Wizards of the Coast have announced that there will be a ban announcement on the first of June, regarding changes in Standard and Historic and addressing the companion mechanic that has made waves in pretty much every format ever. Except Pauper. But everything else.
I’m not going to go into the potential effects of bans on the format, as this has been addressed by better and more invested writers than me in the past. I’m also going to try not to use this article to call for bans or un-bans (free Ferocidon!), as I think that’s an easy trap for people to fall into when they simply don’t like a card. It’s also discourse that is pretty much available in varying levels of vitriol on Reddit, Twitter, and Youtube at any one time. What I want to do is look at the cards that might potentially be banned, and analyse the reasons why they might be, and why they might survive Because, let’s face it, there are an awful lot of ban candidates this time around.
The Meta Decks
Currently, the top deck in standard is the eighty card monstrosity that is Jeskai Lukka, with Yorion, Sky Nomad as the companion. According to Yoman5 at TCGplayer Infinite, it’s 35.94% of the winner’s metagame between the 16th and 17th of May. It had a 60.7266% win percentage at the Red Bull Untapped event that same weekend. It didn’t win the tournament. That was won by Azorius Control. Also with Yorion as the companion. With such a large share of the meta, a number of shared pieces are in the crosshairs of the ban… hammer?
Why does a hammer have crosshairs? Who knows? Why did I mix my metaphors? Because it’s not entirely clear what needs to go to cut this dominance down. At least, without giving rise to the reign of terror of another deck with similar problems and frustrating gameplay.
Editor’s Note: We do not condone Adam’s ban worthy jokes.
Fires of Invention
One of the most discussed attributes of Fires of Invention is that it doubles your mana. That’s not entirely accurate. In many cases, it triples it. It allows a player to cast two spells, then leaves mana up for activated abilities. This last part has become more relevant. Meaning the entire point of the card is to break the mana system apart. Instead of players remaining at a close parity in terms of the amount of cards they can play, and the power level of those cards being similar, Fires allows one player to push ahead at little cost. The drawback of only casting two spells a turn isn’t really one because it’s a lot more than most mid-range decks would be playing on turn five without the card. Similarly, not playing on your opponent’s turn isn’t much of an issue when what you’re doing on your own is more powerful than they can keep up with. All in a format where Teferi is invalidating instants anyway. There’s not really a whole lot to say in its defence; for as long as it stays legal in Standard, there are going to be decks that try to abuse the ability to cast two spells a turn without even having to tap any mana. The main thing going for it is that the Lukka decks will still function without it, though not as efficiently.
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
While Fires of Invention allows the Lukka list to cheat on mana and helps keep it running, the engine that wins the game is Lukka himself. His -2 loyalty ability allows any creature to be cheated into play at the low, low cost of exiling a disposable token. Standard is always going to have something worth getting out of the deck – whether it’s an ETB effect to abuse like Agent, or just a good beater – and they’re not going to ban every possible creature Lukka can get an advantage out of (and no-one would reasonably suggest they should). There’s an argument that Jeskai Lukka would be more fun to play against if it wasn’t for Yorion, Fires, Teferi, or Agent of Treachery, and that Lukka isn’t necessarily broken but an interesting card in a busted shell. Not to mention, while it shouldn’t be too big a consideration from a game-play perspective, Lukka is also a big splashy mythic from the new set and there is a detrimental effect on consumer confidence associated with having to ban those. If Wizards want to eliminate the archetype in its current form, Lukka seems a good place to hit. But Standard has deeper problems than just one deck, and there are other cards whose absence would have a more sweeping effect on the format.
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Yorion has been completely taking over standard. According to the MTG Goldfish meta-game breakdown (as of 27/05/2020), it is the companion not only of the most popular deck in Jeskai Lukka, but the second most popular deck as well, Azorius Control. Eighty cards doesn’t seem to be a strong enough restriction for a creature with good stats and an ETB effect that can put someone so far ahead – with the right support – that it almost wins the game on the spot. However, Yorion might be saved. It was implied in the announcement of the ban announcement that they’re going to address how companion functions. I can’t see them wanting to get rid of any of them if they do alter the rule. Instead, they’ll want to give any mechanical changes they implement time to see how they affect all formats. For that reason, I think Yorion – and all of the other potentially problematic companions like Lurrus, Obosh, Gyruda, etc. – are safe. But only for now.
