Wow, what a week!
Just this week we've had:
- A huge banned and restricted announcement
- The announcement of a brand-new format on MTG Arena, "Timeless"
- A MTG Arena small Alchemy set release
- The first big preview of Murders at Karlov Manor
And that's not counting other fun community happenings like the announcement of year five of Cube4Charity (#shamelessplug)!
It's honestly almost too much to cover, but perhaps the biggest and most far-reaching news item of the week is the changes to the Modern and Pioneer ban lists. Modern of course is still one of the biggest, and in recent times most divisive, formats in Magic, and Pioneer is one of the most played tournament formats and has a huge event coming up in a few weeks in the US Regional Championship at Dreamhack Atlanta.
As such, that's where we're going today!
With Rakdos Scam having a very large metagame share from Pro Tour Lord of the Rings until now, it was clear that some sort of action would likely be needed, as well as the overarching raw power level of the supplemental cards from the Modern Horizons and The Lord of the Rings sets. While I think that folks are starting to realize that this extreme power push from supplemental sets is just the new norm for the Modern format, there is always going to be a breaking point, and according to Wizards of the Coast that point has been hit.
Ah yes, Fury.
Perhaps one of the less-hyped pitch elementals initially, Fury has become one of the most hated. When played fairly, Fury is a way to wipe multiple small creatures off the board for free and often at card parity because you are trading two for two. The fact that Fury is also a very reasonable and castable creature as well makes the card extremely pushed on rate and a nightmare for any creature deck.
If this was all Fury did, it would just be another in a long line of obnoxiously powerful supplemental cards that is so pushed on rate it puts a stranglehold on what you can do in the format, namely in the form of playing small creatures, but of course there's more.
When "scammed" out with Not Dead After All or the other cards that take advantage of the fact that Fury is a creature and not a spell like Pyrokinesis, the possibility of a turn one 4/4 double strike, that may have killed your opponent's first creature while you are on the draw, is very real and kills very quickly. This is the heart of what has made Rakdos Scam one of the best decks in the format, giving the powerful midrange deck full of excellent rate cards a nut draw.
While it's a bit surprising to see Fury gone rather than the more generically powerful against everything Grief, the reasoning from Wizards of the Coast was that they wanted to let up on small creatures a bit. Which sounds great, until you realize that Orcish Bowmasters and Wrenn and Six are still legal, as well as Solitude and a million other extremely efficient removal options.
With Solitude and Fury, two of the most powerful elemental pitch spells, as well as the two that impact the board the most, both having mana values of five (even when cast for free), Up The Beanstalk becomes an engine to first gain you back the cards you lose in making your pitch plays, and then eventually start going positive once you have more than one in play. Add this to the fact that most midrange decks in Modern are playing a fetchland-triome mana base as well as Leyline Binding, another great card with Up The Beanstalk, and you've got a pretty wild engine.
It got to the point where some decks were actually using the cascade engine of no spells that cost less than three except for Up The Beanstalk, with the plan of using Shardless Agent and other cascaders to get as many Up The Beanstalk in play as possible. When decks are doing this over Crashing Footfalls or Living End, you've probably got an issue on your hand. Even forgotten pitch spells like Coldsnap's Commandeer were seeing play thanks to this engine.
In a lot of ways, it feels like Up The Beanstalk died for the sins of the other issues of Modern, free spells and ridiculous triome mana bases, but you can't ban all those cards, so Up The Beanstalk goes instead.
As far as the current "Modern Watch List," Grief is certainly a card to keep an eye on, as it is not only powerful but also creates extremely frustrating play patterns. Wizards of the Coast has made it clear that "fun" is a metric that the ban list will abide by, so that certainly has Grief on watch.
Otherwise, The Lord of the Rings cards Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring also remain two of the most powerful cards in the format, with Orcish Bowmasters punishing small creatures and card drawers alike, and The One Ring providing a wild endgame for any deck that wants it. Again, there is an element of "this is the new normal" here, but we shall see.
