The History of Standard's Banlist

Magic: the Gathering

Competitive

The History of Standard's Banlist

A retrospective about Standard's history and its list of banned cards.

By Romeu, 10/04/20, translated by Exylem, with help from our readers

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There's a lot to talk about when it comes to Standard. Today, I would like to invite you to take a look into the past to follow a retrospective of the format's history and its banned cards. This will allow us to comprehend its history so we can, in a future article, analyze the best moments in Standard's past and the situation that the format is in today. Standard was born at the beginning of 1995, with its baptism name Type 2 (and that's why many players still call it T2!), having just the most recent Basic Set (what we call today Core Set) and the two last sets before it. On its launch, Standard consisted of Revised, The Dark and Fallen Empires. The format had a restricted list with a considerable number of cards, while only the cards with the Ante mechanic had been banned at first.

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The concept of formats in Magic was still premature, and Type 2 went through many changes during its two first years of existence, which we will mention on this article later. It was only on November 1995 that Standard received its first official ban: Channel.
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On February 1996, having already applied a composition change to the format, which now featured the most recent set (Fourth Edition), white bordered extensions (Chronicles) and all recent expansions (Ice Age, Fallen Empires and Homelands), Mind Twist was banned.
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The list of restricted cards was also going through some changes: While cards like Recall and Feldon's Cane were no longer restricted, cards like Black Vise, Strip Mine, Land Tax, Hymn to Tourach and Zuran Orb entered the list. While I didn't found any register that explained the logic through each ban and restriction during this moment of the format, cards like Black Vise, Strip Mine, Channel, Mind Twist and Balance are cards that are still banned in Legacy or restricted in Vintage today. Thus, it is likely that these cards were simply too strong for T2. On January 1997, Standard went through another change in its rules: New editions of Basic Set now replaced the previous Basic Set, while expansion editions (this is how editions were called before the concept of Block existed) replaced the previous expansion edition. These changes happened every 30 days after the launch of each edition. Another change was the extinction of the restricted list on the format, moving all the cards from the restricted list to the banned cards list. It was also during this time that Zuran Orb was banned.
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The changes in Standard finally stopped on July 1997, when Wizards introduced the concept of Expansion Blocks, and the deck building for the format started to be made considering the most recent Basic Set (Fifth Edition) and all editions from the two most recent Blocks (Ice Age and Mirage blocks). A year went by without any card addition or removal from the ban list until Urza's Saga, the first edition of the Urza's Block, was launched on October 1998, starting the now famous Winter Combo. The mechanics of Urza's Block included a huge focus on artifacts, enchantments, spells that allowed the player to untap their lands when they resolved and lands that generated mana for each card of a specific type that you controlled. A then young and ingenuous Design Team clearly underestimated how much "free mana" or "extra mana" effects can be abused in the game. As the format was completely dominated by combo decks, Tolarian Academy and Windfall were banned on December 1998.
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Banning Tolarian Academy only created more combo decks in its place. Winter Combo was still there. On March 1999, in order to repair the caused damage and avoid players to stop playing the game, Wizards simply decided to kill the highest possible number of combos in Standard by banning Earthcraft, Recurring Nightmare, Dream Halls and Fluctuator.
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But the ban that really marked this moment and which to this day echoes on Magic's world was the urgent ban of Memory Jar... before the card was even used in tournaments, as on this period there was a time period between a card being released and becoming valid.
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Memory Jar caused many players to contact DCI, explaining how the artifact allowed a combo that frequently ended the game during the initial turns: The deck could use a fast mana + tutors combinations to play the artifact while having a Megrim on the table, potentially causing 14 damage in a single turn for each activation of the Jar.

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An article made in 2003 regarding the bans on the now extinct Extended format mentions that the emergency ban of Memory Jar was a complete anomaly of the DCI norms, but that they had to do that as players were tired of facing Combo Winter decks and Memory Jar was a card that clearly threatened a return of a combo deck metagame. On June 2003, Mind Over Matter was banned from Standard, in addition to a rule change in relation to "free spells", making so that they would only untap lands if they were played from the player's hand. Thus, it wouldn't be possible anymore to make use of creatures with this type of effect to generate infinite mana through bounce and reanimate effects.
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According Maro in his own blog, the CEO of Wizards threatened to fire the R&D team if they repeated the same mistake on the next blocks. This may also explain the considerable power level reduction on Mercadia and Odyssey blocks, while Onslaught brought a combination that, for those who played during that time, was ideal to Standard. On October 2003, Mirrodin was launched, allowing the birth of an archetype that will probably echo forever in Magic's history: Affinity.
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Although the deck created the strongest impact on the format in recent years, to the point of T2 being defined by Affinity and anti-Affinity decks, the most impactful card in the Block for the game wasn't restricted to this archetype:
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Skullclamp was banned on June 2004. Aaron Forsythe explained that the ban of Skullclamp basically happened because the artifact was present in all decks. Practically all decks of Standard used 4 Skullclamp in their 75 cards or were built to play around it. As an example, he mentions the German National of those years, and the regionals of Ohio where, between the 16 decks classified for the Top 8 on these two events, there were 58 copies of Skullclamp. The artifact was the focal point for the success of almost all strategies in the format to the point that a Tooth and Nail deck, which ideally wouldn't use small creatures, now used 16 creatures with 1 toughness for its 4 Skullclamps. The greatest irony behind the ban of Skullclamp is that the card went through many changes during its development. In the end, the effect of +1/-1 was created in order to make the card a little worse, as the original text had the card giving +1/+1 to the equipped creature. It was exactly this change that made this card overpowered. It was on Forsythe's article that an important factor would become a recurrent element in the explanations about cards being banned: The fun factor. Affinity continued to dominate Standard for a long time, until 8 cards were banned from the deck on March 2005: All artifact lands, Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault. This was the first time Wizards banned so many cards to kill a single deck. In another article, Forsythe mentioned the fun factor once again and commented on how he received innumerous messages and e-mails from people wanting to give up on the game or taking a break from the format, in addition to the reduced number of players in events because of the predominance of Affinity. Although it wasn't the dominant deck, statistically speaking, the human factor is as important as numbers. Thus, Affinity needed to leave Standard for the sake of the format and the future of the game.

