Hello planeswalkers from across the globe! The competitive scene in Magic: The Gathering has changed furiously in the last few years. What was supposed to be used as a last resort has become much more present in the development of the standard metagame.
Yes, that’s right. We’re going to talk about Bans.
“What’s changed?” you may ask. “Players desperately call for bannings, Wizards replies with bans, and game moves forward. Isn’t that how it’s always been?” Well, no. Not at all.
You see, there used to be a development team focused on testing future formats and sets that had not been released. Their goal was to fix power balancing issues before it was too late. But, of course, a small team in an office can’t test a format as efficiently as thousands of players who are trying to win tournaments. Sometimes, they get it wrong, and then they have to use the ban hammer. Cards like Smuggler’s Copter ended up being too powerful, while others like Felidar Guardian had synergies that weren’t supposed to exist. A card being banned back then meant that Wizards had made a mistake. Wizards apologized, fixed the mistake, and the metagame shifted.
What’s different now is the intention behind the bans and how those intentions are presented to the world. Wizards realized that bans didn’t need to mean they had made a mistake. On the contrary, they realized that bans could mean that they had done something right.
“You’re crazy,” you might be thinking. You’re right, but not when not when it comes to this topic! Rather than say, “We’ve made a mistake,” Wizards has started framing bans as, “We hear our community, and therefore we’re taking action.” See the difference?
The idea is that we should be proud of bans, because they’re a sign that those in charge are listening to players and taking quick action to fix any potential problems in the format.
How did we end up here? How is it that what used to be a problem has become a celebrated part of the solution? One of the arguments that Wizards uses to justify the current situation is that printing more powerful cards (which require more frequent bannings) means they can essentially release whatever they want. They can always ban a card later if ends up being a problem. But in a game where you can’t modify a card once it has been printed, and people have to buy individual cards to play the game, there’s a higher chance that certain cards will end up being useless.
Today, I want to discuss five cards that I think have the most chance of being banned from the format at some point. They are powerful enough that they may restrict deck diversity to the point that they would be almost auto-includes in their colors.
If you disagree (and I bet many of you will!) make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments! Let’s begin:
Yorion, Sky Nomad
When the companions rule was changed, everyone thought companions were done. Spending three mana just to draw a card seemed like a bad deal at the time. Turns out, not only are there are a few companions that are still playable, but one in particular is so efficient at what it does and synergizes so well with other cards that you don’t mind spending a turn to draw it. Enter the battlefield triggers are everywhere, and today’s Standard format is no exception. Yorion, Sky Nomad creates a ridiculous amount of card advantage, develops your board presence, and also acts as removal when paired with cards like Skyclave Apparition or Glass Casket.
Too powerful? I think so. Cards with relevant abilities will continue being printed, and it will become very difficult to go over the top of what Yorion does.
It’s no coincidence that there are a number of different Yorion decks (Orzhov, Selesnya, Azorius, and so on). You can easily find good synergies with it in almost every color. Casting stuff and then following up with Yorion becomes the deck’s strategy, regardless of what else it is trying to do. Countering Yorion is often the best way to stop your opponent getting an enormous card advantage. This makes me believe that at some point the diversity of the metagame could be affected, and one solution could be removing the flying serpent from the equation.
Yes, Throne of Eldraine was a broken set. Many people still complain about the power level of this set, and for good reason. We are still seeing many cards from the set dominate in Standard. Edgewall Inkeeper is one of those cards.
We used to have an entire deck built around the adventure mechanic. Important cards to the deck, like Lucky Clover, only got banned once Omnath, Locus of Creation joined the team. But we’re still seeing some of the better adventure cards combining with our little 1/1 Innkeeper in decks like Gruul Adventures. Regardless of what will be printed in future sets, it’s hard to beat the efficiency of a one mana creature that draws cards, in conjunction with a Lovestruck Beast (a three mana 5/5) and Bonecrusher Giant (which we will talk about later). One way to beat this would be to kill the Edgewall Inkeeper before he draws any cards, but this doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, you end up down on cards and behind on tempo, since you will usually spend at least two mana to kill it.
Sure, these decks are not unbeatable, and there are decks that don’t use Edgewall Inkeeper, but the problem is deck diversity. We will likely keep playing with the same cards for a year, because they will simply outclass anything we might see in upcoming sets.
This absolute beast of a card makes combat a total nightmare for the defending player. There comes a point in most games at which you just can’t play around Embercleave. You usually don’t have profitable blocks, and if you lack instant speed interaction, then you’re dead no matter what you do. Even if you have interaction, you might not have time to develop your own game while leaving mana open to react. If you hold back and they don’t have it, then you’ve wasted a turn. Heck, even if you remove the creature and survive the attack, they can just reequip it on something else next turn and smash you!
Even if Embercleave decks never dominate the metagame, that doesn’t mean it’s correct to keep the card legal. The problem is in the play patterns that keep repeating, games that come to that dreaded “if you have it, I’m dead” scenario. This should eventually raise the alarm that something is wrong.
A similar argument can be made for Winota, Joiner of Forces. When deciding which cards to keep and which cards to ban, Wizards looks at metagame diversity and the deck’s win rate. Say Winota decks had a 50% win rate against other decks. That’s okay, right? No! if you go deeper and look at how that win rate is distributed, you’ll find that the games were not fair and balanced. If the Winota player found the card on turn four, then they would win most of the time. If they didn’t, then they would lose! This is why diversity and win rate shouldn’t be the only aspects we consider. They usually don’t tell the whole story.
When players play Embercleave, those players win more often. Again, it’s not that you can’t beat them, but aggressive red decks will always find a reason to cleave. The problem is that diversity in deck building ends up being restricted, and new cards don’t have a chance to shine.
Since Throne of Eldraine, how many red decks do you think don’t play Bonecrusher Giant? If you find one that doesn’t, it’s probably because the builder forgot to include it, or didn’t have enough wildcards. It’s good on offense and defense, and makes two drops with 2 or less toughness extremely vulnerable. If you’re adding mountains to your sixty cards, you might as well start with four copies of the giant.
This card doesn’t feel wrong. It doesn’t win games. It’s not oppressive. But players (and Wizards) tend to focus too much on cards that steal the spotlight, rather than think of how the metagame could be more diverse in the long run. Bonecrusher Giant is so effective that I think there won’t be anything in future sets that will make you say “I guess my red deck doesn’t need these four copies of Giants anymore”. That’s a problem.
Many of the reasons I gave for Bonecrusher Giant apply here as well. We have a three drop that is seeing play in nearly every white deck, whether it’s aggro or control. A 2/2 creature that also functions as removal against anything costing four or less is too efficient. By the time your opponent deals with the creature, the token it creates is often irrelevant. Sure, the double white in its mana cost may make it difficult to cast, but Yorion is still around, so that doesn’t seem like that much of a problem.
Thank you so much for reading! Please make sure to leave your thoughts in the comment section. I will gladly answer them! You can also find me on social media here, and streaming on Twitch almost everyday here. See you in the next one!