Eternal formats are difficult to impact by only printing new cards. From time to time a card like Deathrite Shaman or Snapcaster Mage come along and have a large impact. Usually only one or two cards each year has such an impact, if any at all. More often than not, Wizards manages these formats through the use of the banning and un-banning of cards. This past week, ahead of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Wizards decided to make a massive change to the Modern format. Deathrite Shaman is out. Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom are in.

A Brief History of the Modern Banned List

In the beginning, in August of 2011, there were 21 cards on the Modern banned list. The cards on the list fell into three categories. The first was cards that enabled incredibly fast combo kills such as Glimpse of Nature. The second were cards that were, by themselves, insanely powerful such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Finally, the last group was cards that were reminiscent of decks that had dominated Standard in the recent past. Among these were cards found in Affinity, Caw-Blade’s Stoneforge Mystic, and the key card of the Faeries deck: Bitterblossom.

A month later it turned out that Wizards hadn’t quite done their homework. Six more cards were banned from the format in an effort to further stifle the insanely fast combo kills. This banning included Green Sun’s Zenith, Blazing Shoal, Rite of Flame, Cloudpost, Preordain, and Ponder. By the end of 2011, Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire joined that list in an attempt to slow down the Zoo decks. Instead, they completely vanished from the format.

In the fall of 2012, nine months after the last banning, Wizards tried to shake up the format by unbanning Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The change was not very effective and in January of 2013 the ban-hammer came down on Seething Song and Bloodbraid Elf. Still, the format lent itself to combo kills and in May, Second Sunrise was also axed. Now, two and a half years after the format was created, Deathrite Shaman became the latest format-warping card to get the axe in Modern. But, for the first time since Valakut, ghosts of the past are returning…

Bitterblossom (and Wild Nacatl) Unbanned

Last week, Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl became the second and third card to ever be unbanned in Modern. This is great news for almost everyone (more on that later). To start, shaking up the format right before a Pro Tour is a hallmark of Wizards management of the banned list. Furthermore, instead of just removing cards in an attempt to police the format, we’re getting two cards back, and with them a handful of new possibilities. Zoo and Faeries are decks that, today, don’t really exist in the top tiers of Modern. The return of these cards can help diversify the format.

For fans of the game, diversity in a format is critically important. Many of the complaints about Theros Standard are the constant mirror matches and face-to-face match-ups of the same three decks. In recent memory, the two most damaging events to the Magic player-base were the existence of Affinity in Standard and the existence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard. Why was this the case? It was because every match-up involved one or both of these dominant decks. No one was happy and Wizards needed to ban cards in Standard, something it is loathe to do for sets that are still having packs opened.

For players of the game, unbanning cards is always great news. No one wants cards they can’t play with. Tell your friends at their kitchen table that they can’t play a one-mana common green creature that they got shiny copies of from Friday Night Magic a couple years ago and you’ll get blank stares. Banning cards is basically the worst. Unbanning cards is basically the best. Just this week something like ten thousand articles were written full of deck lists and brews built around or just incorporating these unbanned cards. Everyone is excited and honestly, no one is going to miss Deathrite Shaman anyways.

Financial Fallout

So, is everyone a winner in the un-banning of Bitterblossom (and Wild Nacatl)? Not quite. Unfortunately, as a result of suddenly being available in a highly competitive format, the price of Bitterblossom spiked phenomenally. For pretty much the last two years, since Modern was created really, Bitterblossom has been worth $15. It’s a well-known card from a very popular deck but was relegated to casual play, and fringe EDH and Legacy decks. Strangely enough, the price spiked to $30 two weeks ago on speculation that it would become available again, and would skyrocket in value. Jason Alt responded to this speculation by calling these speculators idiots. This week he had to eat his words.

As of writing this, Bitterblossom has fallen to $70 after spiking around $80 with some copies selling for as high as $90. This has, in short, outraged most  of the community. Speculation is often met with very negative response. To be fair, there’s no reason to think Bitterblossom will suddenly dominate the format in a way that makes it worth almost as much as Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. However, in this scenario the fact is the demand for Bitterblossom is very high, and people are willing to pay a premium.

