What Happened? Standard Banning Thoughts

Hello friends, it’s that time of the year when updates to Banned and Restricted lists are made, and oh boy they made some changes.

Again.

People who haven’t been playing that long are used to semi-regular bannings at this point, but here are my thoughts on the whole thing.

First of all, let’s see what the banned cards are.

Standard bannings
Taken from the official announcement/explanation article.

Rogue RefinerAttune with Aether

Ramunap RuinsRampaging Ferocidon

Four cards at once is somewhat surprising, especially since if you haven’t been playing Standard for a while (to be fair, many people not wanting to play Standard is part of this I assume) since these cards aren’t screaming ‘overpowered’ on the surface.

The Wizards article has explanations, but I’m going to look at if these cards needed to be banned, and why this keeps happening lately.

The Energy Cards

Was Temur Energy a problem deck in Standard? Absolutely. Energy cards in general have been a problem in general for a while now, and they simply keep being among the best decks in standard. I say ‘among the best decks’ because sometimes it takes a while for the best builds to be found, then they become ‘the best deck’ period.

The reasons given for the Energy bannings make sense to me, even if they look a little bit strange out of context. No one’s ever been clamouring for Lay of the Land to get banned, although some people talked about Traverse the Ulvenwald for a while. Turns out Emrakul was the biggest issue there.

The short version of their reasons for banning these are:
– Energy is too common in events
– Energy beats everything, even decks ‘good against energy’
– These particular cards twist similar decks you try to make, until you just become Energy
– The other energy cards will still be playable but not broken without these

Rogue Refiner
Flavour text: “Just try and tell me what I’m doing is wrong.” WotC “Okay.”

 

I don’t disagree with these assertions at all. Temur is bananas, and in terms of ‘competitive diversity’ it makes nearly every other deck a joke unless they are going to extremes. The Mono Red deck is trying to go extremely fast, the Blue/White decks are trying hard to operate on completely different axes so they don’t have a fair fight with energy and so on.

Attune + Refiner have a best friend though. Without this, I don’t think as many decks would be unplayable.

Longtusk Cub
*Jaws theme plays*

Let’s be honest here, Longtusk Cub takes nearly every creature in Standard that doesn’t immediately have an effect on the game and throws them in the trash. It’s not that you couldn’t *try* a deck with dinosaurs or whatever, but you’d soon start asking “why am I paying 4 mana for this 4/5 creature, when they paid 2 mana for a 6/6+”. It makes a mockery of basically every tribe in Ixalan, which is awkward. It murders the opponent, generates energy making itself bigger and is also an impenetrable wall. It just does everything.

Longtusk is such a bananas card, I expect it will still be fine when you need to work a little harder to get it online, but at least now the Energy player will need to sink actual resources into it to pump it early, and it’s not going to be immune to turn 2 Shock 45%~ish of the time.

The Red Cards

I’m going to be honest and say that I didn’t actually think they’d ban ‘Ramunap Red’ cards. I’m glad they did weaken the deck though, it will cause some shifts for sure. The Ferocidon ban in particular really surprised people considering it has barely been legal for a few months.

The short versions:
– Much like Attune giving you too much ‘free value’ form your mana base, so did Ruins give you 4 or so damage at almost no cost.
– Ferocidon totally owns white decks, basically, just gives them wedgies for days.

I can get behind these bans, the Mono-Red deck is extremely consistent and it’s hard to sideboard against it, Ferocidon is an issue for reasons detailed below, but lets be real here. These cards aren’t the biggest problem.

Hazoret the Fervent
Hazoret the Problem

I know that Wizards hand-waved away banning Hazoret. They said:
“Conversely, we believe that banning Bomat Courier or Hazoret the Fervent would too dramatically change the play pattern of the deck and its win percentage. This would not be consistent with the goal of maintaining the competitive viability of the deck post-ban.”

I don’t buy that ‘not getting to play Hazoret’ is a ‘play pattern’ issue. I think they left it because it’s Mythic, and they really don’t want to keep banning those after Emrakul and Aetherworks Marvel left people out of pocket.

