I’ve heard a lot of buzz over the last few days about a card or two getting
the axe from Standard. Namely, cards from the Temur/Four-Color Energy
decks, since they’ve been ruling the roost for a long time. I talked a bit
when I went over eight new cards from Rivals of Ixalan, but the
driving point was that very few, if any, would be good enough to break into
Standard unless something was eliminated from these dominant Energy
Ever since the release of Kaladesh, Energy has run rampant through
Standard. The first iterations of Aetherworks Marvel flooded the Pro Tour,
but it quickly became apparent that those combo-heavy iterations couldn’t
beat a control deck. Over time, the deck evolved to have a much stronger
gameplan against control, and eventually was built in a number of ways
where it didn’t have to rely on the combo of six energy + Aetherworks
Marvel to win the game. Hedge cards like Whirler Virtuoso were very tough
to deal with on top of landing your big threat(s), and it wasn’t
unreasonable to just get to the point where you were hard-casting your
After Emrakul, the Promised End (and a few other cards) were banned, the
Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo ran rampant through the format. And
after Felidar Guardian was banned, Aetherworks Marvel alongside Ulamog, the
Ceaseless Hunger became a problem yet again. And now, with Temur Energy
being so dominant…
The underlying cause of all these problems has been the energy mechanic.
Energy-based threats, like Whirler Virtuoso and Rogue Refiner, continue to
be problematic for most decks just because of their sheer efficiency. For
three mana, you get a body that either draws a card, produces more of a
resource you can’t interact with, or leaves behind one or more bodies that
you also have to deal with. It’s annoying. It’s too good. And I
think it’s time for a change. With the Prerelease of Rivals of Ixalan this weekend, I think that Wizards of the Coast
has a few options on what they can do to help the Standard format.
Here are the most likely scenarios to come from the Ban & Restricted
List announcement on Monday.
I think this is a likely option, since the Pro Tour for Rivals of Ixalan is using the Modern format. Without a lot of eyes
on Standard and the SCG Tour moving away from Standard in favor of team and
Modern events, I think there is a good chance that nothing gets banned.
Wizards traditionally doesn’t like banning cards, though they have gotten a
little more hands-on as of late thanks to such sheer, raw power and un-fun
If the format continues as-is, I think I’ll have to be very surprised by
the overall power level of Rivals of Ixalan for it to matter. The
lords for each tribe look solid, but I don’t know if they’ll be enough to
make their respective tribes good enough to compete with a single Whirler
Virtuoso. And therein lies the problem: Energy has access to so many
diverse cards that attack and protect from different angles that you can’t
really cover, all based with a linear aggressive strategy.
And while I don’t like cards getting banned in general, I think taking one
or more cards away from the archetype could open up the format a little
Ban Attune with Aether and Aether Hub.
This is the scenario that most people are expecting, and for good reason.
At its core, Temur and Four-Color Energy are just good stuff decks, and
those decks rely on having access to a great mana base. If you strip them
of their ability to build their mana base and generate a lot of colors, we
should see some variations on the archetype open up at least. While I don’t
think either of these cards is inherently too powerful, they lead to a very
odd sort of deckbuilding. And since both create energy, the only deck(s)
incentivized to use them are energy-based decks, which ultimately makes
Time and time again I’ve tried to build different three- and four-color
decks, and Energy variants give you the easiest payoffs. You get access to
a bunch of “free splashes,” as the color requirements aren’t that tough to
meet (other than double green for Bristling Hydra). On top of that, having
ways to spend your energy makes cards like Attune with Aether more
worthwhile. Even Aether Hub gives you a much-needed one energy on occasion,
completely changing the texture of the game.
And so, if you take away their ability to produce a bunch of different
colors, I think energy will continue to exist, but it would look much more
like G/R or G/U Electrostatic Pummeler or maybe B/G Constrictor. And that
might just be enough to open up the format a bit for Rivals of Ixalan and future sets.
I don’t think you can just ban one or the other, though I think Attune with
Aether is the obvious best card out of these two. The two energy gained as
well as ensuring you hit your land drop while fixing your colors is a very
powerful spell for just a single mana. And while Attune with Aether is very
similar to stuff like Lay of the Land in theory, the payoff of energy makes
it significantly better in execution. And as we dumb down the non-creature
spells over time, eliminating the likes of Rampant Growth and such,
less-powerful spells that enable more powerful creatures will ultimately
sculpt the format.
I would love to see a Standard format that went back to the theory behind
fetchland + Battle lands. While it was probably too powerful in a format
featuring insanely undercosted multi-color spells, the fact that everyone
had access to whatever color they want made deckbuilding a lot more
interesting. Yeah, you could splash virtually anything, and playing four
colors was easy, but at least more than one deck could do it profitably.
