I started off my article last week by saying that Field of the Dead was a mistake. When I wrote that on Monday, it felt like an insight into the card and the format at large that Golos was not just the best deck for the weekend, but the de facto best deck in the format for this Standard season. With the next Banned & Restricted announcement over a month away, it felt like an incredibly safe call to say that we would be jockeying for position around the Field of the Dead mirror for the rest of Throne of Eldraine Standard.
On Wednesday morning, the Magic E-Sports account tweeted that the next Banned & Restricted announcement, originally slated for November 18th, would be moved to October 21st… the day after Mythic Championship V ends.
We previously announced the next B&R date as Nov. 18. After further reflection on the (very busy) competitive gaming schedule and discussion on implementation windows with our digital teams, we are shifting that next announcement to Oct. 21.— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) October 9, 2019
As it turns out, calling Field of the Dead merely a mistake was perhaps short-selling it. Wizards clearly believes they made a grave error printing the card, and that Standard, as it stands, is irredeemably imbalanced. Changing the date of the next Banned & Restricted is, as far as I know, a completely unprecedented move by Wizards of the Coast, and one I doubt they would make without intending to ban something. Moving the announcement window at all sets up an expectation: they have never done this before, and they must have done it for a reason. They would choose to do it after MCV so as not to kill interest in the tournament before decklists were even fully submitted, but soon enough after that when the dust settled and a champion was named, the format would be shaken up again right afterwards to keep players hyped for Standard.
Now that we have the decklists available from MCV, there is a lot more data from the best players in the world and what they consider to be the best strategies possible in Throne of Eldraine Standard. With this information, it's a lot easier to guess what card… or cards… we should expect to be banned on Monday, as well as what strategies or components of these decks are strong enough to stand on their own despite a few oppressive cards.
Going into deck submission last week, Golos was already the talk of the tournament. Bryan Gottlieb had done well in multiple Fandom events, and the deck absolutely dominated SCG Philadelphia. The secret wasn't just out; people were already preparing with plans for the mirror week one, expecting to play it in upwards of half of their matches in the team tournament that weekend. Maindeck Agent of Treachery, tech originally intended specifically for the mirror, was stock before the format had ever been played in paper, and players were trying to one-up this plan with Fae of Wishes, Kenrith, the Returned King and Deputy of Detention to get an edge on their competition. By the end of the event the deck dominated the Top 8 of the Team Trios event, despite already beginning to aim for winning mirror matches instead of against an open field.
Fast forward a few days. When players submitted decklists for Mythic Championship V with a lot on the line, a full 29 of 68 (42% of the field) simply gave up and registered Field of the Dead. While most of those are on Bant Golos, a sizeable chunk are playing Fires of Invention Golos, showcasing that there is plenty of diversity in Standard, so long as you want to play Field of the Dead.
Fires of Invention is a tricky card to build around. The real innovation in the lists comes with Fae of Wishes, solving two problems at once: what happens when the Fires game plan isn't good enough, and what happens when it doesn't draw the right pieces? In both cases, being able to use Granted to get the perfect card for whatever situation the Fires of Invention deck finds itself in is a good way to make sure that it always draws a plan that is good enough. Putting lands into play is what both Field of the Dead and Fires of Invention want, so in a weird way it's a match made in heaven.
There are multiple drawbacks to this plan: Fae of Wishes without Fires of Invention looks embarrassing, there's no Hydroid Krasis to dig the Fires player through the deck if they run out of gas, and it effectively lacks a sideboard for games two and three. Still, the core of Fires of Invention and Fae of Wishes feels like a combination to keep in mind after next week. Field might end up gone, but that just means that the deck can play combinations of lands that actually allows them to cast the spells in their deck without Fires of Invention in play.
