No Banned List…Standard?

Seven cards are on the Standard banned list, and Ari Lax finds the situation just a touch absurd. Today he explores what unbanning each card could do!

It looks like Standard might have an issue. And, honestly, I don’t care.

Magic 2019 previews basically start next week.

Goblin Chainwhirler is a three-mana 3/3. Scrapheap Scrounger is a two-mana 3/2.

Are they really as offensive as these cards?

Actually, are these cards even that bad?

I spent some time looking at how each of the banned cards would reintegrate into Standard if given one last hurrah before the Kaladesh-Amonkhet rotation and came to the following ranking, from the most broken card to the most absurd that you aren’t allowed to play it.

1. Smuggler’s Copter

If you ever thought unbanning Smuggler’s Copter was a reasonable idea, congrats, you screwed up.

Now? The best deck in the format is an aggressive deck that already plays the best answer to Smuggler’s Copter, already plays a Vehicle, and has its biggest issues with draw and curve consistency. Oh, and it has multiple graveyard and artifact synergies.

Okay, sure. Let’s pretend we want to dive further into “Unbeatable R/B World.” What would actually happen?

Any card that improves with controlling an artifact gets a boost. Inventor’s Apprentice is notably a two-toughness one-drop that just needs a little boost compared to current artifact levels to turn the corner. Planeswalkers are a little sketchy in a metagame flooded with flying Vehicles, but Karn, Scion of Urza’s -2 making a potential 3/3 or larger body is nice. Karn would also link nicely to loading up with some Heart of Kirans on top of Smuggler’s Copter in a format where Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a big joke.

Is now the right time to note that prowess triggers on Smuggler’s Copter being cast, and that Soul-Scar Mage is still a very stupid Magic card with Goblin Chainwhirler?

Great Vehicles make haste creatures worse. Just tap your new creature to crew something. Earthshaker Khenra looks like it might have nice graveyard synergy, but why would you want to keep your fifth and sixth lands to eternalize it?

Hazoret the Fervent is probably still insane. Just loot away the things that don’t curve out and slam another dumb threat.

Fatal Push probably starts eclipsing Seal Away in this metagame. Not only are there more one-cost creatures, but do you really want to play the stupid Vehicle-removal dance with a two-cost spell that lets them loot?

Similar to Earthshaker Khenra, other five-drops lose out. Glorybringer? See ya. Smuggler’s Copter is fireproof. Rekindling Phoenix still seems great, though.

Other costlier spells that don’t promote a buttery-smooth mana curve get trimmed. What are you really Unlicensed Disintegration-ing anyway? Are people honestly showing up with Lyra Dawnbringer or Veteran Motorist to make you not just want Lightning Strike instead?

If you unban Smuggler’s Copter, you end up with a deck that hybridizes all the best parts of R/B Vehicles (aka Scrapheap Scrounger) and Mono-Red Aggro (more two-drops that are dumb). It’s not like the other color combinations magically get to re-add Thraben Inspector or other playable one- and two-drops to get to Smuggler’s Copter. They must play stupid Toolcraft Exemplar and Knight of Malice and have the pleasure of dying horribly to the same cards that killed them.

There isn’t even a reason to play enemy-colored fastland mana because all that gives you is more one-toughness creatures, aka “Pay this card’s mana cost, then sacrifice it.” This also makes me wonder how messed up things would have been if Spire of Industry and Thraben Inspector and Smuggler’s Copter ever overlapped in Standard. Four colors was already reasonable with just fastlands and Aether Hub; it would have been the aggro version of Vivid Creek and Reflecting Pool.

2. Felidar Guardian

Felidar Guardian was actually held reasonably in check by Mardu Vehicles at the time. I also think that without Oath of Nissa, Attune with Aether, and Rogue Refiner, the deck would have to shift back to a Jeskai configuration, which constricts the really egregious midrange-combo play a bit.

I’m not the happiest with this deck, but the interaction between Felidar Guardian and History of Benalia is super-stupid. Imagine Splinter Twin, but if Deceiver Exarch was also Grave Titan. In fact, that interaction is so stupid that I wouldn’t be shocked if a black version that also featured The Eldest Reborn or maybe Phyrexian Scriptures with some cosmic brain mana base wasn’t just insane.

