Standard hit by the banhammer once again
What just happened?! I know Standard had been a pretty binary format for a while but 4 cards seems like an overreaction. Until you start going into the details that is. Wizards provided a lot of context for their decision in the announcement, including a lot of matchup data for both Energy decks and Mono Red. In that data you can see that Energy (both Temur and Temur Black) is the classic “Jund” deck in terms of matchups; they all hover around 50% and it almost always improves after sideboarding. This is just how midrange decks play out almost by definition and that alone isn’t enough for me to advocate a ban. But then consider that this is with everyone who doesn’t play Energy trying to beat it. It is problematic that no matter how hard you try, you can’t get a considerable edge.
If you take the BG Midrange decks in Modern, many of their matchups are close to even but it can’t take over the metagame because a few decks like Tron and Scapeshift could then rise and prey on it. In Standard, the counter strategies available like the UW Control decks hold a massive advantage in game 1 but they are so inconsistent or low power that the Energy decks could sideboard their way to a reasonable matchup.
I personally enjoyed having Energy decks in the format because the games were often very deep and interesting, but I agree that it would get to monotonous to keep having it around with Rivals of Ixalan looking like it wouldn’t be able to change much.
Then we have the takedown of the Mono Red deck. This one I unequivocally agree with, for a couple of reasons. First, I hate Mono Red. It’s a deck that just plays the hardest hitting cheap haste creatures it can find along with whatever burn is available and just hopes the opponent misses a spot on their curve and/or doesn’t have any lifegain. It leads to boring games where the opponent just has to try and take as little damage as possible and hope they can stabilise out of burn range. When you play against Mono Red you rarely have to think more than a turn ahead and most decisions are quite obvious. When I lose a game, I can often find a decision that I could have made differently to give me a chance of winning. This basically never happens against Mono Red.
Second, Mono Red destroyed the metagame outside of Energy. Some decks rose up to beat Energy, like UW Approach and UW Cycling and not only were they not as good at that as intended, they got crushed by Mono Red to the tune of around 70% of matches. The Mono Red deck boasts both blistering speed and incredible resiliency. You couldn’t just fill your deck with life gain because you would just lose the long game. Red aggressive decks still look quite viable but the power level seems more reasonable.
Now for the individual cards removed from the format. Let’s start with the two energy cards banned; Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. I agree that these are the core of the Energy decks’ power; they are both reasonable without the energy so it becomes very close to a free addition.
Banning Attune only would definitely kill off the black versions of Temur Energy but straight Temur would still be viable albeit weakened. Banning Rogue Refiner only would hamper the decks consistency a lot and it would need to be replaced by less generic 3 drops like Deathgorge Scavenger. This would also allow the deck to stay but would take most matchups down a notch. I think banning either one would have been interesting but with the risk of leaving it atop the metagame still, I understand the “safe” choice of taking out both.
Then we have Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon. Ruins was from the beginning touted as a game changer because it provided reach to aggressive decks at basically no cost. The Mono Red plan is to get in damage early with creatures and then finish the opponent of with burn once their better creatures have gained control of the combat phase. The creatures can deal more damage because they can do it every turn, but they are easier to stop. You want creatures in your opening hand and draw burn later. Ruins meant burn in lands so you could play more creatures and thus have more creatures in your opener while still giving you burn for the late game when you need it. Land also meant it didn’t get stopped by Negate so the damage was all but guaranteed. Without it, Mono Red goes back to the “traditional” way of needing to draw creatures and burn spells in the correct order, making it more manageable.
Lastly and to many, most confusingly, is Rampaging Ferocidon. I think it makes perfect sense actually. I don’t think ferocidon was a ban worthy problem in the pre ban format. But consider that now we are getting the second set of a tribal block, and a lot of players will be looking to play their favourite tribe in Standard. Then imagine playing your Vampire deck and making a gazillion 1/1 lifelink tokens and thus stopping any hope the Mono Red opponent had of getting your life total to 0, except they have a 3/3 that not only prevents you from gaining life, it kills you for making all those tokens. Beyond just the Vampire deck, a normal plan against Mono Red is to gum up the board and gain some life. The dino stopped both those plans. It is still just a creature that can be killed by removal without having any effect on the game, but tribal decks, almost by definition, are light on removal and would be very vulnerable to it.
In conclusion, I think the bans are reasonable and more importantly the reasoning laid out by Wizards seems sound and thorough. On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that we continue to need bans in Standard, which already has a yearly rotation to keep players’ wallets under pressure and I’m afraid Standard support will keep dwindling for a long time before confidence in Wizards is restored. Finally, on a positive note, Standard now looks fresh and exciting and I look forward to exploring it (get it?).
I was getting worried that I would have to do a Vintage article but it looks like that can wait until I actually get an idea of what I’m talking about (don’t hold your breath).
Let me know in the comments or on social media what you think of the changes if you haven’t already.