Here we are with another Banned and Restricted Announcement, and with it a Standard banning. The head of Standard — Aetherworks Marvel — has been chopped off. I want to get into whether this was a smart move for Wizards, and if there should have been any other bans as well.
Believe it or not players do have a voice, and if you have been following Twitter the past month or two there has been lots of complaining about Aetherworks Marvel. This is not the main reason behind banning Aetherworks Marvel, but it certainly plays a role. Looking back to the Felidar Guardian banning, there was an initial negative reaction when the community thought there would be no Felidar Guardian banning. Of course, after the negative reaction Wizards retroactively did ban Felidar Guardian. This time around there was a lot of noise about how bad Aetherworks Marvel is for Standard, and it was clear ahead of the Banned and Restricted Announcement that there would be complaints if the powerful four-mana artifact didn't get banned. Players are sick of Aetherworks Marvel.
I have talked about this before but it should be reiterated: playing games against Aetherworks Marvel isn't enjoyable. Your opponent can find a way to put Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger into play, or maybe they don't and they lose. The games are generally not super-interactive, and it is deflating after a while; one can only take seeing Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the other side of the battlefield so many times.
This is huge. Many players have lost interest in playing Standard entirely because of Aetherworks Marvel. Standard is supposed to be the bread and butter format of Magic, but it has certainly not been the most popular format recently. The last Standard Grand Prix barely made it to 800 players — a huge problem. Any time there is a decrease in tournament attendance that can be directly attributed to a specific deck, Wizards hand is forced. Having Aetherworks Marvel in Standard has been affecting their bottom line.
Anytime there is a banning that means that there was some issue with the development of a card. With that being said we can't expect Wizards to be perfect; it can be hard to predict exactly how certain cards will affect Standard until seeing them in action. However, there have never been this many Standard bans in such a short amount of time, looking back throughout the history of the game. Wizards wants to remain reliable and keep the trust of the players, and too many bans hurt our wallets. Bans will significantly affect the prices of Standard cards, and it feels like, as players, we have lost any money invested in the banned banned, and even cards that were in the deck of the banned card.
For instance. with Aetherworks Marvel being banned, surely players who purchased Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger's for $25 each are licking their wounds. One banned card will have a ripple effect throughout the prices of all the cards in Standard. Since the lifetime of Standard cards is so short, it would be nice to think that the ones you do buy into are going to be in the format until they rotate. Many players look like they are more comfortable investing in the comparatively-stable Modern; even though the cards are pricier overall, you get to use the cards you buy there for a longer period of time.
If Wizards was unable to wait until the next Standard rotation to ban Aetherworks Marvel, then it's clearly a huge issue. After all, we are only a few months away from that rotation. Many players thought that Wizards would bite the bullet and keep Aetherworks Marvel in the format because of the looming rotation. Personally though, I think this was the time to ban Aetherworks Marvel, assuming that Hour of Devastation wouldn't hurt Aetherworks Marvel decks too much. Best-case scenario would be for Wizards to try and print an answer to Aetherworks Marvel in Hour of Devastation, but it seems that wasn't an option. Hate cards haven't been that effective against Aetherworks Marvel decks, as even the latest answer, Dispossess, actually isn't all that effective. Perhaps a card like Pithing Needle would hurt Aetherworks Marvel, but that is not the world we are living in. Standard needed to change that's for sure, and sometimes banning a card is the only way to make that happen, but it should be the last resort.
When banning a card it is certainly important to take into account recent tournament results, and if they are lopsided in a way that indicates a broken metagame. I played Temur Marvel at Pro Tour Amonkhet, and it was pretty clearly the best deck at that event. In the Banned and Restricted Announcement, Based on the numbers there are other decks in the format that can compete with Temur Aetherworks. Temur Aetherworks has been doing very well at major tournaments, but we have also seen the likes of White-Blue Flash, and Black-Green Delirium win Grand Prix recently too. Temur Aetherworks doesn't crush any deck in the format because it is high-variance, and will lose to itself some percentage of the time. I believe that the gameplay part of Temur Aetherworks and the sheer popularity of the deck is a bigger deal than how good it actually is. This isn't Caw-Blade, for instance.
What will Standard look like without Aetherworks Marvel? We have Hour of Devastation on the horizon, which should shake things up, but I expect many of the currently popular decks to stay popular. The next most powerful Standard card after Aetherworks Marvel is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and that one is still around. Look for traditional Mardu Vehicles to assert itself once again as the deck to beat. The splashing of Spell Queller no longer seems as important with Aetherworks Marvel gone. This is the type of list I am talking about:
Various Black-Green shells and Mardu Vehicles should be in the running for the top two decks, with some control and White-Blue Flash style decks sprinkled in as well. Personally, I'm hoping that control will gain a few more tools with Hour of Devastation. The banning of Aetherworks Marvel doesn't automatically mean a more diverse metagame. It would be nice to see some completely new strategies become viable again. There is still a Temur Energy shell good enough to be played alongside creatures like Longtusk Cub, even without Aetherworks Marvel.
I don't play some of the more casual formats, so I won't go into those here. As far as Legacy is concerned I have been wanting to see Delver of Secrets decks taken down a notch essentially forever, but there are still other decks in the metagame that don't play Brainstorm and Force of Will I suppose. I wouldn't expect any changes to be made to Legacy anytime soon.
Modern is a format where there have been rumblings about a potential Death's Shadow ban. Death's Shadow variants have been the winningest decks over the past few months, based on results. The latest most popular variation of Death's Shadow is Grixis-based, and uses Death's Shadow as a one-mana win condition in a deck that otherwise appears to be Grixis Control.
The fact is that it seems you can throw Death's Shadow into almost any midrange deck, and alongside fetchlands and shocklands it is possible inflict enough lifeloss on yourself to get it into play early. Street Wraith and Thoughtsezie are easy enablers and are good cards anyway. Death's Shadow decks are strong, but I don't think a ban is necessary. There are still other decks in the format that boast a favorable matchup against Death's Shadow. Just take a look at what Todd Stevens did this past weekend, as he continuously crushed Grixis Death's Shadow with this deck:
There are still powerful cards that are difficult for Death's Shadow decks to overcome. Chalice of the Void, Rest in Peace, Blood Moon... hey, maybe I should just play White-Red Prison! Modern tournaments seem to keep becoming more popular, so even if Death's Shadow is the best overall deck, players seem happy to play the format as it currently stands.
Thanks for reading,