I chose Matt Nass's version of Bant Golos for one reason in the context of why I'm certain Field of the Dead will be banned: Matt Nass Top 8'd SCG Philadelphia with Simic Midrange the weekend before submitting a decklist. If anyone could make a case that Field of the Dead could be beaten, it's the sole Standard player from that tournament playing a different archetype. Rather than refine his deck for a metagame that would be heavily skewed towards Field of the Dead, Matt Nass set down the Gilded Goose for the absurd land.
My belief last week was pretty straightforward: If I'm the Play Design team at Wizards of the Coast, I would be looking at the upcoming Theros set in January to see if there are any answers to Field of the Dead strategies, and, if they're present, that they're actually effective at beating it. If no such card (or cards) exists, or if Bant Golos/Golos Fires can easily adapt by changing a few cards, then Field of the Dead will need to be banned in one of the upcoming B&R announcements.
Despite good evidence that Field of the Dead is the strongest deck in Throne of Eldraine Standard, that alone doesn't suggest to me that Field of the Dead is guaranteed to be banned. The best evidence comes from Wizards' M-Files Series on the Development of M20:
When designing cards, we often look at what's in real-world Standard and not seeing any play. One of the cards that met that criteria was M19's Scapeshift. Scapeshift has succeeded in the past mostly in part because there was a land you could search up (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) that gives you a large amount of ETB triggers and likely wins you the game. A card like that did not exist in Standard, so we decided to make one in M20. Field of the Dead gives you a fun deck-building quest to go on without Scapeshift and, with Scapeshift, gives you a large amount of Zombies and likely wins you the game—or at least giving you an incredible advantage. There's even a fun deck to be built with other M20 cards that search up lands, like Golos and Elvish Reclaimer!This section from the Core Set 2020 development article suggests to me that when their design and development teams were working on future Magic sets, Field of the Dead wasn't even on their radar. And why would it be? Without more Vampires, there's not much reason to spend time testing Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord. As long as he doesn't wholesale ruin Standard for the summer, the card is fine to print. Once people are sick of him, the supporting cards rotate and then nobody will care he was busted! Similarly, if Field of the Dead was only ever a whimsical way to enable Scapeshift in Standard, what's the point of testing it beyond that exact format?
Except, of course, it wasn't only a Scapeshift enabler. Field of the Dead is a strategy in and of itself, and, as noted, was printed with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim in the same set to compliment it—and with (I would speculate) no answer to it on the horizon. Because of that, I think it's very likely to be banned on Monday.
If there is one card that I have done a near-180-degree turn on, it's Oko, Thief of Crowns. A three-mana planeswalker that pairs perfectly with a one-mana accelerant, Gilded Goose, makes for starts in a game that are impossible for nearly anyone to keep up with. Even Bant Golos can lose games to quick curves of Oko attacking with 3/3 Elk Food tokens, and the games it wins are only because Golos goes so impossibly over the top of the comparatively small potatoes abilities of Oko. These starts are so powerful that Oko alone justifies playing cards that are otherwise pretty lackluster. Gilded Goose is a pretty subpar Magic card without Oko, but is incredible with it. Arboreal Grazer sees play in some of these lists as essentially a Simian Spirit Guide that leaves behind a normally meaningless 0/3 body, but Oko has plenty of use for a random 0/3 body once the sloth becomes a 3/3 Elk that can attack other planeswalkers and defend the Fae planeswalker after turn two.
The second most popular archetype at MCV is practically an Oko, Thief of Crowns theme deck. The efficient cards that use Food (Gilded Goose and Wicked Wolf) want a steady supply that Oko happily provides. From there, it's a collection of the best Simic cards available: Paradise Druid (which is notably immune to Teferi, Time Raveler and Oko, Thief of Crowns), Questing Beast, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis.
The problem with these decks isn't their raw power. Its that the only deck Bant Golos wants to play against more than Simic Food is the bye (or Esper Stax… same thing really). Outside of the very aggressive starts, the deck has no way to close out the game before Field of the Dead strategies take over, and it has a very hard time winning a long game. Agent of Treachery trumps Simic's entire deck, and the better ramp means that Simic is always losing the Hydroid Krasis subgame in the air, both drawing fewer cards and having a smaller Jellyfish to attack and block with. Meanwhile, one of Simic's strongest cards, Wicked Wolf, is mostly a Hill Giant.
