fbpx

My Thoughts On May 18th’s Banned And Restricted Announcement

Todd Anderson doesn’t think the May 18th Banned and Restricted announcement goes far enough! What would he do to save Constructed Magic?

Lotus Field, illustrated by John Avon

SCG Advertisement

Yesterday’s Banned and Restricted Announcement from Ian Duke might be my least favorite B&R announcement of all time. I knew it was going to be bad when they did their “announcement of an announcement” last Monday where they outlined the formats they’d be tackling today.

First, let me applaud the open communication by Ian Duke. Telling us the formats you’re going to be tackling is a step in the right direction. However, I feel strongly that attacking these exact formats and leaving the rest alone was a huge error. Not only is it obvious that companions are too good, but it sounds to me like they have no desire to alter any relevant format until after live sales of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths have hit a certain profit point. It’s like they’re intentionally selling us a lemon, knowing they’re going to ban it in the future but smiling while they sell it to us now. I don’t think that’s what they’re actually doing, but that’s what it feels like.

Let’s break down the formats affected, what these changes mean, and how the lack of changes in other formats is a very bad idea.

Brawl

As someone who has not played much Brawl, I’ll leave most of my opinions out of this one. Suffice it to say that cards like Drannith Magistrate (and Sorcerous Spyglass) are not welcome in formats where everyone’s game revolves around one or two cards resolving and activating. These Commander-esque formats have unique banned lists that are designed to protect players from “lockout” spells that are easy to cast and have huge implications. While Drannish Magistrate might not look like much, you can rest assured that it’s heinous to play against and there’s very little incentive to run creature removal.

Winota, Joiner of Forces makes some sense. The combo nature of the card leads to some really unfun games that are really lopsided. I’ve seen what it does in Ikoria Standard, so I can only assume how brutal it would be to have Winota always start as a virtual companion.

Vintage

Let that sink in for a moment. Now, what if I told you that the last card they banned in Vintage for competitive reasons was Mind Twist back in 1996? Banning cards in this format is unheard-of, but what else could they have done?

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a card banned in Vintage that had normal-ish functionality as a Magic card. But mostly I agree with the decision. If you aren’t willing to change the companion mechanic, banning Lurrus is the only thing that makes sense. It’s far too strong with Black Lotus, and the natural curve of deckbuilding with every card ever printed means keeping your permanents to two or less casting cost is basically not a restriction.

I don’t know if any other companions will get banned, but time will tell. My guess is that they’re going to change the companion mechanic at some point to “fix” things when banning isn’t enough. Personally, I would have altered the mechanic to read something like “put a card from your starting hand on the bottom to add the companion to your hand.” At the very least, you wouldn’t be starting with eight cards in your opener, which is the biggest draw of companions anyway.

Banning stuff in Vintage is ludicrous. I want to stress that the most. The only cards I ever remember being banned in the format were things that say “ante,” stuff that alters how the game is actually played (Shahrazad), and cards that aren’t really Magic cards (Conspiracy, Un-sets). I’ve been playing Magic for over twenty years now, so something like this really sticks out like a sore thumb to me. They made a mechanic that affects nearly every Constructed format and they had to ban one in Vintage.

Legacy

Lurrus makes some sense here. If it’s too good for Vintage, it’s probably too good for Legacy. The two formats share many of the same cards, but mostly it’s the fact that the deckbuilding restriction just doesn’t exist. When everyone gets to play eight cards in their opening hand, it’s a mostly fair experience. However, when everyone starts with Lurrus as that eighth card, it starts to stifle innovation. Gameplay is replicated at an enormously high rate, and decks that play Lurrus versus decks that don’t are at a significant advantage.

Zirda, the Dawnwaker hasn’t been a problem yet, but I’m glad to see them taking steps to ensure something else doesn’t just swoop in and take the place the power vacuum of a ban leaves behind. Clearly Zirda was putting up some serious numbers across a small sample set. My guess is that one team or small clan broke it with Zirda, and the banning of Lurrus meant it was going to be a problem. This is the kind of preemptive banning that leads me to believe that Wizards of the Coast actually know what they’re doing, which is what makes this next part so difficult.

