Effective October 10, 2022, Yorion, Sky Nomad is banned in Modern and A-The Meathook Massacre is banned in Standard. While I believe Wizards of the Coast made accurate selections on which decks they chose to weaken with this update, I don't necessarily agree with the cards they chose. Let's talk about it.
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Over the past year, the Four-Color A-Omnath, Locus of Creation archetype has been among the top decks, if not the top deck in Modern. On its face, Four-Color is a midrange "good stuff" pile of incremental card advantage and efficient removal. It wants to grind out two-for-ones until the opponent runs out of steam, eventually taking over the game. With so many strong enters-the-battlefield effects, it's a natural home to Yorion, Sky Nomad, and benefits from a "free" eighth card at the start of the game.
However, one of the main issues with Four-Color is that it's slow. The deck is mana-intensive and the mana base is exceptionally greedy. It relies on Wrenn and Six and fetch lands to keep guaranteed lands and proper colors. This core is supplemented by Abundant Growth and occasionally Utopia Sprawl for additional mana consistency. In no uncertain terms, Four-Color doesn't reliably function without Wrenn and Six.
A build of Four-Color with 60 cards has a roughly 40% chance of drawing Wrenn and Six in their opening hand, while the 80-card build has that rate drop to 31%. From a statistical perspective, non-Yorion builds are more consistent at drawing their key cards. Similarly, they're more likely to draw their silver bullets and sideboard cards to combat other decks in the metagame.
In practice, Yorion acts as a mirror-breaker. Four-Color with Yorion has a massive advantage against those without it, incentivizing players to lower their win rates against the field to one-up their same deck. Now that there's no push to "go bigger" than the mirror, Four-Color is poised to be a stronger overall contender going forward. In other words, if this ban was meant to weaken the archetype, I fear it will have an inverse effect. Wizards may end up taking future action, and my best guess would be Wrenn and Six being the future target.
Until then, here's an example of what a 60-card build may look like:
The Meathook Massacre
The banning of A-The Meathook Massacre feels like a shot in the dark. Thanks to Standard rotation, the card pool for the format is the smallest it will be for the next year, and black midrange currently has the lion's share of power in the format.
While cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, Wedding Invitation, and The Wandering Emperor are among the highest individually powerful game pieces, they're able to simply be slotted into primarily black shells. Meanwhile, black has above-rate cards at each stage of the curve like Evolved Sleeper, Tenacious Underdog, Liliana of the Veil, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and even Invoke Despair. This leaves decks primarily focused in other colors with shallower card pools struggling to keep pace.
The problem here is that black is just generally better. No individual card by itself is egregiously overpowered. We can't simply pluck out the offending card like Emrakul, the Promised End, or Felidar Guardian in their respective Standards. The Meathook Massacre, while a strong card, and one that appears in most black decks, is ultimately non-essential to their dominance. If the goal was to balance the color distribution, I'm uncertain how much this will actually do.
Interestingly, I'd classify both Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Wedding Invitation as individually overpowered. When the potential of a Standard ban was floated, they were my immediate suspects. Meathook acts as a powerful answer to both of those cards, and without it as a foil, they may run even more rampant while still in base-black decks. These cards likely should have also been banned alongside Meathook, and I would not be surprised to see them gone in a future ban list update.
In the ban announcement, Wizards indicated that Pioneer appeared to be in a good place, with the top 20 decks capping at a 53% win rate. This came as quite a surprise as both Mono-Green Ramp and RB Midrange have seemingly put up consistent and dominating results in Magic Online Challenges as well as competitive paper play.
My immediate expectation, and that of fellow tournament grinders, was that one or both of these decks would be targeted to promote diversity in the format. As is the case in Standard, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the best card in the RB Midrange archetype, which is also the most-played deck in Pioneer. It's hard for fair decks to keep pace with the number of game objects and card selection the singular three-mana spell provides.
Meanwhile, Mono-Green Ramp is arguably too flexible for what it does. In addition to the traditional ramp play pattern of Llanowar Elves, into Old-Growth Troll, into Cavalier of Thorns, going taller and faster than everything else—Karn the Great Creator presents the potential for a combo finish.
The deck features a convoluted sequence with Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner and Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset (played off of either Storm the Festival or Oath of Nissa) untapping Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and The Chain Veil for infinite planeswalker activations. The finishing blow comes from Pestilent Cauldron // Restorative Burst looping with Karn over and over until finally milling the opponent infinitely.
Mono-Green Ramp is fast and consistent and can pivot seamlessly between beatdown and combo. Plus thanks to its wishboard of interactive artifacts like Tormod's Crypt and Damping Sphere, the player can lock opponents out in game one from utilizing several strategies. A Karn ban would force the ramp strategy to stay in its lane where it's more easily answerable by other decks in the metagame.
This round of bannings was unexpectedly tame, and I'm not quite sure how much it will accomplish. My expectation is that the problematic cards that remain will continue to pose an issue for the next few months, at which point we will experience another ban announcement.
I understand the desire for incrementalism and checking to see how each small tweak will impact their respective formats, but there is a real cost in consumer confidence with repeated bans over and over.
In either case, I will be diving into post-ban Modern and Standard, so be sure to stay tuned! You can keep up with me on Twitch and on Twitter, and catch my content here on Quiet Speculation every Tuesday. See you all next time!