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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Jan 23 2018 12:00pm
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I wanted to comment on the bannings last Monday but I had a hard time formulating what I wanted to say. I also thought that no one would be interested in what I have to say. That day my Facebook turned into a constant stream of messages and those people asked for my opinion on the matter. In the end I decided that telling you about my experiences in an article may be easier for you to understand why I think the bans were right than trying to explain myself after I say what I think. On Monday I saw many different reactions to the B&R Announcement. I spent a day and night trying to figure out how to pass my feelings and opinion about the bannings. This article will talk about my limited experiences with Standard and the hints that we could have observed in the format months or even years ago.

To recapitulate, these cards were banned last Monday.

Attune with Aether is banned. 
Rogue Refiner is banned.
Rampaging Ferocidon is banned.
Ramunap Ruins is banned. 

Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner bans didn't surprise me, but Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins certainly did. On the other hand in the past two weeks I experienced something that made me actually red flag these cards when I was trying to come up with a viable Standard deck. I'll slowly get to it. Let's start at the beginning few years ago.

I don't play Standard much as you may know but I had some experience with it mostly in competitive environment (see PTQs, Nationals, GPTs when they still existed) which probably gives me some insight. As Joshua wrote in his article we don't have different format PTQs anymore. I used not to play Standard PTQs actually in the past. I played Limited, Extended or Block ones. Now that we have Standard PTQs and Limited ones, being on the grind practically means playing Standard. The Temur heavy and RDW heavy field is what I know from these events. These kind of events are way more Temur/RDW oriented than Magic Online Competitive Leagues. I hardly play against brews unless I happen to open Magic Online and jam some TP games or show up at Beginners' League at one of our LGS. An interesting thing to note is that the most common question was 'Why do you run artifact removal in your main deck?'. My answer was Aetherworks Marvel which resulted in blank stares as the players tried to figure out why the card could possibly be good. This was a very clear example of something being wrong with Standard (Aetherworks Marvel).

For what seemed to be ages I played BG Delirium/Snek decks. When new Standard was supposed to form this deck survived and I could still sling my BG cards. Another set came out and yet again BG Delirium was playable (I was happy because I didn't need to buy a new deck). The decks that were dominating the formats were changing but were usually oppressive. They seemed to fill 20 percent of the metagame. Even more sometimes. I still tried to fight with a deck not equipped to fight these decks. It was tough but the deck was still winning.

At first we had Mardu Vehicles, Temur Control and BG Snek (that fell out of favor quite quickly) metagame. We also had Marvel versus UW Flash. We had 4c Saheeli and Mardu Vehicles yet again. We had Mardu Vehicles, RDW and Temur Energy. Recently we had Temur Energy and RDW. Note that this spanned 3 blocks or so? Even more? Since Kaladesh (September 30, 2016) what has changed? Cards got banned, but the same decks were still viable (without Saheeli CopyCat which was anyway a 4c Midrange with a two card combo threat in it), not only viable, but always seen at the top tables.

Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner

Right before the Nationals the metagame shifted a lot considering the deck I expected to play (BG Delirium). I had to switch to a different deck. Since I owned Temur Energy for quite a while I dug the deck up. It had its place in the top tier decks for a long time and I haven't even played with it yet. When HOU came out the card I immediately fell in love was The Scarab God and I was wondering what this kind of a card could do in the format. I saw The Scarab God pretty much everywhere very soon after its release. So I went to a local game store, paid like 50 bucks for one copy, and went to sleeve up Temur Energy with two changes. The cards that changed in the deck were 1 Swamp and 1 Blooming Marsh. This was very frightening when I thought of it. I just added a black card to a deck running three different colors, without fetchlands or dual lands and I was 100% positive on the deck not getting color screwed. It ran Attune with Aether, Aether Hub and Servant of the Conduit. Easy splash. I crushed my non-Temur opponents, struggled in mirror matches but it was clear that this deck was far more powerful than any deck I played before it.

