Did WotC’s Recent Banned And Restricted Announcement Really Fix Historic?

Did Wizards of the Coast’s recent moves get Historic on MTG Arena into a better place? Should Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard have stayed as-is? Ari Lax, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Cedric Phillips weigh in.

Brainstorm, illustrated by Willian Murai

Welcome to Fact or Fiction! Today, Ari Lax, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Cedric Phillips give their takes on five statements about the October 14 Banned & Restricted Announcement. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

Tibalt's Trickery

1. Banning Tibalt’s Trickery in Historic was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fact. Tibalt’s Trickery plus cascade is unfun for at least half the people involved every match it shows up. I don’t think that’s up for debate. Does that deserve a ban, even if the deck isn’t that good? Glimpse of Tomorrow plus cascade is similar in Modern, but it really isn’t an issue because it doesn’t win.

The problem here is always going to be the Arena Ladder. The entry fee is zero. The prize return is zero. There’s no tangible incentive to win 60% over 40%. There’s no tangible incentive to stop casting Throes of Chaos if that’s what gets you going. It’s actually worse if Trickery is losing, because the whole Arena pairing algorithm pairs it against less winning players, who aren’t who you want to push further over the tilt edge. The deck plays matches quickly, so it’s overrepresented in Ladder (where Glimpse-Cascade plays slow trigger loops and downregulates itself in Magic Online Leagues).

Just get it out of here. It’s a pretty clean upgrade to the format and the people you might upset are all griefers. If a griefer can’t take a reverse griefing, that’s a moral failing on their part.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I don’t think the Tibalt’s Trickery deck is too good, but I do think it’s too obnoxious. It does roughly the exact same thing every game (or some variation of it) and it’s immune to discard, which limits the options that counter it. In Best-of-Three, I don’t think this is a big deal, as there are a lot more people who can answer it (which means it’s less prevalent, so even if you’re one of the people who can’t answer it, you’re unlikely to face it very often), but in Best-of-One I think having that deck exist is a bit unhealthy, so I’m fine with the ban.

Cedric Phillips: Fact. What’s the upside to having Tibalt’s Trickery being a thing you can do in Historic? It’s a Best-of-One queue ruiner given how it plays and how you need to more or less pre-sideboard against it or hope it doesn’t execute its gameplan. It’s not particularly good in Best-of-Three but it’s such an unpleasurable experience after the first few times of seeing what it does that it becomes a groan to be paired against rather than something one is looking forward to because the game is played within such a tight window.

That last part, about the game being played in such a tight window, is really worth highlighting. The reason I’m so against an Alrund’s Epiphany ban in Standard is because the card costs seven (six?) mana and there’s really no effective way to cheat its high mana cost. If there were some easily accessible way to cast Epiphany on Turn 3 or 4, the discussion would be entirely different, but we’re not playing Standard games in that tight of a window. What makes a card like Tibalt’s Trickery banworthy is not just the thing being above an appropriate power threshold; the gamplay experience sucks and it happens super-quickly, forcing the opponent to have an answer immediately or simply die.

I’m glad Wizards of the Coast (WotC) didn’t try the “Let’s suspend this and we’ll revisit later” nonsense here. Just burn it down and move along.


2. Banning Brainstorm in Historic was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fact. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Glad that stupid saga is over. Not sure what anyone expected. Next question; hope it is, “Can we unban Time Warp?”

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. The whole “Brainstorm in Historic” trajectory is wild to me. Brainstorm has been the single most powerful card in Magic’s most powerful competitive format for over ten years. If you exclude the Invitational, which was the one time I played Vintage in my life, Brainstorm is likely the best card I’ve ever played with in any professional-level tournament. How can this card fit in Historic?!

The end result was entirely predictable. The card dominated the format. Then, once that happened, WotC “suspended” the card as if there was ever a chance of it coming back. So they basically introduced a “must-craft” card to the format, and then once everyone crafted it, they suspended it rather than banning, which means people couldn’t play with the card but didn’t get their wildcards back. 

I think Brainstorm should not have been printed in Historic. Given that it was, it should have been banned rather than suspended. Given that it was suspended, I think banning it now is the third-best outcome. 

Cedric Phillips: Fact. Speaking of the “Let’s suspend this and we’ll revisit later” nonsense game, what in the hell was this? In what world was Brainstorm going to be fine in Historic that it should have been suspended and not immediately banned? Like, what does that world even look like where Brainstorm is an ideal candidate to make legal again?

