July 13, 2020 Banned and Restricted Announcement: Historic, Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper Changes + Commentary
Wizards of the Coast has made their Banned and Restricted Announcement today, making changes to multiple formats. MTG Arena will also be affected as of July 16th 2020 (coinciding with Jumpstart’s release) in the Historic format only. The changes will be as follows:
|Historic||Agent of Treachery||Banned (from Suspended)|
|Historic||Winota, Joiner of Forces||Banned (from Suspended)|
|Historic||Fires of Invention||Banned (from Suspended)|
|Historic||Nexus of Fate||Banned|
|Pioneer||Oath of Nissa||Unbanned|
Read below for more details, with official explanations on the changes today. You can also check out the official list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, here.
Historic has by far the largest number of bans today, but that’s largely due to three cards that were previously suspended making the jump to being properly banned – Agent of Treachery, Fires, and Winota each had about a month of suspension. Check out our June 1st and June 12th announcements to read up on the explanations and background information for those!
Nexus of Fate, long branded by pros and regular players alike as one of the greatest mistakes of the last few years, has finally gotten the axe. While it was previously banned from best-of-one play, it has been moved onto the banlist altogether now, to the relief of much of the player base, since it has been a top tier deck ever since the format’s release, and possibly the most miserable deck to play against. Nexus could take infinite turns as early as turn 5, using Wilderness Reclamation and Growth Spiral, and this was a plan that was extremely hard to counter since it attacked from such a strange angle – you often had to have instant speed Enchantment removal to even have a hope. All the Nexus deck had to do was continuously dig up enough copies of the eponymous card, which was easy enough with all the deck’s ways to find cards, such as Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Search for Azcanta, and it could lock the other player out of the game and gain such ludicrous card and mana advantage from its extra turns that, even if it bricked, it was trivial to recover. Wizards made the move to banning Nexus immediately, rather than suspending it first, which speaks to how much evidence against the card there is by now!
Burning-Tree Emissary has been a key card in various aggro decks ever since it was released in a supplementary product – the very first Historic Anthology back in November 2019! The fury of a 0 mana 2/2 has been enough to put Gruul Aggro, long one of Historic’s best decks, especially over the top, with such nut draws as t1 Llanowar Elves t2 as many Emissaries as you have in hand and then a 3 drop being possible, and when you’re following up with cards like Embercleave which heavily reward having a lot of creatures in play early, it’s easy to see how this got out of hand. Without BTE, Gruul Aggro should have significantly slower starts, and its best draws will be easier to counter. That being said, I do wonder whether Llanowar Elves itself was not a better suspension, as we’ve seen recently how powerful 1 mana acceleration can be, BTE wasn’t seeing play in some of the recent bigger Gruul decks, and Elves is an even more important piece of the Gruul nut draw… I suspect Wizards didn’t want to cripple a whole host of other Green decks in doing so (though they instead hurt Mono Red Aggro, which also used BTE often); we’ll see how that pans out!
The bans go live on Arena on July 16th, and all but Burning-Tree Emissary will incur wildcard refunds, so get crafting if you want them for free! Check the following quote from Wizards, for clarification on how the process works:
When cards are fully banned in Historic you will receive Wildcard reimbursement as normal, with the caveat that you won’t receive multiple reimbursements for the same, individual card.
For example: A player has collected two copies of Card X when it is banned in Standard, and they receive two Wildcards at that time. Later, the card is also banned in Historic. Though they still have two copies, they won’t receive additional Wildcards because they’ve already been reimbursed for the copies they have. However, if they had crafted (or otherwise collected) more copies between the Standard ban and the Historic ban, they would receive reimbursement for those new copies after the Historic ban.
We currently have three cards suspended in Historic: Winota, Joiner of Forces; Agent of Treachery; and Fires of Invention. As with all suspensions, we have been carefully watching how the changes affected the Historic meta, and our data is showing it to distinct improvements with those cards removed. Each of these are also cards that will tend to get more problematic as the format grows in breadth and power, either as key ways to easily access very powerful effects, or as one of those powerful top-end pieces.
Because we feel the data shows a positive impact from the current suspensions, and because it is unlikely to be safe to reintroduce these cards to Historic anytime soon, Winota, Joiner of Forces; Agent of Treachery; and Fires of Invention are banned in Historic. (Players will be receiving Wildcards as normal for these bans, per the policy announced earlier.)
