Today, Ian Duke announced that Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman are now banned in Legacy. His reasoning for those changes seems solid to me, so I’m not going to dwell on that and will instead focus on what the consequences of those bans will be and what they will mean for the format. Legacy is a complex format, and removing two pieces as big as Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe is going to have a butterfly effect that will be hard to predict, since it’s not clear how people will react, but here is my gut instinct for what gets better or worse with the bans:
Legacy Reanimator decks usually come in two forms, black-red and blue-black.
Here’s a B/R deck from a player who’s won a lot with it on Magic Online: Euladon
BR Reanimator is as glass cannon of a deck as they come—it’s trying to dodge most interaction and to win the game before the opponent can even untap with a Deathrite Shaman, which it is able to do much of the time. If the opponent does untap with a Deathrite Shaman, then you have two options: either you manage to reanimate two creatures in the same turn, or you cast an Exhume with two creatures in the graveyard (since it doesn’t target, you return whichever one they don’t exile). If Deathrite Shaman stays in play for multiple turns, it’s almost impossible to win.
All in all, I don’t think Deathrite Shaman beat this deck—Force of Will and sideboard cards did. If they had Deathrite Shaman but nothing else, you often won anyway. The issue was that Deathrite Shaman closed the door on you. If they managed to Daze or Force of Will your first attempt at a reanimation spell, then Deathrite Shaman meant you would never win. Without Deathrite Shaman in the picture, then they can Force of Will your first reanimation or looting spell and you just play another one two turns later. It turns “I have to untap with Deathrite Shaman before they combo me” to “I have to win the game before they combo me” and that’s a much more difficult proposition.
The Deathrite ban should also change the sideboarding strategy for this deck. You no longer want to bring Grim Lavamancer against the blue decks, for example, and you might not want them in your sideboard at all.
The reanimator deck that basically disappeared because of Deathrite Shaman is blue-black. That deck is a lot more consistent and resilient than BR reanimator, since it runs Brainstorms, its own counterspells, and a way to beat hate via Show and Tell, but it’s also slower, which meant it couldn’t reliably combo before Deathrite Shaman untapped.
Here’s a sample list by Lampions:
Since it’s a slower build, you can also afford to play cards like Collective Brutality, which double as disruption-plus-discard-outlet (though now you don’t have to kill Deathrite Shaman anymore anyway).
There is one caveat that will make these decks worse. Now that people do not have access to maindeck hate, they will have to add sideboard hate. What before was 1-2 cards might have to become 3-4 dedicated cards, which for the black-red deck will actually be harder to beat than Deathrite Shaman.
Loser: Grixis Delver
Well, duh. Grixis Delver loses in two big ways, since it played both of the banned cards. Gitaxian Probe was important for that deck, leading to lower land counts, spells for Young Pyromancer, graveyard fodder for Gurmag Angler, and spell count for Delver of Secrets. Without Deathrite and Probe, the deck probably has to play at least 2-3 more lands, which it definitely didn’t want to.
I don’t think the Grixis Delver deck can survive, at least not in its current form. There’s less incentive to be red (Without Gitaxian Probe for Pyromancer) and more cost to be red (since you lose free fixing). There’s also less incentive to be black, since you don’t get Deathrite and Angler becomes worse. I think we’re still going to see Delver decks, but they will likely be just two colors.
Loser: 4-Color Czech Pile
Czech Pile didn’t play Probe, and was actually somewhat weak to Deathrite Shaman itself, since it played Kolaghan’s Command and Snapcaster Mage, but it really needed Deathrite Shaman to fix its mana. Four colors is not trivial, and the deck had a lot of color requirements and also used the lifegain relatively well. I do not think it’s dead like Grixis Delver, but it might have to become three colors instead of four, or it’ll have to find another way to fix its mana. In all likelihood, those decks will now be Grixis, as without Deathrite Shaman there’s even less incentive to be Green.
Winner: Wasteland and Rishadan Port
Mana denial was often a futile endeavor when everyone had a Birds of Paradise in their decks. Now they no longer do. Even if people play more lands anyway to make up for it, you still get the tempo aspect. Whenever someone went turn-1 Deathrite Shaman, you just couldn’t Wasteland them because they’d be so far ahead. Without Deathrite Shaman, all those decks get better.
Right now, the most popular Wasteland/Rishadan Port deck is Death and Taxes, which is a White Weenie deck with a heavy mana denial component.
