With Today’s Banned & Restricted Announcement, Where Does Competitive Magic Go From Here?

Did Simian Spirit Guide deserve its Modern ban, or Dreadhorde Arcanist in Legacy? Sam Black, PVDDR, and Dom Harvey debate Magic’s latest shake-up.

Simian Spirit Guide, illustrated by Dave DeVries

Welcome to Fact or Fiction! Today, Sam Black, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Dom Harvey give their takes on five statements about the February 15 Banned & Restricted Announcement. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

Omnath, Locus of Creation Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

1. Banning Omnath, Locus of Creation and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath in Historic was a good decision.

Sam Black: Fact. It’s nice to start with a softball. Of course banning Omnath and Uro from any format would be a good decision. You’ve read them? You’ve probably seen them played, like a lot, like, many times each in most games in formats where they’re legal. Both cards solve too many problems for too low a cost and they’re both almost impossible for the opponent to have a profitable exchange with. 

To me, the question isn’t whether these should be legal; it’s whether anything else needed to be banned with them. As I see it, Uro has such a warping effect that it’s hard to know exactly what changes will happen without it. I think I like removing only it and seeing where that leaves us, but I hope they’re ready to act relatively quickly if something Uro had kept in check takes over. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I believe both Omnath and Uro are cards that deserved to be banned in Historic, so in this regard I think it’s a fact, but I believe banning only them is likely to be a mistake.

I believe the Historic format now is a bit unbalanced, as there are three decks that are just better than the rest (Sultai Midrange, Gruul Aggro and Jund Sacrifice), and the Uro ban will do nothing but strengthen the other two. In particular, I’m worried about the Sacrifice-based decks, as I think the combination of Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, Witch’s Oven, and Claim the Firstborn is too oppressive against any other creature deck, whether that’s from Jund Sacrifice or simply Rakdos Sacrifice.

I would certainly rather have an Uro ban than not, so I agree with the ban, but I wish they had shaken up the format a little bit more — I’d have banned something from the Sacrifice decks (Mayhem Devil or part of the Cat/Oven combo) and potentially something from Gruul and Goblins (as I find Goblins to be a bit of an unhealthy deck that is sort of kept in check by Jund Sacrifice and will need a solution if that deck is gone). That said, I think it’s also reasonable to wait and see how the Uro ban shakes up the format a bit, so it’s a very soft “fiction” on my part.

As an aside, I also don’t really get the “suspend” part. To me, it feels like a way to ban a card without giving people wild cards immediately. Just ban the card and get it over with. If you think you made a mistake in the long run, just unban it.

Dom Harvey: Fact. Nobody shed a tear for Omnath and Uro has had a stranglehold over Historic for a year now; this is the easiest call in this whole list for me. It was impossible to justify playing a non-Sultai midrange or control deck that lacked the premium interaction in black and Uro was a better setup card, stabilizer, and finisher at the same time than any other card trying to compete in one of those categories. Trying to trade resources against an Uro deck was a lost cause and an aggro deck that hoped to narrowly cross the finish line would have its hard work erased easily. Without Uro, Historic will be a more diverse format with a wider range of play patterns.

Balustrade Spy Teferi, Time Raveler Undercity Informer

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Wilderness Reclamation

2. Banning Balustrade Spy; Teferi, Time Raveler; Undercity Informer; Uro; and Wilderness Reclamation in Pioneer was a good decision.

Sam Black: Fact. I love bans in general. I think the core game of Magic is good enough that the most powerful cards don’t need to exist to mix things up. Yes, I like that different decks care about different things and interact on different axes, and seeing cool unexpected combos emerge is part of Magic’s charm, but with a deck like Oops, All Spells, once it’s been found and some players got some wins with it, the joke has contributed all it’s going to and it probably isn’t adding much to the game. Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer are safe bans with no collateral damage that remove a deck that doesn’t feel like it’s really in the spirit of what Pioneer’s trying to be. 

Uro is still Uro and everything I said about Historic applies. How it lasted this long is a mystery. 

