All that Glitters
4, Dec, 23

Principal MTG Designer Gives Major Ban Announcement Added Context!

Article at a Glance

Earlier today, we saw a multitude of cards get banned across various Constructed formats. In Modern, Fury and Up the Beanstalk got the axe, potentially giving rise to small Creature decks once more. In Pioneer, Geological Appraiser and Karn, the Great Creator bit the dust, hopefully encouraging some innovation in an arguably stale format. Additionally, Smuggler’s Copter was unbanned in Pioneer, which could give rise to more aggressive decks.

For players that listened to the WeeklyMTG ban discussion last Tuesday, these changes aren’t super surprising. Andrew Brown and Dun Musser, two members of the Play Design Team at Wizards of the Coast, gave multiple hints about what may or may not get banned. Pioneer Discover combo and mono-green Devotion along with Modern Rakdos Scam were all mentioned. However, one format that received bans that wasn’t discussed was Pauper.

Pauper bans are decided by the Pauper Format Panel. This group was created by Principal MTG designer Gavin Verhey back in 2022. The goal was to have this group focus directly on Pauper, an often otherwise neglected format. Gavin Verhey announced back on November 30 that there would be a Pauper banlist update. Now, not only do we know that Monastery Swiftspear has been banned, but we also were given a lengthy explanation as to why this was the case. Let’s start by taking a look at what caused Monastery Swiftspear to get banned in the first place.

A Nerf to Mono-Red

Monastery Swiftspear

“The problem concerns speed and polarization.”

Gavin Verhey

A couple days ago, we discussed the rise of mono-red aggro in Pauper and the dominance of Monastery Swiftspear. We even predicted that Monastery Swiftspear would be the most likely card to get banned. The biggest reason was that mono-red has greatly increased the speed of the format overall since Monastery Swiftspear’s introduction to the format. Gavin Verhey seemed to echo this sentiment, He mentioned that the format has sped up significantly since 2022.

While mono-red isn’t entirely to blame for this, its presence was rather format warping. Interestingly, Gavin mentioned that the mono-red deck has a huge advantage in game one in most matchups, but actually becomes unfavored in most matchups after sideboard. Initially, this may sound like a good thing, as other decks can help keep mono-red at least somewhat in check. The problem is, this is mostly as a result of players jamming tons of Hydroblast effects or copies of Weather the Storm to try to combat the red menace. The fact that mono-red has been able to consistently fight through immense levels of hate shows just how strong the deck really is.

“Especially with the brand-new Goblin Tomb Raider, which is another huge get for the deck that can be extremely polarizing.”

Gavin Verhey

Monastery Swiftspear ended up being the most logical ban, given its synergy across multiple mono-red shells, including those utilizing Wrenn’s Resolve and Reckless Impulse. Prowess makes it a bit harder to kill with damage-based removal and explosive draws involving multiple copies of Swiftspear can feel like impossible to combat in many games. That isn’t to say that other bans weren’t consider as well, though.

Goblin Tomb Raider is another strong threat in the deck now. Kuldotha Rebirth and Experimental Synthesizer are excellent in Artifact-heavy shells. Given that cards like Kuldotha Rebirth have been around in Pauper for a long time and haven’t been much of a problem until recently, the Pauper Format Panel ultimately decided to ban just Monastery Swiftspear. The hope was to nerf the deck in some regard but still leave it as a reasonable choice to play in the format.

Read More: MTG Unban Speculation Bumps Up Price of Fortnite Card!

Other Ban Considerations

Tolarian Terror

“Affinity, Faeries, Caw-Gate, and Defenders all thrash it solely by the percentages, and of course it is behind against Mono-Red, too”

Gavin Verhey

Just as we mentioned in our speculative article, both Tolarian Terror decks and Affinity strategies were considerations to receive bans. In the case of Tolarian Terror, the data supposedly shows that it isn’t quite as dominant as we might think. According to Gavin, the deck has a win rate below 50%. The addition of Cryptic Serpent has made the strategy of filling your graveyard with Instants and Sorceries and casting enormous Creatures for cheap better. However, it struggles on average against a lot of the top decks.

Gavin stated that the matchup against the Squadron Hawk Gates deck is fairly poor. The Golgari midrange deck has been getting even more popular lately, utilizing cards like Tithing Blade that force the Terror decks to sacrifice their big Creatures for cheap. The only concern with the archetype is its contribution to the overall speed of the format, as the ability to play multiple Terrors on turn three can be a bit frustrating. Given the win rates of Tolarian Terror decks in comparison to mono-red, no ban ended up occurring here.

“It’s the recent downshift that enables this deck to hit so hard and part of what can make games polarizing. However, it’s easy to disrupt.”

Gavin Verhey

Beyond Terror and Swiftspear, Affinity was the final pillar that needed to be addressed. The downshift of All that Glitters greatly increased the speed of the Affinity decks. After all, the fact that the powerful Aura counts Artifact Lands gives it a huge boost. Similar to mono-red aggro, Affinity tends to get worse after sideboarding. The deck’s reliance on Artifacts can leave it vulnerable to certain sideboard cards.

As we discussed with mono-red, this can still be a bit polarizing, forcing players to play multiple cards specifically targeting Affinity. It sounds like, because Affinity is less polarizing in its matchups, including in game one, the archetype was deemed less problematic overall. Also, with mono-red weakened, there’s hope that players can add a bit more hate towards Affinity in their sideboard with less of a focus on beating mono-red.

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Ultimately no Unbans

Prophetic Prism

“But when doing a single ban to make a small adjustment to the format, we didn’t want to accidentally introduce a large new variable at the same time. I still think you could potentially see Prism unbanned in the future.”

Gavin Verhey

Finally, Gavin discussed the decision to not unban any cards. While he believes unbanning Prophetic Prism is definitely a possibility down the line, he didn’t want to mess with the format any further after banning Swiftspear. The ideal scenario by banning Swiftspear is that the format becomes increasingly diverse as matchups feel less polarizing and fast. One deck that has suffered given the format’s speed is Tron.

Unbanning Prophetic Prism could definitely help Tron gain some ground in the format as an added piece of consistency. Banning Swiftspear may help Tron in the long run as well, though, especially if the format slows down. In this sense, the idea is to see how the format shakes out and reassess.

Gavin also stated that he will be keeping an eye on “Name Sticker Goblin,” given that the version on Magic Online and the Unfinity version in paper are slightly different. Banning Swiftspear definitely weakens the variants of mono-red using the Goblin, too, but if there ends up being enough of a difference in Pauper between paper and online play, future action could be taken. For now, it’s time to see how the Pauper metagame unfolds in the coming weeks.

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