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Is Aetherworks Marvel Too Good for Standard?

Not even two weeks after the Pro Tour, people are already sick of the “new” Standard format. Temur Marvelworks has dominated Standard. Two Grand Prix this weekend both came down to a Temur Marvel mirror match in the finals, and the MOCS was won by Brock Parker, also with Temur Marvelworks.

The deck’s supposed natural foil, U/R Control, may not even have a favorable matchup against it. The Pro Tour data, while limited, says that Temur Marvel is favored in the matchup. In actuality, it’s probably a close matchup with a lot of play to it, so players on either side feel they are advantaged in some way. My personal experience is that Temur Marvel felt slightly favored, but it usually comes down to a few draw steps. I don’t think Marvel has any truly unfavorable matchups right now, and that’s scary.

People have been complaining about being sick of Standard for quite some time now. Is it just because people like to complain, or is something actually wrong?

Is Standard Broken?

Yes, Standard is broken. Standard has been broken for a while. The last time I remember playing a Standard format that felt healthy was right after the release of Shadows over Innistrad which sported a mix of Bant Company, G/W Tokens, 4c Cryptolith Rite, and Grixis Control, all highly represented within the format. Since then it seems like 1 or 2 decks represent way more than their fair share of the metagame, and this is a sign of an unhealthy format.

We had this conversation about Aetherworks Marvel once already. Shortly before Aether Revolt, Marvel decks had adapted and became a dominating force in Standard. With the release of Aether Revolt came the bannings of Emrakul, the Promised End, Reflector Mage, and Smuggler’s Copter. Then Aether Revolt was released and the new Cat in town, Felidar Guardian, took the heat off. With Emrakul, the Promised End gone and the Cat combo around, Marvel wasn’t an issue anymore. The Cat combo was a natural foil to it, relegating the archetype to a fringe deck.

When Felidar Guardian got banned, we may have thought that with Emrakul, the Promised End banned, Marvel wouldn’t be as oppressive as it had been, right? Wrong. In fact, even when Emrakul, the Promised End was legal, the first Temur Marvel deck list I saw was piloted by Shaun McLaren, who didn’t even have Emrakul in his main deck. His list looked remarkably similar to how the deck looks now, two sets later, using 3 copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as his Aetherworks Marvel payoffs, and a single Emrakul, the Promised End in the sideboard, mostly as a way to combat Lost Legacy.

Now that Felidar Guardian is gone, Aetherworks Marvel has risen to the top and has the exact same effect on the metagame that Cat combo did. Midrange decks that play creatures and removal spells, with maybe some discard and planeswalkers, are just outmatched. Marvel doesn’t need to hit Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger the first time against these decks to win. Midrange strategies allow too much time for the Marvel to find Ulamog and close out the game.

If Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian remind you of Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin, look at Aetherworks Marvel and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger like Sneak Attack and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

When Felidar Guardian was legal, Mardu Vehicles and 4c Saheeli were undoubtedly the best two decks in the format, so why isn’t there a second deck now that can make the same claim? Well, the Cat combo was a creature-based combo, and could be broken up by cards that were also good against other creature decks. Put some pressure on the 4c Saheeli player, hold up a removal spell, and force their hand. This made the matchup between Mardu Vehicles and 4c Saheeli interactive, and actually pretty fun for a two-deck metagame.

Aetherworks Marvel can’t be attacked in the same way. Unlicensed Disintegration, while it has targets, can’t interact with either Aetherworks Marvel or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The way to attack Aetherworks Marvel is to not let the card resolve, and clock the deck fast enough before Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger can be hardcast. The best card for this approach is Spell Queller, acting as a counterspell and pressure all in the same card. No one can seem to find a good enough Spell Queller deck to compete with the format as a whole, even if they do find a little success against Aetherworks Marvel decks.

I don’t see anything changing too much too soon unfortunately, so for now, I see Standard as a format with one viable deck.

Should Aetherworks Marvel Be Banned?

This is the tough part to talk about. People generally have strong opinions on banning cards in Standard, and I personally think there’s no obviously correct answer to this question. We’ve seen a lot of bannings recently, and it’s been upsetting for some players who have made investments both in time and money.

On one hand, we can ban Aetherworks Marvel, consumer confidence suffers, we run the risk of a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar infested format, and nothing much has changed except the new dominant decks feel newer for a few months.

On the other hand, we can leave Aetherworks Marvel alone, attendance suffers, people get bored of playing one-deck Standard, and we’re still in a bad spot.

