April MTG Banned & Restricted Announcement: A Disappointment or a Sigh of Relief?
After the incredible hype and subsequent debate that came of the February banned and restricted update two months ago, there have been similar stirrings (no pun intended) leading up to today’s announcement. Modern and Legacy are usually the two most closely watched formats, unless something is going horribly wrong in Standard (which, thankfully at the moment, seems not to be the case). The Top 8 of recent GP Seattle’s Legacy portion featured 20 copies of Deathrite Shaman, a card which is on plenty of players’ hit lists, and yesterday’s GP Hartford saw a Top 8 stacked with aggro and combo lists, accompanying many raised eyebrows over the recent success of B/R Hollow One.
The announcement, though, posted by Ian Duke earlier today:
“No changes to any format.”
For some, this comes as a bitter disappointment, and for others, they are happy with the state of the formats and welcome the announcement with a sigh of relief. For me, I am somewhere in the middle, and I’d like to expand on this a bit. Right now, this is almost certainly the right decision, and I think Wizards have done a great job at holding back from giving in to player hate for particular decks. However, a few months down the line, I would like to see some changes.
Let’s start with Legacy.
Deathrite Shaman has been, for the last six months or so in particular, the top most-complained-about card on every MtG discussion site over the whole internet. “It’s ubiquitous”, “It’s homogenising the format”, “I can’t stand playing against four-colour Delver anymore”. There are, certainly, a lot of legitimate reasons to look at banning this card. For one, it’s a 1/2 which, honestly, it has no business being. Why is it able to block 1/1s for free? That’s not fair. For another, it can be cast for either green or black mana which accounts for about 70% of all the decks in Legacy (data taken from the metagame spread on MtGGoldfish for the last 2 months). For a third, it is a mana dork which actually has an impact in the late-game, able to act as maindeck graveyard hate, a substantial “unblockable” clock, and a mana source all in one card. Not to mention the free fixing which allows it to make splashing a fourth colour completely free. People are right when they say that this card does too much for one mana.
However, I urge these people to take a look at Legacy. A good, hard look. Yes, Deathrite Shaman is very good. It’s undercosted. Would you say that a 2-mana Griselbrand is also undercosted? Would you say a 3-mana Emrakul, for example, is too good for the format? What about a turn 1 Tendrils for 20? Obviously these combos require two or more cards, but are also harder to deal with than a small creature that doesn’t have haste. Legacy is supposed to be about broken things, it’s the format where cards can stretch their legs and show off what they can do. Deathrite Shaman is the fair decks’ equivalent of a game-winning combo piece. It’s slow, but it grinds away, chipping at their health pool, buffering yours, or helping you power out your answers in time to deal with their threats.
Yes, there were 20 Deathrite Shamans in the Top 8 of GP Seattle. Two of the decks running it were the Four-Colour Czech Pile list which has sprung up as a result of Shaman’s existence – the free splash for red, and therefore Lightning Bolt, to accompany the base colours. This is the deck that most people complain about. The others were Grixis Delver (notably a fast tempo-based strategy revolving around Wasteland and Young Pyromancer), BUG Midrange (a slow deck centring around Leovold and its capacity to deny card advantage), and Maverick, a creature-based strategy using Knight of the Reliquary which most people claimed was a dead deck in the face of “the Deathrite meta”.
Shaman is a very versatile card, and that versatility is what enables so many different strategies to utilise it. If you ban it, you are taking away a tool from so many varied decks, some of which depend on it, that you will be left with an unrecognisable meta, and midrange will take a very large hit. Yes, it’s powerful and yes, it wouldn’t be printed today with the same text it has now. But isn’t that true for all the good cards in Legacy? The Show and Tells, the Lion’s Eye Diamonds, the Ancient Tombs of the world? Doing powerful, undercosted things shouldn’t be restricted to only combo decks, and I am one of those who is pleased that midrange is being given a fair chance.
If, and only if, the mana fixing that it provides becomes a real issue and all the Deathrite decks become a singular homogenised list, will there become a true problem with this card. For now, the meta will adjust and carry on.
So, to Modern. While the calls for bans and unbans are always there, in this instance most of them were fairly halfhearted, and I think that Wizards has made the right call in refraining from touching the format. Last time, they took a big risk in unbanning Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in an effort to slow the format down. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked, because the uptick in linear aggro as a response to the new meta proved to be more effective than the 4-drops which were made legal, and tapping out to cast either of these cards against Bogles, Storm, Hollow One, Affinity, Humans, Burn or Eggs will just result in you losing the game. That said, Jund still manages to put up okay showings thanks to the power of Thoughtseize, but currently the sheer volume of successful fast decks and innumerable strategies is vastly outnumbering the fair decks.
Despite this, though, I still think the meta has time to adjust. It’s very diverse and swingy right now, and as one deck becomes good, others rise up to counter it. Two huge ripples were caused by the unbannings last time and the waters have not yet settled, so unbanning anything else too soon would have been risky and at the moment, unnecessary. It’s a good idea to give the format time to straighten itself out before making any heavy-handed moves.
That said, though, I would like to see some changes in July. When the format has had time to settle and we have seen a de facto ‘best deck’ emerge, or the aggro/combo meta has refined itself and the decks are even faster and more streamlined than they are now, it would be a good time to throw another stone. Unbanning something like Stoneforge Mystic which calls for interaction would be good, but Patrick Sullivan put it very well during commentary of SCG Milwaukee when he said that it’s just more of the same low-to-the-ground, undercosted, overstatted stuff that people are already doing. Unbanning Splinter Twin might open the door to force the linear decks to have interaction, but is adding another combo deck to the format to prey on its own kind what we really need? People are looking to Birthing Pod, to Green Sun’s Zenith, even to Ponder and Preordain with a Grapeshot ban caveat, to all the cards that are promoting fair gameplay. If the meta continues to evolve as it has been up until now, perhaps that would be the way to go.
Alternatively, Wizards could look to ban. In the past, Ancient Stirrings, Simian Spirit Guide and Mox Opal have been in the spotlight, bumping up against the ceiling of the format. Now, Hollow One is public enemy number one, undoing your mulligan decisions and consistently putting incredible amounts of power into play very early on in the game. Could any of the decks putting these cards to unfair uses see a ban? If one of them emerges as the top deck amongst the rest, then perhaps. As it is, it doesn’t seem that banning one turn-three deck will fix the problem, so unless something changes drastically in the next couple of months, unbannings or new printings could be the way to go.
I take the printing of Damping Sphere as a positive sign. Wizards are printing hate cards, and they are unbanning slow and powerful 4-drops. They are aware of the problems that exist in Modern and they are taking steps to try and fix them, but crucially, without being too heavy-handed about it, and this is an approach I like a lot. Nothing is any more powerful than anything else at the moment, so targeting one or two decks wouldn’t have helped the overall problem, and would only have made a lot of people irritated that their particular brand of combo was the victim. It’s much better to take a step back, look at the format from the outside and say, ‘how can we help this to evolve in the right direction?’.
So, we have until July now to brew up new decks to counteract the Hollow One and Bogles menaces – and, of course, to play with our favourite Elf Shaman in Legacy.
What do you think of the announcement? Do you have a new brew you want to try in Modern now you know the format won’t be changing? Are you unhappy and think Wizards were wrong? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,