June 1, 2020 Banned and Restricted Announcement: Standard, Historic, and Companion Mechanic Changes + Commentary!
Wizards of the Coast has published their long-awaited Banned and Restricted Announcement today, with changes to every single format with the Companion nerf, and to two specifically with bans/suspensions. MTG Arena will be affected from June 4th 2020, when the update is released, onward. The changes will be as follows:
|Standard||Fires of Invention||Banned|
|Standard||Agent of Treachery||Banned|
|Historic||Fires of Invention||Suspended|
|Historic||Agent of Treachery||Suspended|
Once per game, any time you could cast a sorcery (during your main phase when the stack is empty), you can pay 3 generic mana to put your companion from your sideboard into your hand. This is a special action, not an activated ability.
- Tabletop Effective Date (Rules and B&R): June 1, 2020
- MTG Arena B&R and Companion Rules Effective Date: June 4, 2020
- Magic Online B&R Effective Date: June 1, 2020
- Magic Online Companion Rules Update Effective Date: June 3, 2020
Read below for more details, with explanations and commentary from myself, Drifter, on the factors surrounding each change. Some of the commentary will be heavily based on my opinions and interpretations; if you don’t agree then that’s completely reasonable, and I’d love to hear your reasons in the comments!
You can also check out the official list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, here.
Companion Rules Change
Companions will no longer be castable from exile whenever it is convenient; instead you must first pay 3 generic mana at sorcery speed to put your Companion into your hand from your sideboard.
Companion is the first mechanic to receive a direct nerf to its overall functionality throughout Magic’s history, and it’s certainly a severe one! Companions will no longer be castable from exile whenever it’s convenient; instead you must first pay 3 generic mana at sorcery speed to put your Companion into your hand from your sideboard. This counts as a special action; it’s not an activated ability so your opponent can’t Tale’s End it, for example, and it doesn’t go on the stack – essentially it happens immediately and in a way that can’t be prevented.
This is a huge change in that it removes much of Companions’ power as a curve play, and makes all of them late game value cards rather than tempo options – three mana is a large enough additional cost that it will heavily tax the Companion player’s mana at any point in the game, being a full turn in the early game. While Lurrus and Kaheera can be deployed on turn 4 (assuming no ramp), it will cost you two turns to do so, a cost that will rarely be worth it. Instead, Companion costs will simply be paid whenever a player has the mana left over on a turn which relegates them to almost always being late game plays – the player will either be playing Kaheera for the full 6 mana on the same turn, or they will be unable to use a significant portion of their mana on another turn, which probably indicates their hand is on the empty side in the late game anyway. The fact that the special action can only be performed at sorcery speed is a significant blow – this means that decks can’t hold up instants like counterspells and then pay the Companion tax if they don’t use their mana on a given turn.
All this being said, free flood prevention is still something every deck is happy to have – the cost of one sideboard slot is still minuscule. The question will be how free it is for any given deck – before, Companion stipulations were worth sacrificing a lot for, immensely warping the shape of decks and being well worth it. The best Companions in this brave new world will be the ones that are value oriented with low deckbuilding constraints, so chiefly Yorion and Lurrus (in decks that don’t want expensive permanents anyway).
Now, the opportunity cost is something every deck will have to consider, since the gain is so much smaller and Companions are so much more limited in application – the gain from having them won’t be useful in most aggro/tempo-oriented games, where you can’t afford to be spending 3 mana on nothing, so they really function as an anti-Control/slow game tool only now. Additionally, setting up stuff like Yorion combos will be much more difficult even in those matchups – once you’ve paid the 3 mana, your Companion is vulnerable to discard, where counter-magic was the only clean answer to it before, and your opponent knows it’s coming soon and can plan around it i.e. by removing permanents that Yorion would flicker. But like I said, any deck which gets a free Companion like Mutate with Umori (assuming there’s no good noncreatures they would want to add) or Cycling with Lurrus (assuming there are no 3+ cost permanents), will happily give up that one sideboard slot – it just has to be actually free or very close, rather than throwing out 16 cards like we were before.
Theoretically, Fires of Invention would be a good way to get around the Companion Tax, and that may still be the case in Pioneer, but, as luck would have it, we’re about to see Fires of Invention take a fall from grace of its own in Standard and Historic… still, mana acceleration in other ways will be a great way to mitigate the damage of this nerf – Companions will be at their best in decks with either a lot of ramp like Bant Yorion, or other ways to cheat such as through Wilderness Reclamation; the name of the game really will be minimising the impact of this nerf, since Companions were so ludicrously powerful before it.
