Standard Bans On the Horizon? These Two Cards Are Dominating the Format
Last month, the Standard format was turned completely on its head by the newest set Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and the Rotation of the format that came along with it. Rotation is always one of the most exciting times in the MTG sphere as players from all corners of the fandom start with a fresh slate and a new format to “solve” – that is, find the best, most consistent decks and most powerful synergies available.
The new Standard format started out looking pretty good, with a nice mix of aggro, midrange, and control decks all making their way into the metas of the early-format competitive tournaments. The format is still young, and there’s a lot that could still change. With that being said, as each passing weekend brings more tournament results to review, it’s looking increasingly like there are two decks that are head and shoulders above the rest.
Before we dive straight into the discussion, we should briefly touch on the Standard 2022 format, as it’s something I’ll be referencing later in the article. For those who aren’t familiar, Wizards of the Coast announced the Standard 2022 format for best-of-one play on Arena in the months prior to rotation. This format included only the cards that would be legal following rotation. Therefore, all of the cards that are currently legal in Standard were legal in Standard 2022 except for those from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, as it hadn’t been released yet.
Standard 2022 provided us with a nice window into what Standard would look like after rotation, and although Midnight Hunt has profoundly changed what Standard 2022 was, it still provides us with a nice reference point for how the new format is developing and where it came from.
Now, onto the main point:
Problem Card #1:
Don’t Let the Opponent Untap… Ever Again
Ah… Extra turn spells. Spells that allow a player to gain an extra turn – effectively skipping the opponent’s turn – have been a divisive part of Magic since the beginning. Among Magic’s very first problematic cards was Time Walk, an extra turn spell with an absurdly low casting cost that was too powerful for Magic then, and has only gotten stronger as the game has developed.
Since then, Wizards has known they have to be careful with the extra turn effect to some extent. Even so, they have still made mistakes here and there with similar effects being too powerful. Back in Core Set 2019, a card was printed that became notorious in a very short period of time – Nexus of Fate.
Nexus was a devastatingly powerful effect to have access to at instant speed, especially in combination with Wilderness Reclamation – another card that was legal in Standard at the time. The fact that Nexus shuffled itself back into its owner’s library made the card particularly egregious since it became laughably easy to “loop” the spell over and over again. Both Nexus and Reclamation would eventually be banned from Standard.
More recently, Wizards experimented with adding a host of extremely powerful cards from Magic’s past into the Historic format through the Strixhaven Mystical Archive. One of these was Time Warp, a “fixed” version of the classic Time Walk that costs 5 mana. Despite the higher casting cost, the card still turned out to be too powerful – especially when abused with cards like Velomachus Lorehold and Mizzix’s Mastery. The resulting Jeskai Turns archetype became the boogeyman in Historic, dominating both competitive tournaments and ladder play until Time Warp was banned in Historic in early June of this year.
Now, the extra turns problem has reared its ugly head once again with Alrund’s Epiphany. The card was known to be one of the most powerful cards in Standard 2022, fueling the popular Izzet Dragons archetype and finding its way into nearly all blue decks. However, as with many of the extra turns spells that were banned before it, the real issue with Alrund’s Epiphany is the interactions it has with other cards in the format.
Before Midnight Hunt, Epiphany was a nuisance but not necessarily a format-ruining card. You might have noticed that both Nexus of Fate and Time Warp were eventually banned from their respective formats in part because of the way that they were manipulated and abused using other cards in those formats. Until Midnight Hunt, there weren’t really any cards that synergized with Epiphany in a similarly oppressive way but now, the printing of Galvanic Iteration has pushed the power level of Epiphany decks to a potential breaking point.
Alrund’s Epiphany is no longer just being used as a tempo swing for decks like Izzet Dragons. The Izzet Epiphany archetype, also known as Izzet Turns, has been taking the competitive scene by storm for the past couple of weeks, putting up extremely high winrates and having favorable matchups against most of the other popular archetypes in the format.
Midrange decks, such as those based around Storm the Festival, were very popular in the format before the rise of the Izzet Turns deck. The matchup that these decks have against Turns is so bad that some might consider it unwinnable, pushing midrange down in the format as Turns picks up speed. The ability to take extra turn after extra turn is already insane, but adding in the fact that Epiphany creates its own tokens with evasion means that once the extra turns start coming, the opponent will likely never get to untap again.
Normally, discard spells like Duress are leveraged against decks of this nature since they can remove the combo pieces directly from the opponent’s hand. Against Izzet Turns, this strategy is much less effective due to the nature of the combo cards. The foretell ability on Alrund’s Epiphany means that the Izzet player can effectively hide their Epiphanies away in exile to protect them. The Izzet player typically wants to get their Epiphanies foretold anyways, and it can be made a priority in post-sideboard games where they’re expecting to face discard or Elite Spellbinder.
