Post-Banning Hot Take Triple Stack!

Ari Lax, Brad Nelson, and Sam Black give their rapid-fire thoughts on the two cards in Legacy…and cards that weren’t banned or unbanned in Modern and Standard!

[Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Ari Lax, Brad Nelson, and Sam Black are here to render their verdicts on five statements about WotC’s most recent Banned and Restricted Update. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!]

1. Banning Deathrite Shaman in Legacy was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fact. While I may have made some Twitter comment suggesting otherwise, Deathrite Shaman being banned is good for everyone outside of the 50 Pro Tour players who need to buy new dual lands.

The concept of banning “fair” cards is weird, as it’s rare across Magic, but Four-Color Delver hit all the criteria. It was dominant in the format, and Deathrite homogenized a bunch of previously unique decks by breaking color requirements and gave these decks too much built-in suppression of linear strategies at no cost.

Good riddance. I’m actually excited to play Legacy again.

Brad Nelson: Fact. Something had to change. Grixis Delver was the “best” for so long that players began arguing about what they choose to play in the deck’s two flex slots. Can you believe that? So many people played the deck for so long that there really wasn’t anything more to discover. Talk about being stale! Not only that, but Four-Color Control was the second-most-played deck in the format, which was technically just the midrange version of Grixis Delver. Deathrite Shaman had completely taken over the format, plain and simple.

“Better the devil I know than the angel I don’t.”

One real argument against this banning is what it will do to the format. Certain combo decks will assuredly be coming back, like Sneak and Show, Reanimator, Storm, and maybe even Dredge. Other creature decks like Death and Taxes will also have a much better shot now that Deathrite Shaman is gone. This should make for a much better format, but there’s the possibility that one deck in particular has the ability to take over the format, causing it to be even worse than it is now. Even though I don’t believe this will happen, no one can be certain it won’t at this point. We will just have to wait and see.

Sam Black: Fact. Factfactfactfactfact. I hate Deathrite Shaman so much.

The power level alone is too much. It goes in too many decks and wins too much, but what it does to the color pie is absurd. Black shouldn’t get Birds of Paradise and Green shouldn’t get Grim Lavamancer.

None of that is even why I most hate it.

Printing strong hate cards is good; if there’s a strategy you want to beat, you should be able to build a deck that beats it. Printing strong hate effects incidentally on cards that are good enough without them is horrible. When this happens, you don’t have a safety valve for when things get out of hand. You just preemptively shut down entire wide ranges of decks, crippling format diversity.

I hate Deathrite on a personal level because it made me give up on Zombie Goblin Bombardment, but the point isn’t that deck specifically. It just applies too much pressure to force everyone to play precisely its game, which is why we see Legacy collapsing into a sea of Deathrite decks.

Funny story I heard second- or third-hand this weekend. Allegedly, in development Deathrite Shaman was changed from only exiling cards in your own graveyard to also exile cards in opposing graveyards because Commander players internally wanted more ways to interact with opposing graveyards.

I just can’t…

2. Banning Gitaxian Probe in Legacy was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fiction. Personal bias may be part of the equation here. I may owe my Pro Magic career to Thoughtseize multiple times over.

I get the “Magic is a game of imperfect information” argument, but Legacy is the best format to mitigate all the issues of Gitaxian Probe. Brainstorm exists to hide things, none of the Legacy combo decks really exploit Probe for speed, it’s fine in Belcher and Storm but not massively game-changing, and it got people to play more Cabal Therapy, which is a contender for the best Magic card design ever.

Gitaxian Probe was ubiquitous, but it was a fair and reasonable tool in Legacy.

Brad Nelson: Fact. This card is the opposite of fun, and anyone upset about this decision has forgotten this is a game for our enjoyment. Gitaxian Probe allows the caster the ability to sequence perfectly, which is just not something that should happen in Legacy. Turns can be very difficult in this format, but with the help of perfect information, a once-interesting game devolves into one person playing circles around the other. There’s just no reason for this card to be in a format, and I’m so happy it’s finally gone!

Sam Black: Fact. This and Deathrite Shaman are both in the category of cards so egregious that I wish they could be unprinted rather than banned, or that we could at least get a formal apology and a statement that a card like this should never see the light of day.