My opponent had problems dealing with Chandra, Torch of Defiance. He didn't know what was coming to join Chandra. Just a 'normal' game of Magic.

Everyone is upset about certain cards and Energy mechanic. When I was writing Why deckbuilding is good for you I was building Temur Energy based decks and was just waiting for something like Glorybringer because that would make the deck tier 1 in my opinion. I was 100% certain of that. While I expected a little bit different 5 mana Dragon this was exactly what happened. When I was playing Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner I was telling people that those are the best cards in my deck. Many people were like: 'Attune is good but Rogue Refiner is crap'. Who'd want to pay 3 mana for a 3/2 body and a card? My deck was Energy-based and required card filtering in order to function this card allowed me to get 2 kinds of resources I needed for mere 3 mana. When I had some discussion about bans before they happened I said that these two cards were my favorites because I saw the power of these cards before Temur Energy became a thing. At the time of our discussion though I didn't know that I was actually right and I didn't feel that these too cards are that 'strong' to be banned. They are the best cards when you can play Energy. My UR Energy deck turned into Temur just because of these two cards. After I included these cards, the deck's power level suddenly became way higher. Not only I was able to have enough mana I needed I also had all the colors I needed. Not only that I also got 2 free Energy that I really welcomed. Attune with Aether was the powerhouse of the deck.

While I really loved Whirler Virtuoso and that was the reason I built the deck in the first place it was a card I cut and replaced it with Rogue Refiner. Whirler Virtuoso was a nice sideboard card but obviously it wasn't the best, universally good Energy card. Some time later everyone was running 4 copies of Attune and 4 copies of Rogue Refiner. So which Pro showed people that this was the right way?

Fast forward to Rivals of Ixalan. Some of you have read my article about Rivals of Ixalan brews that you can find here. I was trying to avoid casting Attune with Aether or Rogue Refiner (I wanted to play a BUG based deck that would play the Refiner but decided against it not, BG Explore was actually BUG Energy based deck at first). There were two reasons for it. One, I expected the cards to be banned. Two I wanted to see if my brews can deal with Temur Energy.

During the week that I was brewing and trying different kind of decks there was one thing that seriously annoyed me and that was my opponent opening with Botanical Sanctum and casting Attune with Aether. In all those games I played that started like this I was actually falling behind and I didn't like it. I also wondered what a new card my opponent possibly runs. Usually it was exactly 0 cards. The energy gained from the Attune was messing up with my removal. My opponent also had access to the lands they needed when they needed while I was struggling to have a second color in my 2 color deck or didn't have my sixth land to cast Vraska, Relic Seeker. Each time my opponent played Attune with Aether I felt a gnawing feeling eating me alive. I felt cheated and for the first time I actually felt that I wish the card was banned.

When my article went up, the card was banned. I was happy about it. I knew I could safely play my brews. Even when these were not yet fine tuned I had a chance to win.

Rampaging Ferocidon

I'll say it again. I didn't expect this card to be banned. I spent a day and night trying to figure out if I saw some hints about this card being too 'good' for the format. I realized that I actually saw those. I even created one myself.

When this card was spoiled I was like, this is a cool sideboard card. At that time I didn't realize how good it would be. It's not a powerful card in terms of The Scarab God but the card messes with many things Magic.

As you may know I'm one of the beta testers of Arena. The reason why this is important is the fact that in Arena we play Ixalan block constructed. Without me being in the closed beta I wouldn't even thought of playing that kind of a format. What kind of all-Ixalan deck could possibly deal with Ramunap Red or Temur Energy? None. My pool in Arena provided me with a Dinosaur deck. The first rares I opened were Rampaging Ferocidon and that is a card I played main deck. Not only it is 3/3 Menace it also terribly kills Vampire decks which were one of the obvious choices. The life loss caused by its ability was often something I needed when I actually played against something that was putting up some resistance.