Teferi was generally pretty annoying to play against in Historic in my experience and definitely makes Five-Color Niv-Mizzet much harder to stop. Five-Color Niv-Mizzet is a weird best deck; it’s nice to have a midrange deck on top but I don’t like that it can just cast anything and that it can basically refill its hand at will. I like making it easier to counter Five-Color Niv-Mizzet, and I generally feel like getting rid of Teferi, Timer Raveler in any format feels like a welcome return to normalcy that helps open space for other current and future cards. 

Banning Wilderness Reclamation because Teferi won’t keep it in check sounds good to me. I get that it’s nice for people to have a place to play with cards they owned that get banned somewhere, but I’m not really sad if that place is Commander — if a card’s been banned in multiple formats, I’m never really sad to see it removed from another format. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact, for the most part. I think Oops, All Spells is a deck that shouldn’t exist; it’s too fast for the format and there’s not a lot of counterplay. Regardless of power level, I don’t think it’s in the spirit of what the format is trying to be so I think those are good bans. Wilderness Reclamation is also a card that seems more trouble than it’s worth, so I think the format is better off without it too.

Teferi, Time Raveler is a bit of a puzzling ban to me, to be completely honest — just like it was in Historic. I feel like Teferi was extremely unfun in Standard, where it stopped a bunch of things randomly (such as Ashiok, Nightmare Muser’s ultimate or Finale of Promise) on top of almost always surviving on Turn 3, but its application seems somehow more fair in older formats where everything is cheaper and a Turn 3 Teferi is not that devastating of a play. The justification of a ban to weaken Five-Color Niv-Mizzet is a bit weird since I don’t really think it’s that much of a key card in the archetype (though obviously it’s good). 

That said, I’m not going to be crying over a Teferi ban since the card can be quite miserable if you have the wrong hand against it, so I’m happy about these bans. 

Dom Harvey: Fiction. Oddly, I think Pioneer was healthier than Historic or any larger format coming into this announcement. Recent results showed a wide range of decks succeeding across the main macro-archetypes with aggro ruling the roost. Whichever midrange or control decks emerge now have to work even harder to stay afloat instead of relying on Uro.

I chose Fiction because I’m not sure what this is meant to achieve. When Pioneer was introduced, its banned list was treated as a living document that was expected to go through rapid iteration — this succeeded in creating early excitement and removing what would surely have become the format’s worst offenders. This was lifted as the metagame settled, resulting in Dimir Inverter throttling the format. When the axe finally fell again, Pioneer went from a format that people complained about to one that people simply didn’t care about.

It’s possible that these bans will change that — and you can make a solid case for each of them — but the format still lacks a clear identity or mission statement. This announcement gestured at that (“Our vision for Pioneer is to be a collection of the most fun, powerful, and iconic cards and strategies from recent Standard formats.”) but it’s hard to see how this can work when those cards and strategies had to be banned in Standard (and often other formats!) already. Unless something changes at a higher level, Pioneer will continue to be a dumping ground for mistakes that players were sick of in Standard.

Field of the Dead Mystic Sanctuary Simian Spirit Guide

Tibalt's Trickery Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

3. Banning Field of the Dead, Mystic Sanctuary, Simian Spirit Guide, Tibalt’s Trickery, and Uro in Modern was a good decision.

Sam Black: Fact. Mystic Sanctuary and Field of the Dead are absurd cards in Modern. Their value over replacement compared to another land is just incredible and they fundamentally change what a deck is capable of at almost no cost. Leaving them around was interesting because they served the format by creating an incentive to play long games, which historically wasn’t a great idea in Modern, but they’re too heavy-handed and overbearing. Long games have to revolve around them and decks don’t really have to sacrifice anything to include them. It will be interesting to see whether control still has a place in Modern. 

Tibalt’s Trickery just feels like it leads not only to non-games, but non-matches. If someone plays Tibalt’s Trickery they’re just asking the opponent if they prepared for that, and little to no Magic is played. This feels comparable to the Spy/Informer ban. 