If Field of the Dead is banned, there is not a clear competitor to Simic. The deck is good enough that, despite having a bad matchup against Bant Golos, several noteworthy players including Kai Budde, William Jensen, Reid Duke, Andrew Cuneo and a few others have all decided that by adding four Disdainful Stroke to the maindeck they can make the matchup close enough for comfort, while maintaining a large lead on the rest of the field. Relying on small creatures against Questing Beast and Wicked Wolf is a losing game. Playing a midrange game plays right into Oko's plan, where anything problematic becomes an Elk. And trying to go bigger risks being run over by Elk… or having The Great Henge turned into an Elk. Honestly, why does he have a +1 that answers seemingly every problem?
If Oko, Thief of Crowns does not get banned, Jessica Estephan's list is close to what I would assume is the next evolution of the deck. Simic itself doesn't have a lot of options for how to get ahead in the mirror, but adding white opens up the possibilities quite a bit. If the only cards that matter are the expensive spells, Disdainful Stroke is a very attractive card in the mirror. However, the player with access to Teferi, Time Raveler can get in under Disdainful Stroke, and use Teferi's passive to protect the next big threat. Deputy of Detention is great for answering hordes of Zombies, but is also useful for removing their Gilded Goose, the 3/3 Elf Food Tokens, Hydroid Krasis, Voracious Hydra, or simply keeping Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Oko, Thief of Crowns off the table.
Unrelated tip: a Food Token that Oko turned into an Elk is still named Food, so Deputy of Detention will take all of their other Food Tokens with it. And because the 3/3 Elk Food Token lost all abilities, it can no longer be sacrificed in response!
To be honest, I sorely, sorely hope that Oko, Thief of Crowns is banned on Monday. In my mind the problem with Oko isn't if he needs to be banned but when. Every set Oko is legal for in Standard is one more set where the coolest creature and artifact cards Wizards of the Coast prints become invalidated by Oko's +1 ability making them Elk… and that's to say nothing about legendary artifacts like The Great Henge, The Circle of Loyalty or The Cauldron of Eternity that are currently pushed completely out of the format by that ability.
If they don't, there is some counterplay to Oko. First, his ability might be able to pressure planeswalkers, but he cannot turn them to Elk. Sarkhan the Masterless is one of the best examples here, where the Dragon Token can defend Sarkhan and his +1 ability can turn any other planeswalkers into Dragons to remove Oko from the board. Second, he cannot target enchantments. Teferi, Time Raveler can, which feels like a natural pairing with Oko if he is not banned, but even that is temporary. Third, Oko is very weak to instant and sorcery spells, and an Oko deck's only plan against them seems to be "play countermagic." It's possible that going bigger than Oko is still possible as long as it doesn't involve creatures or artifacts. Finally, the card Mystical Dispute is legal, and, as I have learned playing Bant Golos the last few weeks, is a great way to counter a three-mana planeswalker with just one land.
This one might feel a little out of left field, but bare with me.
Most played cards at #MythicChampionshipV, maindeck and sideboard both. P sure I did this right. pic.twitter.com/MHreSeGJCV— (((Dylan Lerch))) (@dtlerch) October 14, 2019
Dylan did some early number crunching on the MCV decklists, and some of the results were interesting. Growth Spiral saw more play than Breeding Pool, Once Upon a Time is the most played spell of the tournament, and not a single red card even cracked the list of most played cards here. But what's interesting to me is that third card there: Hydroid Krasis.
Bant Golos needs a mana sink for all those lands it's putting into play. Simic Food needs card draw and something to do with all the extra mana from Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Both are problems that get solved by Hydroid Krasis, everyone's favorite Jellyfish Hydra. For the most part, the card has largely been present and not causing much trouble since its printing in Ravnica Allegiance. It's good, to be sure, but at no point is the card ever efficient, and most of the value of the card is the large flying, trampling creature.