Instead, the only way to beat Izzet Turns with any consistency is to get under it with fast aggro decks, which brings us nicely into the other card that might need to be removed from Standard:
Problem Card #2: Endless Value
Similar to Alrund’s Epiphany, Esika’s Chariot is a card that was well-known as one of the most powerful cards in Standard 2022, but wasn’t widely considered to be problematic. Partnered with the Chariot, Mono Green Stompy was also thought to be one of the strongest decks in the entire format. With Innistrad: Midnight Hunt bringing a slew of new green aggressive cards, some wondered if that reputation would carry over into Standard after rotation.
In the very first tournaments to take place following rotation, Mono Green was certainly a present archetype, although much of the hype was more focused on Gruul Werewolves thanks to new cards like Tovolar, Dire Overlord and Reckless Stormseeker. However, it didn’t take long before players discovered an extremely potent synergy in Mono Green that has become a linchpin of the format.
Wrenn and Seven is one of the promotional face cards from Midnight Hunt. The planeswalker has a +1 that draws lands from the library and a 0 that allows its controller to dump all of those lands onto the battlefield at once. However, the ability that has become the most significant aspect of the card is its -3 that creates a treefolk token with reach that’s typically at least a 4/4 and grows as you play more lands.
A planeswalker like the new Wrenn isn’t a card that would necessarily be played in traditional aggro decks. Its a five mana spell that’s more grindy than it is aggressive for the most part. Indeed, not all of the Mono Green tournament decks at the beginning of the format played Wrenn and Seven at all, and even now some of them have the card relegated to the sideboard. The thing that has really pushed Wrenn and Seven over the edge is Esika’s Chariot.
The play patterns that exist between Chariot and Wrenn could not line up more perfectly with each other. The two cards curve into each other beautifully, and with a bit of acceleration like Jaspera’s Sentinel you can do it ahead of schedule. After a turn three or four Chariot, a Wrenn and Seven on the following turn can -3 to create a token that’s large enough to crew the Chariot, which then can attack – even if the Cat tokens it created were removed – and create a copy of the Treefolk token from Wrenn.
The Kitty Car was already a staple in Standard 2022 Mono Green decks, so the addition of this delicious synergy with Wrenn and Seven is really just gravy. The value that you get when Esika’s Chariot resolves is insane: on one card, you get two creature tokens and a vehicle. Just that fact by itself is a lot for the opponent to deal with. It can’t be cleanly removed by any targeted removal in the format, and it even dodges creature-based sweepers like The Meathook Massacre since they’re mostly sorcery speed. The only one-card answer that’s seeing any play in the format is Devastating Mastery, which at this point is a niche card at best.
The package of 4 Chariot 4 Wrenn has become a powerhouse in Standard, and is a core element of many decks in the format. Storm the Festival, a card which I briefly mentioned earlier, has the ability to put both of the pieces onto the battlefield, potentially at one time. Variations of the Wrenn/Chariot deck have cropped up in Mono Green, Gruul, Simic, Sultai, Golgari, and more. However, with Izzet Turns pushing all of the go-big midrange decks out of the format, Mono Green is the archetype that’s been left standing since it hits fast and hard enough to be a foil for the greedy Epiphany deck.
These Synergies are Good – Are they Banworthy?
Obviously, just because cards are proving themselves to be powerful in MTG Standard does not mean that they should necessarily be banned. Wizards of the Coast pays close attention to the metagame and winrates of an archetype across ladder play and competitive tournaments alike before taking a ban into consideration. With that being said, you can be sure the Wizards already has their eye on the situation with these two archetypes, and they may be forced to take action if things stay the same.
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of banning Alrund’s Epiphany or Esika’s Chariot is the data from this weekend’s nine SCG Tour Online Standard tournaments. At Sunday’s Championship Qualifier, over half of the meta was made up of either Mono Green Aggro (31.9%) or Izzet Turns (22.3%). Although there was some variety across the other events, much of the meta looked very similar. All nine of the events were won by one of the two decks.
Izzet Turns is a midrange killer that has good matchups against everything in the format except the fastest and most aggressive decks, while Mono Green is among the fastest decks and has good matchups against basically everything. To paraphrase our own DoggertQBones, Standard is rapidly devolving into a two-deck format.
It’s very, very unlikely that Wizards will take make any changes to the Standard format so soon before this weekend’s World Championship XXVII. However, there is a chance that bans will be very much on the table if the results from the World Championship look anything like this weekend’s SCG Tour. It’s also possible that with Innistrad: Crimson Vow being just around the corner in mid-November, Wizards will be unwilling to address Epiphany or Chariot in the hopes that the new set and widening card pool will solve the problems on its own.
Either way, it’s a situation that we are paying close attention to, and it will be untenable in the long-term if these two archetypes continue to dominate. There’s little doubt that Wizards will want to maintain the health of new Standard to the best of their ability following the rotation after one of the most broken Standard formats in recent memory.
What do you think? Should Epiphany be banned? Should extra turn cards even be printed in the first place? And would banning Esika’s Chariot be enough to keep Mono Green in check, or will it still be a powerhouse? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.