I continue to support banning Uro in every format.  Simian Spirit Guide is a weird one. I think it’s seen a lot more play lately, which called attention to it, but it’s mostly seen more play because of other things this announcement addresses. I guess it’s just proven that any time things break, it’s there to exacerbate the problem and I’m fine with that. I’ve felt like every time there’s a banning discussion in Modern for the last several years, at some point someone brings up Simian Spirit Guide and I always feel like, “Yeah, that’ll probably go at some point, but it maybe doesn’t need to now.” Banning it at this particular moment feels a little arbitrary, but it was definitely up to no good and had it coming. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. For too long Modern decks have looked like a who’s who of every other format’s banned lists. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a Modern deck that didn’t have several cards banned in other formats across at least three colors. I think these bans are going to shake up the format and make it much more interesting to play, enabling other archetypes that are not just “four-color-cards-that-should-never-have-been-printed” to emerge. 

I’m also happy about the Simian Spirit Guide ban because I think no one that’s using that card is up to any good. I liked Modern more when it kept to its goal of being a Turn 4 format, and even though it might never be that anymore, I still like slowing things down a bit.

As for Tibalt’s Trickery, good riddance. 

Dom Harvey: Fact. This section of the announcement leaves casualties all over Modern’s dartboard. Uro had massively overstayed its welcome and Tibalt’s Trickery only needed a week to grow old. I called for a Mystic Sanctuary ban on this website often enough for that to grow old too and I’m glad I can leave that horse to rest in peace. Those blue decks will still be a big part of Modern but without a pushed and repetitive play pattern that subsidized fetchlands even further.

Field of the Dead was on borrowed time. It allowed a wider range of ramp decks to flourish in Modern but homogenized their play patterns as Field of the Dead was the best end-game for all of them. Once Field was online, there was no meaningful counterplay as no further effort was needed to dominate the battlefield. Field soon showed up in blue decks with highly demanding mana requirements where a colourless land was a substantial cost, one they were happy to pay to unlock Field’s tremendous power in any ‘fair’ matchup.

Simian Spirit Guide is the most surprising and intriguing card on this list. In almost a decade, the best deck in Modern has never featured Simian Spirit Guide — this ban is not an urgent fix to a current problem but rather a statement about what should be possible in the format. Combo decks like Ad Nauseam and Goryo’s Vengeance relied on Simian Spirit Guide not just for speed but to successfully execute their combo; they added to the diversity of the format without causing problems and are unintended casualties of this announcement, paying for the sins of new offenders like Oops, All Spells and Goblin Charbelcher.

That said, I’m sympathetic to the argument that nobody registers Simian Spirit Guide with good intentions and that it would inevitably cross the line (perhaps we were close enough already).

Arcum's Astrolabe Dreadhorde Arcanist Oko, Thief of Crowns

4. Banning Arcum’s Astrolabe; Dreadhorde Arcanist; and Oko, Thief of Crowns in Legacy was a good decision.

Sam Black: Fact. In general, every part of a statement needs to be true for the statement as a whole to be true, and I don’t know how comfortable I am with the idea that a two-mana 1/3 that has to attack to do anything needed to be banned in Legacy, but I can’t look at a sentence that includes banning Oko and say that’s not a good thing. 

I get that free countermagic and easy land destruction make protecting a single threat relatively easy in Legacy, and Dreadhorde Arcanist is a great threat to protect because once you protect it once it’s great at digging for more protection, but also, really?

As for Arcum’s Astrolabe, this card is less obnoxious without Oko, but it’s also easy to believe that it just makes mana too easy. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. This is the hardest one for me to comment on, as I have not played Legacy in a while, but the arguments make sense to me. Oko is a miserable card that should just be unprinted, so I support any and all bans of it, and Astrolabe also feels like a card that homogenizes the format too much — I like good mana but I don’t like perfect mana for four-color decks; there should at least be a cost to playing that many colors. 

The arguments given about Dreadhorde Arcanist in the article all make sense to me (it makes the game revolve around it too early and that turns the game into a sub-game of “Can you deal with this immediately? If not, you lose.”), so I can get behind the ban, but I don’t really have a strong opinion on it.

