Setting Standards – The Ban Hammer

 

 

Well we all had to see this coming.

On Monday, January 15th Wizards of the Coast announced that the following cards would be banned in standard: Rogue Refiner, Attune with Aether, Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramanap Ruins. These bans went into effect immediately on MTGO and will take effect on Friday, January 19 for paper magic.

This announcement comes just after the prerelease weekend for Rivals of Ixalan and continues a streak of bannings that began after the release of Kaladesh back in 2016. These bannings are an attempt to cripple the dominance of all types of energy decks as well as to ensure that its only rival, Ramanap Red, does not simply slide uncontested into the dominant spot.

Its hard to say at this point whether banning these cards right now was necessary, since a new set just came out, so let’s look at both sides of the debate on the necessity and reasoning behind the bans.

 

The Good

There’s no debate about whether energy decks (temur or sultai or 4 color) are the best decks in the format. I’ve seen so many people going off about how their deck could easily beat energy or that people just need to brew better decks or energy isn’t that good, but that’s just not true. The data as well as the facts bear it out, it’s the most powerful archetype by a longshot. It has the best win rates, the best curve out, the most top 8 finishes, the most versatile mana base, and the most adaptive sideboard. It’s the most played at every event. Its just that simple, facts are facts. I’m sure there are decks out there that can deal with energy from time to time but those decks lose to everything else and probably lose post sideboard matches. I’m sorry to tell all the ‘experts’ in every comment section on the subject but energy is the best deck and no, your deck can’t easily beat it.

When a new set comes in to standard and nothing changes the game gets boring. When you can predict how each game is going to play out after the first 3 turns, the fun is gone. I’m not interested in playing, or playing against, the same deck over and over. There are so many possibilities for deck building in standard and no one is playing them because they just lose to energy.

I play magic because it allows you to customize your deck, make interesting choices, and play against interesting strategies but, at the moment, none of that is happening. Everyone knew as soon as the full set of spoilers for Rivals of Ixalan was released that no new deck was going to challenge energy. For this reason, I’m happy about the bans. I’m happy because its clear that the impact was almost immediate, people just dropped energy (although I’m not sure its quite dead) and immediately started to embrace the myriad of possibilities for new decks. By getting rid of a few cards it feels like we have a completely new standard and I’m super excited to start brewing.

I also want to touch briefly on the Ramanap Red bannings as I think those were much less expected. This type of pre-emptive strike might be the smartest thing WOTC has ever done. Energy was the only deck that was holding this red deck in check and the fact that Wizards recognized what would happen is very impressive. Without energy to hold it back red would certainly have emerged as the most powerful deck in the format. I like that Wizards decided to use a light touch on both energy and red by banning a couple of cards that help the deck, but not the ones that define it. Banning Hazoret the Fervent or nerfing energy as a mechanic would have undercut these decks so much that they might not be playable anymore but by removing a few key pieces I really think that they may have found the right level of interference that lets these decks remain viable options but not unbeatable strategies. It is unfortunate to lose the Rampaging Ferocidon so soon into the dinosaur set but I think it’s the right move.

 

The Bad

 

Banning cards is a terrible idea. Always. Banning cards frustrates players and undermines the integrity of the game. Magic cards are not cheap and keeping up with standard can be especially taxing as the game morphs so often and when cards are being banned so often it can make it seem pointless.

These past 2 years have not been good for standard as we’ve seen a steady stream of top decks being gutted my bannings and leaving a lot of players extremely frustrated. This kind of back peddling makes it hard to trust the company and hard to feel any incentive to invest in the top decks when they are so frequently being squashed as soon as they start to dominate.

I recently brought a few new players to the game and it has been a strange experience explaining to them that a bunch of brand new cards just got banned. They just bought their fist booster packs from new sets and already a bunch of their cards are not playable. It’s hard enough to find people who are willing to try and keep up with standard but when the possibility of losing your $300 deck is very real convincing them to stick around can be a tough sell.

While I believe that banning cards is simply a necessary evil in this great game I also believe that Wizards need to do a better job of regulating itself. Wizards of the Coast recently announced a new playtesting team would be coming in to referee card development and work to regulate these types of problems but I can’t help but wonder, what were they doing before this? Standard is a very small pool of cards and even smaller when you consider the number of cards that are meant to be draft fodder or EDH cards. There really are only a very small number of top tier deck configurations possible so I wonder how these overpowered decks keep slipping through the cracks. It really is inevitable that a couple of decks rise to the top in a small format like standard but for one deck to outpace all others so frequently speaks to a real lack of in depth consideration on the part of the design team.  Once in a while this is bound to happen but its been happening every 6 months for the past 2 years so there is clearly a problem. While I’m happy to hear that they have decided to take measures to mitigate this problem, it feels like its almost too little too late.

Perhaps my biggest concern is the timing of this recent ban list as we just got a whole new set of cards only days ago and Wizards is so sure of its failure to produce sufficient answers to the top decks they jumped in and banned a handful of cards without first letting its players try and solve the problem. This again speaks very poorly of both the design team and those making executive decisions. Maybe there was no answer to energy in this new format, but now we’ll never know since Wizards of the Coast decided to step in before we even had a chance to work it out.

 

An Analogue Game in a Digital World

A big part of why I recently got back into magic is the social and physical aspect of it. The social interaction and the community that comes with playing real face to face games of magic with like minded strangers has been great for me to make friends and to have an excuse to go see the friends I don’t see enough. The problem with printing physical magic cards is that there’s no easy way to fix problems. Digital games like Hearthstone can simply upload patches and alter the cards universally and instantaneously which can alleviate any problems and guarantees a certain type of self regulating system. Cards can be buffed if they are too weak and nerfed if they prove to be too strong, the game itself can ensure balance across the board with no need ban or restrict the cards.

Having to deal with banned cards is simply the price we have to pay for being able to interact with physical game objects and real life opponents. Whether you agree with the most recent set of banned cards or not, its simply a fact of life in the game of magic, some cards are going to have to be regulated and this is the compromise. Banning is both a bad idea and a necessary evil if we want to keep the game competitive and creative and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to bear under normal circumstances. However. These last few years of development border on inexcusable and sloppy behaviour from a company that professes to put its players first. They have put themselves on a very slippery slope when it comes to consumer confidence. I’m sure Magic has lost players over this behaviour and will continue to do so unless things turn around. If we are looking at another list of banned cards in a few months, Wizards of the Coast will be in serious trouble.

Now What?

Let me know what you think about the new banned list, is it good for standard or just a way for Wizards to sell more boxes of Ixalan? Can we expect more bans in the coming months or will we all be bowing to out new lord and master, The Scarab God for the next year?

Happy brewing.

 

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Dan MacKinnon

Dan MacKinnon

A freelance artist and illustrator by trade, magic geek by choice. I've been playing on an off since the 90's and have recently gotten much more serious about magic and game design. Sometimes I think I like building decks more than I actually like playing them. Drop me a line or check out some of my work at facebook.com/drawnbydan

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