Not long ago there was a series of cards banned from both Standard and Modern that drastically changed both. In most banning announcements, we see few, if any, cards get the axe, and we very rarely see Standard bannings at all. But less than two months ago we saw one of the most significant series of bannings in the history of the game. Many appreciated the bans, but was it a mistake to ban so much?
This was one of the most influential cards in Standard, and the biggest reason to build delirium-based decks. That being said, Traverse the Ulvenwald, Grim Flayer, Gnarlwood Dryad and Ishkanah, Grafwidow are still around, so the incentive to have delirium is still there, even if cards like Vessel of Nascency aren't needed anymore since there is no longer a need to get to six or seven card types to make casting Emrakul easier – all the delirium deck needs is now four.
The old Black-Green Delirium deck was very much about surviving until casting Emrakul, the Promised End. Having that as a late-game trump meant that there wasn't much need to be aggressive. We also used to see more Liliana, the Last Hope, as she killed off opposing early threats and contributed to the delirium engine. But with Emrakul gone, now the Black-Green Delirium decks are still very similar to other Winding Constrictor aggressive decks.
There are many variations on black-green right now, but almost all are aggressive with lots of two-drops. It is tough to see a deck labeled as delirium without Ishkanah, Grafwidow anywhere in the 75. Walking Ballista and Scrapheap Scrounger provide two card types in the graveyard, making it easier to hit delirium. We see two Grapple with the Past as the only specific delirium enabler. Looking at Stark's take on Black-Green Delirium, I would be surprised if Emrakul, the Promised End would even make the cut. By being aggressive and having counter synergy, Verdurous Gearhulk is the new endgame card of choice.
I'm not saying that there aren't any decks that look similar to how the old Black-Green Delirium decks used to, and feature our favorite spider.
Emrakul, the Promised End and Winding Constrictor don't go together. While not very popular, this version of Black-Green Delirium looks like one that could feature Emrakul, the Promised End. Winding Constrictor is the defining card in most black-green decks right now, and if Emrakul, the Promised End were around we would see more slow, controlling versions of Black-Green Delirium like Rubin's. Personally, I think having Emrakul, the Promised End around would be fine in the current delirium decks, because it would force different black-green decks to be built differently.
The bigger issue is that Emrakul, the Promised End was also featured in another Standard archetype: the Aetherworks Marvel decks. These decks do exist still, but are now focused around Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or they simply use Aetherworks Marvel as a value card along with cards that produce lots of energy. Casting Emrakul, the Promised End on turn four creates unfun games, but the same can be said for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Having both in the same deck alongside Aetherworks Marvel means you can have both in play at once, and the more dangerous card out of the two in the previous version of the deck was probably Emrakul, the Promised End.
From a power level standpoint, I would like to see Emrakul, the Promised End as an option for Black-Green Delirium decks, but not the Aetherworks Marvel deck. This wasn't possible unless Wizards wanted to ban Aetherworks Marvel instead. From a gameplay perspective, it's true that Emrakul, the Promised End created some non-interactive games when cheated into play. When cast later in the game it wasn't unbeatable, and there were still a reasonable amount of games Black-Green Delirium lost after casting Emrakul, the Promised End.
When Reflector Mage was banned, those decks ceased to exist as we knew them. Now, there really aren't straight Flash decks doing well. Spell Queller is very sad. If White-Blue Flash has been completely removed from the format, the first reaction might be to say that this wasn't a good card to ban. The idea was to make decks Reflector Mage was in slightly less good, but still allow them to be played. Having Reflector Mage around could be a good way to combat the Winding Constrictor decks.
Would Reflector Mage be too good in the decks it previously was featured in? My answer is no. A deck like White-Blue Flash or White-Blue Panharmonicon would be good for the format, but not overpowering. However, the reason why Reflector Mage shouldn't be in this format – which to my knowledge still hasn't been fully acknowledged from Wizards – is that Reflector Mage would be a perfect fit alongside Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. Adding Reflector Mage to a deck like Jeskai or Four-Color Copycat would make those decks too good
If Reflector Mage was in that deck, there might be slightly less of an energy theme, as there likely wouldn't be as many Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso. Reflector Mage could be used on a Walking Ballista as a way to clear the way to combo the following turn, or buy a ton of time by bouncing an opposing threat, then using Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian to re-use the bounce effect on Reflector Mage. It's a scary thought.
When Heart of Kiran was first previewed, the bannings hadn't happened yet, and I was in shock that another two-mana vehicle with a startlingly high power level was going to enter the format and be legal alongside Smuggler's Copter. Of course that couldn't happen.