Though these suspensions, now bans, improved the metagame, the top end of Historic is still becoming too constricted. Shortly after the suspension of Winota, Joiner of Forces, the top 2 decks comprised roughly 15% of best-of-three play, showing a healthy, diverse spread of decks. Now the top two decks are roughly 35%, and the rate of concentration is increasing.
Over the last month, decks using Nexus of Fate have risen dramatically in terms of metagame share, and it is now Historic’s most-played deck. The two main cards enabling this deck are Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate itself. While Wilderness Reclamation is a powerful card, we are not seeing it appear in problematic decks in Historic aside from this one. This deck also runs multiple ways to accelerate to early casts of Nexus of Fate, and those options will only expand with the format. Finally, Wilderness Reclamation acts primarily to give players access to a wider array of lines of play, while Nexus of Fate acts to prevent the opponent from playing at all. From both a long-term health and gameplay standpoint, we feel that Nexus of Fate is the better card to act on here.
Nexus of Fate is a card we have been watching closely for a long time in Historic. While it is very powerful, we had hoped that Traditional Historic would be a place where it could remain a balanced option for its fans. While this held true for a long time, with the deck showing strong but within-bounds play and win rates, it has now risen to a level where it is starving out other options and warping the format around itself.
Nexus of Fate is much like the cards discussed above, where its power will only grow as the Historic cardpool expands. And, like them, we do not feel that it is likely that the meta will soon reach a place where sufficient answers exist to make this deck a balanced, fun option for players. While we have generally acted to first suspend cards in Historic to test the impact, this is not a hard rule. Because we do not foresee a good opportunity to safely reintroduce Nexus of Fate to the format soon, Nexus of Fate is banned in Historic.
The other deck that has long been a powerhouse in Historic is Gruul Aggro. While it has often been the most-played deck, the separation between it and the other top decks has widened significantly in the last month. Gruul and Nexus are each now played more than three times as much as their closest competition in best-of-three, and Gruul has one of the highest win rates in both best-of-three and best-of-one. After considering the deck and the surrounding meta, we feel like the best card to act on here is Burning-Tree Emissary. While the explosive starts it enables are a factor in the deck’s rise, its removal should leave the deck with ample power to remain competitive, just at a more balanced level with other aggressive options.
Unlike Nexus of Fate, we do see a strong possibility that the Historic meta could shift in a way that allows Burning-Tree Emissary to find a balanced, fun home. However, as the meta stands today, the power it brings to Gruul Aggro is overall reducing the number of balanced, interesting, and varied deck options in format. For this reason, Burning-Tree Emissary is suspended in Historic.
One final note on Historic suspensions: When we first introduced the mechanism in December, we emphasized the limited-time nature of suspension by linking it to the periodic availability of Ranked Historic. Now that Ranked Historic is always available, that no longer works as a good boundary marker. Despite that, we will be adhering to the general timeline it imposed, and any suspension will be resolved via unsuspending or banning the affected card(s) within roughly the same 2-3 month span. We will always act more quickly when we feel the data is clear, but this will act as an outer bound. Suspension is a temporary measure to ensure that balance changes are playing out well, and it will not be used for any long-term action.
Pioneer started life as a format from which cards were banned almost weekly. Oath of Nissa was banned in one of the earlier weeks (alongside Leyline of Abundance, which remains banned) as a means of keeping the Green Ramp decks with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx from overwhelming the format. Oath of Nissa had much the same problem as a card like Ponder or Preordain (two cards that have been illegal in most formats for many years – even Modern, a much more powerful format than Pioneer – and define the landscape of Legacy, one of Magic’s most powerful formats), where it provided a lot of consistency to decks far too cheaply. It even had some advantages over those cards (while being far less powerful), since it was a permanent that remained in play and buffed your Green devotion, and it made splashing planeswalkers like Oko much more consistent. However, it seems like a fine unban at this point, since the actual problem cards in Once Upon a Time and Oko, Thief of Crowns have long been removed from the landscape of Pioneer. Perhaps its re-introduction will push some people to play Yorion, Sky Nomad in Pioneer, since Oath + Yorion is a pretty powerful combo, and Oath can help dig up the Yorion in the first place!
