The recent changes to the Modern banned list had massive implications for the format. The most ubiquitous card in the format, Deathrite Shaman, has been banned. Deathrite Shaman quickly rose to prominence as the best card in Modern soon after it was printed, and it only grew in popularity until the banning. Deathrite Shaman has been compared to a planeswalker in power-level. This one-mana card became super-powered in a Modern format with fetch lands, which turned Deathrite Shaman into mana acceleration. Deathrite Shaman also functioned as a constant and consistent source of value with both the lifegain and lifeloss ability. Deathrite Shaman was also an incidental form of graveyard hate that helped to push graveyard strategies from popularity. With Deathrite Shaman out of the picture, Modern now has room to breathe.
Deathrite Shaman was the cornerstone of the most heavily played deck in Modern, Jund, which includes all of its various flavors. All of these decks required the power, utility, and speed Deathrite Shaman provided, so I expect these decks to decline greatly.
As an example, Deathrite Shaman was used in all versions of Jund to enable arguably the best opener turn two Liliana of the Veil. The commonly played Jund deck splashing white for Lingering Souls and Ajani Vengeant relied heavily on Deathrite Shaman as a five-colored mana source. I would also argue that Jund relied on Deathrite Shaman as a source of power and reach into the late game, which played a major role in the archetype's success. Without Deathrite Shaman doing heavy lifting, and without Bloodbraid Elf providing raw power and tempo, Jund is now a much more fair deck. The deck will survive, but it will need to adapt and find a niche in the new metagame.
I expect players to leave Jund in droves, which greatly opens up the format to new decks and ideas. Many of these players will gravitate towards new available options.
Two cards have been unbanned, Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom, which will bring about massive change in the format.
The unbanning of Wild Nacatl is immensely important, nearly on the scale of Deathrite Shaman being removed. The initial logic for Wild Nacatl being unbanned was that it drove out other aggressive decks from the format. The reliable 3/3 body for one mana, made possible by fetch land and shock lands, simply outclassed all other aggressive options.
I remember competing at the 2011 World Championship, which featured a Modern format fresh off the initial round of Modern bannings. Wild Nacatl was clearly the point around which Modern rotated. It defined preparation and the tournament itself, which was filled with Zoo decks of all shapes and sizes. The creature was banned the next month, and since then Modern has lacked a quality and consistent Zoo deck. Affinity has filled the role of the aggressive deck in the metagame, but it more closely resembles a combo deck than a Zoo deck. Now with Wild Nacatl unbanned, Zoo will be the point around which the format rotates once again.
The unbanning of Bitterblossom will also have some sort of impact upon the format, but the magnitude of that change is murkier. Bitterblossom has been an unquestionably dominant and powerful card in its day, but the passage of time has brought about much change to the game, so I think the burden is now on Bitterblossom to prove itself to the format. Bitterblossom has potential applications in a wide variety of decks, the most obvious of which is Faeries, but stretches to BW Tokens and beyond, including even neo-Jund.
Given those three card lineup changes, Modern is undoubtedly in for a shakeup. These card changes only mean something within the context of the format, meaning the other cards that they are surrounded with. The banned list change has impacted the quality and tournament-value of, technically, every other single card in the format. Every card must be re-evaluated and weighed on the new scale. Some cards will fall in value, while some cards will rise in value.
Today I am going to share my top ten Modern gainers: the ten cards that look to stand to gain the most from the banned list changes. I've chosen cards that have become strategically and tactically more powerful and relevant in the Modern format as I see it. These cards are likely to realize a short-term and likely long-term increase in popularity. My selection process stresses solid and proven staples.
At the aforementioned 2011 World Championship, one of the few competitors who finished 6-0 in Modern was Shuuhei Nakamura, who played a four-color rock control deck based around four Gifts Ungiven.
Shuuhei used the tutoring and card advantage power of Gifts Ungiven to turn on a utility toolbox of cards. Much of his toolbox utilized the graveyard, including a powerful recursion engine that included Snapcaster Mage, Eternal Witness, All Sun's Dawn, Life from the Loam, Raven's Crime, and the now-banned Punishing Fire. Gifts Ungiven enabled all of the graveyard shenanigans, and these graveyard shenanigans have been repressed since Deathrite Shaman was printed. Of all the things to be doing with the graveyard, Gifts Ungiven is among the most proven, powerful, and reliable. I expect to see a huge resurgence in Gifts Ungiven now that the incidental maindeck graveyard hate from Deathrite Shaman has been removed from the format.
