Embracing Standard Without Felidar Guardian

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
4/28/2017 11:03:00 AM
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Banning Felidar Guardian will make Standard great again.

The much-anticipated Banned and Restricted announcement no contained no changes to Standard, so what happened? Wizards correctly realized they had made a mistake not banning Felidar Guardian as part of the original announcement. Standard is the bread and butter format for Wizards, and the most popular and most played format in Magic needs to be diverse, with multiple viable strategies.

There was a widespread community thought that either Saheeli Rai or Felidar Guardian should be banned. After the original announcement that did not include the banning, there was even more complaining by the community at large about Copy Cat. This was enough for Wizards to reconsider their initial decision and ban Felidar Guardian. Clearly, we would rather have had the banning announced at the correct time, but getting it right should be the most important thing. I believe that the Addedum was the correct decision for multiple reasons.

Gameplay

Wizards has owned up to the fact that they shouldn't have even printed Felidar Guardian in the first place. Clearly the interaction between Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian went under the radar during development. Splinter Twin is banned in Modern, a format which has a much stronger power level than Standard, and the Copy Cat Combo shares many similarities to Splinter Twin. Though it doesn't operate at instant speed we are still talking about a two-card combo which wins the game on turn four. Beyond that, both Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are useful in Four-Color Saheeli when you are not actually comboing.

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Watching someone make infinite cats actually isn't all that interesting. Standard is meant to be a format with interactive games, rather than based on whether a player can find the combo or not. Even though the Copy Cat Combo was only legal in Standard for a few months, most players are already sick of it and ready for something new. The deck just isn't fun to play against.

Diversity

Standard recently hasn't contained very many viable decks. Four-Color Copy Cat and Mardu Vehicles ruled Standard, with some Temur Tower and Black-Green Constrictor mixed in. Outside of that we had Blue-Red Emerge, Aetherworks Marvel, and a smattering of other tier two strategies. Then, there are other decks and cards which simply had no chance in the format because of their inability to interact with Copy Cat. The goal is for the printing of Amonkhet alongside the bannings to be enough to shake things up.

There are some cards like Manglehorn and Magma Spray that should be effective against Mardu Vehicles. Wizards was able to print cards to essentially make Mardu Vehicles worse in the metagame, while as it turns out they did the opposite with Four-Color Copy Cat – Glorybringer and Nissa, Steward of Elements were already starting to see play in the deck. While there are some answers to the combo itself in Amonkhet, it has been proven that Four-Color Copy Cat could navigate around hate cards.

Unfortunately, even lots of sideboard hate cards wasn't enough against Copy Cat, since there were so many different angles of attack. If it isn't the combo, then it is a planeswalker or Whirler Virtuoso which becomes a huge threat. Had Felidar Guardian remained in Standard it is likely Pro Tour Amonkhet would need to renamed “Pro Tour Copy Cat.” Even hate cards like Manglehorn or Authority of the Consuls die to creature removal and enchantment removal respectively. Since you are only devoting four slots in the deck to the combo, there is plenty of room for removal and additional threats in the rest.

Preparation

During early testing for Pro Tour Amonkhet, I discounted many strategies and cards that didn't have good ways to interact with the combo. Part of playing Constructed Magic is choosing what deck to play. Traditionally, this should leave some room for innovation or brewing. This allows for putting your own individual twist on a deck or strategy, rather than going copy-paste with an online decklist. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but a player shouldn't be forced to “net-deck.” A healthy Standard format should evolve and change from week to week.

Unfortunately, the format was solved with Copy Cat in it. It was the best deck, and you needed to go way out of your way to try and beat it if playing something else. Solved formats leave little room for trying out new things. Innovation should be a part of the game, so I like having a fresh Standard format with more possibilities. Pro teams for this Pro Tour will need to put much more time and energy into testing with Felidar Guardian not in the format anymore.

To me the positives outweigh the negatives, but it wouldn't be fair not to mention the downside of this banning.