There are tons of banned cards that aren’t in this category. Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage, Attune with Aether: they tried pushing something too hard and it happened to make a deck too strong. No one’s going to say R&D must have lost their minds to print Rampaging Ferocidon.

Gitaxian Probe, on the other hand? This isn’t just “You get to play a smaller deck in exchange for less info when you mulligan and some life.” It just does too much: free prowess trigger, free storm count, free delve mana, free delirium type…

This card would still be too good even if it didn’t do anything, and then you get to see your opponent’s hand on top of it. That’s a big deal. Magic is a game of hidden information and that’s what makes it fun. Think about how much worse Magic would be if every hand was always face up. Gitaxian Probe pushes us too close to that, but in a one-sided way where its caster gets a huge advantage for essentially no cost.

Phyrexian mana collectively is a pretty horrible mechanic. The color pie is a big deal and a huge strength of Magic as a game. Phyrexian mana breaks it cheaply and recklessly, and Eternal formats are permanently worse off because of it.

I’m delighted any time one of them is banned in any format.

As to Gitaxian Probe in Legacy specifically, I don’t think everyone getting a free blue card to make Force of Will better is good, I don’t think a free storm count is good, and I think Legacy is much worse with perfect information. I’m especially happy to see the interaction with Cabal Therapy go away.

3. Ancient Stirrings should have been banned in Modern.

Ari Lax: Fiction. Tron is beatable. It has been shoved out of the metagame many times.

Ironworks is beatable. Kill them faster.

Someday, something really bad is going to happen in Modern and Ancient Stirrings will be involved, but it’s going to be Mox Opal’s fault. Today is not that day and you don’t hamstring multiple archetypes to preempt it if you have ignored it for years already.

But it is okay to wish your Tron opponents bad luck. As someone who played Tron at the last Modern Pro Tour, we deserve it.

Brad Nelson: Fiction. This question is difficult to answer. On one hand, Ancient Stirrings gives colorless decks the ability to compete in such a deep format, but on the other, we’ve seen Ancient Stirrings in a lot of disgusting decks over the years.

On one hand, green probably shouldn’t have the best cantrip in the format, but on the other, I don’t have any sympathy for blue players. I hate them, but what I hate the most is that I’ve become one of them. In the end, even though Ancient Stirrings helps many decks function, those decks aren’t currently ruining Modern. If there comes a day where we need to ban yet another deck held together by Ancient Stirrings, then we can have the conversation, but at this point, just leave Tron alone!

Sam Black: Faction. You know, like a portmanteau of fact and fiction, but also like a single camp with dissenting opinions. I can really see both sides of this one.

The card is flat-out too strong for Modern. It’s a more powerful effect that the blue card selection spells that are already banned. That said, Green is a much less bad offender with these kinds of cards than blue, and unlike the blue ones, you have to actually build around it, so it’s only as strong as the decks it’s going in, and Modern’s been in a pretty healthy place basically since Splinter Twin’s banning.

It’s not clear that destroying Lantern, Ironworks, Amulet Titan, Mono-Green Tron, and Bant Eldrazi would improve the format (maybe some of those decks could survive in some form without Ancient Stirrings, but I’m skeptical that any would be competitive).

I still think it’s just a matter of time, and I think Ironworks is scary, but it certainly hasn’t had the kind of sustained dominance that shows it can withstand adjustment from the format, and I think banning Ancient Stirrings because of Ironworks would be very premature.

4. Stoneforge Mystic should have been unbanned in Modern.

Ari Lax: Fiction. Stoneforge Mystic takes so much less work to add to a deck than Jace, the Mind Scultpor or Bloodbraid Elf.

Anyone saying “But Batterskull can be beaten by their best cards” ignores the Stoneforge Mystic deck isn’t 50 Plains, four Mystic, some Equipment. Remember when Modern sped up because the midrange decks died in a Bloodbraid-Jace fire in February? Stoneforge would be even worse.

Hatebears players, unbanning Stoneforge would literally kill your deck, and that’s why it needs to stay banned.

