It’s not often that I advocate banning a card. Across more or less every format, I’d like to see fewer rather than more cards banned, and most ban lists in most formats could stand to have a card or two shaved off of them (#FreeLinSivvi).
— Jim Davis (@JimDavisMTG) April 22, 2018
In Standard, however, I have to go against my usual resistance to swinging the banhammer around and say that the time has well and truly come for Goblin Chainwhirler to take one on the chin. This card is warping the format around it, with negative results—Chainwhirler is punishing deck diversity, oppressing exploration and innovation within Standard, and making a whole host of 1-toughness creatures unplayable in your starting 60.
I believe the reasons to ban Goblin Chainwhirler are both numerous and hefty enough to warrant action being taken by R&D, and I would like to see this card get the chop sooner rather than later.
Limiting Deck Diversity
Goblin Chainwhirler has been massively overrepresented in the Top 8s in all of the major post-Dominaria Standard tournaments. GP Birmingham, PT Dominaria, and now GP Copenhagen all had Top 8s awash with this card, giving a clear indication of its utter dominance.
It doesn’t end there, either. It’s not just spiking Top 8s—it’s Chainwhirlers all the way down. Over 40% of GP Copenhagen’s Day 2 metagame was made up of Chainwhirler decks, which is way over an acceptable amount for any format. A deck being a quarter of a metagame is enough to raise eyebrows—the omnipresence of this card is on a whole different level.
The raw power of the red deck in general is only added to by Goblin Chainwhirler, which preys on creature decks and can be included without fear against creatureless control. A 3-mana 3/3 isn’t exciting, but it’s a fine card given how good it is in other matchups. Currently, it’s difficult to justify not playing Chainwhirler, and that’s never a sign of a healthy format.
No Viable Counter-Strategy
We’ve seen situations like this before. A dominant card goes uncontested for a period, and then the format adjusts as people attempt to topple the king. Often, this push-and-pull will do good work in restoring balance to the Force, but Chainwhirler has far too many midichlorians for that.
It’s clear that there isn’t a viable counter-strategy to Goblin Chainwhirler. The strength of this card wasn’t a secret going into the Pro Tour. This card, and the lack of legitimate responses to it in the wake of the tournament, indicates that there just aren’t any. Similarly, GP Copenhagen showcased a field that didn’t adapt to or attack the Chainwhirler meta from the PT. Instead, another tournament saw the majority of Top 8 decks featuring the card.
Goblin Chainwhirler has a huge target painted on its head, and yet it still remains virtually uncontested. Usually, if a field is gunning for a card like Chainwhirler, a scissors-paper-rock metagame emerges where strategies have their fortunes wax and wane. Not so here. There just doesn’t seem to be any technology in existence to meaningfully contest Goblin Chainwhirler.
Renders Many Creatures Unplayable
In my view, the most damning factor in the case against Goblin Chainwhirler is the sheer number of creatures it renders unplayable. You simply cannot reasonably expect to get an adequate amount of value out of 1-toughness creatures, which cuts an enormous swath through potential inclusions to both efficient, spiky lists, and spicy brews alike.
This isn’t acceptable. It sucks to have an entire category of cards consigned to the scrapheap due to the omnipresence of a single card. Without Goblin Chainwhirler, you could play Toolcraft Exemplar, Champion of Wits, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Earthshaker Khenra, or Llanowar Elves without fear of it being eaten up for free. Goblin Chainwhirler is single-handedly pushing these cards out of the format. And that’s without even considering token-based strategies like Vampires or Saprolings!
Think of it this way: If you believe banning Goblin Chainwhirler is an overreaction, consider the fact that it, by being part of the Standard format, has handed down a de facto ban on maindecking almost every single 1-toughness creature. I don’t think that’s acceptable.
Past Bans Are Irrelevant
Unfortunately, Standard has been hit with a huge number of recent bans, and many players have had enough of this liberal application of the banhammer. I know it sucks to ban cards—as mentioned, I’m generally against it in principle—but these previous bannings are irrelevant when considering whether to ban Goblin Chainwhirler.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wrote a masterful article that contains some very relevant talking points when considering this issue. Have there been too many bans in Standard already? Certainly, there have been far more than anyone could reasonably want. Should that prevent future bans? Absolutely not.
These issues should be debated independently of one another. The fact that the Standard ban list is so lengthy at present has nothing to do with how action is needed to end the oppression of Goblin Chainwhirler.
It Will Still Do What it Does After Rotation
There’s talk of how waiting out the three months until rotation is the best course of action, as by then all of the other hugely powerful red spells that see play alongside Chainwhirler will rotate out. There’s no denying that Mono-Red and Black-Red Aggro will cease to exist as they do now post-rotation, but that’s a clever bit of deflection that doesn’t really address the issue at hand.
Even without Chandra or Glorybringer, Goblin Chainwhirler will continue to do what it does best. It will still render 1-toughness creatures unplayable, it will still be a punishing anti-creature card that is a freeroll vanilla 3/3 against control decks, and it will still warp the Standard landscape around it.
Further, if shocklands are reprinted in Return to Return to Ravnica, Standard mana bases will only get better. 2012 and 2013 featured some of the best mana bases we’ve seen (except the era of Dark Jeskai and Moist Jund) thanks to the combination of shocklands and checklands, and that’s right where we’re headed once again. 3-Color Chainwhirler decks? The card will be everywhere.
Waiting for rotation isn’t the answer. This card will be Standard-legal for a very long time indeed, and until it rotates, it will continue to warp the landscape of the format. It’s no good waiting for rotation and hoping things improve—get rid of the core issue right now and be done with it.
A Bold Alternative: Frank Karsten’s Nightmare Chaos Mode
While talking with friends and colleagues about this throughout the last few weeks, I heard a wide range of pretty disparate opinions. None stuck with me more than Frank Karsten’s, however. While he believes Goblin Chainwhirler does warrant a ban, he had a characteristically brilliant—or totally insane—alternative.
Frank suggested unbanning every single card in Standard. Every single one. After all, we only have three more months with cards like Aetherworks Marvel and Smuggler’s Copter being part of Standard-legal sets, so why not just throw caution to the wind and shake up Standard with a magnitude-nine earthquake?
This sounds a little like leaving a barrel of red cordial unattended next to a ball pit at a kids’ birthday party, but I have to say I like the idea. After all, I’m all about small ban lists, and this is the definition of that! I can see, however, how this idea might be heavily unpopular with deeply enfranchised players who are seeking to do things such as, for example, win a Pro Tour. Still, it’d make the next three months pretty bloody interesting!
Ban the Goblin
Goblin Chainwhirler is just too good for Standard. It does too much at a very low cost. Between oppressing deck diversity, punishing a wide range of archetypes, and threatening to do this until Dominaria itself rotates, Goblin Chainwhirler is a card we’d all be better off without. The best course of action, in my view, is an immediate ban of a card that will otherwise continue to make Standard a lot less healthy, diverse, and—most importantly—fun.