Dom Harvey: Fact, but with a caveat. It’s hard to get Legacy players to agree on much but the vast majority have been clamouring for some kind of change for a long time. Banning Oko effectively unbans several classes of cards — any artifact or creature requiring a meaningful investment — that were embarrassing in the face of Oko. As the format with the deepest card pool, Legacy should be a showcase of the variety Magic has to offer rather than a stampede of Elks. I’m unsure if the play experience will be that much better or good in an absolute sense — do we really want Chalice of the Void to be good again? — but we at least get to ask that question now.

Arcum’s Astrolabe not only provided useful material for Oko but made it trivial to support Oko with the best interaction across the colour pie. The Snowko decks could answer your early plays with Swords to Plowshares or Abrupt Decay and use Oko or Uro to take control (forcing them through with Pyroblast against other blue decks) all without exposing themselves to manabase inconsistency or cards like Wasteland. This contributed to the same feeling of homogeneity seen in other formats under the recent design philosophy; why bother building around a card when the good cards are good all the time and can be played together?

The Dreadhorde Arcanist ban speaks to a larger issue with both Legacy and this announcement. I won’t miss playing against Dreadhorde Arcanist and I agree with the argument that it “further adds to cards and strategies that were already among the most powerful, like Temur Delver.”

That sentence also applies to most of the cards that had to be axed in Legacy in recent years. When the delve cards took over Legacy, the best deck was Delver with Treasure Cruise. Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe were banned because Grixis Delver was dominating the format. Wrenn and Six was too good largely because it was too good in Temur Delver. Lurrus of the Dream-Den was sent through the revolving door because Grixis Delver (Lurrus) was winning everything in that brief period.

It doesn’t matter whether Arcanist is more or less offensive than any of these cards. What matters is that this blue tempo core has almost always been the best thing you can do in Legacy. Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain give you a consistency that nonblue decks can’t possibly match. Daze and Wasteland choke the resources of anyone foolish enough to register more expensive spells and give you easy wins. Delver of Secrets means that blue also has the best and cheapest threat to capitalize on all of this.

By default, this shell is the best home for any pushed new threat or engine card. Unless you’re willing to grasp the nettle and tackle the underlying problem, this weed will inevitably take over Legacy again and we will have the same conversation in a few months.

Hopeful Eidolon

5. Having this number of cards banned in one B&R announcement makes you excited to play Magic.

Sam Black: Fact. I’d prefer if we didn’t need so many bans because cards like this weren’t printed, but I’m definitely more interested in playing formats without Uro than formats with Uro one way or another, and exploring a format after a major shake-up is always Constructed at its best. 

I know some players get frustrated or turned off when cards get banned, but to me, the writing was on the wall. I’m not upset to see a solution when I’m upset by a problem. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I normally like whenever a format gets a shake-up, so I, by definition, enjoy ban announcements even when they don’t ban what in my mind are the correct cards, but most of the cards banned are pretty miserable in my mind so I think this is a really good announcement that will make most formats better. I think Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has adopted a posture of “let’s wait and see if the format solves itself” for far too long, and competitive Magic has been hurt by it — at many points it’s clear that the format is very unlikely to solve itself and all that waiting does is make people suffer through a bad format.

I like that they’re finally taking action, and they’re taking enough action that it makes me hopeful they will take action sooner in the future if things prove problematic (such as, for example, the ban of Tibalt’s Trickery which was very fast). Not printing busted cards is obviously the best solution, but given that some of them are invariably going to be printed, I think the second-best solution is to deal with them as quickly as possible, and I see these massive banned lists as sort of an admission on their part that this is the case and they should have acted sooner. 

I don’t believe they should ban dozens of cards in every announcement, but right now they are banning several cards that should have already been banned, so in a way they are simply catching up to what I believe is the correct approach to take. Once they get rid of all the biggest offenders, we can go back to the proper cadence of bans, which is likely to be from zero to two cards per set with this new philosophy. 

Dom Harvey: Fact. Recently I have begrudgingly dabbled in Constructed Magic. When Magic Online hosted a week of Qualifiers and Showcase events across formats from Standard to Vintage, I felt disengaged from all of them.

Now, I’m keen to try them all again and my toughest choice is where to start. I can’t guarantee this optimism will last for long but I’m glad to be feeling it at all.