Thoughts on the MTG Banned and Restricted Announcement – Mainly ‘Wut?’, by Kerry Meyerhoff

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Thoughts on the MTG Banned and Restricted Announcement – Mainly ‘Wut?

There was a lot of furious discussion and hype surrounding the release of today’s Banned and Restricted announcement. Some of it revolved around Legacy and Modern as always, but a vast amount of the playerbase were firmly convinced that there would be at least one, if not several, Standard bannings.

As of late, Wizards of the Coast has not had a good history with Standard bannings. There was a long time when Standard was fine and needed no intervention, and then once Kaladesh block came around, it necessitated a total of five Standard cards being banned within the first year of its release (not all from Kaladesh block, I hasten to add, but prompted nonetheless by its printing). The first of these, Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage, happened in the last January B&R announcement in 2017, and the second set – Aetherworks Marvel and Felidar Guardian – came a little later on. What was particularly irritating was the announcement of Marvel’s ban, then three days later, a hasty amendment banning Guardian after players had thought their decks were safe. Needless to say, Wizards were not setting a good record for Standard anymore.

With Amonket and Ixalan blocks, and the printing of some pretty decent removal and tribal themes, people hoped that the struggling, stodgy meta of Kaladesh block would move on. However, such was the dominance of the Energy strategies, only compounded by the addition of Glorybringer and the Scarab God, that there were worrying signs on the horizon. Energy was simply ‘the best deck’, and there was no two ways about it.

Now we are at the present day and with the release of Rivals of Ixalan just around the corner, everyone was abuzz with the prospect of another spate of banned cards. Energy is currently 30% of the Magic Online metagame, and even higher in paper, comprising 7 of the top 8 decks at the recent SCG Columbus team event. A few days ago, Melissa DeTora of the Play Design team wrote an article on ‘Block Monsters‘, comparing Energy to the days of Affinity in Mirrodin block, when a whopping nine cards were banned out of the deck to weaken it. People were sure it was coming.

Well, Wizards didn’t disappoint.

The Banned and Restricted announcement is as follows:

Rogue Refiner, Attune With Aether, Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins are banned in Standard.

As predicted, Energy was hit hard. Attune with Aether is undoubtedly a huge part of the engine that makes the deck tick. It allows a grindy, midrangey deck to run only 22 lands in some cases, because having the copies of Attune allows the player to smooth out their land draws and fix their mana to enable four-colour manabases, whilst also gaining Energy for free on turn one. It is this card that makes Longtusk Cub such a viable threat, because already having some free Energy in the bank means you can pump it to a being a 3/3, and therefore out of early blocking range, pretty easily from the get-go.

Without a doubt, Attune with Aether was the card a lot of people had their eyes on, and as predicted it got the chop. The other potential option that some thought might be banned was Aether Hub. However, while obviously very good, this land doesn’t do as much in terms of gaining Energy as Attune does, and if Wizards banned one, they didn’t really need to ban the other, as both perform roughly the same role in the deck. The insight they offered as to their reasons for leaving it alone was that it could potentially open up deckbuilding avenues for those people who want to run non-green Energy strategies, and is therefore a more flexible option than Attune. I don’t know which was the correct option as it’s a very tough call, but I’d like to believe we could see Energy still being good as a supporting mechanic in other archetypes, so perhaps some good will come of leaving Hub alone.

Rogue Refiner was another card that many people were discussing, and honestly, this card was always going to be very good. A 3/2 for 3 which draws you a card on entry would probably be played regardless of whether it gave you Energy or not, because that’s just a great value creature, so it’s not a surprise that adding the extra free Energy on top made this card a target. It didn’t need to be as good as it is to see play. That said, the card itself is pretty innocuous and doesn’t do anything crazy – no mana fixing, no game-winning effect – and so banning it just to weaken Energy generation and push down Temur is a worrying trend. The same would have been said of Whirler Virtuoso and Longtusk Cub, the other cards people were discussing in this sphere. Looking at the cards without any context, it’s difficult to imagine any of them being good enough to ban in Standard, and yet here we are. Energy became such a monster that something drastic was done.