Agent of Treachery
I will admit the first time I saw Agent of Treachery I thought it was going to be an annoying card to play against in Draft, but would mostly see use in Commander. I would never have expected it to be included in a Standard ban discussion. After all, it’s a seven mana 2/3. But here we are. It’s currently the best card to cheat into play with an effect like Lukka’s, and the ETB effect means it can then be abused with Yorion and other cards to steal 2-3 cards plus a turn. Then it lets you drown your opponent in card advantage while they have no board state and no usable resources, they losing to disillusionment as much as to damage. Even without Fires and Lukka, a number of the ramp decks in recent Standards have made the seven mana cost trivial, rather than a restriction. Agent of Treachery’s main sin is that is isn’t at all fun to play against, which is bad when it’s in a fringe deck but disastrous when it’s in the best deck in a format meant to entice players into this enjoyable trading card game. Worse still when people are playing so much of that format because of the accessibility of Arena and the general state of the world. Banning for fun value isn’t necessarily the best reason, as one person’s fun is another person’s turgid experience, but there is a precedent. When Reflector Mage was banned, Wizards cited that it was one of the most disliked cards in the Standard of the time as one of the reasons. But axing Agent would still mean banning a seven mana 2/3 that, on its own, is fairly innocuous. Agent needs a shell that reuses its ability to be really troublesome, and that shell has a bigger target on its back than the Agent itself. There’s also the argument that there’s always going to be a good creature to cheat out. Drakuseth may seem less demoralizing than the agent, but when you’re taking a dragon to the face earlier than the mana cost suggests, it isn’t going to feel like it.
Teferi, Time Raveler
The card everyone loves to hate. Teferi, Time Raveler has been a dominant force in standard since it was released in War of the Spark. It’s been part of Bant ramp decks, Jeskai Fires decks, Azorius control decks, White aggro decks – pretty much anything that can cast it has used a playset. It has really
failed managed to get people pumped for the Teferi core set coming this summer (global pandemic allowing). And also almost since its release, people have been calling for it to be banned. The fact that it blocks off instants completely shuts down a whole lot of play patterns, and has completely neutered counter-spells for vast swathes of its time in the format. That makes problem permanents like Fires of Invention and Wilderness Reclamation harder to deal with. Not to mention it can protect itself with a quick bounce, and replaces itself at the same time by drawing a card. Often, it takes a hasty threat to take Teferi out completely. And even that’s not bad for the Tef player, because it fuels Uro. Or gives them something to bring back with Elspeth Conquers Death. This, however, won’t be the first ban Teferi’s survived. Arguably, there have been other ban announcements where it has been a bigger problem, and it’s survived. Not to mention it might be holding the format together – Wilderness Reclamation is way worse with Teferi legal, and being able to bounce permanents makes the likes of the Elder Giants worse. And Tef is gone in a few months anyway, rotating when the new Zendikar set arrives.
Wilderness Reclamation, like Fires, helps the wielder cheat on mana. In this case, it actually does double it, but multiple Reclamations stack, which Fires can’t do. Any abuse of mana has to take place at instant speed in the end step when the enchantment triggers, though this isn’t actually much of a problem. Explosion can kill someone outright in a moment, or that mana can be pumped into a giant shark to end your opponent the next turn. It also allows for the entire deck to be played at instant speed, which means that the Temur Reclamation player can wait to see what their opponent is going to do, and the card filtration and drawing in the deck allow it to play as a control deck that gets to counteract whatever the opponent does. It can often feel impossible to play against and around, though that’s true of a number of control decks through the ages and they’ve rarely been strong enough to ban outright. It’s been a pillar of the format for several Standard seasons, arguably without ever quite topping the metagame. Teferi also invalidates its game plan just by sitting on the battlefield. Temur Rec isn’t at the top at the moment, which means that it will probably avoid a ban this time. But it does almost exactly the same thing as Fires, and breaks the game in a very similar fashion. If Wizards use this ban window as an attempt to clear up standard completely, then Reclamation could end up in the firing line as a precaution.
