Wizards of the Coast will be making a banned and restricted announcement on Monday June 1st (where there’s still an ongoing discussion roaring about what the companion change will be!), and they’ve indicated that there’ll be a change to the Standard and Historic banlists, alongside a nerf to the Companion mechanic as a whole. In this article, we’ll first discuss the possible bans in Standard, the Companion change, and what all this will mean for the new Standard metagame. Next, we’ll cover possible Historic bans and talk about the Historic meta briefly.
Use the table of contents to navigate, as this is a long article that covers many different topics!
Overview of the Standard and Historic Metagame So Far
On May 16, Red Bull Untapped International Qualifier 1 was held, with more than 2000 players registering for the tournament a month after the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths release. Jeskai Lukka dominated the metagame, representing 18.9% of the field on day 1 and 37.5% on day 2. It also had around 60% win rate both pre and post sideboard, showing that it is currently the most powerful Standard deck. It turns out that the combination of cheating out Agent of Treachery via Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast and generating tons of value via Yorion, Sky Nomad and Fires of Invention is too much for other decks to handle. The metagame since then has remained much the same, with decks such as Temur Reclamation, Bant Yorion and Boros Cycling trailing slightly behind it.
It has only been a week since the arrival of Historic Anthology 3 and the new Historic ranked queue, but it didn’t take long for the metagame to develop in a similar way to Standard. Hooglandia Open 3 Historic was held on May 23, a 218 player tournament that provided some direction to players on what decks were the most powerful. Before Ikoria, Gruul Aggro, Nexus of Fate decks, and Field of the Dead decks were the three pillars of the format that looked hard to breach, and it only took Companions and some powerful cards from Ikoria to overthrow these strategies. The metagame was dominated by the Historic version of Jeskai Lukka (13%) and Naya Winota (12%).
While Winota decks in Standard are at most tier 2, in Historic, the presence of Llanowar Elves and being able to search for Winota via Fauna Shaman seem to have pushed the deck over the edge We are cheating out Angrath's Marauders instead of Agent of Treachery, allowing the deck to deal lethal damage in one attack. While the Historic metagame is still developing, the Historic card pool isn’t so much different from Standard that we can expect some sort of drastic development at least until the release of Core Set 2021.
Possible Standard Bans
The considerations in balancing the new Standard environment are not merely based on what is too good now; Wizards has the difficult job of predicting what decks will fill those shoes, and whether any of those will prove problematic from the start or not. In renewing faith in Standard, Wizards must ensure that the problematic aspects of this meta aren’t immediately replaced with equally or more dominant forces.
The best decks will be very much dictated by which of the following cards are banned, and which aren’t.
Fires of Invention
The midgame turns that Fires leads to are oppressively powerful, and the card effectively costs 0 mana itself with a follow-up play. We’ve seen decks abuse Fires’s ridiculous mana advantage, which routinely generates 5 additional mana the turn after it’s played, in many different ways – from the Cavalier decks that want to go t4 Fires + creature into t5 creature + Cavalier of Flame and then use its ability twice for an immediate kill, to planeswalker decks that use it to put two planeswalkers on the board per turn, making them almost impossible to clear, to the recent Lukka decks that search up Agent of Treachery the turn after Fires is played, and then immediately play Yorion to steal another permanent and unlock their mana/get around Fires’s two spells per turn restriction – Fires converts the best turn 5 in Standard into one that is almost always gamewinning.
Fires does all this for an extremely low investment and produces an insurmountable advantage if unanswered – and because the Fires deck gets to play a 4 drop alongside it, answering it puts you far behind on tempo anyway. Ever since its printing, Fires has been ubiquitous in one or several forms, a warper of each new metagame.
The problem with banning Teferi and not Fires, is that Teferi is a good maindeckable counter to Fires, buying a huge amount of time against it, while also being in the Fires decks. Without him, Fires mirrors often simply dissolve into “who draws Fires first and manages to dodge Elspeth Conquers Death or enchantment removal”, and other games too will be dependent on an unhealthy degree on whether Fires is drawn; if the meta devolves to being about that all the time, it doesn’t sound particularly enjoyable or dynamic.
