A warning has been given: on December 4th, an update to the banned and restricted list will bring changes to the Pioneer and Modern formats.
The community of both formats is already abuzz with speculation based on the latest live broadcast on the WeeklyMTG program, where Blake Rasmussen and his guests discussed the philosophy behind the interventions made by Wizards of the Coast in the competitive environment.
In this article, we evaluate which cards in Pioneer could take the ban hammer next Monday!
Pioneer: What will be banned?
Pioneer has been in a peculiar state over the past two weeks. An interaction with the new Lost Caverns of Ixalan keyword, Discover, created a strategy capable of closing combos with just one card.
Four-Color Discover, or Geoform as it became known, uses Geological Appraiser and deckbuilding concessions to manipulate the Discover 3's result, always seeking Glasspool Mimic to copy Geological Appraiser or Eldritch Evolution to fetch Trumpeting Carnosaur.
Eventually, all copies of these creatures will be in play, and Eldritch Evolution can target Doomskar Titan to ensure immediate lethal damage. The combo is fast, efficient, plays well against other non-interactive archetypes, and requires too much interaction to be responded to - it, alone, creates an unfun game pattern and forces the Metagame to adapt too much against it, while it needs to adapt only to bad matches.
Given the tone of the WeeklyMTG interview, it's pretty clear that at least one card will be banned from Pioneer:
Banning Geological Appraiser will be enough?
Geological Appraiser is the piece that guarantees the fastest combo-kill, capable of being done as early as the third turn. Alongside Trumpeting Carnosaur, it also guarantees greater consistency when executing the combo and punishes any strategy that fails to play under it or prevent it from going off.
Its ban is the most logical if the plan is to remove Geoform from the format. Without it, the deck doesn't work with Eldritch Evolution, becomes slower, and doesn't guarantee such an easy combo-kill, in addition to forcing other deckbuilding concessions to establish an efficient game plan.
But will it be enough?
Quintorius Kand is another card that allows a similar combo with the Discover mechanic, where Spark Double can copy it and activate the same ability to find another Spark Double and repeat the process, with each cast triggering Quintorius's passive ability and dealing an arbitrary amount of damage in the process.
The version with Quintorius had the worst winrate conversion this past week. After all, its combo is slower and requires more dead pieces to work, in addition to opening up more space for answers. Its deckbuilding is closer to a Goodstuff Domain than an all-in combo, but it is what players will try to achieve a quick victory without Geological Appraiser.
So, is it safe to keep Quintorius on Pioneer? Maybe, but my intuition says that the risks don't outweigh the benefits. If the community finds the right build to make the combo with Discover work with it and without Geological Appraiser, we will have a four-month period where a one-card combo can define the Metagame and create anti-game states on Pioneer for too long.
Karn, the Great Creator or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx?
Another notable line from the broadcast was regarding the fact that players have access to their Sideboard in Game 1, and how this creates unfun situations in Pioneer. Today, the only widely played card that provides access to the Sideboard is Karn, the Great Creator.
Karn is mainly used in Mono Green Devotion, a deck that was on the rise until the release of Wilds of Eldraine, which leveraged Izzet Phoenix back to the top. Today, it is still one of the main strategies in the Metagame, but does not produce the same results as it once did.
The planeswalker is one of Devotion's main winconditions, where it serves both to find necessary answers for the matchup, such as Pithing Needle against Planeswalkers, or Damping Sphere against Lotus Field and Geoform, as well as finding a bomb capable of guaranteeing absurd value in the game, such as Cityscape Leveler and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
Karn also guarantees an "infinite combo" with Pestilent Cauldron, where Restorative Burst guarantees enough recursion and life to stall the game. Two copies of the Planeswalker and an arbitrary amount of mana are enough to end the game because the opponent will never come back from it.
So... what if the problem isn't with Karn, the Great Creator?
Mono Green Devotion is the most efficient Big Mana in the format. It is made up of an extremely consistent base, capable of playing the long game, playing over several decks, and even establishing more explosive turns with Storm the Festival and Karn, the Great Creator - the first card banned from Pioneer besides the Fetch Lands, Leyline of Abundance, was banned precisely because of this deck.
So how can the problem be with the Planeswalker and the easy access to the Sideboard, and not the abusive amount of mana that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx produces?
