The Banned And Restricted Update: Jim Davis Reacts

Of the three most commonly played Constructed formats, only Legacy saw a change to its banned list! What does Jim Davis think about facing Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai at SCG Atlanta? Should Death’s Shadow have stuck around? And did Sensei’s Divining Top deserve its fate? Get Jim’s take and vote in his polls!

This is it, the day we have all been waiting for.

The day Wizards of the Coast admits its mistakes and saves a dying Standard format.

The day of reckoning for those who have been terrorizing Standard for the last few months.

Today, we have justice.



No changes.

Oh… uh… about that.

Standard has been in ruins for the last month or two, crushed under the weight of a design-mistake-induced Splinter Twin combo and an oppressively powerful planeswalker. After the first round of bannings took Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler’s Copter from us, it felt logical that Wizards of the Coast would not be afraid to pull the trigger again if the need to were to arise.

The trigger has not been pulled.

I don’t think people have a full appreciation for how damaging it is for Standard for cards to get banned, so in a way I’m not surprised that Wizards of the Coast ended up gun-shy. Banning cards looks awful from an outside perspective and is an active deterrent for less entrenched and new players to want to play your game.

If you are reading this article, you are part of a small minority of Magic players when it comes to dedication and involvement. You are firmly entrenched and will likely play whatever format your next tournament is, whether you think it is a good format or not. Put simply, you’re not going anywhere. Most Magic players aren’t this deeply entrenched, and when cards start getting banned and a Standard format goes sour, they have no trouble just walking away from the game and doing something else.

I talk to a ton of different players of wildly varying levels of entrenchment in Magic both on my stream and in the many stores Team MGG visits for our “Challenge a Guru” events, and I’ve never seen morale so low when it comes to Standard. For someone who plays Magic two or three times a month at FNM, banning cards is a complete disaster. It destroys any confidence they have both in the format they most often play as well as in the cards they are spending their money. Why buy cards and learn how to play them if they might show up in two weeks and find out their deck is no longer legal? Why build a cool new deck if you’re just going to die to Saheeli Combo on turn 4? This mindset has caused an absolute crash in Standard. FNMs that used to get 30-40 players for Standard are struggling to get eight, while formats like Modern are still thriving.

As such, the choice of what to do when Standard is a disaster and banning cards is also a disaster is not an easy one. I do not envy the folks at Wizards of the Coast who had to make this choice, as it is the very definition of a “damned if you to, damned if you don’t” scenario. Banning cards in Standard twice in the same year is extremely damaging to consumer confidence in your game and is borderline unprecedented.

Despite all of this, I still would have pulled the trigger on Felidar Guardian.

Because of their admission that the Felidar Guardian plus Saheeli Rai interaction was a design oversight, I think banning it under the pretense of correcting that oversight carries much less baggage than a normal banning. Making mistakes sucks, but having the strength to own up to your mistake and do right by it is admirable. And frankly, in this case the ends justify the means; Felidar Guardian plus Saheeli Rai is destroying Standard at the moment.

I may hate Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as a card, but it is only as dominating as it is in Standard currently because Mardu Vehicles is one of the few decks able to both interact with and put a clock on Saheeli Combo decks. The Saheeli combo is a major limiting factor to what kinds of decks we can play, and as such ends up being a natural predator to decks that would be able to beat Mardu Vehicles or be good against Gideon.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and other planeswalkers only get worse with each new set release— the bigger the card pool is, the more focused decks tend to be, and more focused decks with lower mana curves are much more capable of keeping planeswalkers in check. Gideon will be powered down by default with the introduction of Amonkhet to the format.

Saheeli Combo, on the other hand, requires a specific form of interaction, and the requirement of having this form of interaction is a huge tax on any new decks we will want to build using cool new Amonkhet cards. This is especially punishing for anyone trying to build linear decks that often don’t have that much room for interactive cards. In short, the Saheeli combo is absolutely stifling to potential new life in the format.

Banning cards is an awful thing to have to do, but it’s even worse if nobody wants to play your new set or watch your flagship Pro Tour broadcast because they’re sick of Saheeli Combo staleness.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Sadly, it’s not very exciting.

There are a ton of awesome new cards in Amonkhet, but their viability goes way down with Saheeli Combo still in the format. It’s very hard to tap out for something like Liliana, Death’s Majesty or New Perspectives and risk dying the following turn, just like it’s very hard to build an awesome linear deck around a card like Vizier of the Menagerie and a ton of creatures while still having the tools to interact with the combo.

The two main gatekeepers to the format are still in full force:

  • Your deck must be able to interact with Saheeli Combo in a meaningful way while also being able to provide a clock against them so you don’t just die to their value creatures and planeswalkers.
  • Your deck must be able deal with the wide variety of powerful permanents that Mardu Vehicles can throw at you, whether planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Vehicles; or sticky threats like Scrapheap Scrounger.
  • Unfortunately, every card in Amonkhet will need to be vetted by these very stringent standards, which is going to be very inhibiting to deckbuilding. There will be a huge premium on cards that are either cheap and proactive or that interact well, and as such, those are the cards you will need to be paying the most attention to.