This is a less oppressive card than some of the actual engines on this list, but it is still doing some powerful work. It allows another source for Reclamation players to pump mana into, and gives Fires of Invention players something to do with the mana they have open in their opponent’s turn. It even gets around Teferi, as the cycling ability doesn’t count as casting a spell. In fact, the cycling ability effectively allows the user to play a huge shark, with flash and flying, that can’t be countered and cantrips as a bonus. Put like that, the card feels immensely strong. That’s the fail case. The other mode is an enchantment that gives every non-creature spell a free shark to come into play with, and as that is created by the cast trigger there’s a not a lot that can be done about that, either. When combined with a card like Fires of Invention which allows for two of those spells to be cast in a turn, it can get out of hand easily. If you’ve ever had an opponent actually cast a Shark Typhoon against you, then you’ll be familiar with the feeling of dread that accompanies it. However, the Typhoon is likely a symptom, rather than the actual problem. Without cards like Fires of Invention and Wilderness Reclamation allowing decks to generate huge mana advantages, or to play out their game plan while never tapping lands, this wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy to use. If it was being used instead of that key spell instead of in addition to it, then there’s a tempo cost to jumping the shark. That said, banning it would also add to the Sharknado meme factor. That’s not nothing.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Nissa has similar problems to a number of cards on this list. Like Fires and Wilderness Reclamation, she doubles your mana. She only needs lands to be able to win the game on her own, which means she’s arguably a better threat than Lukka, Yorion, and Oven, as she makes her own attackers and defenders. It’s very difficult to come back if Nissa sticks around for more than a turn, and there isn’t a whole lot that can remove her in one go in Standard at the moment. Except… she’s not really seeing play right now. She’s a feature of some of the Bant Yorion decks, but those seem to have been pushed out of the top tiers by the other Yorion variants crushing major tournaments. There are even Jund, Gruul and Temur lists that aren’t bothering with her right now, according to the MTG Goldfish metagame page. In fact, given there were calls for bans when Oko was making the world an Elk-shaped misery, and when the ramp decks were everywhere last season, this might be the least broken she’s ever felt. So why include her here? She is another of the mana doublers that have caused so many problems with playing midrange in Standard over the past couple of years. If Fires and Reclamation go, the advantage she generates could easily propel her back to the top of the metagame. If Wizards are clearing house, Nissa might have to go as a precautionary measure. However, as with Teferi, she only has a few months left anyway.
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Uro would be powerful if it only did two of the beneficial things it does when it enters the battlefield. If it only gained 3 life and drew a card, or drew a card and put a land into play, or gained three and gave you that extra land, it would still be powerful. It does all three, and when it escapes gives you a 6/6 to boot. The other elder giant, Kroxa, has been making waves in eternal formats, and compared to Uro it’s so watered down you can barely taste the Elder Giant cordial. Uro was a huge part of the ramp package that dominated last Standard, and is still seeing play in Temur Reclamation and Bant Yorion because it’s the best thing to be doing at its mana cost in its colour combination. It’s not as big at the moment, but the incidental life gain and resource boost it gives makes it difficult for aggro decks and other midrange decks to get a foothold. Like Nissa, Uro’s demise would be more precautionary than because it’s the main problem at the moment. But the Titan is going to be around a lot longer than the planeswalker, and is waiting in the wings to control the top spot in Standard once again.
It’s a worrisome indictment that there are a number of powerful cards lying under the surface of standard that I haven’t even touched upon yet. I’ve seen calls – with varying levels of legitimacy – for bans for the Cat/Oven combo, Obosh, and Winota. Embercleave and Hydroid Krasis – two cards that have even been some of the top candidates for the hammer to fall in their time – are no longer in the conversation.
OK, this is the bit where I really put myself on the spot. The above is meant to be an analysis of the cards with targets on their back, but what’s the fun of that without venturing a couple of guesses? This way, we can come back in a week and see if I was right, and people can yell at me if I got it wrong. Please don’t yell at me if I get it wrong. I’m nice, honest. So, firstly, I have no idea what the change to companion is going to be. I don’t see how someone can start the game with one without the mechanic remaining utterly busted. I also don’t see how Wizards can remove that aspect of the cards without changing how they feel completely. But then I’m not a game designer, and there have been a ridiculous amount of mechanics that they’ve created in the last five years alone that I’d never have dreamed up. I’m sure they’ll have something in mind – and I’m sure that will get complained about, too. As for bans – I think Fires will go in Standard. I think it’s too easy to abuse and makes a mire of games after turn five. It also invalidates other mid-range strategies, and supposedly “fair” decks are never going to manage to make headway with that kind of card around. I hope they take some of the other mana-doublers with it, but it’s the biggest problem so far. I think the other stuff will stick around, though I’m prepared to be wrong on that. Standard’s problems run deeper than one card. I haven’t touched upon historic, because I don’t know anywhere near enough about it to make a comment. I think I’ve played something like ten matches since Ikoria came out. I’ve seen some suggestions that Field of the Dead and Nexus of Fate are causing problems, and if they are I can see both going. Field needed banning in standard, and Nexus was, frankly, horrible. Both for play patterns and for every round in a tournament lasting for what felt like epochs. I’m not going to say I think they’ll go, because I don’t know enough to make a verdict, but fair enough if they do.