This morning, Wizards of the Coast announced that both Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe are banned in Legacy effective July 6, 2018.

Deathrite Shaman Banned in Legacy

In their announcement, Wizards revealed that the most popular Legacy deck on Magic Online was Grixis Delver featuring Deathrite Shaman, which had an impressive 55% match win rate against the field (excluding mirror matches). The next (unnamed) most popular Legacy decks also featured 4x Deathrite Shaman, resulting in 11 of the Top 16 decks at GP Birmingham playing four copies of the card.

According to Wizards, what concerned them the most about Deathrite Shaman was the fact that it had helped significantly reduced the diversity of Legacy’s non-combo blue decks. By leveraging Deathrite Shaman‘s many abilities, blue decks could switch from aggressive, to midrange, to control at the drop of a hat. When combined with the fact that those abilities also double as incidental graveyard hate, hurting tier two decks like Dredge and Reanimator, Wizards decided that Deathrite Shaman had warped the Legacy format too much and that a ban was necessary.

Gitaxian Probe Banned in Legacy

Wizards provided much less detail on its decision to ban Gitaxian Probe in Legacy. They wrote that the card is a key component in two of the most-played decks in Legacy (Grixis Delver and Ad Nauseum Tendrils), allowing them to quickly fill up their graveyards, see what their opponent’s have in hand, and draw a card…all for the low, low price of two life. Wizards stated that of these three things, removing the ability of the opponent to bluff about what’s in their hand is what pushed the card over the top, thus necessitating banning Gitaxian Probe in Legacy.

But, reading between the lines, banning Gitaxian Probe in Legacy is really just Wizards continuing to admit that the Phyrexian mana mechanic was a huge mistake—especially on cheap cards. Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep—technically one-mana blue spells, but in reality free blue spells—are now banned in both Modern and Legacy, with Probe also being restricted in Vintage. One day, Wizards will learn that mechanics that allow players to cheat on mana, like Phyrexian mana (Gitaxian Probe, Mental Misstep) or Delve (Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise) are inherently broken and will eventually lead to bans.

Goblin Chainwhirler Remains Legal in Standard

Ever since the dominance of Goblin Chainwhirler at Pro Tour Dominaria, the Magic community has been debating whether or not the card was too oppressive in Standard and should therefore be banned.

But, as I wrote last week in our weekly MTG newsletter (you should really subscribe!), there are at least three complicating factors that make Goblin Chainwhirler different than the seven cards currently banned in Standard. First, red decks were already the most popular decks in Standard before Chainwhirler was printed, meaning that it added to the power of an existing deck rather than creating a broken strategy all on its own. Second, most of the powerful cards in those red decks come from the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks, both of which rotate in October. Third, Core 2019 will be released in two weeks on July 13, potentially providing ways for other decks to beat Goblin Chainwhirler. Taken together, I concluded that Chainwhirler would not be banned today.

Wizards seems to have taken the same view in today’s announcement. They noted that most of the powerful red cards will be rotating out of Standard in October and that Core 2019 may provide Goblin Chainwhirler with some competition.

Win percentages in Standard as of June 2018.

Wizards also provided win percentage data on the most popular decks in Standard, which revealed that the Mono-Red and and BR Aggro menaces weren’t actually the most-winning decks in the format. Mono-Red has only won 49.9% of its matches on Magic Online, while BR Aggro has won 51.9% of its matches. GB Steel Leaf Stompy, on the other hand, has had the best win percentage at 55.7%, followed by UW Gift at 53.6%. Taken together with the above-mentioned complicating factors, and Wizards decided that Standard is fine with Goblin Chainwhirler in the format.

But what continues to go unacknowledged by Wizards is the fact that they preemptively banned Rampaging Ferocidon for the same reason that Goblin Chainwhirler is seen as currently reducing the diversity of Standard: they both prevent decks from going wide with tons of small creatures, one of the most effective strategies against red decks. Rich Stein explored this contradiction in his column last week, and asked whether the printing of Goblin Chainwhirler was the Play Design team’s first failure. Either way, Wizards seems content to keep Standard as it is, at least until the next Banned & Restricted announcement on August 20, 2018.

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