Khans of Tarkir has had one of the most dramatic impacts on non-rotating formats in recent memory. Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Monastery Swiftspear, and Jeskai Ascendancy have changed the faces of Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage (to say nothing of how reprinting the Onslaught fetchlands has lowered the barrier of entry to Modern and Legacy).

This stands in stark contrast to the average Magic set, which often fails to have a single card be relevant in non-rotating formats, and usually fails to change the metagame substantially. I should note that this failure is not a bad thing; if every expansion redefined all metagames, then Magic would be suffering from terrible power creep. Each set would invalidate what came before. The key question is whether Khans of Tarkir had a net positive effect or a net negative effect. I’ll restrict my inquiry in this article to Modern.


Looking back, the last set to so dramatically impact all formats was Return to Ravnica and its powerhouse, Deathrite Shaman (along with its good friend, Abrupt Decay). Deathrite Shaman so warped Modern that most decks contorted their manabases to play the full set of four. It eliminated a whole class of graveyard decks from Modern and made the best decks, Jund and Birthing Pod, even better. This earned it a ban around this time last year, with the following explanation:

Different flavors of black-green decks have recently been among the best-performing decks in Modern. These decks play many very efficient ways to trade cards one for one with their opponents, such as Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Abrupt Decay. Strong mana acceleration helps these decks trade one for one efficiently enough that they can keep up with the other decks in a large format such as Modern, but normally playing mana acceleration comes at the cost of playing cards that are less powerful in the late game. Deathrite Shaman, however, is powerful at all stages of the game. Having a strong attrition-based deck as a large portion of the metagame makes it difficult for decks that are based on synergies between cards instead of individually powerful cards. We believe that removing Deathrite Shaman from the format will leave more room for future innovation.

Treasure Cruise is closest to Deathrite Shaman in that it’s (probably) the strongest card in its set, many decks are incorporating or splashing blue to include Treasure Cruise, and that it is (often) a 1 mana card with a dramatic impact on the game. It makes an already good shell, UR Delver of Secrets, into a top tier deck. Does that merit it a ban?

Stern Judge

Like Deathrite Shaman, Treasure Cruise plays exceptionally well with one-for-one interaction spells (and cantrips): it produces a massive amount of card advantage for a low mana cost, allowing for more one-for-one interaction (exhausting your opponent’s resources). It’s also a very difficult card to combat directly—while graveyard hate is great at slowing Treasure Cruise down, Treasure Cruise primarily goes in decks that don’t otherwise care about their graveyards (because Treasure Cruise empties graveyards) and Treasure Cruise isn’t actually stopped by graveyard hate.

While there are similarities between Deathrite Shaman and Treasure Cruise, Cruise’s situation is complicated by there being many more moving pieces. Deathrite Shaman was its set’s one metagame-shifting card, Treasure Cruise is competing with severalEidolon of the Great Revel and Monastery Swiftspear have transformed burn into a top tier deck. Dig Through Time is a powerful new tool for combo, particularly Splinter Twin and Scapeshift. Jeskai Ascendancy has created an entirely new combo deck. We’re not seeing the metagame converge on one, new deck—it’s going in many directions. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned Khans of Tarkir’s sleeper hit: Siege Rhino.


There was little buzz about Siege Rhino when Khans was spoiled (outside of its Standard viability). It’s a 4 mana creature that doesn’t immediately end the game. If you tap out for it, you die to Splinter Twin, fall behind to a Mana Leak, or just see it die to Path to Exile… or so many of us thought.

There have been 3 Modern GPs since Khans of Tarkir came out. In December, Magnus Lantto won GP Milan with 2 copies of Siege Rhino in his Birthing Pod deck. This past weekend, Erik Peters won GP Omaha with 3 copies in his Birthing Pod deck. Perhaps Pod will come to adapt the full four copies. (The other [and first] GP of the season, November’s GP Madrid, was won by Immanuel Gerschenson and his Temur Delver deck.)

Siege Rhino has pushed the Pod archetype from a value/combo deck into a pure value deck, one that eschews the Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo kill for which it is named and often excludes the newer Archangel of Thune combo. Siege Rhino is a sledgehammer against the UR Delver/Cruise deck that most expected to dominate Modern… and is also making the likely best Modern deck of last year, Birthing Pod, even better. Perhaps Pod is the card/deck most in need of a ban?

Rewards of Diversity

If you’d asked me last month what was going to be banned in Modern, I’d say Treasure Cruise and Jeskai Ascendancy were both going to be banned, with Dig Through Time and Birthing Pod also strong candidates for the ban-hammer. However, the UR Menace never dominated Modern. In fact, we’ve seen some very diverse top eights:

GP Madrid (5 archetypes)

GP Milan (6 archetypes)

  • 2x Jeskai Ascendancy (one Jeskai combo/control, the other played the green all-in combo version)
  • 2x Birthing Pod [*WON*]
  • 1x Temur Delver
  • 1x Amulet of Vigor
  • 1x Rwu Burn
  • 1x Robots

GP Omaha (7 archetypes)

Top eights have become more diverse as the post-Khans metagame developed. Compare this with last year’s GP Richmond (3.5 Archetypes).

  • 5x Birthing Pod (4x Melira/Angel Pod, 1x Kiki-Pod)
  • 2x Robots
  • 1x UR Twin

Balancing Act

I’m surprised to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there won’t be any bans just yet. Treasure Cruise decks are neither dominating Grands Prix nor dominating GP Top Eights. Jeskai Ascendancy isn’t even making it to the top eight consistently. Dig Through Time is obviously a powerful and consistently well-performing card, but it seems to be enabling Scapeshift-based decks to supplant Splinter Twin as the best combo deck in Modern, rather than turn Scapeshift into the best deck period.

I believe that Birthing Pod has long been and remains the best deck in Modern, but it’s clearly not so dominant that it pushes other decks out of the metagame. Moreover, its strong matchup against Treasure Cruise decks is likely helping keep those decks in check. While it feels the most natural card to ban, banning only Birthing Pod would likely unbalance the format, rather than open it up further. (Or perhaps it would merely transform Pod into Abzan Midrange and the deck would still be amazing). It’s a fine balancing act.

Sure, Wizards could ban Pod, both Delve draw spells, and Jeskai Ascendancy, but then we’d just be back to an older Modern we’d already seen before: Robots, Splinter Twin, and Snapcaster Mage/Lightning Bolt decks (with only Burn substantially benefiting from new cards). We’ve been there before and we don’t need to retread old ground. I’d like to see how the Pro Tour changes things. Hell, perhaps we could see another unbanning and examine the impact it has both on Modern’s metagame and popularity. Only (Dig Through) time will tell.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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