So Long KCI: Examining the Recent Ban
- Hans Davidson
"No king rules forever." Krark-Clan Ironworks' reign over the Modern format is no more, and the king's demise was accompanied by an interesting article from Wizards of the Coast. In this week's article, Hans dives into the juicy tidbits from the announcement and casts his eye towards the future.
Monday (21 January 2019) saw the biggest news to hit Modern in over a year – with a Banned and Restricted announcement that buried KCI as a Modern deck forever. While others may be discussing whether the ban was warranted or not, and whether there should have been cards that came off the ban list, I want to spend today analyzing the exact contents of the B&R announcement. Unlike some of the previous ban announcements we've seen in the past, Ian Duke details the reasons for the ban. There's a lot to unpack here, so let's dive right in!
Breaking Down Monday's Announcement
In analyzing the Banned & Restricted announcement from Monday, I want to break Ian Duke's article into digestible pieces. There are three key pieces of information that his article brought up, and each deserve its own accompanying analysis.
"We've decided to take action by banning the card Krark-Clan Ironworks."
This was the headliner that players were looking for when they looked at the announcement. KCI had been a dominating deck, particularly in the hands of accomplished pros such as Matt Nass. But Wizards had decided that enough was enough when it came to KCI's grip on the format.
|Krark-Clan Ironworks by Matthew Nass, 4th Place, GP Oakland 2019|
|18Lands||32Artifacts||10Creatures and Other Spells|
|2Buried Ruin||3Engineered Explosives||1Myr Retriever|
|4Darksteel Citadel||4Mox Opal||1Sai, Master Thopterist|
|2Forest||3Chromatic Sphere||4Scrap Trawler|
|4Grove of the Burnwillows||4Chromatic Star||4Ancient Stirrings|
|2Inventors' Fair||1Pyrite Spellbomb|
|3Yavimaya Coast||4Ichor Wellspring|
|1Spine of Ish Sah|
|1Tormod's Crypt||4Lightning Bolt||4Nature's Claim|
|2Sai, Master Thopterist|
The deck was consistent, resilient, and in the hands of an experienced pilot, quite adept at taking down tournaments. As the announcement mentioned, Krark-Clan Ironworks put up more individual-play Modern GP Top 8s than any other archetype by a wide margin. The deck just looks like another convoluted artifact-based deck that looks weak against the typical suite of artifact hate. But in practice, the deck can surprisingly handle all the range of answers thrown at it, whether it be Rest in Peace or Stony Silence. The power level of the deck didn't go unnoticed as more and more players picked up the deck, and hopes for the metagame to adjust around it became dimmer and dimmer. However, this wasn't the sole reason for the namesake card to be banned.
"We're sensitive to community feedback that the combination of polarized matchups, complex interactions, and long turns can lead to unenjoyable gameplay and viewing experiences."
This comment was one of the more interesting statements that Ian made in this announcement. Polarized matchups are a criterion that the Modern community is aware of regarding a card (or deck) getting hit with the ban hammer. However, the emphasis on a trifecta that included complex interactions and unenjoyable gameplay came as a surprise. Modern's card pool is more than fifteen years old, and the entanglement of rules and card text is bound to result in unintuitive gameplay.
While KCI's ability to work around cards such as Extirpate makes plays difficult to grasp, I find that these small, difficult interactions exist in many shapes and forms in a non-rotating format. Taking, for example, Cryptic Command's propensity to "fizzle" depending on the modes chosen and having non-valid targets is one such non-intuitive interaction that, with enough experience, becomes a part of understanding and playing the format well. For Wizards to single out rule complexity is an outlier, and I can't think of the last time a banning came about partly due to the complex nature of a card.
"We considered three possible cards from Ironworks to ban: Ancient Stirrings, Mox Opal, and Krark-Clan Ironworks itself."
Finally, the most interesting tidbit to come out of the announcement is Wizard's transparency with their candidates for the ban. I talked about this back in the very first article I wrote for Cardmarket, which mentioned the desire for Wizards to be more transparent about the direction of the format, including which cards they deem okay and which cards they deem problematic. By bringing up Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal in the discussion of possible bans, Wizards did a commendable job of being upfront about which cards they see as being possibly dangerous in the future. This not only allows current players to switch out of their decks, but it also allows new Modern players to be aware that certain cards and archetypes are being closely watched by Wizards. In both cases, the open communication allows players to avoid the unfortunate situation of playing or buying into a deck that then promptly eats a ban.
What the Ban Means for the Modern Metagame
Modern is, and will still be, about playing unfair and linear strategies. Despite KCI being out of the picture, many top decks in the format, such as the Arclight Phoenix decks and Dredge, exist to abuse the graveyard. Although decks might pump the breaks on artifact hate in their sideboards, I expect everyone to either step up the amount of graveyard hate or to devote the freed-up sideboard slots for other matchups.
Interestingly enough, the spotlight that KCI hogged may now give space for a deck like Affinity to come back into the top tiers. With decks and players possibly skimping on artifact hate, Affinity could expect to see a field that is not hit quite as hard via splash damage from the dominance of KCI. In any case, we're going to see a metagame influx, and linear, aggressive strategies tend to do well when we don't have a clear-cut meta.
As is the case with Modern, metagames tend to vary greatly depending on the particular store and region, so I wouldn't see it as wise to make huge changes to your decklist or strategy now that KCI is gone. While certain decks might become slightly worse because their good matchup is gone (Infect and GDS for example), these decks that were previously viable will continue to be viable.
Anyway, that's it for this week. What are your opinions about KCI's ban? What changes do you expect to see in the format's metagame? Let me know in the comment section below.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.