I try hard to be even-keeled when it comes to balanced and fair takes on Magic formats, especially when it comes to Banned and Restricted announcements. I also try to keep it real, in the sense that I don’t bend or bow to hive-think, and form my own opinions based on observing data and playing games. I’ve played Magic for a long time and I trust my stuff when it comes to breaking down a format. I’m also an above-average listener. I don’t just form opinions in an ivory tower, stick my fingers in my ears, and shout ‘I’m not listening!’
When other’s ideas don’t sync up with my own, I’m always trying to figure out why and get to a deeper kernel of truth. One thing I’ve learned, and truly believe, is there is rarely only one correct answer to a complicated problem. There are many possible answers and the outcomes are always difficult to accurately predict. It’s not just an outlook on Magic, but also tends to be true of any complex problem in the world at large.
I’ve seen enough evidence now that I believe the DCI should drop the banhammer in Pauper on Monday. Today’s article will explain exactly why I believe this is the case and which card(s) most need to go bye-bye.
Jeskai is a problem. It’s hammer time!
A Lot Can Change in a Few Weeks
A few weeks ago, I wrote about potential B&R moves the DCI could make and my conclusion was that I’d like to wait and see.
In the three weeks since I penned that article, I’ve seen enough to believe we’ve run out of outs and it’s time for the DCI to do the right thing, step in, and fix the mess. It’s been well over a month where Jeskai Snow has been the best deck. In that time, the deck has continued to run away and assert its dominance over the format.
The fact that B&R discussion was so heavy three weeks out (when I wrote the last B&R article) is telling. Jeskai was a big problem then and has become an even bigger problem since.
Second of all, a big part of my ‘wait and see’ stance was predicated on a realistic assumption that Thrones of Eldraine would include some new tools for other decks to combat Jeskai with. I was baffled the opposite was true:
Far and away the most impactful Pauper staple in the set is a roided-out Island. What!? Not only does the card not help combat the premier strategy (blue Flicker-loop decks), it makes them much stronger. If you thought Jeskai was an uphill battle, just wait until they soft lock you with Deprive and Sanctuary.
In the three weeks since I wrote about potential bans, the archetype has grown from 14% of the Winner’s Metagame to 18%. Keep in mind MTGTOP8 takes 2-month samples, and so in order to grow by 4% in three weeks likely means it’s closer to 22-25% at the present time.
The two criteria I laid out in my previous B&R article were:
- I wanted to see the complete spoiler for Thrones to see if help was on the way. It isn’t, in fact, the opposite is true. The rich get richer.
- I wanted to see if the Winner’s Meta numbers would plateau. Nope, it’s grown at an alarming rate.
It only took three weeks to completely extinguish my hope there was another way.
So What to Ban?
I’m firm that a ban is needed. I also think this is a pretty common sentiment among Pauper fans. I’ve been in the let it ride camp all season and I’m ready to cede the format would be better with DCI intervention. I wasn’t opposed to a ban before, but I’m to a point where I believe without a ban there is no reason to assume Jeskai’s takeover of the format won’t continue to worsen.
I can’t find a single, viable piece of evidence to the contrary. So, what to ban?
Most people seem to agree on Ephemerate.
I think Ephemerate is an easy-peasy choice to ban. I also think it is the single most likely card to be banned. I have a lot of faith that the observable data and overwhelming player feedback signal Ephemerate should go.
Personally, I don’t think Ephemerate is actually the problem, but I wouldn’t be opposed to its ban.
The card I believe most needs to be banned is Arcum’s Astrolabe.
I did a Twitter poll asking “what is the best non-blue, non-artifact, non-land card in Pauper.”
More than 75% of the responses were cards currently played in Jeskai Snow. The three top vote-getters in order:
Personally, I believe Astrolabe is the card that most needs to go, because it most fundamentally breaks the rules of the format. Specifically, it breaks the rules about how mana works. If we look at the current banned list, almost every card is on there because it breaks mana.
Inversely, I believe if I would have asked “What is the best card in Pauper?” I believe it would have been 75% blue cards and Astrolabe.
The point I’m trying to illustrate is how much better blue is than the rest of the colors. The hypothesis I’m putting forward is the reason Jeskai is so dominant compared to the next best strategies is directly related to the fact it can splash all of the best cards (all effects blue doesn’t have access to) for free.
Actually, the cost is less than free.
The free fixing combines for an upside, cantrip combo with other cards. VALUE!
Arcum’s Astrolabe is also the most-played spell in Pauper. It appears in 40% of decks (entire metagame), most of which are blue-based.
I wanted to see a bunch of sweet midrange color combinations: Jund, Abzan, and Mardu. Not the case. To be fair, what would be the point of playing a bunch of colors and not playing the best one? Also, the card draw and filtering in blue helps smooth out draws to makes sure it finds all the colors and so is the best color.
Blue decks with Astrolabe get to play the strongest cards in each color AND sidestep the rule that duals ETB tapped. In a sense, 3 and 4-color blue decks have better and smoother mana than two-color decks that don’t use Astrolabe. In a sense, it facilitates a dynamic where a deck like Jeskai has better mana, smoother mana, and way higher card quality than any other potential option.
I also think that while Ephemerate can’t be replaced evenly, it can be replaced functionally with Ghostly Flicker. 4-Color Blue could just play Ghostly Flicker, which also combos with Astrolabe and Mystic Sanctuary.
I’m a firm believer that if Ephemerate is the only card to be banned, it’s a speed bump rather than a solution to the problem. Astrolabe is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It looks like a “fair” card in the sense that anybody can use it to do whatever they want, but in practice blue “good stuff” decks use it so much better than the next best option.
Jeskai functions on the premise that all its cards are pound for pound better than an opponent’s because it can draw the best spells from every color. Astrolabe is the most irreplaceable piece, which is why it is my #1 choice to be banned.
I’m hoping to see a ban on both Ephemerate and Arcum’s Astrolabe. I would be absolutely shocked to see no changes.