After the Bannings

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The million dollar question on everybody's mind at the moment is, "What will Wizards ban?"

In case you haven't been playing much Magic, reading many articles, or generally interacting with Magic players in any way since PT Paris, the perennial grumblings that standard is broken and requires bannings have gotten louder and louder recently.  Ever since Sword of Feast and Famine was printed and catapulted Stoneforge Mystic into the limelight people have been complaining about her, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been collecting complaints for quite a while before that.  The recent printing of Batterskull has only exacerbated the problem of [card Jace, the Mind Sculptor]Jace[/card]+[card Stoneforge Mystic]Stoneforge[/card] winning everything. Whether they think Jace should be banned, Mystic banned, both, neither, Batterskull, or any number of other proposed solutions, everyone seems to have an opinion.

While I don't think anything needs to be banned, I'm not going to bother going into why.  By the time this article sees print there will be less than a week until the official announcement from Wizards (Monday the 20th, if you weren't aware), and I'm sure they have already made their decision one way or another.  One more article going over why something does or does not need to be banned isn't going to do anything productive.

Much more important than simply rehashing the arguments on both sides is getting a step ahead of the competition in next week's tournaments after something does get banned.

Jace has many people infuriated, and rightly so.  The combination of Worldwake's shorter drafting life than the typical second set in the block, due to Wizards making Rise of the Eldrazi a large set, and the M11 Titans pushing Vengevine decks out of the format combined to put keep supply short while removing his natural predators, setting the stage for the most expensive card standard has ever seen.  People not being able to play competitively because they couldn't afford $100 or more for each Jace is, without a doubt, bad for the game because the game is supposed to be about deck choice and play skill, not budget, and many players have been clamoring for Jace, the Wallet Breaker to be banned based on price tag alone.

Oh, and he also is absurdly powerful, placing dozens of copies in the Top Eight of tournament after tournament.

So what happens if Jace is banned?

Jace is the linchpin to blue based control decks, which would have to change significantly - if they don't go extinct entirely.  The thing is, UB Control is the most Jace-reliant deck in standard at the moment, and it isn't exactly dominating the format.  UR Twin would be significantly hurt, but it could still survive, and CawBlade would not be nearly as hurt as you may suppose.  Losing the ability to search up Squadron Hawks, brainstorm with Jace and put two Hawks back, shuffle, and repeat would be unfortunate, but that is usually used to seal up a game that is already won.

This is the most recent UB list to make a high level appearance, where Shouta Yasooka played it to a Top Eight at the recent GP Singapore.

[deckbox did="a79" size="small" width="567"]

If you are looking for a blue-based control deck to play after Jace goes the way of the Dodo, this is the place to start--it only plays two Jaces!

With a combination of Tumble Magnets, targeted discard in Despise and Inquisition of Kozilek, and removal starting as early as turn one from Disfigure, this is quite well positioned to fight against CawBlade, even before it added four maindeck Torpor Orbs to shut down Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk.

In a post-Jace world, however, CawBlade is going to lose some of its appeal.  It will have fewer pilots backing it and it will fall from its status as public enemy number one, making an anti-Caw deck significantly less appealing.  The most likely decks to gain popularity if Jace is banned will be aggressive decks like Boros, Vampires, or RDW.

Chikara Nakajima's Boros, Top Eight from GP Singapore:

[deckbox did="a80" size="small" width="567"]

Brandon Montoya's Vampires, first place at the latest SCG Open:

[deckbox did="a81" size="small" width="567"]

Patrick Sullivan's RDW, Top Eight at the SCG Invitational:

[deckbox did="a82" size="small" width="567"]

These will be the most likely winners from any banning of Jace.  They are already capable of putting up results in the hands of skilled pilots, removing Jace from their primary opponent, CawBlade, will encourage many current CawBlade players to switch decks and bring some aggressive players that had quit because they couldn't beat Jace back to the table.  Playing any of these lists would be fine in a post-Jace environment, though some tweaking may be required.

