2. I’m really excited about the B&R update today and pleasantly surprised by the unbans! I will be very interested to see how Vision and Sword/Foundry impact the metagame, what new decks pop up, and what cards they might get paired with. I think it’s a bit unfortunate that both unbans seem to negatively impact Jund-style attrition decks, which were not exactly burning down the barn lately, but that’s just a side-effect of good card advantage in the format I suppose.

    Vision is a card that will really reward being on the play (able to play it before discard turn 1, “save” a turn on the suspend in comparison to the opponent, less likely to discard when it comes off suspend). That was already true for control decks due to their countermagic suite that mostly doesn’t come online until 2 mana. It will be interesting to see if control is a very play-dependent strategy going forward or how it intends to make up tempo when on the draw. (Sweepers help against creature decks, but what else?)

    1. I’m also pumped about these cards, but am not remotely worried about their impact on BGx Midrange decks. It’s inevitable that powerful unbans will push down other decks, and players can’t have it both ways. Either powerful, top-tier decks stay at the top and we get no meaningful unbans, or we get cool unbans that shake things up. I’m all for the latter and think Modern could use it after years of extremely conservative unbans. Excited to see how all the Vision and control decks turn out!

  3. A sigh of relief. The sun breaks through the clouds. A chorus of angels (or Snapcaster Mages) sings off in the distance. The Eye of Ugin is ripped out of the sinister clutches of the Eldrazi menace, and they being to retreat. It’s time to rebuild, it’s time to brew, it’s time to kick myself for not buying a set of Ancestral Visions a few months ago.

    1. One thing I did back in 2012 was secure a playset of most of the banned cards, in the (sometimes unlikely) event any of them got unbanned. The prices are high on many of these cards, but it’s still not a bad idea if you ever have the change to spare. Vision, at least, is now free!

    1. UWR with Ancestral Visions and Goblin Dark Dwellers seems really decent. Goblin DD is not as good as Shardless Agent or Bloodbraid but its the best we have right now. I don’t imagine that the five mana casting cost is too much for a control deck that likes to go long like UWR.

    2. Hate when that happens. I always try to hold off on deck decisions until after bans/unbans are decided: I’ve been tabling my Belcher deck for a while because I was scared of a Guide ban, and now I’m bringing it back. I think you can do worse than Mardu in this metagame. You’re still getting maindecked Kolaghan’s to handle the combo, although you don’t get access to the same toys like those other decks do. Sadly, the switch from Mardu to Jeskai involves Snapcasters, so it’s not an easy one. Let us know how it turns out!

  4. I am absolutely thrilled about these unbans. Sword of the Meek in particular opens up the possibility of a new combo deck as well as control decks in modern. That combined with Eye of Ugin ban mean UW tron is much more viable (it was a dog to RG tron in the “mirror” match). Not to mention UB/Esper Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas decks and UW Tezzerator decks are attractive as well. I haven’t been this excited about modern in the past few years.

    1. Very pumped to see these changes too. Modern needed some blue love after the Twin bans, and I’m excited to see Sword, Foundry, and Vision enable a host of new decks. Can’t wait to see the first post-unban events!

  5. One small criticism. “One big question mark still surrounds this update: is it enough to push back linear decks or are they just empty appeasements for control players? Time will tell, but I’m leaning heavily towards ‘No.'” This statement was confusing. If you left it at, “One big question mark still surrounds this update: is it enough to push back linear decks?” followed by “yes” would make your point clear. Or saying “no” to “empty appeasements for control players”. In the current form an “or” statement is presented but it is followed by “no”. Meaning “no” to both possibilities. I was able to figure out what you meant from context clues in later sentences but it was very confusing for the start of a paragraph. Maybe I’m just missing the whole point. Otherwise good read. Thank you for the update.

  6. These unbannings give UB an extraordinary amount of power. Here come out of the woodwork gems like Imp’s Mischief to steal all of the cards forever! I cannot wait. On a serious positive, little previously unplayed Redirects like Mischief seem like just what the Doctor ordered to keep BG/x firmly in line, since Mischief can also pseudo counter counterspells.

    1. It’s very possible we see such cards return to the limelight, especially Redirect which has no life cost and can even protect against Become Immense, at least as long as there’s another creature on the board.

  7. Genuinely surprised to see unbans (and two of then!!) along with the expected ban.
    At the same time I find it baffling to see these unbans now.
    Why not unban those cards along with the bloom/twin banning in January? The only reason I can think of was to see what a modern without twin would look like.
    The last 3 months told us nothing but “eldrazi with 8 sol lands is busted” and no useful data can actually be acquired from that period.
    Anyway if it means halting linear dumb decks. I’m in. I’m just kind of worried about the sword.
    I think it will be either boom or bust thing, either becoming one of the best combos in modern (but probably not broken) or fringe/rogue, like BB.
    AV is great. I think the card will see play in specific decks and be a decent player in the format, much like Wild Nactl became.
    Maybe I’ll come back to modern sooner than 2017 🙂

    1. I think it’s a marketing thing. These unbannings have been pretty much universally praised. If that had been tied to a Twin banning (which would be obviously controversial), there might be less excitement overall.

      1. I genuinely believe they didn’t tie them to the Twin banning because they wanted to see how Modern shaped up. If anything, the marketing motive would have wanted them tied to the Twin ban to try and mitigate the fallout that happened. That said, it’s very possible that unbanning cards after Eldrazi Winter was done as a consolation to Modern players who were upset with the format. So it’s probably a mix of intentions.

    2. I 100% agree that Wizards wanted to wait and see what post-Twin Modern looked like before launching any unbans. That said, I too am surprised Wizards was willing to unban cards with such minimal data. We only had 2-3 weeks of post-Twin, pre-Eldrazi Modern, and I definitely don’t think that’s enough time to see the metagame go one way or another. That said, whether Wizards made the unbans as a gamble to “apologize” for the Eldrazi Winter, or just wanted to push Modern a bit more towards interactivity (having seen what many of the non-Eldrazi decks at the PT looked like), I’m happy with the result. We’ll need to wait and see, but if your concern was linearity, you might be back in the Modern action well before 2017!

  8. Truly, a brave new world. I’m looking forward to seeing how the metagame shakes out – it’s pretty clear that control will be better positioned than it was, thanks to the additions of Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek, but I’m wondering how that increased presence will dictate which decks sink or swim. I’m also thinking about whether the Eldrazi deck will survive (I think so – the creature lineup is still quite good even if they’re not as blazing fast as they were) and in what form (I think the colorless Eldrazi are quite good, but I’m more skeptical of the likes of Eldrazi Skyspawner, Drowner of Hope, and Eldrazi Displacer). Last but not least… I’ve never felt as good about having 4 Hurkyl’s Recall in my Merfolk sideboard than I do right now. Artifact hate is going to be HUGE going forward.

    1. Eldrazi seems like it should be totally fine after the Eye ban, although not quite a Tier 0 monstrosity. We also might see Temples and Eldrazi as bullets in two-colored lists like D&T, Hatebears, Tron, Blue Moon, etc. It’s going to be an interesting next few months, and I too will be packing considerable artifact hate.

Leave a Reply