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Grinning Ignus Banned in Alchemy!

With an effective date of July 7, Grinning Ignus is banned in Alchemy. In this article, I’ll explain why this was necessary, why it couldn’t be nerfed instead, and what it means for the Alchemy format going forward.

Grinning Ignus

 

 

 

Why Did Grinning Ignus Need a Ban?

Soon after Alchemy: New Capenna added Caberetti Revels and Racketeer Boss to the Alchemy format, Grinning Ignus combo decks started to dominate. 

 

4 Lunarch Veteran
4 Racketeer Boss
4 Prosperous Innkeeper
4 Voice of the Blessed
1 Dina, Soul Steeper
3 Trelasarra, Moon Dancer
4 Grinning Ignus
4 Birgi, God of Storytelling
4 Inquisitor Captain
4 Cabaretti Revels
3 Needleverge Pathway
3 Branchloft Pathway
4 Cragcrown Pathway
4 Sundown Pass
4 Overgrown Farmland
2 Rockfall Vale
4 Jetmir's Garden
Sideboard
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Elite Spellbinder
4 Skyclave Apparition
4 Curse of Silence

 

The infinite combo in this deck revolves around casting Grinning Ignus, bouncing it back to hand, casting it again and looping for infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers. 

The deck has two main ways of setting this up. The first is with Racketeer Boss, which gives Grinning Ignus the perpetual ability to create a Treasure when you cast it. The second is to control Birgi, God of Storytelling. In both cases, casting and returning Grinning Ignus becomes mana neutral, which means that you can do it infinitely often.

To take advantage of infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers, the deck has Lunarch Veteran, Prosperous Innkeeper and Cabaretti Revels. Thanks to Lunarch Veteran, the deck could assemble a three-card infinite-life combo as early as turn three. The life gain package, supported by Voice of the Blessed, also gives the deck a solid backup plan in games where you didn’t draw the combo. But not drawing the combo was actually rarer than you might think – thanks to redundant pieces and Alchemy-only “seek” effects, you could assemble it quite reliably.

As evidenced by Altheriax’s results, the deck was arguably too dominant. On Untapped.gg over the last six days, the archetype was the most popular and had the highest win rate in Best-of-One Alchemy. The article accompanying the ban announcement also puts it well: “one of Alchemy’s guiding lights is to keep the format fast, fun, and dynamic. While combo decks can be a fun and healthy part of metagames, this deck fell outside these format goals.”

From the perspective of the competitive metagame, I believe that taking out the Naya Life Gain Ignus Combo deck is a good change that will revitalize the Alchemy format for this weekend’s Metagame Challenge and the August Qualifier Weekend (yes, the Qualifier Weekend got sneakily changed from Historic to Alchemy).

 

So Why Not Nerf the Card?

As stated in the Alchemy Rebalancing Philosophy: “Weakening cards (nerfs) will be the primary tool to affect the metagame. Nerfs will be aimed at cards and decks that have an outsized impact on the metagame, either through their own strength and win rate or by suppressing other strategies.”

With this in mind, a reasonable question is why they chose to ban Grinning Ignus when they could just nerf it. The following explanation was offered in the article accompanying the ban announcement: “We discussed rebalancing (and may do so at a future date), but each change we’ve considered so far would effectively eliminate this combo, so we’ve decided to ban the card instead.” 

To me, this explanation is unsatisfactory. Sure, it’s difficult to rebalance a combo card, and it would get much less powerful as a result, but I can think of various reasonable ways to change Grinning Ignus’s activated ability or its cost. Nerfing Racketeer Boss or Cabaretti Revels would also have been an option. In any case, that’s not what Wizards of the Coast chose to do.

The good news is that with a ban, you get wild cards back. The bad news is that they’re uncommon wildcards and that you don’t get compensated for the rare/mythic wildcards that you may have used to craft the rest of the deck. As always, this is disappointing.

 

Grinning Ignus in a Historical Context

There is an explanation for banning rather than nerfing that WotC could have offered, but didn’t. Specifically, the aforementioned Alchemy Rebalancing Philosophy states the following: “We will not be rebalancing iconic cards that have a significant history behind them. Cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Lotus Cobra, Thoughtseize and Negate are powerful but often used as references and examples to evaluate new cards and abilities. Rebalancing them would be too disruptive to those conversations. If these cards cause issues, we will look to address them indirectly through live balancing or ban them if necessary.”

Is Grinning Ignus an iconic card? This is clearly up for debate, as “iconic” means something different to everyone, but I can argue that it an iconic card because it was an important part of Time Spiral Block Constructed when it was first printed back in 2007. Take a look, for example, at this deck, which finished second at a Grand Prix back then. This deck would use Grinning Ignus as an engine for Dragonstorm and Wild Pair.

 

 

RG Grinning Ignus Combo by Andre Coimbra

 

Wild PairAvalanche RidersPrimal Forcemage

The Top 8 feature matches were actually written by me – damn, I’m old – and they detail how Andre Coimbra would cast and recast Grinning Ignus with Wild Pair on the battlefield. Every Wild Pair trigger allowed him to put a creature with the same total power and toughness onto the battlefield for free. At first, a quartet of Avalanche Riders would go after the opponent’s mana base. Afterwards, Primal Forcemage would appear, and the resulting 5/5 creatures would then turn into Bogardan Hellkites for the win. Sure, Grinning Ignus didn’t go infinite, but it surely won the game.

I distinctly remember being amazed by the power of this combo engine. Given these nostalgia-driven memories, I would view Grinning Ignus as an iconic card with a significant history behind it. As such, per the Alchemy Rebalancing Philosophy, it should indeed be banned, not rebalanced.

 

Additional Card Changes

Besides the ban of Grinning Ignus, there will be additional rebalancings in Alchemy and Historic

For Alchemy specifically, the only major changes are buffs to various cards that care about +1/+1 counters and a major nerf to The Meathook Massacre: It loses “Whenever a creature an opponent controls dies, gain 1 life.” This change is good news for aggro decks, and it means that The Meathook Massacre mirror matches will be over far more quickly.

In addition, there were several changes that will only affect Historic. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time that cards are getting nerfed for Historic specifically. The main changes are:

These Historic changes confirm that spending your wildcards on Historic is risky. After all, your key cards can get nerfed any time without any refunds. In that regard, Explorer is far safer.

 

What to Play in Alchemy Now?

Besides bans and nerfs, the July 7 update will also introduce Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate. It’s tough to say how that new set will influence the format, but my first guess is that Mono-Green Aggro remains an excellent choice, even if it doesn’t gain any new cards.

 

 

Alchemy Mono-Green Aggro by Tiamkodubs

 

I recently wrote a short article about this deck. It was a top-notch deck before, and it benefits from the nerf to The Meathook Massacre and the ban of Grinning Ignus. It never had much interaction for the Grinning Ignus combo, and now that’s no longer a concern.

Of course, you can’t really go wrong by porting top-tier Standard decks like Esper Midrange into Alchemy either. But If you’re looking for something to play in this weekend’s Alchemy Metagame Challenge, then Mono-Green Aggro would be at the top of my recommendation list.

 

1 thought on “Grinning Ignus Banned in Alchemy!”

  1. Andrew Goodman

    Might they have chosen to ban the card in Alchemy so that the combo would still work in Historic? Rebalancing it would have changed it for both formats, but maybe they think the combo is appropriate for Historic.

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