Hazoret – similar to the Longtusk Cub package – does too much for what it costs you. It hits too hard, is an unreal blocker in red of all colours (while still killing the opponent), while the drawback of needing one or fewer cards is rarely relevant. It also makes nearly every creature and removal spell irrelevant. While Ferocidon might ‘lack counterplay’ by punishing chump blockers and life gain, those same cards also don’t do a whole lot when you’re being hit for 5-7 damage every turn and can’t trade.

Even Chandra, Torch of Defiance plays second fiddle to it, and no other aggressive red 4 drop will be worth looking at until it leaves. It just does everything

Why Does This Keep Happening?

It’s been commonly said that Standard as a format has been ‘bad’ for a couple of years now. I don’t think I’ve been excited to play Standard all that often for sure. Repeatedly, it ends up the same kind of pattern where we don’t so much build decks around themes or strategies (e.g., the recent Cycling deck is neat and based around synergies) rather we just find the obvious power cards and find shells for them until it’s clear one is best.

Part of this is from the delay between designing sets and them seeing print. For a while there, Wizards announced that Standard would rotate more regularly, but they backed down on that decision. This left them with a bunch of sets that had cards wildly pushed, which originally wouldn’t be around too long for people to get tired of, but then, whoops, we were stuck with them for years.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Remember the turn 4 Gideon roulette?

I’m just speculating there of course. I don’t have hard evidence to say that Wizards were being fast and loose with power levels because of faster rotation. (well, Aetherworks Marvel being legal alongside Ulamog, that wasn’t planned)

I will say that it certainly pissed off a lot of the casual players I knew when they announced faster rotations alongside printing incredibly pushed (thus expensive) Mythics like Gideon and Grim Flayer.

Grim Flayer
What, doesn’t everyone want to pay £60 for their playset of 2 drops every 6 months?

However, one of the biggest issues that I feel has been plaguing recent sets is that they keep making cards that just ‘do it all’ too often, especially at higher rarities. It bugs me when there are so many cards that are essentially strictly better than every other card, because it reduces options.

There’s no tension as to whether you want a certain effect, an efficient threat, or something resilient. You stop being able to fine-tune decks in any particular direction because if one card does everything you’d ever want, well, I guess builds will homogenise in that direction.

Historically, there is usually a trade off between utility and raw power. Here are some illustrative hypothetical examples.

Want a creature that boosts Devotion in Modern? You could pay GGG for Wistful Selkie and draw a card while being an inefficient 2/2, versus a 4/5 with no abilities for the same cost. Which one is better depends on your metagame!

Maybe you’re brewing up some kind of kitchen table Blue/Red deck, you might elect to put a 2 mana 1/1 in your deck to filter through your deck. You are electing to make your deck have some extra strength in a longer game compared to say, a 2 mana 3/3.

Do you want to counteract hate cards people bring against you? Well, you could play a somewhat narrow enchantment that will get the job done versus another efficient threat.

Wistful SelkieMerfolk LooterLeyline of Punishment

These aren’t bad cards, they have their roles. There are real decisions to be made in deck building between say, adding Blood Knight, Stigma Lasher or Keldon Marauders to your deck.

Stigma LasherBlood KnightKeldon Marauders

Let me give some examples of what are recent problem cards. In short, cards where there are no trade-offs whatsoever in terms of power/cost/utility in any direction compared to every other option at similar costs.

Smuggler's Copter

So you’re looking to power up your graveyard or Madness cards. What do you give up, power? No, you get a 3 power evasion creature. Is it vulnerable? Nope, it has 3 toughness too and avoids sorceries. Maybe you need to jump through a hoop to crew it then by needed big creatures?  Oh, no, the bare minimum. Meanwhile in the same set, Sky Skiff is embarrassed, wondering why it’s worse in every single way. Why couldn’t the card with the useful ability say, have less toughness?

