Last weekend the North American Regional Players Tour lined up on the same weekend as GP Phoenix, both in the Pioneer format. The weekend was mostly dominated by two decks: Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach. Both are combo decks based around hard-to-interact-with combo pieces. Lotus Field has hexproof, and the Inverter Combo is mostly impervious to removal spells.

Dimir Inverter won the Regional Players Tour in the hands of Corey Burkhart, beating Lotus Breach in the hands of William Jensen in the finals. Inverter then went on to put five players into the Top 8 of GP Phoenix, although that event was ultimately won by Mono-Red, piloted by Ben Weitz. Lotus Breach didn't Top 8 the Grand Prix.

Unsurprisingly, the success of these two decks caused many players to immediately call for bannings. Social media has been ablaze with this discussion recently. So the question is: Does anything need to be banned? If so, what should go?

 

The "In Context of Past Decisions, Something Should Go" Argument

 

Seconded. Inverter shouldn't exist in a format that had Felidar Guardian banned within the first month.

— The Hyper Sloth (@brockatron) February 12, 2020

Wizards banned cards like Oath of Nissa and Smuggler's Copter, and it's hard to argue that Oath of Nissa and Smuggler's Copter are more powerful than what Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach are capable of doing. If the idea is that anything better than these benchmark cards should not be legal in Pioneer, then there are a number of cards that should probably not be legal from these decks, or other decks for that matter.

Is the Inverter of Truth and Thassa's Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries combo more, or less powerful than Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai? If it's more powerful, it's worth noting that one of those combos is banned in the format and the other is not.

 

The "Give Things Time To Adapt" Argument

 

Some of the decks people are begging to ban in pioneer have been around for all of 2/3 weeks. Chill out and try to actually adapt to changes in a format. If you can't find a way to beat something after multiple itterations and attempts like oko then we can talk about bans. 2/2

— I'm in Danger. Mtg (@MakeThemHaveIt1) February 12, 2020

Both Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach are new to the format. They both debuted at Regional Players Tours in Brussels and Nagoya, less than two weeks ago. Players have not sufficiently had time to adjust to the new metagame created by these powerhouses.

Lotus Breach had a 64% win rate at PT Phoenix, which may not sound like much, but that's even beyond Hogaak levels. Yet, Lotus Breach didn't even Top 8 the Grand Prix later that weekend, as players were able to adapt to it with effective hate cards like Damping Sphere, Ash Zealot, Eidolon of the Great Revel and so forth. Personally I scrubbed out of the GP and lost to Eidolon of Rhetoric x2 in my last round. While I can't speak to my opponent's reasoning for sideboarding those cards, I have to imagine it was a nod to Lotus Breach's dominance.

It's possible that effective foils exist against these strategies and we just need time to try to find them. Even more simply stated: maybe we already know what cards we need to beat these decks and we just need to put them into our decks, and players haven't properly done that yet.

 

The "These Decks Are Just Too Powerful" Argument

 

People want a ban because Inverter combo can't be stopped barring stack interaction or hand disruption. It's basically a more resilient version of Splinter Twin, a combo that was banned years ago in a deeper card pool. Also, the primary offender is also in another broken deck.

— Jose Lopez (@Metallix87) February 13, 2020

Splinter Twin isn't even legal in Modern. Yet Dimir Inverter, a combo of somewhat similar power level, is legal in Pioneer, a much lower-power format. Underworld Breach is a combo card with a power level high enough to see play in formats like Legacy. It's reasonable to think it might be too good for Pioneer, where things are much slower and counterplay less effective.

Dig Through Time has been banned or restricted in every single format except for Pioneer, and it's a card found in both of these strategies. These cards and decks are just way too good for Pioneer.

 

The "Pioneer Is Pretty Good Right Now" Argument

 

Inverter is legitimately one of the most fun decks to play with and against I have ever experienced. Had some really memorable matches of Pioneer this weekend.

— Standard Warrior Steven Boston (@WanderingVenser) February 10, 2020

Dimir Inverter is a deck that invites a lot of interaction and skill-testing gameplay. Lotus Breach vs. Dimir Inverter can actually be a pretty fun match that involves both players jockeying for position to try to enact their combo first, with counterplay available to both players. The Dimir Inverter player has hand disruption and occasionally countermagic to slow down Lotus Breach, and Fae of Wishes using the Granted mode to get Tome Scour is a method for Lotus Breach to beat Inverter if they go in on the combo too early.

Without these decks, the format would devolve into a bunch of mono-colored aggro strategies and maybe some weird midrange decks, similar to how it was a month ago. While not necessarily a bad thing, a lot of players actually enjoy the current format a lot more, and as long as things aren't fundamentally broken, and as long as counterplay does exist, there's no reason to demand that something get banned.

