On the morning of the 23rd, the Magic community was surprised by an alleged leak of the banned and restricted list for the Standard format, which will be out next Monday, May 29th.
At the time of writing this article, Blake Rasmussen has confirmed on Weekly MTG that this leak is fake. Therefore, the discussion about what should be banned next week is still relevant as the community waits for the fateful day of the announcement.
In this article, I will list the cards that might be banned next Monday. The basis for my speculations will be the topic addressed in my article on the potential of the new ban policy, where the company can attempt some overall maintenance, with surgical decisions, to bring changes to the Metagame.
My analysis seeks to assess how likely each card's ban is, and how its absence would alter Standard.
Universal bans are those that affect more than one archetype, and include cards that have become staples in multiple decks.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker: The Obvious Ban
By now, the Fable of the Mirror-Breaker ban should be clear to most players. The Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty's Saga went from one of the most overshadowed cards in the set to a multi-format staple in just a few short weeks, where it has remained ever since.
In Standard, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker has become the mainstay of the Metagame, with a wide variety of decks resorting to it to increase their consistency, while those that don't need to have dedicated slots to respond to their opponents' Fables.
Its biggest advantage is that this card does a little bit of everything: it creates two threats, speeds up mana, filters its controller's hand, and Reflection of Kiki-Jiki creates absurd interactions alongside ETB effects. Furthermore, an opponent who fails to respond to the token created by the enchantment risks having to deal with more impactful cards, such as Invoke Despair, a turn earlier, and the sequence between Fable and high-impact cards becomes the most common and most dangerous play in most midranges.
Therefore, due to the combination of so many qualities in a single slot, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is the most likely ban on the next Monday.
Reckoner Bankbuster: a victim of its own success?
Reckoner Bankbuster has a peculiar story. The artifact was underused in the Neon Dynasty season, and as the Metagame adapted to attrition matchups, it became a Sideboard staple.
In the current season, however, Bankbuster is the most common maindeck card in Standard decks. After all, if every match is an attrition between Midranges, it's natural that an artifact that offers three more cards in hand in the medium term becomes a staple for several strategies.
With a 71% presence in the Metagame, Reckoner Bankbuster is likely to leave Standard next week. However, the artifact is a victim of its own efficiency, as the Metagame has reached a point where card advantage is the predominant factor. Therefore, there is a vague possibility that Wizards considers its presence in the format to be beneficial and would help establish good Control decks in the future, and therefore decides to keep it in the format.
Banned Cards by Archetypes
If Wizards intends to bring punctual changes to Standard and diversify the Metagame, banning only the most obvious and overwhelming cards won't be enough to increase the amount of viable archetypes in the format, nor to make Wilds of Eldraine more relevant when the set is released.
So, I suppose we will have changes similar to what happened on August 3, 2020, when the company not only banned the main cards of the predominant strategy, but also pieces of other strategies to create a more diverse competitive environment.
Black-Based Midrange - Invoke Despair, Sheoldred the Apocalypse
Black-Based Midrange refers to Midranges that play with Invoke Despair. Today, they are mostly in Rakdos and Grixis shells, but they can appear in other combinations as well. Therefore, I am aggregating its key cards in this section.
Invoke Despair is another ban that seems almost obvious due to the spell's recurring anti-game situations, and it's also one of the few favorable answers against Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Another notorious problem with its presence in Standard is the fact that it slows down most Aggro decks in the format, which limits the potential of these strategies to play "under" and win in the race.
Between Fable's departure from Standard and the release of Chandra, Hope's Beacon, which turns Invoke Despair into an improved Cruel Ultimatum, and the lack of mana restriction when decks of two, or even three colors, manage to access it thanks to a super efficient mana base (and, of course, Fable's presence), it seems obvious that this Neon Dynasty sorcery needs to leave the format to increase diversity.
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a weird case. On the one hand, she's a multi-format staple, dominates the game on her own if she stays on the board, and interrupts the clock of Aggro decks just as well as Invoke Despair. On the other hand, she is a creature, and there are plenty of answers to her in Standard.
Even if all other key Black-Based cards were banned from the format, the color would remain present in Standard due to the added value that a Sheoldred creates for its controller, in addition to the clock imposed by it on Control decks, from which also limits the space to draw multiple cards in one turn.
Furthermore, its presence in the format's card pool makes other viable winconditions or four-drops just bad compared to it. So, the departure of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse would help increase the threat diversity, but it would also be another blow to many Midranges.
