October 13, 2021 Banned and Restricted Announcement: Trickery and Memory Lapse Removed from Historic; No Changes to Standard

For a couple of weeks now, MTG players have been wondering if there were changes to the banlist coming up soon. Today, Wizards of the Coast has published an announcement that makes changes to the Historic format, but has left Standard alone. In Historic, Tibalt’s Trickery is now banned, Memory Lapse is suspended, and Brainstorm has been moved from suspended to banned. These changes will be live on MTG Arena as of tomorrow, October 14, 2021.

An Unusual Move

Additionally, Wizards has taken the unusual step of rebalancing some of the digital-only cards that were introduced to Historic from Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. Perhaps the most significant of these changes is to Davriel, Soul Broker and Davriel’s Withering, which have been changed so that their perpetual debuff can only affect “target creature an opponent controls.” This is in response to the Withering/Vesperlark combo deck that was discovered shortly before the release of Historic Horizons. A few other cards from the set received some minor buffs; see below for details.

As Magic cards are nearly always printed in paper, changes to the text on cards (known as errata) are extremely rare to avoid confusion. Most of the errata that have been made to Magic cards are from old cards with bad or unclear text or formatting. Now, Wizards says that in the digital-only Historic format, they are leaving themselves the option to make changes and balances to digital-only cards.

Wizards says these changes will currently be limited to digital-only cards and formats; however, they also mentioned that they “would like to expand beyond this (for example, by rebalancing previously banned cards so they can be safely returned to play in digital formats only).” It’s a bit unclear what exactly Wizards means with this statement, but for now, changes to cards will be contained to the Historic format and its special digital-only cards.

Bans in Historic

Regarding the Historic bans, Wizards says that after analyzing results from the Arena Open and other competitive play, Memory Lapse has become ubiquitous and a “must-include in high-performing blue decks.” Therefore, the card has been suspended in the interest of increasing the diversity of the format. Wizards also said that the suspension of Brainstorm made a positive impact on the meta, so they have finalized the decision and banned the card outright.

Tibalt’s Trickery, meanwhile, has been rampaging in Historic – especially in best-of-one – since the printing of Throes of Chaos made the deck much more consistent. In addition to the deck being obnoxious to play against, the highly increased winrate of the deck has “pushed it over the line” according to Wizards, and so it has been banned as they feel that Historic does not have the capacity to “safely include a combo of this speed and consistency.”

No Standard Bans??

Many players, including us, were wondering if Wizards would have to ban cards from the Standard format, with the competitive meta (including last weekend’s World Championship XXVII) being increasingly warped by Alrund’s Epiphany and Esika’s Chariot in particular. It appears now that Wizards intends to leave Standard be for now.

In a recent discussion of potential bans, I speculated that Wizards might not make any changes to the format in hopes that the release of Innistrad: Crimson Vow would fix the problems in Standard on its own. It seems that this is the case, as Wizards specifically mentioned the upcoming release of Crimson Vow in their reasoning behind leaving Standard alone. You can count me among those who are skeptical that Crimson Vow will make Alrund’s Epiphany any less obnoxious, but nevertheless, we’ll have to wait at least a few weeks to see if the next B&R announcement will target Standard.


You’ll find the comprehensive list of today’s changes to the Historic format below, along with the full text of Wizards of the Coast’s original announcement. The changes will go into effect tomorrow on Thursday, October 14, 2021.

Format Changes:

FormatCard NameChanges
HistoricTibalt’s TrickeryBanned
HistoricMemory LapseSuspended
HistoricBrainstormBanned

Rebalanced Digital Cards:

  • Davriel’s Withering and Davriel, Soul Broker’s third ability now only affect “target creature an opponent controls.”
  • Faceless Agent is now 2/2 (from 2/1).
  • Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv’s second ability is now +1 (from +0).
  • Subversive Acolyte now costs 1B (from BB), is 2/3 (from 2/2), and had the toughness increases from becoming Human or Phyrexian reduced by 1.

Current Historic Banned Card List

Card NameSuspension DateBan Date
Nexus of FateJuly 13, 2020
Oko, Thief of CrownsDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Once Upon a TimeDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Veil of SummerDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Fires of InventionJune 1, 2020July 13, 2020
Agent of TreacheryJune 1, 2020July 13, 2020
Winota, Joiner of ForcesJune 8, 2020July 13, 2020
Field of the DeadAugust 24, 2020
Teferi, Time RavelerAugust 3, 2020October 12, 2020
Wilderness ReclamationAugust 3, 2020October 12, 2020
Uro, Titan of Nature’s WrathSeptember 28, 2020February 15, 2021
Omnath, Locus of CreationOctober 12, 2020February 15, 2021
Thassa’s OracleMay 19, 2021
Time WarpJune 9, 2021
BrainstormJuly 21, 2021October 13, 2021
Memory LapseOctober 13, 2021
Tibalt’s TrickeryOctober 13, 2021

