New bans, new sets, and new decks! Modern’s not lacking for Gifts except, that is, when they’re Ungiven.
Read on for a discussion of banlist updates, Aether Revolt additions, and a new Gifts Ungiven deck I’ve been piloting!
Thoughts on the January Banlist Update (Gifts Ungiven the First)
It makes a ton of sense because Wizards has been taking a very heavy hand in curating and maintaining the Modern banlist, and both Probe and Grave-Troll do things that, historically, Wizards has kept an eye on.
Probe costs no mana to cast, makes decks more consistent at little to no cost, bends the color pie, and gives players perfect information. Wizards doesn’t like any of those things, so it’s not super surprising to see the card go.
Grave-Troll has always had the misfortune of having the highest number attached to the word Dredge on any card, and that’s why it had already been banned once in Modern. This former banlist bunkmate has been imprisoned once again, thanks to the Dredge deck’s rise in consistency and prevalence (which is actually attributable to the recent printing of both Prized Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion). At least anecdotally, it does seem like this banning has slowed the deck down and caused a decrease in its numbers, which makes sense. Outside of sideboard hate, the Dredge deck’s biggest weakness is its own inconsistency. Getting to dredge two less cards off of Golgari Thug seems like it’s enough of a hit to get people to stop playing the deck. That, or people just think that if the deck continues to be good more cards will be banned from it, so it’s no longer worth their time to play.
People who dislike playing against Death’s Shadow and Infect decks with perfect information, dislike having to play a bunch of graveyard hate in their sideboards, or want to play graveyard strategies of their own will probably really like these bannings. What’s really noticeable here, however, is the lack of unbannings.
Wizards continues to signal that Modern is a format that will be defined by bannings, with a power level and atmosphere that’s highly regulated using the banned list. Gitaxian Probe does a lot of things that Magic typically shies away from and is played in a lot of decks. Banning it potentially helps slow the format down. It’s not a terrible choice. Grave-Troll seems more questionable. The Dredge deck had not overtaken Modern. It was slightly warping the format, but it hadn’t particularly invalidated many strategies (other than those that also relied on the graveyard). However, the Dredge mechanic itself is suspect, and the deck was on the rise. It seems that Wizards chose to handicap the Dredge deck now to make sure it wouldn’t become a bigger problem later down the line.
As someone who generally prefers less banned cards and more decks floating around, so more people can play Magic with the cards they like, I don’t particularly love these bannings. I get the arguments for each, but I’d rather have more cards unbanned than banned (within reason). I’m hoping that some more cards will get to make the jump off the banlist at some point soon.
As far as what the bans mean for my decks personally, it means that some spots have opened up in both my Grixis Delver and U/R Delver lists. In U/R, I’m planning to run some Sleight of Hands main instead of Gitaxian Probe, and re-examine my sideboard to see if my graveyard hate is particularly necessary. In Grixis, I’m not sure exactly what I’ll slot in for Probes yet, or if I’ll shave any number of Young Pyromancers from the deck. It’s possible that with the printing of Fatal Push, I’ll slant the deck more towards Blue and Black, with just a splash of Red. Which brings me to my next topic…
Aether Revolt vs. Modern (Gifts Actually Given)
So far, it seems like the two cards pictured above are the big additions Aether Revolt has made to Modern. Fatal Push (finally!) gives Black decks a really efficient, non-Dismember answer to most (though definitely not all) creatures in Modern, and Sram seems to have gotten a number of people excited about playing what’s essentially a Storm deck. That’s actually pretty exciting, considering Storm aficionados kind of got splash-shafted off of the Gitaxian Probe banning.
There are a number of other cards that might pan out as quality additions to the format, the most notable of which seems to be Renegade Rallier. Better Magicians than me have done deeper dives into what the set brings to the table, so I’m not going to get into it much further here.
What I can (and will) do is note what these updates mean for me, as a person who plays both Grixis Delver and Gifts Ungiven (The what you say?!? Keep reading, True Believer). Fatal Push is really exciting, as it both helps ease the mana requirements in Grixis Delver (less Terminates, and possibly less Young Pyromancers in response to the Probe banning, mean less red mana is needed) and offers another nice removal spell to grab off of a Gifts Ungiven. For those of us who are budget-conscious, like myself, Fatal Push is also just straight-up less expensive to buy than Path to Exile, which means I’ll be able to fit more copies of it in my Esper deck. Which is such a smooth segue into…
Why Reanimating Elesh Norn is the Best (Gifts Ungiven the Second)
I recently examined my Rare binder and found a decent amount of valuable cards hiding out there…so I traded those cards in to build an Esper Gifts Ungiven deck that I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile (note that the linked decklist is pre-Fatal Push).
For those who don’t know the deck’s main trick, Gifts Ungiven lets you essentially send any two cards of your choosing from your deck to the graveyard (by choosing to find only two cards, instead of four, as you resolve Gifts). In most cases, you’ll send Unburial Rites and one of the two big creatures pictured above, so you can pull the creature out of the graveyard and hopefully lock up the game on the next turn. My version of the deck plays some stall cards and removal, as well as Lingering Souls, to draw the game out long enough to resolve Gifts. After that, hopefully either Iona has locked the opponent out, or Elesh Norn has made your Spirit tokens large enough (and your opponent’s creatures small enough) to end the game in short order.
Currently, my version of the deck struggles against aggressive decks. I need to open up some more slots to put in early removal spells like Fatal Push or Path to Exile. The Jaces might come out, because they’re often too slow and eat removal before they can actually do anything. They’re decent in long match-ups, but even there they suffer from being the only creature in the deck that just straight dies to a removal spell without doing anything. Snapcaster Mage at least gets to flashback a spell, and Lingering Souls seems like it’s the Real Deal.
It should be noted that this is not a deck for those who appreciate simple things. If a game goes off the rails of the “Stall, reanimate a fattie, win the game” plan, things ratchet up in complexity pretty quickly, as you then need to actually Gifts Ungiven for the correct set of four cards to bail you out. If that’s a thing you’re into, though, this deck is awesome. I have been having a blast with it myself.
Since I started testing out my version, some versions with the Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo have started doing well online. Those versions are very likely better than mine, and I’m interested to try the combo in my own build at some point. But that’s the fun of a Gifts Ungiven deck, there’s a ton of tuning and individual card choices you can make on your own, while still leaving the overall shell of the deck intact and recognizable.
Well, that’s it for my check-in on Modern. I continue to enjoy the format, and there’s been enough going on to keep me busy exploring just my own decks, not to mention the format itself.
I’ll be back next week with a little excursion into the land of Magic Duels, where I continue to feel unbeatable if I get to untap with Kalitas. Until then, may you find new cards and new decks that get you excited to play Magic!