Who really suffers from the high price of Bitterblossom? The impact is isolated to competitive Modern players. Not competitive Standard players, or competitive limited players, who are by far the vast majority of competitive players. There’s no impact to casual players, who are by far the vast majority of the entire consumer-base. There seems to be a lot of outrage for such a small group of victims. It’s not like Modern was a cheap format and suddenly became cost prohibitive. It’s not like Bitterblossom is even a Tier One card. We won’t know until after the Pro Tour. In fact, everything just seems like a lot of smoke being blown.

If people want to risk their money speculating on Magic cards, and other people want to spend exorbitant amounts of money on cards that just spiked in value, why should it really matter to the majority of fans and players? Magic is a collectible game and the Pro Tour pays out a lot of money. This is going to result in high value for cards that are in high demand. Maybe Wizards will increase the supply of Bitterblossoms in the near future, but even if they don’t, who are we crying for? A hundred thousand people who can’t play Faeries? Ten thousand? A hundred? At what point do we stop caring?

The Quick Hits

  • Wizards revealed that Entomb and Karador, Ghost Chieftain are the new judge promos. Big news for EDH reanimator players [Magic Arcana]
  • Ravnica takes on Time Spiral in the semi-finals of the EDH Battle of the Blocks. Can’t believe this thing is almost over [Star City Games]
  • The MTGO Cube is still around until this Wednesday. Don’t miss out on the updated Theros version [Magic Arcana]
  • MJ Scott interviews Bennie Smith, author of The Complete Commander, now available in eBook format [Gathering Magic]
  • Andrew Rogers analyzes the cross-over of religion and Magic but doesn’t mention how for some weird reason there’s no more pentagrams in Magic art [Gathering Magic]
  • Clayton Kroh has an amazing story of love in the time of Theros and of a romance that the god of death himself saw fit to make eternal [Uncharted Realms]
  • Brian David-Marshall assembled an incredible panel for a round-table discussion on the role of teams when preparing for the Pro Tour [The Week That Was]

Wallpaper of the Week

Phenax, God of making you think that 'mill' is a viable win condition again.

Phenax, God of making you think that ‘mill’ is a viable win condition again.

The cycle of Born of the Gods deity wallpapers was completed this past week with Phenax gracing our desktops. I’m not really sure what to make of this artwork as I stare at it. Phenax looks almost like some kind of martial arts master dressed in a black bodysuit with the flowing purple belt wrapped around him  (only a few more weeks until he can go for his orange belt, or whatever comes next). However, over this ninja costume he’s wearing what appears to be a Native American shawl of sorts. Finally he’s got some gold face-mask with wings and gauntlets of gold. Honestly, what the heck is going on here?

Grade: C

The Week Ahead

The main events finally return! After a two-week hiatus for the release of Born of the Gods, the action comes to us this weekend in the form of not one but two Grand Prix tournaments. The first, taking place in Paris, France, will feature Legacy constructed. This is the first of only two Legacy events being held on the Tour in 2014. With the other taking place in New Jersey in November, fans of the older eternal formats won’t want to miss the coverage from this one. The Legacy community in Europe is phenomenal and this promises to be a fantastic event. The Coverage team will include the reigning French National Champion and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphael Levy accompanied by Matej Zatlkaj, Simon Gortzen, Rich Hagon, and Steven Leeming. Coverage begins at 7:30am EST on Saturday.

Several hours later, players will begin opening their sealed pools at the first Theros/Born of the Gods Limited Grand Prix in Mexico City. Necro Tower will be bringing us this Latin American tournament, though there won’t be any video coverage unfortunately. The game is continuing to show strong growth in this part of the world. Necro Tower has a good look back highlighting the history of Grand Prix tournaments in Mexico. This is the third Grand Prix hosted in the Mexican capital.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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