Teferi, Time Raveler
While Teferi is, arguably, significantly more balanced than Fires, he does an extremely powerful and unfun thing, warping the game around him if unanswered and usually providing a firm advantage even if answered. Teferi completely shuts off one of the most interesting axes of counter-play in the entire game, he makes games predictable and dull, there are some decks which are completely locked out by him… and all this for 3 mana. The best way to attack Teferi is to play an aggressive deck, and even then his bouncing your Anax, Hardened in the Forge or Heraldic Banner and drawing a card, then forcing you to commit an attacker to kill him, can still buy your opponents tremendous amounts of time which they will often capitalise on to stabilise and defeat you.
One underrated aspect is Teferi’s ability to push other cards out of the meta – he’s so prominent and such a good counter to them that expensive creatures, artifacts, and enchantments that don’t have an immediate and powerful effect are mostly unplayable, then there are cards that are directly countered while he’s in play. Have you ever tried casting Emergent Ultimatum or Finale of Promise while your opponent has a Teferi? Don’t, because it won’t end well for you! There’s a reason these sweet cards don’t see any play, among other forgotten cards that would’ve shone in most Standard environments such as The Great Henge, Spawn of Mayhem and Thief of Sanity.
Teferi’s ubiquity and his position as one of Standard’s most played cards ever since his release, alongside these unfun and meta-warping aspects to him, lead me to conclude alongside many others that it is high time he left us for good.
Unfortunately, banning Teferi has its consequences. The villain from the East lies in wait, poised to emerge and take the throne, as soon as its most prominent counter disappears… and it’s unclear the rest of Standard’s armies have the tools to stand against it.
It has been long argued by pros and regular folk alike that, if Teferi is banned, Reclamation needs to be banned pre-emptively also because, like Fires, it’s another immensely powerful way to cheat on mana, immediately giving you the mana back and leaving the threat of a colossal Explosion in its wake. With Teferi around to lock it out of counterspells, it’s easy to see what has long been one of the best decks despite his constant presence soaring to the top. The Reclamation decks aren’t all that fun either – they’re ridiculously consistent, their primary gameplan is to lock the other deck out of the game, and the printing of new tools which they use best, such as Shark Typhoon and Uro, makes them very difficult to attack.
Agent of Treachery & Overpowered Cohorts
The cards on everyone’s lips! There are two ways to put Agent of Treachery into play as early as turn 5 in Winota, Joiner of Forces and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, which are absolutely devastating for most opponents. With Yorion and Fires gone, the power of this play will be stunted to some degree, so it’s possible Wizards will choose not to ban either Lukka or Agent on that basis – but I suspect the outcry if they chose not to will influence their decision, as Agent of Treachery has been highlighted by players and pros alike as an extremely unfun card to have to deal with early in the game. Lukka into Agent of Treachery produces two must-kill threats immediately and puts them down their best permanent, and it’s not as though that strategy hinges on Yorion to a large degree even if Lord Bird Snake is the king of pushing it over the top.
The problem with banning Agent is that Agent in itselff isn’t really the problem – it’s that there are so many ways to cheat him into play now. Lukka into something big like End-Raze Forerunners or Drakuseth, Maw of Flames (with a haste enabler like Footfall Crater), or Winota into other expensive Humans, could still prove problematic, but unfortunately I think that’s a risk Wizards will be willing to take.
The problem with banning Lukka is, even though Winota has been on Standard’s sidelines for the moment, the card is obviously extremely powerful, and every deck that could compete with it will be losing a lot from the bans; it’s possible we’ll see one of the Neoform into Winota strategies, like the deck Emma Handy is currently playing in the Eleague Tournament, become problematic. My main issue with not banning Agent is that the meta will have been weakened severely by whatever Companion nerf/regular bans have taken place; it’s at an absurdly high power level now and that’s the only reason why other decks can make a semblance of keeping up. The threat of having your best permanent stolen t4 or t5, and then have the Agent left in play for Clone effects/have Lukka or Winota lying around, could easily be overwhelming in this new weakened meta.
