06.02.04 A Pain and a Nuisance
…and then it was gone.
Players everywhere have spent the last few months drawing ridiculous numbers of cards off of Goblins, Elves, Affinity creatures, and anything else they could get their greedy little hands on. If a creature had one toughness, it was bound to head to the bin with the controller drawing two fresh, new, hopefully better cards. For months, trading in combat has been a question of whether you were willing to let your opponent draw cards off of their dead creature.
And poof! With a single stroke, Wizards of the Coast has taken two entire formats and flipped them right onto their heads.
Just this morning (in my perspective, at least) Skullclamp was banned in Standard and in Mirrodin-block constructed. We’re left holding the bag here trying to take these two environments and figure out where they are going; who better to do that than me? (don’t answer that)
Let’s start with a big-picture kind of look at what the banning of ‘clamp means. Smaller creatures have, in general, simply become less good in this format. Drawing cards is now restricted to the decks that are supposed to be able to do so, using cards such as Thoughtcast and Thirst for Knowledge, or alternatives such as Oversold Cemetery. Mass removal has become considerably better again, simply because aggressive decks can’t recover so ridiculously quickly. You aren’t going to Wrath, then promptly watch your opponent drop at least two more creatures and ‘clamp one of them up in case you Wrath again.
Basically, what you’re going to see is the restabilization of the environments, where a new slew of decks are going to see play because of the removal of Skullclamp from the field. Aggressive decks are going to slow down and have to be careful about overextending, since they simply aren’t going to be able to recoup resources so quickly in case of trouble. Control is going to start to see resurgence in playability, and we might even see some sort of combo with the entrance of Fifth Dawn.
So let’s start with details of what’s probably going to drop out of decks in Standard. Those Shatters and Oxidizes can start to make their way out of your library and back into your sideboards. Damping Matrix is back to being a mediocre card that doesn’t have a place in most decks any longer. Elves are going to disappear again, simply because the value of Shaman + Symbiote + Aether Vial is going to disappear due to the dearth of targets for Shaman (as well as the lack of ‘clamp to kill off your Heralds).
The additions to Standard are going to be significant. Pulse of the Fields is going to be a powerful card that will make blue/white an even better deck than it was before the appearance of Darksteel. Counterspells will be playable again, which makes the appearance of Condescend a boon to the blue players. The Ponza-style decks which had become increasing popular some months ago will start to reappear again, with Goblin Charbelcher becoming playable again due to the less explosive nature of the environment (get it back together, Wyatt!).
So which decks that were already playable are going to slide? Let’s start with Affinity, which is going to have to make significant adjustments in order to play differently. Skullclamp allowed that deck to effectively combo out with Disciple and Ravager or Atog; now, they’re going to have to simply draw fewer cards, effectively slowing the deck down by one or two turns, most likely. This isn’t going to make this deck a complete non-factor, but it might knock it a rung or two down the ladder.
Are Goblins going to get worse? Well…probably not. The deck is losing some of its gas with the loss of ‘clamp, but it’s not going to disappear; it’ll probably stay really close to one of the best decks in the format for now. It’s going to take the rotation of Onslaught-block from Standard to make Goblins a really mediocre-bad deck again; I’ll let you guy decide if you like that or not.
The miscellaneous decks will see some effects due to the loss of ‘clamp; the exact effects are wide and varied. Elves will probably cease to exist as a remotely viable deck again. Tooth and Nail might actually get a little better due to the best decks losing a turn or two off of their clock, but Goblins will continue to cause it a lot of problems. Green/black control loses ‘clamp, but it’ll still continue to function as a stubborn, slow control deck that doesn’t have a terribly effective way to win. The big winners, as mentioned before, are the control decks like Slide and U/W, when their mass removal simply wasn’t enough to keep up with the cards drawn off of the Skullclamp. Another deck to keep an eye on might be the Death Cloud deck, another control-ish deck that was having difficulty keeping up with the colorless source of card-drawing.
A final concern is about the potential combo deck that exists with Krark-Clan Ironworks. I am of a tendency to believe that U/W will help to stunt this deck as an overwhelming force, as it seems like a turn-two Mana Leak or Condescend will break up the combo in pretty short order. However, even if this viable, we’ll be back to the triad of control-aggro-combo that existed quite a few years ago, a period that a lot of people think was a very good one for Magic. Hopefully, this multitude of broad archetypes will help to keep a wide range of decks available for quite some time.
Looking at block-constructed, we’re probably going to see some huge changes here. While Affinity is, again, going to remain viable, there are simply going to be a spread of new decks that will be able to flourish, and a lot of hate that can shift to sideboards again. The green decks seem like they might be able to become viable again, as long as they can find a way to fight the Arc Sloggers that are running around nowadays. I think we might see decks branching into three or more colors to utilize cards like Engineered Explosives and possibly sources of removal like Terror.
Again, Tooth and Nail probably gains the most from the changes in the environment, as, once again, they get another turn or two to help ensure that they can stabilize their mana in order to resolve an entwined T&N. Other decks that might be able to fight back include Death Cloud and the various combo decks that will poke around as a result of 5D. Again, Ironworks is a concern; in such a limited environment as block-constructed, this might actually be quite a bit more of a concern, especially since there isn’t really a viable control element in this format. There’s some real danger of this becoming one-sided again, but that’s really what block ends up like most of the time.
At the very least, block is going to spread out over more decks now; we’ll at least see more archetypes spring up as a result of the banning. It’s going to smooth out the play in this format, one that initially looked like it was going to stagnate before it really even got started. At least we have several months of testing before it really matters.
A final note here would be to those who think that Disciple and Sharpshooter should have been banned instead of ‘clamp. I really do see Skullclamp as the enabler card that caused the real problems, not the little cleric and goblin; drawing cards until you could be assured that you had a Disciple (or three) or a Sharpshooter (or two or three) along with all of the support cards that were required to make your combo go off was the issue here. It was so easy to fuel the machine that it almost didn’t require work; as the notes on the banning said, games where one person has ‘clamp and the other does not aren’t even remotely fun. I really do feel like they made the right choice in bannings, for now.
Next week…more about 5D draft? We’ll see if I can manage to get a little better grasp of this format by then.
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