The Pioneer bans (and unban which we will get to) encompass two entirely different things.
The first is the somewhat obvious and expected one.
There's no way that bringing back cascade was on many people's BINGO card for 2023 Magic: The Gathering, but here we are with discover. Like cascade, discover is meant to be a fun, random card advantage and tempo mechanic. Also like cascade, discover is easily broken by contorting your deck around the deck-building requirement which turns it into a tutor/combo effect.
In Modern we see this broken with the no mana cost spells like Crashing Footfalls and Living End, but in Pioneer the combo was a bit more convoluted with Eldritch Evolution, putting a bunch of discover creatures in play and topping off with a Doomskar Titan for a haste kill as early as turn three.
While the deck was by no means unbeatable, as something as simple as a Shock could break it up, aside from the usual discard or counterspells, requiring the proper counterplay as early as turn two if you are on the draw is a huge barrier to entry for the format, making deck-building as well as gameplay more of a "you either have it or you don't" equation. The goldfish is simply too fast for Pioneer, making this ban make a lot of sense, and they even left Quintorius Kand if people want to go the discover-combo route.
While Geological Appraiser is obviously new, the other ban is anything but.
Mono-Green Devotion has been one of the best decks in Pioneer for what feels like forever. The deck obviously has a very powerful but linear ramp engine, but what puts it over the top as a deck is the utility that Karn, the Great Creator provided as both a threat as well as a toolbox of answers. Normally a Mono-Green Ramp deck wouldn't have the ability to surgically outmaneuver most decks, but Karn allowed for that as well as just being a threat to win the game with. Add the ability for a convoluted infinite combo and Karn makes sense as the ban for Mono-Green Devotion.
Mono-Green Devotion will still exist and be a powerful deck; the ramp engine alongside Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is still very explosive, but now it will be a bit more linear and less versatile.
However, perhaps even more interesting than the bans in Pioneer is the unban.
For the folks who maybe haven't played with Smuggler's Copter before, let's break it down this way. In a lot of ways, you can view Smuggler's Copter as sort of the colorless Fable of Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, in that it is the ultimate "grease the wheels" kind of card.
It's cheap, efficient, and a good attacker. It's an artifact for things that care about that. It loots to both get you deeper into your deck, get rid of cards not good in a certain matchups, and also most importantly fills your graveyard. It plays great with small creatures, also giving you reach in the air as well as a clock. And it does all this in any deck that wants it for only two mana.
Smuggler's Copter was banned in Standard, and eventually in Pioneer, because it defined ubiquity; it was simply the most played card in the format, showing up in huge variety of different decks and warping the entire format around it. Powerful colorless cards have this issue because the deck-building requirement is almost nil.
And now it's back!
Make no mistake, Pioneer is a more powerful format now than it was when Smuggler's Copter was initially banned, however there's a real chance that things end up like this:
"d00m how's your RC testing going?"— d00mwake (@d00mwake) December 7, 2023
The RC testing: pic.twitter.com/j1m5MkD9Zs
The US Regional Championship next weekend is Pioneer and will be the big litmus test for Smuggler's Copter in Pioneer going forward, and it would not be surprising to see a very large number of them in Top 8.
Hope you still have your copies from when they were legal in Standard!
These are big changes to two of the biggest formats in Magic: The Gathering.
As Modern continues to move along into it's New World Order of quasai-rotations and ultra powerful supplemental sets, it's going to be interesting to see where Wizards of the Coast sets the power-level goalposts at. Are these bans just the beginning, or is this just what Modern is now?
As for Pioneer, having a major event two weeks after a big ban announcement is the dream, as not only will it provide a ton of great info on the format, but it's also a super exciting event as there are a ton of unknowns going in. For both players and spectators, this is a going to be a great one.
Format curation is obviously a very important thing, and both of these changes to Modern and Pioneer both feel very good to me. We'll see how it shapes up!