Hello TCGplayer readers. Today's article will be about something a little different from the usual Standard brews. We'll be talking about a new and unique format that has been rising in popularity: No Banned List Modern!
No Banned List Modern started a little over a year ago at Mox Boarding House in Bellevue, Washington. The idea of No Banned List Modern is what would Modern be like if there were no bans in effect. Back when the Modern format started five years ago, a pretty extensive banned list came along with it. We weren't allowed to play cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Hypergenesis, Umezawa's Jitte, and Stoneforge Mystic right from the start. There was a Modern Pro Tour right around the corner, and Wizards didn't want to take any chances in creating a degenerate format, so they preemptively banned cards in an attempt to create a fair and diverse format.
After the Modern Pro Tour, we quickly learned that some combo decks were just too consistent and capable of killing on turn two, so more cards were added to the list including Blazing Shoal, Rite of Flame, and Green Sun's Zenith. From there, Modern started to become a fun and popular format. We've seen some bans and unbans here and there, but for the most part due to these preemptive bans, players have never gotten the chance to play with the most powerful cards with the Modern card frame.
Flash forward about four years. Mox Boarding House was looking for a unique and interesting tournament series to run alongside the more traditional formats like Standard and Draft. The idea of the Modern format with no banned list was thrown around, they decided to give it a shot. The tournament series became very popular and now the series is run once a month, and players really look forward to in. Many stores in the United States took Mox's example and have begun to run this format to great success. No Banned List Modern was even featured just two weeks ago in the Community Super League where we saw the highest viewer numbers since the League started.
Today we're going to talk about the format and the best-performing decks, as well as how some of these banned cards actually play out.
No Banned List Modern tournaments happen so infrequently that the format is very slow to evolve. For this reason, many players opt to just play the most degenerate combo they can assemble. There are so many different combos that are banned in Modern such as Hypergenesis, Blazing Infect, Storm (Storm exists in current Modern, but the broken version contains fast mana cards like Rite of Flame and Seething Song), and Dark Depths with Vampire Hexmage combo. These combo decks are appealing because they are capable of winning on turn two! The decks are not even close to being interactive with the opponent. The goal of the deck is to just assemble the combo and execute it as early as possible.
These combo decks have a major problem: They are inconsistent. For example, Hypergenesis is perfectly capable of winning on turn two with the help of a Simian Spirit Guide. The problem is that without any sort of deck manipulation (you can't play Ponder or Preordain because the deck won't work if it plays spells with converted mana cost two or less), you can only rely on your opening hand and the top three or so cards of your deck, if that. Sometimes you will cast Hypergenesis on turn two and win. Sometimes you will never see a Violent Outburst. There will even be times when you will get a turn two Progenitus into play and it won't even be good enough.
The second problem with fast combo decks is that they fold to disruption. Many players will opt to bring a non-interactive combo deck to the tournament and you won't ever have to worry about disruption. However some players will choose to play Delver and you will die to Spell Pierce. All of the combo decks in the format lose to something commonly played, and you will not always have the answer to your opponent's answer.
The one exception to this however is Storm. Storm is, in my opinion, the strongest combo deck in No Banned List Modern. It may not be the fastest. You may not be able to win on turn two, but Storm is a deck that is really hard to disrupt. Against permission decks, you have enough time to wait to play around cards like Spell Pierce or have counter backup of your own. Against aggro or other combo decks, they won't have the tools to disrupt you. And we don't have access to Flusterstorm in this format.
These decks fall into two main categories: Affinity decks and Green-based decks, usually built around Green Sun's Zenith. These types of decks are in a tough spot in this format. They are not fast enough to beat the combo decks and rarely have the tools to disrupt them.
Affinity is another story altogether however. Affinity is fast enough to beat combo and is also hard to disrupt. Affinity attacks from different angles. Sometimes it will get an explosive draw of creatures with Frogmite, Arcbound Ravager, and Signal Pest and Cranial Plating to back it up. When that plan doesn't work, Disciple of the Vault is a great Plan B. Skullclamp makes the Affinity deck consistent enough where it will find what it needs no matter what angle of attack it's using.
You won't really find traditional aggro decks in No Banned List Modern. Decks like Zoo or Red-Green Aggro are just not strong enough to compete. The deck must contain something special in order to be a contender in this format. One example of this is Punishing Jund. This deck is an aggro deck at heart with creatures like Tarmogoyf, Bloodbraid Elf, and Dark Confidant. What makes it unique is that it plays the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo to shut down opposing creature decks and Infect. It also has Deathrite Shaman to give the deck speed and also reach to finish off slower decks.
One thing that these decks have going for them that the fast combo decks do not is consistency. These decks will get similar opening hands in most games and don't need specific pieces to win. You will rarely stumble, and if your opponent does you will be able to capitalize on that. That is the main reason to play these types of decks.
Disruptive Aggro falls into two camps: Delver of Secrets and Stoneblade. Delver decks have a lot of variation. You could play an all-in burn deck with Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt and Goblin Guide backed up with one or zero-mana counters like Spell Pierce and Mental Misstep, or you can play a more controlling build with more permission and cantrips. The latter build will often play Young Pyromancer and Skullclamp to insure that you always have a handful of cards. Umezawa's Jitte also makes an appearance in this version.
One interesting thing about this format is that you tend to deal a lot of damage to yourself. Between fetches and shocks, Thoughtseize, Mental Misstep, and Gitaxian Probe, it's very common to be at twelve life on turn two or three, all from your own cards. This is one of the main reasons to play a disruptive aggro deck like Delver.
Stoneblade is another popular choice in this format. You get to play two of the more broken cards in the format, Stoneforge Mystic and Umezawa's Jitte. You also gain access to Batterskull, and in this deck, it's usually two mana and instant speed due to Stoneforge Mystic. The Stoneblade builds also play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, a card that I found to be incredibly slow in this format. Sometimes you will have the right disruption to survive long enough to take over a game with Jace, but often the games will be too fast and you won't make it past turn three.
The control deck of the format is Thopter Depths, a deck that plays two different combos, Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage and Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek. Interestingly enough, The Thopter/Sword combo was recently unbanned from Modern and really hasn't made much of an impact on the format. Personally I am not a fan of this deck because of how painfully slow it is, but sometimes you will draw an opening hand of Vampire Hexmage, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Dark Depths and just win the game on turn three. Dark Depths is banned for a reason!
No Banned List Modern is an enjoyable format but it's not a format that should be played weekly. The format is easy to solve and will get old fast. Since our local game store holds tournaments monthly we have already figured out how the format works. Inconsistent combo decks are nowhere to be found and the tournament is Overrun by Delver of Secrets and Mental Missteps. If we played this tournament on a weekly basis, it will get old very quickly. There is a reason why most of these cards are banned: Playing against them week after week will take the fun out of the format.
That said, the format is a great change of pace from traditional formats. It's not often that you get to play broken and degenerate cards and just unfair Magic. If this is a format that may interest you I encourage running the idea by your local LGS.
Thanks for reading,
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