On Thursday, Wizards of the Coast announced a surprise banning in the Pauper format through a video on YouTube and a discussion later in the evening on their Weekly MTG Twitch stream. Three cards were removed from Pauper (Atog, Bonder's Ornament, and Prophetic Prism), but during the Weekly MTG stream, Wizards’ PR spokesperson Blake Rasmussen also announced that another ban announcement will be made addressing “other formats” next week on Tuesday, 1/25. You can find the clip where Blake first mentions the upcoming bannings in the VoD at around the 4:22 mark on YouTube:
Many MTG Arena players have been eagerly awaiting news of balancing changes in the new Alchemy format since Wizards stated that they would be waiting until the end of January before they rebalanced anything, claming that they did not wish to disrupt players’ preparation for two upcoming marquee Alchemy tournaments on Arena. In addition, let’s not forget that quite a few players have been expecting a ban in Standard since the rise of the Izzet and Grixis Turns decks.
The remaining majority of the Weekly MTG show was focused on the Pauper changes – fans of that format may want to check it out to learn about the details – but we’re particularly interested in the upcoming Banned and Restricted Announcement, and specifically, what it will mean for MTG Arena. While we have no concrete proof on what the B&R will entail, we’ll offer a bit of speculation based on what’s happening in each of Arena’s formats (and beyond).
For months now, many players have been wondering if and/or hoping that the extra turns spell Alrund's Epiphany might be removed from Standard. The spell has been notorious in the format since before rotation, when it became a staple in the Emergent Ultimatum decks that were a defining part of the meta. In the time since rotation, the Izzet Turns deck has become one of the top decks in the format, using spells like Galvanic Iteration to copy Epiphany – sometimes multiple times.
Discussions of the card being potentially being banned from Standard started picking up in the time right before the World Championship XXVII, where over 50% of the field would be made up of decks containing the card. Many players were quite surprised to learn that Wizards elected not to ban the divisive card after its continued dominance in the competitive scene, but the launch of the Alchemy format (which included a day zero nerf for the card) diverted many players’ attention away from the situation in Standard.
It’s possible that, now that the dust has settled and it’s clear that Standard still has a significant following of players on Arena, Wizards could be looking to revisit the Epiphany situation and finally put the obnoxious extra turns combo deck to rest.
At the beginning of the month, Wizards made news by announcing that they would be waiting until the end of January to make any changes to Alchemy, the new format that was designed with regular rebalancing baked in. This weekend plays host to the Qualifier Weekend on Arena, the last of the two tournaments that Wizards was waiting for, meaning that Tuesday’s ban announcement will very likely include both nerfs and buffs to various cards across the format.
The buffs in particular are very hard to predict. There are hundreds of cards in Alchemy, including many that aren’t strong enough to see much play. The nerfs are somewhat easier to read, however, as there are handful of cards that seem to be a head above much of the format. For one, Inquisitor Captain is a powerful, quasi-Collected Company on a creature that fueled the rise of the Esper Clerics deck which has since become a major player in the format.
Inquisitor Captain is a strong enough card that it has been prominently featured in other archetypes in Alchemy as well as Historic. If Captain were to be targeted by a nerf, it seems likely that Wizards would change the card so that it must be cast to trigger rather than simply triggering when it enters the battlefield. This would prevent the interaction between Inquisitor Captain and Glasspool Mimic that has been fueling Clerics and other related archetypes: the cards can be “chained” together if the Captain trigger finds a Glasspool Mimic, as it can then copy the Captain as it comes into play, putting another trigger on the stack.
Another card that could very well be in the path of the upcoming nerfs is Key to the Archive, a powerful mana rock that also allows its controller to draft a card from it’s spellbook when it enters – a spellbook which includes extremely powerful cards such as Time Warp, Counterspell, Lightning Bolt, Approach of the Second Sun, and more.
Key to the Archive has become an important tool for several control archetypes, especially Azorius decks that use Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset to untap the four-mana rock on the turn it’s cast. A nerf for Key to the Archive would be a bit more unpredictable; it could come in the form of a nerf to the card’s spellbook, or it could be a change to the attributes of the Key itself.
It’s also possible that we could see some kind of adjustment to the Dragons deck, most likely in the form of a nerf to Fearsome Whelp. The two-mana creature permanently decreases the cost of dragons in its owner’s hand each end step that it sits on the field, allowing for some extremely fast and explosive starts – especially when combined with another powerful Alchemy dragon, Town-razer Tyrant.
Over in the Historic format, things seem to have been going fairly smoothly since the previous banning and the addition of many more cards to the format through Alchemy. If any changes are to come to Arena’s eternal format, it would most likely be the permanent banning of Memory Lapse, which has been suspended since October of last year and is highly unlikely to ever return to the format – at least not for the forseeable future.
Many players have been patiently waiting for Lapse to be fully banned as it would result in a wildcard refund for anyone who has copies of the card currently stuck in limbo in their collection, unable to be played in any competitive format on the client.
The (Non-Arena) Eternal Formats
It’s also possible that the looming B&R Announcement could affect some of Magic’s older formats such as Modern and Legacy. In Modern, Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a busted companion that interacts with other powerful cards in the format (like Mishra’s Bauble) in ways that many players consider to be unhealthy. The three-mana companion is so powerful that it received errata almost immediately after its release, along with the other companion cards, and still had to be banned from Legacy – an extremely rare move in one of Magic’s most powerful formats.
Lurrus is also a staple in Hammer Time, one of Modern’s current top-tier competitive decks. It’s highly likely that Hammer Time would survive as a competitive archetype in Modern even without Lurrus, but it would make the deck less resilient to destruction-based artifact removal and therefore allow for easier counterplay.
Many players in both Modern and Legacy have been asking for a ban on Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, the aggro monkey from Modern Horizons 2. Ragavan has been described by some as the most powerful red one-drop ever printed thanks to it’s card advantage and mana acceleration built onto a single card that can take over a game all by itself.
However, a banning of Ragavan in either format is probably unlikely, however, as Wizards is typically resistant to banning chase Mythics from recent sets – especially one that’s currently worth as much as Ragavan. As of the writing of this article, Ragavan’s market price is sitting around $80 USD. It creates an interesting problem as, sales aside, it’s understandable that Wizards wouldn’t want to punish players who bought into MH2 or bought a playset of Ragavans for their deck only to have the card get banned, causing the value to inevitably tank.
In any case, we’ll have to wait until Tuesday rolls around to learn what Wizards has in store for the Banned and Restricted announcement. It’s important to remember that everything discussed above is purely speculation based on current conditions. Wizards could certainly throw us some curve balls, especially in the Alchemy format where it’s really anybody’s guess what cards will be tweaked. We’ll be back with coverage of the announcement, so thanks for reading and we’ll see you then.