Sailor of Means is probably a big part of this manabase. Recently I’ve become really interested in pairing that card with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria splashed next to The Scarab God in real-life Standard, and for an unassuming common, Sailor of Means does a lot of work. Anything that lets your three-color deck cheat on stupid tapped lands is a big deal, and a four-toughness blocker is one of the few things that really interacts profitably with Scrapheap Scrounger. The one thing it does in the Esper lists, as opposed to the required Jeskai for Saheeli combo, is cast a Fatal Push, which scales a little higher than Magma Spray.

Again, here we are talking about some nonsense U/B/R/W mana that I really don’t know how to connect the dots on. Maybe Whirler Virtuoso and Aether Hub is the key, but I really don’t like any of the other energy cards.

While this is a cool puzzle and the decks don’t look that offensive, the end result isn’t really fun. Remember that Saheeli Rai just became that much more annoying to remove with the Dominaria planeswalker damage update. No more full sweeps with Unlicensed Disintegration. There will be a lot more scenarios where you just stare at a three-mana planeswalker and die if they have it.

How’s that feel? Not great.

3. Aetherworks Marvel

I’m going to break the one-card rule here just to showcase that the Marvel nut draws are still as miserable as they used to be. Okay, really I’m doing it so I don’t need to figure out another four-color manabase to play Whirler Virtuoso and Glimmer of Genius, but the point stands. Attune with Aether, get in here.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger was definitely a bit over the top to Marvel into, but it’s not like there aren’t other stupid eight cost cards to hit. Honestly, the only reason this isn’t a more offensive unban than Felidar Guardian is that I think that not having Attune with Aether makes Marvel merely very annoying and not the miserable experience it was last year.

Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is just going to brick-wall any R/B deck. Zacama, Primal Calamity triggers if cast with Aetherworks Marvel, so you can use it to boost into other large plays. And Gishath, Sun’s Avatar…yeah, that’s a thing.

Honestly, playing this makes me wonder if there isn’t a way to just play it now in normal Standard. Grow from the Ashes; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Hour of Promise make enough good ramp redundancy that it feels like some kind of G/W Big Mana deck should be able to thrive. Maybe the issue is just that none of these cards comes close to beating Teferi, Hero of Dominaria? I don’t know, but I want to try.

For those keeping track at home, this means power level of the banned cards so far is in the order they were banned. First banned, most absurd. That’s a good sign things were done right.

4. Attune with Aether

Of all these cards, Attune with Aether might come the closest to “solving” an issue. It probably still causes an issue, but it does something not guaranteed to be miserable.

A while ago, I wrote about how Standard was defined by the two- and three-drops existing just to support the four- and five-drops. That is still true, but it has progressed a bit.

The three-drops honestly aren’t that much better than the two-drops, barring Goblin Chainwhirler and Steel Leaf Champion. A bigger issue: the three-drops don’t come close to the four-drops, not even those two. Just introduce either of them to Chandra, Torch of Defiance and let me know what happens. Solid two-drops are that much more important because you get an extra turn before they must compete with four-drops.

Ideally, your two-drop wouldn’t just be something that sucks when you draw it on Turn 6. A random 2/2 body like Servant of the Conduit isn’t great. A Knight of Malice is cute, but it’s still just a stupid 2/2.

So… about that…

The reason Scrapheap Scrounger is such a huge deal is that it is basically the only two-drop that has value on Turn 6 but isn’t shredded by Goblin Chainwhirler. That or Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Winding Constrictor also applies for the position, but none of the Winding Constrictor decks ever created has been profitable to play against Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. Turns out cardboard Snakes light on fire really easily.

Some cards come close, but they all lose the heads-up fight to Scrapheap Scrounger. Gifted Aetherborn is a 2/3 lifelink for two that trades up with green creatures, and that just isn’t enough.

Longtusk Cub used to be exactly this card, but without Attune with Aether, it just isn’t. It doesn’t get ahead of Shock, and it must attack too many times to get ahead of a 3/2. Giving it back Attune with Aether would give green something to compete with Scrapheap Scrounger in a Goblin Chainwhirler world, and likely would force some interesting changes in the red decks.

