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The (Un)-health of Standard.

It’s been a while since we’ve talked, so lets start out the new year with a hot take… well maybe not a hot take. Maybe like a, just-out-of-the-microwave-for-like-30-seconds-so-the-top-is-hot-but-the-bottom-is-still-frozen take.

Standard has been bad for the past 3 months.

Lets recap

October 4 2019: Throne of Eldraine releases bringing with it the 2019-2020 season rotation and the end of a lack-luster core 2020 standard season. We enter the new standard wide-eyed and ready for an exciting new standard season full of fairy tales and monsters.

We start off with a carry-over issue from previous standard; Field of the dead. This card, when paired with a ramp strategy, allowed for players to not only generate big mana spells such as Hydroid Krasis, Voracious Hydra, and Mass Manipulation. But also generate a steady stream of Zombies, turning any further land drop or ramp spell into a 2/2 zombie for 0 mana.

Image result for Field of the dead

This shifts the meta to a “Play it or Die” game. Every deck was either Field of the dead or built to beat the Field of the Dead. 42% of the decks registered at Mythic Championship 5 were Field of the dead. That number is way too high, ideally you would want the best deck to be at around 20-25% of the meta. For some scale the top deck at Mythic Championship 7 registered at only 17.3%. The game had been overrun by zombies and hydras and it didn’t make for a very fun or interactive standard.  

October 24 2019: Three weeks into the standard season, Field of the dead is Banned.

Alright, one silly Core Set land card overlooked, no problem, time to play a new diversified meta right?

Enter Oko, Thief of Crowns.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

It doesn’t take long for people to catch onto the power of the three mana elk man. Oko, Gilded goose, Nissa who Shakes the World, and Hydroid Krasis make up the base of a very powerful Simic Ramp deck. Oko dwarfs any creature big enough to rumble into a 3/3 elk. While the rest of the deck assembles massive creatures very efficiently.  Simic decks take the throne of the “Play it or die” deck and we are right back where we were just a few weeks prior.

Nov 18 2019: Oko, along with Once upon a time, and Veil of Summer all get banned.

Alllllrighty… 6 weeks (half the season) of Oko and Field of the dead. We have banned out the problem cards, and now we have what? A format without an identity and players who have no interest in playing the standard format anymore.

Fires of Invention, Rakdos Knights, Jund Sacrifice and Simic Flash or Ramp decks roam around the top of the meta. The format is technically healthy in that there is no “play it or die” deck anymore. But all the decks seems stale, repetitive, and underwhelming to play. It feels like we are stuck playing the leftover decks after the bans and none of them are all that fun.

Standard players have been demoralized. Weeks of having to play against the “Play it or Die” deck has lead to many taking a break from standard, or finding solace in a new format. Conveniently there is a new format being built with unexplored territories, access to old favorites, and a new meta to discover. Many players, myself included, have found that it best to just wait out the Throne of Eldraine standard season by playing Pioneer instead of trying to find a new standard deck that will ultimately have to change in 6 weeks with the release of Theros.

Throne of Eldraine was a really cool set thematically.But it feels like we have gotten a metaphorical cake without any metaphorical frosting. What was slated to be an exciting diverse meta, instead took 6 weeks to take off the ground, and is now just finding its feet as the new season is on the horizon.  It’s unfortunate that the design of a few cards was just slightly off and the result was a punted standard season. This is very reminiscent of the ban heavy 2017-early 2018 seasons (Kaladesh Era)  where the standard meta game seemed to change every few weeks and nobody could really find “their deck”.

When a card is too powerful, the whole meta is forced to warp around it. This causes the diversity of decks to shrink and distort (Ex: Main Boarded Noxious Grasps to combat Oko). Certain archetypes are so weak that they aren’t even playable at the competitive level because they have no way of beating the powerful card. This process can push players off of decks that they have invested time and money into and force them to have to rebuild. Then when the powerful card is banned, the format has to Un-warp around the card. This is where everyone is testing to see what the new best deck will be and how to combat all the other decks in the format without the powerful card. This process takes about a week. We had to go through this process twice in the same season. 

Looking forward. Theros: Beyond Death will bring with it a clean slate, new cards, new decks and a new full season of standard to play. It’s been a weird season for standard and we can hope that this next season will bring with it powerful (But not busted) decks that can all compete with one another. And with any luck we will make it through the next 3 months without any bans. Fingers crossed!

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I would love to hear your feedback and comments, and would be happy to discuss any of these topics at the store.

I would like to try to write at least one article a month if not more. I would happily take recommendations and ideas for topics.  Email me at Tristan@PixelsandBricks.com

Thank you all for reading- Tristan Brown.

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