When I was playing with my RG Dino deck in Arena I realized that the deck is most probably too good if people will try to stick to synergy rather than card quality in their pools (running a deck with 4 Settle the Wreckage would probably do the trick too). My next deck I put together was BW Vampires built around creatures with Lifelink and going wide with tokens and then usually killing with Sanctum Seeker triggers. Rampaging Ferocidon was a very common card and my removal cost 4 mana! Whenever I saw this card hit the table on turn 3 I knew I was more or less doomed. Without Fatal Push I felt really bad and decided to not even bother running those Vampires again because of it (not to mention that even triggering Revolt would be difficult in this deck).

Fast forward from November to Rivals of Ixalan. I build several decks that in order to survive the early game I actually decided to play bunch of creature and gain life. Lifegain is actually on cards that are playable and while I thought this was a nice bonus it often turned to be necessary against the two top contenders in the format. Even my Dino deck in arena switched to running Deathgorge Scavenger, putting Rampaging Ferocidon to my sideboard. I did that mostly because I didn't want to punish other players for playing creatures which is just natural in a tribal set. Casting Charging Monstrosaur on turn 4 is already enough of a problem for them to deal with. So what happens if I stare at Rampaging Ferocidon with my new RIX Standard decks? I pretty much lose because the strategy I envisioned will become disrupted. Someone asked me what my Temur Energy and RDW matchups are. And I was like: 'I win against RDW if I avoid Rampaging Ferocidon. I win against Temur Energy if I avoid The Scarab God' which was also the reason why I often run 4 Deathgorge Scavengers in my deck. I felt that my matchups were fine against these decks but then I remembered my recent attempt at playing Approach (that was a horrifying experience).

I bought UW Approach deck (it was cheap) so I could play Standard when someone was playing with my Temur Black and RDW. I already knew that post-board Temur Energy will most probably just laugh at me. At least post-board I was winning my matches when on Temur Black. I didn't know how the matchup with RDW would go though since I didn't have any experience in that matchup from either perspective. When I faced Rampaging Ferocidon right before I was ready to cast Fumigate I cringed. I needed to gain those few lives in order not to immediately die to Hazoret. I died. I learned that this deck won't be any good if such effects are in play. Something that totally hoses my sideboard cards is just too bad for my deck. I decided to never touch Approach again unless Rampaging Ferocidon would be gone.

When playing my Jund brews I also put in Rampaging Ferocidons and was boarding them against more or less anything from heavy creature decks, GPGs and Approach decks. Finally I didn't care about 6 power Lifelink Angel. Even though I was running global removal that eventually killed my Ferocidon the card alone dealt enough damage but also prevented a huge life gain. Those kind of swings were important. Even with other decks, I knew I could deal with a deck that would lose after me dealing 20-25 damage to its pilot. I couldn't deal with a deck that could gain more life.

While I didn't think that Rampaging Ferocidon is a good main deck card it was a card I always put in my sideboard because it was actually dealing with many different matchups. Perfect sideboard card. Now looking back at my experience with the card (me casting it) I understand that this card was banned. It makes a total mess of the format.

Ramunap Ruins

This was another surprise. It always felt bad to die to lands. It's a free spell in a deck. When you run more Deserts, sometimes, you can just deal the remaining 2-6 damage with them. In RIX Standard I learned that even a land deck or a ramp is very playable and that it naturally wants to contain many Desert cards. Even if you are not running that much red, you can easily put it in your deck and profit from it. Double red is not a problem and there's plenty of Deserts. I'm not at all sad or surprised to see this card go. Free spells (I know the activation cost 4, I speak in terms of 'slots' in a deck) are very dangerous. I played Field of Ruin in most of my decks mostly hitting two cards - Ramunap Ruins and Arch of Orazca. You wonder why? Because it was necessary.