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx had the potential to become problematic from the very first week, and was also the basis for other oppressive archetypes in the format's history, such as Mono White Devotion, whose presence led to the banning of Walking Ballista because of its infinite combo with Heliod, Sun-Crowned.
Excess mana has always been a problem in Magic, and Mono Green Devotion not only requires few concessions to work, it also derails any possible ramp strategy in the competitive scene by doing what they do much more easily.
Karn is a dangerous card, on the verge of oppressive, but the problem is not with him, but with the potential to use him to search for anything from the Sideboard and cast that thing on the same turn, whether from a Pithing Needle to a Portal to Phyrexia. The combination of green three-drops with in cost, Nykthos and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is what makes this archetype so aggressive for the format's health.
Pioneer: What will be unbanned?
The conversation about bans soon turned to the subject of unbans, where some players believe that the December 4th intervention will also remove some cards from the banned and restricted list.
Which card in it has any chance of being unbanned? Let's see by steps.
Fetch Lands means Trouble
The ban on Fetch Lands is the main crux that differentiates Pioneer from Modern. With Triomes and the lack of access to cards like Blood Moon, their unbanning would be a nightmare for the competitive environment.
Too Powerful to Unban
It's safe to say that any of the cards above have zero chances of being unbanned. All of them define formats on their own, warp the Metagame, and power creep has not yet reached the point where they are acceptable.
It doesn't make sense to ban one combo piece to unban another. All the cards above oppressed the Metagame in some way with their respective combo decks.
Kethis, the Hidden Hand is the only exception. It could be acceptable if we weren't talking about a ban update whose aim appears to be to reduce non-interactive game states in Pioneer.
Teferi, Time Raveler and Wilderness Reclamation are two cards that force the opponent to play around them all the time. The experience of neither is really pleasant and creates situations similar to those we see with Combo decks.
Izzet Phoenix is already the best deck in the format. Expressive Iteration would only solidify that position and put it even further ahead on the competitive scene. The card was banned due to the predominance of this archetype, and it wouldn't make sense to bring it back in the current Metagame.
I don't see anything good coming from unbanning Smuggler's Copter, despite this being the bet of most players. When unbanned, the vehicle leveraged aggressive strategies with recursion that no longer exist in the competitive environment, such as Mono Black Aggro.
Today, in addition to feeding Aggro and typals, the Copter would also be used in Greasefang, Midranges and other archetypes. It wouldn't be broken, but it would be present in too many lists and would be efficient in too many strategies to keep the environment healthy.
Nexus of Fate is a weird case. It is a card that leads to anti-game states, but its mana cost is high and, without Wilderness Reclamation, it is difficult to take advantage of it without first establishing a clean board. The current Pioneer is a format with several fast decks capable of preying Ramp archetypes that seek to cast Nexus of Fate early. Perhaps this would make it a viable unban, if not for what Lotus Field lists could make of it.
Possible unbans under certain conditions
Leyline of Abundance is much less offensive when it can't feed two devotion points for free. Doubling or tripling the mana generated by dorks can bring some issues, but the reduction of cards in hand and the possibility of interacting with these dorks to "negate" these explosive turns make it much more tangible than in a universe with Nykthos.
Veil of Summer, on the other hand, is much more dangerous. The main argument for its unbanning is that, in the absence of Mono Green, Rakdos Midrange would have a clear path and without its natural predator. Soon, it could become a predominant force in the Metagame, and having ways to combat its cards without losing resources could give a push for green decks to remain in the format, and for other archetypes to have ways to interact with black-based midranges.
My prediction for next Monday's announcement is the following changes:
Another option is to have no unbans and Karn, the Great Creator pay for the sins of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Furthermore, the future of Quintorius Kand or Trumpeting Carnosaur is uncertain, given that Undercity Informer and Balustrade Spy were banned together in the past.
Leyline of Abundance seems like the safest unban in Nykthos' absence. As much as the community wants Smuggler's Copter back, its presence doesn't seem to bring anything beneficial or healthy to the Metagame.
Veil of Summer is another option, but its damage potential is much greater than that of a Leyline, and its ability to enter problematic archetypes in the future makes it more risky.
We'll know what's in store on December 4th, and we'll analyze the impact of the banlist update on the affected formats.
Thanks for reading!