Change! You Can Change. (The Banned & Restricted Update)

Hello everyone! I hope you all had a safe, and enjoyable 4th of July celebration here in the USA (or just had an awesome Wednesday otherwise). What a week! The last time I wrote an article I talked about how we should define The Pro Tour, and before the next one occurs this August there will definitely be a change.

So let’s just rip the band-aid off, and get to it.

On Monday July 2nd Wizards of the Coast banned both Gitaxian Probe, and Deathrite Shaman from Legacy. There were no other changes.

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While some braced for this impact it still caused quite a response from all sides of the community so let’s take a look at each of these changes.

Gitaxian Probe was a card that many were expecting to see get the axe. This card essentially only cost you 2 life, and for those playing this in decks like Storm it led to an increased storm count as well as gave those players perfect information in every game. Phyrexian Mana has been really egregious on the game since it’s design, and this card specifically was banned in Modern for the same reasons they have now banned it in Legacy. It did too much for (way) too little cost.

Deathrite Shaman was also banned from Legacy on Monday. The article states that this card has been discussed for about the last year, and they even reference it’s performance at Grand Prix Birmingham (won by Mono-Red Prison). This card made splashing it into decks too easy, however it’s abilities aren’t what put it over the Top. Prior changes, and additions, are what lead the Shaman to it’s eventual fate.

The addition: On August 26th, 2016 Wizards of the Coast released Conspiracy: Take the Crown. This set was made with a multiplayer draft style of play in mind, but provided a card that Legacy players started brewing with: Leovold, Emissary of Trest. This card prevented players from drawing more than one card on any turn (ie: stopped Brainstorm), and if one of your permanents was targeted by an opponent you got to draw a card before that ability would resolve. This was absolutely brutal for Control decks if it landed. It also did not help that Leovold was also blue allowing the player to pitch him to Force of Will to counter anyone trying to Counterspell the one being played.

The change: On April 24th, 2017 Wizards of the Coast banned Sensei’s Divining Top killing a big portion of the Miracles archetype. That archetype would play the Top, and along with Counterbalance would establish a lock preventing players from playing further Shamans once you got rid of the first one. Once that pair was broken up the only thing one had to do was keep a Shaman on the field.

These two events helped shape what eventually became Legacy up until Monday. Many players gravitated to a Glint-Eye style of deck where the only difference between each of these decks were if it was running Delver of Secrets or not.

Also yes I mentioned Glint-Eye, as in Glint-Eye Nephilim. The non-White one. Why? These Shaman decks were running Green. It doesn’t matter if it’s a splash or not. Grixis DOES NOT have Green mana. We need to not be so damn lazy with our deck names folks. We’re better than this.

All of that said there were many who had tears for fear this change would happen, and it has. Legacy is now wide open for some movement in the meta, however I have a few concerns:

1. Why now?

This data of Deathrite Shaman decks having a 55% (or higher) win-rate against non-Deathrite Shaman decks is not new. Nor is it solely the result of GP Birmingham. On April 16th this year there were no changes made to any format. This was nearly a year since the Top ban, and if discussion about Deathrite Shaman being banned had already been happening for a year then why not pull the trigger?

One possibility was the mirror matches being horrible to watch, and no we won’t call the non-Delver version of the Shaman decks a “Control” deck, because it’s not. It’s more of a Midrange-Tempo deck as opposed to Aggro-Tempo. No permission was being asked by the opponents when going against these decks as everyone was trying to outplay the other player to the board. While Miracles players were cantripping their brains out Shaman decks were dominating the top tables at larger events. Having this happen again at the next Pro Tour, which celebrates Magic’s 25th anniversay, would not have brought Wizards of the Coast positive feedback from viewers. The format would have appeared stale, and too expensive for those without a care about Legacy to even watch.

