Dan Rowland: Wanderer League Ban List

Dan Rowland returns with a new article about the Wanderer League Ban List that will be coming when the format drops in September. He discusses the cards that could end up on the Ban List and the reasons why they should do so. So, read on and see if you agree with his article regarding any bans that should happen when Wanderer League become official.

The Nature of the Ban

So now that we just had Reflect banned in New Frontiers as of 9/1, the next topic will be potential bannings in the new Wanderer format that is just around the corner.  The hype is already focusing on two decks that are over powered in the current New Frontiers, OTK Tree and the Stealth Deck using Kaguya 1.0 even the Crocoshark variant.  The Tree deck can kill you turn 2 on a good draw and turn 4 on a bad one, but consistently does it turn 3.  The problem is that a lot of talk is over banning the Ruler’s or certain cards that really wouldn’t do what people want.


Each of these decks is combo in nature.  However, banning is a serious thing and one should really look at the essence of the combo and evaluate carefully what should be banned if anything.  I will lead off that for Tree, Whispers should be the target and for Croco, maybe the Croco itself or other key cards in the non-Croko builds.  I will defend my positions but first lets take a little history trip.

Some of us are a bit older and have played other games and seen things like the “Combo Winter” in games like Magic all the way back in the late 90s.  There were also decks like the Necro/Donate decks.  In some cases there are combo decks that have one card that makes them possible  and needs to be banned regardless, no other bannings will help.  Memory Jar was such a card, it allowed you to draw 7 fresh cards.  Yawgmoth’s Bargain is another, Necropotence a third.  What all these cards have in common is that they powered the combo decks.

In the case of the Donate deck, which basically let you give your opponent a card that instantly killed them when it left the field, it was still around after its draw engine was banned.  In its new form however, it was manageable to play against.  It did not kill you turn 2 or 3, it took a lot longer.  The high tide decks that were powered by Memory Jar had to find a new way to work, they found it, but again it was a lot slower.

The point of these examples is that Combo decks are part of most games.  The thing that makes them fun to play is trying to pull it off.  The thing that makes them bad to play against is losing fast.  So combo decks that actually allow interaction is the goal or at least should be for any game that has them.

Let’s take a look at the Tree Deck.  The goal is to get a turn 1 mana dork, then on turn 2 drop a Morgiana and play Whispers from the Abyss paying 3900 life and drawing 7 cards, each time getting to look at the top 3 because of Morgiana’s effect.  You then drop your 1400/1400 Beasts, draw more cards from hitting it with Pricia’s Call to Action, also giving it Swiftness and beating face.  Some have stated Morgiana should be banned.  Whispers I think should, for one main reason.  It is the engine.  Is this deck still playable with no Whispers?  Sure it, but at a lot slower pace.

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You see, Whispers is an enabler.  It is the engine that combo wants and loves.  Tree might be the deck to abuse if currently, but with new sets every three months, what will be the next combo to emerge that wants an engine?  Morgiana is good as well, but a 300/300 is easily dealt with.  The main problem with Whispers is that you pay your life AFTER it resolves.  If you had to pay while it was on the chase, this would not be an issue.  A well placed Thunder would end the game.  Currently you cast it, intending on paying 3900 life, but then you get Thundered in response and just change your choice to 3400.  Sure you get 1 less card, but that is it.

So short of an Errata on Whispers that says “As you play this card, choose any amount of life.”  It should the banned card here.

Next we come to Kaguya 1.0 and Stealth.  A lot of voices say to ban the Blind Seer.  Why?  Because she can drop Standbys and Stealths for 1?  Again, I am not saying don’t ban her, just not right away.  See what happens later.  If banning her is just in response to ONE deck, then evaluate the deck.  Other voices say hit Pumpkin Witch with the ban hammer.  This is just as silly.

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Let’s take a look at the Crocoshark deck first.  The deck is basically: Turn 1 set a Shark, turn 2 set 2 sharks, turn 3 Drop pumpkin witch, flip 3 Sharks, drop 3 more from hand and swing for win.  So playing Stealth cards for 1 is broken, right?  Not really.  The problem here is not dropping cards for 1 less then normal.  It is not Witch either, in fact you could easily replace Witch with any 1 or 2 cost resonator that has Quickcast and get the same effect of a lot of Sharks quickly and swarming.

In regards to the other Stealth deck variants you have to consider one thing to start with, most Stealth and Chant Standby cards only trigger under conditions that you do not control.  Yes there are some that don’t but there effects are not that amazing, or you can’t run 40 of them in your deck.   This is the key.  An evaluation of the Stealth/Standby cards the deck runs needs to be done.  Riza and Melder are concerns, but when you look at them, read them carefully.   For comparison here:
            Basically I am saying that Crocoshark is the card that should see banning here.  I am not saying that Pumpkin Witch or Blind Seer are not good or may prove powerful later.  What I am saying is that this ONE deck that has people worried because of ONE card, just like Tree is ONE deck powered by ONE card.   Take out the thing that makes these decks dominate and you neutralize their threat.

Riza, First of the Dead 

The first thing that makes them different is that Riza is a MAY ability and it is whenever she enters the field from anywhere.  Executioner HAS to do it.  This enter part is of no real concern because who is going to play her from hand.  The real abuse comes to the trigger condition, a player can fully control how many creatures they have and how many stones.  Now take a look at two more:

Melder, Last of the Dead 

We come to Melder, the second card in the combo that was dominating Season 2 at the end.  He also has the enter effect from no matter where he is played.  The difference here is that his ability is a must.  However his trigger is one a player normally has no control over.  Riza makes him much better.  The ability to harm yourself is not uncommon, but to do it for as much as Riza does is rare (aside from First Lie and Whispers).  What makes it even better is that not only can Riza do the damage a player might need to be able to trigger Melder, but she can go get him if he is not even set yet.

You take a couple of early hits, manage to set a Riza and get hit again.  You are at 2900.  You trigger Riza, pay 100, go get Melder, then trigger him and kill the attacker and now have 2 blockers on the field.  Not only did you eliminate the threat(s), you now have 1800/1800 in resonators on board.  Potentially you may have swung the game around.

The ability to drop these two cards for 1 instead of 2 is not the thing breaking the format, since you need 4 stones for Riza to start with.  The break comes with the comboish effects you get when you only have to meet 1 of the triggering conditions for both of these powerful cards, I mean just the 4 stones, yes one has to be darkness but that is a given..  And 4 stones is not that hard to hit early in Wanderer.  Turn 1 set Riza, turn 2 Gretel, set Melder, turn 3 you are online to start shenanigans.

Riza is the enabler in this deck.  Kaguya 1.0 was a solid deck in the Grimm/Alice new frontiers and was never overpowered and never dominated.  Even with solid numbers being played in Pittsburgh and other venues.  The changing factor are the new Stealth cards from BFA, so those should be looked at first before calling for a Ruler to be banned that until those cards emerged was not that big a problem.

So if you are worried about Wanderer being a fun and diverse format and think there should be bannings I would recommend starting with Whispers from the Abyss, Riza and Crocoshark.  Then see how things go after a couple of months before banning cards we don’t need to from the start.