As MTG Arena entered its scheduled downtime this morning, Wizards of the Coast announced that it had banned Nexus of Fate from the game’s Best-of-1 Standard formats. It will be banned in the Duo Standard form at that will be used at the Mythic Invitational, as well, though the card will remain legal in all Best-of-3 formats.

Wizards’ surprise announcement comes nearly a month before the next scheduled Banned and Restricted List update, which will be on March 11, 2018. The ban creates the first ever example of a Standard format having separate banlists depending on how you play the format—where Nexus of Fate is banned in MTG Arena Best-of-1 formats but legal in all Best-of-3 formats, both on MTG Arena and in paper.

Not Too Strong, but Too “Disruptive”

In their announcement, Wizards stated that the ban was not due to the power level of Nexus of Fate. Instead, they cited the fact that the loop used by Nexus of Fate players to win the game (explained below) is tedious to execute in MTG Arena since players can’t take advantage of the shortcuts they can use when playing paper Magic. This would often lead to unnecessarily long games as the Nexus player was trying to win, and also gave players an easy way to waste time even if they couldn’t win the game.

The latter issue, of players “roping” their opponents, is possible due to the way the MTG Arena’s timer system works. MTG Arena’s timer is designed to force players to take actions in a reasonable amount of time, but it also allows players to earn “timeouts” (time extensions) by playing quickly. Nexus of Fate players, even when they couldn’t win the game, were able establish a loop in which they quickly cast multiple Nexus of Fates to earn timeouts, and then use those extensions to rope their opponent, forcing them to sit through minutes of time wasting, trying to get their opponent to concede.

Roping has been one of MTG Arena players’ top complaints since it’s introduction over a year ago. The ability for Nexus of Fate players to use roping to abuse their opponents became clear two weeks ago when Magic Pro League member Shahar Shenhar played a 107 minute game against a Nexus of Fate deck. His opponent looped Nexus of Fates for nearly 90 minutes with no way to win the game, eventually forcing MTG Arena’s Game Director Chris Clay to step in and have Shenhar’s opponent temporarily banned from the game.

The Bane of MTG Arena Standard

Nexus of Fate first rose to prominence at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary as the key card in Bant Turbo Fog. The deck utilized four copies each of Haze of Pollen and Root Snare to draw out the game long enough to land a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It would then try and chain multiple Nexus of Fates in a row, using Teferi’s card draw ability or with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin, eventually taking enough turns in a row to ultimate Teferi and begin exiling all of the opponent’s permanents. The deck would then win by using Teferi’s -3 ability to return him back to the library, preventing the Turbo Fog player from decking, while forcing the opponent to lose to decking themselves.

Bant Turbo Fog lost a key piece when Haze of Pollen rotated last October and Nexus of Fate appeared to be safely in Standard’s rearview mirror. But the printing of Wilderness Reclamation in Ravnica Allegiance in January saw Bant Turbo Fog (and therefore Nexus of Fate) soar in popularity once again.

The difference between the deck’s first period of popularity and it’s current period is the wide release of MTG Arena, which transitioned to an Open Beta on September 27, 2018. The most recent iteration of Bant Turbo Fog featuring Wilderness Reclamation has become popular as the number of users playing MTG Arena is skyrocketing and while Wizards is offering the Top 8 Standard Constructed players invitations to the $1 Million Mythic Invitational in March at PAX East. Wizards clearly saw that the existence of the deck on MTG Arena was negatively impacting player experience during a crucial period leading up to the game’s first major tournament and felt like they had to take action.

All This Trouble from…an Exclusive Buy-a-Box Promo

The now-banned Nexus of Fate wasn’t released as part of a normal Magic set. Instead, it was the second iteration of exclusive the Buy-a-Box promos that started with Firesong and Sunspeaker and the release of Dominaria in April 2018. Firesong and Sunspeaker could only be acquired by buying a box of Dominaria and wasn’t included in the set itself. Likewise, Nexus of Fate could only be acquired by buying a box of Core Set 2019 and couldn’t be found in any boosters.

Nalathni Dragon, which was only available to attendees of Dragon Con in July 1994, was the last time Wizards introduced a functionally unique card as a limited availability promo. The experiment was a disaster, and Wizards eventually decided to print more of the card and distribute the new copies in The Duelist #3. 

The reintroduction of functionally unique promos like Firesong and Sunspeaker  and Nexus of Fate brought back memories of the issues surrounding Nalathni Dragon—except this time, the promos would be Standard-legal. While Wizards assured players that these Buy-a-Box promos were tuned to be playable but not too strong in Standard, many in the Magic community were concerned about the the small chance of these promos becoming important parts of successful tournament decks.

Despite looking like a (relatively) unimpressive, seven-mana instant when it was first revealed, Nexus of Fate has beaten the odds to be a key card in a successful Standard deck—a deck so popular that it was a common sight in MTG Arena’s Best-of-1 ladder, where players could indefinitely waste their opponent’s time without ever trying to win the game.

Update: Fixed an error in the lede that mistakenly said the Nexus of Fate would be legal at the Mythic Invitational.

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