“Now I need to ask you, do you want to pursue a lose/lose negotiation? – Michael Scott” – Shaun McLaren
That’s what it felt like heading towards the latest Banned and Restricted Announcement: a lose/lose situation. If something was banned, it would be a bad situation. If something wasn’t banned, it might end up being worse.
Standard is in trouble.
The biggest developments being that Mardu Vehicles and Four-Color Saheeli have been dominating the metagame and this past weekend absolutely destroyed Grand Prix New Jersey and Grand Prix Barcelona. Between the two Top 8s, fifteen of sixteen decks were either Mardu or Saheeli.
…and still nothing was banned.
Let’s take a look at the explanation why:
For Standard, there has emerged a Big Three—Mardu Vehicles, Black-Green Constrictor, and various Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai decks. While having three top-tier decks isn’t unusual, we were concerned that they could be so strong as to crowd out all other decks. In particular, we looked closely at the effect Felidar Guardian has on a format when it can be used in a game-ending combo. However, at Grand Prix Utrecht we began to see some movement in the format—particularly the rise of Temur
Dynavolt Toweras a potential addition to that upper echelon. With that kind of movement in the format, we thought it best to gather more data—including more Grand Prix and the inclusion of Amonkhet at the Pro Tour—while watching the format continue to shift before making any changes.
Or to simply and concisely sum up the Banned and Restricted Announcement in picture format:
No changes means no improvements.
So why was nothing banned? Was not banning anything a mistake? Where are we headed now? What can we learn from this? Let’s discuss.
“Not every change is an improvement but every improvement is a change…” – Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres
Standard is very much a two-deck format right now, and the metagame appears to be as stale it’s ever been.
This is definitely a “stuck between a rock and a hard place” situation. There are no easy answers, and plenty of problems will arise and people will be upset no matter what happened with the bans.
The two major things Wizards had to juggle could be broadly classified between consumer confidence versus format health, and it appears they tried to keep the faith that weren’t going to be banning cards like crazy this time around instead of trying to fix the format.
Players are uncertain about what Wizards is doing with bans and with Standard right now because cards were recently banned.
Before there was a very clear trend of cards not being banned; now there is much more speculation.
This has been compounded by recent formats not being great in terms of diversity and struggling to capture the attention of players.
These mistakes are starting to snowball.
Right now it seems more interesting to speculate about Standard than actually play it. There’s no clear indication how or when they’re going to try and fix the problems that exist.
So what was the correct decision to be made this Banned and Restricted Announcement?
“I say we kill the beast!” – Gaston
I think the correct move was to at least ban Felidar Guardian, even though it would’ve been painful to do so.
Pull off the band-aid now, and hopefully let the real healing begin.
From a “health of the competitive metagame” standpoint, I think not banning anything now is much stranger in comparison to the bans of Smuggler’s Copter; Emrakul, the Promised End; and Reflector Mage that recently happened.
Looking at the past bans is probably one of the best ways to look at this lack of bans. It’s because the previous bans set such a unique precedent that it’s even stranger now that nothing is banned.
I have to admit, though, that Wizards has had awful luck with timing their announcements. They announced the previous cards being banned approximately three days after Felidar Guardian was revealed. The weird thing is that Aether Revolt may have fixed the Smuggler’s Copter and Emrakul, the Promised End problem.
Introducing Felidar Guardian to the ecosystem would’ve likely been powerful enough to make the announced bans unnecessary by replacing their current problems with a new bigger set of infinite Cat problems.
Then they made this announcement after a weekend of absolutely dominating performances from Mardu and Saheeli decks.
Not only does the format feel less diverse and more punishing than it did before, it also feels like there is less room for decks to break into the format now since the top two decks are so powerful in comparison to everything else.
The sad truth is that Felidar Guardian will likely have to go at some point in the future. There’s a chance that isn’t true, but I think that chance is small enough that the inevitable is merely being pushed to a later date.
Delaying the eventual Cat coup might have been the only choice right now though, just because of how bad it might look.