So you end up with a hard-to-remove, extremely efficient way to kill your opponent AND the ability to bury them with value with looting while enabling synergies. It just does everything for basically every strategy.

Rampaging Ferocidon

Much like Copter, Ferocidon has so many abilities without sacrificing efficiency, it’s not reasonable. Imagine that there were 2 different creatures in Ixalan, one that said ‘players can’t gain life’ and one that had the damage ability.

Which one would you play in your sideboard? There would be real choices to make depending on what cards people play. What if this was a 2/2 without Menace? You’d still want the ability, right? But it wouldn’t also attack better than creatures without the useful abilities.

Instead, we have two abilities which collectively brick all kinds of cards left and right, while giving up absolutely nothing in terms of size, making it hard to kill, and it even has an extra evasion ability for no reason! It just does everything a red deck could want.

Rogue Refiner

The Wizards article talked about this being a generous “rate” card, in the sense that it gives you a lot for the cost. That is true. I think this would be standard playable in various forms if any of these changes were individually true:
– It was a 2/1
– It didn’t give you energy
– It cost the same as Wistful Selkie (see above)
– It cost 2UG
– The ability triggered on death

For the cost you pay, there’s no reason for this to have 3 power. Why does everything need to have 3 power? You aren’t making any sacrifice in playing this over another option. With almost no ways to prevent the value it generates, it’s great at killing people, at grinding out people, at blocking, at fixing your draws, it just does everything.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Everyone does remember this right? While there were times it fell by the wayside a little bit (because every single deck was built with it in mind) Gideon was clearly pushed to the moon. Much like Hazoret, you would often just sit there hoping they didn’t play Gideon on turn 4 on the play, because if they did there was nothing you could do about it. Mostly because your Gideon on the draw lost to theirs.

Gideon would still be good if he made 1/1s. Or wasn’t actually indestructible and died to removal. Or killed your opponent in 5 hits instead of only 4.

You don’t need to decide whether you wanted a fast clock or a grindy card, Gideon was bananas either way, and even if you did answer it (not easy) the opponent still got value via tokens or emblems. He just did everything.

The Scarab God

Wait, did I say those other cards did everything? I understand that the gimmick of the Gods is that they are hard to kill, but really, this card is a joke. It’s testament to how powerful the Energy and Mono-Red strategies are that a 5/5 immortal creature that automatically dominates any game where it doesn’t instantly get exiled isn’t being included in banning discussions. For 3UB! I thought Green was supposed to get the best big creatures. I guess they got an 8/8 for 1G right enough.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Scarab God would still be played if it was a 3/3, considering the abilities it has on it. You could remove that top ability altogether too, and put it on some other card to encourage zombie decks.

Compare all the Blue and/or Black 5 drops in Standard. Some of them are resilient like Glyph Keeper, some of them help you stabilise, like Archfiend of Ifnir. What does Scarab God do? Oh. Everything.

297
I know, I know, time to take out this picture again.

You get the idea. It’s hard to encourage diversity and creativity in tournaments when they insist on continually pushing certain threats in all directions at once.

Remember when they banned Wild Nacatl in Modern for pushing out all the other aggro decks, because ‘why would you go to the effort of playing a Shaman deck when you can effortlessly get a 3/3 for 1 mana?’. It’s basically the same situation, except now they’d probably give the Nacatl flying and draw you a card.

Wild Nacatl
How quaint.

I don’t expect these will be the last bans we’ll see in standard, depending on how long things take to rotate with the new set structure. The trend was set, and we’ve still got a bunch of absurd cards available that haven’t rotated out.

Ixalan might well be a step in the right direction overall, but how long will attendances at FNM stay high when every Vampire, Merfolk and Dinosaur deck gets browned by Glorybringer?

Hostage Taker
If this was in Hour of Devastation, it would be a 4/4 with Hexproof

Anyways, that’s enough from me. I’m off to make some sweet decks for FNM that will lose horribly to Hazoret Red. See you next time.

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