All in all, I suspect an Agent ban is most likely (even if I think this is a clear case of ignoring the real problem cards), both for being unfun and crippling to the new Standard environment, and for possibly being too good in a watered-down meta, and Lukka will be the lynchpin of new strategies involving other expensive cards if that happens. Winota will be crippled but we could see people try to build around her in a more fair and healthy way, such as in coutinho brewer’s Mardu Winota deck.
Still, Winota is such a mistake of a card (multiple triggers, really?) that I wouldn’t mind if they followed suit from Historic and decided not to risk keeping her around.. her potential to be broken somewhere, and to be extremely unfun if she is, may well be too colossal. In terms of raw power level, Agent & Lukka both pale in comparison to Winota.
For my full analysis of the upcoming Companion nerf/tweak that is the talk of the town right now, see the banned list announcement here (there’s a roaring discussion over on that page, which you can join or we’d be happy to accommodate one here too!). We at MTG Arena Zone are committed to bringing you new and fresh content every time, so I won’t repeat myself in this article!
I’ve tried to leave the decks in my glimpse into the new Standard meta (right after this section) Companion-free, since I have no idea what the change will be exactly. I suspect it will be the simplest change – if you reveal a Companion card at the start of the game, you draw one less card in your opening hand; this will still leave Companions in a very powerful place, so they’ll form a large part of the next Standard meta if so, but they won’t be everywhere or nearly as dominant.
Companion Viability Predictions (assuming one less starting card change):
Whether to Companion cards will be much more of a choice if they aren’t free, and will depend on the matchup in games 2 and 3 a lot. In best-of-one, the decks where they’re free may still value the seventh card more highly than having them. In best-of-three, one sideboard slot isn’t worth that much anyway, and being able to guarantee them in the matchups where they’re good will still be worth a lot i.e. you reveal Keruga against Control game 2 and not against aggro, and you decide based on what you think the meta will be whether to reveal game 1.
- Lurrus and Yorion will be the main ones; these two generate so much value that they’ll be worth it even if you’re getting 2 or 3 for 1s rather than for 0s. The Lurrus and Yorion decks will probably look similar to now, but with more lands (since if you’re drawing 6-card openers and have natural anti-flood mechanism in Companions, you really want more ways to hit land drops) and perhaps more cards that generate value.
- I suspect Obosh vs Embercleave will be much more of a competition, and one Embercleave is likely to win much of the time. Still, the consistency of having better Torbran in your hand every game and the synergy with Heraldic Banner will mean that Obosh remains a force in the meta, especially in decks like Mono White Obosh and Mono Black Obosh, which can’t play Embercleave anyway; whether those decks will still be good enough is another question entirely.
- Gyruda decks may well still exist, since their Companion ensures you always have a ramp payoff and goes huge with Clone and flicker effects, but so far they have failed to make much of a mark on Standard, and will be further disadvantaged now.
- I suspect Gruul Kaheera Fires will no longer want her, but she may continue to be worth a sideboard slot in any deck without or with few creatures; in some matchups, they’ll Companion her and in some, they won’t.
- I suspect the weaker Companions such as Keruga, Jegantha, and Umori will fall off a lot; their restrictions are painful and not necessarily worth it when they’re no longer a free card. If decks can meet their requirement basically for free, they may still very much be worth a Sideboard slot though since you can just have them ready or the matchups where they are good, and not Companion them when they aren’t.
- Zirda still requires some sort of combo, and so far it hasn’t happened in Standard but if there’s a significantly powerful synergy, it’ll see play whether it costs a card or not. Zirda was recently banned in Legacy so the potential power is certainly there!
- Poor Lutri. Perhaps they’ll unban him in Brawl, and he’ll show up in Singleton events/Drafts (speaking of: I think Ikoria Draft will be significantly healthier with Companion nerfs!).