October 13, 2021 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Announcement Date: October 13, 2021

Standard:

No changes

We’ve been carefully monitoring the Standard metagame since the format rotation and release of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. As Innistrad: Midnight Hunt‘s Standard season winds down and we approach the release of Innistrad: Crimson Vow next month, we’ve been aware of some players’ concerns about the impact of certain individual cards on metagame diversity, such as Alrund’s Epiphany and Esika’s Chariot. After reviewing MTG Arena metagame data and recent online events (including the World Championship), and in considering the upcoming release of Innistrad: Crimson Vow, we’ve decided not to make any changes at this time.

We’ll consider changes to the Standard environment, if necessary, after evaluating Innistrad: Crimson Vow‘s impact on the metagame.

Historic:

Tibalt’s Trickery is banned in Historic.

Memory Lapse is suspended in Historic.

Brainstorm is banned in Historic (from suspended).

Five digital-only cards are being rebalanced:

  • Davriel’s Withering and Davriel, Soul Broker’s third ability now only affect “target creature an opponent controls.”
  • Faceless Agent is now 2/2 (from 2/1).
  • Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv’s second ability is now +1 (from +0).
  • Subversive Acolyte now costs 1B (from BB), is 2/3 (from 2/2), and had the toughness increases from becoming Human or Phyrexian reduced by 1.

MTG Arena effective date: October 14, 2021

Jumpstart: Historic Horizons created a large amount of change in the Historic Metagame, and most of it looks very positive. But after watching initial reception, September’s Historic Arena Open, and the response of the broader metagame to the Arena Open, there are a couple adjustments we feel the Historic format needs.

In addition to the normal bans and suspensions, the digital-only cards in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons give us a chance to return to a balance tool we haven’t used in Magic for many years: functional rebalancing for cards. More on that below.

Bans and Suspensions

On the broader Historic metagame front, one of the big changes is the return of decks built around Tibalt’s Trickery, now using Throes of Chaos to boost the hit rate on the combo dramatically. This has led to a marked increase in win rate for the deck relative to the prior version and a corresponding increase in popularity. The prior, less consistent version of this deck was borderline, and the increased hit rate in this version has pushed it over the line. Because we think it is unlikely for Historic to be able to safely include a combo of this speed and consistency, Tibalt’s Trickery is banned in Historic.

In Banned and Restricted Announcements earlier this year, we have talked about the dominance of blue and red decks. Our past changes, along with the additions from Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, have done good work in addressing this, but we still see a slight issue here.

Looking at high-level play and the Arena Open in particular, Memory Lapse emerged as nearly a must-include in high-performing blue decks. It was the most played nonland card in the Arena Open as well as the Best-of-Three ladder, and it is one of the most played cards in Best-of-One as well. While we do believe that removing Memory Lapse from the format is likely to create further improvements in format diversity, we also believe the case is less clear than Tibalt’s Trickery. As such, and in order to increase format diversity, Memory Lapse is suspended in Historic.

Rounding out the bans and suspensions, Brainstorm is currently suspended in Historic, and this has helped in shifting the metagame in a healthier direction. Because this suspension has proved positive, Brainstorm is banned in Historic.

Rebalanced Cards

In addition to these bans and suspensions, we are also rebalancing five cards with this announcement. Digital-only cards in digital-only formats like Historic give us the ability to functionally rebalance cards simply and clearly. We can simply update the text digitally, and the cards will remain accurate to their new function.

Functional rebalancing is a significant change in how we’re managing balance for our formats, and it merits a bit of explanation around what it does and doesn’t mean. Going forward, we will be managing formats on MTG Arena in two different ways. “Print” formats, like Standard, will continue to work exactly like they do in tabletop Magic. For “Live” formats, like Historic, we are adding live balancing alongside banning and suspension as a tool to address problems and make improvements to the format.

We are very aware that there are many MTG Arena players who want the game to be an authentic representation of tabletop Magic, and our “print” formats will remain exactly that. Here, a card will always work the same way that the printed version of the card does and balance will be maintained the same way it traditionally has been: through banning cards when they prove to be problematic.

In addition to being an authentic version of tabletop Magic, MTG Arena is also a digital game. Digital games often make use of a wider array of balancing tools, like live rebalancing, and for good reason. The increased play rates and data collection possible in digital games tends to magnify the impact of power imbalances, which makes it valuable to have more tools to restore balance.

Currently, we are restricting these changes to digital-only cards, where there will be no conflict between a digital and printed version of a card. We would like to expand beyond this (for example, by rebalancing previously banned cards so they can be safely returned to play in digital formats only). There are multiple clarity and communication problems we will need to solve before we can consider those types of changes. This is something we plan to work on in the coming months and, since it bears repeating, would only affect digital formats.

