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What Should Be Banned in Delver? A Legacy Ban Discussion

Prior to the release of Modern Horizons 2, I wrote an article illustrating that the Delver deck has become a bit too powerful and consistent for Legacy. However, since a new set was just releasing, I was hopeful that things would change with the introduction of so many new and powerful cards, thus negating the need for any Legacy ban. While things did change and Modern Horizons 2 had a substantial impact on the format, the primary area of change was in boosting the power of tempo strategies and Izzet-based decks became by far the strongest thing to do in the format. 

I wanted to put off this article as long as I could. I know many people were tired of ban discussions leading into my previous article four months ago and that feeling almost certainly has not dissipated. With bated breath I maintained an optimistic stance and continued to be hopeful that things might level out eventually. The development over the past few months has clearly pointed in one direction, however, and that is that Izzet strategies were/are not going to be hated out and would continue some level of dominance week-in and week-out. At this point I (and as far as I can tell, a substantial amount of the Legacy community) am pretty confident that something needs to change, so now is as good of a time to address this.

Today, I’m going to provide an overview of the issue and then address the relative impact that individual cards have and present my opinion on what should go.

 

 

Header - The Problem

Before I address the issue with Legacy at the moment, I need to provide the disclaimer that I sincerely enjoy playing games in this format. There’s a ton of back-and-forth, with interaction primarily focusing on answering the board rather than the stack. Each card in these Izzet decks provide a ton of different options that give the player the ability to employ a wide range of tactics regarding how their cards get played and when. Despite me being known as a Delver/Tempo enthusiast, I don’t always enjoy Legacy formats where Delver is the clear best deck for a variety of reasons. This one feels different, though, and it has led to me playing a lot of this Legacy format.

 

Ragavan, Nimble PilfererDeathrite Shaman

That being said, it’s pretty clear that something needs to change. Izzet-based archetypes are disproportionately overrepresented at the both top of the metagames each week. A lot of people compare Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer to Deathrite Shaman and there’s one key area that this comparison clearly resonates with me: the best decks are homogenous. While each of the best decks do exhibit some key differences, largely they consist of 30 to 35 of the same cards. This is not strictly the fault of Ragavan, but is rather a commentary on the incredible power of so many Izzet cards that have been printed over the past year. Again, while the games are largely interesting, knowing that a substantial amount of your matchups are going to be against decks that contain the same cards is not only boring, but reflective of an issue in the format. In addition, there isn’t a particularly clear way to answer these decks, as they can essentially adapt to anything you might throw at them, which makes the metagame stagnant.

I’m going to evaluate each of the cards that many players have been proposing to be banned and then I’ll propose the options that I think are the best and why.

 

Header - Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

 

Let’s start with the big one. Many players identify this as the most problematic card from Modern Horizons 2 and I’d be inclined to agree. It serves so many different roles: efficient threat, card advantage engine and mana engine. In addition, being able to dash it restricts what cards can answer it in a way that’s not particularly pleasant for players to play around. What I mean is that getting hit by a dashed Ragavan once keys players into the fact that they need to hold open mana to answer. However, these Izzet decks have so much to spend their mana on that they can often take advantage of this and develop their game plan through some other means. This makes the threat of Ragavan looming and can put players in a sort of chokehold. On top of all of this, it’s still a 1-mana threat, so even if your opponent can answer it, it’s not a particularly big deal.

Its power leads to the issue I mentioned earlier: the format becomes homogenous. Since Ragavan is so cheap, powerful and able to fill multiple roles, it’s to the benefit of most players to find a way to play it. Since this is Legacy, that generally means surrounding it with the best blue cards and interaction in the format, which also then give you the ability to not only protect your Ragavan, but dig for additional copies. Of course, Ragavan did not encompass all of the decks people played in Legacy, but they certainly filled out a fair amount of the top of the metagame. This means that of the two to four best decks in the format any given week, roughly half or more of them were playing most of the same cards.

It’s important to note that Ragavan is not universally good in every matchup. Some decks don’t have any meaningful cards to take, the mana ability isn’t always effective later in the game and Ragavan can be easy to answer through blockers, cheap removal or cards like Karakas. However, since this is simply a one-mana card that’s being played in a deck with Brainstorm, the fact that Ragavan isn’t always good doesn’t end up being a huge issue, as it can be shuffled away in many cases, so realistically the floor on the card is never that low. In addition, the Ragavan decks tend to play a lot of different disruptive cards (like removal and Wasteland) which offsets the downside of blockers and Karakas being effective. On top of that, when the Ragavan player was on the play it was often the best turn one play because the mana ability is almost always potent on the first few turns of the game. 

All of these details together make Ragavan a pretty problematic card for Legacy, which is what has driven much of the talk surrounding it lately and make it a prime target for a ban.

