Magic: The Gathering is dealing with one of its most oppressive formats in recent memory in Modern, with many players calling for the banning of new card Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in order to alleviate the pressure it exerts on every other deck trying to beat it. To some extent, this is a fix that would work - Hogaak is clearly pretty busted, the restrictions on the card that are supposed to keep it in check are easy to bypass, and it's an unfun play experience for people sitting across from a player casting it. However, these calls to ban Hogaak are missing the bigger picture. There's a card that has been keeping Modern oppressed for far longer than the new horrific monstrosity on the block, and it's time for it to depart for good.
That card is Faithless Looting, an innocuous almost-cantrip (a spell that replaces itself with other cards by drawing from the deck) that wasn't even played in heavy rotation in Modern for a long time. The reason why is that it is inherently card disadvantage - you use the card (-1), draw 2 cards (+2) and then discard 2 from your hand (-2). The end of that exchange is two new looks at cards but one less in a player's hand, which can quickly add up in a game of resource management.
The Case for Banning Faithless Looting
The issue with Faithless Looting, though, is that decks have emerged that have turned its negatives into positives. Discarding cards into the graveyard only to use them again while they're there negates the disadvantage of Faithless Looting. We've seen it first in Dredge, a popular graveyard deck that used it to set up its namesake mechanic and explode out of the graveyard to effectively win games as early as turn 3 or 4. It was unfair then, but it's next adaptation felt a little more healthy - Grixis Death's Shadow used it in smaller numbers than the full four allowed to a deck to help filter through cards and set up big threats in Gurmag Angler, although that was a very fair threat all the same. More recently, Izzet Phoenix has emerged as the home of Faithless Looting, where it can be abused to its fullest potential with a bunch of cards that care about the graveyard, casting spells, and discarding them on the cheap. It was already looking too strong then, but the rise of Hogaak - a deck that plays the full four to their most broken potential and can win on turn 2 - has shifted the spotlight away from the problematic red spell in favor of the flashy new releases from Modern Horizons.
Hogaak is oppressive and should probably be banned - or, at least, Altar of Dementia should be, since it's what enables all the early-turn kills. That would be a temporary band-aid on a format that has had an unspoken rule for over a year now, though: play Faithless Looting or be even more unfair than the decks that do. It's a restriction that has narrowed Modern unproductively and forced out some of the many promising cards from Modern Horizons, reducing the complexity of Magic: The Gathering's gameplay in the process.
What Happens to Magic: The Gathering's Modern Format After A Faithless Looting Ban?
Naturally, there are concerns with what could happen once Faithless Looting is banned. Magic: The Gathering professional player and self-touted meme specialist Edgar Magalhaes tweeted out an image that was supposed to be funny but is also a foreboding look at what could happen if and when Faithless Looting departs the format:
This is likely going to be the next card that needs to be looked at after Faithless Looting. Ancient Stirrings is an equally problematic card in a format that is so firmly against having premium card selection, and will likely move to take the place of Looting as the card people either need to play or angle to beat. While it's possible Stirrings should be pre-emptively banned as well, it makes more sense to wait and see what happens post-Looting, especially with so many cards from Modern Horizons looking to make an impact. Sure, it's possible we end up in a world where Karn, the Great Creator and friends run the format over for another month or two before needing to be addressed themselves. That's still worth a shot, especially since artifacts are a lot more beatable than the graveyard in Modern. Wizards of the Coast could even take initiative and ban Mox Opal, a card that should probably have left long ago, but that seems too premature, and Modern would benefit from less speculation on what's too powerful and more proof.
The Numbers Don't Lie: Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is Too Good
Speaking of proof, this isn't just one salty Magic: The Gathering player who lost to a turn 2 mill-your-whole-library from Hogaak one too many times. The numbers at both the StarCity Games Team Modern Open and Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth suggest that Hogaak is simply too good for Modern at the moment. Previously, decks with 10% shares of the metagame were considered too good - think back to Splinter Twin, Birthing Pod, and other Modern stalwarts that weren't as obviously oppressive but were, in retrospect, too much of a cut above the rest.
For Hogaak, the deck took up obscene numbers at this past weekend's tournaments. Hogaak's Day 2 share in Dallas, for instance, was 18.6%, obscene numbers for a format as reportedly diverse as Modern. Izzet Phoenix followed behind at 7.3%, also gawdy numbers for a deck that's not even the best one in the format anymore. At the StarCity Games event, things weren't much better - the Day 2 numbers for Hogaak and Phoenix made up more than half the tournament's entire remaining field.
The unifying factor in these decks? They both play Faithless Looting. As the format begins to degenerate more into the decks that are the best at abusing it, it's become painfully obvious the card needs to go and not come back. Magic: The Gathering's Modern format needs a ban, and with a potential announcement just a week away, competitive players everywhere will be holding their breaths that it's the right one - Faithless Looting, not Hogaak, should be removed from the format so that it can finally exhale.