July 21, 2021 Banned and Restricted Announcement: Brainstorm Suspended
Yesterday, the internet discovered that a ban announcement page had been created, and many suspected that Brainstorm would be the target based on its extremely heavy metagame representation. Today, it has come to pass: Brainstorm is Suspended in Historic.
Ever since the printing of the Mystical Archive from Strixhaven, the Historic format has been in a state of constant change as the meta adjusts to the addition of highly powerful cards from Magic’s past. This is now the third banning involving archetypes created by the Archive.
The first deck to become dominant was Tainted Pact Combo, a deck which was so powerful (and extremely unfun to play with or against) that it led to the banning of Thassa’s Oracle, the powerful win condition for the deck.
After that, the format had a brief period to stabilize, but it became clear that there was still a problem with the rising dominance of the Jeskai Turns archetype, a deck that used Indomitable Creativity into Velomachus Lorehold along with Mizzix's Mastery to abuse the extra turn card Time Warp. The high winrate of this deck at the Strixhaven Championship led Time Warp to join Thassa’s Oracle on the ban list.
Throughout all of this, there were two archetypes that managed to compete with the broken combo decks: Jeskai Control and Izzet Phoenix. Once the combo decks were effectively banned, these two decks- Phoenix in particular- have risen to dominance in competitive Historic events.
Although the winrates have not been particularly high, Izzet Phoenix has had a steady metagame share of around 30% and up since the previous banning. Fueled by powerful cantrip effects like Brainstorm and Faithless looting, this deck is fast and efficient, and has become a cornerstone of the format.
Jeskai Control also typically plays four copies of Brainstorm, as does Dimir Control and many other blue decks in the format. Blue decks have been vastly over-represented in Historic since the printing of the Mystical Archive, and even with the banning of two other blue cards, it appears this hasn’t changed: at an Insight Esports Historic 5k event from last weekend, all of the decks in the Top 8 were blue, and 75% of them were running four copies of Brainstorm.
Because of the ubiquity of the card in nearly all blue decks in Historic, today Wizards of the Coast has taken the step of suspending Brainstorm in Historic. This change will be applied starting tomorrow, July 22.
Notably, the card being suspended rather than banned means that wildcard refunds will not be issued unless and until the card is moved fully to the banlist. Suspended cards are typically revisited after six months.
This is the first time in three changes to the Historic that Wizards has decided to suspend a card; with the previous two bannings mentioned, Wizards immediately banned the card out of the format entirely. This time around, they’ve left open the possibility of Brainstorm returning to Historic some day.
Wizards says that suspending the card rather than banning it is due to the fact that despite their absurd metagame share, Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Control only achieve winrates of just above 50%, which is not typically considered problematic. However, Wizards wants their formats to remain diverse and fun for players, and when one deck is consistently making up a third of the field at tournaments or more, it’s easy to see why it was considered a big enough problem to warrant action.
It’s likely that decks like Jeskai Control and Izzet Phoenix will remain players in the format to some extent, but hopefully this move succeeds in reducing the large number of Phoenix decks at every tournament. It may also help to give nonblue decks- like the previous format all-star, Jund Sacrifice– a chance in competitive Historic events.
We’ll have to wait and see if Brainstorm is ever deemed safe to return to the Historic format. Perhaps if the metagame share drops significantly for blue and Izzet decks, Wizards may decide some day to unsuspend the card. In the meantime, however, I don’t think Brainstorm will be missed much.
The full text from Wizard’s Banned and Restricted announcement can be found at the bottom of this page.
Current Historic Banned Card List
|Card Name||Suspension Date||Ban Date|
|Nexus of Fate||July 13, 2020|
|Oko, Thief of Crowns||December 10, 2019||March 9, 2020|
|Once Upon a Time||December 10, 2019||March 9, 2020|
|Veil of Summer||December 10, 2019||March 9, 2020|
|Fires of Invention||June 1, 2020||July 13, 2020|
|Agent of Treachery||June 1, 2020||July 13, 2020|
|Winota, Joiner of Forces||June 8, 2020||July 13, 2020|
|Field of the Dead||August 24, 2020|
|Teferi, Time Raveler||August 3, 2020||October 12, 2020|
|Wilderness Reclamation||August 3, 2020||October 12, 2020|
|Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath||September 28, 2020||February 15, 2021|
|Omnath, Locus of Creation||October 12, 2020||February 15, 2021|
|Thassa’s Oracle||May 19, 2021|
|Time Warp||June 9, 2021|
|Brainstorm||July 21, 2021|
Announcement Date: July 21, 2021
Brainstorm is suspended.
MTG Arena effective date: July 22, 2021
In the banned and restricted announcement for Historic in June, we mentioned that we were keeping an eye on the high play rate and perceived dominance of blue-red decks in general and Brainstorm in particular.
As we watched, we saw an interesting pattern emerge. Though decks like Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Control represented a metagame share that usually indicates a dominantly powerful deck, their win rates have generally been fair and healthy. For example, Izzet Phoenix was approximately 30% of the metagame in the July Strixhaven League Weekend, which is a very high percentage for one deck to claim. But its win rate there was only 51.5%, far from dominating or threatening. This matches our internal data, which consistently showed Izzet Phoenix with a win rate a bit above 52% and Jeskai Control a bit above 51% in high-level Best-of-Three play.
Given these lower win rates for Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Control and the presence of multiple other archetypes with strong records against both decks and the rest of the field, we expected to see the metagame share of these decks decline over time. Though we saw some reduction—the combined metagame share among high-level players in Best-of-Three ladder play declined steadily from 17% in mid-June to 14% more recently—these two decks have remained the most played there, usually by a good margin.
When evaluating a format, our goals are generally to create a balanced, fun, and diverse metagame. While decks like Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Control are not showing win rates that threaten balance, their steadily high metagame share is certainly harming deck diversity, which in turn reduces the fun of the format. While we are seeing some motion to correct this, the rate of change is too gradual to quickly address the format imbalance. To improve format diversity, Brainstorm is suspended in Historic.
While our most recent actions in Historic have been bans—such as those for Time Warp and Thassa’s Oracle—those were cases where we had clear and convincing data showing the cards were problematic. In this case, the data is less clear, and that is exactly where we prefer to utilize suspension. We will continue to monitor the Historic meta closely to see if it reaches a point where reintroducing Brainstorm seems safe or if we should move to fully ban Brainstorm.