A Look at Pioneer’s First Ban

We find ourselves on the other side of the first ever Pioneer Banned and Restricted List update. A lot of speculation preceded this announcement with rampant speculation for what might be on the chopping block. After a long anticipated wait and fear that the something had gone terribly wrong during WoTC’s lunch break, the banning of Felidar Guardian, Oath of Nissa, and Leyline of Abundance were announced. Felidar Guardian is no stranger to this sort of fate as it had previously been banned in its Standard format based on infinite token shenanigans provided by its partner in crime, Saheeli Rai. This combination proved that even in a larger format with access to more counterstrategies, it was egregiously powerful. Leyline of Abundance and Oath of Nissa have also proven to be problems. Leyline giving you massive amounts of mana via turn one Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic. When coupled with the value of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Mono Green Devotion decks became very powerful and hard to combat. Beyond its ability to find missing pieces to big mana engines and provide a green mana symbol for Nykthos, Oath also gave the Saheeli/Felidar combo decks the ability to dig for combo pieces and smooth out mana to cast Planeswalkers like Saheeli and Teferi, Time Raveler.

These decks have been some of the most played and most successful (based on win-rate) decks in the format after just a few weeks of its existence. It was only a matter of time that something would be done.

Green Devotion and Cat Combo decks garnered the most 5-0 finishes since the format’s debut.  Additionally, they are the most represented decks in the top MTGO Challenge and PTQ finishers. So, to put it lightly, these decks were a problem for the diversity and growth of the format. Guardian, especially, has caused a problem for the health of the format.

In Ian Duke’s Banned and Restricted update on November 4th, he stated, “The Felidar Guardian/Saheeli Rai combination threatens metagame diversity by requiring decks to present specific types of early interaction while developing their own strategy or else immediately lose the game. Rather than allow this interaction to warp deck building and the metagame around it,  we’re choosing to ban a card. Of the two options, Felidar Guardian is the most likely to break again with future or existing cards.”

The full ban list article can be found here.

The banning of Felidar Guardian didn’t strike many Pioneer players as too big of a surprise.  Oath of Nissa, on the other hand, wasn’t on many players’ radars.

Based on Ian’s explanation in the Banned and Restricted Update, Oath gave a powerful source of card selection to the decks like Combo cat and other decks that utilize a high number of three-mana Planeswalkers. It also had the added bonus of being a permanent that stuck around to add to the devotion count or serve as a blink target for Feldiar Guardian. This could allow you to keep hands whose mana didn’t line up correctly for your suite of Planeswalkers. This is such a powerful tool when you pack cards like Teferi, Time Raveler and Oko, Thief of Crowns.

Oath has often been compared to Ponder, which is one of the best blue cantrips of all time and nothing came close to this for one-mana cantrips in the Pioneer format.

Leyline of Abundance offered extremely powerful ramp in the early turns of a game AND provided two “pips” for Nykthos’ devotion count at NO COST. With the London Mulligan, the consistency of a turn zero Leyline provided too great of an advantage for Green Devotion pilots.

I feel that these bans are correct and well-deserved. We have seen other powerful decks in this new format but all of the strategies that these cards have been a part of have suppressed the metagame in harmful ways. With these bans in place, the metagame can begin to settle into that interactive and fair environment that is seemingly desired by WoTC. By no means is Green Devotion gone, but these strategies have been corrected to an appropriate power level for this type of format. This can allow the other decks in the format such as Phoenix, Sultai, and various others to find life. Going forward, I would expect that we will see a healthier format with a more defined meta.

Looking ahead, I would definitely recommend the Sultai or Arclight Phoenix decks as they have posted very impressive numbers even with the presence of Copycat and Green Devotion. Esper Dragons and Mardu vehicles are personal favorites of mine and are where I currently am in the format. There might be some potential for green ramp strategies, Humans, and Mono Black Devotion. You have plenty of avenues to explore and, at this point, all of them seem like valid choices in this exciting new meta.