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Vintage 101: The Final Cat's Meow

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I'm your host, Joe Dyer, and this week we're going to be diving into this week's Banned/Restricted list announcement. As last weekend's events took place before this announcement, we will not be covering them this week and will instead focus on the metagame going forward.

Without further ado, let's dive right into the thick of things!

A Nightmare Before Cat-Mas

May 18th saw what is arguably one of the most interesting and historic events in the history of the Vintage format. Yes, indeed, because a card was banned in Vintage. That card was of course, Lurrus of the Dream Den.

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This is a change that I have written about in the past few weeks, while we explored the possibility of additional changes that could potentially allow the card to remain intact in the format (such as banning the entire mechanic, or banning it as a Companion), but the quickness and reactionary timing of this B&R announcement suggested the only likely outcome was Lurrus being banned in the format. As described in the B&R announcement itself, since the release of Ikoria, not only has Lurrus risen in popularity in the format, but the win rates of Lurrus based decks also rose as well, in several archetype surpassing a win rate of 55%. They also note that the deckbuilding restrictions of Lurrus are simply less restrictive relative to the payoff of having Lurrus as a Companion, and that the metagame was giving no indication of shifting away from this ongoing trend.

In addition, they also noted that this is indeed a rare occurrence to ban a card, however, they also noted the fact that Lurrus presents a unique case in that restricting the card is impossible. The very nature of the Companion mechanic makes it impossible to balance the mechanic out with restrictions, and thus the card needed to be banned.

Now, this does not actually represent the first time that a card would be banned in Vintage for power level reasons, but it is the first time it has ever happened in a very long time. In 1995, after the creation of Vintage as Type 1, one card was banned in November of that year, along with a second card in February of 1996. Those two cards were Channel and Mind Twist.

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It would be four years before both of these cards were unbanned and immediately restricted in Vintage, in September of 2000. Mind Twist would later become unrestricted in 2007. It is interesting to look back on these as historical aspects and understand that while Vintage is a format where mostly any card is available for play, banning is a tool that can be leveraged for the health of the format overall. In the case of Lurrus, the sheer impossibility of balancing it via restrictions made it impossible to handle in any other way.

Some players also expressed the disappointment that cards like Paradoxical Outcome or Underworld Breach were not restricted first, but I don't believe either of these cards to have been the real root cause of any issues expressed during the Lurrus Metagame. Many of the most efficient hate cards versus these types of decks (such as Collector Ouphe and Null Rod) were not played nearly as much as they are in normal metagames, due to the fact that all decks playing Lurrus would not want to shut off their own mana development with Black Lotus or their own card advantage engines with Baubles. This allowed for decks like PO and Breach to lose some of their biggest normal metagame predators. While it is possible that restricting PO and Breach might have slowed the usage of combo decks with Lurrus, it would not have slowed Lurrus itself dominating the metagame.

Is There a Slippery Slope Fallacy?

One of the most common things that's come up in the wake of this is that Wizards has set a new precedent by banning a card in Vintage. As we've already established however, this is largely untrue, it's just not a tool that is used that often. However, the topic does come up as to whether or not this could potentially lead us down a path wherein other cards could be potentially banned for balance reasoning, and we start talking about major restricted cards like Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and even cards like Monastery Mentor.

Personally, I do not believe there is such a slippery slope, but I do believe if we ever see Companions again, or if a different Companion takes Lurrus' place in the format with similar win rates and metagame dominance, then we can see that tool used again, but only in regards to this type of mechanic where restrictions do not help it.

That being said, Wizards did go on further at the bottom of this announcement to note that Companion itself has had quite an effect on Constructed formats and especially older formats, and that additional options such as possibly trying to change/balance the mechanic were on the table. This is a hopeful possibility of being able to develop the mechanic a little better and make it more balanced. However, does this mean that Lurrus could ever come back to play? Doubtful. Lurrus' power and synergy with many of the restricted cards in the format (cards restricted for good reason, so you see them less) means too much, and the deckbuilding restriction is so incredibly low that I doubt we will ever see Lurrus become unbanned.

What Happens Next?

As far as what happens next with the format, many of the archetypes that existed solely during the Lurrus Metagame pretty much cease to exist or revert back to some form of deck played prior to Ikoria. Paradoxical Outcome based decks go back to needing to play cards like Tinker + Bolas's Citadel, while many of the Xerox based decks get to go back to playing Planeswalker threats such as Dack Fayden, Narset, Parter of Veils, and the like. This in turn balances back out decks like PO/Breach because their natural metagame predators return. In addition, expect to see decks like Dredge, HollowVine, and Ravager Shops returning to the metagame as well. These decks became largely pushed out during the Lurrus Metagame, so it's only natural that these decks return.

The big question however, is centered around the following two Companions.

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Lutri was already seeing a measure of play in the format prior to this B&R, and was putting up small numbers but great results. It would be no surprise to see Lutri decks pop up more, but would they put up the same win rate + dominance as Lurrus did? The question of that is unknown. Lutri does feel like a very powerful effect to have for free, but the deckbuilding cost is fairly restricting in losing 3x Force of Will mainly. I am willing to give this one some time because I feel it will be interesting and mostly just fine as an archetype.

Zirda on the other hand, saw minor results the very first week of Ikoria and then was quickly dropped as more people adopted Lurrus. Zirda is incredibly strong with Basalt Monolith & Grim Monolith for sure, so it is very possible that we might see builds pop up to take advantage of the Fox and the infinite mana combo he provides. Variations of Urza, Lord High Artificer decks with Zirda could potentially appear, or even Bant Control variants such as that we saw in Legacy show up as well.

The issue with Zirda is that we simply don't know for certain whether or not it will be overpowered/busted because it was completely overshadowed by Lurrus. I suspect that the card is very good, but I also suspect that the format will continue to play more cards that balance these decks out that they were already used to playing beforehand. I also suspect that one very important card from the Legacy variants being restricted in Vintage also doesn't help much, and that card is Karn, the Great Creator.

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Karn being restricted is a pretty big deal to Zirda I feel, since Karn represents a way to fetch either the half of the combo needed to present infinite mana or to also find the win condition in Walking Ballista that is typical of most Zirda decks. With Karn only as a 1-of instead of as a 4-of, this usage is much less pronounced than it was in Legacy, where the deck could make infinite mana and then chain Karns into play to assemble the rest of the combo. Thus, I suspect that Zirda might settle into a place as a new archetype in the metagame, but will otherwise be fine.

That being said, this weekend will present to us the first events post ban, so next week's article will be all about the post ban metagame and what trends we can extrapolate from there.

The Spice Corner

Our Spice Corner this week comes from sora1248, who gifts us a sweet Workshop/Bazaar build that's sort of like HollowVine, but with more of a Shops slant in lock pieces as opposed to free countermagic.

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What I'm Playing This Week

With things getting somewhat back to normal, it's time to break out the Risen Reef again!

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Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Thank you for your continued support of the column and join us next week as we continue our journey into the Vintage format!

As always you can reach me on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Patreon! I'm also always around the MTGGoldfish Discord Server and the Vintage Streamers Discord.

Until next time, keep on Ottering!

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