May 20, 2019 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Posted in News on May 20, 2019

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: May 20, 2019

Pauper:

Gush, Gitaxian Probe, and Daze are banned.

Effective Date: May 24, 2019

Magic Online Effective Date: May 20, 2019 at 12 p.m. PT (read more here)

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

Next B&R Announcement: July 8, 2019


Pauper

Over the past several months, we've observed a rise in both play rate and win rate of blue-based decks in Pauper, with Blue-Black Delver sustaining a +55% win rate on Magic Online. In the past, we'd seen aggressive decks keeping blue tempo strategies in check to some degree, but with the recent additions of Augur of Bolas and the Foil/Gush combination, blue decks have continued to pull ahead of the pack.

Blue has long owed its strengths in Pauper to efficient cantrips like Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm, and free spells like Gush, Daze, and Gitaxian Probe. After determining we needed to take action to correct blue's dominance in the metagame, we considered several approaches.

One approach was to ban one or more of the recent additions introduced by Masters sets—Augur of Bolas and Foil in particular. Augur of Bolas helps shore up the weaknesses of blue tempo strategies against aggro but also appears in a variety of other control and combo decks. Despite this potential "splash damage" on other archetypes, Augur of Bolas was still on the table for discussion. Foil, while frustrating in combination with Gush, is generally the less powerful and problematic card of the two. We determined that if we wanted to break up that combination, Gush would be the card to look at as the more fundamental issue.

We discussed taking action against one or more of the one-mana cantrips, Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm. These are cards that have necessitated bannings and restrictions in other formats over the years. However, we believe that different formats should offer different styles of play, and that many Pauper players have come to enjoy efficient card selection as one of the hallmarks of the format.

Many decks mix and match a combined total of about eight copies of these three cards, so banning just one of them would cause decks to converge on eight total copies of the other two—a fairly minimal effect on the strength of those decks. We wanted to determine whether we could address core issues with blue's power level without removing multiple cantrips that have come to define the format and give it a unique feel.

The third category of cards we considered were free spells, Gush, Daze, and Gitaxian Probe in particular. These spells, in combination with one-mana cantrips, give blue decks strong mana efficiency and card flow starting early in the game. Gush and Gitaxian Probe allow decks to play fewer lands and replace them with spells, increasing the effectiveness of Augur of Bolas and Delver of Secrets. Daze allows these decks to spend more mana casting cantrips to set up their game plan without having "shields down" moments against other strategies. As we discussed, it became clear that free spells, in addition to being extremely powerful themselves, were also powering up the other cards on the list. They are also the category that is most likely to continue to break as new cards are added to the format, similar to how Gush makes Foil problematic. Finally, Daze and Gitaxian Probe tend to lead to less interactive gameplay, fewer shields-down moments, and less bluffing.

Therefore, in order to weaken blue tempo decks without impacting the core cantrip-plus-Delver of Secrets gameplay, we are banning Gush, Daze, and Gitaxian Probe in Pauper. We discussed whether some subset of these cards would cause enough impact, but based on our data of blue's historical strength in Pauper and the web of synergy between cantrips, free spells, and efficient threats, we determined multiple bans were necessary.

A second topic that's been on our radar is the monarch mechanic in Pauper. Our data, at present, doesn't show decks using the monarch mechanic as having problematic win rates or a problematic role in the metagame. While some feel that monarch is too high-impact, especially against midrange and control strategies, it also enables archetypes that may not otherwise exist, like red-white and white-black midrange decks.

We understand the possibility that weakening blue tempo decks may cause a rise in the popularity of Tron decks. However, we believe that this combination of bans will result in a healthier mix of aggro, tempo, control, combo, and midrange that can adjust to balance out each other's populations. We'll continue to monitor the metagame as it evolves in practice, but need to allow time for it to readjust rather than making assumptions about what the results will be. And as always, we'll continue to listen to community feedback.

No Changes to Other Formats

Other competitive formats are generally looking healthy at this time, and we've determined no need for changes. We were happy with the outcome of the Modern portion of Mythic Championship II, and will continue to research and debate whether the London mulligan is the right change for all Magic formats. If we do move forward with the London mulligan, our approach will be to observe changes in each format's metagame first, rather than making predictive or precautionary changes to the banned and restricted lists.

We're aware of some concern about combos in Modern based around War of the Spark cards, such as Neoform plus Allosaurus Rider; Ugin's Conjurant plus Celestial Kirin; and Karn, the Great Creator plus Mycosynth Lattice. We've been monitoring the play rates and win rates of these decks and, so far, don't see cause for alarm. With the release of Modern Horizons and Mythic Championship IV right around the corner, we'll continue to observe the evolution of the Modern metagame.

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