Remember that the rules changes affect every single format; I am happy to report that Ikoria Limited, a good format, should be even better as a result – though the 3 mana tax is not worth nearly as much as a good extra card in Ikoria Draft, so Companions are still great bombs. Modern will probably go without a Lurrus ban as a result of all this, and I suspect the recent Legacy bans of Lurrus and Zirda are a bit over-the-top with this new change, but I’m glad that Wizards didn’t subject those poor Magic Online players to another three weeks of a broken format. Check out my commentary on the Legacy bans here, with full in-depth explanations for those of you who don’t know much about the format!
Note: Companions are still legal in Standard and Historic. Hence, there will be no wildcards refunded for them on Arena (that’s their reasoning at least, which I don’t necessarily condone).
COMPANION RULES CHANGE
While Magic rules changes aren’t normally a part of the banned and restricted list updates, in this case, we’re introducing a change to the companion mechanic that is motivated by game balance and metagame share across play environments. Effective with this update, the companion mechanic (and all cards featuring it) will now work differently from before. The new version of the mechanic will work as follows:
Once per game, any time you could cast a sorcery (during your main phase when the stack is empty), you can pay 3 generic mana to put your companion from your sideboard into your hand. This is a special action, not an activated ability. It happens immediately and can’t be responded to. It can’t be countered or stopped by cards like Phyrexian Revoker.
Our reason for making this change is based on metagame data and play rates of companion decks across all formats, and on player feedback on repetitive gameplay patterns. As a group, decks using companions have too high of win rates and metagame share in Standard, Pioneer, and Modern, and have already necessitated bans in Legacy and Vintage. This trend represents a long-term problem for the health and diversity of all formats. Rather than go down the path of making several individual adjustments to the banned list for each format, we feel the better solution is to reduce the advantage gained from using a companion across the board.
The result we intend is to reduce the metagame share of companion decks while still capturing the spirit of the mechanic’s design and still having companions be worth building around in many cases. We expect that this new version of the companion mechanic will result in a deck-building challenge and means of self-expression that some players can opt into, rather than being a huge part of the competitive metagame.
We discussed several alternative rules changes but ultimately settled on this one, as it best mitigates the potential for repetitive gameplay and provides a wider window of interaction. By charging additional mana, playing a companion becomes less efficient relative to playing the other cards the player has drawn. In this way, players are more likely to cast their other spells before their companion, resulting in more divergent game paths. Next, this additional mana will often slow the companion down by a turn, allowing the opponent to interact with it while in the companion player’s hand or otherwise giving the opponent an additional turn to plan ahead before the companion hits the battlefield.
It’s rare that we use a rules change to address metagame balance, and this isn’t something we have plans to do in the future. In this case, the issue wasn’t with one individual card but rather the companions as a group. We believe this solution is preferable to potentially needing to make multiple bans across different formats over time.
Fires of Invention has led to some of the most devastating midgame turns Standard has ever seen, in a vast variety of decks ever since its printing. Fires made it too easy to overload your opponent with must-remove threats alongside a creature or planeswalker; it contributed to removal and other answers being at their worst in Standard probably throughout history, since Fires would cause you to lose massive tempo by playing dedicated answers, and Companions would cause you to lose massive value. If you answered Fires, you’d be behind thanks to it essentially costing 0 mana with the spell they got to play alongside it; if you didn’t, you would just lose to the game to two 5 drops played right after, and the ability to activate those 5 drops’ activated abilities to their heart’s content. When the best cards in the format are 4 and 5 drops anyway, the two spells per turn restriction rarely ended up mattering!
All in all, giving players the ability to cheat on mana to such an absurd extent rarely ends well, and I’m happy to see Fires go. It’s worth noting that Fires would have been the best way to get around the Companion Tax, and so even more games would have been decided on drawing the card going forward, had it not been banned.
Not one but two ways were printed in Ikoria to cheat Agent of Treachery out for much less than 7 mana; this was in addition to it already being a good card before then, thanks to Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath providing Simic decks with a ton of ramp at barely a cost. Winota, Joiner of Forces and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast took a slow card with insane value and versatility and made it far too fast for comfort, converting it into a mechanism that essentially locked players out of the game, and Yorion, Sky Nomad gave decks the ability to convert that lock into a straight-up win, sometimes immediately with Fires.
