Temur Refined, Ramunap Red in Ruins

Yet another lacklustre Standard season, yet another banning in hopes of remedying it. This trend seems all too common nowadays. Surely it has to come to an end at some point!

If you haven’t heard by now, Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins have been banned, bringing the total number of cards banned in Standard up to seven (Smuggler’s Copter, Felidar Guardian and Aetherworks Marvel are also banned).

Even though there has been an unprecedented amount of bannings in Standard since last January, it’s not actually as bad as it looks (though it is admittedly quite bad). As Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage were banned, R&D made clear their intent to “keep as many players as possible happy to be playing Standard and to not wait until the format had bottomed out before making a fix” and even admitted that they “believe it was a mistake to not ban Collected Company at some point”. This basically meant that if they felt more cards needed to be banned, then they would be more liberal in doing so. And were they ever! Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, quite the opposite. I strongly support this banning paradigm; the standards of a few years ago would have been much better off if Collected Company had been banned at some point.

At the end of the day though, bannings are still bad for the game, and the Design Team doesn’t take them lightly. Based on past bannings there seems to be a number of guiding principles that they use to gauge whether to take action on certain cards.

Fun

“…games that involve Skullclamp simply aren’t as much fun to play, especially when those are the only kinds of games going on.”-June 2004 DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement

“…almost nobody actually called out White-Blue Flash as the problem. People really just didn’t like playing against Emrakul.”-Sam Stoddard, “Standard”, 2017

When Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler’s Copter were banned, the best deck wasn’t actually Vehicles or Delirium, it was UW flash, which is why Reflector Mage was banned alongside them, even though it seemed out of place at the time. Apparently UW flash had no bad matchups, but that wasn’t the problem with Standard at the time. The problem was that every game had a horrible inevitability about it. When Emrakul, the Promised End was cast, the game was basically over. It was extremely hard to lose from that point. Every game was either a race to cast her, or to finish the game before she was cast. It created a bad feeling from magic players all over the world, such that even though the deck wasn’t even the best deck at the time (though still quite good), and certainly beatable, a ban was deemed warranted.

When Aetherworks Marvel was banned, every popular deck in the meta except for Blue-Red Control and Mono Black Zombies was either favoured against it, or had an even matchup. Same deal as with Emrakul. If you wanted to beat Marvel, you definitely could. RG Pummeler, Esper Vehicles and UW Flash had roughly a 60% win rate against it, but as was said, “A turn-four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is virtually game over, which, according to Frank Karsten, happens in around just 9.4% of games. Having 10% of your games end that quickly is justifiably unpalatable to most of you.”

How fun the games are to play is always going to be a huge factor when dealing with the balance of a game. Even if a game is perfectly balanced, if it’s not fun, people aren’t going to play it. Aetherworks Marvel and Emrakul, the Promised End aren’t generally what jump to mind when people think of “fun” cards. Quite the opposite in fact, I’d imagine. This is a more important factor than some may think. If a large majority of the player base isn’t having fun, why would they keep buying the product? Sales will suffer, stores will suffer, distributors will suffer and ultimately, the players will suffer.

 

Interaction and Answers

…the current Standard environment is dominated by deck archetypes that… detract from the interactive element of the Magic game that makes tournament play both interesting and enjoyable.”
-March 1999 DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement

“The pendulum of threats versus answers has swung too far toward the threats, and that has caused problems with our metagame. Our decision to not print enough answer cards also has shown to be a real problem.”
-Sam Stoddard, “Standard”, 2017

“The best games of Magic are ones that involve counterplay on both sides. For those reasons, we believe Aetherworks Marvel needed to go, even though it is not unbeatable.”
-June 13, 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement

“Therefore, Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon are banned in Standard. This is in order to reduce the win percentage of red aggressive decks, mitigate overly swingy matchups, and provide more possibilities for counterplay.”
-January 15, 2018 Banned and Restricted Announcement

This is closely related to the “fun” factor. There have been extremely powerful, game ending cards before, and there will be again in the future, but a large majority haven’t been banned. If your opponent is doing extremely powerful things, but you’re able to stop them or do your own powerful things, it’s not as bad. But if you can’t stop them, and your deck is just lower in power level than theirs, it doesn’t make for enjoyable games. Anyone who has tried playing a Standard deck against a modern/EDH/legacy will know what this feels like. A format in which huge creatures and Through the Breach exist but counterspells and removal do not would not be a good format. Answers and interaction are what make games good. The less interaction one has with their opponent, the less fun the game is. Ramunap Ruins is the big offender here, and I’m a huge fan of the decision to ban it. While very serviceable land destruction exists in the form of Field of Ruin, it’s just not enough. Smuggler’s Copter was similar. There wasn’t much instant speed interaction that could trade evenly with the card, and even if you did deal with it eventually, it’s likely that they’d already gotten value off of it via card selection or damage. The design team admits that right now threats are too good compared to the answers and that they’re trying to balance it back the other way, and hopefully that happens sooner or later. If cards like Doom Blade, Grasp of Darkness, Mana Leak or Wrath of God were currently legal, I wonder if anything would have needed to have been banned.

