Standard is supposed to be the best format in the game. We all expect this constant when we purchase staples from the new sets that are released, to further enhance our favorite deck, try something new out, or to simply enjoy the new mechanics the Wizards team crafted from scratch. This entertainment from a format that rotates is at its maximum potential after a large chunk of the sets leave Standard, with only one new one to replace them.
Many of us look forward to this time of year more than any other, preparing our exciting brews, or waiting to see what the professional community comes up with on the competitive scene. Anything is fair game because what is often left behind from the previous format has been weakened, leaving the window open for a new king to get crowned. This is typically how it unfolds; however, there are some aberrations that can occur to bring the excitement to a screeching halt.
Let me illustrate the realization I had through my social media posts, starting as early as October 2nd.
The saddest moment in my Standard testing came earlier today.— Shaheen Soorani (@shaheenmtg) October 2, 2019
I had to add Deputy of Detention back to the roster...
I think I've regenerated enough political capital after my SFM work to proceed with impeachment proceedings for a Standard culprit.— Shaheen Soorani (@shaheenmtg) October 3, 2019
People registering 2 MD Agent of Treachery all because of a stupid land? Who suffers? The control community.
No more field!#bantheland
Even when Temur Energy was at its peak, Standard had a more diverse set of options than what it currently has. Pointing out the egregious Bant Golos deck as full-on oppressive was met with some agreement early on, as well as some snide opposition. The immediate reaction by some when addressed with a serious flaw in a format is to tell the concerned to get over it, stop crying, or that they are very sorry that this makes a pet archetype unplayable. Just as I did with reforms to Organized Play, unbannings, bannings, and other large-scale changes, I will not simply get over it.
The players of Magic: The Gathering have more power than many bases of other games. The more we vocalize our opinions to improve the game with a data-driven mindset, the more change we have seen. It is quite possible that WotC would have naturally unbanned Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic, and eliminated all merit-based qualifications through high finishes, if I was never to exist, but I seriously doubt that.
We may not ultimately make the decisions, but we help move the narrative and shine a light on the flaws that need fixing. On multiple occasions, higher-ups at WotC have responded to my tweets with exactly that, or that they are looking into it at an upcoming meeting. We have the power to repair issues in the game I love, and when I'm told to suck it up and deal with it, I just fight harder. When you receive that same, negative message from a fellow competitor, be sure to push it aside and continue moving toward your goal.
There may be a need to talk about Mox Opal in a future article, but this discussion is centered around the disastrous void that Field of the Dead has left in the Standard metagame. I have never seen a more oppressive deck in the first week of a new Standard, as Bant Golos dominated SCG Philadelphia and continues to lay waste against players on MTG Arena. I usually wait a good month or two to pronounce a format unsalvageable; however, this time around took me three days.
As I've done in the past, I need to divulge my bias, even as obvious as it is. I enjoy the control archetype, which is as unplayable as it's ever been in this format. When I can't control my opponents, I move to an aggressive strategy as a protest to a format that has a balance issue. After trying Knights, Mono-Red Aggro, and Mono-Black Aggro, my theory turned into a clear, dark reality. The aggressive decks are incapable of pressuring Bant Golos effectively, as the deck still cruised along with an impenetrable ground force very early in the game. Even if the ground force arrived too late, there are other ways that Bant Golos laid waste to any fast strategy.
Bant Golos has a ton of incidental lifegain off the four copies of Hydroid Krasis. Hydroid Krasis was typically mediocre against aggressive decks in the past, but that all changes when it arrives very early, very large, with a ton of life attached to it. Having access to this Jellyfish Hydra Beast is enough to put fast decks on ice early, as well as dominate any control player without trying very hard to do so. To top it all off, they have a tutor that snags one of these monstrosities if need be. If they are not in need of a Hydroid Krasis, they can find the perfect land or a sweeper that perfectly answers any threat up until this point.
Once Upon a Time is an absurdly powerful card from Throne of Eldraine and will see play if the game exists. Another free spell to add to the pile, Once Upon a Time provides that tutor for any Bant Golos required spell for the cost of zero on Turn 1. Later in the game it costs two, which is a fine price to pay for the effect you're getting. This is another card that helps Bant Golos remain consistent and easily defeat aggressive and control opponents alike. That leaves one contender to get in there and make it work, but they are worse off than the other two.