All that being said, however, I think the Agent of Treachery ban is a clear case of ignoring the real problem cards – until Ikoria, Agent was sometimes a good inclusion meta decks pivoted towards to one-up each other on greed or that ramp decks wanted some copies of, but not a dominant card by any stretch. The problem with this ban is that I fear we haven’t seen the end of Winota & Lukka doing metawarping things to a Standard environment, in the 18 months they have left… all Lukka needs is for good expensive creatures to be printed, and I’m sure at least one or two will be in such a long stretch of time – even right now, something like End-Raze Forerunners may not be nearly as good as Agent of Treachery, but I can’t see it being all that enjoyable a card to face on turns 3-5 (Goose -> Goose -> Lukka, for example) either, especially when Lukka himself sticks around and threatens to do it all over again if unanswered. As for Winota, Wizards had better be careful not to print any reasonable expensive Humans in the next 18 months – they don’t have to be all that good when you’re getting them for free, often in multiples! Design space being limited by these cards is a cost in itself.
I went into more detail in my Predictions article here but I felt some more/different bans were warranted. This is a good start and I strongly agree with the Fires ban, but I fear the cautious approach here will lead to more bans down the line, with future Standard metagames paying the price in the interim. Furthermore, I think it is perfectly valid to take into consideration other reasons for cards to be banned, such as homogenising Standard environments, making them less fun, and oppressing other decks; I was really hoping for a Teferi ban, because the card does all of those things and has for so long, and I am sad to see the trigger has still not been pulled on that. Making decisions for a format’s long-term health and appeal is one of the hardest parts of banning cards, and in my opinion, these bans were too short-term.
Over the course of the last several weeks, Fires of Invention decks have risen to have a dominant win rate and metagame presence in Standard, achieving a 55% win rate and having even or favorable matchups against each of the other top ten archetypes. This indicates that metagame forces alone aren’t sufficient to keep the deck in check.
In addition, as we craft and test future environments, we’ve found the card Fires of Invention to be a significant design and balance constraint. Because of the flexible nature of the cost reduction effect, Fires of Invention decks would continue to gain power as new high-mana-cost spells are added to the environment. As new sets have been released, we’ve seen the win rates of Fires of Invention decks increase compared to past Standard metagame environments.
Because of the Fires of Invention deck’s current high win rate and metagame share, and the risks and design constraints it poses to the environment going forward, Fires of Invention is banned in Standard.
Next, recently we’ve seen a rise in archetypes that use either Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast or Winota, Joiner of Forces to put Agent of Treachery directly into play. While part of the design intent of these cards was to provide creative ways to deploy powerful high-mana-cost creatures, we’ve observed that using them to play an early Agent of Treachery can be uniquely frustrating to play against and difficult to come back from.
The effect of stealing any lands or key cards, when at a high play rate, reduces diversity in the metagame. Decks built around unique permanents or big creatures have less chances to succeed when opponents can steal their key cards without specific deck-building intent.
Therefore, in order to allow for more comeback potential against Lukka and Winota decks, and to promote deck-building diversity in Standard, Agent of Treachery is banned.
I’m going to be honest – I’m not trying to lay into Wizards here, I was quite positive about the Standard bans, but I don’t really understand these Historic suspensions. As far as I can tell, they do precious little in terms of actually affecting Historic: they do nothing to impact Naya Winota, the format’s best deck; they didn’t even suspend an enabler of that deck for making Winota too consistent and fast, such as Llanowar Elves or Fauna Shaman. Agent of Treachery wasn’t seeing play in Naya Winota anyway; there are other great expensive Humans in Historic, and that deck is happy with the likes of Angrath’s Marauders and Haktos the Unscarred, cards which they can hardcast if the combo plan isn’t working out. Naya Winota is a uniquely miserable deck to play against, doing an ultra-consistent busted thing and having a great aggressive back-up plan even if they can’t combo; it has already taken down one tournament and I suspect that won’t be the last.
