To say this latest set of bannings came as a surprise would be putting it mildly. In fact, I’d be shocked if anyone honestly thought 3 cards would be banned in Standard at the same time ever again. This has massive ramifications throughout Magic.
There's a lot to cover, but let's start with: "What this means for..."
The Health of Standard
I only see this as a good thing for the health of the format. Emrakul was the poster child for lack of counterplay, and while Emmy was fun for a bit, it turns out that getting Mindslavered multiple times in the same match was not. To have the major endgame in the format be based around a single card was not healthy at all. It also spawned quite the discussion on the importance of hosers and counterplay, and where this format fell on that spectrum. The answer seems to be "nowhere good."
Smuggler's Copter could be summed up in the same way. The only reason it got the ax, though, was its ubiquity. Fatal Push might've solved the issue, assuming U/B/x Control was possible. But it would still see play in the vast majority of decks because it has the Jitte problem Matt Sperling mentioned. It’s one of the blemishes on CHK/Rav Standard, and really just any block with artifacts that are too powerful. They end up absolutely everywhere, and even when the answers are good, it may not be enough.
Copter may have been fine in theory, but in the real world it faced no real resistance due to the R&D decisions that got us here—pushing sorcery-speed threats and creatures while not pushing instant-speed or artifact removal until it was too late to matter. It doesn’t matter if Fatal Push would’ve helped keep the Copter decks in check, because it wouldn’t have stopped all of them from jamming quad-Copters in the first place.
Reflector Mage is a strange ban at first glance, since "too efficient" doesn’t get you nuked unless it draws cards or produces a very strong threat. Reflector Mage does neither, it just provides a large amount of tempo. This, plus the follow-up Tweet Sam Stoddard threw out, signals that this was a hedge against UWx decks dominating via the Spell Queller, Reflector Mage, and Gideon trifecta.
Overall, I like all these bans for the metagame. It shakes up the format, and removes two of the biggest obstacles to fun counterplay. This, plus the power level of Aether Revolt, is going to completely remake Standard in a way that, short of rotation, we haven’t seen in a long time. It also signals some other potential long-term changes.
The Health of Standard at the LGS level
This effectively confirms what we’ve been seeing anecdotally for months. Standard tournament attendance was falling, and falling at such a rate that the higher-ups decided it needed to be dealt with in a major way. There was no "ride it out until rotation" (more on that later) defense that was going to save us—there was a real chance that Standard would suffer the biggest long-term setback since Combo Winter.
Do I feel bad that people will be alienated and that people who dropped money on their decks had the rug pulled out from under them? Of course. That always sucks. I imagine brand and marketing feel similarly, since the big namesake card from one of their recent sets just got locked up in moon jail. Some percentage of players will likely throw up their hands and quit Standard for now. I’m sympathetic to this, and this is one of those times where you can see the advantages future TCG/CCGs will have over Magic—the ability to digitally alter your mistakes or provide refunds for them.
But this was almost assuredly done as a last resort. Reflector Mage being banned after Collected Company left wasn’t some masterstroke of ban timing—it was the reset button getting hit hard enough to avoid another set of bans. It also gives LGSs a chance to make up some of these short-term losses and, incidentally, should increase sales of Aether Revolt for those sticking with Standard.
People sometimes forget that the web of this game includes stores, and that somewhere along the line they do in fact need to make a profit. Some may want to abandon Standard, but if they have nowhere to play their Modern/Legacy decks, they may be singing a different tune. Nobody wins when Standard is falling off a cliff, because it encourages Wizards of the Coast to make bold decisions that may have long-term consequences for everyone involved.
In this case, I hope it rights the ship sooner rather than later, because let me tell you that having people try Modern as their intro to Constructed Magic is about as jarring as waking up in the morning and slamming into a brick wall when you open the bathroom door. You think it’s a feel-bad when someone comes to a free Standard event and loses every match? At least they got to play some games. In Modern, dying on turn 3 or 4 and having your opponent explain what half their cards do is the best-case scenario. Worst-case is they get the Lantern Control player who ensures that this person is never coming back to the store again after a 30-minute snore-fest.
There needs to be a cheap way to get into Constructed Magic, without mounds of previous research, and Standard is the only game in town for that. Standard Showdown was a further push in that direction, while providing a baseline event by which to judge attendance. They want Standard to be cheaper and more diverse because that pulls people in.
Assuming the Saheeli Rai/Felidar Guardian deck doesn't stomp all of us into the ground, then the diversity quota is almost assuredly filled. Looking at the current cost of Standard and how GB Delirium just took a nose dive in price, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say post-Aether Revolt Standard will be one of the cheapest on record.
The new rotation policy was killed off before we truly saw what effect it may have had, and at the same time lead to these bans. It has become much clearer that the "riding it out until rotation" defense isn’t going to fly anymore.
The Future of Standard Bans
From the latest B&R announcement:
"Banned and Restricted announcements will now be made both on the Monday after Standard-legal set pre-releases and 5 weeks after a Pro Tour, also on a Monday."
If Standard is going to be a 12-months-a-year, full-time, can’t-stop-won’t-stop format, then bannings are going to be more aggressive. There’s no way that this added ban phase won’t be used to carefully monitor the Pro Tour and fallout, and just end any deck that happens to be too good. We’re not going to see Collected Company dominate for months on end because this is here. We should never see Eldrazi roll out of a Pro Tour and completely dominate and warp the metagame until the inevitable ban comes down from on high.
“We do not expect this to lead to an increase in the number of cards banned or restricted (or unbanned or unrestricted), but the greater flexibility will allow us to address play issues more quickly.”
I would’ve believed this directly after the Modern Eldrazi wave or even during Collected Company Standard. Coming on the heels of a Standard banfest indicates a philosophical change. I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see a more aggressive DCI in the future with the express interest of keeping any format from reaching an (X) month stagnation period. If this is the case, normalizing the bans would lessen backlash considerably, and we could almost be assured that formats will never hit the failure state many people have felt Standard reached a year ago now.
The Modern Bans
This is much easier to parse than the Standard bans. Dredge displays the worst features of Magic, allowing for a game that barely resembles the one played anywhere else. It finally hit the critical mass of cards to become a competitive powerhouse again, and a ban on the best enabler was called for.
Gitaxian Probe encapsulates all the problems of trying to maintain Modern as a format. On one hand it’s a super powerful format with a limited set of answers, and an insane number of linear decks all dedicated to killing you quickly. On the other it’s also incredibly popular, surpassing Standard attendance in a number of areas and a safe outlet for many kinds of Magic that R&D has deemed too unseemly for Standard. As a result, you end up with a large subsection who love Modern as a broken mess. Meanwhile, the other largest subset love their one particular deck/style of deck they can play in this format and hate everything else for being powerful enough to compete with it. Then there are the pros who mostly play the format grudgingly and are very vocal about it, which leads to a few recurring lines in the sand.
How in the world do you even begin to fairly ban or unban for this format? Gitaxian Probe is the softest touch we’ve seen them use in a while. They banned a card that wasn’t the mainstay for any one particular deck (R.I.P. Storm), yet toned down a number of decks like Infect and Suicide Zoo. This was unexpected, as Become Immense seemed like the next easy-mode ban, or Mox Opal if they were worried about Affinity and Lantern Control. Probe's ban reinforces the consensus that Phyrexian mana inevitably leads to more problems than it’s worth.
There’s plenty more to go into regarding this news. If there’s something you want to see me cover, let me know in the comments!