 

Header - Murktide Regent

Murktide Regent

 

It’s weird to call this card innocuous, since it’s a massive, difficult to kill, blue, two-mana Dragon, but when compared to Ragavan, it can be kind of hard to identify this as one of the key issues. Murktide Regent has such an incredible influence on the format though, since it provides tempo decks with the ability to become the linear deck in any matchup, cast it as fast as possible and then kill your opponents quickly. I’ve actually been viewing it a bit like when Top Miracles gained Monastery Mentor. At that point, Miracles began to lose any truly bad matchups since now it could always play a turn three Mentor and turn into the “combo” deck. While the card is obviously quite different than Murktide, the effect is largely the same, which translates to decks not being able to effectively play cards/strategies that have historically been effective at stopping Delver decks.

I think you could argue that Murktide Regent is more problematic than Ragavan for Legacy in the context of Delver decks. However, I have to bring up the homogenizing effect of Ragavan once more, which Murktide doesn’t really have. Still, the fact that there really isn’t any deck that Murktide doesn’t beat singlehandedly makes it among the more problematic cards in the format right now.

 

Header - Expressive Iteration

Expressive Iteration

 

I mentioned this in my previous article as a problematic card, but wasn’t suggesting that it was a card to really look at with regards to bans. I think there are a few reasons that it’s more of a problem now: Unholy Heat provides Delver decks with a removal spell that actually answers almost every creature for just a single mana, Modern Horizons 2 brought multiple powerful one-drops that Expressive Iteration can dig into and MH2 brought with it multiple cards that care heavily about casting spells, as well as good reasons to play cards like Mishra’s Bauble. Iteration certainly has the ability to be problematic by itself, since any card that draws two cards for almost zero investment can be a broken Magic card. However, I think the context surrounding MH2 has really started to put it over the top, so it’s not at all unreasonable to look towards Iteration as one of the key issues.

 

Header - Dragon's Rage Channeler

Dragon's Rage Channeler

 

While this card has clearly demonstrated to be among the top threats of the format, I don’t really think you can really justify Dragon’s Rage Channeler going before something like Ragavan. I do think that Delver gaining what is essentially a better Delver improves the quality of that deck a fair bit, but other decks have improved quite a lot with MH2 entering the format. Overall, while the effect is powerful, I don’t think Dragon’s Rage Channeler is truly crossing the line yet. This might just be reflective of Ragavan’s existence in the format, but I do think the format could adapt to Dragon’s Rage Channeler more easily. Importantly, too, DRC doesn’t really have the same homogenizing effect that Ragavan does since it is much more of a linearly aggressive card, so the shells that would want to adopt it will likely be higher on the aggressive scale.

 

Header - Daze

Daze

 

Banning Daze has gained a lot of traction over the past few months. In my previous ban article, I discussed that one of the core elements of Delver should be addressed, rather than a newer printing. I mentioned Daze as an option and that I didn’t really think it was a great choice. Despite the fact that the power of Daze has been greatly increased with MH2‘s release, I still don’t really buy that Daze should get banned. I don’t think Daze is a sacred cow in Legacy that can never be banned per se, but I do think that Daze does more good than bad overall. 

I am sympathetic to the fact that it’s pretty clear that new, powerful threats are going to keep getting printed and each one has the ability to push Daze’s power over the top. However, as I said previously, I’m happy to see these cards get printed so long when the time for a ban arrives, Wizards of the Coast is willing to take that action. In this case, we haven’t seen the result of any recent card being banned, thus I can’t really parse out specifically where the issue lies. Honestly, though, I can’t know for sure and I’m especially suspicious of anyone who claims they do. It’s a difficult topic to address because it has such a long pedigree in the format so understanding the implications of removing it is nigh-impossible.

 

Header - My Recommendations

If only one card was going to be banned, I think it should be Ragavan. To me, the homogenizing effect is one of the most damning qualities of it, as it substantially reduces the variability that is present in the format. If that were the only aspect of it, maybe it would be alright, but it’s also among the most powerful things you can do in this format and the decks that play it have plenty of ways to not only take advantage of it, but offset any anti-Ragavan counterplay. 

I actually do think multiple cards should go though. My inclination is the combination of Ragavan and Murktide Regent, which is something that players like Bob Huang have suggested. Murktide really does ensure that Delver will always have a good chance of winning any game since it can just fly over the top of their strategy and kill opponents quickly. Iteration is also pretty interesting to think about, since it provides Delver with the ability to grind through any fair matchup. This is a bit less compelling than Murktide, however, since there are a fair amount of matchups where Iteration is too slow or ineffective, but I could still see it being correct.

As a final note on my recommendations, I really don’t think Daze should be the choice and someone would have to send me a compelling argument to convince me otherwise. I’m not completely set in stone with that opinion, but I haven’t really seen a take on the topic that comes close to shifting my position.

 

Header - Legacy Needs Some Love

Even though I’ve been having a lot of fun playing this format, I think it desperately needs some attention from Wizards of the Coast. I can’t really picture this format being sustainable for too much longer and we’ve already seen the side effects of this format being ignored, as some of the weekend Challenges have been struggling to fire lately. Many players have voiced their opinions quite clearly on social media, and regardless of the specific suggestions the community members have, it’s clear that most players just want to hear anything from Wizards. I hope that the voice of the community has been loud enough to elicit a response and, ideally, change. 

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