A Glimpse into the New Standard Meta
Embercleave can lead to some ridiculously quick hard-to-disrupt kills alongside any sizeable creature at all, but especially Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Questing Beast, and Rotting Regisaur can lead to some trivial kills as early as turn 4. One problem with Embercleave is its ability to annihilate midrange decks – cards like Lovestruck Beast throughout Magic’s history have been fantastic anti-aggro tools but we saw decks in Eldraine which ordinarily would be good against aggro, such as Selesnya Adventures and Mono Green Aggro, completely unable to keep up with the Red decks because they just couldn’t deal with Embercleave. It’s also pretty unfun to just die out of nowhere in the early stages of the game; Embercleave exacerbates the problem of play-draw to some extent in going from converting already good curve-outs on the play to being nigh-unbeatable, to merely being a fine card on the draw.
Teferi and Obosh pushed Embercleave out of the meta to some degree, with Teferi preventing it from being played for cheaper or at instant speed, and having access to a powerful Companion every game being enough of an advantage that Embercleave paled in comparison to it, and both those cards are clearly on the chopping block. If Teferi goes and Companions are nerfed, Embercleave will rise to the top again, be one of the most powerful cards of the new meta and possibly dominant in a lot of different decks. There are some good counters to it that will remain, such as sweepers and Aether Gust, however.
Jund + Rakdos Sacrifice
Jund Citadel Sacrifice has been one of the meta’s biggest revivals over the past couple of weeks, updating Eldraine’s powerful Jund Food deck, once the best deck in Standard, and Eli Kassis is currently embroiled in the finals of the Eleague Tournament with his version. The new innovation is running Bolas’s Citadel; because the deck has so much lifegain and is so good at staving off damage in the early turns, it uses that to keep up with the immense value the Yorion decks can produce, taking advantage of those decks’ indisposition to pressuring the opposing life total.
Unless there’s an unlikely ban like Cauldron Familiar, this deck stands to lose absolutely nothing from the next ban announcement, and it’s proven itself able to compete even while all the other decks are elevated by the upcoming banned cards, so I would be surprised if it weren’t one of the best choices in the new meta.
Along similar lines, Rakdos Sacrifice which, even with Lurrus, has faded in popularity immensely since Ikoria’s release, may well re-emerge as one of the best aggro decks, in its staying power and Mayhem Devil/Cauldron Familiar’s strength against the aggressive decks. Click here for a build along the lines of which I would expect to see; this was arguably the best deck at the tail-end of Theros: Beyond Death (read my metagame update for a trip down memory lane, and some discussion of the deck!). I suspect nowadays, you want some copies of Call of the Death-Dweller alongside other possible inclusions from Ikoria, but that’s a good starting point.
Click the links for our coverage of MagicFest Online Season Two, the tournament Temur Adventures won a couple of weeks ago, and the winning deck! My metagame update that week also discussed it in-depth. Temur Adventures is another deck that stands to lose nothing from the bans, and it’s capable of outgrinding basically anything with its combination of solid midrange creatures and all the value Lucky Clover provides; it’s also been a deck that has some obvious means of hating on it in removal for its engine cards and playing cards like Nissa which it can’t easily deal with, but it’s jam-packed with 2 for 1s and so incredibly resilient that it can often win through the hate. Its nut draw of t2 Clover t3 Fertile Footsteps is incredibly hard for most decks to keep up with. Being able to Granted for the right answer to every situation makes it also one of the most flexible decks in Standard; it’s a hard deck to play well so it’s time to start practising and get your reps in!
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Uro is an absurdly powerful card that has been a pillar of Standard since his printing, and that won’t change now. Incorporating him into your deck and having a plan for fuelling him will be one of the most powerful things any midrange or Control deck can do post-bans. Uro won’t be your whole deck, but he’ll generally be great in it for not much investment at all.