Ban Whirler Virtuoso
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Whirler Virtuoso ban, honestly. That card
singlehandedly changes the texture of games against basically every
matchup. It gives the deck an incredible amount of flexibility, protection
in the early game, and a huge energy dump later in the game. I know that
Ramunap Red has a few options to help prevent the card from becoming overly
oppressive against it, but Whirler Virtuoso throttles other aggressive
strategies, and it seems important to open those up with the heavy tribal
themes of Ixalan block.
While Whirler Virtuoso isn’t the only problematic element for aggressive
decks in Standard, it is the card that buys the energy decks enough time to
find their closers. The fact that it can invalidate entire hordes of
creatures for just three mana is ludicrous, and is my pick for the card
most-likely to be banned on Monday. Regardless of what gets the hammer, I
think Whirler Virtuoso should be on the list, if only because of the
disheartening feeling it gives to any aggressive strategy it matches up
You could argue that banning Whirler Virtuoso wouldn’t be enough and simply
replacing it with Deathgorge Scavenger is a viable option. And while that
could certainly be the case, I don’t know how good Deathgorge Scavenger is
against the control decks. If they’ve tested this scenario [lol-Ed.], I could see them potentially cutting out both Whirler
Virtuoso and even Rogue Refiner, since those are the two cards that give
them the necessary bridge from mid-game to late-game. Without both of these
cards, I think this iteration of the deck would completely die off.
But I’m not so sure that Wizards of the Coast wants to kill off Energy
decks completely. After all, it is their hallmark ability from Kaladesh, and people have invested time and money into building
their versions of Temur/Four-Color Energy. My guess is that they will
attack Energy decks with a light touch and choose to either cut off their
mana or one of their powerful three-drops. Cutting off both seems drastic.
Unban Smuggler’s Copter
The rotation of Shadows Over Innistrad block took away a
lot of the key components to making this card disgusting (Fiery Temper,
Haunted Dead, etc.), but I still think it might be a little too good to
make its way back into Standard without a few people getting upset about
it. I had a big problem with them banning Smuggler’s Copter initially
because they printed something so similar in the next set: Heart of Kiran.
Except with Heart of Kiran, you needed some very strict requirements to
turn it on. Mardu colors, for example, gave you significantly better
options to turn on Heart of Kiran than any other color combination.
While this is my pick for least-likely scenario of the bunch, I think
unbanning Smuggler’s Copter might give the aggressive decks a big enough
shot in the arm to make them competitive with the Energy variants. The only
problem is that every aggressive deck will want access to it. I’m
generally of the impression that a higher power level is better in
Standard, so long as everyone has access to roughly the same overall power
level. And if you can unlock a card to fix the format rather than lock down
a card or two, that leaves a lot of consumers feeling better about their
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The last year and change has been really
rough for Standard. There is a very good reason why people are leaning
toward Modern in such a significantly slanted way. There is a reason why
the SCG Tour is placing more emphasis on other formats. There is a reason
why so many cards have been banned.
We’re not having fun.
Just because something is “on flavor” or “splashy” doesn’t mean it’s fun to
play with. Emrakul, the Promised End was one of the coolest cards I’ve seen
in recent memory, but it just becomes a hassle. The first few times it
happens, it’s a sweet effect. But when it happens nearly every single game
and it is your only real win condition, it becomes a drag. The same goes
for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Aetherworks Marvel, etc.
Let me be clear: I don’t want Wizards of the Coast to have to ban cards. I
think banning any card in any format is a huge downer, because that results
in a lot of loyal fans and customers losing a big investment. And while
some of the cards that tag along in the broken deck can be used in other
ways, the feeling of losing a deck that’s close to you is disheartening.
Over the past decade, I’ve lost a lot of close friends that I thoroughly
enjoyed playing with, and I don’t think I’ll ever get them back. It’s such
a terrible feeling to have your cards essentially become worthless, and
especially so when you’ve spent your hard-earned money and time acquiring
said cards to play with.
The root of the problem, which should be fixed in the near future, is in
both design and development. Every year, Wizards of the Coast spits out
thousands of new cards for us to play with. And along with those cards,
they have to build a world, tell a story, and make sure that all of the
cards they’re printing are safe while also being exciting. I don’t envy
their job, because I know it can seem like an insurmountable task at times,
but they’re trying. They’re listening. They’re learning. And, above all
else, they’re hiring a lot of great people (including some of my close
friends) to help them out.
Adding an entire new branch to their Development department is a smart move
on their part, but we won’t be seeing the effects of their work for a
little while now. Michael Majors, Tom Ross, and a slew of other great minds
are in there right now trying to make the future of Standard (and Magic as
a whole) a significantly better experience than it has been in the last
year and change.
And I’m hopeful for the future.