Last week the mothership unveiled the 2016 promo available for anyone who registers for and plays in a Grand Prix. In case you’ve been living under a rock, it was Stoneforge Mystic.
Then, after the new card image was unveiled, followed the comment that sent a nuclear bomb of controversy aloft.
I wonder how many promo Batterskulls we’ll see next to these new promo Mystics by springtime next year…
However, before we get to the year of the equipment-fetching Kor, we have one last event to get through.
And so the internet began its relentless speculations. What does this mean? Could Stoneforge be unbanned in modern? Let’s explore whether or not the modern format can wrangle a card like Stoneforge Mystic down to mere playability, as opposed to the backbreaking power it once held over Standard, and even Legacy.
Since my return to the game, I have viewed Stoneforge Mystic through the lens of Legacy. In particular, UWR Delver of Secrets decks with True-Name Nemesis, and Death and Taxes decks. However, once I saw the combination of Stoneforge Mystic with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, I really began to view the card’s true power level consistently executed across different strategies. It made absolute sense to me that Stoneforge was simply too powerful to be included into Modern, as it can be used with minimal effort in nearly any deck that can cast it. This was a few years back when both the Modern format was younger and the landscape of the format looked different than it does today.
I’ll be honest and admit the discussion which ensued stimulated the question within me. Could it see an unban? I reflected on the format, asking myself whether something had really changed in the past few years that would allow Stoneforge an opening. After much thought and discussion I am still of two minds, equally divided.
COLUMN A: KEEP IT BENCHED, DAMNIT
Format diversity is a serious factor as to why certain cards remain on the Modern banned list: Green Sun’s Zenith and Mental Misstep are two great examples. They create an ouroboros, whereby everyone has to play with the same cards if they’re building a deck of that color. Hell, Mental Misstep is so degenerate that it would cause any decks who cannot ‘cast’ it to consider packing a set so as to counter other Mental Missteps!
“Forest, Birds of Paradise.”
“Mental Misstep. 18.”
“I’ll misstep your misstep. 18.”
“I’ll misstep your bird again. 16.”
And that would be a turn one in Modern. What is this, Vintage?
Stoneforge Mystic is a clean, simple threat that demands an answer, for only two mana. Nearly all decks that can cast it will consider playing it, or will play it becuase they will need to keep pace with other decks casting Stoneforge Mystic. And for those of us who refuse to play with Stoneforge, you need to have an immediate answer. Modern is the Lightning Bolt format, so there are plenty of answers available. But as the old saying goes—there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. You gotta have it then and there, and if Stoneforge resolves, they still get to tutor up a piece of equipment, giving them a free card—a powerful one—for their troublesome two mana investment. So now you need an answer for both the mystic and the equipment in hand. One card that creates two threats? That’s value. That’s nearing our teenage rebel Bloodbraid Elf.
Stoneforge will be played in nearly any deck, from Zoo and Twin to Abzan and UW Control. It slots neatly into most Aggro, Midrange, and Control strategies. A card that asks so little and does this much will drain the format of diversity and strategy over time. A card this clean and easy will not ehance the format, but constrict it.
COLUMN B: PUT ME IN, COACH!
Stoneforge Mystic doesn’t win the game on its own. It is designed to be an enabler, and therefore is only as good as the card it tutors up. You require additional cards to complete to synergy of Stoneforge, and while powerful, the pace of play getting full value out of Stoneforge Mystic is, let’s face it, quite slow.
Turn 2, Cast Stoneforge. trigger, tutor up Batterskull.
Untap, play a land, pass the turn. On your opponents end step, activate Stoneforge, putting Batterskull into play. Trigger living weapon.
That’s four turns! You’ll be dead to infinite Deceiver Exarchs by then, for example. The format has sped up to the point where a Batterskull just isn’t enough to win the game anymore. There are strategies that can bypass these cards altogether, or make the stats of the germ a non-factor in combat. Cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler, and even Tarmogoyf all block a germ token quite well. This is to say nothing of recently-printed cards like Kolaghan’s Command being a threat against both Stoneforge and Batterskull.
Merfolk can bounce Batterskull with Vapor Snag. Tron can exile it with Karn Liberated. Amulet and Grishoalbrand will flat out kill you while you’re left feeling like a durdle. It’s not like we can equip it onto True-Name Nemesis or anything like that. It’s just a threat, residing perfectly between the fair and the unfair. And without Force of Will to provide security in the face of mana investment, Stoneforge loses a lot of its power when modern is full of solid ways to interact with creatures.
Plus, it would be perfectly timed with the Pro Tour on the horizon, giving the best players in the world the chance to push the potential of the card to the max before the big show.
THE FIRST PLACE I’D GO
4 Deceiver Exarch
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Stoneforge Mystic
2 Restoration Angel
4 Serum Visions
4 Lightining Bolt
2 Path to Exile
2 Spell Snare
4 Splinter Twin
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Flooded Strand
1 Desolate Lighthouse
3 Sulfur Falls
3 Celestial Colonnade
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
This would convert to Keranos / Stoneforge control post board, which gives the deck an additional angle of attack. It’s similar to Tarmo Twin, in that the Stoneforge distracts the opponent into you resolving Twin. This deck can also put a Twin on a Restoration Angel and blink Snapcasters, or start the twin combo without needing to resolve both pieces together.
SFM doesn’t provide turn three kills, but it constricts format diversity. It isn’t boring, as it encourages interaction, but it would be dominant at the Pro Tour. Whether it would be a success or a failure is a question many would be asking themselves. I’m sure a lot of the pros would certainly try hard to make it a success.
Would it be exciting? Maybe for a little while, yeah. To play SFM decks will be exciting. It’s a powerful card, and certainly one of the main draws to Modern is the inherent power level. We get to cast cards like Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, and Lightning Bolt with regularity. The average player is comfortable with their presence. Stoneforge is a scary card not in of itself, but because of what it enables a player to accomplish. When we can tutor in non-revised-dual land formats, decks can generate advantages that can feel unfair to other players’ strategies. Look at Birthing Pod and what that enabled players to do. It was much too easy to generate advantage, and its true power was in its flexibility. Stoneforge shares this power in that the longer it stays in a format, the more options are available to players looking to abuse what the mystic enables.
So one part of me wants to see what happens, and the other is seeing the alarms go off. I want Modern to get a big shake up. After all, last year WoTC had to pull cards out of the format to keep it healthy. This year I believe they’re getting ready to inject some juices back into it. But will it happen? Only time will tell.
Next week I will explore more possibilities on whether a longstanding ban could see an unbanning: Bloodbraid Elf.
Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.