January 15, 2018 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Posted in News on January 15, 2018

By Ian Duke

Ian Duke is a developer in Magic R&D and has been with Wizards of the Coast since 2012. A gift of an Ice Age starter deck in 1995 sparked Ian's lifelong passion for Magic. He also enjoys math, physics, board games, and puzzles. To the surprise of few, his favorite guild is Azorius.

Announcement Date: January 15, 2018

Standard:

Attune with Aether is banned.

Rogue Refiner is banned.

Rampaging Ferocidon is banned.

Ramunap Ruins is banned.

Effective Date: January 19, 2018

Magic Online Effective Date: January 15, 2018

The list of all banned and restricted cards, by format, is here.

Next B&R Announcement: February 12, 2018


R&D has been carefully monitoring the evolution of the Standard environment since the rotation with the release of Ixalan. While the play patterns are generally healthy and games are strategically deep, the environment has been dominated for several months by two archetypes: Temur Energy and Ramunap Red. Together these two archetypes represent more than 40% of the competitive metagame, and both boast significantly positive records against the rest of the field (in terms of non-mirror-match win percentage). This is despite the best efforts of the metagame to adapt and counter these decks.

Temur Energy and Other Energy Variants

Having recognized "best" decks in an environment is common, and is not by itself a situation warranting bannings. In many cases, what is considered the best deck changes over time as the metagame evolves and new sets are released. However, in this case the combination of three factors has necessitated intervention:

  1. The length of time for which these decks have been dominant—as long as five months or more depending on how one categorizes different energy variants.
  2. The Standard rotation did not meaningfully weaken these decks or result in new decks that are competitive with them.
  3. Despite the metagame having many months to adapt to these decks, counterplay options have proven insufficient.

Temur Energy and its Temur-Black variants together make up a significantly larger portion of the Standard metagame than any other deck. Historically, the most-played deck at the beginning of a Standard season occupies about 10% of the metagame, with other decks vying for this top spot. As the metagame settles toward the end of a season, it's not uncommon for the emergent most-played deck to occupy 20% of the metagame. Then this gets shaken up again with the release of the next set.

However, when an archetype begins a season immediately after the release of a new set with a metagame share of 20% or higher, that's when it starts raising red flags for us. Temur Energy began Ixalan season in that range, and only increased its hold on the format. Currently, it sits at around 30% of the Magic Online Competitive League metagame—the highest metagame percentage we've seen over the past two years. This number is even higher at premier events, both physical and digital.

It's important to note that there are many ways to categorize and distinguish energy-based decks from one another. While one player may group together all the decks that play Attune with Aether (for example) into one large "energy" category, another may recognize the differences between Temur Energy, Temur Black, Sultai Energy, Sultai Red, Pummeler variants, and so on. We were careful to consider this in our analyses of the environment, and looked at these decks both as separate entities and in aggregate. ("Temur+/-Black" in the table below refers to this combined deck performance data.)

Let's take a look at some matchup data on Temur Energy gathered from Magic Online Competitive Leagues. This chart is representative of what we've seen throughout the season, slicing the data in different ways and taking samples across time.

Deck 1 Deck 2 Match Game 1 Game 2+
Temur+/-Black Energy Temur+/-Black Energy 50.0% 50.0% 50.0%
Temur+/-Black Energy Ramunap Red 53.4% 48.8% 53.7%
Temur+/-Black Energy White-Blue Gift 49.5% 41.4% 54.3%
Temur+/-Black Energy Sultai Red Energy 52.5% 50.4% 52.5%
Temur+/-Black Energy Sultai Snake 53.9% 50.4% 53.3%
Temur+/-Black Energy White-Blue Cycling 49.2% 29.0% 59.3%
Temur+/-Black Energy Esper Approach 48.3% 30.2% 59.4%
Temur+/-Black Energy Mono-Black Aggro 56.6% 54.2% 53.8%
Temur+/-Black Energy White-Blue Approach 52.8% 23.7% 63.7%
Temur+/-Black Energy Red-Green Pummeler 46.1% 42.0% 49.8%
Temur+/-Black Energy Mardu Vehicles 49.5% 46.3% 52.3%
Temur+/-Black Energy Blue-Black Control 49.2% 43.2% 52.4%

This particular chart groups Temur Energy together with Temur-Black variants (though general findings hold in similar analyses that break them apart). The first column shows the overall win percentage of Temur Energy against the second deck. The second column is the Game 1 win percentage, and the third is the win percentage for a post-sideboard game.