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Aaron Forsythe also mentioned his fear of creating a "culture of fear" when banning cards in the format, as this would cause people to fear losing their good cards or play with the best deck on the format as the deck could be banned at any point. In the next years, Standard followed a natural course. The introduction of the Ravnica Block made Mirrodin a relic of the past and introduced cards that would greatly change the structure of the game like we know today, like Shock Lands and Dark Confidant, while its successors, Time Spiral and Lorwyn, assisted in creating what many players believe to have been another golden age of Magic. During Lorwyn, and with the introduction of Planeswalkers and mythic rare cards in Shards of Alara, there were many debates about the predominance of UB Faeries in the metagame and on how Bitterblossom was an obvious design error. However, even though there was always a best deck in the format and with occasional but still rare design errors, there was no need for another ban during some time, as the company managed to fix its mistakes, releasing new answers to problematic cards. ... Until we came back to Mirrodin.
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Although Standard returned to Mirrodin during this time, the problematic cards were found in the previous block while the ones in the new block just gave the last push for Caw-Blade to go from good to absolutely predominant. On the last days of June 2011, when Standard's metagame was dominated by Caw-Blade to the point of 88% of the decks on Day 2 of GP Singapore having Jace, the Mind Sculptor and 70% having Stoneforge Mystic, Wizards made the unexpected decision of banning both cards from Standard. While explaining the reasons for banning these cards, Forsythe reaffirmed that the team's wish was to avoid banning cards from Standard, but considering the dominance of the deck on the competitive scenario, an action needed to be taken. He also mentioned that the fun of the players is an important point to consider when it comes to banning a card. As it was launched in an Event Deck (now known as Challenger Deck) a short time before its ban, there was a concession for Stoneforge Mystic: It could be used if the player used the exact list of the Event Deck which contained two copies of it. I remember that, back then, there were reports of people who won FNMs with this Event Deck after the ban, which is comical considering the decklist was questionable even for that time's standards. On August 2014, (https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/mm/metamorphosis)(Mark Rosewater announced a change in Standard's rotation), describing that the format would now be composed by two blocks each year of two editions each, extinguishing Core Sets and making two rotations per year. The change was revoked in 2016 because of the negative feedback from both new and experienced players due to the difficulty of keeping up with the format, taking back the old rotation system which is still valid to this day. Standard once again started to receive direct interventions on January 2017, when Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler's Copter and Reflector Mage were banned from Standard as a tentative of diversifying a format which already appeared to be healthy.

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Emrakul, The Promised End was banned for being the definitive endgame card, creating recurrent game situations where imminent defeat was irreversible, and the card was not always played using traditional methods.
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As for Smuggler's Copter, it is a card which was present in the vast majority of decks in the format, restricting competitive play for other cards and polarizing the metagame around the vehicle and its removal spells. Reflector Mage was banned in the intention of weakening UW Flash, as this was a card frequently considered frustrating and not fun to play against.
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Sam Stoddard talks in (https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/latest-developments/standard-2017-01-13)(his article) about this update that, during a long time, the tolerance levels that lead to card bans in Standard were too high and, consequentially, a card like Collected Company, which had to be banned at some point in Standard because it was clear that Company decks were the best of the format, way ahead of other decks. However, it followed its entire course in its longevity in the format. Sam also reinforced the company's objective in keeping the satisfaction of players about the format. Since then, banlist updates ceased to be an anomaly in Standard's agenda to become a constant factor. On April 2017, after a "no changes" announcement for Standard, Wizards had to go back only two days after that to publish an emergency ban for Felidar Guardian, because of its dominance in a combo with Saheeli Rai.
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In June, hyperlink ( Aetherworks Marvel was banned). The purpose of this ban was because Aetherworks was capable of playing a Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn 4 or 5 with some frequency, potentially creating absolutely non-interactive games in more occasions than desired.
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The process of banning cards in the format was repeated at least once in the last three years. On January 2018, Attune With Aether, Rogue Refiner, Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins were banned. The Energy Decks, which the community already knew in the previous Standard that they would become a problem , since most of the banned decks in the previous year had an Energy deck as their base, were too predominant for a format which had just began, and needed a way to become weaker or less consistent.
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As for Rampaging Ferocidon and Ramunap Ruins, the ban was a tentative of weakening red decks, which many people speculated that would dominate the format if Energy decks were banned. Ferocidon's ban was controversial for the community as the card wasn't even used in red lists with 4 copies, but it made sense: Statistically, the decks that could fight against red decks were those who played a "go-wide" strategy.
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In the end, the speculation became a fact: Besides the diversity of the format, decks like RB Aggro and Mono Red were in fact the most present decks on the metagame of Standard in that year. Not only because of the base of powerful cards that these decks had, but also because of the recently launched Goblin Chainwhirler, which greatly limited the "go-wide" strategies which technically could fight against this type of deck.

