Insider: Emergency Bans and the Impact on Amonkhet

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On Wednesday afternoon, Wizards of the Coast put out a statement announcing that Felidar Guardian would be banned, making it the first emergency ban since Memory Jar. This “addendum” to Monday’s announcement of no changes in Standard was made in part because of the outpouring of disgust on social media about the decision, but the official reason for the change is a different one.

Amonkhet was the first set with an online prerelease coinciding with the paper prereleases, and it meant that the new cards were actually legal for Standard play online before the set was ever released and legal in paper. The result was a wealth of data from just a couple days of events, and Wizards used it to determine that the Saheeli Rai combo was actually more prevalent after Amonkhet than before its release. This was enough to warrant a ban, they said, so Felidar Guardian was banned in favor of diversity.

This change will have the effect of making Amonkhet relatively more important in the Standard metagame, and it will surely be higher profile at the Pro Tour and beyond, so it’s a benefit to Wizards in terms of marketing their new product. Amonkhet being relatively better in the metagame is good for its playability and thus demand, so it’s going to increase the value of the set going forward. Now is a great time to make a bet on what Amonkhet cards are the biggest winners from the decisions, and what cards are still undervalued compared to their future playability. Early online results have given some insight into what cards are already performing and might be good bets, so today I’ll lay out what’s out there.

Rhonas the Indomitable put up a 5-0 finish in a Black-Green Energy deck, where it works well with Verdurous Gearhulk and Rishakar, Peema Renegade, pumping creatures like Greenbelt Rampager or Longtusk Cub. Its ability to pump creatures and push through damage is very valuable in such a combat-oriented deck, and it’s another mana sink when Walking Ballista isn’t available.

Kefnet the Mindful has already had success by putting up a 5-0 finish as a three-of in a Temur Control deck. Dynavolt Tower isn’t necessary when there’s no Saheeli Rai to destroy and Magma Spray deals with Scrapheap Scrounger, so control can explore alternative options. Kefnet the Mindful fills the same role as a card advantage engine and threat, but it’s a higher-powered option that’s capable of winning the game more quickly.

Commit // Memory is a deceptively powerful blue disruption spell with very few comparable cards, and it’s already seeing success in Blue-Red Control with Torrential Gearhulk. It’s very telling that the player who finished 5-0 with a single copy played two in his 5-0 list the following day.

Sweltering Suns is a board sweeper that’s superior to current options, dealing more damage than Kozilek's Return and requiring only one color compared to Radiant Flames’s three. Cycling means it’s never dead, so it’s a very strong card from all perspectives and Standard’s new premier battlefield sweeper. Blue-Red Control has taken an early lead as one of the best new decks in the metagame, and Sweltering Suns being part of it means it’s likely to rise in price.

The early success of blue-red decks is a positive sign that the rise of control decks is more than dream but a reality, and one of the biggest drivers behind their success is Pull from Tomorrow. It give blue control decks a powerful dose of card advantage that’s functional early in the game and game-ending later on, and it has the potential to make control the best it has been since Sphinx's Revelation was in Standard.

Aven Mindcensor is a key element to the rise of blue control, and it’s perfect with Pull from Tomorrow because it’s ideal for slowing down the opponent and buying time or cycling to help hit land drops. It’s even seeing play in Modern, like the two in a blue control deck using As Foretold that finished 5-0 in a league. It’s likely the most relevant Constructed uncommon in the set and it has a long life ahead of it, so I think its price is due to rise. I especially like foil copies, and any foreign foils are likely to be steals at the current price compared to what they can potentially be worth down the road.

Never // Return could be found in the sideboard of black-green decks, where it replaces Ruinous Path and even To the Slaughter as the best way for black decks to deal with planeswalkers. Doubling as graveyard hate makes it even better, but the real value is the 2/2 creature it creates.

Prowling Serpopard was used in the sideboard of a Temur Control deck as a mirror breaker. It looks great in general in a metagame where control is going to be on the rise and where combo is dead, so I expect it to be used in all variety of green decks going forward.

Beyond Amonkhet, the demand for cards in previous Standard sets is going to change because of the Saheeli combo being banned, so there is a ton of opportunity for savvy investors to get ahead of the trends. It’s certainly good news for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which now sits as the undisputed king of Standard. One place to focus attention is Aetherworks Marvel, which proved itself as the third or fourth best deck in the metagame before the banning, but is now squarely in contention as a competitive deck. In the void left by Felidar Guardian, it’s now the premier combo-style card in the metagame. It’s likely to present itself as a foil to Mardu Vehicles, but it may struggle against blue control.

The decisions by Wizards to reverse their earlier decision not to ban the Saheeli combo has restored some level of consumer confidence, though others have lambasted the company for not getting such an obvious call right the first time, citing that there’s no reason a combo that is too good for Modern in Splinter Twin should exist in Standard. That said, the majority is in strong support of Wizards, and it’s going to lead to an exciting Standard format and Pro Tour Amonkhet, which will settle once and for all what new Standard cards are the best and which are flashes in the pan.

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