Out of all the cards banned, this one still doesn't sit too well with me, because my stance is Heart of Kiran is the card that never should have been printed. In Mardu Vehicles it can be argued that Heart of Kiran is better than Smuggler's Copter was, or that the two are at least comparable. Mardu decks with Heart of Kiran are some of the best decks in the format.
The most expensive rare from the previous Standard format disappeared, and Vehicles players had to spend the money on buying Heart of Kiran, which is a mythic, unlike Smuggler's Copter.
Smuggler's Copter was played in other decks besides Mardu Vehicles, of course. Remember Black-Red Aggro and Black-Red Zombies? Those decks are now gone, for the most part. Smuggler's Copter was a discard outlet that allowed creature based decks to also take advantage of madness cards like Fiery Temper. I understand the argument that Smuggler's Copter was played in too many decks, but Hangarback Walker was never banned during its time in Standard. Now there's Walking Ballista, which is also played in lots of decks.
To me, a good Standard format is one with lots of different viable decks that all have a similar power level. It seems like the current Standard format boils down to four different categories: Black-Green Aggro, Mardu Vehicles, Dynavolt Tower Control, and Saheeli Rai decks. Within these categories there are definitely different variations and builds of decks, but at the same time these categories include almost the entire format. Compared to the Kaladesh Standard, it's not clear that the decks now are any less powerful. Winding Constrictor and Felidar Guardian are format-warping cards.
When you add the printing of Aether Revolt to the card pool, it is hard to identify which three cards should have been banned, or even if those should have included Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage. This is a case of wanting new cards to shine and see a lot of play, and the easiest way of doing that is banning old cards. The previous Standard format probably had about as many different decks as this one, but I found the games to be more interesting and skill-intensive because decks were not as aggressive and games didn't end as quickly.
Modern was also affected by the bannings; Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll left the format. Considering that Dredge is still being played and is putting up some results, it is hard to argue that the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll was bad. Something needed to be taken away from Dredge because Wizards has been printing new cards that fit in that deck, so while it didn't need to be a dredger that got banned, it was a good choice. Golgari Thug may be worse than Golgari-Grave Troll, but its existence means Dredge is still viable.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about the Gitaxian Probe banning. I agree that the card was too powerful for the format, but the decks it hurt didn't need to have something taken away from them. Fatal Push entering the format should have been enough to keep Infect in check. Death's Shadow has now shifted, and the current version is arguably better than the previous version with Gitaxian Probe. Even Storm has morphed into a different deck based around Gifts Ungiven that likely is better than it was before. One of the decks that is completely gone, sadly, is the Blue-Red Prowess deck.
At the time, I believe most players liked the idea of the bannings, but they hadn't played Modern with Fatal Push available. It is essentially like having another Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile available, which are good cards against the Gitaxian Probe decks, so it's hard to know how it would have played out without the banning.
I would be surprised if Wizards bans cards from Standard in the next cycle. This last round of bans felt aggressive, and I don't think they can afford major bannings every four months. This would discredit the value of buying into powerful cards too much. It isn't fair for the average player to invest in Standard cards just to have those cards taken out of the format on a regular basis. However, it is clear that Wizards is looking to make the announcement before Pro Tours, so that the format can be shaken up if needed. If the format does get too stale, bannings are still a possibility in Standard. The goal is for each Pro Tour to be significantly different than the last.
Beyond the bans, there is some room for unbannings as well. I don't believe that any of the cards Wizards just banned in Standard will be unbanned, but the story is different in Modern. There are a number of cards which have been sitting on the banned list for a while and could potentially come off – Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf are at the top of the list. The issue with unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor is that the price would become extremely high, and it is regarded as the most powerful planeswalker ever printed. However, it is a four-mana card in a format where games can be over before turn four, so it could be safe.
Right now the Death's Shadow deck is putting up amazing results in Modern. That deck may need to be taken down a notch if it continues to put up these results. There are a few cards that you could argue could be taken away form that deck. The most obvious is Death's Shadow itself, but another option is one of the role players in the deck. Mishra's Bauble comes to mind. Zero-mana card draw effects seems to be getting taken out of the format (just look at Gitaxian Probe). While Mishra's Bauble isn't played in many decks, it is an incredibly pricey uncommon that is played in decks with delirium cards like Grim Flayer or Traverse the Ulvenwald. If Mishra's Bauble isn't reprinted in Modern Masters 2017, I believe Wizards could consider banning it.
Thanks for reading,