Was it for the better? We’ll have to wait and see.

What really shocked the entire community, though, was the second two cards on that list. Everyone expected the Energy bans after Melissa DeTora’s article, everyone was ready for that deck to be hit because it was obvious it was incredibly strong. However, Ramunap Red wasn’t really in anyone’s crosshairs. It’s the second best deck after Energy – true – and it’s got a high win percentage – also true. Why, though, is it necessary to ban out the second-best deck, banning cards printed as recently as Ixalan, without even giving it, or other decks that could potentially beat it, a chance to flourish in a metagame not dominated by Temur Energy?

It’s absolutely baffling.

Wizards’ reasons for doing so are simple; because Ramunap Red, the premier red deck in the format, has a good matchup against everything in the field except Energy, which they now expect will be worse. Therefore, should they hit Energy and not Ramunap, they believe that the metagame will simply become full of Ramunap Red without any counterplay, and in their ‘extensive’ analysis of what that Standard meta might look like, is it very unlikely that any decks arise which will consistently be able to beat it.

In principle, it’s possible to understand where they are coming from. Their goal isn’t to ban the decks out entirely but to bring them on par with everything else and bring down their win percentage by targeting the two cards in Ramunap that give the deck legs against long, drawn-out control games and Approach’s lifelinking Angel of Invention. There’s no doubt that having free damage on your lands is a great boon to a red deck, and Rampaging Ferocidon is just a good creature, no question. Are either of them banworthy in a meta where they aren’t even a part of the top deck? Questionable.

This, to me, signifies that Wizards has lost control. They are afraid of having more stale one-deck metas. They are afraid of having any more ban announcements in Standard down the road. They are afraid of what will happen if they go for three more months and try to let people brew their way out from under mono-red.

By banning these cards out, though, not only have they (again) hugely shaken the confidence of their playerbase, particularly those looking at Ramunap Red as an alternative to Energy when they were confident that the best deck would be hit, but they have also made a large portion of the Standard metagame at worst unplayable and at best severely limited in the same announcement. Standard attendance is going to significantly drop because of this, at least in the short term until the Pros have had a chance to solve the next meta and produce some more winning decks. In the long term, many people will probably be afraid to invest too much in the format, and consumer confidence in Wizards will be very difficult to rebuild.

Many people I know are shaking their heads and shrugging, ‘Why bother?’. That’s a question that is honestly, right now, very fair to ask. Why should people invest in Standard, when the bannings are so frequent, volatile and unexpected? Why should they learn how to play a deck to the best of their ability, only to be fearful that it’ll be taken away from them in three months’ time? Why should people try to build the best list they can, when Wizards has now clearly demonstrated that anything they consider to be even possibly too good could be pulled out from under them at a moment’s notice?

I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, but I hope that Wizards of the Coast will, or there could be some very stormy seas on the horizon, and not just those of Ixalan.

On a slightly different note, at the end of the announcement, Wizards put in a small paragraph about the next B&R:

“Finally, we will have another banned and restricted announcement next month on February 12. The timing of this announcement makes it ideal to consider changes based on the results of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and thus will more than likely focus on Modern. However, it also is right before Grand Prix Lyon, which is Modern. As such, the paper effective date of that announcement, if we should change anything, will be February 23, so as not to disrupt anyone traveling to that event.”

This, to me, clearly points to some serious changes to Modern in the next banned announcement. If they have to put a warning at the end of the previous one about which format they’re focusing on and how it might affect organised play, down to the specific GP, in my mind that means they’ve probably already got some cards in mind for banning or unbanning. Expect a few shaky months of Modern as people anticipate what could, should or might happen; expect a Pro Tour with all the spectators praying their deck doesn’t win it; and expect a big announcement on February 12th.

 

Community Question: Do you agree with the bans? Do you think there should have been something different banned instead? What do you think about the upcoming announcement for Modern in February?

Thanks for reading,

Kerry Meyerhoff

Thoughts on the MTG Banned and Restricted Announcement - Mainly 'Wut?', by Kerry Meyerhoff

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