May 18, 2020 Banned and Restricted Announcement: Legacy, Vintage, and Brawl Changes! With Explanations & Commentary

Lurrus of the Dream-Den Art by Slawomir Maniak
Lurrus of the Dream-Den Art by Slawomir Maniak

Wizards of the Coast has made their Banned and Restricted Announcement today, making changes to multiple formats. MTG Arena is also affected as of March 21, 2020 (when the update arrives) in the Brawl format only. Legacy and Vintage also received changes, which we’ve listed alongside some background on those formats later on. The changes will be as follows:

FormatCard NameLegality
BrawlDrannith MagistrateBanned
BrawlWinota, Joiner of ForcesBanned
LegacyLurrus of the Dream DenBanned
LegacyZirda, the DawnwakerBanned
VintageLurrus of the Dream DenBanned

Read below for more details, with explanations for each of the changes, followed by Wizards of the Coast’s official explanations. You can also check out the official list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, here.

Brawl

Drannith Magistrate’s ban was announced over a week ago and makes a great deal of sense as the card has a very unfun effect on Brawl games, completely turning off opposing Commanders by itself, and making them useless for as long as it’s on the board. While that can be rectified with a removal spell, it’s much easier to do that in some colours than others e.g. Simic decks were at a major disadvantage, and being forced to remove a 2 drop put many Brawl decks far on the backfoot, as removal often costs as much as 3 or 4 (or has targeting restrictions which mean it can’t actually deal with the Magistrate) in the singleton format. Additionally, many decks don’t want to play a great enough number of those spells to consistently have them available in the early turns of the game, so the Magistrate crippled deckbuilding in a format where deckbuilding is one of the biggest draws.

Winota, Joiner of Forces was one of the breakout Commanders in Ikoria, and quickly established herself as the most powerful both in terms of winrate and devastating impact she could have on the game early on; the Winota Standard deck’s main problem is that it’s so much worse without Winota, so in a format where you could always have access to her on turn 4, it’s easy to see why she would prove oppressive… Winota decks did more or less the same thing every game, and it wasn’t a particularly interesting thing. With the void left by Winota’s untimely departure, Kinnan and Niv-Mizzet decks are poised to be the best.

This means neither card can be used in a Brawl deck, as Commander or otherwise, though players will be able to play them in this week’s Wednesday Brawl once more before the update. The Brawl bans do not provide Wildcard refunds.

BRAWL

Part of our philosophy for Brawl is that it shouldn’t be easy for a single card to completely shut down a wide class of commanders. An example of us acting on this philosophy in the past was banning Sorcerous Spyglass. We feel Drannith Magistrate falls into this category and generally takes away from the fun and self-expression that come from building around a commander in Brawl, so we are banning it.

On the balance side of things, we’re seeing that high win rates of decks using Winota, Joiner of Forces as a commander are leading to increased play rates and reduced diversity of play experiences for Brawl players. While we’re generally more tolerant of win rate outliers in Brawl than in formats with a more competitive spirit behind them, we’re choosing to make a change here in order to open up more viable choices for self-expression in the Brawl metagame.

Legacy

Companions in general have been an extremely controversial addition to Magic, but nowhere has their presence been felt more than in Legacy and Vintage. In those formats, you were at a huge disadvantage if you didn’t have Lurrus, since many decks were barely inconvenienced in not running permanents that cost 3 or more – these are formats dominated by spells, and the best permanents in them cost 2 or less anyway! Lurrus was played in all manner of decks, from the Delver Aggro decks to Lands (check this wacky 34-land deck out here if you haven’t seen it before!) to the Storm combo decks, because none of them actually cared about his restriction, and his absurd effect on the game was impossible to ignore, putting you 2 cards ahead on turn 3 with Mishra’s Bauble or Lion’s Eye Diamond. Legacy players can breathe a sigh of relief, since many were worried that some of the many cards that Lurrus broke would be banned instead…

Zirda, the Dawnwalker made certain combos far too powerful in Vintage especially with Basalt Monolith, which was a ridiculously easy two card infinite mana combo to assemble, since you always had access to Zirda whenever you needed it.

