In Standard, the most polarizing card in the format is easily Teferi, Time Raveler. Some people hate the card and think it’s emblematic of all the problems planeswalkers bring to the table. Some hate it because it devalues counterspells and instants, essentially turning the game into Hearthstone. On the other side of the coin, some quite enjoy Teferi as a powerful tool against decks like Simic Nexus and Esper Control while also not hard-locking players out of the game ala Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
The Impact of Teferi, Time Raveler in Standard
Whatever your opinion of the card itself, the impact it has had on Standard is undeniable and it presents a few interesting questions from a top down view of the format.
1) In the pantheon of Standard’s power cards, where does Teferi fit in?
2) How does this impact future metagaming and format-building?
For #1, Teferi is in a weird position of actually self-regulating itself by existing. When Teferi, Time Raveler becomes the best card in the format and the format shifts around it, it paradoxically becomes pretty average on the whole. We’re seeing that occur right now where nearly every single deck seeing play either doesn’t care about Teferi or minimizes the impact it has on the battlefield.
This isn’t the first time this has happened with hyper-powerful cards and won’t be the last–sometimes the metagame reacts in such a way that they don’t have to counter the problem card directly. Rather, they can minimize its effectiveness by simply dropping the other cards that it lines up well against. Going way back in time, Umezawa’s Jitte is one of the best examples of a card where people worked very hard to just make it an expensive pump spell. Meanwhile Smuggler’s Copter saw infinite play and ultimately it was just right to play them in nearly every single deck. Even with a metagame adjustment it was just too good to leave out.
Unlike other oppressive planeswalkers, the abilities on Teferi without a metagame context aren’t actually strong enough that you would slam Teferi into every deck you could. Drawing a card and having a planeswalker hanging around is fine, but if you aren’t getting a good tempo boost and Teferi dies to a random Goblin token, then it loses some luster. This is a far cry from when Jace the Mind Sculptor or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar dominated their respective Standard formats. Instead, when Teferi becomes the most popular card in the format, Teferi loses enough value that it’s arguable if you even want to play the card.
For the second question, we can look to the current state of Nexus of Fate decks for the answer. Not only did Nexus decks fallen into a deep dark hole, they eventually started cutting Wilderness Reclamation because Teferi made it useless. That’s how big of an impact Teferi had on a handful of decks in the metagame; it completely destroyed a potential pillar of the metagame and made a card some people expected to get banned (or get Nexus banned) completely unplayable.
Of course, nothing ever really goes away, Nexus of Fate is still a fine card and one that has a home in Standard. You just play the card in Simic Nissa ramp decks now as a trump in the mirror and against normal decks that aren’t expecting it. With the number of counters in the metagame at an all-time low, I’d be a bit surprised not to see the return of it as a card that’s not vulnerable to Mass Manipulation and can allow for absolutely brutal setups. What’s even better with this strategy is that even against Teferi, Time Raveler the card isn’t even bad in this particular deck. If you really think Teferi is on the downswing, you could just take the Simic Nexus combo archetype and play that and rack up a lot of free wins. They’ll only be good for a short while, but if you’re trying to win a Mythic Championship, we’ve seen that one good weekend is all you need. Therein lies the rub to Teferi and to a lesser extent, Narset, existing in Standard.
People have described this as similar to the Modern metagame (Well, pre-Modern Horizons anyway) with an ebb and flow to it. It looks like Play Design and R&D have successfully replicated the effect for this iteration of Standard. We have yet to see a tier 1 deck stay tier 1 throughout the entirety of War of the Spark Standard, which is not something that could be said often over the past five years.
One other key factor is that MTG Arena has seemingly done what years of information hoarding by Wizards has never accomplished. It has killed the homogenization of single decklists over a longer period. No longer do I see practical 75-card mirrors as I did when everyone was netdecking the last SCG Open or 5-0 Magic Online list. While these instances can occur when popular streamers start popping off with spicy lists, in general I’ve not seen this level of individual variety in decks in… I don’t even know how long.
Of course, you need to understand that’s purely anecdotal on what I’ve experienced and kept note of, I’m not trying to say netdecking is dead or that people won’t copy winning decks. What I am saying is that over the past 6 months I’ve noticed enough variations continuing to crop up every week or two that I’m starting to wonder if Wizards’ goal was better for the metagame on the whole. In the next few years everyone will have a tool ala the Hearthstone Deck Tracker for MTG that will provide a ridiculous amount of extra data for us to pour over. For right now though? Well… the small things are a lot more interesting than they have been.
As for the current Standard metagame, it seems to be in flux around Teferi’s popularity at a given time. There are a ton of viable strategies and even the tier 2 and 3 decks don’t feel that far off from the current top tier options. While everyone may not like the specifics of the format revolving around planeswalkers and sorcery-speed spells, it’s hard to argue that Standard isn’t healthy. We’ve seen the usual metagame changes continue long past when they typically stop, and even the go-to strategy of playing red has been kept somewhat in line.