Bans, Rotations and Old Favourites

It’s been just over two weeks since the Standard bannings took effect, and many people were hoping for a great number of new and exciting decks to flood the format. Since we had Rivals of Ixalan to add to the card pool, players were keen to see Merfolk swimming to victory or Dinosaurs stomping the opposition into dust. It was unsurprising that many of those hobbyists were a little disappointed to see the top 8 table this past few weekends filled with Mardu Vehicles, Mono Red and God Pharaoh’s-Gift decks. While yes, it is early days and new brews have seen success, some are wondering if this season will just be a rehash of Standard’s most recent hits. So today we will be having a look at why older strategies are seeing more success than the newer brews, and what that means for Standard moving forwards.

Why so few ‘New’ Decks?

Whenever a new set is released, Standard rotates, or the ban list is updated, some players expect for the entire format to dramatically change. Now while this has been known to happen in the past, it is definitely not the norm. This is perfectly demonstrated by the current standard meta game. While we have certainly seen newer decks coming out of the woodwork (most notably Grixis Midrange), most of the top 8 results that have been logged show older more established decks like Mardu Vehicles, U/W control and God Pharaoh’s-Gifts to be holding a large section of the meta. The reason for this is simple – it comes down to Risk vs Reward. I covered this topic before in a previous article, but if you are not sure what I am talking about I’ll give you an example.

Imagine for a moment that you are the coach of a top-level football team (or Soccer for our American friends). Now you have two main goal scorers. One is an old hand but is still good at getting the job done, while the other is your top goal scorer and always performs well beyond expectations. You also have a few new up and comers in reserve, but they are yet to play in a high stakes game. Now, a week before one of the biggest games of the year, your top goal scorer is banned from competing, due to an unforeseen altercation. You have a choice to make. Do you go for one of the untested reserves and hope that they play well, or do you dust of the old timers boots knowing he can do well? Remember, you have a lot riding on this game. If you win you can expect a nice juicy bonus, but if you lose? I think you can all see where I am coming from.

This same dilemma plays a huge part in deck selection for a large Magic tournament. If you have just found out your favourite deck (Temur Energy) has just been side-lined five days before you attend a PPTQ or Open event, you must decide on what is now the best deck to play. Sure, you can try out that new Brass’s Bounty brew you have been tinkering with. But have you tested it enough? Can it hold up under pressure? Is the risk of failure to high? The other choice is to sleeve up that old G/B Constrictor deck you still have the cards for. Yes, it’s not original and it might not have got many new toys to add to its bag of tricks, but you know it can get the job done and has a track record of success. You have a better chance of doing well, and so your chances of gaining a reward are higher. When you are trying to subsidise your wage with prize support, like Magic Pros do, then it is unsurprising that so many players fall back into old habits.

Why Red, but no Temur?

Another interesting thing that can be observed is that while the Temur/Four Colour Energy decks have  started falling out of favour, Ramunap-less Red seems to still be doing well – but why is that? Both decks had cards banned. The answer is simple. One deck had more to lose than the other.

Mono Red (or RDW) is a simple beast, hence why the archetype has stuck around for all these years. You play lots of cheap costing, high damage spells and creatures in the hope of changing your opponent’s life total to zero. That’s it. No funny combo. No tricky plays. It’s good clean Magic. Now that’s not to say it doesn’t have it complexities, but as decks go it’s no Lantern Control. Now, let’s have a look at what got banned. Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins. Neither of these cards are particular fast, and as far as cost vs damage ratio they aren’t the best. Instead the Ferocidon functioned as a hate card for go wide and life gain strategies, while the Ruins give you more of a reach if the game went on longer than you wanted. Neither put your opponent under early game pressure, and only allowed the deck to function better in more difficult match ups. As a result, the core of the Mono Red deck still does a great job at been an effective Aggro deck in the format.

Now compare Mono Red to Temur Energy, an efficient Mid-Range deck that is spread over three to four colours and needs a surplus of Energy counters in order to function effectively. It lost access to Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. The first allowed you to fix your mana, while giving you two Energy to help pump up an early Longtusk Cub or super charge a Harnessed Lightning. The other also gave you two Energy and left behind a 3/2 that replaced itself. Compered to Mono Red that only lost cards that helped its strategy, Temur lost two cards that made its strategy. Without the Attune to help smooth out its mana, four colour variants have all but died, and without efficient ways to generate early Energy counters, cards like Longtusk Cub and Whirler Virtuoso have become a lot less effective. It is also worth noting that a lot of players have pivoted into Grixis instead of Temur, dropping the green as a result with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner value.

So, is there no hope for brewers?

With all that said, will Rivals of Ixalan and the Standard bans change anything? Or are we doomed to reliving the best hits of the most recent Standard seasons? Luckily, the answer is no.

As I said earlier, we are only a few weeks or so into the new format and a lot can change. We are already starting to see some exciting new lists, such as U/W Auras and Grixis Midrange. Merfolk also appears to be picking up some steam and can even manage 5-0 on MTGO. Give it some time and who knows what else the future could hold? I for one can’t wait to see what the community can come up with.

Well that’s my opinion, but what do you think? Will we start to see even more new brews in Standard or will it be much of the same? Why not let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Until next time remember, Good Luck and Have Fun.

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