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My First Thoughts on the Felidar Guardian Bannings

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

My First Thoughts on the Felidar Guardian Bannings

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Hello all, thank you for clicking on my click-bait-y title. If any of you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that Wednesday night featured a rare display of rage and profanity about the way that Wizards of the Coast decided to ban what has been my solitary deck of choice since Week 1 of Standard. I am not here to apologize for any of this. What I am here to do is provide a little more context on this card’s banning than a 140 character tweet can. I’d like to take some time before I get into the meat and potatoes of all this to lay down some ground rules about what this article is not going to include:

#1: This IS NOT an article about whether Felidar Guardian should have been banned or not.
#2: This IS NOT an article about what Magic people should be allowed to play (ie: should combo exist)
#3: This IS NOT an article about calling out Wizards R&D for making this card in the first place

This IS going to be an article on bannings, what Wizards did wrong and how to fix it, which will include:

-Why this ban conflicts with the old ban
-Why this ban hurts consumption and player confidence
-What Wizards and Players can do to fix this problem in the short term

Wizards Made Good on One Promise, but, Flipped the Script on the Other

The Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage, and Emrakul bans feel far away in the context of Felidar Guardian, but, it’s important for us to remember that these bans were the first time in a long time that Wizards decided to use bans as a tool to fix Standard. What is even more irksome is that this announcement came with the promise that bans would be carefully used in the future and would not be used unless absolutely necessary, and in a time frame that worked for players. In the months that followed, Wizards created additional dates for bans to be announced in order for players to be aware of when this process was occurring. Because of these additions, Monday’s routine banning announcements led players to believe that there were no bans to fear until after the Pro Tour. This made Wednesday’s announcement feel like a breach of trust and as some have even said “the rug being pulled from under us.” Announcements like this showcase a failure to listen and keep their unspoken contract with players fulfilled and unless this is reconciled, we only have more problems in our future.

As an example, before the Smuggler’s Copter ban, I owned most of the Standard format, but, chose to move out of a lot of it, because I was worried my collection would lose value. Because of this, I preordered most of the cards I would need for the coming Standard season and chose fairly early on a deck I liked that I would plan on sticking to. After all of the talk about the Saheeli bannings, I personally did not buy any new cards until Monday because I had no idea what would be on the chopping block. Furthermore, when I bought my cards on Tuesday, I did so with the expectation that they’d be safe for the tournaments I’d be playing in for the next month, never mind the tournaments I planned on attending that week. I’m sure that many other players followed a similar trajectory and have backed off buying cards, packs, and boxes until they’re sure they’re not investing in a pile of cards that will be worthless when they’re banned. If Wizards hopes to fix this problem, they have to offer a scenario that looks promising and safe to the players that have been burned before. We’ve seen this from retailers like Channelfireball, Starcity Games, and Cool Stuff Inc who have provided 100% refunds for banned product being purchased. Where’s Wizards support for the stores and players that have to deal with the fallout?

Complaints in Regards to Scheduling:

This banning’s timing is absolutely the most frustrating part of the announcement. Aside from what the banning entails, the fact that the post came 48 hours after the ban, without giving any semblance of an idea of its coming to players demonstrates an eerie and mysterious process to how these decisions are made. If this process continues, it should be unsurprising is invested players step back in the wake of multiple bannings that conflict with a pre-determined schedule. If Wizards is going to make changes based on “newfound data”, it’s important to show us the “collected data” you saw! Without this information, changes come across as heavy handed, cavalier and without logical backing. If we have the data Wizards used, we can agree or provide feedback with your conclusions. The ability for continued dialogue and proper explanation when the normal state of affairs is reached is absolutely vital for consumer confidence and for players to feel invested in the game.

The banning I discussed above set the precedent to move bannings up so that players could have time to prepare. The previous bannings were a week early, but, the most recent bannings have done the opposite and shown up late and directly conflict with other premier play events, instead putting the emphasis on saving the Pro Tour, which the previous bannings made sure not to preference. Leaving players wont to do much of any testing before the announcement and then invalidate any testing done in the 48 hours after it. Bans should be made with respect to players and the process they take. Without a single tournament being played and only MTGO leagues to show the new format, Wizards has put players at a standstill and that is a problem. Speaking from personal experience, I had not preordered cards, I had not built playtest decks or attempted to construct my usual Week 1 gauntlet because of the shadowy cloud of bannings looming overhead. The banning on Wednesday has only proliferated those fears and led me to question if more bannings and more changes will invalidate my time, just like Wednesday invalidated my work after Monday’s bans. Doing your best to fix a solved format is one thing, but, bannings 48 hours before a tournament is completely another.

What to do For Invested Consumers Players:

For invested players, the fear that Standard staples are not worth as much as they used to be, or can be banned at ANY moment, disincentives players from staying invested in a format that is already seen as a money sink. The biggest complaint I’ve heard coming out of the community is the rising cost of Magic. We’re all obviously prepared to invest ourselves in various degrees for the hobby we love, but, at some point, we have to ask if the costs are growing too steep? I personally took a great interest in pursuing Magic at the professional level. Over the last 8 months, I’ve spent virtually all my time and energy practicing, playing and buying into Magic. The largest costs for me were always entry fees and singles for the decks I wanted to play.

The easy solution to singles prices is investing yourself in one deck. This is a philosophy that has been adopted in non-rotating formats like Modern and Legacy. Instead of sinking hundreds of dollars into new decks every season, just tune and tweak the powerful archetypes that you own the cards for. Look at how Abzan Midrange became Abzan Aggro became BG Delirium became BG Snake? These changes, over time, did not cost players absurd amounts of money and still allowed them to play fairly competitive decks.For me, this was 4 Color Saheeli. However, unlike the midrange “traditional magic” decks like Control, Aggro, and Midrange, Combo decks rarely appear in standard and often require a completely different subset of cards every season that combo is legal. This makes buying into combo even more volatile and dangerous if bannings occur. With a lack of transparency coming from Wizards of the Coast, the next question would be: what is the recourse of a Magic player frustrated with Standard and Wizards approach to bannings in rotating formats? Non-rotating formats, perhaps?

Make Non-Rotating Formats More of a Priority:

While it will take a few serious PR moves for me to go back to trusting Wizards of the Coast with my Standard formats, If Wizards hopes to continue to use bans in rotating formats as their answer to problems, I suggest they offer the alternative of non-rotating formats as a competitive outlet for other players. While Wizards spends time reconsidering the best approach to ban cards in Standard, how much data they’ll need, and how to properly min/max their announcements for an anxious and conflicted public, the ever-present casual allure of Modern remains. Modern was made so that I could “always play my favorite Standard decks”, why would you not give me an opportunity to play them? Sadly, Standard is the most played format at the LGS and the most played constructed format on the GP and SCG levels. With GPTs no longer being a Wizard’s supported endeavor and SCG removing the ability for small-scale stores to host IQs with regularity, players are left to participate in the ambiguous and only occasional events in non-rotating formats. This means: If you’re a competitive player, Standard is almost essential to your arsenal.  Which means that if Standard is weak, stale, and unbalanced, the local game stores do not always have the option of, say, scheduling Modern events on Game Day weekend. With this in mind, it seems that Wizards should expand Premier Play options to include more non-rotating formats and levy the power that banning decks out of a format has on the playability of players favorite decks. The next problem that I would try to address is how players who had their non-rotating decks banned can recoup losses and find new spaces to play their banned cards, but, I’m not quite sure how to answer that one. Maybe you can sound off in the comments about solutions for bannings and ways you’ve adapted when your cards were banned?

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