Last week, Wizards of the Coast released their latest ban and restricted update. Standard was affected with the banning of Emrakul, the Promised End, Reflector Mage, and Smuggler’s Copter, and Modern was affected with the bannings of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll. A lot of people, including myself, agree that this announcement is a bit surprising, but some of the items on the list were necessary to get rid of.
In Standard, I believe that Emrakul needed to be banned. Emrakul was an oppressive force in the metagame, and for quite a while as well. I think that it was kept in check initially with things like Bant Company, where the powerful creatures in the Bant Company deck could manipulate the ways Emrakul could be played, while other decks in the format also prevented the Emrakul decks from playing the game they wanted to play. However, with the Elder Deep-Fiend decks and Bant Company decks falling from grace with the rotation, Emrakul was jammed into the GB Delirium deck as the over-the-top end game finisher. Combined with Ishkanah, essentially the Delirium player only had to stay alive until he/she was able to find his/her Emrakul, and the game would end in such a devastating fashion that it was very unlikely the opponent would find a way back in.
Then, when everyone thought the two-and-a-half deck Standard format was too boring, Logan Nettles broke the format with the Red-Green Aetherworks Marvel deck. Pushing a turn four Emrakul into play regularly just isn’t fun, and, as I agree with WotC, Emrakul was banned in Standard.
The other two pieces, Reflector Mage and Smuggler’s Copter, I’m a bit more skeptical about. Sure, I can convince myself that these things needed to be banned, as they were very popular cards in a good majority of decks, I think Smuggler’s Copter may have been the most played card in Standard throughout the whole of this past season, but I think at least from a power level point of view, they were nowhere near as oppressive as Emrakul, or even other cards that have been banned in Standard in the past.
But hey, it’s January, so it’s the annual “Ban cards Tim enjoys playing with,” announcement. I think honestly, that Wizards R&D missed the new combo between Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, and instead of banning the flagship card and image of the Kaladesh set in Saheeli Rai, and also instead of banning a brand new card that hasn’t seen any play in Felidar Guardian, they wanted to ban Reflector Mage since it looked poised to be extremely powerful with these new interactions. I also think that the new announcement schedule points to R&D missing this combo as well.
The one thing though that I’m a bit worried about is that they didn’t ban what I perceived to be the true problem card in Standard, Ishkanah, Grafwidow. This card just stops entire strategies cold, and makes it excruciatingly painful for attack steps to even begin. Making a ton of great blockers that have reach, while also giving its decks a mana sink that also acts as a win condition is truly oppressive, and sure, Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage were a pain to play against, but again I think this is just Wizards plan to make blue tempo cards unplayable, and promote green as the best color of the past few years.
So now let’s talk about Modern cards. I feel like Wizards dropped the ball here again, but I’ll get into that later. First I want to talk about Golgari Grave-Troll. I think this is an egregious ban. This is just one humble players opinion. This banning of Grave-Troll means that now literally anything can happen with the banlist. They can unban cards, ban cards a year later, it doesn’t matter. While I think that Dredge did need a ban, I think there may have been better options. For instance, banning Conflagrate or Cathartic Reunion might have been enough to make Dredge a more reasonable deck, but banning a card that had already been banned is not something I appreciate, and I think the community is overlooking this.
Onto the Gitaxian Probe ban. Apparently they don’t like cards that require little thought to be put into decks. Much like how Smuggler’s Copter was inserted into any deck that could crew it regardless of color, Gitaxian Probe found its way into decks that had no way to pay mana for the spell. I’m indifferent on this, probably leaning toward “yeah it’s fine.” However, I can’t believe they still haven’t touched the most incredibly singly powerful card in the format, Simian Spirit Guide. Sure, while Gitaxian Probe allowed players to know when to go for it, and it helped fuel a lot of busted things like Delve, Prowess, Death’s Shadow, Thing in the Ice, etc., Simian Spirit Guide just leads to games that aren’t fun to play. You can have their turn three Blood Moon beat, but guess what? They had a Simian Spirit Guide, and now that Blood Moon is coming on turn 2, or even turn 1. Not only that, but Chalice of the Void can be played on one on turn 1 with Simian Spirit Guide.
Simian Spirit Guide is the absolute most broken card in all of Modern. You may not agree with me because it’s not played in the most successful decks, but it leads to some of the most frustrating and non-interactive games in the format. While I think Blood Moon is a tad bit too punishing in Modern, it’s really the Simian Spirit Guide that puts it over the top.
But I digress. In general, I think the bans are fine, though I would have loved to play Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage until the day I died. I guess we’ll have to just play infinite Felidar Guardians instead. That’ll show ‘em.
So Aether Revolt is legal in Constructed this weekend, and that means a new Standard format for the SCG Tour to showcase. I would be firing up a Jeskai Saheeli Rai Felidar Guardian combo deck this weekend at a local PPTQ, but I forgot that I had made travel plans, so instead of revealing a poorly constructed list, though one that’s been doing fine in testing, I’ll sit and wait to see what results from the SCG Open this weekend.
One final thing I want to touch on, is testing well. There are obviously two types of testing. One is paper testing, and one is testing on Magic Online. There may be other types of testing, but these are the only types that you should consider. Testing with randoms on some other application isn’t good enough to get you to the winners bracket. The only form of testing that these applications are good for is if you’re on a voice chat with a friend, and he/she is playing against you. This emulates paper testing, just with a digital medium.
If you’re going to be testing on paper, you have to test with people watching you. You can’t trust yourself to always see every good line, or even every available line of play. If you practice a lot, you can train yourself to see the lines afterwards, but it always helps to have someone looking at everything with you.
If you’re going to be testing on Magic Online, there is a key I want to convey. Slow down! This is the biggest mistake I see people make when they begin playing Magic Online. While I haven’t fully committed yet to testing Magic Online, I do know that from first-hand experience, I move too quickly. Not only do I move too quickly during a game, I don’t take the time between matches to decompress and reflect as to why or how I lost the game. That’s the most important part of testing, at least for me. I need to reflect upon my mistakes after they have caused me to lose the game, so I can see how that play pattern plays out, and I won’t make the mistake again. Instead, sometimes I find myself jamming more and more games just to get through a league, other times I see myself jamming more and more games because I’m tilted and just want to play the next one, instead of understanding why I’m so tilted. Leagues are great, and testing online is great, but you have to slow down, and do it right.
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