One approach to Gifts Ungiven is to use it for value and card selection from the graveyard with a toolbox of dredge, retrace, and flashback cards. The other option is to use Gifts Ungiven as a sort of combo in conjunction with Unburial Rites. Choosing just two cards puts both into the graveyard, so getting Unburial Rites and any creature enables easy reanimation for just four additional mana. This approach has been seen in Gifts Rock decks in addition to a variety of control decks, including UWR control and UW Urzatron. It has also been employed as a transformational sideboard plan out of aggressive decks. I expect to see a huge resurgence in Gifts Ungiven in Modern now that Deathrite Shaman is out of the picture.
The loss of Deathrite Shaman from the format is a boon for Snapcaster Mage, which no longer has to play around incidental graveyard hate. Snapcaster Mage has been given free reign of the graveyard, where it is free to generate value for a variety of blue decks.
Snapcaster Mage is commonly played in UWR control decks and UR tempo or combo decks, but it will see play in an increasingly large variety of decks, including five-color Zoo alongside Tribal Flames, and probably some from of Bant Midrange.
Scavenging Ooze has replaced Deathrite Shaman as the premier incidental maindeck graveyard hate source in Modern. The incidental graveyard hate from Deathrite Shaman was everywhere in Modern, and players relied on it for combating a variety of cards, including Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Grim Lavamancer, Pyromancer Ascension, Lingering Souls, Gifts Ungiven, and many more.
This sort of incidental graveyard value is still powerful and will only grow more popular with Deathrite Shaman banned, so Scavenging Ooze is going to have to pick up a lot of the slack as time goes on. It is a powerful and flexible creature that is great in a variety of situations, including places like the Zoo mirror. I expect Scavenging Ooze to be played in some numbers in the maindeck of various decks, while it will also start seeing more and more play as the dedicated graveyard hate sideboard card of choice for green decks.
Firespout is poised to become a premier mass-removal spell of the Modern format. Firespout conveniently destroys Wild Nacatl along with the Kird Ape and Loam Lion that surely accompany it. Previously this removal niche was filled by Pyroclasm, which was an efficient response to a Deathrite Shaman and Dark Confidant based format. As x/3 creatures rise to prominence, so will Firespout. Costing just one red, the card is also quite splashable for a variety of decks.
When powered with green, Firespout is also quite an effective answer to flying tokens from Bitterblossom. The biggest problem when combating Bitterblossom is that using targeted one-for-one removal is futile, and eventually the tokens will hit critical mass and win the game. A well-timed Firespout Erases many turns of Bitterblossom development.
In the same vein as Firespout, I also expect Anger of the Gods to see more and more play. This card is not nearly as splashable and will not be as heavily played as Firespout, but Anger of Gods is going to fill the mass-creature removal niche for decks that can support the double red requirement.
Spell Snare is as only as good as the two-drops in the format, and I think Modern is going to see a resurgence in them. The loss of Deathrite Shaman means less acceleration into three-drops and more focus on two-drops. The increase in Zoo will bring with it a resurgence in early-drop spells ripe for Spell Snare. Among the choice targets are Tarmogoyf and Tribal Flames. The juiciest target of all for Spell Snare is Bitterblossom, which is best dealt with before it ever hits play at all, before it has time to generate value. Snapcaster Mage is another choice target.
Spell Snare is also only as good as blue is, and blue looks to see a resurgence in Modern with Deathrite Shaman out of the picture. Spell Snare will become a factor in the Faerie mirror, where fighting over control of Bitterblossom defines the game.
Path to Exile
The transition away from a Jund-driven Modern and towards a Zoo-driven Modern means a lot for the commonly played removal spells. I see Path to Exile as a clear winner in this exchange.
