Banlists and you, AER release

Hey everybody, Unmistakable checking in,

As I sit to write this article, I’m stunned. On the 9th January 2017, Wizards announced a very Slash and Burn, ‘New year, new format’ approach to the banlist, and after radio silence through all of the Collected Company years, Wizards have decided enough is enough and have taken their righteous hammer to smite Standard once more. But more on that later.

EDH

There were no changes to speak of from the Rules Committee this season, and I must say that is fine. EDH as a format is very much what you make it, and to ban anything only serves to inhibit that flexibility in approach; if somebody wants to turn 2 Iona the table playing Mono Green stompy and friends, perhaps the problem lies with the player not correctly taking power level into account. Nevertheless, EDH is not the only format to receive updates:

Modern

For once this spoiler season, changes to Modern aren’t the hot topic. However, we did see some bannings that are worthy of discussion.

Golgari Grave-troll – I’ll be honest here, this – or something to this effect – was in the pipeline. When the G ‘n’ T received its unban Modern Dredge was in a substantially worse state than it is in the weeks before AER’s release – it happened to get supercharged in the last two blocks. Firstly it received the critical mass of creatures it needed to be truly consistent – Prized amalgam saw to that in Shadows over Innistrad. But something was still missing – it was getting along with Faithless Looting and Tormenting Voice, but the deck still felt too slow for a game plan so fragile… Until we received Cathartic Reunion. Tormenting Voice on crack, Cathartic Reunion increased the speed at which Dredge could fill the yard and churn through its deck, allowing it to hit its stride much earlier – often leading to turn 3 victories. While I haven’t played against it myself, I have watched many people who have on both sides, and it never feels fair regardless of if you’re playing with or against it; being silver-bulleted doesn’t even stonewall your plan, and you are only ever an Ancient Grudge or Natural State away from breaking the stall and barreling down upon your opponent as if nothing had happened.

Gitaxian Probe – This one required more reading to understand. As it stands
currently, Probe (as of writing) is the sixth most used nonland card in modern, behind widely accepted staples like Tarmogoyf, Inquisition of Kozilek and Lightning Bolt. So, why is the lens being aimed at Probe? The first thing I noticed is that despite being less played overall, the decks that used it used it more. While its usage is dwarfed by lightning bolt or Thoughtseize, Bolt (the most widely graphused spell in modern) is used as a 3.7 of on average. Most decks run the set, but some run 3 or maybe even two. Thoughtseize, only just more dominant than Probe, is used an average of 2.5 times in a deck running it. Probe? 3.9. Of 100 decks, all run it as a 4 of, except for one deck that freed up a slot using it. While it seems like a conclusion jump it seems like the card is a no brainer in most decks that want it. The other comparable 3.9 is Serum Visions, falling behind in 9th place due to the perennial struggle of control decks in Modern. But Probe is also a cantrip, where is this ban aimed? Curiously, at aggro decks.

Of the top 10 decks using Probe across all formats according to MTGGoldfish, 5 of them are modern decks, all of them aggressive decks with no qualm about sacrificing health to get information/cantrip. The aggressive nature of their decks effectively allows them to build a 56 card deck, in order to increase consistency. In some cases, Such as builds #2 and #3 (two different variations of Death’s Shadow aggro), the life loss isn’t so much a cost as a benefit to help them speed out 6/6+ beaters in the early turns of the game. The other offenders, Infect, Delver, and UR Kiln Fiend, all appreciate the increased consistency, with Infect wanting to dig for action quickly and cheaply, and the other two decks appreciating a playset of a free sorcery to help them come out of the gates as quickly as possible; In short, it IS a no-brainer to them. Probe seems like an inconsequential ban, but I feel like it’ll go deeper than first thought.

Standard

What’s this? A banlist article about STANDARD?! I kid you not; But I am interested on what is going on here.

emrakul1Emrakul, the Promised End – Ok, full transparency here; this was necessary. A lot of the hype for the coming Aether Revolt was muted by the niggling voice in the back of my head asking, ‘But, can it beat a turn 4 Emrakul?’, and frankly I could never truly answer yes. The format was surely being warped around her, to the extent that the only decks that could survive in standard were the ones that could outrace the Aetherworks Marvel, and that does not a healthy Standard make.

Regardless, the figurehead of the first standard ban since 2011 is here, and both Aetherworks Marvel and GB Delirium deck are hurting for it; Delirium much moreso, however. While Aetherworks can dust itself off and cram in Ulamogs alongside other potentially cataclysmic bombs such as Ishkanah, Grafwidow or the new Aetherwind Basker, Delirium lost a lot of its impact with Emrakul. It’ll still be able to grind games out with the previously mentioned Grafwidow and Mindwrack Demon, but can the noodly hole in the list truly be filled?

Smuggler’s Copter – This one was comforting to see. Within a week of standard people were sick of seeing these. We all have our names for them: Looter Scooters, Roflchoppers, ‘Oh for gods sake not these again’s, they were everywhere and you couldn’t go a Friday night without seeing 4. They offered a tremendous value card for an obscenely low investment, and will not be missed going forward. By me (an avid control player), at least.

But what does this mean for the format? Screw aggro decks, that’s what. In the last four months, every aggro deck that top 8ed ran 4 of these, no question. UW flash, RB aggro, Mardu vehicles, all of these decks were drawn to the 3/3 flyer for 2 that loots on attack. They’re certainly feeling this hit, but I feel better about these finding apt replacements in what was previously a pretty bland aggro spectrum.

Reflector Mage – …And straight out of left field. While it is a tremendous reflectortempo swing, I truly believed the absence of Collected Company would have given this little guy the stay of execution. However, in spectacular fashion, UW flash takes its second hit of the day, with the first banning of an uncommon in standard since Skullclamp, all the way back when. My guess that the motive behind banning the Reflector Mage comes from concerns that despite also losing the Choppa, Wizards were concerned that UW Flash may become dominant and we’ll all have to relive a year of losing win conditions to a well-timed Mage.

While powerful, this ban shouldn’t kill UW flash in my opinion. The power of the deck came from its ability to leave mana open, in order to offer the pilot unpredictability. Unlike the other two bans suggestions to fill the hole abound for annoying, on curve tempo gain. Perhaps it’s the time for Rattlechains to reappear? Mausoleum Wanderer? Perhaps lists can bend to fit the somewhat underappreciated Thalia, Heretic Cathar? While some strains runs up to 3 copies of her, others only fit 0-1 because of the competition at the 3 cmc slot. Though, only time will tell.

That’s it for this round of ban list updates; though it shouldn’t be too long until the next one, by virtue of a newly-announced Second list update 5 weeks following Protour Aether Revolt. How do you feel about these changes? Rejoicing? Stung? I’d love to know. If you enjoyed reading, be sure to like our Facebook Feed for updates on upcoming articles!

For now though, Unmistakable out.

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