January 9th, 2017 will be a day that lives forever in infamy. When Wizards of the Coast dropped this seemingly innocuous tweet:
It was clear something was amiss.
Why move up the B&R announcement to a full week earlier? The most obvious explanation was that something in Standard was going to be banned and they wanted those preparing for the Pro Tour to know as soon as possible. With this rationale deduced, the wild speculation began from all corners of Magic’s fanbase.
(For those who don’t know, the introduction of the new Aether Revolt uncommon, Felidar Guardian, brings forth a type of combo Standard has not seen since New Phyrexia. Saheeli Rai’s -2 ability targets Felidar Guardian, the new copy of the cat comes into play and “flickers” Saheeli Rai with it’s enter the battlefield trigger. Saheeli comes back in as a new planeswalker that has not been used this turn with her full starting loyalty. You use “new” Saheeli Rai’s -2 to make another copy of Felidar Guardian and rinse and repeat until you have infinite hastey cats.)
Some speculated that this combo was simply something Wizards of the Coast missed during internal testing, and was now preemptively taking action before it could break Standard. Others simply thought Emrakul, the Promised End’s dominance was coming to a close. The be all end all of end games was simply not fun and prevented any other end game finisher to have its chance to shine. Some even argued that nothing would be banned and this was merely setting a precedent of pushing up the B&R announcement.
The huddle masses of the internet stood by the ticking clock, anxiously refreshing their internet browser. What would happen?
Emrakul, the Promised End is banned.
Okay, makes sense no body likes getting Mindslaver’d and then attacked with a flying 13/13 that’s hard to interact with. Cost reduction mechanics have been notoriously problematic in the past, and this follows that trend.
Smuggler’s Copter is banned.
Wait, WHAT? My beloved draw-smoothing beat-down machine is….gone? The card has barely been legal for 3 months and we already have to say goodbye? To be fair, it completely warped the format, and I guess it made sorcery-speed removal obsolete. And I guess it did slot into every single deck. And I guess….okay, maybe it was right for Smuggler’s Copter to go. This should definitely open up Standard, chopping both pillars of the format, Emrakul, the Promised End and Smuggler’s Copter. Oh there is one more?
Reflector Mage is banned.
This feels a little late, but definitely deserved. The amped up Man-o’-War has been preventing powerful creatures from seeing play for a full year. I CoCo’d into plenty of copies of Reflector Mage in my Rally and Bant CoCo days, and I can attest to how miserable the card is to play with and against. Not to mention it impacts the game in an oppressively mundane and hard to track way.
C’est la vie, Reflector Mage. May you rot in Hell (Frontier).
In addition to the Standard news, we had a few bannings in Modern as well, but I’m going to leave that to our resident Soul Sister, Charlie Rinehart-Jones. Look for his breakdown of the Modern announcement later this week. So that leaves me with covering the impact on Standard. How do these changes affect the Standard metagame?
The obvious answer is a lot. Or, for the more educated readers out there, a whole buttload.
Kaldesh Standard has had many vocal detractors lamenting the supposedly worst Standard environment in years. For them, this Standard banning must feel like validation. These 3 cards were present in every single major player in the format and their forced removal is going to completely open up the field.
Let’s breakdown some of the top decks and how the future omission of these cards might impact their overall playability.
Losing Emrakul, the Promised End certainly hurts, but I don’t think it necessarily stops the deck from being a player in the format. The inevitability of Emrakul gave the deck a lot of its ability to close out games, but a Liliana, the Last Hope Emblem can be just as potent. Liliana, the Last Hope and Ishkanah, Grafwidow were the main draws to B/G Delirium however, and while Emmy might be missed, she can be replaced with some similar (although not as busted) late game finisher. Ob Nixilis Reignited might see more play now that a certain evasive vehicle isn’t around to put the hurting on planeswalkers, but I’d be more inclined to register some big fat creature. Something you can buyback with Grapple with the Past or Liliana, the Last Hope, or tutor for with Traverse the Ulvenwald. Noxious Gearhulk, perhaps? Maybe a ceratain scheming demon who could wipe out opposing baby spiders? Who knows!
This deck loses hardly anything, but might gain everything. While it did play Smuggler’s Copter, it wasn’t the lynchpin in this deck that it was in other decks, and it even sometimes had a problem with finding a spare body to hop in the vehicle. Here, the premiere two drop is Grim Flayer and it’s still plenty lethal. The most important banning for this deck is actually Reflector Mage. The bouncey Mage really shafted the big hefty 4 drops G/B Aggro liked to play, like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Mindwrack Demon. Tapping out for Mindwrack Demon is a whole lot more tempting when you know it’s not going to be bounced and stranded in your hand for a turn.
