February 12, 2018 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Posted in News on February 12, 2018

By Ian Duke

Announcement Date: February 12, 2018

Modern:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is unbanned.

Bloodbraid Elf is unbanned.

Effective Date: February 19, 2018

Magic Online Effective Date: February 14, 2018

The list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, is here.

Next B&R Announcement: April 16, 2018


Over time, the power level of Modern increases naturally as the card pool grows. Part of this is due to powerful cards printed in new sets, and part is due to increased levels of cross synergy between an ever-growing pool of options. With this in mind, R&D periodically reviews the Modern banned list for cards that are appropriate to reintroduce into the format.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf are each individually powerful cards that were originally banned because they were simply too good.

As the rest of the format has caught up in power level, these two cards have been on R&D's short list of cards to reexamine for unbanning. We've been closely monitoring the evolution of the format over the last several years and chosen this as the best time to make a change. This is the right time for several reasons:

  • Modern's return to the Pro Tour, shining a spotlight on the format, makes this a great time to revisit past decisions and see if they still make sense in the current era.
  • The data we gathered both from the Pro Tour itself and from the several weeks of Magic Online play as pro players tested for the event have helped us cross-check our decisions against what's doing well in the real world.
  • Compared to other B&R windows, this one has the maximum amount of time before another Modern Pro Tour. This will allow the format to breathe and evolve without immediately undergoing the pressures of the world's top competition.
  • The reprint of Jace in Masters 25 will provide greater availability for our player base.

Let's take a few moments to discuss each change.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

The most iconic and powerful planeswalker card of all time, Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been on the Modern banned list since the format's inception. At the time, Jace was not far removed from being banned in Standard. Jace was also strong enough that it was being played in the incredibly powerful Legacy format.

Over time, competitive Modern has evolved to be a format of fast, proactive threats. The bar for tapping four lands during one's main phase to cast a single spell is quite high, often restricted to cards that threaten to win the game immediately. For example, if you look at the Top 8 from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, cards that cost four mana that aren't instants are far and few between. In watching the format evolve, we've observed that decks seeking to control the game have struggled against the speed and variety of threats present in the format. Often these decks have been forced to adopt an explosive win condition of their own. Our hope is that Jace, the Mind Sculptor will provide yet another option in an already diverse format, giving controlling decks an alternative way to close out prolonged games.

Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf was banned in January 2013 at a time when Jund was the best midrange deck and perhaps the best overall deck in the format. In addition to weakening Jund's overall win rate, a large part of the goal in banning Bloodbraid Elf was to create more diversity among midrange decks.

Since that era, Modern has seen black-green-based midrange decks evolve to use a variety of other colors and threat packages. There is now a healthy choice between, for example, adding red for Lightning Bolt and Ancient Grudge versus adding white for Lingering Souls and Stony Silence. With the unbanning of Jace, we may even see some of these decks shifting toward blue. On top of that, other midrange decks like Mardu Pyromancer have emerged. There are now sufficient options available to have confidence that Bloodbraid Elf will no longer be as detrimental to deck diversity as it once was.

As a four-mana card that doesn't necessarily win the game on the spot, Bloodbraid Elf is at its best when games are longer and resources are being exchanged. Although an aggressive card on its face, Bloodbraid Elf should provide further incentive for deck builders to move up the mana curve and play interactive games.

Eternal Rivals

While there is something poetic to the age-old enemies of Standard's past both being reintroduced to Modern together, it isn't our intent that these cards balance one another out directly. It is true that Bloodbraid Elf is effective at killing Jace, but our reasoning behind the simultaneity of their unbanning is more subtle.

In looking at the top decks of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, successful players only included a handful of cards with the intent of tapping four lands to cast them. (Colorless Eldrazi and Tron being the exceptions, among other popular decks.) Jace and Bloodbraid Elf are powerful options that fill similar roles in different decks as curve-toppers in the four-mana slot. Adding attractive options at the same mana cost in different color combinations at the same time mitigates the risk that one or the other could pull too many decks toward it at once.

Parting Thoughts

R&D has been happy with the evolution of the Modern metagame over the past year, and Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan made for an outstanding viewing experience for fans of the format. Unfortunately, there is a lingering perception in the community that a deck doing well at the Modern Pro Tour will result in something from that deck receiving a ban.

I can't stress enough that a deck being successful in a single tournament, or even in several tournaments over a short period of time, is not a red flag that there's a problem in an environment. When we discuss changes to the B&R, we are far more interested in healthy play patterns, diversity in the metagame, interactive gameplay, and decks having counterplay and counterstrategies than in what deck won the last tournament. Ultimately, our fundamental goal in making changes to the B&R list is to make Magic formats the most fun they can be. It can be difficult to distill this down into a few simple and automatic rules, and in fact the process is neither simple nor automatic at all.

Our analysis of Magic Online data before and after the Pro Tour results, as well as the Pro Tour itself, indicates that there are ample countermeasures to allow the metagame to adapt naturally to Lantern Control's success. In fact, we've already seen a decline in Lantern Control's win percentage against the Magic Online field since the Pro Tour. We expect this metagame ebb and flow to continue in a healthy way going forward, and at this time we don't anticipate a need to intervene.

And so, in the aftermath of this Pro Tour, rather than making bans to weaken the best-performing or winning decks, we've instead chosen to open up additional options, primarily to decks that were not among the most popular. In fact, none of the four most played archetypes (Humans, Affinity, Burn, and Tron) are likely to adopt either Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Bloodbraid Elf.

Pro Tours give us excellent data and insight into how our formats respond to competitive pressure, and we will continue to use that data to inform B&R changes. But we hope this announcement sends a clear message that Pro Tours do not necessitate bannings, and especially that your favorite deck (or new favorite deck!) is not automatically in danger simply because it performed well.

Also, please note the effective dates for this announcement. While Magic Online will implement these changes on Wednesday, paper Magic will be waiting until next Monday so that players traveling to Grand Prix Lyon this weekend are not affected by the timing of this announcement.

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