That said, of the legal maximum 272 copies of the card that could be played in this event, 160 were played, or almost 58%. Further, many decks aren't even running the full four! Hydroid Krasis slots into every deck that plays both green and blue mana, with the exception of the Fires of Invention decks, for almost no cost. It provides a top end that's good on turn six and turn sixteen.
I would argue that the card is a symptom, not a cause, of the problems in Standard, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth looking at if you're Wizards of the Coast right now. In many games, Bant Golos decks need Krasis as a way to gain life, refill their hands and present a large blocker. Without it, they tend to live off the top of their deck, and their deck has a lot of lands in it.
Meanwhile, everything that the Oko decks do is fairly small game. Oko doesn't generate long-term advantage for the most part; Oko solves problems by turning them into Elk or gets aggressive by turning Food or Arboreal Grazer into Elk. When Oko dies to a removal spell like Murderous Rider or Noxious Grasp, there isn't much of a lasting impact that he had on the game. In those cases, the extra time bought from Food or the extra mana from a Gilded Goose let Simic Food become a Hydroid Krasis deck that starts making decently sized threats in the air and playing efficient creatures on the ground.
There isn't a clear replacement to Hydroid Krasis in either of these contexts, and maybe that's enough of an opening. If Wizards is trying to Diminish, not outright ban, these two decks, Hydroid Krasis will take away some amount of power from both.
Mostly I have three problems with this:
1. Field of the Dead still single-handedly invalidates almost all ground combat, because it isn't very hard to trigger.2. Oko is still really, really powerful on turn two.3. There's a decent chance they can just play something else.
Drawn from Dreams, Narset, Parter of Veils, Gadwick the Wizened and Finale of Revelation are all powerful card draw spells in one form or another that draw cards better than Hydroid Krasis, and probably require fewer slots in the Golos deck. From there, it's not that hard to play another Realm-Cloaked Giant or Time Wipe and try to stabilize that way.
The Simic decks have a less clear replacement, but they may not need one. They could just be better off playing more aggressive creatures instead. Chris Kvartek's version of Simic Food for MCV, for example, isn't playing any Hydroid Krasis in the main, and just a single copy in the sideboard. Brazen Borrower, on the other hand, sets the opponent back on tempo and starts attacking earlier and for large chunks of damage. When the deck doesn't necessarily want to play a long game anyway, this makes sense: focus on reducing the opponent's life total to 0 over playing the most powerful cards.
It would be an odd choice, and potentially address the symptoms while ignoring the cause, but I wouldn't be too surprised if Krasis is the card that gets banned.
Disdainful Stroke. Mystical Dispute. Dovin's Veto. Negate. All of these are completely reasonable answers to both Oko, Thief of Crowns and Field of the Dead decks that get completely shut out of the game by Teferi, Time Raveler. If Oko, Thief of Crowns is oppressive to midrange decks and build-around artifacts, Teferi, Time Raveler keeps the format from responding to anything with countermagic, and forces opposing creatures to have haste, hexproof or a reason why returning it to hand is a bad idea.
If you read my article last week, one of my tips on playing Golos was actually my big secret for playing Teferi in that deck: bounce your own permanents more. Once people realized how effective this playstyle was, Teferi became truly ridiculous. Bouncing Deputy of Detention, Agent of Treachery, Hydroid Krasis or Golos, Tireless Pilgrim are all common and regular plays in the Bant Golos decks, and usually better than bouncing the opponent's cards.