We all know Lurrus is a problem. I’m happy to see it go in both Vintage and Legacy. But what the hell, man? It’s broken in basically every format. Why would you stop there? Why not just exile Lurrus in every format? Why not acknowledge that companions were a mistake and just nix the ability entirely? Or change it? Or anything other than letting them run rampant in Modern, Pioneer, and Standard?

Modern

  • No changes.

What an insult. I can name seven cards off the top of my head that deserve a ban, and only two of them are companions.

And that’s not even getting into cards that most people actually loathe, like Blood Moon or Chalice of the Void. Because of garbage like Arcum’s Astrolabe, people are able to play three- and four-color decks that regularly utilize Blood Moon as a defensive weapon. It’s an absolute joke. The sheer fact that these cards continue to exist in the format is nothing short of baffling.

But specifically, and on topic for today, Lurrus continues to be a dominant force. Combined with Mishra’s Bauble, it gives a card advantage engine to decks that don’t deserve it and that never would have had something like this in the past. Adding Lurrus turns unplayable decks into powerhouses. Cards like Seal of Fire or Pyrite Spellbomb gain new life. It’s weird and kinda cool the first five or ten times, but now it’s just tired.

I’d like to state that most of the gameplay generated by Lurrus is actually pretty good. With that said, the card and companion mechanic are clearly way too good, and playing against the same five Lurrus decks is getting a bit old. It’s more that I’m always playing against Lurrus or some other companion more than it is the fault of Lurrus proper.

Pioneer

  • No changes.

I’m actually okay with this for now. Pioneer is actually better off because of companions, but it’s still a nightmare. I feel like the first six turns of every game are incredibly fun, but then someone assembles a two-card infinite combo or kill that just shatters any preconceived notion that you were ever on the same playing field.

Before companions, the only three viable strategies were:

Now, with companions, you play against these same three archetypes a lot, but there’s a bit more diversity in the field. Lurrus was powerful enough to make Orzhov Auras into a viable strategy, but it also gave new life to Burn decks. Having those extra resources means it’s much harder for opponents to beat you with a fair gameplan because Lurrus and the card you cast from the graveyard are cards eight and nine for your opening hand.

It’s much harder to beat an aggressive deck that never runs out of steam!

Yorion shows up quite a bit as well. Let me tell ya how ridiculous it is to face off against a five-mana creature that gains three or more cards when it enters the battlefield. Also, you can’t kill it to negate the value. You have to kill every single permanent that your opponent casts before Yorion or else it will absolutely bury you.

The deckbuilding restriction of playing 80 cards is a joke. It’s slightly harder to hit your four-of but Magic is just full of similar and replaceable effects. Not only can you play four copies of Supreme Verdict, but you can also add in some Shatter the Sky or Deafening Clarion. So many spells in Yorion decks are just “do something minor and draw a card, but stay on the battlefield,” so that casting your companion just destroys any semblance of advantage your opponent didn’t previously have.

If I were to do bans for this format in an attempt to make it better, more palatable, or more fun for the player base, I would ban the following cards.

I think Dig Through Time is an egregious Magic card that singlehandedly makes Dimir Inverter a playable archetype. The fact that they get to interact every turn and then combo-kill you is messed up, but it is reinforced by the sheer strength of Dig Through Time. Would Treasure Cruise give them the same reward and consistency? I don’t think so. As someone who’s played both cards across a number of formats, Dig Through Time has always felt way more busted in any deck that doesn’t get to cast Brainstorm.

Walking Ballista shows up just a little too often and pairs a little too nicely with Heliod for my taste. With that said, if you wanted to ban Heliod and leave Walking Ballista to make sure stuff like Hardened Scales still exists, I would definitely be down to have that conversation. However, Walking Ballista is one of the best Magic cards ever printed. It’s a colorless Fireball for decks that didn’t have one. It’s a mana sink for infinite mana that also does nicely on rate. It shows up in ramp decks and midrange decks and combo decks alike. Plain and simple, Walking Ballista is a design mistake. Granted, I love casting it and playing with it and against it, but I can also recognize when my feelings should be ignored for the greater good of the format.