Again, there’s also the issue of red just having all the best five-drops. Even when The Scarab God outclassed these cards, the red decks could pack removal for that card and win the heads-up by just having ten slam-jam threats to their three. Again, another vote for trying the Esper Midrange decks adding Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for more threats.

Right now, there’s no reason to do anything with these great threats besides play Goblin Chainwhirler. Attune with Aether gives you a reason to try other color combinations. It might even give Bristling Hydra a new lease on life and force some interesting decisions between Hazoret the Fervent and these other game-winners.

This doesn’t lead to new decks, though.

We already know this story. Longtusk Cub, Attune with Aether, Winding Constrictor. Done. Longtusk Cub, Servant of the Conduit; Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Woo. If you think red aggro is the deck that is the nightmare of current Standard, you’re just bringing back the nightmare of late 2017 and seeing if it stacks up.

Unbanning Attune with Aether might lead to more metagame options, but they aren’t good ones. Teferi Control versus Goblin Chainwhirler honestly sounds like a more attackable metagame than Teferi Control, Attune-Cub, and Chainwhirler. Juggling two extremely polar strategies is doable; adding another different but middling one is near-impossible. That’s just a hard lock.

5. Ramunap Ruins

Unbanning Ramunap Ruins just isn’t interesting. It’s not a good idea and we all know it, but it isn’t quite as offensive as any of the previous options. It doesn’t even kill a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. All it would do is make it a bit more annoying to play Dragonskull Summit in some lists.

Also, let’s be honest with ourselves. We all spent six months tricking ourselves into playing four near-blank pieces of cardboard in our red decks. If somehow Ramunap Ruins is unbanned, can we just all agree to admit we were wrong and only play Scavenger Ground as a colorless land? Do you really need to ping that planeswalker that hard?

6. Rogue Refiner

Rogue Refiner is a much less offensive card than Attune with Aether. Honestly, if Attune with Aether didn’t exist, there’s a good chance Rogue Refiner would be unbanned today. Having Attune meant there wasn’t a real reason or cost to making your Energy deck just have blue mana.

I wasn’t sure at first if Rogue Refiner would fix anything, as it looks a lot like the other totally irrelevant green three-drop, Jadelight Ranger, but thinking more about it, I can see Rogue Refiner doing a lot of good work to push back on the red decks.

Two Rogue Refiners double-block Goblin Chainwhirler. Losing them to removal isn’t even that horrendous, and you can re-trick with your own Harnessed Lightning.

Rogue Refiner comes along with Confiscation Coup, which is a great one against Hazoret the Fervent and Rekindling Phoenix.

Goblin Chainwhirler reins in Whirler Virtuoso nonsense a little bit.

Removing Attune with Aether means you must make real decisions. Based on my experience with Sultai Energy in current Standard, double color cost overload is a real issue. With Attune and Rogue Refiner, you could probably just play Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Whirler Virtuoso, and Harnessed Lightning. With just Servant of the Conduit and Aether Hub, that sounds a bit more difficult. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer are probably just totally off the menu.

Credit for this framework is definitely due to Chris Fennell and Craig Wescoe, who both played G/W Midrange decks at Pro Tour Dominaria.

In some quick test draws, this deck felt like it was at a very reasonable power level for the format. As suspected, double blue for Confiscation Coup was sketchy. The Temur or Sultai mana might be a bit less sketchy due to extra fastlands, but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria seems like a way more on-point threat than The Scarab God right now.

I really want to restate the mana situation. Part of the issue with Temur Energy was that the mana let you do anything you wanted as long as you started with green, and that was just the best thing possible. There wasn’t a reason to play a different Energy deck because those were just the best cards. Removing Attune with Aether from the equation makes different variations into decisions, and decisions like those are exploitable.

Some of the best cards will be out of reach for you, but not other midrange decks. Longtusk Cub can’t just dunk on everything every game.

More testing might change my mind, but I support unbanning Rogue Refiner at this point.

7. Rampaging Ferocidon

Rampaging Ferocidon was almost at the top of this article as the least un-bannable card in Standard.

See, if you unban it, you must re-explain why it was banned to begin with, and then say, “But that changed” with a straight face.

Please point me to the Wizards of the Coast employee who wants to put their name on that article.