While some decks boast a significant advantage in the pre-sideboard game, in almost all cases Temur Energy is able to reconfigure post-sideboard to pull ahead. This is especially notable in the cases of Approach decks and White-Blue Cycling, which have extremely favorable Game 1 win percentages but ultimately are unfavored in the overall match.

With the exception of Red-Green Pummeler (another energy variant itself), none of the other decks that represent a significant portion of the metagame are able to reach a truly favorable matchup against Temur Energy. It is because of this inability of the metagame to adjust to Temur Energy's dominance that we identified the need for B&R intervention.

When examining candidates for banning, we analyzed what makes energy decks so powerful, consistent, and difficult to counter. Our goals were as follows:

  1. Reduce the overall win percentage of Temur Energy and other related energy variants, while still preserving the competitive capability of the core of the deck.
  2. Open space in the metagame for other decks to excel above energy decks in certain areas, and to force energy decks to build toward different strengths and weakness.
  3. Allow for easier counterplay against energy decks.
  4. Preserve the most fun gameplay and deck-building elements, while reducing frustrating ones.

The cards we gave the strongest consideration to were Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Aether Hub, Longtusk Cub, and Whirler Virtuoso. Ultimately we decided on Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner, two cards that produce incidental "free" energy alongside an effect that is almost strong enough to play on its own. These two cards are the most common nonland cards among all the energy variants, and two of the most ubiquitous cards in Standard.

Without Attune with Aether, energy decks will need to make more difficult decisions about how many colors to play and how to structure their mana bases. This may cause four-color energy decks to break down into multiple two- or three-color decks with different strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. Additionally, cards that spend energy will have less immediate impact without the "head start" of two additional energy often present from turn one, allowing for a greater window of counterplay and more branching paths in which games can evolve.

Rogue Refiner is what we term a generous "rate" card, one that simply provides a lot of value for little investment. The additional card advantage and energy make it difficult for other midrange and control decks to go "over the top" of energy decks in a long game. Like Attune with Aether, it also enhances the power level and immediate impact of energy-spending cards. Rogue Refiner also provides a strong pull toward blue, and thus toward playing three or more colors. This makes what would be different energy decks play and feel more like one another.

We decided not to take action against any of the energy-spending cards. In the case of Longtusk Cub, removing Attune with Aether already prevents many of the frustrating early starts that can cause the Cub to snowball out of control. Next, Whirler Virtuoso is one of the strongest cards against Ramunap Red, which is the second most popular deck and most-winning deck on Magic Online. We decided to preserve Whirler Virtuoso so as not to inadvertently improve Ramunap Red's already strong position in the metagame. In general, preserving energy-spending cards allows for more variation in deck building and gameplay among different energy decks that choose different spenders.

Finally, we took no action against Aether Hub, finding the loss of Attune with Aether to already be a sufficient hit to the consistency and win percentage of energy decks. Further, preserving Aether Hub may open up deck-building avenues to non-green decks that use energy, like blue-red and Grixis energy decks we've seen from time to time.

Therefore, in order to reduce the overall win percentage of energy decks and allow for more counterplay, Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner are banned in Standard. Please note that we expect energy decks to remain a competitively viable component of the metagame even after this change.

Ramunap Red

While Temur Energy was the most played deck in Standard, Ramunap Red was the most winning deck (with a metagame share above 2%) in Standard when measured by Magic Online Competitive Leagues (and excluding mirror matches). Let's take a look at some of that data.

Deck 1 Deck 2 Match Game 1 Game 2+
Ramunap Red Temur+/-Black Energy 46.6% 51.2% 46.3%
Ramunap Red Ramunap Red 50.0% 50.0% 50.0%
Ramunap Red White-Blue Gift 59.9% 58.2% 55.7%
Ramunap Red Sultai Red Energy 57.0% 60.0% 52.1%
Ramunap Red Sultai Snake 59.0% 55.2% 56.5%
Ramunap Red White-Blue Cycling 72.3% 68.8% 62.8%
Ramunap Red Esper Approach 70.8% 63.6% 63.3%
Ramunap Red Mono-Black Aggro 56.8% 59.8% 52.4%
Ramunap Red White-Blue Approach 67.1% 65.0% 60.5%
Ramunap Red Red-Green Pummeler 49.0% 51.0% 47.7%
Ramunap Red Mardu Vehicles 62.7% 54.1% 58.3%
Ramunap Red Blue-Black Control 56.4% 47.1% 55.6%

In this chart, the percentages are how often Ramunap Red defeats the deck in the second column. Notice that Ramunap Red has positive matchups against the entire field except Temur Energy and Red-Green Pummeler. In fact, Ramunap Red's non-mirror, non-Temur match win percentage in this format is a staggering 60%. For comparison, historically the best deck in a late-season format settles to around 52–53% against the field.

