This weekend, Pro Tour Fate Reforged takes us back to the Modern format on the Pro Tour for the fourth time since its creation in August 2011 (plus a few trips during the World Championships). While Modern is a format where sets don't rotate out, the Modern we'll be seeing at the Pro Tour is going to be a pretty fresh format, thanks to the recent round of bannings that shook the pillars of the format to the core.
But for Modern, that's nothing new. Since its inception three and a half years ago, Modern has been a highly cultivated format. Combined with new, impactful cards released every year, Modern has seen quite a bit of fluctuation over its young life. Let's take a look at some of that fluctuation through the eyes of the banned list announcements since its inception.
Banned: Ancestral Vision; Bitterblossom; Dread Return; Glimpse of Nature; Golgari Grave-Troll; Hypergenesis; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Mental Misstep; Stoneforge Mystic; Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; and Sensei's Divining Top
Created shortly before Pro Tour Philadelphia, Modern kicked off with a banned list that was created in large part based on Legacy play, the old Extended format, and decks played at the Community Cup that year. From the announcement article:
"We used two criteria to guide us in choosing what cards to ban. First, we have a rule of thumb about Legacy that we don't like consistent turn-two combination decks, but that turn-three combination decks are okay. We modified that rule for Modern by adding a turn to each side: we are going to allow turn-four combination decks, but not decks that consistently win the game on turn three."
The second round of bannings addressed much of what happened at Pro Tour Philadelphia. Blazing Shoal was something of a hidden gem that combined with infect creatures to kill as early as turn two, while Ponder, Preordain, and Rite of Flame all sped up the format considerably, either thanks to bursts of mana or increasing the consistency of combo decks. Cloudpost decks were capable of generating as much as fifteen mana on turn four or so, and Green Sun's Zenith was removed mostly for diversity's sake among green decks.
After facing the stress test of the Pro Tour, this is what many would consider the start of the Modern format as we know it today, with combo decks slowed considerably and some of the more absurd outliers of the format brought to bear. That led to the rise of aggressive decks and midrange decks.
From Erik Lauer's explanation:
"We also have the goal of maintaining a diverse format. While there were aggressive decks, control decks, attrition decks, and combination decks that succeeded, the diversity was not ideal. In particular, the heavy majority of all aggressive decks were Zoo decks. We looked at why other aggressive decks were not played, and after our analysis decided to ban two cards."
With the crazy combo decks and massive mana decks hindered, the next move was to help diversify the aggressive decks of the format. Punishing Fire was particularly, um, punishing, to anything with less than 3 toughness, as was Wild Nacatl.
Unbanned: Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Again, we turn to Erik Lauer:
"Recent Modern tournaments have been diverse, with no deck dominating the metagame. Since Modern is a non-rotating format, banned cards never rotate out. The DCI is unbanning a card to see how that affects the format. We looked for cards that were on the initial banned list for Pro Tour Philadelphia. We wanted a card that would not easily slot into an existing top deck and also wanted to enable a deck with a different play pattern than the current top decks. After examining the options, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was selected as the card to unban."
The effect was exactly as desired, as Scapeshift has become a key part of the Modern metagame, but is far from dominant or oppressive.
Speaking of dominant, this was the time of Jund. A time when the midrangiest of midrange decks was considered by many to be the best deck in the format, and not easily addressed with other cards already in the format. Again, Erik Lauer summed it up nicely in the announcement.
"Since then, we have had four Modern Grands Prix. Jérémy Dezani won Grand Prix Lyon playing Jund. Jacob Wilson defeated Josh Utter-Leyton in a Jund-on-Jund finals to win Grand Prix Chicago. Willy Edel won Grand Prix Toronto, also playing Jund. And, finally, Lukas Jaklovsky came in 2nd, playing Jund, at Grand Prix Bilbao. Beyond that, Jund took six of the Top 16 decks at Bilbao."
Jund, Jund, Jundy, Jund, Jund. Bloodbraid Elf was the first card from Jund to get the axe, but not the last.
Banned: Second Sunrise
You can thank Stanislav Cifka and his 30-minute, noninteractive turns for this one. His Eggs deck was never truly broken, but boy was it a bore.
Banned: Deathrite Shaman
The second round of unbannings sought again to diversify the format, this time following closely on the second Jund-related removal. Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl have since taken their places in the Modern metagame, but have yet to truly break out again. Will Pro Tour Fate Reforged be their shot with Birthing Pod gone?
Unbanned: Golgari Grave-Troll
The newest blue kids on the block led to an overhaul of Modern like no other cards before them, changing how decks were built up and down a diverse metagame. Diverse, yes, but also with the shadow of Birthing Pod and newcomer Siege Rhino hanging over its head. With Birthing Pod gone after standing as a top deck for years, and the newest offenders getting the axe as well, Modern looks to be wide open for the coming weekend. And with a new toy unbanned as well, players on the Pro Tour have plenty to play with as they prepare for every possibility.
Tune in this weekend as players from around the world re-shape Modern at Pro Tour Fate Reforged.