What a wildly depressing ride Mythic Championship VI was. While Day 1 delivered up my third 8-0 start at a Pro Tour-style event, the second day coughed up my worst Day 2 finish in my career, a measly 2-6! I seriously don’t think I’ve ever been more heartbroken at a Magic tournament, nor have I ever been that frustrated at a Standard format. All ten of my opponents were playing Oko, Thief of Crowns (one Bant Food, one Simic Food, one Simic Trail, seven Sultai Food), and it honestly felt like only two or three of the games could have been won with better play from either side of the battlefield.
Now I know there are a lot of good games in the Food mirrors, but my sample size was just not that. I played a few great games, of course, but most were just whoever won the die roll, had Turn 2 Oko or Turn 3 Nissa while the opponent was on a mulligan without removal. Rarely did it feel like I was competing in a battle of wits.
Others have expressed otherwise, stating this format is actually very skill-intensive. Who knows, maybe there’s more to it than I understand, and there’s a real possibility I’m no longer the “Standard Master” I once was. I do agree that there are ways to gain advantages and that the list I submitted wasn’t as good as a few others out there. I just don’t believe that the things people did to their lists really mattered. Of course they got edges, which are important in a tournament setting, but that’s all it was – just small edges.
And yes, the Sultai Sacrifice deck was amazing and I was very jealous of it. I’m starting to sound like I’m just complaining when that’s not today’s purpose. I just wanted to set the stage on how this format made me feel and that my level of frustration was mirrored in many of my peers as well.
The actual topic for today is bans: when should they happen, what cards should be considered, and what makes a format healthy and fun. It’s been a hot topic for some time now and today I want to give you my opinion on the matter.
We’re going to kick things off with Standard. We just recently had a Field of the Dead ban. Prior to that, I feared that, without something also being banned in Simic, the format would succumb to the deck. “Checkmate,” I called, as there really isn’t a conventional way to attack Simic Food variants as they have all their bases covered. The Food package of Gilded Goose; Oko, Thief of Crowns; and Wicked Wolf make it difficult to go under the deck, while the end-game of Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis makes it difficult to go over it. Throw in Veil of Summer for good measure and you can no longer just kill all their things.
That’s exactly what happened and only one of the unconventional decks (Sultai Sacrifice) put up a winning record against the deck, yet technically this is still a variant of the strategy. The results from Mythic Championship VI were just enough to almost guarantee that something’s getting banned next week. The question, though, is what gets the axe?
Oko is by far the most likely card to get banned, as this three-mana planeswalker has taken over Magic and I’m no longer just talking about Standard. It’s seeing play in absolutely every format and is quickly becoming the game’s best planeswalker of all time. Sure, we could get into the card’s dials and levers to try to find the way this card could have been fairer, but that’s pointless now. All Wizards of the Coast can do now is choose to ban Oko, or not, and all we can do is speculate which way they will lean.
I’m speculating that Oko will get banned, but for all the wrong reasons. Theoretically, it’s a bad ban, just like I believe the solo-ban of Field of the Dead was a mistake. Now, hear me out, because I have reasons, so let’s break this down.
First off, this is the most likely ban in Standard because of how well it’s doing in other formats. Much like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Oko has taken over Magic, which puts a large target on its head. Magic’s Standard player-base most likely is sick of the card and wants it gone, and the risk of Oko’s value decreasing goes down if it’s played in all the other formats. The safest choice is to ban at least Oko, as there’s too much risk in not doing so and the card continuing to terrorize Standard. I just don’t think that will be the case if a few other cards get the axe instead.
Of course Oko is bonkers on Turn 2, in a battlefield stall between two creature decks, and against expensive artifacts, but besides that this card just gets to activate an ability once a turn like every other planeswalker. It’s not getting you out of bad spots like Jace, nor is it catching you back up on the battlefield like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion used to do.
Oko is great in Standard right now because of the shell it has protecting it. I mean, seriously, the cards you get to play alongside Oko are just stupid. That’s why this card looks like the easy ban because there are so many broken-level cards you get to play alongside it. Cards that I honestly can’t believe got printed.
There’s been a debate over the years surrounding the cards Lightning Bolt and Birds of Paradise. To Bolt the Bird or not Bolt the Bird, that is the question! While this topic has been rich with interesting talking points over the years, “Shock the Thraben Inspector” has not. Gilded Goose is not a great removal target, as it leaves a resource on the battlefield, and all for the low, low price of one green mana.
Now, Gilded Goose isn’t great if the Food it leaves behind when it dies did not interact with anything else, but that’s not the case. Oko can make it into a 3/3 Elk and Wicked Wolf can use it as protection to kill an even bigger creature when it enters the battlefield. Given how good these two other permanents are, Gilded Goose is not a great target for removal that doesn’t also create card advantage.
