Bridge from Below is Banned from Modern
Modern Horizons brought with it a nightmarish combo deck called Hogaak Bridgevine, leading to some serious anticipation for the next banned and restricted list announcement. Wizards of the Coast decided to take action and end the menace by banning Bridge from Below. Andifeated has some thoughts about this decision, the circumstances that lead to it, and what it means for Modern.
Modern has been wild since Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis came knocking. The last time a new printing warped the landscape of Modern so significantly was the infamous Eldrazi Winter, which lead to the banning of Eye of Ugin after a string of very boring tournaments dominated by the colorless monstrosities. New cards often lead to new archetypes or evolutions of old ones, even sometimes leading to extremely popular new strategies. However, when a deck is so powerful that players need to play it, construct their sideboard specifically to hose it, or choose a deck solely based on the fact that it matches up well against it, the format is broken and needs fixing.
With the Bridgevine deck, I wrote earlier that players had to be fully prepared for Hogaak, or you had to play Hogaak if they wanted to do well in Modern. I chose to capitalize on the power of the deck and was rewarded with an 80% win rate at rules enforcement level competitive Modern tournaments and a qualification for the European Modern Series Finals in Frankfurt later this year.
A Big Failure in R&D
It was difficult for me to fathom how R&D missed Hogaak's potential in testing. Especially when they also reprinted Altar of Dementia. I've been pretty happy with the card design for the last couple years and had especially high hopes for Modern Horizons as it clearly aimed to fix some issues with the Modern format that couldn't be addressed properly in Standard. Since the next B&R announcement was scheduled for the 8th of July, right before Mythic Championship Barcelona, I was careful to consider what possible choices Wizards could make and what that would mean for Mythic Championship Barcelona.
Wizards needed to make a change, effectively admitting their mistake, in order to not ruin the viewing and play experience in Mythic Championship Barcelona. The issue with this, however, is that players have already tested a lot in Modern with this new meta and said preparation would be effectively worthless in a post-Hogaak world. Also, banning Altar of Dementia or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis would expose the flaw in their Modern Horizons design and make the product less appealing. Because of this, I feared they wouldn't change anything before the events, saying instead that they needed "more data." After all, "no changes" is always the most likely outcome of any given B&R announcement and while the situation was dicey this time around, they could've easily justified waiting longer.
Willing to Swing the Banhammer
Fortunately, I was mistaken and ended up surprised on Monday when Wizards swung the ban hammer, preventing the "Hogaak Summer" scenario for MC Barcelona. Several cards were considered as options for this banning and each one has different merits and potential implications in Modern.
This card is just the cleanest card selection card in Modern and many players have been calling for a ban for quite a while now. The problem with the card is that it lets players essentially cheat on mana by putting cards like Vengevine, Arclight Pheonix, Griselbrand or simply a card with the keyword Dredge into one's graveyard, while also getting more value later. As if that wasn't enough, the card also makes combo decks more consistent as it helps filter your draw and dig for missing pieces while setting up combos based around the graveyard.
The reason why the card hasn't been banned yet and probably won't in the near future is pretty obvious, though. Whenever someone tells me they think Faithless Looting should be banned I tell them the same thing.
Wizards won't take action in Modern that potentially decreases diversity. Many bannings in the past have been justified by the oppressive nature of a card or archetype and Wizards has always made it clear that they want a metagame where players can choose from many viable strategies and essentially play what they want. Faithless Looting is the driving force behind Dredge, Vengevine, Goryo's Vengeance, Arclight Phoenix, and many more. Since the card is so strong, efficient, and adds consistency to those strategies, it makes the metagame more diverse and fuels all those otherwise whacky decks that would be too weak without it. If Wizards can avoid killing a huge volume of decks with one banning, they will do so to help protect Modern's diversity.
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis or Altar of Dementia
Again, the Bridgevine Deck was around before Modern Horizons and while it was a good deck that posted some results, it was far from too strong. Hogaak and Altar were what pushed it way over the top and banning one of the cards would've taken the consistent turn three kills away from the deck while keeping it playable. It would've solved the problem in the best way, but Wizards doesn't want to ban cards from a product just released, so it's likely they'll stay legal for a while, even if a zero Mana 8/8 Trample creature is a pretty risky idea for Modern.
Bridge from Below
This is the card they banned and it's a fine choice. It's only played in this deck currently, so it's a nice, narrow ban that addresses the problem. Also, it's a very strong card used in successful combo decks in Vintage and Legacy. If the right shell is there, Bridge from Below creates a bunch of 2/2 Zombie Tokens without spending mana. As new ways of putting cards into your graveyard are printed, this card always has to be on Wizard's mind and has the potential to create very swingy and unfair game experiences without adding much to the format. Also, it takes away the ability of Hogaak Bridgevine decks to go infinite on turn 3 and win the game without declaring a single attack. The deck is still capable of adding a lot of big creatures to the battlefield on turn two and Bridge from Below can easily be exchanged for another card, but losing the combo makes the deck much easier to fight and beat.
Is Hogaak Summer Over?
Yes and no. The completely broken combo deck that warped the format won't be as potent and threatening to the format anymore. But I firmly believe that aggro-combo decks featuring Hogaak and Vengevine and abusing the graveyard to cheat on mana will still be pretty strong and the right build of those decks is worth finding.
I'm excited to see what players brew up for Mythic Championship Barcelona, which Vengevine builds will emerge after the banning, and how the London Mulligan and Modern Horizons will influence Modern in the long term. In the end, Modern will face some exciting changes and because of the hysteria the Bridgevine deck created, this process was slowed down significantly in the last couple of weeks. I think are having exciting times ahead of us when it comes to Modern and can't wait to watch Mythic Championship Barcelona unfold.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.