Wedding Announcement
29, May, 23

The Recent MTG Bans May Not Dig Deep Enough

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For those unaware, there was a major MTG ban announcement affecting Standard today. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Reckoner Bankbuster, and perhaps most surprisingly Invoke Despair were all banned. It is quite clear Wizards of the Coast was trying to weaken the stranglehold that Rakdos Midrange had on the format. After Fable and Bankbuster represented over half the field of Pro Tour March of the Machine decklists, it’s nice to see some much-needed changes to Standard. The question is, are there any notable problematic cards missing from today’s announcement, and how will Standard shake out moving forward?

Was Enough Action Taken?

The removal of Fable and Bankbuster from Standard saw generally favorable reviews from the MTG community. Both cards had become extremely homogenous, and frankly, a lot of people were sick of playing against Fable over and over. The games where a turn three Fable was cast, and the games where it wasn’t were night and day. Not to mention, Fable mirror-matches heavily favored the player on the play who was able to cast Fable first and get the initial crack at making Treasure tokens. While Invoke Despair was less on people’s radars, many people were happy to see it go simply to make Rakdos in its current form even weaker.

All that being said, there seemed to be a resounding argument that this might not be enough. Many players are worried that by banning Fable but leaving other extremely powerful cards with similar egregious play patterns, the meta will just shift to another toxic, top-tier deck taking Rakdos’ place. While there is another MTG ban announcement on August 7 that could help reconcile this, seeing major changes occur twice that close together does not bode well for consumer confidence. The changes made definitely seem good overall, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some key cards that managed to escape the ban unscathed are at the forefront of ban conversations in two months.

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Cards That Made it Out Alive

Sheoldred, the Apocolypse
Wedding Announcement

Sheoldred and Wedding Announcement are probably the two strongest cards in Standard that did not get banned, and they were two cards I was absolutely hoping would get the axe. One of the biggest issues with the Standard metagame pre-ban was the lack of aggressive decks. Decks like mono-red aggro had fallen by the wayside. On the surface, Rakdos Midrange taking a severe hit may seem like a good thing for red aggressive decks. The problem is that the most problematic card in the matchup was Sheoldred by a large margin.

With Sheoldred still being around and Rakdos being weakened, many players are likely to turn to other established homes for it, such as Esper Legends. Between four copies of Dennick, Pious Apprentice, Raffine, Scheming Seer], and Sheoldred, this matchup is a disaster for aggressive decks, and should only grow in popularity in the coming weeks. Another deck that survived unaffected is mono-white midrange. Not only is the deck powerful overall, but it gets to utilize a playset of Wedding Announcement.

Unfortunately, the play patterns with Wedding Announcement are almost as unappealing for the opponent as Fable. It’s another three-mana enchantment that generates incremental advantage over multiple turns. Additionally, just like Fable, it is much better on the play, where it can generate value over time without you falling too far behind. This puts even more pressure on the die roll at the beginning of a match, which is not a fun outcome. While I support the ban of Fable, Bankbuster, and Invoke, right now seemed like the perfect moment to produce an even bigger shake-up to the format than that.

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Other Metagame Shifts

Atraxa, Grand Unifier

While Rakdos was the main deck affected by the bans directly, these bans will indirectly help strengthen or weaken existing archetypes or allow for new archetypes to see the light of day. For example, decks that preyed on Rakdos but suffered against the rest of the field will likely dwindle in popularity. This seems to directly apply to five-color ramp. Five-color ramp is undoubtedly a powerful strategy. A resolved Atraxa is quite difficult for any Midrange deck to beat.

The knock on the deck is that it is quite slow. Outside of Leyline Binding and some sideboard options like Lithomantic Barrage, this deck has a noticeable lack of early interaction. Further, ways to prevent Atraxa from hitting the board, such as by using Counterspells, can render all the early ramping moot. Luckily, Rakdos generally did not provide enough pressure to race Atraxa and couldn’t Counter it either. As such, the matchup was excellent. With Rakdos severely damaged by the bans and tempo decks like Azorius Soldiers or Jeskai Dragons potentially on the rise, five-color ramp could see its Metagame share drastically decline, despite having no cards from the deck banned.

On the flip side, a deck like Esper Legends that preys on aggressive decks but struggles some against decks with lots of removal could see an early surge in popularity. With the Premier Midrange deck’s current iteration out of the picture and Sheoldred still around, this strategy of playing legendary creatures with high-toughness that help maximize the Channel lands from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty seems super effective right off the bat.

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Moving Forward

Seeing Wizards of the Coast willing to take necessary action in banning Fable is a good start. With the implementation of a yearly MTG ban announcement beginning August 7, 2023, additional changes can be made as needed without the timing coming as a huge surprise to players. This should, at a minimum, help keep consumer confidence more stable, as players would be less likely to invest in cards and decks that could be affected by the MTG ban announcement when close to the deadline.

My biggest gripe is that, with today’s announcement being less than three months away from the next announcement, Standard could see another shake-up in short order if these bans truly weren’t enough. Even if Wedding Announcement and Sheoldred aren’t currently too homogenous within the format, the play patterns they create are still repetitive and unpleasant. Hopefully there is enough room for innovation moving forward after the current bans to make up for this, but only time will tell.

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