When I first started getting serious about Magic, I was the only one in my neighborhood who was playing Magic at the time. I had friends who all lived in the neighborhood that I saw every day, and I convinced them to give Magic a try. They bought some packs, built decks, and eventually challenged me to play. One of my friends came to battle with his B/R deck, filled with Dragon Whelps, Shivan Dragons, Sengir Vampires, Lightning Bolts, and Terrors. I decided to play him with a deck I saw on a tape of U.S. Nationals, Pros Bloom, a deck that was recently in the Standard Throwback Gauntlet on Magic Online.

We played a few games and my friends all watched as I explained what I was doing, and eventually cast a 30- or 40-point Drain Life. My friends were all amazed by my deck, but when I asked them to play a few days later they merely said they couldn’t beat my Drain Life deck so we went off and did something else. My friends were enjoying Magic, casting and killing creatures, and then I showed them a different part of the game, and they didn’t much enjoy it and shortly thereafter stopped playing altogether. I don’t know if this is the only thing that turned them away from Magic, but it certainly didn’t help.

The feelings my friends had about Pros Bloom were echoed by a number of discussions about Marvel this week. People stopped having fun playing the game because they felt helpless against Aetherworks Marvel, and that what they did didn’t much matter in the face of a turn-4 or -5 Ulamog. This sentiment especially seemed to be shared among casual players, and that is truly a shame when a new set comes out and a deck with virtually no new cards at all is dominant.

This may be okay in formats like Vintage, Legacy, or even Modern, but it’s not supposed to be what Standard is about.

So should Marvel be banned? I’d wait it out another few weeks and keep a close eye on a shift in the metagame, and hope to see if something new develops. My expectation is that we do find something that beats Temur Marvelworks consistently, but that it’s just too weak elsewhere to compete since it has to attack Aetherworks Marvel decks in a much different way than it can attack decks like Mardu Vehicles.

If nothing changes, I’d ban either Aetherworks Marvel or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger during the next banning window in a few weeks. Aetherworks Marvel is still a silly card with a Hearthstone “random effect” feel to it even without Ulamog around, but it’s not nearly as threatening, so it’s possible we can leave it in the format. Spinning into a Kozilek, the Great Distortion could still be on the table, but that strategy wouldn’t be nearly as good as it can’t interact with the battlefield. World Breaker is the next best option, and that isn’t breaking the rules too much, as it doesn’t hit creatures and dies to virtually all removal spells anyway.

The problem with keeping Aetherworks Marvel around and banning Ulamog is that Aetherworks Marvel is in Standard for a much longer period of time, and new sets may contain cards that are again too good to cheat into play on turn 4. For this reason, I’d target the artifact.

Calling for the banning of a card again feels like we keep putting a band-aid on a mortal wound, but I truly do believe if Felidar Guardian is banned, Aetherworks Marvel should be too, because it’s having the exact same influence on Standard that the Cat combo did. If we thought that was a necessary step, banning Aetherworks Marvel likely is too.

Is There Hope for Standard in the Future?

Yes. I have a lot of hope for Standard moving forward.

First of all, I started to notice a reduction in the power level of cards since the release of Aether Revolt, specifically mythic rares. Heart of Kiran is the one exception, but other than that, there are no overpowered planeswalkers or giant Eldrazi creatures that win the game when you cast it in either Aether Revolt or Amonkhet. Heart of Kiran is obviously a pushed Vehicle, but it’s easy enough to interact with. There are good cards in these sets sure, but nothing on the same level as Emrakul the Promised End, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

A reduction in power level in these last few sets will make a huge difference when we finally hit rotation, and I think Standard will be balanced again. Cards like Glorybringer had a lot of buzz early, but in the face of turbo-fast Ulamogs, midrange creatures like Glorybringer suffer.

Another reason I have high hopes for Standard is the introduction of Play Design by Wizards of the Coast. We now will have a department, full of talented Magic minds, who will have the job of finding flaws in cards and interactions. It may seem like this group existed already, but the people doing this were also responsible for a bunch of other tasks and were simply stretched too thin. Now there’s a department that will be solely responsible for making sure tournament Magic is healthy, and I believe they will be able to execute this task once they are all set up.

I know many of you will be annoyed that I think we should ban yet another card. And I don’t blame you. I feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and we have to decide the best of two bad outcomes. I’m hoping that some ideas come along that can combat Aetherworks Marvel while also having a chance at sticking around in the format, but at the same time I just want to rip the band-aid off and get it over with so that this kind of stuff is a thing of the past and we don’t have to think about it anymore.

Is Aetherworks Marvel too good for Standard? Let me know what you think.

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