Banned and Not Banned, err Nevermind
On Monday, that was the announcement Wizards gave to the community regarding the Banning and Restricting of cards in the competitive formats. While fans of Vintage and Legacy generally applauded the decisions, the clear majority of players were upset by the lack of moves against the top tier decks in Standard: Mardu Vehicles and 4-Color Saheeli Combo. I am not going to discuss the Legacy ban in depth since Miracles Master Rich Cali is already covering that, but I will go over Modern, Vintage, and Standard as well as what sets Standard apart from the other formats when it comes to handling the Ban and Restrict lists.
Recently there have been only 3 decks dominating Vintage: Monastery Mentor Tempo decks, Shops of various flavors, and Paradoxical Storm Combo. The Mentor decks were seen by far the best decks and Wizards decided to Restrict Gitaxian Probe and Gush (for the 3rd time). Beyond the amusement that Gush has been unrestricted 2 times prior, these moves were made in the hopes that it would weaken the deck as well as slow down Storm a bit. Unfortunately, this might only accomplish slowing down Storm. Mentor now can run more lands and pre-sideboard a bit more versus the other decks. These blue decks tend to get better vs the field when they can run more singletons to dig for the bullets they need in various match-ups. If they wanted to de-power the Mentor decks a restriction to both Mentor and Young Pyromancer were probably needed. As it stands I could see Mentor still being the top contender and potentially more dominate going forward.
There were no changes announced and no one was really talking about this format since all of the focus was on the other 3 formats. I still believe that both Mox Opal and Simian Spirit Guide need to go because in the end what are they doing that adds to a healthy format? I don’t really see Mox Opal helping a control deck that reigns in the villains of the format. I don’t think we will see anything like Mishra’s Bauble or Street Wraith get banned because if decks want to beat Death’s Shadow they can. I would still love to see Bloodbraid Elf get unbanned eventually because I think it got a bad rap due to Deathrite Shaman back in the day. In a format that is killing people on turn 3 or 4, casting a 3/2 haste creature and another spell for 4 mana seems rather tame.
So here we are to the main event. No changes to a format that everyone thought was going to see sweeping change to the top of the format. I am a huge proponent of not making changes unless it is absolutely necessary. I only really wanted to see Saheeli get banned instead of Felidar Guardian. There are a couple reasons for this. The first one is that Felidar Guardian has so many cool interactions with other permanents in the format that I think it can stand on its own without the combo. Now, people were saying that Saheeli being banned would make people feel bad that they spent money on this card. Well, since the combo started dominating the card has dropped like 40% in value. Planeswalkers historically have gone up in price over the long term so if people just hold this card there is a good chance that down the road they could recoup their costs. The card has even shown potential in Modern.
The other changes desired were either a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Heart of Kiran ban (I am not going to really acknowledge people wanting Scrapheap Scrounger banned because that is just silly). I can understand that they are powerful cards but I don’t think they are so over powering that they needed to get removed from the format. In a world where Drake Haven exists I can see Gideon naturally getting powered down because it would just not last very long against an army of flying 2/2s.
So why was there such a huge upheaval among players of the Standard announcement vs the rest of the formats? There are a couple of reasons. First is that Standard is one of the gateways into playing Magic. It is hard to run FNM events when it is the same 2 decks winning every week. I think it is very understandable for players to be upset that a combo that was missed in set testing made it through and has been allowed to exist. I also understand it from WoTC’s side that it will do far more long term damage to keep banning cards that are winning. It will make players feel like their investments into the format are not safe. I much rather sacrifice the short term (4-6 months) of Standard for the greater good of the game. There is a Pro Tour coming up as well so players were hoping to explore a brand-new format instead of an old with a new set. I can see their complaints too, but with 2 known villains in the format, isn’t the goal now to find something that beats them? The best players should be able to do that.
The older formats have players that theoretically are already entrenched into the game and have been around long enough to see cards get removed and added to the format. I don’t really know anyone that is starting today and decides Vintage is the place for them to go. I think Sensei’s Divining Top and Gush were the 2 cards I have seen the most desire to be banned from their respective formats in a long time. While you do not want to change too much in these formats, the card pool is so big that players know that it will have to happen with the lack of significant testing and R&D time put into the format.
In the long run, being patient with the Banning of Standard cards will go a long way. WoTC has already stated that they are going to work with swinging the pendulum away from the threats and back to the middle where the Questions of the format have appropriate Answers. I am not expecting Pithing Needle or Hero’s Downfall to be in every format, but having one or the other around or something similar will go a long way in making sure that we do not have these issues again.
Let’s try this again! So 2 days after the initial announcement WoTC decides to ban Felidar Guardian and purposefully ruin half of my article….the jerks! I have mixed feelings about this decision because unlike most people on the internet I am more Jedi than Sith and am able to see beyond the “absolutes.” I like that they made this change, the combo had to go for the good of the game. I dislike that they waited 2 days to make the adjustment. I do not believe for a second that they used MTGO data to come to their conclusion. The format had no time to breathe with so many new cards entering the format. Instead I believe WoTC listened to their Pro Players and made the decision based off of that feedback. I really hope they take that path in the future. The Pro Players understand the game at such a higher level than the masses of the Internet that WoTC should lean on them when it comes to doing some as drastic as making bans to standard.
As I said above, I like that they made this change and banned part of the combo, but I also think they banned the wrong piece. What good is Saheeli Rai in this format? She was almost unplayable before Felidar Guardian was printed and will be so again. The cat on the other hand all sort of sweet combos with cards in this format. It could have gone into any number of midrange and control shells to get value out of the Oath cycle, other Planeswalkers, Gearhulks, and the list goes on. Instead we are left with one of the worst planeswalkers ever made. I hope going forward that WoTC will put any kind of financial ramifications off to the side when making these decisions. Saheeli was a $7-$8 card at most and they clearly have no qualms about banning cards worth more than a quarter.
Stu is a former M:TG Pro Tour competitor and avid comic book fan. He wants to know what you think about his article, so leave a comment below or hit him up on twitter @Ssomers55.
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