Path to Exile is incredibly efficient as a removal spell, removing nearly any creature for just one mana, which also typically generates a lot of tempo. This efficiency is negated in part by giving the opponent a land. This is pure card disadvantage, and giving them a land will also help the opponent recover the tempo loss.
In battles of attrition and grinding Path to Exile is quite poor, such as against Jund, which wins through attrition and can take advantage of extra mana through a variety of ways. On the other hand, Zoo decks look to win through speed, and they sacrifice a lot of long-term potential for early game efficiency. Zoo does not have many ways to utilize extra mana over a long game. Zoo is also quite reliant on its efficient early game creatures to do a lot of damage before the clunkier but more powerful cards of the opposition take over and outclass Zoo cards. Path to Exile allows decks to survive the early game against Zoo and win with their more powerful cards.
With Zoo in the rise, Path to Exile is going to become increasingly popular. It is also going to be a key factor in the Zoo mirror match, where it serves as the best answer to the Tarmogoyf and Knight of Reliquary that define games.
In days past, Kitchen Finks was once the most powerful creature around. It had the stats necessary to trade with the commonly played conventional aggressive creatures, and it had the robustness necessary to fight through removal. Removing Wild Nacatl and Zoo along with it from the format meant Kitchen Finks did not have the same role to play, while Deathrite Shaman neutralized the persist ability which requires the graveyard.
Kitchen Finks has gone from zero to hero overnight, like it just woke up from a bad dream. With Deathrite Shaman out of the picture to mess with persist, and with Zoo everywhere, Kitchen Finks is going to become one of the best creatures in Modern. The hybrid nature allows it fit in more decks than initially apparent, including green decks and white decks. Kitchen Finks is also surely to be found in some Zoo decks, where it will provide an edge in the mirror match.
Knight of the Reliquary
Knight of the Reliquary was another unfortunate victim of Deathrite Shaman. In the past. Knight of the Reliquary functioned as the centerpiece of many decks, where it operated as a huge blocker and source of utility that quickly became an insurmountable threat. This requires lands staying in the graveyard, and Deathrite Shaman was a completely free foil that ensured Knight of the Reliquary never grew to any considerable size. With Deathrite Shaman everywhere, Knight of the Reliquary was just not very impressive. With Deathrite Shaman gone, Knight of the Reliquary is going to become a premier creature once again that will see play in a variety of decks, including some versions of Zoo.
The stock of Lightning Helix is on the rise. Lightning Helix is important because it deals three damage, meaning it destroys all of the one-drop threats from Zoo. I stress that this is going to become important going forward, and Lightning Helix is going to see a lot more play. Lightning Bolt is going to be stretched to the maximum already, and Lightning Bolt will pick up much of the load. The lifegain is also of critical important against the aggressive Zoo decks, and the lifegain will function like card advantage against opponents trying to win with burn spells.
Lightning Helix is going to see play in a variety of decks, but in none more than Zoo itself. Lighting Helix is going to become a critical card in the mirror match. In a matchup where board presence and life total are all that matter, Lightning Helix fights both fronts. Lightning Helix is also a critical spell for UWR control decks, which will look to abuse it with Snapcaster Mage.
Deathrite Shaman, above all, was the most heavily played mana acceleration spell in Modern. The archetypal one-drop green mana acceleration creature has long been the gold-standard of many a format, all the way back to Birds of Paradise in Alpha. In Modern this role has been filled by the flexible and value-generating Deathrite Shaman, but the torch has been passed back to Noble Hierarch.
Noble Hierarch is not on the same level as Deathrite Shaman, but it is comparable. The exalted trigger provides that valuable extra utility players have come to expect from their one-drop acceleration. When Noble Hierarch was first printed it seemed unbelievably good when compared to Birds of Paradise, and that's because the exalted ability is actually excellent in practice. The trigger often leads to more than one extra damage because it will allow a creature to attack into a blocker it would otherwise not be able to attack into.
Noble Hierarch is also quite functional as mana acceleration, providing 3/5 of the color pie. The Bant colors in general have been improved because of Noble Hierarch, while black and red have fallen in power without Deathrite Shaman around to generate their mana.
Born of the Gods is tournament legal, the new bannings are in effect, and Modern feels like a fresh, new format. Share your experiences in the comments!