Raise Your Standards – Recent Banning Thoughts

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Hello and welcome to another episode of Raise Your Standards.  This week I thought we’d talk about the big happening in the world of Magic this week, the Banned and Restricted Announcement.

This past Monday was the day that many Standard players were looking forward to, the announcement of what would be banned once Amonkhet was officially released.  I was one of the many players waiting in anticipation to see how the stale Standard format would be shaken up.  I anticipated a minimum of one card being banned and a maximum of three.  Much to my disappointment, when the announcement was posted there were a total of zero bans in Standard.  I was shocked.

How could it be that there were no bans?  The folks at Wizards of the Coast surely knew that attendance at Standard events has been down.  After all, there have been numerous attempts to revive things.  Standard Showdowns were created as a way to keep people interested in playing Standard even though it was clear that people weren’t happy with the format.

The reasoning given for making no bans was that more data was needed.  The data they had indicated that they were aware of the top two decks in the format.

“…we are still watching the format closely — particularly the interaction between Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai, as well as the dominance of Mardu decks featuring Heart of Kiran. We have not seen the movement in the format we had hoped for with the Grand Prix in the latter half of the season, but we still believe we need to gather more data — particularly with an eye toward the effect of Amonkhet on the Pro Tour.” — Aaron Forsythe

So, Wizards knew there was a problem, that two decks were dominating the format (likely causing the steady decline in attendance at Standard events), but rather than make a decision to ban certain cards, they chose to do nothing.  Better to watch things and see if any movement happens with the release of a new set rather than make additional bans that might make more people upset.

Because we all know that’s what happened after the bans of Emrakul, the Promised End, Reflector Mage, and Smuggler’s Copter were announced.  People were upset.  They had invested money and time into getting cards to play with, only to have them banned in a move that very few people were expecting.  After all, it had been somewhere in the neighborhood of six years since the last bannings had happened in Standard, so when they happened a few months ago, suddenly people’s faith in the game that they love had been shaken.

It was also at that point that people started to question why Felidar Guardian wasn’t also banned.  After all, it was part of a nearly unstoppable combo that could kill you with no warning.  Wizard’s response was that, while they hadn’t seen the combo in their playtesting, they would allow it to exist in Standard and see how the metagame would react.  This announcement shook people’s faith in WotC again.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” — Abraham Lincoln

While I’m against lying in general, there are times when it is better to say nothing than to say something that causes people to distrust you.  The announcement that WotC’s playtesters hadn’t even noticed the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian interaction is one of those times.  If they had acknowledged the existence of the combo without stating that they didn’t notice it during their playtesting, people would have likely maintained their trust that WotC’s R&D had things under control and players would have continued to look for answers to the combo as opposed to giving up with no hope.

Now, let’s flash-forward to Wednesday evening, April 26th.  That’s the night the Addendum to the Banned & Restricted Announcement was made.  Wizards announced that they have decided to ban Felidar Guardian effective April 28th.  They go on to explain that since Amonkhet was released online on Monday (April 24th), the percentage of 5-0 and 4-1 decks running Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian has increased to 40% from the level it was at during Aether Revolt.  While I can’t argue the data, I can complain about the timing of the decision.

For months, it seems that Wizards watched as the Copycat deck and Mardu Vehicles became the top two decks in Standard.  Data was accumulated by WotC and reviewed, and they couldn’t help but see a correlation between the lack of diversity in decks and the dwindling tournament attendance numbers.  It was obvious to most people that something needed to change (whether that was an influx of new cards or the removal of a few).  On Monday, Wizards decided to announce that they had chosen to see what an influx of new cards would do rather than make any bannings.  Just two days later, after a relatively small amount of data from online tournaments was received, they changed their mind.  I have to believe that the addition of cards with Cycling allowed the combo pieces to be assembled much quicker than before, and this Addendum was made.

This hasty reversal of Monday’s lack of bannings is another incident where people’s faith has been shaken.  How much more shaking will it take before all faith is lost?  For some, it has already happened.  I’m a bit more optimistic, but I’d rather not see how much more I can withstand.

Many people online have lost all faith in WotC’s R&D.  I’ve seen lots of posts calling for the resignation of Mark Rosewater because of the sorry state Standard is currently in.  I personally think all of these demands are ludicrous.  The people in R&D are doing their job to the best of their ability.  The state of Standard currently isn’t the fault of any one person, and no one should lose their job over it.  Obviously the folks in R&D want the game to do well, so they can continue making it, so let’s all calm down and stop the rioting before things go too far.  With that being said, I do feel that some changes need to be made.

To the people at Wizards of the Coast – Please think about what the reaction will be to any comment you make before posting it.  Consider all of the ramifications your comment will have.  Think about what questions it will spark and be prepared with answers for them.  Also remember that, while it’s nice for all of us players to feel like we get a behind-the-scenes look at things, there are some things that are better off remaining behind closed doors.  If you think what you say will cause widespread panic or feelings of mistrust, don’t say it.

Also, please stop being so wishy-washy in your decisions.  You’ll never be able to please 100% of the people 100% of the time.  Remember that.  Stop making a decision and then going back on that decision later at the first sign that someone might not like it.  It seems like most of the problems with Standard happened at the time you decided to reverse the decision to have rotations occur twice a year.  I was one of the people who were looking forward to more frequent rotations, however because the feedback you received on this change was primarily negative, you changed things back to the previous status quo without reviewing all of the data.  I don’t recall being asked to share my opinion on more frequent rotations (although I might have missed a survey about it), but I know I’m not alone in my support of them.

Finally, I look forward to the day when the answers are as powerful as the threats in Standard.  I understand that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of having less powerful answers and it is something you are working on correcting, but please don’t ever let it get this bad again.  You say that cards like Doom Blade are too powerful for Standard, but I disagree.  The key to including cards like this is to limit the number of instant-speed, kill-everything, low-CMC cards.  Having one 2-mana card like this in Standard is fine if the other creature destruction costs more mana or only destroys a subset of creatures.  Balancing this is tricky, but I have faith that you in R&D can do it properly.

To the people reading this article – Be compassionate.  The members of WotC’s R&D have no reason to harm Magic.  They’re not trying to kill it.  Mistakes have been made, but mistakes are best used as learning tools in order to do things differently (hopefully better) in the future.  If you have a legitimate concern, try sending an email to Mark Rosewater.  He’s said he personally reads all of the emails he receives and I’m sure he will forward any email he gets that isn’t for something directly in his domain.  But if you email him, please be respectful and courteous.

Conclusion

So, while I think things could have been handled differently by WotC (for the last 6 months or so), I understand the reason for the banning and can support it.  I am hopeful that Standard can become, once again, a home for fun, innovative decks, and not a format where only the best two decks stand a chance of winning.  I’m hopeful that Amonkhet has the tools to bring back a fun and enjoyable environment for Standard play.

That’s all for this week.  What are your thoughts on the ban?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.  And join me next week where we’ll take a look at some of the new brews from Amonkhet.  I’ll see you then!

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Mike Likes

Mike Likes

Mike started playing Magic back in 1994, but gave it up at the end of 1995. He came back to the game during the Lorwyn block and has been playing ever since. Around this time, he opened and ran his own comic & game store, while also raising his newborn daughter. After 8 years, he sold his business and moved to Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. With the debut of Kaladesh, his entire family became regular Magic players. He now has hopes of competing alongside his wife and daughter at a Grand Prix or similar event in the future. #MTGDad

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