Big news. Standard may well not suck this season.
The emergency banning has been announced.
Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown, this time, they’re going down.
As depressing as that song is, I do love it.
In the short term this banning leaves Standard much more open for innovation, and for Amonkhet to have an impact on the format.
I initially will be trying some sort of ‘go big’ tapout strategy, straddling the line between midrange and control.
It remains to be seen whether the best payoff will be Noxious Gearhulk, Sorin, or something else, but I will initially test a BG splash W deck, using the better mana elves in the format to ramp toward those two big threats.
These plans may not work, and this deck might suck. But with the Copy Cat Combo gone, at least there is room to experiment with big lategames now.
Why did the emergency ban happen?
There were three main reasons for correcting Monday’s mistake, two of which Wizards touch in their announcement. The third, however, was what I believe was decisive.
The first reason was player and pro backlash.
We saw Brian Kibler announcing he would skip PT Amonkhet despite being qualified.
We saw people on the Spikes page on Reddit – a forum for players that self-identify as competitive – posting that they would skip GP Atlanta. GPs exist to cater to this audience.
And we saw widespread comments from people saying they were taking a seven week break from Standard and maybe even from Magic entirely.
This was a collection of anecdotes that painted an incomplete picture, but not enough on its own to justify an emergency ban.
Second was match results from MTGO leagues.
MTGO’s metagame moves at lightning speed.
In paper, tech percolates slowly. A Tier 1 deck with a surprise card added to it that dominates a tournament in Ohio on a Friday may not be noticed until same player pilots it to another incredible finish proving it was not just a fluke. This might take a week as many competitive players can’t get to more than one event per week.
However on MTGO, players aren’t limited in how many tournaments they can enter.
If you break a format and 5-0 a league, you can immediately reenter that league. If you keep putting up outstanding results, you will win a lot of prizes quickly, and other players have a massive incentive to reverse engineer and copy your success.
From Monday to the emergency ban, Copy Cat Combo put up even more dominant results than previously, making up about 50% of the reported 5-0 decklists. These lists are chosen randomly, so it is a reasonable assumption that 40-60% of all 5-0 lists were indeed copycat lists.
There were some innovative lists, but they were not enough to knock the Cats back from Tier 0 to a healthy Tier 1.
This data proved that Amonkhet cards helped Copy Cat more than they hurt it.
The third reason was MTGO league entry figures.
MTGO doesn’t just show how much of an impact Copy Cat was having on the tables. It showed something much more important – Copy Cat was driving people away from playing Standard entirely.
I wasn’t able to personally verify this, but I heard multiple sources state that the Modern league had more players enrolled than the Standard league, which is unprecedented.
But because the format has a lot of expensive staples that can swing wildly in price, it is generally considerably less popular on MTGO than Standard is.
After the Monday bans went live, Standard attendance was collapsing, and this posed a serious problem for Wizards.
Much of the desire for Amonkhet’s cards comes from their utility in Standard. While some of the cards will see play outside the format, Standard exists to drive sales of newly printed sets.
And if Amonkhet sold poorly, we could end up with the WotC nightmare scenario – a repeat of the Fallen Empires debacle, where stores and distributors lost a lot of money on a bad set and became hesitant to buy MTG product at all.
This reason hasn’t been given publicly, but I think if you read between the lines it was the decisive reason for the second ever emergency ban.
Where to from here?
Like dialling 000 (or 911 for you Americans, 999 for those of you in the UK, or whatever your local emergency number is), the banhammer is an important tool to respond to a very serious situation.
And like 000, it should never be used frivolously.
Having a beloved deck or even a brew-in-progress be smashed by the banhammer is never pleasant, and I was certainly sad to see my (quite silly) attempt to port the Vintage deck Two-Card Monte into Modern get killed off in the Twin ban.
But the health of formats must come first. Magic is a competitive game first, and competitive games with degenerate strategies do not stay fun for long.
For anyone that owned a Saheeli deck, this ban will be a costly lesson – don’t buy into obviously broken decks lightly. If a deck is Tier 0, it will either be banned, or the metagame will adapt to push it out of Tier 0. Either way, you’ll be burned if you buy it at the peak of its popularity – and it is cheaper to get on top of this lesson with a Standard deck than with a Legacy one.
But for people that owned a diversified Standard collection that happened to include a couple of Saheelis, you will probably come out ahead overall from this ban. You’ll lose on the Saheelis and the Wandering Fumaroles, but other cards that were precluded from seeing play by the Copy Cat Combo will now see competitive demand again.
Wizards have solved the acute crisis Standard was in.
It’s now time for the design and development team to analyze the mistakes that were made and to learn from them.
Responses to these lessons that are cards will take 12 to 18 months to see print. Responses in the form of communication and decision making should happen quicker than that.
The dominance of threats over answers was the ultimate cause of the poor Standard formats since Eldritch Moon, and also the underwhelming formats before that. Emrakul, Copy Cat, Heart of Kiran, Snugglecopter, Gideon, Scrapheap Scrounger – all of these are threats that outclass most of the answers that have been printed.
Gideon remains a problem, and I would have preferred to see him taken out the back and shot. However, there are acceptable answers to him in the format in most colours – Cast Out/Stasis Snare in white; Censor, Disallow and Commit//Memory in blue, Never//Return and Ruinous Path in black, Glorybringer in red and Reality Smasher in strict colourless. Every one of those cards is highly playable in the format, and I hope they can put Zendikar’s Ally back in his place.
Overall, I think it’s time to start enjoying Standard again and to hope that Wizards learn their lesson – answers are important.
Wizards now have a Standard format worth promoting.
As a last point, it might be time to look into printing a couple of top-notch FNM promos in paper, and Event Participation promos on MTGO.
I’d suggest a one-off in-store Standard promotional day with full-art promotional copies of Fatal Push for all players, and a 4x playset of foil ones as a prize for the winner.
Allow stores with a less competitive clientele to distribute the foils differently (perhaps two to first, and two to randomly picked players – but anything that is communicated in advance and treats all players fairly is fine), and you don’t just cater to the Spike crowd, but you can make it for everyone.
This would really promote the set and the format.
And for people who owned Copy Cat and were disappointed to see their pet cat get drowned – it’s an opportunity to win back their interest.
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