While I can't necessarily say the same for Lotus Breach, which is largely non-interactive, Dimir Inverter is actually fun to play with and against. It offers a lot of interesting and unique gameplay decisions in piloting the strategy and also in trying to figure out how to best attack it. That's not necessarily a bad "best deck" for the format.

 

My Opinion

 

I personally think they should just wait before they ban anything. There is a spectrum between banning cards not often enough and banning cards too often, and I think that scale is starting to slide toward "banning cards too often" as of late. Less than two weeks of these decks being played in a format is way too short of a time to necessitate a ban, especially when some data even shows players able to successfully adapt to one of the breakout decks, Lotus Breach, in a Grand Prix literally one day after its dominating performance at the Players Tour.

Bant Spirits was a breakout strategy from the Regional Players Tours in Brussels and Nagoya, with a commanding win percentage in those events, and yet it finished with a sub 50% win rate at PT Phoenix. While there are a lot of small sample sizes there to draw data from, it still paints a picture of a format largely in flux. What is good one week might not be good the next.

Players can exploit Lotus Breach more easily than Dimir Inverter. There exist a lot of cards in the format that attack Lotus Breach successfully, headlined by Damping Sphere, and it's reasonable to consider that it might die down significantly once people start respecting it properly. I think it would be premature to ban anything from that deck right now.

Dimir Inverter is a lot harder to hate out, and has been a known quantity in the format longer than the current versions of Lotus Breach, and yet seems to only increase in format share and success despite this. If any deck strikes me as a problem, it's not Lotus Breach, but Dimir Inverter.

Still, I would rather wait for a while and see if the metagame is able to adapt to this deck rather than just fire off a ban at it immediately. I'm honestly kind of sick of the mentality of banning things right off the bat when they look like they might be too good, and the underlying culture of people clamoring for bans at the first sign of a deck being strong. Give things time to develop.

If these decks are able to shrug off all counterplay and continue to dominate Pioneer even after people have ample time to adapt to them, then by all means, go for it. Ban the hell out of them. But at least give it some time first.

 

If They Do Ban Something, What Should It Be?

 

I think Dig Through Time is the obvious offender. It's in both decks, it has proven to be a broken card in every other format it's been legal in, and I believe it is only a matter of time until it breaks something in Pioneer—assuming it hasn't already with these decks. I find it hard to imagine that Dig Through Time isn't on the ban list in Pioneer at some point in the format's future. To me it's mostly a question of when it gets banned, rather than if it will get banned. While the Lotus Breach decks only currently play one copy of Dig Through Time, it seems wrong to me that they don't play more.

I think banning Dig Through Time would be enough to neuter the Dimir Inverter deck. Dig Through Time is the glue that holds that deck together, and without the power and consistency it provides, I'm not sure that Dimir Inverter would remain a tier 1 strategy. If they really want to axe this deck, they could just ban Inverter of Truth, but I don't think that's necessary. Ban Dig Through Time first and then see what things look like after that point.

 

I believe that Underworld Breach is the key card to ban from the Lotus Breach deck if they feel inclined to cut the legs out from that strategy. It's possible that Lotus Field would continue to exist as a deck without Underworld Breach legal, but it wouldn't be nearly as potent. Underworld Breach is just an incredibly powerful card that will have many opportunities to be broken in the future, even if they ban away the pieces that make it broken in the present. All it takes are a few cards that allow you to pull ahead on some resource, like cards in graveyard or mana generated, before Underworld Breach is suddenly a tier 1 combo again.

 

Conclusion

 

I'd like to see Pioneer have time to settle into a metagame before firing off bans. I want to see if tools exist to beat these decks before stating unequivocally that they are too good to exist in this format. I wouldn't be surprised if, after a few weeks time, we saw one or both of these decks effectively attacked by a number of strategies in Pioneer. Lotus Breach could even fall out of favor if the hate cards prove too difficult to beat.

If they must ban something, I'd prefer it to be Dig Through Time, a card that has proven to be too strong in other formats. It's a centerpiece to the Dimir Inverter deck and a supporting member of the Lotus Breach deck. My suspicion is that Dimir Inverter will eventually prove to be too strong in the format once people figure out optimal lists, as it is a very strong and resilient strategy. I'm interested in what develops next, and I hope we get to see it.


 

Brian Braun-Duin

 

Brian Braun-Duin is a professional Magic player, member of the 2020 Magic Pro League and recurring special guest on the Bash Bros Podcast.

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