If everyone is playing with either watered-down CawBlade or aggressive decks, where do you want to be?  You could grind out the aggro matches by going a little bigger, cutting a few burn spells for an Inferno Titan or two or other large threat, if that's your thing.

Another option would be to try to beat the aggro decks without interacting, something that combo has always specialized in.

Here is Mike Flores' most recent incarnation of the UR Twin deck:

[deckbox did="a83" size="small" width="567"]

With a whopping seven maindeck Jaces this brew would not be able to shrug off any banning.  Many of the deck's wins, however, come from pretending to be a UR control deck--particularly against aggressive decks that can kill a Deceiver Exarch.  If everyone begins playing more mountain decks, it could adapt by adding a Consecrated Sphinx or two to the maindeck, in addition to Pyroclasm.  With some changes to the sideboard, this would allow the deck to play as more of a control deck that sought to control the game long enough to land a game-ending fatty that also had an oops-I-win combo available, rather than an all-in combo deck.  Losing the digging capability of Jace does not hurt as badly if your plan is to stay alive and then play a x/6 rather than to pair Exarch with Twin.

Were Jace to be banned CawBlade would be hurt but certainly not out of the running.  Stoneforge Mystic into a Sword or Batterskull is still one of the most powerful openings in standard, and Jace didn't help that, Preordain did.  It would be a mistake to think the 'Blade would no longer be a tier one deck.

The most common changes would be a more widespread acceptance of Mirran Crusader, who has before now drawn divided opinions because of its weakness to Jace's -1, Consecrated Sphinx and Sun Titan as other late game finishers that interact favorably with opposing Crusaders, and Tumble Magnet.  While Spellskite saw quite a bit of attention and play shortly after the set's release it has fallen from favor in more recent lists.  The current lack of predators for the Magnet, combined with an uptick in aggressive decks the significantly lowered chances of topdecking a Magnet when the opponent has a Jace at 11, mean the Magnet could be ready to make a comeback.

One deck that could gain the most from Jace's banning is the Soul Sisters deck.

[deckbox did="a84" size="small" width="567"]

Already enjoying some fringe success, this deck can play like either a CawBlade that never drew its Jaces or a combo deck.  Phyrexian Metamorph entering play as a copy of Leonin Relic-Warder and repeatedly going in and out of play with either a Suture Priest or Soul's Attendant in play results in infinite life, handily beating any of the aggressive decks.  An active Attendant or Priest also shuts down the Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin combo, giving Soul Sisters an excellent game against the combo deck--for game one, anyway.  If Jace were banned tomorrow this would be high on my list of possible decks for the next tournament.

The second head on the chopping block is Stoneforge Mystic.  The Mystic went virtually unnoticed when printed until Sword of Feast and Famine was added to the format, allowing the two drop to search up uncounterable near-Time Walks.  She had some fringe play in Legacy before this, searching up Umezawa's Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice, but she became far more widespread with the second sword's printing.

Then Wizards decided that Baneslayer Angel wasn't good enough and should be improved by making it virtually immune to creature-kill, often uncounterable, frequently given flash, and tutorable, so they printed Batterskull, and the pot boiled over.

Since New Phyrexia was printed Stoneforge Mystic has become not only the best creature in standard by a mile, but also high on the list of best creatures in Legacy.  That is quite a statement considering Legacy is home to Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Goblin Lackey, Mother of Runes and a plethora of other broken creatures from all of Magic's history.

When one of the most powerful plays available in Legacy, curving Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull into Jace, the Mind Sculptor, is doable without substitution in standard, it is hard to argue there is not a problem.  Stoneforge is in an Event Deck that is being released soon which could make banning it rather awkward, but it still seems a much more likely scenario than Jace.  Jace is a central character in the storyline while Stoneforge is nobody, and you can buy a playset of SFMs for the price of a Jace which means banning it will be less likely to infuriate collectors.

