Down Falls the Ban Hammer. Yet Again.

Historic Standard 
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 01 Jun 2020

The mighty ban-hammer strikes another batch of victims. And this time, not on just specific cards, but an entire mechanic! In a historic first-move, Wizards has changed up how an ability functions. You could say the ban-hammer reforged it rather than smashed it to bits. They've also completely nixed an entire deck type in Standard/Historic. These changes are sure to bring major shakeups to their respective formats.

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When everything looks like a nail

So what are my thoughts? Let's explore.

On June 1st, 2020, Wizards released the following Banned and Restricted Announcement, impacting both the Standard and Historic format.

Standard:

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So long and thanks for all the fish.

Agent of Treacheryimage is Banned as of June 1st for Tabletop and MTGO, June 4th on Arena

Fires of Inventionimage is Banned as of June 1st for Tabletop and MTGO, June 4th on Arena

Players will receive gold wildcards associated with the numbers of both Agent of Treacheryimage and Fires of Inventionimage already in their collections. 

There are few things more demoralizing in a game of Magic than having your permanents stolen. Gaining control of opposing permanents is not only an inherent two-for-one, but ranks very highly on the list of feel-bad plays. It's right up there with land destruction, but somehow feels more personal.

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This card still makes older players uneasy.

Agent of Treachery, at seven mana, is appropriately priced for its ability. It's that powerful. However, having such an enter-the-battlefield effect in the format limits what other cards you can print. Let's face it, no one looks to play Agent of Treacheryimage fairly. Everyone schemes to cheat it into play. Up until now, elements were there, but reasonable. Fires of Inventionimage still required you to hit seven lands. Blink effects like Yorion, Sky Nomadimage and Thassa, Deep-Dwellingimage often made the resolution of a single Agent of Treacheryimage game-breaking, but an elaborate and predictable setup was still necessary to put all the pieces together.

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Enter these two

Then Ikoria arrived, and with it, two new and very powerful ways to cheat Agent of Treacheryimage into play: Winota, Joiner of Forcesimage and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcastimage. As a Boros player at heart, I appreciate Wizards trying to give us some love, but the creature-type 'restriction' on Winota, Joiner of Forcesimage really didn't take much work to exploit. When it comes to Lukka, Coppercoat Outcastimage, it's a similar story. Let's just say no one was playing the planeswalker for two of its three loyalty abilities.  

As for Fires of Inventionimage, an entire namesake deck was devoted to the card, which enabled free casting of spells, regardless of color. You just had to posses an appropriate number of lands and cast everything at sorcery speed. Like the upcoming changes to the Companion mechanic, the 'getting around the rules' aspect of the card made it easy to take advantage of. It only took enough powerful supporting cards to really put it over the edge. Increasing win percentages and, let's face it, corresponding design limitatations a card like Fires of Inventionimage puts on Wizards, ultimately forced the ban.  

I wouldn't be at all surprised if, upon preview season for Core Set 2021, we see one or more new cards that would've made a mess of things if Fires of Inventionimage remained in Standard. I wonder how much of this banning was preemptive?  

Historic:

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Here we go, again.

Agent of Treacheryimage is Suspended as of June 4th on Arena

Fires of Inventionimage is Suspended as June 4th on Arena

When it comes to Historic, both Agent of Treacheryimage and Fires of Inventionimage are Suspended, which is essentially a more easily-reversible form of Banned. For all intents and purposes, these cards are banned in Historic, in that you're no longer able to play them. They just have a better chance of coming back in the future as more sets, and thus more tools, get released to balance things out.

 

Companion Rules Change: Taking effect June 1st for tabletop, June 4th for MTGO and Arena

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For the very first time, they've errata'd an entire mechanic: Companions now have an additional restriction associated with playing them from out of the game. Henceforth, if your deck utilizes the Companion mechanic, you may no longer play the card from outside the game. Instead, you'll have to pay 3 generic mana at sorcery speed to place the card into your hand from outside the game (sideboard). You may only use this special action once. Further, it cannot be interacted with (countered via spells like Tale's Endimage and whatnot), as it's not considered an ability.

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We've already seen Companion bannings in older formats, but those were in regards to specific cards. Here, it's the whole damn mechanic getting nerfed. Companions have been persistent in Standard since their printing, their inclusion in decks far easier to craft around than Wizards likely intended. Seeing as the ability outright challenged a fundamental aspect of the game - starting hand size - and how card advantage is largely regarded as one of, if not the most important factor in Magic, I'm honestly shocked Wizards didn't see this coming.

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I will give the WotC this credit: Designing new, unique cards that push power levels and excite players while simultaneously ensuring they don't break formats must be an incredibly challenging endeavor. Magic is one of the most complicated games out there, and with each new set released, things get even more complex. It's a tricky balance and one I do not envy.

But time and again, we've seen that abilities which provide additional card advantage at very little or no cost continuously stretch the power level of their respective formats to a dangerous degree. Sometimes to a busted one:

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Remember these?

These changes are big, no doubt. Entire formats are about to shake up. Me thinks it's time to start brewing, yet again. Oughta be an interesting ride, so stay tuned and we'll see what happens. Who knows, perhaps with the depowering of Companions, an overlooked set of Irokia critters will start making appearences? 

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Thanks for reading!

-Tautog-

@Intrepid_Tautog

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