Classic Constructed After the Banned and Suspended Announcement

Monday, October 3 was the most recent installment of what we’ve come to know as the Banned and Suspended announcement. We will likely see a plethora of articles and videos on the topic of Classic Constructed and how the banning of Pulse of Isenloft affects, or doesn’t affect the Classic Constructed metagame, but before we move on to what is to come lets first visit where we were! 

Pulse of Isenloft (Regular)

Coming out of the National season we saw a wide variety of heroes taking home the national title. Stats aside, the general consensus in the community was that Oldhim, Fai and Isylander were the top three decks with Dromai, Briar and Viserai not too far behind. This gave us a metagame where there were six heroes hovering around Tier 1 that you could reasonably predict anyone could show up to an event and win with. 



So where does that leave us after the banning? LSS wanted to knock Oldhim down a peg without fully eliminating him from the metagame. In their own words, they wanted to reduce Oldhim’s ability to defensively react multiple times with Pulse along with their ability to fuse Oaken Old off of three cards. By and large, the reception to the banning has been positive from the public and it was liked by both Yuki and Brendan. While I believe that the ban will serve its intended function to knock Oldhim down a peg, I do not believe it will be accomplished in the way that people originally thought. To quote James White, “Banning Pulse of Isenloft after it’s been a tournament staple for over a year isn’t about trying to fundamentally reshape the format. It’s about nudging it slightly to curb a couple of percentage points off Oldhim’s win-rates, to narrow the small but consistent advantage Oldhim appears to have against most combat based decks.” But will this ban have an effect specifically against aggro based matchups?

Let’s take the Briar v. Oldhim matchup as an example where the roles of aggressor and defender are very clear. Oldhim’s goal is to survive until the attack to block ratio of their deck supersedes that of the Briar deck, a point that usually occurs when the Briar deck mostly consists of blue line cards with the majority of reds in the graveyard. Given the anatomy of a Briar deck consists of roughly 40 premium aggressive cards and 20-ish blues to facilitate it, an Oldhim player need only survive 10 to 14 turns, give or take play variance. Assuming Oldhim activates Crown of Seeds every turn, which they normally don’t, it’s unlikely you will ever see your second Pulse before the game has already reached the advantageous point of the second cycle. To further emphasize this, I want you to think about your experience in this matchup and whether or not it was dictated by more than just a single efficient blocking turn cycle before second cycle. 

With regards to a fused Oaken Old, it was often wrong to take the respective damage required to play the powerful combination of Oaken Old and Pulse of Isenloft because there would usually be little room to capitalize on the tempo advantage due to the defensive nature of the deck. Make no mistake that this banning will definitely hurt Oldhim in every single matchup, but it will manifest in ways that I don’t think are fully appreciated, such as a worse matchup vs Bravo, any matchup where Oldhim was required to take a more aggressive roll or more matches going to time due to the inefficiency of being able to close out a game without the powerful combo rather than the intended nerf to his ability versus aggressive decks. 


Header - Belittle and Minnowism

Belittle (Red) (Regular)Minnowism (Red) (Regular)

The other topic that was prevalent throughout the community was “Is Belittle/Minnowism to good for Classic Constructed?” This has been a hot topic of debate ever since UK pro Matthew Foulkes ended up winning Pro Tour Lille with his innovative take on Belittle Briar. Since that time, we’ve seen quite a significant drop off in decks with Belittle in them. Even in Briar, the deck with the second most national titles, we saw the majority of decks opt away from the powerful one-resource attack in favor of a more wellrounded suite of generic attacks which speaks to a significant point that should not be overlooked. Belittle comes at a significant deck building cost which includes more block twos, more generics and overall the requirement to add weaker cards you may not otherwise want to play to facilitate a couple of payoffs.

Within the current metagame, that cost seems to be high enough of a cost that the Belittle package is not even being played to full effect. Take Fai for example, who runs three to six Belittles, but only as a resource fixing tool. It’s also not readily apparent when Belittle is bad in contrast to when it’s good. When a player has a good turn of 20+ damage versus you that includes a Belittle + Minnowism it’s easy to point at the card and exclaim it’s unfair. However, what people don’t see is all of the awkward hands and interactions given up that results in virtual points lost by playing the package. 

When the Belittle package starts to become problematic is when it naturally starts to slot into already existing archetypes. We have a recent example of this with respect to Chane, a deck that was already playing a multitude of three-powered attack action cards such as Bounding Demigon and Rift Bind. When a deck naturally has the deck building “restriction” of Belittle inherent to its package, it minimizes the downside of the package while maximizing the upside leading to play patterns that are deemed “unfair.”

Yuki brought up another great point on Twitter space, where she pointed out that at the current moment, Belittle is acting as a card to boost the overall diversity of the metagame, allowing for different variants of decks such as Belittle Briar vs stock Briar. In summary, I think Belittle provides something interesting to the game that can challenge deck builders and is likely okay at this moment. I do believe it should definitely be on an LSS watch list as it is the card with the most potential to become problematic as the card pool grows larger. 


Header - Where is the Metagame?

Good question. Given that I’m writing this article within 48 hours since the announcement, I don’t have any more empirical evidence than anyone else. If I were to guess, I would say that the overall structure of the aforementioned top six decks does not change by very much. What is more likely to change is where each deck fits in that hierarchy.

After United States nationals we saw quite an… Uprising… of Fai, Rising Rebellion. Watching Daniel Rutkowski play all weekend, I can say with certainty that if Oldhim was favored vs Fai, it definitely wasn’t by much. So if this Pulse ban takes enough percentage points off Oldhim vs Fai, it could cause a ripple effect in the metagame. For example, if Fai ends up taking up the metagame share previously held by Oldhim, this would allow decks with classically bad Oldhim matchups (*cough* Runeblade *cough*) to come roaring back. This in turn could spell bad news for Iyslander… and you see where I’m going with this. While I think there is a very real possibility that the top six decks could switch orders in the hierarchy, I do believe that each deck has enough going for it independently that it will still be a viable contender independent of the metagame trends. So don’t panic if you have just put a ton of time learning Iyslander, Oldhim, Dromai, etc, as I still believe you will be paid off handsomely for obtaining a mastery of your deck.

This also feels like a good time to add a disclaimer about hyperbole or phrasing that we as players use when discussing decks and the metagame as a whole. There will always be the best deck in any given metagame, that’s just a fact. I know there is a certain group in this community that longs for the good old days where anyone could play anything, but I promise you that if we went back in time and retrospectively played the older format, there would 100 percent in fact be a best deck. Sometimes there are formats where the best deck is clear and definitive, think Seeds Chane or Starvo, but there are other times when the best deck is only the best deck by a couple of percentage points. I am a firm believer that the metagame we are currently playing, and most recently came from, is a reflection of the latter. Ban or no ban, I think we are in a wonderful spot in the Classic Constructed metagame and am really looking forward to the upcoming season.

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