If Stoneforge gets the ax the format will change far more than if Jace were to get banned.  CawBlade will be nuked back to its pre-MBS stage, when it was good but not dominating, and Valakut will probably be returned to a tier one or two deck.  The aggro decks will be more competitive, so Caw will begin playing with Day of Judgment or other creature removal again.  Dismember will disappear from its current omnipresence because it will no longer be required that a deck be able to kill a two-drop Squire on the draw to be competitive, which in turn will make decks that rely on early, powerful creatures to thrive.  Fauna Shaman, Lotus Cobra, and Grand Architect are all extremely powerful creatures to build around in a format where people are playing Day of Judgment for crowd control instead of Dismember.

[deckbox did="a85" size="small" width="567"]

The "BluManji" deck has been gaining popularity recently after being popularized by Adrian Sullivan.  He claims it has a good matchup against CawBlade, and with Stoneforge gone it is hard to imagine that the matchup wouldn't improve.  With Nest Invader, Birds of Paradise, and Lotus Cobra together the deck has any number of ways to put out a Jace on turn three, and it can also accelerate out a Frost Titan or Consecrated Sphinx as early as turn three with the right draw.  Those are both extremely powerful capabilities that demand the deck be respected, and the fact it can chain Vengevines with Fauna Shaman is icing on the cake.

Another deck that can take over the game with mana advantage before the opponent is settled in is RUG.  RUG is also capable of a turn three Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Explore or Lotus Cobra, and the top end of its curve is unmatchable.  Frost Titan, Inferno Titan, Avenger of Zendikar, Wurmcoil Engine, Precursor Golem...RUG has access to nearly every large creature in current standard that you could ask for, allowing it to customize itself to any expected metagame.

[deckbox did="a86" size="small" width="567"]

Pat Cox played this to a win at the SCG Invitational, opting for a rather traditional-looking build.  Other than the Dismember and Beast Withins, both of which are good against either CawBlade or UR Twin, this list looks like it could have come from months ago.

For those looking for something a little more current-looking and spicy, this may be just what the doctor ordered:

[deckbox did="a87" size="small" width="567"]

This list can follow the traditional RUG line of Lotus Cobra into Jace, the Mind Sculptor into Inferno Titan before the opponent has done anything meaningful, but it also has the Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin combo built in, allowing it to win at a first opportunity.  Telling opponents 'tap out to deal with my Jace or Titan and you might just be dead' can severely limit their options, further leveraging the deck's natural advantage in mana.  I had been planning on playing a list quite similar to this in my last tournament until a friend wanted to borrow my Splinter Twins, pushing back onto CawBlade.  If Stoneforge Mystic were banned I would almost certainly be playing this list or something similar until rotation.

One of my favorite movies is a little known gem called Spy Game, with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.  A mystery set against the backdrop of the CIA in the Cold War, the plot centers on an agent, Redford, being grilled about an agent he trained years ago, Pitt.  Near the beginning, after being asked for his files on Pitt, Redford asks his secretary to hide them and deny any knowledge of their existence.

"Feeling a little paranoid on our last day, are we?"  she asks him.

"When did Noah build the ark, Gladys?"

She looks puzzled.

"Before the rain, Gladys.  Before the rain."

Brook Gardner-Durbin

@BGardnerDurbin on Twitter

9 thoughts on “After the Bannings

  1. I would be very disappointed if they banned anything. They haven't banned anything in years, nothing when Jund was huge, or when Faeries was huge. I don't really see the need for it now. But this article has some good direction if it does happen.

    1. I agree, as I said I don't think they will ban anything, and I don't think anything needs to be banned. Still, as I was saying with the final quote, its good to prepare before the bannings happen.

  2. WotC will never ban a card in standard ever again. We saw this diluted confidence last year when most of R&D was very proud that the only card that needed to be banned in extended was top and it was out the door.

    It's sickening that they believe they are beyond human error now. Most of the imbalances we see are from multiple designer's creations blending almost flawlessly to create a power creep that is near combo winter/black summer.

    We have Jace, which is essentially Jitte, in the sense you either play it to win, or you play it to counter itself. You have Stoneforge, something that can go toe to toe with tarmogoyf, a card WotC has apologized for. And then you have equipment that outclasses all but 3 of their predecessors.

