Yesterday afternoon Wizards of the Coast announced on their very first banned and restricted for Pioneer that the following 3 cards would be banned in Pioneer. These cards are Felidar Guardian, Leyline of Abundance, and Oath of Nissa. If you would like to read more about Wizards specific thoughts for banning these cards, you can read their announcement here: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/november-4-2019-pioneer-banned-announcement.
Today, I want to cover the effect that these bans will have on the format, and what banning these cards means, for the direction of Pioneer as a whole. Let’s start by discussing the bans themselves.
Out of all the bans made today, this is probably the most impactful. Without Felidar Guardian, the Splinter Twin of Pioneer is dead, and the shells that surrounded the combo will have to change on a fundamental level. Saheeli decks were very high performing decks, showing up in the 5-0 lists in many different forms. One of the most common Saheeli decks was 4C Planeswalkers which was able to play a very powerful midrange plan, backed up by a combo finish.
Felidar Guardian was more important to that deck than just simply being a combo piece. If Saheeli Rai had been banned, the cat would have likely stayed in the deck as it provided a powerful way to reset Planeswalkers. Curving Teferi into Felidar and bouncing their 2 best creatures will win almost as many games as curving Saheeli into Felidar would.
Banning Felidar Guardian didn’t just nerf the Planeswalkers deck either. Without the cat, Prime Speaker Vannifar decks no longer have an easy 4 drop to tutor up in their combo chain, which provides value outside of the chain. Breaching Hippocamp can fill its place, but not very many people were playing Breaching Hippocamp for a reason. Besides Vannifar, decks based on flickering permanents for value lost one of their best enablers. These decks weren’t really a consideration in the highest echelons of the meta, but are still decks that are affected by the Felidar ban, that would not have been affected had Saheeli been banned instead.
What this means for the format at large is that we no longer have to worry so much about interacting in the early turns. This is both a positive and a negative, as you’re no longer likely to just die if you don’t draw the Thoughtseize in the first few turns, but at the same time, the released pressure of early interaction means that more unfair decks might be able to sneak in and start streamlining the format. However, with the smaller card pool of Pioneer, I don’t feel that this will be as problematic as it is in Modern.
Another thing to consider with the Felidar ban is that A+B combos are at much higher risk for bannings than they would be in Modern. There aren’t many A+B combos in Pioneer yet, especially at the speed that Felidar-Saheeli could be done, but when a card can combine infinitely with another card on their own, it will most likely be on a watchlist and carefully monitored to see how powerful they are. This also means that for now, Pioneer will not be a turn 4 format, and will likely try to encourage games that last much longer. It’ll (hopefully) take a while to see another combo emerge that pushes the effective turn of the format, but for now, I think I can safely say that games are gonna be a little slower.
Overall, while I know that there are many people out there who wished that Saheeli got banned instead of Felidar, I think that Felidar was the correct decision. While Felidar would have seen much more play than Saheeli in a wide variety of decks, the strengths of the Superfriends deck is already so apparent at the beginning of the format, that I think it’s ok to nip them in the bud and take away a combo piece and a value engine at the same time. Planeswalker decks have a lot of reconfiguring to do because of this ban, and because of another card on this list.
Leyline of Abundance
When this card was first printed, I would have been surprised to hear that it would get banned only 3 months later. In the context of Pioneer, however, it makes much more sense. With more turn one dorks in a format with significantly worse removal, Leyline of Abundance can actually be used effectively in the early stages of the game and power out huge threats before the opponent has a chance to develop. This card effectively served as the most powerful way to cheat on mana in the format, and the tools to stop it are just too inefficient. Leyline of Abundance also takes away one of the biggest drawbacks of Nykthos and turns it into a green source for free, provided you have one other pip somewhere on the board.
Leyline getting banned this early indicates that fast mana is going to be under a much more careful watch than it is in Modern. Cards like Mox Amber can change the speed of a format in dangerous ways if the cards surrounding it are viable. In the case of Leyline, Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic are unsurprisingly viable cards in the format, and Leyline only served to supercharge already good cards. Without Leyline, ramping into threats such as Ulamog are going to be much tougher to do very quickly, which gives time for other decks to deal with the dorks, or have an answer ready for the payoff.
Nykthos is already proving to be an incredible card, and will likely form the Tron analog of this new format. However, now that the deck is much more susceptible to disruption, decks like Control and Aggro have a chance to compete with the deck and keep it in check. Nykthos may continue to be a dangerous card for the format, and will probably be kept under close supervision. For now, without access to the Leyline, ramp decks will play out in a much more fair fashion.
Oath of Nissa
This is another nerf to the Planeswalker decks and shows a different angle from which they want to ban cards, and that is cards that can skirt around the mana problems of the format. With the fetches banned, and now Oath of Nissa, it is clear that they want to put a strain on manabases, and prevent players from playing 4 or 5 color decks without a lot of deckbuilding constraints. Oath of Nissa asked for a constraint, but it was a constraint that didn’t affect players all too much, thanks to the explosion of Planeswalkers in the past year alone.
Even though the Planeswalker midrange decks lost 2 of their best cards, I’m afraid that this won’t be enough to completely kill the decks. T3feri and Oko are still extremely busted magic cards, and people will find shells to play them in. This shell will most likely drop Red in favor of playing a simple Bant midrange deck. Planeswalkers will become less of a focus, and the strategy will start to shift to include other powerful cards like Spell Queller, which happens to work incredibly well with Teferi and Oko.
If you want to still play a Superfriends strategy instead of normal midrange, Fires of Invention might be the next place to look. This 4 mana enchantment can color fix as long as you have the right number of lands and has great synergy with Planeswalkers. Of course, if you want to play Oko and Teferi, you’ll have to splash Red for Fires which becomes a lot worse when you aren’t playing Saheeli, and no longer have access to Oath of Nissa. I don’t expect a traditional superfriends list to take the place of Copycat.
Personally, I feel that the bans made were well justified and do a lot to fix the early problems of the format. Hitting 3 cards right out of the gate show that they are going to hold true to their statement of being aggressive with their bans. This is, again, both a good and bad thing as it keeps the hype for the format from dying down, as it will constantly be under flux, but also hurts consumer confidence because anything is at risk of bans in this early stage of the format. What if the deck you are playing is fine now, but after a few bans becomes the deck to beat and needs to be banned as well. The current state of Pioneer doesn’t suggest to me that will be the case, but it is something to keep in mind for those people who bought their Saheelis at the high of 15 dollars a copy.
These early bans also tell us that Wizards is going to be targeting 3 things in the new format. A+B combos, mana acceleration, and cards that trivialize the mana of Pioneer. We have yet to see if cards that break other fundamental rules of the game, such as Treasure Cruise drawing 3 cards, are enough to get banned at this point in time, but I’d look out for any cards in Pioneer that can do any of the above 3 things.