Here’s a 5-0 MTGO list:
Death & Taxes
Loser: Wasteland Decks that Played Deathrite Shaman
This is Grixis Delver, but it’s also decks like B/U/G True-Name and basically anything that played both Deathrite Shaman and Wasteland. The idea is that, for those decks, you could Wasteland them and still develop your own game plan because you had a Birds of Paradise, and now you cannot do that anymore, which means you have to decide if you’re stifling your own game plan to stop theirs. So, I think Wasteland is better in decks that didn’t play Deathrite Shaman before, but worse in decks that did.
Winner: Fragile Combo Decks that Don’t Use the Graveyard
Those glass-cannon combo decks are usually bad against disruption, and the best disruption deck just had eight of its cards banned. Even though those cards might not influence this matchup specifically (Deathrite isn’t good versus Belcher, for example), the fact that fewer people will play Grixis Delver should make this type of combo a better metagame choice. Here’s a sample Belcher list by Dawayne from Magic Online:
It’s hard to say if Storm actually benefited from this change or not. Here’s a sample list from Yamaro:
Storm gets a huge benefit from Deathrite Shaman being banned. It wasn’t game over like it was against Reanimator, but it was very annoying. It was good against Past in Flames, Cabal Ritual, and sometimes Rite of Flames depending on which version you played. It also let the opponent develop their own game plan while also keeping mana up for disruption. For example, if someone went turn-1 Deathrite Shaman, they could play a turn-2 Young Pyromancer and still keep Flusterstorm or Spell Pierce up, and now they have to choose one or the other, which likely means their Young Pyromancer (or whatever 2-drop they play) isn’t hitting play until turn 3.
At the same time, all storm decks play Gitaxian Probe – it’s excellent with Cabal Therapy, it digs you a little bit, it works when you need to draw multiple Ponder cards in a turn, and it’s a free spell for Storm that works with Past in Flames. Without Gitaxian Probe, it becomes harder to naturally 20 them with Tendrils if you aren’t doing Past in Flames shenanigans, for example.
I think that, overall, things are still better for you against Deathrite Shaman decks, but worse against anyone who didn’t have that card to begin with, which probably makes it even. Storm decks will have to adapt, and might have to max on Duress instead of Cabal Therapy main, for example. Past that, they will probably just add 1-2 lands and extra cantrips (like the third and fourth Preordains), which will make it a bit slower, but it’ll definitely survive.
It might seem weird to peg Lands as a loser, since it’s a deck that had a bad matchup versus Gitaxian Probe, uses the graveyard, has Wasteland, and didn’t play Deathrite Shaman. At first glance, it looks like things just got a lot better for it. But I don’t think they did.
Lands preyed on the Delver/4-color decks, and those decks will be much less popular now. At the same time, Lands usually had a bad matchup versus the decks Delver preyed on. If those decks (e.g. Belcher) are unleashed, it’s bad news for Lands.
On top of that, Lands did care about Deathrite Shaman, but it will care even more about the cards that people will put in their sideboard to make up for the fact that they have no Deathrite Shaman anymore. When I think of graveyard hate that I’ll have to play more of now, the card that comes to mind is Surgical Extraction, which happens to be excellent against Lands.
Because of this, I think Lands is actually in a worse spot than it was before, though it is by no means a bad deck.
Winner: Grindy Graveyard Strategies
In our recent podcast, Sam Black complained that Deathrite Shaman didn’t let him play the deck he liked—Zombies Bombardment. Now he can! Decks like this relied on the graveyard to constantly present threats, and really weren’t good when everyone could shut it down on turn 1 for free. Here’s a sample Zombies Bombardment list from Renerandrup:
It’s worth noting that this deck was playing Deathrite Shaman as well, but it’d gladly trade its own Deathrites for everyone else’s. They should be easy to replace here, and a world without them will be good news for decks like this.
So, overall, we should expect the format to shake up a fair bit. Delver decks are hit the most, so every deck that was bad versus Delver is a winner, unless it relied on Deathrite Shaman itself (which few did). Players will need to play more lands to adapt to the ban, and they will also have to play more graveyard hate cards than they did before. I expect a high number of Surgical Extraction, Leyline of the Void, Containment Priest, and so on in the future. Games should become a lot easier in game 1s for graveyard decks, but could potentially get harder post-board depending on how people react.