    The most important of these are Manglehorn and Censor.

    Manglehorn is an obvious solution to the format, as it is a Viridian Shaman that can take out cards like Heart of Kiran while also being a Thalia, Heretic Cathar against the Saheeli combo (all of the Felidar Guardian tokens made by Saheeli are artifacts). The simplest thing to do is just slot Manglehorn into the old G/B Winding Constrictor decks, but I imagine other decks will find uses for it as well.

    Unfortunately, Four-Color Saheeli can play Manglehorn just as easily, as the effect is not symmetrical for some stupid reason. This could end up tipping the Saheeli Combo versus Mardu scales in Saheeli Combo’s favor.

    Censor gives blue control decks an actual chance in this format by allowing them to interact universally on the early turns that are so important for establishing control of the game. Being able to counter a turn 3 Saheeli Rai or turn 4 Gideon is big game, and Censor has my vote for one of the best cards in the set. If you need to interact in an efficient manner, Force Spike is a great tool to have.

    I’m still excited about SCG Atlanta this weekend and getting a chance to brew for new Standard, but Felidar Guardian still being legal is a huge drag. I think Wizards of the Coast’s inaction this time around is going to be something that they regret in the long run.

    But Wait, That’s Not All

    All eyes were on Standard for this Banned and Restricted announcement, but what about Modern and Legacy?


    No changes.

    No changes in Modern, which I think is fine. The format is in a pretty good place right now and I don’t think anything needs to change.


    Sensei’s Divining Top is banned.

    That’s more like it!

    Remember everything I said about how damaging bannings are to less enfranchised Standard players? Well, the exact opposite is true for Legacy (and to a lesser extent Modern) players. Any player who has bought into the expensive but long-lasting Legacy format is an entrenched player who is heavily invested in the game. There is obviously frustration if a critical part of your deck hits the banlist, but it’s rarely a surprise and often for the best of the format.

    Sensei’s Divining Top was banned in Extended and was never legal in Modern. Miracles has been one of the best Legacy decks for a very long time now. If you didn’t see this one coming at some point, I think you are mildly delusional.

    As long as they are done with careful thought and consideration, bannings in Legacy and Modern are a great tool to shake up often-stagnant metagames. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Magic is figuring out new metagames, and we haven’t had to figure out a new Legacy metagame in a long time. Now we do, and now decks that were held down by Miracles can have a chance to shine.

    Pragmatically, Sensei’s Divining Top was also part of an incredibly slow and action-intensive deck that was very frustrating from both a gameplay and coverage point of view. I am firmly in favor of this banning and I think Legacy is better today than it was yesterday.

    Where Do We Go From Here?

    Miracles exiting Legacy will certainly change many things.

    The midrange arms race between blue decks will finally be able to subside a little, as going further up the curve to try to win grindy games and play around Counterbalance will no longer be necessary. Blue decks can shift back to being lean Delver of Secrets decks, and will have to because combo decks like Storm are going to improve as well without Counterbalance to fight through.

    Blood Moon as a card gets much better, as it has always been great against non-Miracles blue decks but awful against Miracles, and Lands improves as well without the need to play around Counterbalance and infinite answers to Marit Lage tokens. Last, in a move sure to make Andrew Jessup happy, Elves improves greatly with Terminus and Counterbalance no longer viable.

    I’m happy with the Sensei’s Divining Top ban, but I also think that Deathrite Shaman has earned a place on the Legacy watch list. Deathrite Shaman is so ubiquitous in Legacy that it’s starting to feel very limiting. Deathrite Shaman is the best creature legal in the format and does so much for one mana in either green or black decks that not playing it in your fair Legacy deck just feels wrong. Without Terminus to sweep them up and punish you for overcommitting to the battlefield, I worry that the one-mana creature that demands a removal spell and does everything may just be a little too much.

    Still More?

    Hey, wait, there’s even more here.


    Gitaxian Probe is restricted.

    Gush is restricted.

    People still play Vintage?

    When was Gush unrestricted? What were they thinking unrestricting it in the first place?

    I’ll leave this one for the Vintage specialists to unpack.

    Have Faith in Amonkhet

    Going forward, all we can really do is brew in Standard and get prepared for #SCGATL.

    It is unfortunate that Saheeli Combo is still in Standard, but the one bright side is that least we know what we are trying to beat Week 1. We are just going to use information we have about what works against Saheeli Combo and Mardu Vehicles and have faith that Amonkhet will shake things up. There are a lot of new and powerful cards in Amonkhet. I just hope they are good enough to keep things interesting.

    And Wizards of the Coast? I understand how damaging it is to ban cards in Standard, but I think you screwed this one up.