Banning Standard Cards Too Often

There had been several years of no bannings in Standard, until Wizards banned three Standard cards. Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler's Copter, and Reflector Mage are still fresh in player's minds. Banning another card so shortly after a previous banning sets a bad precedent. The fact is that Standard cards have a short time to be used as is, because they do rotate out eventually. Now, not only are you buying into cards that rotate out, they could actually become illegal before the rotation. It doesn't feel good to buy cards and then have them banned shortly after, I know from personal experience.

While banning Felidar Guardian might initially seem like it won't affect prices of cards too much, it certainly will affect Saheeli Rai. Saheeli Rai is now worth much less than before, because it really was only worth playing when alongside Felidar Guardian in Standard, or in Modern Copy Cat decks. Other role players in the deck like Oath of Nissa will also have their price tank. As a result, Wizards is losing some trust from the players. Modern is a format where we have grown accustomed to the occasional banning or unbanning, but not in Standard.

There are players who could argue that this wasn't an emergency, and that other decks have been able to compete at the same level as Copy Cat, which doesn't take into account the fact Copy Cat got even better with Amonkhet.

Now What?

Whenever a ban happens, the first thing I want to do is look back at decks that have done well in the format, and note whether they will improve or become worse in the metagame as a result of the banning. If a deck had a good matchup against Copy Cat it will now be in a worse position, and vice-versa. As it turns out in this case there were some decks that had close matchups against Four-Color Copy Cat, and then others that simply got smashed by it, with no deck having a huge edge against it.

Remember decks like Green-White Tokens, which seemed really powerful, until people realized how tough the Copy Cat matchup was? All of a sudden, a deck that had fallen off the radar looks a lot more attractive. Now you could potentially add a card like Manglehorn to the deck to take out Heart of Kiran. Mardu Vehicles should be enemy number one at the moment, so players should be seriously considering main decking a card like Manglehorn.

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Tribal creature decks also fall into the category of decks that should get better now that Copy Cat is gone. The reason tribal creature decks had such a tough time against it is that you need to play a critical mass of creature spells in them in order to be effective. Each creature helps out the others, and there isn't a ton of room left for disruption against a combo deck. This is my Boros Humans list post-ban:

This is the type of deck that is almost all creatures and ways to pump them. There is actually no real interaction for Copy Cat in this deck, as sorcery speed removal won't do it. However, this deck is incredibly fast and powerful. Always Watching is insane with exert creatures, and there are multiple exert threats. Most of the white Humans are to be expected, but all the red ones are Amonkhet additions.

Playing Bloodlust Inciter allows you to attack with exert creatures a turn earlier, which is a big deal. The mana isn't great because you have both red and white creatures to play as early as turn one, but that is what you are getting with almost any multicolor aggressive deck. There are so many ways to pump creatures between Thalia, Lieutenant, Honored Crop-Captain and Always Watching, it should be easy to see how having lots of Humans adds more synergy to the deck. Combat Celebrant provides an easy way to win; one exert use from him is usually game over. I have decided to streamline the deck rather than play expensive planeswalkers.

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White aggressive decks with exert creatures and Always Watching is definitely a strategy players will explore. Then there are some off-the-beaten-path archetypes that players may have completely forgotten about due to the existence of Copy Cat. Ramp decks used to be a major force in the metagame, but a slow deck that taps out a lot has an awful matchup against the Copy Cat combo. Now, with a better ramp creature in Channeler Initiate and possibly playing Bounty of Luxa in a green-blue variant of the strategy, ramp looks to be in a much better spot. Perhaps players will start to move away from cheating Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger into play with Aetherworks Marvel, and towards hardcasting the huge Eldrazi creature!

Overall, the big winners are the decks that both got new tools from Amonkhet and had a bad matchup against Copy Cat. Blue Control decks picked up a quality countermagic option in Censor, and were already in a decent spot, so expect to see more control. We will have to dig deeper into the Standard card pool – and there will be both old strategies resurfacing and new decks based around Amonkhet cards in a prime position to be successful after the ban.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield






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