There are more forces at work than just keeping the metagame healthy. It looks really bad to not only ban three cards for the first time in years, but then roll out another heaping of bans the very next announcement.
Not just the next announcement, but at the newly created, earlier Banned and Restricted Announcement.
What’s the point of the extra Banned and Restricted Announcement time if they’re just going to wait to see how things shake out anyway despite things being bad?
It caused a bunch of speculation and caused the price of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Saheeli Rai to tank right before the announcement, since many expected them to be gone. There also seems to be a fair bit of annoying decision lag interfering, considering they’re discussing events that happened weeks ago, which suggests that they really don’t have the time to make meaningful changes by the time a metagame settles after a Pro Tour.
This was a unique situation, though, since bans just occurred so recently and the format is in rough shape, but overall, having more opportunities to ban or unban cards does seem better and it allows them to just check in and provide updates on to how they’re feeling about format health. Maybe it would be useful to add a watch list of cards they’re considering changing in the upcoming announcement.
I think they cried wolf by banning Reflector Mage and friends, and now that the real threat, in this case a Cat Beast, is knocking down the door, they don’t have the credibility to start banning more things.
Banning Reflector Mage, Smuggler’s Copter, and Emrakul, the Promised End didn’t really even appear to have temporary good effects. We just immediately transitioned into the current metagame, and now we appear to be even more in trouble.
Banning something last time almost guaranteed they couldn’t ban anything this time, just because of how terrible it looks to ban things multiple announcements in a row. You can’t just ban something again so soon and now we need bans at least as much as we did before, if not more so.
Right now, Wizards appears to be focused on damage control and not making anything worse. Just play possum and hope the Cat goes away.
Stuck Between a Cat and a Heart Place
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar also seems like a reasonable ban to me if you aren’t keeping him safe because he’s an expensive planeswalker mythic. Odds are that Felidar Guardian and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar aren’t going to stop dominating the metagame until they rotate or they get banned.
Two-deck formats are tricky.
Beating just Mardu Vehicles seems doable, but beating Mardu and Four-Color Saheeli is a much more daunting and difficult task, one that doesn’t really even seem worth attempting since both decks are so strong compared to the rest of the format.
You spread yourself too thin if you have to try to split your focus between two ultra-powered decks, but beating just one top deck seems reasonable.
Meanwhile, Rock-Paper-Scissors formats, the kind that tend to happen when there’s actually efficient and appropriate removal and answers, tend to open up a few more holes for rogue decks to sneak in and fill.
“Hopefully Amonkhet Fixes Things”
The release of the next set, Amonkhet, somehow fixing everything in the metagame is the imagined Win/Win scenario.
I think Standard is in a bad place and unlikely to get better naturally with Amonkhet.
Smuggler’s Copter and Emrakul, the Promised End were not nearly as scary and format-warping as Felidar Guardian. They didn’t even know Felidar Guardian existed, which suggests answers are not waiting around the corner.
It is possible they just printed the right answers, or something even stronger in Amonkhet, but I’m doubtful, since the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo is very high-powered and unexpected. They probably didn’t have time to adjust by adding new cards.
Preparing for Pro Tour Aether Revolt and worrying about the combo completely warped everything, and not in a good way. I imagine Pro Tour Amonkhet is going to be similar, if not worse, now that Felidar Guardian’s potential has been tapped further.
Nothing got banned in Modern and it’s in a decent place.
Magic is still a fun game.
Standard has a skill-testing matchup.
Wizards just needs to watch out for icebergs more diligently and print more cardboard lifeboats in the future. The real issue here is the pickle they put themselves in by banning cards previously. Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are going to be a huge problem as long as they exist.
Maybe things aren’t even that bad, though. Ultimately, if attendance for events is high, packs are being sold, and people enjoy playing Standard, there isn’t that big of a problem. At the end of the day, this is all just my opinion and interpretation of things, which is heavily skewed towards the competitive side.
What do you think? Should they have banned something? Did they make the right call not doing anything? Now we wait and see what happens next.