Banning cards is not just about sheer power of cards
As I wrote in one of my previous articles (talking about breaking rules - Edgar Markov, Breaker of Rules). What we need to keep the metagame healthy is to have a diverse metagame, possibility to interact on equal levels (ie. the difference in power level between creatures and noncreature spells), and not have cards that break the rules of the game. The metagame was pretty much the same for quite a while. Some decks emerged just to lose to Temur Energy and RDW. The covered premier events were showing the same matchups for 2 years. This is not something that should be happening in a format that is build around new sets and cards. Standard players want to build new decks, play something different. Not only we lose interest in the format when it seems to revolve around the same decks, but we also don't have any incentive to try something new because we know that it will just perish. I hoped that Rivals of Ixalan alone could fix that. It was clear when all the cards were spoiled that it wouldn't fix the format.

Free resources, interaction

How many times were you killed just by Longtusk Cub? Storing Energy makes this a very potent lategame threat in many matchups. In this game I actually managed to beat it!

The problem with Energy is that it is a mechanic that allows us to store a new resource. That resource (Energy) can then be sunk into cards like Longtusk Cub or Bristling Hydra. What I learned when playing Temur Energy is that even cards like Solemnity do not really help against this deck. While the deck can't do the broken things it was build to do thanks to all the Energy synergy it still runs strong cards. While a 2/2 for 2 mana is not a good creature, bunch of 2/2s, 4/3 Hydra, Glorybringers and can win the games. We still have the best mana base and good value cards in the deck. The problem is that the Energy cards are costed in a way that you can generate Energy by casting them. If we had to pay more Energy to use Energy abilities everything might have been fine. See even with Solemnity in play Temur Energy was strong even though it wasn't the best deck anymore. With just little bit of that energy though it would still most probably be the tier 1 deck we know. Since Wizards of the Coast obviously expected Energy to die with new sets being added, they didn't include energy hosing cards. There is no way for us to interact with this resource and that's the problem. We could see this problem with Emblems already. Since we can't interact with them they become way more powerful. The same could be said about Eminence ability (see the Edgar Markov article above). Those are things that we can't interact with and often come at reduced resource cost.


Ramunap Ruins is also a card that falls in the same category as badly costed Energy spells. We pay for everything in Magic. For a card we usually need to pay additional resource, be it an amount of mana or life. We have Phyrexian Rager or Dusk Legion Zealot. Ramunap Ruins is free in a different way. Since it is a land it doesn't take up a spell slot or it doesn't need to take one. In Eternal formats (Vintage, Legacy) we often play lands that have an effect we need. In Standard though this is not common and making lands matter is something that can actually warp a format. I tried running a 40 land deck in Standard. My win condition apart from bunch of Zombies and Awakened Amalgam was Ramunap Ruins. At first I just put those Ramunap Ruins in the deck in 4 copies just to be able to deal some damage with it, thinking it would be useful and that it is probably one of the best Deserts (I could also recur lands so it made sense). What I didn't expect though was that Ramunap Ruins became practically my win condition. The reason why this was my win condition was that it was very difficult to interact with unlike my Zombie tokens and Awakened Amalgam in practically creatureless deck. The easiest would be to play Surgical Extraction on it, but we don't have a card like that in Standard.

Red Deck Wins is very strong deck winning games with just its creatures, spells and Hazoret (yeah, I know it is a spell but this card is a serious problem already for some decks). Often you manage to stabilize and then you just die to two copies or one copy of Ramunap Ruins. Your hope completely gone.

Don't think about Temur Energy and Ramunap Red being dead. They are far from that. They will still be strong decks. The format though will open to other decks that were unplayable. For example I really didn't understand how one could possibly play an Approach deck in this 2 deck metagame because it has so bad matchup with both. Now, we can play Approach again. We will also be able to play all the tribal decks. We will be able to see control, midrange, ramp and decks changing the tempo of the game considerably. This is the diversity that was missing for a long time. While some decks will be better than others, the win percentages of the best decks won't be clearly over 50% against the rest of the metagame. We all should get the chance to win with different decks we decide to play.

Thanks for reading
S'Tsung (stsung on MODO, stsungjp on Twitter)