As far as companions go, most people agree that Scornful Egotist as a companion would not be good. It might show up from time to time because it’s free, but it wouldn’t have a lasting impact on any game it showed up in. Yorion, Sky Nomad is a companion that regularly shatters the game when it enters the battlefield. As a card that always starts “in your hand,” Yorion is far too good and creates really frustrating play patterns.

Have you ever tried to unlock yourself from Yorion, Sky Nomad and a Charming Prince? Without removal, you’re getting buried by five or more cards per turn. Even if you have removal, Yorion often blinks out permanents that require more finesse to interact with, or have already accrued value, so killing them doesn’t amount to much. How important should it be to use Abrupt Decay on your opponent’s Omen of the Sea? I’ve had plenty of people tag mine so far because the threat of Yorion is too great. Cards like Omen of the Sea should not be “must-kills.”

Yorion creates an epicenter for your game once it is revealed. There is no dictating around it. If your opponent builds toward it and you haven’t killed them or killed every permanent they have on the battlefield, you’re going to lose. If your opponent reveals a Yorion and you aren’t doing something overly aggressive or attacking from outside the box like a combo deck, Yorion will bury you. It’s the midrange king. There’s literally nothing better you can do in a midrange matchup than cast Yorion. And the fact that you can’t make your opponent discard or kill it before it gains value is a travesty.

Lotus Field is a blight on Pioneer. It’s the Krark-Clan Ironworks of the format, both in terms of fun to play with/against and win rate. I can’t find a good way to interact with Lotus Breach. Most of the time, if I don’t kill them on the fourth turn, I die no matter how I chose to interact. Counterspells are mostly worthless, discard spells are a joke, and any problematic permanent can be bounced or killed by Blast Zone.

I don’t get why this combo deserves to exist in Pioneer. It’s only exacerbated by Underworld Breach, a card banned in Legacy for its combo potential. I wrote an article when Underworld Breach was first printed that said it was the new Yawgmoth’s Will. I firmly believe it’s better. I’ve lost so many games from my opponent casting a two-mana enchantment on Turn 6. I’ve spent the entire game dismantling them and running them low on resources, and then suddenly I die. What a card.

I’m saying I’m okay with that card existing. I actually like the tension Underworld Breach brings to the table so long as the mana generation doesn’t exist. Lotus Field getting untapped over and over is not only boring to watch, it’s very difficult to interact with because Lotus Field has hexproof. The gameplay is bad, the deck is hard to interact with, and it’s far too consistent for my taste. I don’t get how this is okay for Pioneer.

I firmly believe Lurrus of the Dream-Den should be banned in every format, but if that doesn’t happen I hope it only remains legal in Standard. It’s far too good in “older formats” because of how easy it is to skirt the deckbuilding restriction. There’s not a lot to be said here that I haven’t already.

I’d also strongly consider banning the companion mechanic entirely outside of Standard. Speaking of Standard:

Standard

  • No changes.

I don’t get it. I mean, it’s one thing to release a set and hope that all your problems correct themselves. It’s quite another thing to willfully ignore data that’s readily available. There are roughly ten cards printed in the last eighteen months that I wish had never seen the light of day. In fact, I’d argue that Magic would be a better game and more fun experience if they deleted everything that had come out in the last two years. I’d sacrifice Arclight Phoenix to ensure Narset, Parter of Veils never saw print. I’d give up Seasoned Pyromancer to seal the fate of Teferi, Time Raveler. I’d burn down every good thing about the last two years to save every Constructed format.

Here’s what I would ban:

Enough is enough. This card was clearly a mistake and it shouldn’t have been printed in the first place. It doesn’t have a name that resonates inside the story. It has a weird ability that gets abused over and over. It was clearly changed last-minute and not tested. The first time I saw this card, I actually stopped in the middle of VS Live! to exclaim how actually ridiculous it was.

Yorion Jeskai Luuka is clearly the best deck in Ikoria Standard. Its win percentage is outrageous. The interactions are so much more powerful than anything anyone else is doing. When it was first printed, I wrote an article about how it would shape Standard for the entirety of its legality. My first deck I built with it was a fun five-color monstrosity. I won more games than I lost with it, even though it couldn’t cast spells other than Growth Spiral without Fires of Invention on the battlefield.