One of the big themes of Magic over the last several years has been recognizing and embracing the many ways that Magic is played. On the tabletop side, we have released new content focused on Modern players, Commander players, collectors, and other groups. On MTG Arena, we recognize that we have traditional tabletop Magic fans and fans of digital games. With this shift, we aim to fully support both—continuing to deliver an authentic tabletop experience in formats like Standard and embracing new balance tools for digital-only formats like Historic.

How Will Rebalanced Cards Work?

Since these digital-only cards are only on MTG Arena, we can cleanly update all existing cards at once. With MTG Arena‘s update on October 14, the text and stats on these cards will change to match their new values, exactly as if there had been an Oracle update. These changes will affect any format where these cards can be played (Historic, Historic Brawl, Direct Challenge, etc.). There will not be an in-game notification about the rebalancing, but that is something that we are working toward.

Much like with bans and suspensions, whenever we rebalance cards, we want to provide context around why we’re making those changes. Read on for more info there from Donald Smith.

Introduction to the Changes

Hey, y’all. I’m Donald from the Play Design team. I’ve made a few appearances on the site talking about Challenger Decks, the genesis of Luminous Broodmoth‘s design, and how powerful Wily Goblin was in my deck at the 2017 World Championships (it wasn’t). Behind the scenes, I worked on MTG Arena‘s Mirror Mirror event, and today, I’m here to give the rationale behind these rebalanced cards.

Like digital-only designs, live balancing is a new tool to maximize the potential of our digital formats. This first set of changes is not meant to significantly impact the metagame but improve the ladder experience. This will also give us a chance to collect feedback and data on how the environment reacts to these changes. While we will still ban and suspend cards, we will also look for opportunities to improve the competitive metagame and address other issues through live balancing.

The three buffs are aimed at popular cards that have room to be stronger to better serve the decks and roles they were designed for. The remaining two balance changes are not meant to reduce the playability of the cards, but to address an undesirable combo from Historic.

Rebalancing Notes

Davriel’s Withering and Davriel, Soul Broker
Only affects “target creature an opponent controls”

Old

Davriel's Withering old

New

Davriel's Withering new

Old

Davriel, Soul Broker old

New

Davriel, Soul Broker new

We are removing the undesirable interactions with Vesperlark that can easily result in a draw.

Faceless Agent
2/2 (from 2/1)

Old

Faceless Agent old

New

Faceless Agent new

Faceless Agent is an important card for tribal decks that don’t currently have the density of cards legal in Historic to fill out their curve. This is a simple buff to improve the experience of players using those tribal decks.

Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv
Second ability is now +1 (from +0)

Old

Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv old

New

Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv new

Sarkhan’s second ability is weaker than the other two, especially considering the tension between choosing to conjure Shivan Dragons versus using the first ability to fuel future -2 abilities. We are aiming to better balance and reduce the tension between the abilities.

Subversive Acolyte
Costs 1B (from BB), is 2/3 (from 2/2), and had the toughness increases from becoming Human or Phyrexian reduced by 1

Old

Subversive Acolyte old

New

Subversive Acolyte new

Subversive Acolyte competes too directly with Gifted Aetherborn for black decks looking for defensive options, and changing its mana cost adds a defensive option for black decks without needing to commit heavily into black to play Gifted Aetherborn. Adding a toughness lets Subversive Acolyte better fill that defensive role early in the game, and we adjusted the ability’s stat boost to preserve the Phyrexian Negator reference.

Paul

Dude from Vermont who likes to play Magic and Escape from Tarkov. Musician, writer, and gamer. Submit feedback or corrections to @Paul on the Discord.

4 Responses

  1. Chrysologus says:

    Ah, the tweaking has begun. They will soon abolish the Historic banned list and instead nerd all the cards that were banned.

    • Paul says:

      I could see it happening! I don’t have a strong opinion on it because I don’t play much Historic, but it would be pretty weird if there were paper cards that read differently on Arena. I wonder if they would slightly alter the card names as well to avoid confusion?

      • Zafarion says:

        I hadn’t thought about this, but it would be essential that they change the name and even art of the nerfed card together

      • FlyingVe says:

        I mean, errata kind of already does this to some extent. I can’t even say to a “lesser” extent after stuff like Companion errata.

        I am pretty okay the concept of rebalancing cards and think it’s something that would always have been on the table if not for the restrictions of a paper format. Also, after Historic Horizons, Historic is definitively a digital format so, why not. At some point in the future it’s very likely most magic is digital, then even the “paper” restrictions seem less meaningful.

        Counterpoint of course being that the restrictions of the paper format has provided a necessary restriction on WOTC and design which improves card design.