But what’s actually infuriating about this whole Brainstorm fiasco is that WotC preemptively banned cards from Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive before it was released into the wild. For those who don’t remember, the following went on ice in Historic before Strixhaven’s release:

Here’s what WotC had to say about the rest of the Mystical Archive cards that remained legal:

For the rest of the Mystical Archive, we want to let players find the powerful interactions and prove they are problems for the metagame rather than prejudge. We’ll be watching this all carefully, and where we see threats to fun, balance, or diversity, we will step in to fix them. The pace of response here may need to be faster than usual, or we may be able to watch and wait as things develop. Either way, we are prepared to respond properly.

Historic will likely get a bit crazy for a little while, but this is what you would expect from suddenly gaining access to some of the Multiverse’s greatest spells. Wield that power carefully.

Look, I’m all for trying stuff. But, again, we come back to the question of, “In what world was Brainstorm going to be fine in Historic?” And the reason I keep asking that question is because you’d have to assume they did the same thing with the seven cards that took preemptive bans, right?

  • “Can’t really envision a metagame where Channel is okay. Ban it.”
  • “Hard to imagine a world where Demonic Tutor isn’t broken. Adios.”
  • “No way we’re going to let Dark Ritual be legal in a format like this. Too much wrong can happen.”

And then they got to Brainstorm and…?

Naturally for the amount of time Brainstorm was legal, it was the best thing going on by infinite (LOL at banning Time Warp before Brainstorm BTW) and it was finally put on ice like it should have been from the start. I say all of this to say the following:

  • Yes, I’m glad Brainstorm has gone from suspended to banned. That much is obvious.
  • Brainstorm never should have been suspended in the first place because it should have never been legal for a single game of Historic.
  • There’s no world where Brainstorm was going to be acceptable in Historic, so the fact that we had to pretend it could be is silly at best.

Memory Lapse

3. Suspending Memory Lapse in Historic was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fact. I don’t know if Memory Lapse was even a problem in competitive Historic. Without consistent tournaments filtering for actual winning decks and new developments, I don’t think anyone has a real answer to this question.

But if you are going to start firing, the Mystical Archive is a good spot to start. The Archive entered Historic with the knowledge they could go horribly wrong and any one of them could join Dark Ritual and Swords to Plowshares in the corner.

Memory Lapse is broadly powerful. If Muxus or Cauldron Familiar is the best deck, you can target them with answers. You can’t just add Grafdigger’s Cage to manage Memory Lapse across every potential Memory Lapse deck.

I think this being a suspension is what makes it a fact for me. Removing Memory Lapse from the format might make no impact, or it might really improve things. This uncertainty makes a ban hard to prove, but the resistance is low enough that a trial suspension is perfect. I expect Memory Lapse to join Burning-Tree Emissary in the unsuspended club, but it’s worth a shot to play without it for a bit.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. Again, I’d prefer doing away with this whole “suspending” nonsense and just banning the cards. People literally paid money for these cards and they can’t play with them; at least give them their wildcards. That said, I don’t actually have a strong opinion about Memory Lapse (I think it’s a good card, but it doesn’t strike me as necessarily too good), but I’m going to trust WotC data on this one, because I don’t have access to this information and they are very rarely this open about things. They said it was the most played card in the format, which I would guess is relatively uncommon for a reactive card, and if they want to experiment with a format without Memory Lapse this is something I can get behind. 

Cedric Phillips: Fact. I’m mostly fine with this decision by WotC, for a lot of the reasons Ari and PVDDR mentioned. There’s no clean way to prepare for Memory Lapse. Worse yet, it’s entirely possible that one comes ready for Memory Lapse, keeps a sketchy hand after a mulligan (we’ve all had to do it), and then loses to Memory Lapse because it punishes mulligans and land-light hands in a way almost no other card does.

Unlike Brainstorm, I actually can see metagames where Memory Lapse is totally fine to have legal. The experience of playing against Memory Lapse does have an interesting fluctuation from incredibly frustrating to entirely irrelevant depending on the situation, so that’s certainly something to monitor. But I’ve lived through formats where Memory Lapse saw effectively zero play because it wasn’t the right tool for the job and so I’m hopeful that we can end up in the middle where Memory Lapse is good against some decks and horrible against others — something Brainstorm is entirely incapable of.

4. The ability to rebalance digital-only cards on Magic Arena is a good thing.

Ari Lax: Fact. There was always a clear statement being made that Historic was intended as digital-only in a way that didn’t overlap with any other format. We’ve all made jokes about no one knowing what is in Historic, but one Wizards-managed search engine was reliable for the format: the Arena client.

The format just exists on Arena and for Arena, and a clear line exists. So it can exist as a digital game with digital edits. I don’t even think the line is editing digital-only cards, though you have a high bar to clear there on whether that’s a good idea. Does anyone really want to play with or against a “fixed” Oko?