Teferi breaks multiple cards and stops their functionality entirely. On top of that, it has mostly invalidated counterspells in the format outside of Mystical Dispute. That forces players to continuously find ways to go over the top or ignore your opponent as much as possible. Because Teferi punishes people who try to interact and draws a card while providing a huge in-game effect, it should be banned. It never should have been printed as-is.

Too many clicks. The mental energy needed to play this type of card/interaction is more than should be asked of anyone. It’s a nightmare on Magic Arena. It’s a nightmare on Magic Online.

I could go on, but you get the picture. There are too many inherent problems in Standard for one small banning to fix. I feel like most of the people who play Ikoria Standard on Magic Arena are only doing so because it’s the only real competitive outlet on the program. It’s one of the least popular formats at the moment, which is a real shame considering how much fun I’ve had playing Standard in the past.

So many cards just clearly missed the mark. So many problems are just left unchecked. I mean, can you actually imagine what the current Standard format would look like with no bans? Once Upon a Time; Oko, Thief of Crowns; and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath could all go into the same Yorion deck!

I know their job is incredibly hard so I don’t want to harp too much about “what could have been” or pointing out specific cards that are mistakes. I think their testing process is too fluid and I’d wager they likely have cards heading to the printing press that have last-minute untested changes. I have a few friends who work there, so let me just say that I get you’re doing your best and it’s an impossible task. But there’s one last thing about the announcement I wanted to focus on.

As of now, we’re seeing a diverse and dynamic metagame that changes from week to week in each Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. Before determining whether any changes are necessary, and what the right changes would be, we need to see the metagame come closer to an equilibrium state. Currently, these formats are shifting too quickly for data to indicate what, if any, card or archetype poses a problem.

A fair assessment of the formats and an approach to banning cards that leads me to believe that they’re unhappy with some data points but want to have a clearer picture before taking action.

We are aware of some players’ concerns about the frequency at which they encounter decks using companions across several formats. While we’re not currently seeing problematic win rates in Standard, Pioneer, or Modern from decks using companions, we are looking at overall metagame share and potential for repetitive gameplay.

This is insulting. Anyone who’s played competitive Magic in the last month knows that you’re more likely to play against a companion than not. That means the deckbuilding restrictions aren’t really restrictions at all. They’re small hurdles for people to play some of the most busted cards of all time.

The “win rate” argument is just lazy. Who actually cares about the win rate of “companion decks” when it’s virtually the only thing you play against? We didn’t start playing Magic: The Companioning. Why is it okay for this one mechanic to literally dominate all of competitive Magic? Why aren’t you taking clear and direct action to ensure the integrity of your card game remains intact?

Here’s a question: What’s the first thing that goes through your head if your opponent doesn’t reveal a companion? For me, it’s “combo or idiot.” There are few other possibilities. If you’re choosing to not play a companion when you could, that means your deck is really weird and can’t afford to play around one of these deckbuilding restrictions, or you just don’t get it. Companions changed the game, utterly and completely. If you’re not on board, then you need a damn good reason. Even Lotus Field started playing Lurrus of the Dream-Den!

The last two paragraphs of the Banned and Restricted announcement just don’t sit right with me. They know there’s a problem. It takes two Leagues on Magic Online playing against eight or more companion decks to see the issue. So they’re either being willfully obtuse or unreasonably optimistic. The language used implies that they’re aware of the problem but are currently not in the business of doing anything about it. And for that reason, and that reason alone, I’m furious.

I will not be sold a lemon. I will not listen to the 49% win rate argument again. Anyone who’s played with or against a companion understands that Magic is different now. Anyone who’s played Standard in the last two years knows that Magic just isn’t the same. It’s an arms race to do the most busted thing. Right now, the most busted thing you can do is steal all of your opponent’s permanents. And frankly, it isn’t that hard.

There are so many problems with every Magic format that I don’t know exactly how to salvage them without irreparably damaging the player base or consumer confidence. It’s another impossible task that I don’t envy. I can speculate and make suggestions, but my words will likely fall on deaf ears because I’ve taken an aggressive approach to calling out BS when I see it. All I want is for Magic to succeed. I want balanced, healthy, and fun formats.

Much like my colleague, Bryan Gottlieb, I want to love Constructed Magic again.

SCG Advertisement