“Announcement Date: March 11, 2019
No changes to any formats.
Next B&R Announcement: May 20, 2019”
The cards most in the spotlight, Modern’s Faithless Looting and Ancient Stirrings as well as Standard’s Nexus of Fate, survive to live at least another 70 days. Dreams of sugarplums (Stoneforge Mystic or Splinter Twin in Modern, Rampaging Ferocidon in Standard) must continue to dance only in our minds, at least for now.
The Headline: No Current Crisis
It’s fair to say that banning a card is part of crisis management, a step you take when forced, not something you do speculatively when things are going well. Do the last few changes fit that model?
Possibly not if you think KCI and Nexus in best-of-1 were fine, but even if those were a little aggressive, no need to double down now when things are even healthier.
Let’s quickly go format by format and see where we’re at.
The Pro Tour featured multiple archetypes and none emerged completely dominant or even a clear-best. Nexus of Fate has its play pattern and card availability issues, and I continue to believe that the latter is reason enough to ban it in Standard. But, since they disagree, the deck is mostly just another solid choice, and the PT lists that did well didn’t always kill with Teferi—so in some ways, the play pattern issue has improved.
Rampaging Ferocidon could be unbanned, but the logic of “Mono-Red is tier 1 already, why rock the boat?” is pretty sound. The question of when to UNban something doesn’t have an obvious answer, to me at least. If it was banned in part because of play patterns, it’s probably not worth resurrecting. But if it was a speculative power-level ban like Ferocidon, shouldn’t they be more eager to reinstate?
It depends. In the case of specifically Ferocidon, there are some things about the card that they don’t like at a philosophical level—namely that it is very strong proactively in a main deck while providing free equity against counterplay in the form of going wide or gaining life.
The nail in the coffin right now, in my view, is Ferocidon’s potential to disrupt what they’re trying to do for best-of-1 play. We might have to maindeck real (read: non-Absorb) life gain at some point if red is hyper popular in best-of-1. If Ferocidon is part of the mix, this gets dicey. They could bring it back in only best-of-3, but that starts to feel a lot less elegant.
Surgical Extractions are seeing maindeck play. Is that evidence enough that Faithless Looting, the turbocharged version of the already-playable Careful Study, is too strong for the format? I think so, but Wizards disagrees. What I see is a card that provides consistency, speed, and a little resilience (flashing back if the opponent deals with the initial wave of whatever you did) for multiple decks that are difficult to interact with as a result.
Although my meter tips slightly in favor of “ban,” I can’t claim this is a no-brainer or some obvious oversight. I suspect that neither Faithless Looting or Ancient Stirrings decks win at a rate that makes you go “wow, something is way off” when you look at the data. I understand that some players wish Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster were better in the format. But someone is always left wishing something, I promise you that. And Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster are obviously still around and tier 1, so what’s the real beef here? That you have to be creative with your interaction and maindeck a Surgical?
Wizards does have some important information about Modern that we don’t have: the card file for Modern Horizons. If they curated that set based on the current environment, it’s possible that they are especially uninterested in rocking the boat. There may be tools like Containment Priest on the way, making it a little less necessary to ban looting and thereby weaken Phoenix and Dredge.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is still valuable advice, and despite the many cries about the “linear scourge” of proactive strategies, things don’t look all that broke to me.