Cycling loses access to Lurrus, which is a blow, but it made worse use of Lotus Cat than other decks since it was so often using all of its mana all the time. I suspect the ability to steal games with turn one Flourishing Fox, produce an army in a can with Valiant Rescuer, and then have the absurd inevitability of Zenith Flare means it will remain good, but it’s also not that hard for some decks to hate on. Between Soul-Guide Lantern which renders your Zenith Flares useless while in play, and just having plenty of early removal, I suspect it will be kept in check by the other decks, especially in best-of-three.
If Winota isn’t banned (I think it’s unlikely), I suspect Coutinho Brewer’s version of Mardu Humans is a good starting point. I showcased this deck in last week’s edition of Mythic Decks (which is, in itself, a great way to find some new decks for the fledgling format). I discuss it a lot there, but tl;dr: it’s a deck that does an obviously powerful aggressive thing that cheats extra permanents into play; it isn’t completely busted but it’s much more functional without Winota, that card being there mostly for value, than most decks of its sort. It will be one great way to make use of Embercleave in the coming months.
I believe Abzan Humans is a deck that’s been kept down by its inability to run a Companion, or keep up with the absurdly powerful things the other decks are doing right now. Here’s Hall of Famer Huey Jensen‘s early build of the deck, which is a great way to hate on Cauldron Familiar/Witch’s Oven, since General Kudro threatens to keep exiling it; it has a powerful go wide strategy backed up by some fantastic ways to grind through the late game. Having access to fully activated Mythos of Nethroi allows it to freely hate on artifacts, Enchantments, and Planeswalkers alike; I suspect it could be a strong counter to Jund Food, given the chance.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World + Hydroid Krasis Decks
This two-card synergy, once the most feared in Standard because its parts were so strong by themselves, has long fallen out of favour as other decks were just doing better things with 5 mana, like playing Companions or Titans. I suspect that even with the bans, Nissa/Krasis decks will never dominate Standard to the same degree as they did four or five months ago, but it’s easy to imagine these two cards being good somewhere, perhaps in Simic Flash.
The Flash decks should have a much easier time if must-counter 3 drop Teferi is no longer everywhere to hate on them. If Teferi is banned and Fires is not, I suspect Flash and Reclamation will be good places to be, as countering Fires is one of the best way to stop its madness. The Flash decks are significantly worse than Reclamation in general, however, but if Reclamation itself is banned then they’ll be poised to take over that kind of strategy. I suspect Simic Flash is still a bit too weak on power level to ever be the best deck; even at the tail-end of Eldraine when decks were much weaker and people weren’t playing Teferi much, they were merely a player rather than dominant, and decks have gotten significantly better since then, but I could be wrong, and perhaps Dimir Flash will have what it takes!
Possible Historic Suspensions
Ordinarily we wouldn’t assume there would be Historic suspensions but Wizards’ announcement specifically referred to them! Remember that Wizards announced that Historic would generally have suspensions first rather than bans, when they suspended four cards back in December 2019, and subsequently on March 9, 2020 Field of the Dead was removed from the suspension list and the other three cards permanently banned.
Remember that the Companion mechanic nerf will severely affect Historic as well, whatever else happens.
Now is an especially great time to pick Historic up, as Arena has permanent ranked queues for it, and there is a Historic Mythic Invitational between August 28th and 30th, so it is being supported as a competitive format going forward. If you haven’t been keeping up with recent trends in Historic, check out my Historic Anthology 3 Set Review, where I talk about the meta a lot, and specifically about where new cards will slot in.
Winota, Joiner of Forces
Naya Winota’s namesake has proven herself far more powerful in Historic than Standard, with Fauna Shaman to tutor her up to solve the problem where the deck has a bunch of dead cards when you don’t draw her, and Llanowar Elves enabling her to both be played at maximum speed and then being able to attack for an easy trigger once she’s out; make no mistake, this is the best Elves deck in a format full of them, where it’s the best creature and absolutely everywhere. The deck will potentially lose Umori with the Companion nerf, but won’t be devastated by it; it still has Ancient Ziggurat as a big reason to play all-creatures.