Many were expecting a ban from Dimir Inverter Combo, one of Pioneer’s top decks, in the form of Inverter of Truth itself or Dig Through Time (though if you ban Dig, people will simply start using Treasure Cruise, and won’t lose really that much). Wizards notes that they’re happy with the format as is, since Inverter isn’t putting up dominant results in Magic Online’s queues, and will continue to monitor its best decks going forward, including other combo decks like Lotus Breach (a deck that seeks to untap Lotus Field repeatedly to generate colossal amounts of mana, to then use with Underworld Breach to kill your opponents with a card as innocuous as Tome Scour) and Mono White Heliod + Walking Ballista Combo. That being said, I think a lot of people are disappointed that some action wasn’t taken against these decks since, whether or not they’re putting up dominant results, those people feel as though they are a net negative for the format in being uninteractive, difficult to disrupt, and unfun (the three classic complaints surrounding combo decks in general!).
Since the launch of Pioneer late last year, we’ve seen significant changes in the metagame. Early in Pioneer’s launch window, various green ramp decks were among the most popular and successful archetypes. In order to reduce the consistency of these decks, Oath of Nissa was added to the banned list early in the progression of Pioneer.
Since that time, other cards used by green ramp decks have been banned, including Once Upon a Time, Veil of Summer and Oko, Thief of Crowns. In addition, the release of new sets has added power to other archetypes and generally expanded possibilities for deckbuilding. The metagame is now in a place where we feel that unbanning Oath of Nissa is a reasonable step to take as far as adding some power back to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx ramp decks and other archetypes that revolve around key creatures, lands, or planeswalkers.
We are otherwise generally happy with the shape of the metagame in Pioneer, with the most played decks each having strengths and weaknesses against each other. We are keeping an eye on the populations of combo decks in the environment, although the perception that combo decks have dominant win rates isn’t backed up Magic Online play data. We are also seeing a variety of lesser-played decks having success, which indicates that the metagame may continue to shift.
Arcum’s Astrolabe, even in a year such as 2019 which had the most bannings on record in over a decade, has stood out as one of the most egregious mistakes, having already been banned in Pauper. The card has provided a level of consistency to Modern mana bases where people were able to play 3-4 colour decks including cards with extremely hard casting costs, such as Cryptic Command and Archmage’s Charm, with impunity. For a while now, Modern decks have looked very alike, all incorporating the same powerful cards and not really caring about colour at all, and Astrolabe was responsible for much of this (though fetchlands are even more to blame), as the lynchpin in some of Modern’s best decks such as 4-colour Snow and Urza. Now that Astrolabe is banned, the homogenisation of Modern decks it caused should ease off a little, and the Snow deck will become weaker and probably drop a colour. Since Snow-Covered basic lands still count towards Ice-Fang Coatl and Dead of Winter, enabling Snow is still easy enough, however.
If you thought Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath was a problem in Standard, know that the card is even more powerful in Modern, where fetchlands are available and so his Escape is much less of a cost. Uro was in every Astrolabe deck, and has led to many of the best Modern decks including Green and Blue. Much of the community was calling for an Uro ban, but it appears that Wizards has decided to leave it at only Astrolabe for now and see how decks like Simic Urza and Bant Snow, which include both cards, adjust.
Overall, here’s hoping Wizards learns from this mistake and stops printing cards that replace themselves and provide a ton of value in doing so at 1 mana; the investment is too cheap for the gains Astrolabe provides. If you’d like to learn more about Modern, check out the meta’s best decks!
Over the past several months of Modern’s metagame, we have seen a rise in popularity and win rate of multicolor decks using Arcum’s Astrolabe, with some variants approaching 55% non-mirror match win rate. While these decks have taken on several different forms, their common game plan is using Arcum’s Astrolabe to play powerful cards across several colors. As a result, Arcum’s Astrolabe has become one of the most played cards in Modern.
While there’s nothing intrinsically bad about multicolor “good stuff” decks having a place in the metagame, their power and flexibility is usually counterbalanced by making concessions in their mana bases, often through lands that enter the battlefield tapped, cost life, or involve some other deckbuilding restriction. Arcum’s Astrolabe makes this tradeoff come at too low of a cost, as one Arcum’s Astrolabe can often mean excellent mana for the rest of the game, without costing a card. In addition, Arcum’s Astrolabe leads to other synergy by virtue of being a cheap artifact permanent, and it can be blinked or recurred for card advantage. In short, Arcum’s Astrolabe adds too much to these decks for too little cost, resulting in win rates that are unhealthy and unsustainable for the metagame. Therefore, Arcum’s Astrolabe is banned in Modern.
We’re keeping an eye on Arcum’s Astrolabe in Legacy for similar reasons, although at present the play rates and win rates of Arcum’s Astrolabe decks don’t warrant action. We’re aware of concerns among the Legacy community on this point but want to be consistent with our philosophy of only resorting to bans when a card or deck reaches problematic win rates that can’t be solved by natural metagame forces.