I honestly believe Gilded Goose is a much bigger issue than Oko due to this fact. It’s just silly to produce two relevant permanents on Turn 1. It’s so good that Team Lotus Box added it to their Sultai Whirza decks in Modern and it was great there too! Oh, and it’s also a mana sink in the later turns. Even without the other Food cards, this stream of life can keep a player in a game for a very long time, making it a real target for removal even in the later turns of the game. Birds of Paradise can’t say that, can it?
Now what about that other Food lover?
Seriously? I really don’t want to go off the rails on this article, but have you read this card? Wicked Wolf being able to not only fight creatures but gain indestructible is just silly alongside Oko and Gilded Goose, two ways to produce Food every turn. When the holy trinity of Food combines, it’s almost impossible to attack through it. Thankfully cards like Embercleave exist or all aggressive strategies would have been completely eradicated from the format.
All three of these cards are just absurd together, as they’re all slightly pushed. Obviously one of them must be banned as the combination is just too good, but I want that card to be Gilded Goose and not Oko. I know that sounds crazy, but one-mana acceleration is just too good for Standard. Every time it exists, there’s a deck that dominates with it, and now we have the London Mulligan rule that makes it even better.
Now, this introduces a whole new topic we could discuss, but we don’t have the time. I’ll just say that the London Mulligan rule has been way better than I thought it was going to be and it has made Standard much less enjoyable given how many acceleration spells exist. I hope WotC realizes this and starts removing mana acceleration from Standard, as the combination is slightly too good.
If Gilded Goose gets banned, we could still see decks using Arboreal Grazer to ramp into Turn 2 Oko, but it would be much worse, even though that combination is great. We could see games still be dominated by green planeswalkers backed up by Veil of Summer, but that brings us to the other card I’d like to see banned.
I actually had to change a large portion of my article, as I wrote much of it Sunday when I was sulking in my hotel room after my poor Mythic Championship finish. What got deleted was a rant about why Veil of Summer was too good for Magic in 2019 and why it should get banned in both Standard and Pioneer. I argued that it should leave Pioneer early, as too many cards would get banned from that format due to Veil of Summer’s sins.
Veil of Summer just beats too many strategies, plain and simple. You can’t counter your opponent’s spells or kill their permanents? I mean, come on! That’s just stupid and makes attempting to react to formats impossible. I honestly believe we wouldn’t even need to ban anything from Standard if Veil of Summer was never printed in the first place, as there are so many great removal spells for these green decks.
There are many great examples, like the Top 8 match between Eli Kassis and Oscar Christiansen at Mythic Championship VI. Eli, piloting Golgari Adventure, absolutely wrecked Oscar in the first two non-sideboarded games, but then lost three in a row once Oscar got access to Veil of Summer. I expected that outcome, as I played a ton with Golgari Adventures leading up to the event and I just never found a way to beat Veil of Summer.
I could bring up even more examples, but we all have played enough with the card that we get it and I think most of us are sick of it. This format would open up in big ways if this card gets banned and I really hope it does. If not, there will be another green deck that takes the place of Bant Golos and Simic/Sultai Food – I just know it. The card’s just too good not to play in a format that wants to play cards like Negate, Noxious Grasp, and Mass Manipulation.
Obviously things would change, but you get what I mean. The death of Veil of Summer grants new life to interaction in a format that usually centers around it. Luckily the Veil of Summer ban in Pioneer means it’s way more likely to get banned in Standard next week, which makes me extremely excited.
In short, if I got my way, I’d like to see Gilded Goose and Veil of Summer get banned in Standard, but I expect it to be Oko and Veil of Summer. I’ll still take it and happily get to work for Mythic Championship VII. I just think that Oko would be a much worse card without Gilded Goose and Veil of Summer. Granted, so would Gilded Goose, but now we’re just going in circles.
Moving forward, but still on the topic of banning, I saw many people complaining about Once Upon a Time in Pioneer. While I haven’t played much of the format, I really don’t get why this card is being targeted by the players of the format. If I had to guess, it’s because the two-drop threats aren’t great in the format while there’s plenty of one-mana acceleration that gets you to some very powerful three-drops. Sigh…
I understand that Once Upon a Time allows for more consistency in opening hands, but again, it’s being targeted for the sins of Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic. These cards are just so good and the format’s going to need to figure out how to best combat them. For example, these eight-Elf/eight-Rabblemaster strategies look really good due to there not being many sweepers being played. Like I said, I haven’t played much of Pioneer yet, but I’d be looking to get cards like Abrade and Anger of the Gods in my decks that want to fight these sorts of strategies.
In the end, I honestly believe Veil of Summer is just too good for Magic, and once it’s removed, we’ll finally start to see interaction creep back into the format. Nissas will begin to get countered and killed, and new strategies will pop up using Thoughtseize and planeswalker removal. Interaction is the lifeblood of Magic and we can finally see it happening in a fair and balanced way.