This week marked the sixth Banned and Restricted announcement in the past year, and that's not even including the significant change to how companions work. That's an average of one Banned and Restricted announcement every other month, even though the time between November and June seemed a lot shorter than it was; maybe because of Covid.
With the addition of three more cards this week, we've seen an alarming 14 cards banned in Standard in the past year... and this is just for Standard. When we include the cards for Historic, Brawl, Pioneer, and Modern, the list gets significantly longer.
On Sunday, I found myself watching some rounds of the Grand Finals, and boy, what a mess. To clarify, I think the event was run fine, but watching the individual matches felt like Magic was a preconstructed deck you could buy at the store, and that was the only way to play Magic. Omnath vs. Omnath Semifinals. Omnath vs. Omnath Finals. Round after round. People with access to 12 plus cards in their "hand" area from drawing cards, Escape to the Wilds cards, and Adventures. Everyone trying to out haymaker one another. Play Omnath, play Escape, play two lands, get 8 mana, play Fertile Footsteps to find two lands, play a 16/16 Beanstalk Giant.
I'll be honest: matches like this don't even really feel like Magic. They feel more like Yu-Gi-Oh. I've never personally played Yu-Gi-Oh, but I've edited a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh content when I was the editor over at TCGplayer, and everything feels much more swingy and extreme. It doesn't feel like there's really any nuance anymore. Individual plays don't amount to as much when every play pushes you five moves ahead, only being pushed four moves ahead simply doesn't matter as much. Missing a way to get one extra land into play "only" leaves you with an 11/11 and not a 12/12. I would even go so far as to say the games are cluttered and overwhelming.
I've often expressed that the reason I don't love Commander as a format, is because my individual decisions don't matter as much. If there are five players and 22 creatures on the board, where I point my Swords to Plowshares simply doesn't feel very impactful. On the Freshly Brewed podcast this week, I mention this and how Standard is starting to feel this way. When you take 17 individual actions on each of your turns, does any single one really end up being that impactful? In truth I know that the decisions we make in Constructed matches of Magic do matter, but they're starting to feel a lot less like they do.
On Sunday night, I made the following Tweet.
Wild take: Escape to the Wilds, Omnath, and Lucky Clover will be banned.— Frank Lepore (@FrankLepore) October 11, 2020
After watching those several rounds of the Grand Finals, these were my predictions, and I had reasons for all of them. Imagine my surprise the next morning when those exact three cards were banned.
I would suggest that we talk about them, but I feel like I've already talked about Omnath ad nauseam, and it's only been a card for about three weeks.
Escape to the Wilds (which I keep wanting to call Escape from the Wilds) is a card we should talk about. This is the one that seemed to be the most perplexing for people, and maybe that's understandable. I think to understand Escape to the Wilds you have to compare it with other available cards first.
These are the bars for drawing cards, and they have been for years. Even currently, our five mana cards don't do much more than this. Unexplained Visions and Skyclave Plunder are both five mana sorceries that draw us three cards in Standard. Spoils of Adventure costs six mana and it still only draws you three cards. The point here is that three cards is the standard for five mana. Escape to the Wilds gives you five.
Sure, you can argue that you may not be able to cast all five of them, or that you don't get to keep them, but for the decks that are playing Escape to the Wilds, it doesn't matter. If you recall, before the Adventure decks, Fires of Invention decks were also playing Escape to the Wilds. When two decks that have had multiple components banned are playing the same card drawing engine, the card drawing engine is a problem.
On average you're going to hit two lands and three spells with an Escape. One of those lands you're going to play immediately, leaving you with six lands if you played Escape exactly on five lands. On your next turn, you can play the second land from Escape, leaving you with seven, and you can almost certainly play two of the three remaining cards. You can also choose the best or most useful card or cards and only play those. You are also untapping with seven mana, so if one of the cards happened to be an Ultimatum, you're just golden.
Back in the day, this was what you would get for a five-mana spell. And it was pretty decent. Denying your opponent a mana while ramping your own was great for tempo. Now, instead of destroying one land, we get to....
- checks notes-
...ah yes. "Draw five cards." A completely reasonable upgrade!
Now I'm not saying cards should never advance past Frenzied Tilling, because they should. But I'm trying to illustrate why Escape to the Wilds isn't just an average card draw spell. It's not. It's very good for its rate and I've even included it in my Cube, because having access, not even drawing, but just having access to five cards is a big deal. Keep in mind that many times when you draw three or more cards in the late game, a lot of them are blanks, or excess lands. A lot of times it doesn't matter if you hit a Mana Leak on turn eight. In the case of Escape, you're just playing or paying attention to the cards that do matter, and that's a big deal.
If Escape was still legal, you'd still be seeing ramp decks that wanted to cast a turn three Cultivate or Fertile Footsteps, into a turn four Escape to the Wilds, into a turn five Ultimatum (or whatever worse seven-mana card gets printed). And having your ramp spell give you access to five additional cards is a great way to make sure you hit a payoff.
The last thing I'll say is something I've said before. One of the challenges of building ramp decks is that you have to balance your ramp cards and your pay off cards. You don't want to have opening hands full of ramp, then never draw an Ugin or an Ulamog. You also don't want those huge, late game threats clogging up your hands. This provided an interesting tension when it came to deck-building and has traditionally kept ramp decks in check, while they still remained powerful options in the metagame. Unfortunately, with the printing of cards like Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Escape to the Wilds, it seems like Wizards wants us to both ramp and have a way to easily access our deck's threats.
I don't think this is the correct approach to a format that had almost universally worked throughout Magic's history, and the fact that both Uro and Escape - two cards that deviated from the typical ramp strategy - have been banned tells me I'm not too far off.
But what do you guys think? How are you feeling about the state of Magic, Standard, or the current announcement? I hope I've given you something to think about in terms of Escape to the Wilds, and maybe made it a little clearer as to why it wasn't a healthy or fair Magic card. But be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Thank you all so much for reading, I love you guys, stay safe, and I'll catch you next week! (Ideally, there won't be another banning then...)