Hey Magic people. Today Wizards banned Omnath, Locus of Creation.
Where? Arena, basically. Standard, Historic, Brawl, and not Historic Brawl, because for the face of the newest set, a massive splashy chase mythic costing plenty of real money, one narrow avenue of playability is a must.
They banned other stuff, too. Various toxic stuff from the FIRE era of design. I mean, I don’t think Escape to the Wilds or Lucky Clover are toxic, they just lined up wrong in Standard. If Adventures ever come back and flesh out the archetype, Lucky Clover might do some damage in Commander. Escape to the Wilds is already playable there. But what about Omnath?
I opened an Omnath, Locus of Creation, and I’m a little gobsmacked as to what to do with it. If I were a Standard player, heavily into Arena, I could get a replacement wildcard for my trouble, and just build whatever deck is going to dominate the meta in Omnath’s place. That would probably actually be 4 wildcards, because I’m sure most people who had 1 had 4. I’d be pretty cheesed about it, because this keeps happening, and to the cards that are often the most expensive, sought after, and visible in the branding. But I’m not a Standard player.
If I were a Historic or Brawl player, I’d probably breathe a sigh of relief, because I’m probably playing those formats to play on Arena without having to participate in toxic Standard, and some of the bogeymen are gone. But those formats are the side dishes to Standard’s entree. They can be as toxic and volatile as Standard, if not more so, and have strange card pools that aren’t necessarily suited for what the format is trying to do.
If I was a drafter, Omnath is still going to ruin my day occasionally. There’re already plenty of single cards that are nearly unbeatable in draft, including many Planeswalkers, so Omnath is in good company. I’m sure veteran drafters experience the frustration of their carefully constructed masterpiece losing to a lucky pull enough to develop a thick skin, but drafts are pay-to-play, and that’s not something everyone can afford. Me included.
If I were a Pioneer player, I’d be assuming an Omnath ban will happen if the format is ever relevant again. The quagmire of format-wrecking FIRE cards may be too much to unravel, however, and every banning might just unveil the next broken deck that makes it unplayable again.
If I’m a Vintage or Legacy player, I can still brew with Omnath, for the time being. There are decks floating around already. As with all the other recent FIRE monstrosities, it’s likely Omnath will become an unwanted format pillar, as a game-winning condition, repeatable value engine, substantial clock, cantrip, and pitch card for Force of Will, Force of Negation and Force of Vigor. Like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Oko, Thief of Crowns before it. I’d be annoyed at another expensive new must-have and must-account-for in formats whose major appeal is slow change, and extra annoyed that if I buy in to copies of this card, are they going to be banned and restricted in these formats, too?
Which brings me to Commander. I’m a tabletop casual player. I do play in sanctioned tournaments, called Commander Challenges, that are on hiatus because of the pandemic. I build the occasional powerful deck, like the Akiri deck I built recently, and I know all too well how your choice of Commander can create an instant impression of what your plan is. There are lots of players who swear their decks are casual-friendly, and then stomp you in six turns. I’d be hard-pressed to believe someone who slaps down Omnath, Locus of Creation as their Commander and then says they’ve got a casual deck. Maybe they do, but I’m going to play like they’re a cEDH deck until I see otherwise, which means holding up removal instead of playing proactively, being hyperconscious of sequencing and mana usage, and generally making a game I love into work. And even if they do have a casual deck, something that wants to play Grocery Store and have different creatures representing the different fruits and vegetables, it still will probably win on the back of a few Cultivates and Avenger of Zendikar as the Broccoli.
I’m struggling with making an Omnath deck of my own. At first, I had a plan of mostly lands that revolved around the Creature Lands like Raging Ravine and making them into big threats. I love the card Darksteel Garrison and that seemed like fun, but the rest of the concept hit a wall. The Creature Lands need a lot of help, and unless one of the cards that make them indestructible come up, are pretty fragile. It’s also a major resource loss to have one of your lands die in combat or to Swords to Plowshares. The activations are also pretty mana-intensive, especially considering you’re also keeping lands untapped for combat purposes. Which means ramp. And of course, since Omnath is the Commander and Landfall is soooooo strong, not to mention simple, the ramp takes over.
In fact, it’s tough to imagine any strategy I could pair with Omnath that wouldn’t just pale in comparison to playing 3 lands per turns as often as possible with the Commander out. If that deck keeps its hand full and a few key removal/counterspells on hand, it’s going to be hard to stop. I expect my friends to groan at the sight of the Commander, and I expect the deck to join my other one-play wonders that never got a second play because nobody had fun. My Roommate’s Boyfriend, also an accomplished deckbuilder, suggested an Omnath build using only colourless-mana-producing lands. Like Zendikar after the Eldrazi but before the resurgence. Omnath in the Wastes, or something. I’ll post my results, but it’s a major grind to figure out what the deck does. I know it wants to ramp.
I opened 2 Legendary creatures from Zendikar Rising. I built around Akiri, Fearless Voyager, but it was too strong. I’m struggling to build around Omnath, because the card seems to Stifle creativity. If the deck is super easy to build, play and win with, we might even see a ban. Or worse, no ban, and the only answer the Community has is land destruction. Having to run Strip Mine, Ankh of Mishra, or Tunnel Ignus in a deck that just wants to play tribal horse really sucks. But the alternative is watching someone else play the game at a higher level, ie. making 3-12 land drops in a turn cycle, while you play a land and hopefully a horse.
I like horse tribal. I like the idea of it. I like the people who will try to make it good. I want them to be able to play, and participate, and show off their whinny conditions (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the table. Those people are the groundswell behind the juggernaut that’s Commander. But I feel like Omnath, and everything Hasbro is doing (FIRE, profitgrubbing) is a definite deterrent to those Commander players too, not just the poor souls on Arena. I’m really worried about Commander Legends, and how it might completely upend the format to the point where it’s unrecognizable. Where all the games are like work, against some flavour of broken FIRE cards, and having any fun requires a detailed pact on excluding a curated swath of cards from your meta. Not just a banned list, but also a ‘we don’t play this crap on principle’ list. Which means we’re actually playing something else, not Commander, not any of the recognized formats.
There’s been a lot of talk about new formats. Maybe something like Legacy Commander, where it’s pre-FIRE cards only, would fly. But the bottom line is that Commander grew as a response to narrow, boring, repetitive tournament gameplay that excluded the fun and splashy cards that people wanted to play because they were inefficient. Like the Elder Dragons, including OG Nicol Bolas, that the EDH format is named for. Commander is a big success because people like playing for fun, clearly, because there’s no money in playing Commander. FIRE design has produced a steady stream of cards that narrow the scope of what’s playable, create repetitive play patterns, and get plenty of accusations of toxicity, boring play, and groans from opponents. It’s only a matter of time before people tune out, even in Commander, and move on. Hopefully for Magic, it’s to that next format that we can all enjoy before someone figures out how to ruin it.
Opening a chase mythic turned into winning the chump lottery. My consumer confidence is definitely suffering, and I’m barely affected by the bans. Ultimately the best thing for me to do with my Omnath, Locus of Creation would be to stick it in a box somewhere and spare the people in my life having to play against it. A sad, sad fate for what is easily one of the most powerful creatures ever printed in Magic. Thanks for reading. Your life matters! Black Lives Matter!