Naya Winota has already taken down one tournament, forming five of the top 8, and established itself as arguably the best deck in the format; Winota does an immensely powerful, hard-to-prevent thing – if they try to remove her at instant speed, you can just search up more copies with Fauna Shaman, and the creatures enabling her are great and hit hard by themselves. While the meta hasn’t had a lot of time to adjust to Winota, I believe her to be the most likely, possibly only, suspension.
Field of the Dead
Even if you haven’t been keeping up with Historic, I’m sure many of you remember how much Golos Field warped Standard before it was banned (and gave way to an even worse monster) last year! Field of the Dead was one of the original four suspensions but, in a controversial decision, was returned to legality on March 9th. Since then, it has re-established itself as the premier slow deck in the format alongside good results in Pioneer; while Historic received some new tools in the Anthologies such as Virulent Plague, Goblin Ruinblaster, Ghost Quarter, and recently Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger to curb its power, none of those have really been all that successful because the core of the ramp shells without Field are still so powerful, and Field has a lot of immediate impact before it is destroyed. Additionally, cards like Teferi in Bant Scapeshift and recently Gempalm Polluter in Historic Anthology 3 can enable instant kills that can’t be disrupted by sweepers with Field.
Field has been weak to Naya Winota; it’s far too slow to keep up, but if Winota is banned then it will be back at the forefront. Almost every non-combo deck that wants to go late incorporates Field, because there are so many good lands in Historic that it’s easy to have many with different names, reading to repetitive and uninteresting gameplay. Even so, I doubt Field will be re-suspended even if I would personally support that – there are enough other good fast decks in the format like Gruul Aggro, so it dominates the late game decks rather than every single one (and Ulamog Ramp is possibly a good way to attack it).
Nexus of Fate
One of those cards that’s so miserable that it’s memorable in how much people hate it even compared to the many mistakes of 2019-20, Nexus has been tier 1 in Historic ever since the format’s inception. Simic and Bant Nexus have been the most common shells, and it recently adopted Kaheera (appropriately named the Orphanguard), since it doesn’t play any creatures other than sometimes Hydroid Krasis (a Beast) and sometimes Brazen Borrower (a reasonable sacrifice) so she’s almost completely free. Wilderness Reclamation into take infinite turns is still a powerful hard-to-disrupt plan, when backed up with cards like Root Snare that can buy an absurd amount of time.
I suspect Nexus is highly unlikely to be suspended, as not much has really changed for it; losing Kaheera is a blow but not a massive one, and it didn’t gain much else from Ikoria other than occasionally Shark Typhoon. It’s possible that winrate statistics and complaints about it being unfun have reached the necessary level that they’ve had enough, though.
Cards like Teferi, which are frontrunners for being banned in Standard and still see tons of play in Historic could potentially be suspended for good measure, but there isn’t much evidence that they have allowed Standard bans to influence Historic much in the past (other than the four horsemen of December 2019, which was more because the format was so new) so I wouldn’t say it’s likely; there are more frightening faces in this higher-power format, like the ones we’ve just seen.
Gruul has long been the best aggro deck in Historic, and could receive a ban in the form of Burning-Tree Emissary, the card which leads to its most absurd starts. However, if they do this, and allow Field/Nexus to remain untouched, the format will probably be significantly worse-off.
Relatedly, Wizards may have decided that they’ve had enough of Llanowar Elves’ absurd power level and finally decide to suspend it, but again pretty unlikely since it slots into so many decks and is one of the largest factors in differentiating Standard and Historic.
If cards are banned, we’ll have a short window to craft them using wildcards and immediately be refunded; it’s like a bonus for the community, but you need to be vigilant. Look out for our announcement about that as soon we have details!
The Arena Open, the last pre-ban tournament, will be happening this weekend, and will be a good place to get additional ideas. Watch out for our coverage soon, or prepare for the tournament using our best-of-one Standard decks showcase and best-of-one guide!
More Discussion Points
So readers, what do you think will happen on June 1? We want to know what you think and what your predictions are!
- What will be the best decks in the upcoming meta?
- What are you excited to play/brew?
- How good will Companions be post-nerf/tweak?
- Check out our discussion points on the ban announcement page also!