White-Based Midrange - The Wandering Emperor, Wedding Announcement
In Standard's Midrange universe today, another present archetype are the white decks looking to extract value with ETB effects and Planeswalkers. On the one hand, their presence in the Metagame is due to how well they manage to hold up against the format's main competitors.
With the above bans, Mono White Midrange would likely migrate to other two-color variants, and the space created for Control decks would put it in a bit of a sensitive situation in the Metagame, given that it lacks more efficient answers for this matchup.
However, those same Control decks could take advantage of the white shell and pair it with plains-type lands, such as Raffine's Tower to take advantage of Lay Down Arms, and The Wandering Emperor, while it's a card on par with Standard's power level today, it could become another dominant force, which would reduce the space that Aggro would have in the format.
The problem with this Planeswalker is that it serves very well with reactive plays, but it also manages to offer several proactive micro-interactions, which force opponents to play around it in order not to lose a favorable board.
Like Sheoldred, the presence of The Wandering Emperor in the format limits the potential that other Planeswalkers can have in Standard, given that, unlike most other cards in its category, Wanderer isn't bad in virtually any game.
Her ban doesn't seem necessary at all, and she's a great resource for Control decks to have their moment. However, if Wizards want to give more space to other Planeswalkers, The Wandering Emperor might leave Standard.
On an empty board, this card will give you a token to attack/block, then reward you with a Glorious Anthem. And on a full board, Wedding Announcement helps its controller keep their gas while offering a pump to all their creatures late-game.
While White Aggro seems to be going for Tocasia's Welcome, Wedding Announcement has been prominent in some versions of Esper Legends and Mono White Midrange, where, if destroyed, it can be recovered with Serra Paragon.
Its ban seems unlikely today due to its lack of presence in the Metagame outside a specific archetype. However, for the amount of value offered with a single slot, and the ability to punish targeted removals with one token per turn, or reward the go-wide plan with extra cards, Wedding Announcement may leave Standard next week.
Esper Midrange - Raffine, Scheming Seer, Plaza of Heroes
Esper Midrange was Standard's most important strategy the previous season, and was expected to maintain its top deck position following the release of Dominaria United. Today, its most well-known version is Esper Legends, with a consistent mana base in a shell almost entirely focused on creatures.
A ban on just Rakdos/Grixis parts would leave Esper as the best option available in the format. So, what cards could weaken this archetype's success?
Since its release, Raffine, Scheming Seer has been the reason to play Esper Midrange. The Streets of New Capenna demon rewards a "go-wide" strategy in the best possible way: with pumps and the ability to filter your hand, searching for the best card for each situation.
The Esper core today has an infallible quality of creatures: Skrelv, Defector Mite offers protection, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is disruption with a decent body, Dennick, Pious Apprentice is lifegain and graveyard hate, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is a game-winning machine, and Ao, the Dawn Sky is threat and recursion in a single card. Therefore, attributing Esper's success solely to Raffine, Scheming Seer would be a mistake.
However, it's Raffine's filtering quality that gives enough reason to create a strategy aimed at filling the battlefield of creatures with additional effects, and its ability to make any one of them grow while filtering your hand turns it into one of the biggest threats that the opponent can put in play.
Therefore, a ban on Raffine could put a blockade in the way of Esper Midrange becoming the best deck, but without taking away from it the potential to become a great competitor in the Metagame.
However, printing specific hates, such as Lithomantic Barrage, also increases the potential answers from other archetypes against Esper, and can help counter Raffine without the need for direct intervention.
Easy access to mana of any color is problematic when it doesn't come with a consequence or concession. Plaza of Heroes has a massive concession of only generating mana for legendary spells and/or as per the colors of your legendary permanents. However, Esper decks turn this concession into an advantage.
The current mana base of Triomes + Pain Lands + Slow Lands + Fast Lands already offers a high diversity of colors for several archetypes, and it is likely that we will have new cycles being introduced next year. Therefore, having a flexible land that comes in untapped, adds mana of any color, and still has a late-game ability can be a little too consistent for this archetype.
However, Plaza of Heroes is only as good as the legends on its list. As good new Legends appear, the better the land is, and although Esper variants are the ones that best use the card, other versions of Legends may appear in the Metagame in the future and make room for a strategy that many players love, but that don't usually receive enough support in Standard.
Its ban seems unlikely, but it would be a surgical choice to reduce the consistency of this specific archetype.