Outside of Naya Winota, Agent of Treachery saw little play anywhere else in Historic either; it was sometimes boarded in against Field decks to try to attack that strategy, and some Ramp decks were trying to have it as their payoff before Ulamog came out – perhaps they would continue to have 1-2 but I do think Ulamog does the job better. Other Winota decks ran Agent sometimes, certainly, and perhaps a Jeskai Winota build was poised to steal the next tournament instead, but I would still feel like that success should be attributed more to Winota, the card I was hoping they would ban, and not to Agent – I do believe that in Historic, Agent is a fair card without Winota as it costs a million mana in a format with better high-end options..
The Fires ban also seems a bit strange; the card saw only sporadic play in Historic, a format full of better ramp and where cheap spells are significantly better, so the two spells per turn restriction matters more. If it was busted there too, it hadn’t really shown signs up till this point.
In all likelihood, Wizards probably felt the meta was still too early to make a move, which I respect, but I’m confused as to why they would suspend cards in Historic now in the first place, if that were the case – and that still doesn’t answer the question of why these two. My best guess (apologies to Wizards if I’m wrong about this!) is that this announcement was a bit rushed, and Wizards was of the notion that Standard and Historic’s problems are more similar than I feel they are. Perhaps my perspective is just too limited, and the meta was about to swing into a Fires/Agenty direction, or their winrates were just that high in the small amounts they were being played, but I have some difficulty seeing it…
I would bet that these cards will not make the move from suspension to ban in a few months time. I was expecting a Winota ban, probably as the only one, but gave some other possibilites in the predictions article; check that out if you’re interested (the quote is from there), it might still be good planning for the next Historic suspensions announcement!
For similar reasons as in Standard, we’re choosing to suspend Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery in Historic. As we continue to watch Historic grow and monitor the evolution of the metagame, we will in the future reevaluate whether it’s appropriate to unsuspend each of these cards or whether these suspensions will become bans.
Wildcard Refunds and Events
Read on for the logistics of the banning process, and how it applies to Arena! Players will be receiving refunds as Wildcards for the bans for each copy of Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery you own. If you don’t already have them in your collection, we recommend you craft them before the June 4 update so that you can continue to use them in other formats where they are legal. You may still be able to use them in Historic later on down the track if they become unsuspended (like Field of the Dead). Unfortunately, no refunds will be given for Companions.
MTG ARENA PLAYER COLLECTIONS
Players who have Fires of Invention and/or Agent of Treachery as a part of their in-game collection on MTG Arena prior to the game update on June 4 will receive an equal number of rare Wildcards added to their collection as part of the update. Players will receive an in-game notification when the ban takes effect.
Players can still redeem Wildcards for Fires of Invention and/or Agent of Treachery for play in formats where the card is legal, such as Brawl or friendly Direct Challenge matches. There will be an additional confirmation messaging when crafting these cards to remind players that these cards are currently banned in Standard.
Players will not be receiving Wildcards as a result of the companion rules change, as these cards are still playable in both Standard and Historic.
We will be adjusting the Throne of Eldraine and Core Set 2020 pack collation to change the rate in which Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery appear in booster packs. After the June 4 game update, players will only receive copies of these cards if they have collected playsets of every other Standard-legal rare card available in the respective boosters.
These changes will not impact the collation of cards in Limited boosters used in Throne of Eldraine or Core Set 2020 Sealed and Draft events (cards will still appear at their original distribution rate).
There are no changes to pack collation as part of the companion rules change.
INDIVIDUAL CARD REWARDS (ICRS)
Companion cards will still be obtainable as ICRs.
A NOTE ON MTG ARENA EVENTS
If you were participating in a Traditional Standard, Traditional Historic, Standard Event, and/or Historic Event using a deck that included these cards prior to the June 4 game update, you will still be able to complete the event with your current deck. Please note that your deck will be flagged as invalid because of the ban, however, this will not prevent you from finishing a previously entered event. Once you have finished the current event, you will no longer be able to submit decks that contain these cards.
These card bans and suspensions will immediately go into effect for all Standard and Historic play queues once maintenance on June 4 is complete. This includes Standard Ranked, Traditional Standard Play, Traditional Standard Ranked, Traditional Historic Ranked, and Historic Ranked.
- What do you think of the changes? Did they go far enough/too far?
- What will be the best decks in the upcoming Standard/Historic metas?
- How good will Companions be post-nerf? What sort of decks will most want them?
- As always, stay tuned for our deck guides/metagame breakdowns! Which decks would you like us to cover first?