    I'm glad that all these new cards are keeping legacy fresh and alive, but it's killing standard, people don't show up to tournaments, it's starting to feel a lot like Mirrodin again, cept I'm on the other end of the spectrum and play the big bad, but I'm just as unhappy.

    1. I disagree with your statement that "they believe they are beyond human error now." Multiple people from wizards have acknowledged that there is a problem with current standard. Aaron Forsythe himself said that "we know this is the worse we've screwed up since Mirrodin."

  3. If we need *something* to get banned, I think the correct target is Batterskull.

    SFM and Caw w/o Batterskull is still "really good", but it's not broken. If we have brews starting to contend w/ Caw as it stands right now, then removing the Batterskull interaction begins to repair the lost parity.

    Jace, as well, is "really good", but not broken. And we all should agree that SFM is only as good as the equipment that she can fetch.

    What's good about the Batterskull ban is that we can do that until October and then unban it once we lose SFM. If we ban SFM or Jace, then a lot of people will lose out on cards that they may have tried very hard to acquire. If someone traded his ass off to trade up into a playset of Jaces, I think they should get to continue to play them for the next few months.

    I'm not a Jace player myself, but I think a Jace ban is going to piss more people off than it's going to make happy. Same goes for SFM — which is also a 2-of in an event deck (which is one of the reasons why I firmly believe that SFM isn't even on the table for banning).

  4. it is interesting to see vamps take down 2 recent SCG opens, and the latest one had 1. Vamps, 2. Mono-red, 3. Caw-Blade, 4. K-red. But most likely this is a small flux in the metagame shift as caw-blade players have been metagaming for mirror-matches for months, and along comes aggro to to take advantage. However, as much as people like to compare this to Jund or whatever, there hasn't been a deck as dominating in standard since affinity. Jund was beaten plenty, its just that it was super easy to play so everyone did.

  5. I think that if Wizards does ban anything Monday, it'll be SFM. Jace is their poster-boy and doesn't by himself break the game. SFM, on the other hand, is cheap and tutors to find the best answer for the situation at hand. Batterskull may be seen as the killer equipment but Sword of War and Peace is almost as hard to deal with and many times will kill you faster than Batterskull. Even without these 2 pieces of equipment, between Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of Body and Body and Mind, Mortarpod, Basilisk Collar, and the soon to be released Swiftfoot Boots the Mystic can find something to beat almost any deck or to put them so far ahead that if the opponent does find an answer it'll be too late. The Mystic's ability to flash out the equipment and save some mana just adds to the problem of simply tutoring for them. Jace, on the other hand, costs 4 mana, doesn't tutor, can't be cast before the opponent has counter mana usually, and can't attack or block. He's powerful but not broken, and I'm not just saying that just so I can play him. I don't even own any and am not about to spend $90-$100 each for a Standard legal card. I've been saying since Besieged that SFM was the real problem card with Standard and now that New Phyrexia is out it's just gotten worse. SFM is like Survival of the Fittest in that it just gets better with each set that gets released and will always do broken things in any format it's legal in. Wizards needs to suck it up and admit that they're human and made a mistake, even if this puts them in an awkward position due to the event decks they're releasing. To do anything less will probably just result in tournament attendance dropping until October and possibly lower sales as a result.

  6. A number of posts have mentioned the need for Wizards to admit their mistake and suck it up. The fact is Wizards has done so already. I have seen a number of R and D members say similar things, but the quote I remember is from Aaron Forsythe, who said "we know this is the worst we've screwed up since Mirrodin."

    Wizards is aware that a large number of their customers are unhappy and believe standard is broken and have repeatedly expressed they understand this and are trying to figure out the best course of action from here. They are not ignorant of the popular sentiment and are not trying to avoid responsibility, for which they should be commended.

    1. Simply saying "we made a mistake" and not doing anything is not what we're talking about. It is the fact that they are refusing to fix it that pisses us off. They have the power to simply fix any & all problems in standard, yet refuse to do anything.

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