Wait, err… let’s try that again.
[REDACTED], there lived a shapeshifter named [REDACTED]. Quite a Trickster, his favorite illusion was a [REDACTED].
This fairy tale is garbage.
What a day yesterday was! Three extremely meaningful bans in Standard, a massive shakeup (and, for me at least, a return to sanity) in Legacy, and for a certain subsect of people, Wednesdays got moderately more enjoyable.
While I could go on and on about why these bans are excellent, why the accompanying article may raise some fundamental questions about Wizards R&D’s process, or why I think the community’s general reaction to the bans is counterproductive, I would much rather look forward to this fresh Standard landscape. I have a ton of decks I’m very excited to try out (and if they’re good, share with you), but for now it makes sense to identify cards or strategies that have been greatly improved by the lack of Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time, and Veil of Summer.
Here are 3 cards that I believe have gained the most from the Standard bannings.
Light up the Stage
Rejoice, aggro players! You can do your thing again! Gilded Goose and Oko, Thief of Crowns proved that while Food tokens are mild annoyances on their own, repeatable ways of gaining food inevitably lead to a game state where the aggro deck struggles to win. There were some ways of getting around this, primarily Embercleave. While the trusty ‘Cleave may have helped aggro players kill their opponents before they were able to assemble a board state that could not be penetrated, green players were able to Oko the artifact before dying to it, in a sort of cruel joke which demonstrated how the three mana planeswalker greatly impacted every game where it was cast. Another possible “aggressive” answer was Edgewall Innkeeper, which is better classified as a midrange card that happens to cost 1 mana and have enough aggressive adventure creatures to trigger it. Neither of these are really what we come to expect when we think of
aggressive Standard decks, and this ban certainly makes these decks much more viable than they were in an Oko dominated format.
I picked Light up the Stage specifically because it is an incredibly powerful card that was almost completely absent from Standard. The card is arguably the best card in one of the best decks in both Pioneer and Modern, and yet the only thing preventing it from being just that in Standard was that the shell built around Once Upon a Time and Oko, Thief of Crowns (which are arguably just as impactful in the aforementioned formats) was just so much better. Shock is arguably the best answer to Gilded Goose in this format, and Mono-Red Aggro is certainly the most effective Shock deck. The banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns will allow Shock decks to do what they are meant to do: kill Gilded Goose.
Thought Erasure was one of the defining cards of pre-Core Set 2020 Standard, and the absence of Veil of Summer is an almost surefire win for the two mana discard spell. Both halves of Thought Erasure allow players, generally of the control variety, to sculpt the early turns of every game. While Erasure itself is really only a 1-for-1 exchange, it is this reliable disruption in the early turns of the game that sets up a reasonable exchange of cards and resources in the mid and late game for these control decks. Frequently, this comes in the form of removing tempo from the opponent’s early plays. Veil of Summer, however, completely turned this exchange on its head. Not only was the Thought Erasure countered, Veil replaced itself, meaning the tempo swing for the green deck was often more than the control deck could catch up with.
Oko, Thief of Crowns and Nissa, Who Shakes the World absolutely didn’t help this dynamic either. Both planeswalkers are devastatingly effective at accruing a board advantage and killing the opponent quickly. For Thought Erasure decks, finding a good, clean answer with these planeswalkers was a constant struggle. Obviously, the solution is simply to just counter them. But guess what prevents that from being a viable strategy? Yup! It’s Veil of Summer! Again, because Veil replaces itself, this exchange can be seen as the Thought Erasure player casting a counterspell that costs WUU or 1UU or 1U that simply reads as a Force Spike. Okay, sure, then just kill it after it’s in play. Use, say, Noxious Grasp or Murderous Rider or even The Elderspell. Well, of course (and you get it at this point), Veil of Summer embarrasses all fair interaction from any sort of blue or black deck.
There are several cards that gain a lot from the Veil banning, but Thought Erasure is perhaps most emblematic of the type of Magic that is now freed from the incredibly oppressive shackles of Veil of Summer, and will certainly see play in a variety of fair decks going forward.
For my final card, I’m not choosing a card that was invalidated by any of the cards that were banned, but rather one that I think gains a lot from the various metagame shifts that are likely to take place in Standard.
Firstly, the Cavalcade of Calamity decks that were somewhat successful at the beginning of this format are likely to see a resurgence thanks to what was discussed earlier in this article. These decks are powerful and fast, but many decks will need to interact with them beyond just the first few turns of the game. Ethereal Absolution, while slow, is incredibly powerful and game-altering against this type of strategy if you can survive long enough to cast it. These Cavalcade decks rely more on Cavalcade itself as a form of reach and less on direct burn spells, so it makes sense that effects that are slower and yet aimed towards invalidating their creatures are better positioned than traditional lifegain effects. However, Cavalcade decks are not the main reason why you would want to play this card.
Now that the most powerful thing to do in Standard doesn’t involve Oko, Thief of Crowns, most players will look towards what they believe to be the single most powerful card or interaction in the format. Fires of Invention, for example, is one card that immediately comes to mind. However, given the results of the last few weeks, I think the most powerful interaction is likely Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven. This combo had the ability to actually go over the top of the Oko, Thief of Crowns decks, and it stands to reason that baking a cat will still be one of the core features of the format. Leyline of the Void was the answer that many Standard decks were playing to counter this relentless, grindy gameplan, but Ethereal Absolution is a significantly more powerful way of doing the same thing. Not only does Absolution kill every Cauldron Familiar on the spot, it provides a similarly powerful and inevitable win condition with a string of 2/2 fliers in addition to a relevant boost to your other creatures. Given this, I fully expect that Ethereal Absolution will be a commonly played Standard card in the coming weeks and months.
I got absolutely demolished at the SCG Invitational this weekend, and I could write several articles on what went wrong in the tournament for me, from my deck selection in Modern, to ambitious innovations in Pioneer, to simply close calls and bad beats. Instead, I wont be disheartened by my personal results this weekend. I feel excited about Standard. I feel excited about Pioneer. And I feel excited about Mod– well maybe not that one.
We’ve been gifted what essentially amounts to a brand new Standard format thanks to these bans, so go out there and enjoy it!