The power of Ramunap Red may come as somewhat of a surprise, since it has taken a second seat to Temur Energy in terms of high-profile finishes in premier events. In actuality, it is only because of the popularity of Temur Energy that Ramunap Red hasn't been more successful. Though Ramunap Red beats most of the rest of the decks in the field, its single worst matchup is the most popular deck.

In taking action against Temur Energy, we must be careful in reducing the power level and metagame share of one of Ramunap Red's only natural enemies. Otherwise there is a risk of creating a one-deck metagame in which nothing beats Ramunap Red.

On the other hand, we also discussed and considered the degree to which energy decks have been warping the environment. It is possible that the widespread presence of Temur Energy has been suppressing other decks that have a positive matchup against Ramunap Red but lose to Temur Energy. However, after an extensive analysis of Magic Online and real-world tournament data, we determined that taking no action against red would likely result in a less healthy, less fun metagame.

Our goals in bringing down the power level of the red deck were the same as with energy variants. We want to reduce the overall win percentage of the deck without removing it from competitive viability, and also increase the potential for counterplay.

The cards we considered taking action against were Ramunap Ruins, Rampaging Ferocidon, Earthshaker Khenra, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Bomat Courier, and Hazoret the Fervent.

Ramunap Ruins adds a lot of "invisible power" to the deck, often acting as a virtual reduction to the opponent's starting life total. It also provides a high level of inevitability in matchups that go long, such as against the blue-black control decks popular at last year's World Championship (which have since fallen out of favor, in part because of this). Without Ramunap Ruins, the general play pattern of the deck remains largely the same, but the deck will lose some amount of the free win percentage that this land contributed.

For many players, Rampaging Ferocidon is likely to be the most surprising of the cards we're taking action against. After all, many Ramunap Red decks don't play four copies in their main deck. However, in analyzing the evolution of the metagame over time as well as contrasting pre- and post-sideboard game win percentages, we have determined this to be one of the cards that most discourages and invalidates counterplay against the deck. It's worth noting that Rampaging Ferocidon was designed at a time when Saheeli RaiFelidar Guardian decks were coming to dominance in the real world, in part to counter those decks. While Rampaging Ferocidon may have been an appropriate answer card in a more powerful metagame that contained that combo, it has instead proven to cause collateral damage against other decks aiming to counter aggressive red strategies.

Two strategies that have historically been effective against aggressive red decks have been flooding the board with small creatures and gaining life. Over time we've seen the rise and fall of decks designed to counter Ramunap Red, like Abzan and Esper Tokens variants and Oketra's Monument decks like Mono-White Vampires. Initially these were unfavorable matchups for Ramunap Red, but as the red decks adopted more copies of Rampaging Ferocidon in their sideboards and even main decks, they were able to turn these matchups positive again.

Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher were two other cards we looked at in terms of making counterplay (blocking) more difficult. However, many aggressive red decks have moved away from playing four copies of each of these, and even for those that do, the next-best options aren't much weaker. Ultimately these would be too low-impact to be worth further disrupting the environment with a ban.

Conversely, we believe that banning Bomat Courier or Hazoret the Fervent would too dramatically change the play pattern of the deck and its win percentage. This would not be consistent with the goal of maintaining the competitive viability of the deck post-ban.

Therefore, Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon are banned in Standard. This is in order to reduce the win percentage of red aggressive decks, mitigate overly swingy matchups, and provide more possibilities for counterplay. Again, we expect these decks to remain competitively viable after this change.

Magic Online will have a brief downtime today, January 15, beginning at 8 a.m. PT/noon ET. It is expected to last one hour, to come back up at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET. The new Standard Leagues available after this time will have these changes in effect. Rivals of Ixalan Limited events will also be available when the downtime has ended.

Finally, we will have another banned and restricted announcement next month on February 12. The timing of this announcement makes it ideal to consider changes based on the results of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and thus will more than likely focus on Modern. However, it also is right before Grand Prix Lyon, which is Modern. As such, the paper effective date of that announcement, if we should change anything, will be February 23, so as not to disrupt anyone traveling to that event.

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