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There was in the community, by the way, a constant discussion about the motives why the Goblin wasn't being banned, as Rampaging Ferocidon was in the banlist for limiting some types of decks which worked as possible predators of red decks, while Goblin Chainwhirler remained and remained untouched during all of its longevity in Standard, essentially doing the same that Ferocidon could. On August 2019, Wizards decided to unban Rampaging Ferocidon at the last moment of the Standard of Ixalan-War, intending to assist aggressive decks in dealing with the newly launched Field of the Dead.
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In less than a month it was realized that, although Field of the Dead was a problematic card for sure, there were other cards as troublesome as this that were still in Standard and that caused the absolute dominance of UGx decks.
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Oko, Thief of Crowns is considered by many the best planeswalker ever printed, as he creates situations on the table that makes the game polarized around him. Once Upon a Time added more consistency to green decks in the format, acting like a "mini-mulligan" at the start of the game or an efficient cantrip at the mid-late game. Finally, Veil of Summer was the definitive protection that green decks (didn't) need to deal with control or midrange decks who tried to remove their threats. The three cards were finallybanned in November to weaken UGx decks. And, finally, we have arrived at 2020. This has been a really weird year for Standard, as a considerable amount of decks were already banned.
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In June, Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention were banned. Fire of Invention's capacity of keeping your mana free to be used as you wish with utility lands, together with the possibility of playing Agent of Treachery on turn 5 with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast's ability and reuse the effect of the Agents you played with Yorion, Sky Nomad made the deck extremely efficient in doing things that were are little too strong for the format to keep up with. It was also during this time that the Companion mechanic, released in Ikoria, suffered a significant change after becoming predominant in essentially all Magic formats: Instead of playing your companion directly from the sideboard, the player now needs to pay 3 generic mana to add the creature to their hand. The ban to these cards accomplished nothing but clearing the way for a new nemesis in the format that, like Fires of Invention, also made use of free mana.
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Temur Reclamation and its 4 Color variant, which splashed white to use Teferi, Time Raveler in order to assist it during mirror matches, quickly dominated the format to the point of being considered by most professional players as the best deck in the format, like seen in the finals of the Players Tour, where this represented 68% of the decks. So, on August 8th, Wizards made an announcement that surprised all players, banning Cauldron Familiar, Growth Spiral, Teferi, Time Raveler and Wilderness Reclamation.

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Both Growth Spiral and Wilderness Reclamation were banned because of ramp decks which were dominating the metagame as, even without Wilderness Reclamation, decks like Bant Ramp and Sultai Ramp already represented a considerable portion of the metagame. Cauldron Familiar was banned due to its interaction with Witch's Oven, which is especially tiresome of observing and brings a sensation of weariness to the player, especially in Magic Arena. Jund and Rakdos Sacrifice were also a huge limiting factor to other midrange and aggressive decks in Standard, which theoretically would prey on ramp decks. Teferi, Time Raveler limited the possibilities of interaction during matches, causing the sensation of being and oppressive and "anti-game" card. Ian Duke explained in the announcement that the possibility of banning Teferi was already considered previously. However, as the card acted as a regulator against Reclamation decks was very important. So, that was also a safe moment to ban Teferi, as Wilderness Reclamation was also being banned. Finally, on September 28th, less than two weeks after the format's rotation, Wizards decided to ban Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Banning Uro from Standard was something that players were already speculating before rotation. But it was the predominance of the 4-Color Omnath decks, to the point that it composes almost 40% of Standard's metagame today, being represented in 16 decks of the last Top 20 of the latest StarCityGames tournament and 8 decks of the Top 10 of the latest Red Bull Untapped made the company decide to ban the giant.
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Ian made it clear that they will continue to observe the adaptation of the format and of this archetype in particular during the next weeks. And here we conclude our tour through Standard's history and its banlist. On the next article of this series, we'll talk about the current state of the format, both on tabletop and on Magic Arena, and its future. Until then, Stay safe, Stay home.
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Romeu

Writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually Magic: The Gathering competitive formats. Pauper Masters' Organizer.

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