Today’s Pauper bans feature a very old card and a very new card! Expedition Map is a card that is synonymous with Tron at this point, a strategy that tries to get Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Mine, and Urza’s Power Plant into play as early as possible, to produce 7 mana as early as turn 3, and then casts all manner of expensive colourless threats. Tron is more famous in Modern, where it has been one of the format’s staple decks ever since the format’s release in 2011, but has proven even more oppressive in Pauper, where the tools to attack the strategy are harder to come by. Tron does not have the same win conditions available as in Modern, so it has to do slower more value-oriented things such as flickering various cards with powerful enter-the-battlefield effects such as Mulldrifter (my namesake and a format staple in Pauper!). As it turns out, when you have so much mana available so early, you can just do what everyone else does but much better. Expedition Map’s banning removes one of the most consistent tools for assembling Tron early, and so the deck should be weaker and slower.
Mystic Sanctuary, a mistake among so many from Throne of Eldraine, has been a staple in any format with fetchlands, since for some reason it is an Island. As another card featured in the many-coloured Modern Control decks, Sanctuary has allowed decks to repeatedly recur all manner of game-winning spells, from Cryptic Command to Fatal Push to Lightning Bolt, whatever best befits your current situation. In Pauper, Sanctuary combines with Ghostly Flicker in a particularly busted way: Ghostly Flicker can target lands, so you flicker the Sanctuary and something else, putting Flicker back on top of your library, and essentially go infinite if the something else draws a card – if you flicker Mulldrifter and the Sanctuary, you net one extra card each Flicker, and so get to draw your entire deck. In a format like Pauper, which tends to be on the slower side, this lock is pretty easy to set up, and once you’ve drawn your deck it is trivial to win the game. While there were busted combos with it, Mystic Sanctuary really saw any play in any heavy Blue deck with a lot of spells, which is many of the good decks in the format anyway, since Delver of Secrets is one of the premier Pauper threats.
With last year’s bans of Gush, Gitaxian Probe, and Daze in Pauper, I noted a potential concern in that the weakening of blue tempo decks could create a rise in the popularity of Tron decks. While we didn’t immediately see a problematic metagame shift in the direction, Tron decks have remained steadily popular and strong, sometimes nearing 25% of the field among top finishing decks in Magic Online Pauper tournaments.
This trend, in combination with community feedback, has prompted us to take a look at the role of Tron decks in the Pauper metagame. While it can be a good thing for metagame diversity to have an archetype that plays differently from many other strategies, we are seeing some negative effects in terms of repetitive game play, recursive play patterns and lock states. This puts pressure on other decks to be able to deal with such game states or else race the Tron decks, and generally restricts viable deckbuilding space.
Therefore, we’re taking the step of banning Expedition Map in order to reduce the consistency and popularity of Tron decks in the metagame.
Second, multiple archetypes have recently adopted Mystic Sanctuary as another means of creating repetitive loop or lockout states. While decks often only play a couple copies of Mystic Sanctuary, it is proving to be another key contributor of negative pressure on the metagame by enabling end game loops. As a card that’s likely to continue causing problems down the road, we’re choosing also to ban Mystic Sanctuary in Pauper.
Our intent is that this combination of bans should considerably reduce the speed and consistency with which Tron decks assemble their mana engine and eventual loop or lock states, as well as reducing the amount of repetitive game play coming from various blue-based tempo decks.
Unfortunately, it seems there is no Standard ban announcement planned, at least for now…
A NOTE ON STANDARD
After careful review of the metagame, we’re choosing not to make any changes to Standard at this time. Players Tour Online 3 and 4 saw the overall win rates and day 2 conversion rates of the most played decks, Bant Ramp and Temur Reclamation, come down to healthier levels. In the weeks following we’ve seen other archetypes rise in popularity and win rate, including Mono Green Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono Black Aggro, RW “Pawblade”, Simic Flash, and others. Core Set 2021 has brought a variety of new tools, and generally we’re seeing steady motion in the metagame leading up to the Players Tour Finals.
While we agree with concerns that Growth Spiral ramp decks, in aggregate, have recently represented a larger than ideal portion of the metagame, we do see different archetypes within that larger category behaving differently in terms of strengths, weaknesses and roles in the metagame. With signs of the metagame shifting away from ramp in recent weeks, the release of Core Set 2021, and Standard with rotation coming in the fall, we’ve decided to allow the metagame to continue its natural evolution.