Wizards of the Coast has “suspended” four cards in Magic: the Gathering Arena’s Historic format: Once Upon a Time, Veil of Summer, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Field of the Dead.

What does “Suspended” Mean?

According to Wizards, suspending a card is different from banning it in the sense that suspension isn’t seen as a permanent solution. “For gameplay purposes, a suspension works like a ban, in that the card will not be legal to use in the format while it is suspended,” Wizards said. “But unlike how we handle banning cards, we plan to use the flexibility that the digital format provides to move cards onto and off of the suspension list more commonly.”

“The ‘off of’ portion there is important,” they continued. “Suspension isn’t a final verdict, it’s an indication that we think this card may be causing issues, and we’d like to see what the meta looks like without that influence.” To that end, four of the cards suspended in today’s announcement will be removed from the suspension list on or before the return of the Ranked Historic queue in March—either by returning to the card pool or getting permanently banned.

The digital nature of the Historic format allows Wizards to more assertively manage the cards that are legal in the format. Part of that management is the quarterly release of Historic Anthologies, which introduce new cards to MTG Arena and Historic. “[I]t’s always our preference to provide answers to a problematic card rather than ban it,” Wizards said, “and that’s one of the roles the future Historic Anthologies will be serving.”

“In some cases, a combination of new answers [from Historic Anthologies] and an evolving meta will let us remove cards from the suspension list, but where we feel like that’s not happening (or at least won’t happen for a while), we’ll move cards from suspended to fully banned.”

A Familiar Set of Cards

If you’ve been following Magic news over the last few months, then the four cards that were suspended today shouldn’t come as a surprise. All four cards have been banned in Standard, while three have been banned in Pioneer (where Oko is still legal).

In their announcement, Wizards said that they are “generally happy” with the format and that it has a “fairly healthy-looking metagame balance.” There are only a few decks with more than a 5% metagame share and “win rates are showing a good, healthy spread.”

However, there are a few exceptions. Like in Standard and Pioneer, Once Upon a Time, Veil of Summer, and Oko, Thief of Crowns combined to cause an overrepresentation of Green in the Historic metagame. Once Upon a Time is basically a must-include in all Green decks and Veil of Summer too efficiently negates any counterstrategies. As for Oko, Thief of Crowns, it was only played in around 15% of decks but it helped those decks achieve high win rates above 55%.

Field of the Dead, on the other hand, is a much narrower card but it still managed to cause similar problems to those it caused in Standard. Its ability to produce a consistent stream of threats at virtually no cost was “having too large of a damping effect on controlling and reactive deck options,” necessitating its suspension.

Lower Than Expected Rates of Historic Play

Wizards made an interesting admission when announcing these suspensions: Historic doesn’t seem to be as popular as expected.

“Overall play in Historic is tracking slightly lower than we’d like to see,” they said. “[W]e expected [it] to attract more competitive-minded players,” but “[s]omewhat surprisingly, we saw about three times the rate of games played in the Historic launch event (Best-of-One) than we do in the Historic Ranked Queue (Best-of-Three).” Wizards believes that “[t]his suggests that while Best-of-Three is the most competitive way to play, the majority of our players still prefer Best-of-One. And this holds even in the Historic format.”

However, there is an alternate explanation to the lack of participation in the Historic Ranked Queue: a lack of competitive incentives. Playing Historic on MTG Arena increases your Constructed Rank, which can help qualify you for a Mythic Qualifier Weekend, exactly like Standard. Pioneer, a much more successful new format that Wizards introduced just over a month before Historic was available on MTG Arena, was initially supported by multiple competitive, high-stakes ways to play the format: leagues, format championships, and a Players Tour.

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