The amount of Disdainful Stroke registered this weekend by various Simic Food and Bant Golos players should give us all a big clue to what is effective against ramp decks trying to resolve a four-mana Circuitous Route, five-mana Golos or seven-mana Agent of Treachery: countermagic. The problem with that plan is that Teferi, Time Raveler completely invalidates it while providing extra copies of powerful "enters the battlefield" effects. Sure, there are ways to counter him too, like Mystical Dispute or Negate, but at some point it all starts being a lost cause. Sure I can counter Teferi, Time Raveler, but then what will I use to counter the spell he was going to shield with his passive ability? If I have all this countermagic, how am I not dying to Field of the Dead?
Teferi, Time Raveler constrains the format in a way that removes one of its most important safety valves. The Simic Flash deck that's been around since Core Set 2020 was released is incredibly effective against Bant Golos, since it can pressure Golos while slowing it down enough that the first Zombie doesn't come out until at least turn six or seven. The problem is, sometimes Teferi, Time Raveler comes down on turn two on the play, and the Simic Flash deck actually cannot function for the rest of the game. It's nearly impossible to remove a Teferi, Time Raveler with unboosted Brineborn Cutthroat and Spectral Sailor, especially if Teferi just uses his +1 ability every turn. Teferi shuts down an entire archetype alone! Well, him and Veil of Summer.
Teferi, Time Raveler is also exceptional in the Food mirror, where he can bounce Food tokens or Gilded Goose, recycle their own enters the battlefield effects, or protect their most impactful spells from Disdainful Stroke. If Simic Food is the next top deck because Oko, Thief of Crowns isn't banned, they will start branching into white, like Jessica Estephan did for Teferi, Time Raveler.
Overall, I'm not sure if I want Teferi, Time Raveler banned or not. But I do think there's a very good argument to, *ahem*, phase him out.
Speaking of Veil of Summer, it's the fourth most played spell at Mythic Championship V, and is a large factor in why Green decks are so problematic right now. Oko, Thief of Crowns does not usually generate advantage the turn he enters play (ok, he makes one Food Token, technically that's something); it should be easy to Swift End or Noxious Grasp Oko before he has a chance to impact the game, even on turn two. But a savvy player will wait to play key creatures or planeswalkers until they have Veil of Summer up to protect it. There isn't even a way to make sure the coast is clear first with a card like Duress or Drill Bit, because Veil of Summer intercepts those while also potentially protecting other permanents. Even if Teferi, Time Raveler out of Golos didn't protect the deck from countermagic, Veil of Summer would still be a heavily played sideboard card as a way to resolve all of the expensive cards in the format.
Frankly, Veil of Summer is one of the best reasons to keep Teferi, Time Raveler legal. The green Cryptic Command is one of the strongest countermagic cards in the game right now, and one of the only ways that blue decks can keep up with it is to turn off the card draw with Teferi. Paying an extra green mana and discarding a card to make the next spell uncounterable is a much more tolerable effect than countering an opponent's spell and drawing a card.
Overall, Veil of Summer's impact is less immediately apparent, but far more damaging than Teferi. It punishes interaction too heavily, and forces two entire colors of Magic to avoid any spells or abilities that target a creature or opponent. When a sideboard color hoser starts seeing play in Legacy, that's when it's time to sit up and take notice.
Realistically, I don't think this card will be banned, so much as I think it should be banned. Green having one less color-hoser type card from Magic 2020 would be very strange, and it is an innocuous-looking card to have on the Banned list for the next year. But the format would be better without it.
That's my take on the five cards that are most likely to be banned come Monday. Do you agree? Disagree? Is there anything I missed? Let me know on Twitter, since I'm more or less biding my time until Monday for this announcement. The Magic Arena MCQ is the following Saturday, and I have a lot of testing to do in just one week before the tournament! Until then, enjoy the Golos Mirror this weekend at Mythic Championship V. It's an intricate and skill-intensive match that is a ton of fun to both play and watch, and well worth your time just to see some of the players in the world play high level Magic. Fingers crossed that we're lucky enough to see these mirror matches this weekend!
Nick Prince is a competitive Magic player and member of the L.A. Gayming Society leadership team.
Connect: Twitter Instagram