Reanimator/Goodstuff - Atraxa, Grand Unifier
Atraxa, Grand Unifier is the second most powerful card in Standard today, behind Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. The Phyrexian Angel has invaded all competitive formats and has become the mainstay of countless strategies that focus on cheating its mana costs and getting it into play early.
The same goes for Standard, with Atraxa being played alongside The Cruelty of Gix, Breach the Multiverse and even Invoke Justice, where once it hits the board, it will recover all the resources invested in reanimating it or putting it directly into play, while still offering a three-turn clock, almost unbeatable in combat.
Fable leaving will cause Reanimator's strategies to lose their consistency in placing Atraxa in the graveyard, even more so if it comes with a Bloodtithe Harvester ban. But there are several ways to discard cards from your hand in Standard, with Cathartic Pyre being an efficient removal that can filter your hand.
Furthermore, Five-Color Ramp decks have been growing in the Metagame since the Pro Tour March of the Machine, and are the best option for casting Atraxa without the need to cheat on its costs. These same decks already have other powerful pieces, such as Herd Migration and Etali, Primal Conqueror as late-game bombs.
And speaking of Etali, the dinosaur from March of the Machine is another decent payoff for Reanimator/Ramp strategies, and one that doesn't offer an immeasurable amount of value to its controller, but rather that depends on how impactful cards from both decks are - an Etali on the Midrange mirror can win the game alone, while in a matchup against Aggro and/or Control, there are high chances of it bringing subpar cards from the top.
As with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Atraxa's ban seems unlikely. However, not only is it a creature that generates an absurd amount of card advantage, it also greatly limits the space that other "late-game bombs" can have in Standard, as almost none can be better than it.
Many consider Bloodtithe Harvester too good for Standard. After all, the creature offers a decent clock for two mana, the ability to filter cards from your hand (and discard threats to reanimate with The Cruelty of Gix), and it still functions as an early game removal.
However, Harvester's great potential is largely due to how threatening its ETB effect and sacrifice are alongside Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and without the enchantment's presence in the Metagame, Harvester only deals with small creatures, or needs multiple copies and/or greater iterations in the list with Blood tokens to be relevant as the game progresses.
Finally, Standard doesn't lack for efficient two-drops, and cards like Tenacious Underdog could replace it in Black Midranges after May 29th.
Graveyard Trespasser is hard to kill, generates a 2-for-1 on its own, has built-in graveyard hate, and still offers lifegain with its attack. It does plenty of things on its own and is even featured on Pioneer's maindeck Rakdos lists.
As Reanimator decks are trending in Standard, and despite the recent release of Urborg Scavengers, having a maindeck answer to these strategies is a must, so they don't dominate the format when integrated into a Midrange shell.
Many players hate playing against Farewell, as the card is an ultimate sweeper, and works like a reset button on the battlefield.
Such as Graveyard Trespasser, Farewell and similar effects seem like a need for Standard to deal with unexpected situations. Yes, the sweeper is too efficient, but it's better to have it in the Metagame than risk needing less flexible answers for certain games.
Last honorable mention for Metagame maintenance are Streets of New Capenna's Triomes. Standard's mana base today is already quite flexible in being able to establish two-color strategies, and we've seen decks with three or more colors gain more space thanks to this land cycle.
While there is a portion of the community that believes there is a problem with facilitating 3+ colors too much, Triomes have concessions when the format has a decent share of Aggro decks to prey on greedy mana bases.
Cards like Leyline Binding help to address this problem, but their consistency in a format without Fetch Lands is much less efficient, and archetypes like Mono Blue Delver and Azorius Soldiers can prey on the "Goodstuff Piles" if Midranges are nerfed.
When a giant falls, another rises in its place
Finally, it's important to point out that competitive Magic will always have a best deck, and that even if all the main Standard archetypes are banned on Monday, new strategies will emerge, and a new best deck will emerge to dictate the Metagame, while others will have little, if any, tournament representation. It is natural that a strategy without sufficient support cannot obtain the best results.
The big problem on the current season lies in the lack of diversity: when all games are geared towards attrition, and there is little room for Aggro and Control, the format becomes static and tedious for a portion of the community, and the focus of making Standard the gateway to Magic Arena and more interesting to play on tabletop makes creating a diverse Metagame with a wide range of options a necessity.
So, after this wave of bans, we need to watch how the Metagame develops before we say that the next big strategy is broken and is suppressing Standard.
That's all for today.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or any cards you think were left out of this list, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Thanks for reading!