The Big Ban: Modern Without Oko, Lattice, and Mox Opal
- Marin Magda
For months, Modern has been an unhealthy format dominated by one strategy in particular. Now Wizards took action with three big bans. Going out the door isn't just a broken planeswalker, but also a powerful win condition and one of the most iconic artifacts in Modern's history. Let's see what's next for the format!
On January 13, Wizards of the Coast announced that they are banning Oko, Thief of Crowns, Mycosynth Lattice, and Mox Opal. Thanks to Oko, decks with Urza, Lord High Artificer had gone too far and taken the whole Modern metagame by storm. At the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, Modern was all about busted combinations of multiple cards. Starting with the most obvious ban, let us dig a bit deeper into this problem. At the same time, I'll point out which decks will probably disappear and which might see more play than before the bans.
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Before the outbreak of Oko, Thief of Crowns, although not perfect, Modern was in a much more diverse state. Although Oko made the format fairer during his short reign, he only did so because the card found its way into almost every single deck. The rest of the strategies that made an impact at this time were ones that didn't care much about Oko. Such a situation usually harms a format severely, up to the point where people avoid it until the banhammer strikes.
I believe everybody expected Oko to be banned now, but not everybody thought he would be such a big problem initially. I didn't think he'd warp the metagame to this extent. What compounded the issue were some very powerful green cards, as Oko isn't really the only reason to splash green, though he clearly was the biggest.
We can expect most of the decks that were good specifically against Oko, Thief of Crowns to get weaker. One complete no-brainer is the fact that we probably won't see much more of Monogreen Devotion, as it relied on Karn, the Great Creator quite a bit, but I will get to this later. More interestingly, the new deck built around Yawgmoth, Thran Physician might see less play too, as it performed well against Oko and won't do so going forward.
Death's Shadow is in an interesting position: on one hand, a good clock and a variety of disruption spells gave the deck a fighting chance against Oko, and some four-color variants even included Oko themselves. On the other hand, the Shadow can't be turned into an Elk anymore, so the planeswalker's departure may be good news for the archetype after all.
Bant Snow decks got downgraded. For starters, Bant Snow Control will likely disappear and just revert to a standard white-blue build. With Oko gone, the only remaining reasons to splash green are Ice-Fang Coatl and Veil of Summer, which aren't really enough to keep the color here. That's not to mention the life cost of running three colors instead of two. Bant Snowblade, although considerably worse now, might not be dead yet, as it still has lots of tools and lots of reasons to retain green. It's in quite a weird, but not terrible spot right now.
Two decks that have experienced a bit of a resurgence already, but might become even more powerful now are Amulet Titan and Infect. Both do lose the option of running Oko themselves, but an opposing Oko was the issue for them. Without the planeswalker, I expect these two to become high-tier decks again. The same goes for Devoted Druid, but we've yet to see where creature combo is going.
Jund might also make a return once again. It's better than Death's Shadow at grinding and it was much worse against Oko, Thief of Crowns. Oko was great at "elking" Tarmogoyf, while Urza, Lord High Artificer usually managed to survive the minus ability of Liliana of the Veil thanks to smaller creatures and tokens.
Eldrazi Tron and Humans won't have to deal with Oko's +1 ability anymore, while Burn doesn't have to worry about Oko's +2. Last, but definitely not least, the Simic Titan deck that won a Grand Prix one day before the ban announcement is no more. Both Amulet Titan and Titan Shift will be much better Primeval Titan decks now. The latter also gets Dryad of the Ilysian Grove in Theros Beyond Death, so prepare yourself for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
The ban of Mycosynth Lattice may have come a bit unexpected. I thought Lattice needed to go badly the moment I saw the interaction with Karn, the Great Creator, but at this point, I was convinced even more. The card single-handedly turned Karn into one of the most played planeswalkers in Modern. Like that was not enough, the exact same Karn-Lattice combo is being successfully utilized in Legacy.
Both Eldrazi and traditional Tron, some of the most powerful decks in the history of Modern, greatly benefited from Karn and Lattice. Although, according to Wizards, balancing Tron was the main reason why they've banned Lattice, note that it wasn't exclusive to these two decks. The combo was so powerful in competitive play, it also found a home in some Urza builds, in Red-Green Land Destruction, and in Monogreen Devotion variants that largely existed because of it. While Karn will take a step back from the forefront, those Tron decks at least aren't going anywhere. After all, one can always just go ahead and add more copies of Wurmcoil Engine and Oblivion Stone to Tron, or more heavy beaters such as Endbringer to Eldrazi Tron.
It's bit of a shame that the Lattice wasn't banned earlier, but better late than never. I think that ban was now a necessity, as otherwise Tron decks would've just become the new Urza of Modern. This way, they'll still be powerful, but not completely broken. Keep an eye on Eldrazi Tron, though. The banning of both Oko, Thief of Crowns and Mox Opal will make it a top tier contender.
The least expected ban of the bunch, after nearly ten years in the format, Mox Opal isn't legal anymore. It's safe to say we're in for a completely different Modern now. Hardened Scales might somehow manage to survive, but not in the upper tiers, while all I can say about classic Affinity is: rest in peace.
As for Urza decks, there is one that might survive — or return, to be exact — and that is Whirza. You can still use Whir of Invention to assemble the combo of Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek, and Urza, High Lord Artificer still makes the two artifacts yield infinite life, Thopters, blue mana, and spells from the top of your library. Of course, Mox Amber is still here and so is Emry, Lurker of the Loch to complement such attempts. Maybe we will even see Mind Stone or Pentad Prism for the potential turn three Urza. But Whirza decks were never really broken, not in the way of more recent Urza builds, and without Opal they won't be broken now.
Some of the decks that were good against Mox Opal were bad against Oko, so the bannings constitute a net positive for them. On the other side, decks that did poorly against Affinity and Hardened Scales will now become more powerful. Besides Titan Shift, a prime example, Amulet Titan and Devoted Devastation will benefit from this as well.
The New Face of Modern
It's still too early to determine where Modern is really going. The bannings may give us an idea of what's going to die off, but with an overhaul this big, one can never be too sure about which decks will rise to take their place. For example, one might think that the loss of Mycosynth Lattice hurts Eldrazi Tron, but with the ban of Mox Opal, we can expect a resurgence of decks Chalice of the Void is good against, and without Oko, Thief of Crowns Chalice won't turn into a 3/3 creature anymore either. This suggests that Eldrazi Tron might remain one of the strongest decks in the format. I'm sure that Modern will be in this weird spot for quite a while.
The banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns might be the best indicator of what's going to become popular, or popular again. Oko warped the metagame strongly enough to make the decks bad against it disappear, so expect most of these to make a return.
All in all, it seems that Wizards of the Coast have realized that the recent power spike went too high and needed balancing, which is a great thing. It's sad from a financial point of view because so many players owned Mox Opal. People have been saying it was only a matter of time before it got banned, but nobody really expected it to happen now. In the end, the biggest difference between the alternatives may have been that Urza, Lord High Artificer still moves a little bit of sealed Modern Horizons product, whereas Scars of Mirrodin and Modern Masters 2015, sets that featured the Mox, no longer sell anything.
Then again, the Mox is much more powerful than Urza. It used to speed up many decks, not just the ones with Urza. It may have been somewhat balanced in traditional Affinity and Hardened Scales builds, but even that is debatable. In other decks, for example Krark-Clan Ironworks, I would say that it definitely was not.
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