These were apparently the fastest bans in Legacy of all time: see this tweet for comparisons.

Vintage

Lurrus was especially threatening in Vintage alongside Black Lotus, where you could literally have Lurrus cost 0 mana by replaying the Lotus and then threaten to recur that Lotus every single turn afterwards; in a format full of tutors, this was not hard to assemble at all even with only one Lotus. The enormous amount of fast mana available meant that Lurrus could come down on turn 1 and put you immediately two cards ahead very consistently.

The solution to Lotus Cat warping the format was especially unique because problematic cards in Vintage are usually restricted rather than banned, but Lurrus being a Companion meant that players only being able to play one would’ve made no difference at all!

This is the first power level ban in Vintage since February 1996 (according to this article); see the banlist here – every card there is banned for logistical reasons, from ante because it’s an outdated rule that never worked and was essentially gambling, to Shahrazad because it made games drag on endlessly, to Chaos Orb/Falling Star because they brought manual dexterity into the game for some reason… This is a gigantic decision for Vintage, all in all; one which highlights the ludicrous power level of the best creature ever printed.

VINTAGE

In the weeks following the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths on Magic Online, we’ve observed a rise in the popularity and win rate of Vintage decks using Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion. Because of the nature of Vintage’s wide card pool and powerful restricted cards, the deck-building cost imposed by Lurrus is less restrictive relative to the payoff of having Lurrus as a companion. As a result, the win rates of several archetypes using Lurrus have surpassed 55% in Magic Online league play, and collectively decks using Lurrus are representing too large of a portion of the metagame with no indication of a shift away from this trend. Therefore, Lurrus of the Dream-Den is banned in Vintage.

We recognize that it’s a rare occurrence to ban a card for balance reasons in Vintage rather than restricting it, but this is a unique case where restricting Lurrus wouldn’t affect its usage as a companion, which is the primary motivation for making this change.

LEGACY

As in Vintage, the wide card pool of powerful, low-mana-cost permanents in Legacy makes the power level of using Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion not commensurate to the deck-building cost. Several archetypes that were already strong, including Delver variants, have incorporated the use of Lurrus as a companion while necessitating relatively few deck-building changes. Collectively, Lurrus decks represent an increasingly large portion of the metagame, with several variants maintaining win rates above 55% in Magic Online league play. Matchup data indicates that metagame forces alone aren’t sufficient to keep these decks in check, so we are also choosing to ban Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Legacy.

In addition, we’re seeing very high win rates among decks using Zirda, the Dawnwaker as a companion in combination with Grim Monolith. While not yet widely played, Magic Online metagame data indicates that these decks would become problematic in both win rate and metagame share. Therefore, we’re taking the additional step of banning Zirda, the Dawnwaker in Legacy.

Other Formats

Standard is also the subject of scrutiny at the moment, and although there are no changes today, is definitely being considered. This means not just with the cards themselves, but even changing how the mechanic itself works (like a “hotfix”?).

OTHER FORMATS

While this set of changes has focused on Legacy, Vintage, and Brawl, we’re continuing to watch the evolution of the metagame in each other format, including Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. If changes become needed in other formats, we’ll provide those separately in a future announcement. As of now, we’re seeing a diverse and dynamic metagame that changes from week to week in each Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. Before determining whether any changes are necessary, and what the right changes would be, we need to see the metagame come closer to an equilibrium state. Currently, these formats are shifting too quickly for data to indicate what, if any, card or archetype poses a problem.

We are aware of some players’ concerns about the frequency at which they encounter decks using companions across several formats. While we’re not currently seeing problematic win rates in Standard, Pioneer, or Modern from decks using companions, we are looking at overall metagame share and potential for repetitive gameplay. If we see signs of long-term health issues resulting from high metagame share of companion decks, we’re willing to take steps up to or including changing how the companion mechanic works. For now, metagames need more time to evolve before we can determine whether changes are necessary.

Discussion

As always, let us know what you think in the comments below (we’ve had some good discussions in the pre-announcement news here) and now that we have a clearer idea on what Wizards are willing to do, how would you make the changes for a better Standard metagame?

Drifter

Drifter

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