In a surprise announcement this morning, Wizards of the Coast banned Inverter of Truth, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Walking Ballista, and Underworld Breach from Magic: the Gathering’s Pioneer format. Each of those cards was a key components to one of the format’s four most popular combo decks: Dimir Inverter, Kethis Combo, Mono-White Devotion, and Lotus Breach.

Don’t miss today’s other bannings in Standard, Historic, and Brawl.

These bans came three weeks after Wizards decided against removing any cards from Pioneer and instead unbanned Oath of Nissa. That “wasn’t intended to be a major update to the format or an alternative to other changes,” Wizards said, “but rather what we viewed as a relatively safe unban in the context of a metagame that was looking healthy by many metrics.”

However, a lot of “community discussion followed that update, prompting us to take a further look at the need for change in Pioneer.”

A Balanced Format Isn’t Always a Fun Format

The result of a second look at the format led Wizards to the conclusion that, while Pioneer had a balanced metagame, it was dominated by combo decks that were having a negative impact on players enjoyment of the format.

“Although we continue to see many different decks have success in Pioneer, and no decks with problematic win rates against the field, we do see that combo decks as a group make up a large portion of the competitive metagame,” Wizards said. “While win rate data may not point to change being needed, a different, more important set of data does: player participation.”

It turns out that, in spite of a balanced metagame, the number of people playing Pioneer had been dropping. “We’ve heard feedback that the frequency at which one finds themselves facing an opposing combo deck restricts deck-building options and can make play experiences unenjoyable,” they continued, and “we’ve also seen a decline in Pioneer play rates on Magic Online throughout the course of the year.”

Wizards concluded that “[i]t’s clear that many players who have been, or could be, interested in Pioneer are ready for a change. Ultimately, how much fun players are having with the environment is the most important driving force behind B&R updates, and so we’re choosing to ban four cards to shake things up and push the competitive metagame away from combo decks.”

Creating a New Metagame

To that end, Wizards decided to ban a key card from each of the most popular combo decks: Inverter of Truth from Dimir Inverter, Kethis, the Hidden Hand from Kethis Combo, Walking Ballista from Mono-White Devotion, and Underworld Breach from Lotus Breach.

“Our intent is to dramatically reduce instances where players risk losing to a combo kill when tapping out in the early- to mid-game,” Wizards said. “This should open up the field for more traditional midrange and control decks and put less pressure on aggressive decks to also focus on hand disruption and counterspells.”

“We understand that this represents a large change to the Pioneer environment, and, frankly, that’s the intent,” they continued. “We want to ensure that Pioneer can deliver an enjoyable play experience to players who are looking for an accessible, nonrotating format that’s closer to Standard in power level and offers a variety of archetypes and decks to choose from.”


Inverter of Truth

Inverter of Truth was the linchpin (and namesake) of the Dimir Inverter deck that debuted at Players Tour Series 1. The deck’s goal was to combine and Inverter of Truth with a relatively empty graveyard in order to dramatically reduce the size of their library. It would then win the game by playing either a Thassa’s Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries in the next turn or two.

While Inverter of Truth was the headline card out of the Dimir Inverter deck, many players believe that Dig Through Time was the deck’s most important enabler. Despite being banned in Modern and Legacy, as well as restricted in Vintage, Dig Through Time will live to see another day in Pioneer.

Pioneer Dimir Inverter

Creatures (9)
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Thassa’s Oracle
Inverter of Truth

Planeswalkers (3)
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Spells (24)
Cling to Dust
Fatal Push
Thought Erasure
Hero’s Downfall
Dig Through Time
Lands (24)
Choked Estuary
Drowned Catacomb
Fabled Passage
Fetid Pools
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Collective Brutality
Damping Sphere
Cry of the Carnarium
Mystical Dispute
Narset, Parter of Veils
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
The Scarab God


Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Kethis, the Hidden Hand was the namesake card of the up-and-coming Kethis Combo deck, which had been ported from Standard to Pioneer after the legendary cards from Dominaria rotated last fall.

The deck’s main goal was to mill itself with Diligent Excavator and Emry, Lurker of the Loch in order to fill its graveyard with legendary permanents. It would then use Kethis, the Hidden Hand to repeatedly cast cheap legends like Mox Amber from its graveyard and switch the target of the Diligent Excavator triggers to its opponent in order to mill them out and win the game.

Pioneer Kethis Combo

Creatures (24)
Gilded Goose
Hope of Ghirapur
Diligent Excavator
Lazav, the Multifarious
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Kethis, the Hidden Hand
Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Planeswalkers (6)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

Artifacts (5)
Mox Amber

Enchantments (4)
Oath of Nissa
Lands (21)
Blooming Marsh
Botanical Sanctum
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Mana Confluence
Temple Garden
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Fatal Push
Soul-Guide Lantern
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Vraska, Golgari Queen
Urza’s Ruinous Blast
Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering


Walking Ballista

Mono-White Devotion, while not a pure combo deck, included the two-card infinite combo of Walking Ballista plus Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Heliod would give the Walking Ballista lifelink with its activated ability, the Ballista would do one damage to the opponent and get another +1/+1 counter thanks to Heliod’s static ability, and then the Ballista would do one more damage and get one more counter, and on and on.

Pioneer Mono-White Devotion

Creatures (24)
Walking Ballista
Thraben Inspector
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
Knight of the White Orchid
Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Arcanist’s Owl

Planeswalkers (3)
Gideon of the Trials

Enchantments (8)
Baffling End
Stasis Snare
Gideon’s Intervention
Elspeth Conquers Death
Lands (25)
Castle Ardenvale
Idyllic Grange
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
16 Plains

Sideboard (15)
Baffling End
Damping Sphere
Rest in Peace
Gideon of the Trials
Stasis Snare
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar


Underworld Breach

Like Dimir Inverter, the Lotus Breach deck broke out at Players Tour Series 1. It’s goal was to ramp to three lands as quickly as possible and then abuse Lotus Field with multiple untap effects like Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages. It would then use Underworld Breach to combo off and combine multiple untaps in one turn to draw tons of cards and eventually cast a lethal Expansion // Explosion.

Pioneer Lotus Breach

Creatures (12)
Arboreal Grazer
Fae of Wishes
Vizier of Tumbling Sands

Spells (20)
Blink of an Eye
Hidden Strings
Shimmer of Possibility
Strategic Planning
Sylvan Scrying
Drawn from Dreams
Pore Over the Pages
Expansion // Explosion

Enchantments (3)
Underworld Breach
Lands (25)
Blast Zone
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Lotus Field
Sheltered Thicket
Temple of Mystery
Thespian’s Stage
Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard (15)
Tome Scour
Blink of an Eye
Displacement Wave
Ratchet Bomb
Underworld Breach
Anger of the Gods
Mystical Dispute
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Thought Distortion
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

A Surprise Announcement

For the last few months, Wizards has taken the approach of announcing Banned and Restricted updates a week ahead of time. But Wizards decided not to give any advanced notice for today’s bans.

“Because of the increased focus on digital play environments during this time period, we’re choosing to forgo that advanced notice and roll out these changes as soon as possible,” Wizards said, rather than creating one-week lame duck formats. “This isn’t necessarily indicative of how we’ll announce and implement in the future, and we’re continuing to look at how we balance giving players advance notice versus staying agile with respect to changing metagames.”

While the return to unannounced Banned and Restricted updates was certainly unexpected, especially on the Monday after a major tournament, the surprise was magnified by the large number of cards banned and formats affected. Four cards were banned in Standard, four in Pioneer, one in Brawl, and two were suspended in Historic.

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