However this still begs the question: Why wait? They could have had several high profile events worth of data to at least give players a sense of what the meta could be like going into the next Pro Tour, but it wouldn’t have been 100% solved yet. Now instead of having an idea of what the meta would be like, we have nothing. In this case nothing may be worse than something as it lacks anticipation. This Pro Tour is also Team Constructed so unless Legacy is showcased a lot we won’t get to see what these changes from Monday have caused.

2. Players quitting.

Legacy is not a cheap format. Many Reserved List cards are even out of the price range for many who play this format regularly, and now many players have cards they don’t need as it was only in their deck due to Deathrite Shaman‘s inclusion. Decks like Punishing Jund, Shardless Sultai, and even Abzan Maverick will take a big hit as the Shaman was a central part of these (properly named) tri-color decks. Elves just replaced the Shaman with another 1-drop Elf, and kept moving (some even dropping Black all-together but that may be a mistake).

I don’t think quitting the format is the right call as it’s probably made from a place of emotion (and as someone who was negatively impacted with the Top ban I can relate). For example when Probe was banned in Modern nearly the entire community quit playing Infect. Guess what happened?

It won SCG Atlanta.

Now I know that’s not a Pro Tour, or even a Grand Prix (although it is a 2-day event), but the point here is that if ones only thought is “this is the optimized deck, and no other card or change in the future will deter me from playing this exact 75 forever and ever” then you are doing yourself a disservice. The great thing about the game is change. New cards, new players, cards banned, card no longer banned, and with all of that new ideas. Constantly. By quitting an archetype entirely you shut yourself off of the possibility of learning something new.

Quitting the game though is an entirely different situation. If your fiances call for it, and you feel it’s a good idea, then I wish you luck. I’ve done it before, but came back (thanks to my daughter asking me to teach her how to play). It would be sad to see you go if you do, but hopefully it’s only temporary.

Going forward

Unfortunately even after all of this all we are left with is not only the uncertainty of the meta, but the fact no changes were made in Modern, and Goblin Chainwhirler remained in Standard. I found it interesting that the Standard portion of Ian Duke’s article from Monday seemed to focus on that card. Perhaps they understood the design issues with the card, and are hoping that once rotation comes this fall that mono-Red decks (as well as cards) won’t be that prohibitive on available archetypes or future design.

While I understand not wanting to play a certain archetype in a format where there is one dominate card/archetype (ie: Deathrite Shaman) I do encourage you all not to give up as that cuts out the fun of playing above anything else.

In closing I didn’t expect Stoneforge Mystic to be removed from the banned list. Not yet, and maybe not ever. Vehicles are the new equipment when it comes to Modern, and while (such as in this article by Sam Stoddard) I don’t think they’ll stop printing new equipment I think it will be awhile before we need to worry about Nahiri becoming available in Modern. Here’s how long her strategy takes to develop:

  1. Play Stoneforge Mystic, and find an equipment card in your deck.
  2. Activate Stoneforge Mystic to put the equipment card into play.
  3. Equip a creature with said equipment.

That takes WAY too long to do anything in the Red Zone. You also spent 3 turns focusing on playing a slow tutor for an equipment without interacting with your opponent at all, and let’s not forget the number of removal spells you have to dodge when you equip a creature. You will wind up getting Time Walked more often than you think. When she was in Standard she only had to face Lightning Bolt, and a few other cards. Now in Modern there are many more removal spells to deal with, and you can’t dodge everything.

While she may be removed from the banned list in the future people will realize it will be worse than playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor right now. That’s pretty bad.

The Banned & Restricted updates are always a stressful time for players as it could impact not only their collection, but the decks they play. However without this constant (although slow at times) change it does lead to new strategies which does help the overall growth of the game.

I hope you enjoyed today’s article. Please leave a comment below, and don’t forget to share with your friends. You can also find me on Twitter, as well as Facebook. Next time I’ll discuss one of my favorite Midrange decks, and provide it some much needed love.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

Scott Campbell, better known as MTGPackFoils, has been playing Magic since he was 17 (which was in 1993). He’s known for loving decks such as Azorius Control, Jund, and others (especially in Modern). He is a husband, father, and a former nightclub DJ.

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