Strength of the card/archetype

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is banned.
Stoneforge Mystic is banned.
-June 20 2011 DCI Banned & Restricted List Announcement

This is the big reason why most previous Standard bannings occurred; simply because a card or archetype was too strong. Think of normal Temur draws that one has to take into account when playing against it. Turn 1 Attune with Aether, Turn 2 Longtusk Cub. Turn 2 Servant, Turn 3 Chandra, Turn 4 Vraska, Glorybringer or Scarab God. The fact that there is currently no deck that is favoured against energy in a best of three (apart from energy decks going slightly bigger) is damning, and a ban is perfectly justified.

Diversity

“…a metagame unbalanced by the Copy Cat combo, as even its natural predator, Mardu Vehicles, fell behind.”
-Addendum to April 24, 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement

“…none of the other decks that represent a significant portion of the metagame are able to reach a truly favorable matchup against Temur Energy. It is because of this inability of the metagame to adjust to Temur Energy’s dominance that we identified the need for B&R intervention.”
-January 15, 2018 Banned and Restricted Announcement

“But there exists a larger crowd for whom decks and cards are extensions of themselves, who revel in diverse metagames wherein they can show off their creativity. They want to be able to play decks that suit their whims and personalities without feeling like they are wasting their time; they want Magic to afford them the opportunities to individualize while still taking it seriously.”
-Aaron Forsythe “Standard Bannings Explained”, 2011

“In the interest of competitive diversity, Splinter Twin is banned from Modern.”
-January 18, 2016 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Aaron Forsythe sums it up nicely in his quote above. Being able to play the cards/deck that you want to play is one of the biggest appeals to TCGs. The fact that you can pick and choose what pieces you want to play with, and vary them and ideally still be competitively viable is a fascinating and incredibly enjoyable. Take that element away and the cries of “netdecking is ruining magic” almost sound legitimate. I like to play almost all archetypes and styles of deck, but I really am a control player at heart. As much as I am a spike and most of my deck selection decisions are based on maximising my win rate at all cost, I still just have fun countering people’s spells and drawing cards. I get a slight pang of disappointment every time control isn’t quite viable in Standard, and I feel incredibly excited every time it is (which hasn’t been often as of late). The fact that only two decks are viable is quite sad, especially coming out of the incredibly diverse and incredibly balanced Standard of the previous rotation.

It’s not very realistic to expect every set to be perfect and every format to be perfect and every deck and archetype to be viable all the time, but it feels like this has been going on for too long now. I just hope that there are changes happening behind the scenes that we’re not aware of and that I can get excited for Standard once again.

 

A Timeline of Standard Bannings

Dream Halls is banned
Earthcraft is banned
Fluctuator is banned
Lotus Petal is banned
Recurring Nightmare is banned
Time Spiral is banned

…the current Standard environment is dominated by deck archetypes that… detract from the interactive element of the Magic game that makes tournament play both interesting and enjoyable.”
-March 1999 DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement

 

Skullclamp is banned

“…games that involve Skullclamp simply aren’t as much fun to play, especially when those are the only kinds of games going on.”
-June 2004 DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement

 

Arcbound Ravager is banned
Disciple of the Vault is banned
Artifact lands are banned: (Ancient Den, Great Furnace, Seat of the Synod, Tree of Tales, Vault of Whispers, Darksteel Citadel)
-March 2005 DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement

“We like to avoid having to solve problems by banning cards, as that leads to a culture of fear. We certainly don’t want people to start believing that all the good cards they own are in the crosshairs of the DCI.”
-Aaron Forsythe, “December Bannings, or Lack Thereof”, 2004

 

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is banned.
Stoneforge Mystic is banned.
-June 20 2011 DCI Banned & Restricted List Announcement

 

Emrakul, the Promised End is banned.
Smuggler’s Copter is banned.
Reflector Mage is banned.
-January 9, 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement

“The pendulum of threats versus answers has swung too far toward the threats, and that has caused problems with our metagame. Our decision to not print enough answer cards also has shown to be a real problem.”

“…we will be looking closely at the Copycat decks from the Pro Tour and seeing how they emerge and evolve over the next few weeks.”
-Sam Stoddard, “Standard”, 2017

 

Felidar Guardian is banned.

“…a metagame unbalanced by the Copy Cat combo, as even its natural predator, Mardu Vehicles, fell behind.”

“We believe this banning coupled with a number of internal testing process improvements will be significant steps toward making Standard the fun, dynamic format we all want it to be in perpetuity.”
-Addendum to April 24, 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement

 

Aetherworks Marvel is banned.

“The best games of Magic are ones that involve counterplay on both sides. For those reasons, we believe Aetherworks Marvel needed to go, even though it is not unbeatable.”

“One reason we typically hesitate when considering banning cards is that we don’t like destroying entire deck types. Fortunately, the rise of the Temur Energy deck in the format has mostly mitigated that outcome here.”
-June 13, 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement

 

Attune with Aether is banned.
Rogue Refiner is banned.
Rampaging Ferocidon is banned.
Ramunap Ruins is banned.

“…none of the other decks that represent a significant portion of the metagame are able to reach a truly favorable matchup against Temur Energy. It is because of this inability of the metagame to adjust to Temur Energy’s dominance that we identified the need for B&R intervention.”

“Therefore, Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon are banned in Standard. This is in order to reduce the win percentage of red aggressive decks, mitigate overly swingy matchups, and provide more possibilities for counterplay.”

-January 15, 2018 Banned and Restricted Announcement

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One Comment
  1. January 17, 2018 | Reply

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