For Aetherworks Marvel, I’m a little more skeptical than most. I don’t foresee the deck being nearly as powerful without Emrakul, the Promised End. Obviously you can slot Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or Kozilek, the Great Distortion in place of her, but I’m not sure that makes the deck worth playing. Mindslaver-ing your opponent with her cast trigger almost always insured she would be sticking around long enough to finish the game off. Her cost reduction also made it fairly feasible to cast her if the game went long. Both the other Eldrazi menaces lack these benefits. They are always going to cost the same amount, and while they have some built in protection, they are definitely more susceptible to removal than Emrakul was. I’m not sure that this deck is dead, however. People love spinning the wheel so much that they’ll play it regardless of what the payoff is.
Mardu and R/W Vehicles might be dead, as much as that pains this motorist to say. There might be a new and similar vehicle in Heart of Kiran, but heightened crew cost and Legendary status means a serious restructuring of the main 60 cards. Thraben Inspector and Selfless Spirit look a lot worse in your aggressive deck when they can’t crew your 2-drop vehicle. Not being able to smooth your draw is going to be a major downgrade however, and that alone might mean the end of the deck. Maybe it’s just a personal bias, but I think Toolcraft Exemplar is too powerful of a card to completely disappear. Attacking for 3 on turn 2 is pretty sweet, but for the deck to work with Heart of Kiran, it’s going to take a very different shell to work. Look for something with more copies of Depala, Pilot Exemplar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, since both of those cards facilitate Heart of Kiran quite nicely.
RB Aggro’s fate might be even worse-off than Mardu Vehicles’. Smuggler’s Copter was easily the best card in the deck and its most potent madness outlet. Losing Copter makes Fiery Temper and Bloodhall Priest look a whole lot worse, and I’m not sure if there is anything capable of replacing the looter scooter in this deck. If there is a burn-centric deck in Standard, we might see a resurgence of Thermo-Alchemist and friends. Collective Defiance and Incendiary Flow were pushed out due to how important instant-speed answers were in the format. But, with Smuggler’s Copter gone, they might have a chance to shine once more.
The other R/B deck of the format, R/B Zombies fares much better. Smuggler’s Copter, while decent at looting, was never the most important card in this deck and it still has a plethora of discard options available. Not the most popular or best performing deck around, but the loss of Copter doesn’t impact it nearly as much as others.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the blue- and white-colored elephant in the room. Does U/W Flash continue to exist with the loss of both Smuggler’s Copter AND Reflector Mage? Public opinion seems torn to say the very least. Copter was an important fixture of the deck, smoothing its draw to guarantee making land drops or prevent flooding, while taking advantage of the more tempo-themed elements of the deck. The disruption Spell Queller, Reflector Mage, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar provide meant little if you couldn’t capitalize on the tempo gains. Bashing in for 3 each turn in the air was precisely one of U/W’s best ways (along with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) of taking advantage of those tempo gains.
With that in mind however, the nature of requiring creatures to crew sometimes made Smuggler’s Copter seem at odds with the more Flash-centered nature of some of U/W’s namesake cards. It’s hard to hold up Spell Queller if you’re tapping out to play creatures in order to crew Smuggler’s Copter. This is one of the reasons U/W’s starts with Thraben Inspector were so much more powerful than those lacking the investigator. Maybe the removal of Smuggler’s Copter allows the deck to build itself with the Flash game more in mind. Perhaps Rattlechains comes back and fills the Copter-sized void this deck is looking at.
But what about Reflector Mage? Could anything replace that mirror loving wizard? The oppressive 2/3 often bought U/W the time it needed to start deploying Archangel Avacyn, while also poking holes in opponent’s defenses for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to bash through. How do you fill a role so uniquely defensive and offensive at the same time? This will be the biggest question posed when figuring out U/W’s future, and it’s not one that I’ve been able to figure out yet.
These are just the beginning of my thoughts on what these bannings could mean to Standard, and I’m crazy excited to see how this new format develops. These impactful bannings make this set release feel almost more like a rotation than simply another set being added to the fray. This, along with the introduction of the powerful new Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian interaction should drastically alter the texture of the metagame, placing a whole new outlook on what are the potent threats and answers of the format.
In this article, I discussed what Aether Revolt Standard might look like. For a sneak-peek at what Aether Revolt Limited will look like as well as tips and tricks of the format, read this article by Roman Fusco.
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