What’s good, Spirit Squad!

This week we’ve had one of the most mixed set of reactions to a Banned and Restricted announcements I’ve seen in a pretty long time. For anyone who isn’t aware, there were two changes: Preordain is now unbanned in Modern (this is where our focus will live today) and Mind’s Desire has been unbanned in Legacy.

As for Mind’s Desire: maybe 6 people will get to make any real effective use of this, so idk keep an eye out for whatever Bryant Cook or Tony Scapone end up doing with it in the next week or two on Magic Online if you’re interested in Mind’s Desire gaming. The card’s super messed up, but probably only so in decks that already exist.

On to Preordain. This unbanning has seen quite the reaction on social media outlets, and I’ve seen it described as “the most unexciting unban possible”. I don’t know that I agree with that. In fact, I vehemently disagree. One of the things I’ve always said is that, in a perfect world, you win every game you play in the same way. Cards like Preordain (slash Ponder slash Brainstorm) help to smooth out your draws so that you can find the cards you need, and make it more possible for your deck to function in the same way every game. To show the power of consistency, here are some decks that have proven to be so powerful with access to Preordain that they’ve had pieces banned from them, even if Preordain itself isn’t the obvious culprit in any of them:

  • Azorius Caw-Blade in Standard, a mid-range deck that could pivot between being a proactive card advantage deck and a reactive counterspell deck.
  • Izzet Storm in Modern, a hyper-fast combo deck that consistently won as early as Turn 2.
  • Azorius Miracles in Legacy, a control deck that played 4 copies of Terminus in the main deck.
  • Izzet Splinter Twin in Modern, a control deck that had an easy combo kill.

None of these decks try to perform the same function, but if we look at the common factor in all of them… it’s Preordain. Each deck had much more obviously-powerful tools banned from it, but Preordain is the unsung hero of each deck. In the case of Caw-Blade and Miracles, these decks wanted to just hit their land drops and find either answers to what the opponent is doing, or find their own win conditions to end a game that’s under control. In the case of Storm combo, pilots used Preordain (and Ponder) to hit hand drops or find the key pieces to their combo. Splinter Twin… got to do all of the above. That’s a whole other story.

The fact that these decks were powerful wasn’t what got them to the banned list. If power was the only thing that mattered, decks like Oops All Spells! and Twiddle Storm wouldn’t be allowed to exist in Modern. The consistency of these decks is what catapulted each of them to infamy.

Is this the part where you find a way to mention Spirits?

Of course it is! There’s no shot of me wanting to play Preordain in a Spirits deck of course, but to highlight the power of consistency: look at what happened as soon as Spirits decks got access to solid mana in Pioneer. I even wrote an entire article describing just how good improved mana would be for us half a year ago https://themanabase.com/pioneer-spirits-addressing-the-mana-base/

Azorius Spirits was *at best* a fringe deck in Pioneer. Here’s a deck list that I got a 5-0 trophy on Magic Online with back in 2020, and just look at the kind of mana I was happy to play with.

By today’s standards, this is terrible. Each of Glacial Fortress, Irrigated Farmland, basic Plains, Mutavault, and… Port Town (vomit) can’t cast either of your 1-drop Spirits on Turn 1. 60% of the lands can’t cast a Creature on Turn 1! In your aggro deck! Because of this, Spirits was relegated to either Tier 2 or even Tier 3 status for a large part of Pioneer’s life.

Fast forward to today. Here’s a deck list that I just won a Regional Championship Qualifier with last week:

Spirits is now a consistent deck that, thanks to the much-improved mana, can cast the same 1-drops on Turn 1 with 19 of the 22 lands. That’s 86% of your lands, a full 46% improvement over what we had access to back in 2020 even though the one-drop Creatures we play haven’t changed at all. There is also something to be said for a shifting metagame and new card printings, but the mana is truly the hero of the Pioneer Spirits story: we’re now the #2 most-played deck in all of Pioneer, and hold a fairly ridiculous 55% win rate across the format. You can’t do that without a wild amount of consistency.

Enough bragging about Spirits, let’s get back to Preordain. We know that Preordain gives players a wildly-improved amount of consistency compared to what cards like Consider and Serum Visions were previously able to, but what decks actually want Preordain? Here are my first few candidates:

– Izzet Murktide, a tempo deck that has been trending downward
– Dimir Control, a new control deck that uses The One Ring to both stall and outpace opponents
– Grixis Death’s Shadow, a tempo deck that is always the best deck in Modern or unplayable
– Azorius Control, a deck that’s been mostly replaced by Four-Color Omnath decks
– …and at least half of the combo decks in Modern

Each of the four fair decks listed appreciate the ability to make their land drops and find their answers like Counterspell, Force of Negation, or even important sideboard cards, and the fact that Preordain will allow that to happen a lot more often means I expect all of these decks to make a resurgence in the Modern metagame.

As for the combo decks, I think what will end up happening is that the pilots will try Preordain to smooth out their draws and eventually find that Preordain will help the fair decks more than themselves, and they’ll eventually go back to what they were doing before the unbanning. But they’ll try it, and I’ll keep my eyes on various content channels to see if I end up being right.

But that’s my piece for today; don’t sleep on Preordain. It’s gonna make some waves. For the nay-sayers, I look forward to saying “I told you so” in a couple of months. For everyone else: I’ll see y’all on the next one!

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