Happy Friday everybody. Over the past couple days we have focused on Arclight Phoenix decks but today we will take a look at their greatest current threat. Phoenix has been the most successful archetype at every Modern Grand Prix since it was printed. On Monday we will have an update to the banned and restricted list. Will they ban something from the Phoenix decks or is it too soon for WotC to take action against it?
State of the Format
Phoenix variations have been the most successful archetype this year by far. At Grand Prix Oakland in January, Phoenix tied with KCI for the most represented deck in the Top 32. At every GP since, Arclight Phoenix decks have put the most copies into the Top 32. As with any successful archetype in Modern, there will be discussions about how good the deck is allowed to be. While Phoenix decks are performing exceptionally well, this is not an Eldrazi Winter situation. Everything seems to be in relative harmony, but as always a ban is a real possibility for Modern.
Cards to Watch
One of the cards that is almost always brought up in ban list discussions is Ancient Stirrings. Stirrings digs deeper than any other one mana spells in the format and it is in Green. Ancient Stirrings does come with a big deck building restriction, however. Being limited to decks with a heavy colorless focus heavily limits where the card can actually go. Since the KCI ban, neither Hardened Scales Affinity nor Tron have really been tearing up Modern. Because the top Stirrings decks have been doing so average, it does not seem likely that now will be the time for an Ancient Stirrings ban.
The card that makes the most sense for a ban right now is probably Faithless Looting. Looting is the second most played card in the format behind Lightning Bolt. It is absolutely crazy that this spell is approaching that level. Faithless Looting only gets full value when decks are using their graveyard as a resource. The fact that it is seeing so much play is a testament to how important the graveyard is to the Modern format. The rise of Arclight Phoenix to the best deck in the format paired with the extensive amounts of play that Faithless Looting sees make it a prime candidate for the ban list at some point. There would be significant collateral damage though.
Like any Faithless Looting deck, the Phoenix Archetype heavily relies on the card. Looting helps enable the aggressive draws that are sometimes needed to win racing matchups with the deck. Looting also provides a ton of utility as a very cheap spell when cast from hand, discarding Phoenix, increasing card quality, etc. Faithless Looting being banned would be a big loss for Phoenix decks.
However, I do not think that a Faithless Looting ban makes the archetype unplayable. There are enough cards that provide good utility like Collective Brutality or Izzet Charm that I think at least one of the color variations will continue to be a major player in the format. While looting is a good engine, one of the biggest strengths of the Phoenix decks is that it is not reliant on a single angle of attack. The archetype would be able to replace Looting but it would definitely be a large nerf.
Dredge would be a massive loser from the banning of Faithless Looting. Looting is a card that does so much for this deck. It allows players to get dredge cards out of their hand and into their graveyard early. It also is one of their best ways to get Dredge activations as the game goes on. Faithless Looting is one of the major reasons why Dredge is good.
While I do think Looting is a major loss for Dredge, people will certainly still play it. I am not sure how much worse Dredge is going to get if Faithless Looting actually was banned. They will have to go back to Insolent Neonate or add Burning Inquiry. My initial assumption is that it is going to have a major drop off. However, Dredge seems to be one of those archetypes that people will always sleeve up no matter how good it is. I would expect Dredge to linger around in some form even with a potential ban but it will not be nearly as powerful.
Faithless Looting is one of the ways that Hollow One reduces the variance in their deck. With all the random discard spells, Looting provides some value even when discarded and helps sculpt a playable hand if the random discard caused a poor hand. It is their primary way to reduce the cost of a Hollow One without the risk of discarding the Hollow One instead. Looting really helped to smooth out many of the rough edges that Hollow One had.
As with the others, I do not think that a Faithless Looting ban makes the deck unplayable. However, I do think that it will be a very poor choice. Faithless Looting just did too much to enable the consistency of the deck. Hollow One needs effects that are more specific than those in something like Dredge. My first thought is Cathartic Reunion but it costs twice as much mana as Looting and still will not net a free Hollow One. With Dredge and Phoenix people will experiment and try to find the optimal solution. I do not think that there is a solution given how many bottom of the barrel draw spells Hollow One already runs.
The Kor in the Room
In addition to a ban, an unban has become more of a possibility in recent years. In our last banlist prediction article, we noted that Stoneforge Mystic is the most likely unban target. This is likely still true. Stoneforge Mystic is a card that is constantly discussed as a possible unban target. However, I do not think this will be the update for it. The price would explode and it is not eligible for a reprint in Modern Horizons. Jace in Masters 25 has set a precedent for announced reprints to keep the prices of unbanned cards from begin too outrageous. They also mentioned the success of UW Control in the previous ban update so they seem pleased with the current power level. It is a possibility but I would bet against it at the moment.
My prediction is: no changes. Overall, it seems like Modern is in a fairly good place. While Phoenix decks have been doing exceptionally well, they are not at the point where the deck needs to see a ban. These decks have been overperforming at recent Grand Prix events but they have only been legal for three. We have seen this happen for longer periods of time in the past with decks like Death’s Shadow and Humans. Eventually the format shifted and each became “just another good deck”. The format is still adjusting from the last banned and restricted list update. I doubt that they will make another change so soon. Furthermore, the London Mulligan will be tested in April and Modern Horizons will drop the month after. This period will see Modern shaken up more than it has at any other time in its almost eight-year history. The format should be just fine until then so I do not expect any changes to the Modern format.
While this is our own personal prediction, we would like to hear what you think in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back on Monday with an updated Grixis Death’s Shadow guide from Bronze Pro and Grand Prix Champion Ben Jones. Until then my friends.