Just don’t edit Standard-legal cards. Making Arena Standard and paper Standard different formats is a giant mess no one wants to be a part of.

And refund some wild cards when you do it. Jeez, how the hell is that part hard.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. I strongly oppose cards doing different things on Arena and in real life. I would not like if they had “Arena Omnath” costing 1WURG and “real life Omnath” banned and costing WURG; that’s just too confusing and hurts people who want to test for real-life events on Arena and vice versa, but once we have cards that only exist on Arena and that are only playable in an Arena-Only format such as Historic, then I think it’s totally fine to change them. I would even say this is the biggest strength of having such a format and you’re wasting its potential if you never rebalance a card.

I will, however, harp on the point that rebalanced cards should give wildcards (yes, this annoys me greatly). People crafted Davriel’s Withering as an infinite combo piece, not as a removal spell – if they wanted a removal spell they would have crafted Disfigure. If you nerf the card, you’re basically banning the card for them, and possibly killing their entire deck. Arena could really afford to be more generous here and at least give people wildcards for the cards they changed (and possibly even some extras for the rest of the deck that is now rendered useless). 

Cedric Phillips: Fact, but it’s dangerous. I call it dangerous for one reason: look what just happened to Davriel’s Withering. The card went from a combo piece alongside Vesperlark to one that will almost assuredly never see Constructed play again. Why does that matter? Because a nonzero number of people invested their time and money into the strategy and it’s (more or less) ceased to exist.

This is basically another way of (potentially) banning cards with the added “bonus” of players not getting their wildcards back. Now, I do not think that more often than not, these changes will be a good thing. That said, as with most things in life, if used incorrectly, we’ve got a slippery slope on our hands.

Paramore summed it up best. For a pessimist, I’m pretty optimistic.

Alrund's Epiphany Esika's Chariot Goldspan Dragon

5. WotC choosing not to ban anything in Standard was a good decision.

Ari Lax: Fact. I don’t want to mass link my Twitter feed over the last few weeks, but a Standard ban is laughable here. I’ll list the highlights:

  • Has five-set Standard ever been super-deep and diverse? No, this dominance by the best mythic rares is about expected.
  • Alrund’s Epiphany is a seven-mana sorcery that requires significant extra setup to win the game. This is not an unsolvable problem.
  • Alrund’s Epiphany ends the game on the spot when it wins the game. There’s no Nexus of Fate spiral of misery.
  • Innistrad: Crimson Vow previews start in about ten days. The format is going to open up. Chill out.
  • We’re going to keep seeing powerful expensive sorceries because Commander sells packs.

Yes, Esika’s Chariot and Alrund’s Epiphany are the best cards in Standard. Maybe they aren’t perfect best cards, but they aren’t horrific. Something will always be the best and these are well within reason. Keep an eye on the format, but it needs no bans today.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact? Honestly, I’m lukewarm here. I think Epiphany (and to an extent maybe Chariot) are harmful for the format, so if I could erase their existence I would, but the new set is coming up in such a short amount of time that I’m fine with not banning anything. For me this is more “I’m okay waiting for more developments” than “I think the format is good as it is,” but the end result is the same, I suppose. If we had, say, three more months of this format without Innistrad: Crimson Vow, then I would say we ban the card and get it over with.

Cedric Phillips: Fact. I’ve alluded to my thoughts on this topic above but, once again, Ari has beaten me to the punch. Quite literally every reason he lists above was what I was going to say. However, I do have one additional point worth noting:

Isn’t what we we’ve witnessed over the past three to four weeks simply metagame evolution? When rotation happened last month, Gruul Aggro (with Goldspan Dragon, Magda, Jaspera Sentinel, and Esika’s Chariot) and Izzet Dragons based around Goldspan Dragon were supposed to be unbeatable. Both of those decks faded away quickly into obscurity, with Izzet Dragons’s dominance at Magic World Championship XXVII taking everyone by surprise instead of being the deck to beat.

Talk about decks built around Alrund’s Epiphany followed. These decks went through their paces, as players worked to find optimal builds of the strategy. The archetype started to do well and then the doom and gloom began. Said doom and gloom was quickly snuffed out by the combination of Mono-Green Aggro❄ and Mono-White Aggro❄ killing Epiphany pilots before they were able to resolve their namesake spell from an advantageous position.

So what has been happening now that linear aggressive decks are on top? Grzegorz Kowalski has been working on Mono-Black Aggro, Gerry Thompson has been working on Dimir Control, and Epiphany decks have been adjusting as best they can to the new elephants in the room. If this isn’t metagame evolution in a five-set Standard format, where options are limited because of the number of sets that are legal, I genuinely don’t know what is.