Midrange decks have historically struggled against ramp decks and that is an understatement for the current contest. New decks that bring the power of Oko, Thief of Crowns to the battlefield are embarrassed by Bant Golos. There is no midrange strategy that can contend with an endless supply of Zombies, four copies of Hydroid Krasis, and all the utility spells that serve multiple purposes. Beanstalk Giant and Realm-Cloaked Giant are very cool designs, but I have learned to hate them over the last few weeks of gameplay. These enablers do not scratch the surface of the devastating affect that Bant Golos is having on Standard.
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim used to be an Ali Aintrazi special, but not as an oppressive ringleader to the deck that has decimated Standard. Field of the Dead is the center of the format rot, but Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is the flashy enabler that has burned down the house. Not only does this souped-up Solemn Simulacrum fetch Field of the Dead, it also easily wins the game on its own if left alone. Activating Golos, Tireless Pilgrim knocks the opponent out very easily, casting giant spells for the low cost of zero mana. Even with this powerful enabler and the package of spells that locks in its consistency, Bant Golos would not be a blight on the format without Field of the Dead.
Field of the Dead was a huge development mistake, as we saw in the final month of the last Standard. Decks centered around Scapeshift developed that same, painful loss as the current incarnations do today. Somehow, the deck has become better, even as all the other archetypes have become worse. We expect established decks to lose some of their luster as many sets exit legality, but not this one. Throne of Eldraine gifted the ramp decks consistency with cards that provide a necessary effect and turn into giant creatures later. Beanstalk Giant and Realm-Cloaked Giant, joined by a clown car filled with Oko, Thief of Crowns; Fae of Wishes; and Kenrith, the Returned King, created an absolute monster. Many of us, on the outside looking in, wish there was an answer available to any archetype in Standard.
Field of the Dead is a land, making it nearly impossible to effectively interact with. Even if Field of Ruin were legal, Bant Golos would still be the best deck by far. Cheap answers to an opponent's oppressive manabase would not completely solve the problem but would make the call for a banning subside. There can be a best deck in the format, with no other deck that can put up the same numbers; however, the other decks must have a shot.
At this point, it is still very early in the format and players are crafting decks that can take it down every now and then. Bant Golos (and other versions) isn't unbeatable, but it has completely devoured multiple archetypes and rendered them unplayable. We are playing a game with variance and even decks like Caw-Blade, Modern Eldrazi before the banning of Eye of Ugin, and Temur Energy were beatable. Winning occasionally against a deck like this doesn't demonstrate a defense against a banning.
This new format has a great deal of potential and WotC knows that. After heavy consideration, they sent out this Tweet:
We previously announced the next B&R date as Nov. 18. After further reflection on the (very busy) competitive gaming schedule and discussion on implementation windows with our digital teams, we are shifting that next announcement to Oct. 21.— Magic Esports (@MagicEsports) October 9, 2019
WotC is running a business and we're their customers. It's quite clear that Field of the Dead can undo the progress they're making on MTG Arena and hurt their bottom line. Even with the financial piece in mind, they also love the game of Magic and want it to be great. Both motivations yield the same result for us, the consumers. WotC will make moves to improve an unpopular format that has been hijacked before it even hit the ground running.
Not only does Field of the Dead present a barrier to format health, it's also miserable to play against. One of the most common responses to my banning tweet last week was that they would rather concede on Turn 1 than continue to play. A player puts an Azorius Guildgate onto the battlefield and that prompts the match to end. This is not something that should occur with frequency Week 1 of a new format. The concession doesn't come from the impossible nature of the matchup, but from the one-hour slugfest that will have the same result as a Turn 1 concession.
Bant Golos has increased the gameplay exponentially, making matches go excruciatingly longer. As a control player, my endurance for long matches is fine, but I'm not part of the masses. Most players enjoy quick, fun matches on MTG Arena and this current metagame doesn't provide that. In a more diverse field, most players can handle getting paired against Simic Nexus and stomach it. They complain to their friend that's watching, but probably won't face it too many times over the course of their Standard gaming session. With today's Standard, that isn't the case. Not only will a player experience the agony of Bant Golos, they will get to do so repeatedly.
There will be a Mythic Championship on MTG Arena next week and the big shots may have pivoted to defeat Bant Golos with something that has yet to be discovered. If that's the case, this argument may get tabled for the time being by some. Just like with Temur Energy, it will only get worse as the format settles to a wider audience after the small, MPL-centered tournament concludes.
They will have to remove Field of the Dead at some point. I just hope it happens in a couple of weeks.