Well the rumors were true. Monday Wizards officially announced the new Banned and Restricted announcements for the upcoming Rivals of Ixalan season and four cards were hit with the hammer. Two expected and two unexpected but both are powerful shake ups to the format.
We’re starting with the two elephants in the room. Energy took two hits, losing Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. Attune with Aether was the cornerstone of energy decks. For one G they were able to color fix and get two energy. One mana land fetch was already playable but the energy was too much on top of it. It was the most powerful card that they had access to and was one of the primary targets for a potential banning.
Rogue Refiner was the next likely canidate. For 1UG it produced 2 energy, drew a card, and was also attached to a 3/2 body. This card was too much value. It drew cards while also just trading up with many creatures on the board. That’s value on its own but the fact that it gave energy pushed it way over the top. It had to go.
So, what does that mean for energy? Well it’s taken a heavy hit with the loss of Attune. Many energy decks played with only 22 lands and Servant of the Conduit to color fix. A turn one Attune was not unusual and it almost guaranteed they would be able to play on curve for the next three turns which could all but guarantee the momentum for energy to run over the game.
Rogue Refiner was a powerful three drop but not exactly a make or break card for the majority of energy decks. This was a card that nicely curved out early or was just a good top deck later when you need to reach to replenish your resources. This card was so good that it was even a resurrection target for the Scarab God in Sultai energy or 4-Color Energy. But there are replacements coming.
There is no shortage of good three drops to release with Rivals of Ixalan like Jadelight Ranger. The Ranger even does its best impression of Rogue Refiner potentially drawing a land and becoming a 3/2.
But the main question is where does Energy go from here? Well the immediate thought for this is finding a replacement for Attune with Aether. A possible card could be Enter the Unknown. For one G a creature explores and you may pay an additional land on that turn. This is less than ideal because it requires a creature to be available to explore to even cast it.
So at best this can be used on turn 3. But if you can setup it up properly you have the potential to play two lands on turn 3 and be ahead. Considering one of energies two drops is a ramp creature on turn four you’ll have access to potentially six mana. That’s noteworthy even if it’s not as consistent as energy would like.
What energy truly lost in this banning was 8 sources of free energy production that don’t also use energy to be good. Whirler Virtuoso and Bristling Hydra or even Longtusk Cub produced energy but also consume it as part of their value engine. Rogue Refiner and Attune were value cards that simply had to be cast for their value. Without these producers, the deck is now very energy hungry and it doesn’t have solid replacements for the cards.
Energy players are now forced to make a new choice. Do they take out some of their more energy hungry options for other creatures or do they swap in sub optimal energy producers to keep the former consistency? That choice is what will make or break the future of the archetype.
Wizards also decided to tackle both the obvious monster and the one lurking in the shadows. That was Ramunap Red, the agro deck born from the Amonkhet block. With a slew of cheap haste creatures, cheap removal and powerful on curve finishers. This is a mono red deck that did what mono red does best, smash face.
One of the things that helped this mono red deck rise to the top was the land printed in Hour of Devastation, Ramunap Ruins. The red desert gave the deck late game reach. By paying four mana (2RR) and sacrificing a desert it could do 2 damage straight to the head. This provided a much need reach once they’d cast their hands and start top decking lands. So much so that many desert decks main decked at least 12 desserts to guarantee the ruins could activate
This is a card that has me scratching my head as to why it was banned. Though it is true, mono red had more than enough win conditions with Hazoret, Chandra and Glorbringer all coming down on curve and being hasty beaters, the ruins themselves didn’t seem like the oppressive option for the deck.
What Ruins did was add a level of inevitability. Eventually the mono red deck was going to top deck enough lands to just shoot down your life total. It was something that a control deck might do, not an agro haste deck and having access to both a long game win condition and something like Hazoret spelled out too many powerful options for the little red deck that could.
But Ramunap Red didn’t just lose its namesake land. It lost a powerful sideboard dinosaur in Rampaging Ferocidon. Now let’s not beat around the bush, this 3 mana (2R) dino was very pushed when Ixalan released. It was a 3/3, had menace, players couldn’t gain life and whenever another creature entered the battlefield that creature’s controller lost 1 life.
A nice little on curve pain in the butt creature for the red deck. Well the problem with the Ferocidan was that it shut down two primary ways to beat the mono red deck. And that was going wide or gaining life. A savy opponent could create a cushion of extra life or put up more blockers to survive the onslaught.
That went out the window the moment this dinosaur touched the board. Not only did it punish you for trying to counter the red deck it could make the match up all but impossible at times. So, Wizards saw the need to ban the dinosaur before it had the potential to become a problem.
Is Red dead now? Not even. It has its power plays in Bomat Courier and Hazoret. It can still drop Glorybringers from the sky and out race many decks in standard. What these bannings do however is open up an avenue for U/W and U/B control to rise up a bit more. Being the natural foil to agro, surviving into the later game isn’t as impossible as it once was.
This also opens up the avenues for players to experiment with the tribes. Mono-White vampire agro or U/G merfolk tempo agro are strong competition. Even a mid range G/W Dinosaurs or G/B explore is possible. The Standard field has been blown wide open and with a new set dropping into the middle new and redone old decks are waiting to enter the field. Will energy and Red remain the kings? Will control kick them off their pedestal? Is it time for the tribes to finally see the spotlight? Time will tell as we wait for the StarCityGames open this weekend.