Brad Nelson: Fiction. No! Why is it these days that the narrative of Modern always revolves around the unbanning of cards? Obviously there are powerful things happening in the format right now, but that doesn’t mean we should just unban cards expecting them not to break things without a good reason to. “It’s probably worse than what’s happening in the format right now” isn’t a good reason either! Doing it right now would also be bad timing! I’d much rather them make these decisions right after Pro Tours, as those events are usually where Modern has a shake-up anyway. It allows the pros to potentially break the format without necessarily a card needing to be banned.

Sam Black: Fiction. Maybe, maybe it could have been unbanned and the format could handle it, but I don’t see why that means it should have. I see a lot of tweets about how it’s absurd that this card that doesn’t win the game on Turn 3 is banned while cards that do are legal, and I think it’s absurd.

For Stoneforge Mystic to be good in your deck, you need to devote two slots to Equipment that isn’t that bad to draw anyway, and you need some white mana. For Baral, Chief of Compliance to be good, you need to literally play precisely storm. It Should be clear how different these things are and how little it makes sense to compare them.

Stoneforge Mystic goes in fair decks, but itself isn’t a fair card; it’s just too powerful on rate and asks too little to do too much. Fair deck cards should be evaluated on different metrics from unfair deck cards. Looking at it the way the unban camp does is how we end up with things like Deathrite Shaman being legal as long as it was.

5. Goblin Chainwhirler should been banned in Standard.

Ari Lax: Fiction. I set some criteria with Deathrite Shaman, so let’s go back to them. Goblin Chainwhirler definitely homogenizes decks in the reverse way by making them just play Mountains. It provides a lot of insulation to linear token decks a bit too easily.

But it isn’t dominant long-term, or short-term, given Ian Duke’s numbers. Other decks are winning now, decks based on God-Pharaoh’s Gift, The Scarab God, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Chainwhirler won’t remain as huge post-Guilds of Ravnica as multicolored sets provide incentives for spread manabases and produce larger low drops.

Honestly, the real offenders are Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Hazoret the Fervent; and Glorybringer giving decks that can cast Chainwhirler too much staying power. Or Soul-Scar Mage interacting in just the wrong way. Those all also go soon.

Accept your pet Vampires Tokens deck sucks. It would still suck versus Glorybringer and Teferi. It is eight-set Standard. Play a real deck.

Brad Nelson: Fiction. Wait, maybe fact? I don’t know anymore! Rampaging Ferocidon is on the Banned List, but this card isn’t? It doesn’t really make much sense, does it?

Kaladesh just straight ruined Standard for so long that we just have to wait for the hard reset of rotation for anything to make sense again in this format. Honestly, Goblin Chainwhirler will most likely not be that playable after rotation, as it will be too difficult to build a deep enough red deck to support the card. WotC most likely has taken this into consideration, which is why they will just give us another few months with the card before all those busted red cards get push out of Standard. I, for one, think that’s a perfectly fine decision.

Sam Black: Fiction. Goblin Chainwhirler is too strong for Standard.

You may think I meant “Fact,” but no, it should not have been banned, and yes, it’s too good.

This weekend I finally gave in and played R/B Aggro. I went undefeated at US Nationals in Constructed. Somehow I didn’t play against any red decks. I played against five control decks and beat them all. Somehow, the Top 8 of this tournament was full of control decks, even though red was the deck to beat and I was beating them with red. I have no idea what to make of this.

Regardless, R/B Aggro felt super-messed-up, as it has all along. The deck is just too good. However, we’re about to get a new set that could change things, and after that, rotation.

In a world where Red is the best deck, Goblin Chainwhirler has the Deathrite Shaman incidental hate problem where it just invalidates wide ranges of strategies preemptively, which is disastrous for Standard. That said, if Red isn’t the best deck and people only play Goblin Chainwhirler if and when a Tokens deck gets out of hand, then it could be a good tool for the format.

I think it’s reasonable to wait it out and see how things look once Soul-Scar Mage, Hazoret the Fervent, and Glorybringer are gone. That said, it might have been pretty sweet to experiment with announcing that Goblin Chainwhirler is banned for precisely three months or whatever, and see how people react to needing to set their cards aside, knowing they’ll be able to use them again once Guilds of Ravnica is out.