Worlds has come and gone. My enthusiasm to play Midnight Hunt Limited has tapered off, and Standard already looks stale. A stale Standard format might be reason enough to ban a card, especially a card that has been fairly oppressive like Alrund’s Epiphany. I’m usually in favor of banning things. I love format shake-ups, especially when things are stale. This time, however, I don’t think there’s a single banning that will fix this format at the time.
This Standard format is what’s left of a very obvious power level adjustment. Cards have been scaled down in power level for the past few sets, returning to a flatter power level after the incredibly powerful Throne of Eldraine Standard format. During the power scale down, there were some cards designed to be powerful enough to sell packs within the context of that more powerful format. Some missed and some hit. We continued to play with those cards, and those cards continue to be great in this small Standard format. Alrund’s Epiphany, Goldspan Dragon, Expressive Iteration, and Esika’s Chariot are some that come to mind.
Alrund’s Epiphany isn’t a fun way to lose. It’s not fun to watch someone take a few turns in a row and goldfish you while you sit there and twiddle your thumbs. However, Alrund’s Epiphany doesn’t clear the bar for being too powerful. In many cases, it’s a liability in hand, especially when needing to combine with a card like Galvanic Iteration. It requires you to fill your deck with cheap interaction to bridge to it but also have a board presence to close with it, and it limits your ability to play too many other expensive cards.
Alrund’s Epiphany is being used as a scapegoat for how powerful the Izzet shell is, in general. Red has a uniquely solid removal spell with Dragon’s Fire combined with Goldspan Dragon. Smoldering Egg is absurdly efficient for a two-mana spell when we still see cards like Sculptor of Winter in other decks. It’s even more disgusting with Epiphany. Even just flashing back a Memory Deluge, it’s an efficient and powerful two-drop that blocks well early and turns into a dominant threat late.
Izzet cards, and to an extent some green cards, are just a cut above the rest of the format in power level. If Epiphany was banned, Izzet decks would still likely end up in the top tier decks. Maybe other midrange strategies like Mono Black control could compete more in long games, but it’s early in the Standard cycle, and we have another set around the corner.
One of, if not the biggest, problem is the depth of the overall format. Izzet Epiphany looks like a solid full eight-set Standard deck. It has efficient removal, a robust gameplan, and tons of options to tweak and customize. Mono Green aggro, the biggest predator of Izzet, is playing with underpowered cards (like Sculptor of Winter) for a typical Standard deck. It has no true one-drop, and many of these aggressive decks don’t have cheap enough creatures to keep up. With time, and one or two new sets, Izzet Epiphany could improve, but everything else will catch up faster than Izzet improves. For me, I’d wait a set, maybe even two, before I banned Alrund’s Epiphany, and even then it may take more than just Epiphany. I may go after another more generically powerful card like Expressive Iteration, a card that allows the caster in the midgame to quickly churn through their deck. How often do you watch a game of Izzet Mirrors where they are exchanging resources and the person who resolves a midgame Expressive Iteration ends up four or five cards ahead? From my experience, it’s quite often.
There’s been a glimmer of hope this past week or so. @mtg_data’s latest weekly development was that the aggro decks outperformed Izzet. Bear in mind that the format is skewed toward beating Izzet, yet nothing is consistently doing this, especially if Izzet starts targeting the format. Don’t get it twisted, Izzet Epiphany is the best deck in the format. That said, there are other options for the time being.
Let’s assume that we do ban Epiphany. There’s no knowing if Crimson Vow will give us an equally potent endgame for Izzet to work toward. It may be less obnoxious, but with a new set on the doorstep it will take more than being an unpleasant loss to justify banning a card.
You know what cards I do have a problem with? Both Spikefield Hazard and Shatterskull Smashing are incredibly powerful, low- or no-cost cards to include in a deck like Izzet. Spikefield Hazard allows you to play a Shock-like effect without the typical downsides of having Shock in your deck. These slower decks can always use more land drops. Against control, having Shock may be a liability, but now it’s exactly what you want in a slower match-up, which is more lands. Shatterskull Smashing will cost you some amount of life on average to include in your deck, but it allows you to answer creatures again in your land slot and scales well into the game, especially combined with Goldspan Dragon. Remember how oppressive Bonecrusher Giant was to small creature decks? Spikefield Hazard is another, albeit much weaker, version of that, but puts similar constraints on the format. When observing Paulo and Sam Pardee work through their build of Mono Green, I noticed they landed on Sculptor of Winter over Lotus Cobra because of the Spikefield Hazards floating around. I think this is an unhealthy baseline to start from when you have to consider playing any one toughness creature because both of their mountain-like lands so efficiently punish them.
There are more fundamental issues with the format right now than just Alrund’s Epiphany, but I’m optimistic that the rest of the format will catch up. I’m not saying Epiphany will never be banned or never need to be banned, but we can wait a set or two before pulling the trigger. As of now, I’d go further down the line and maybe take Esika’s Chariot and even Expressive Iteration with it if it was necessary.