Let's not beat around the bush. The big news today drops a bomb on the latest cards to be errata'd/banned. Effective January 17th, with the remaining 2021 Nationals main events being exempt from these changes, let's take a closer look.
Briar, Warden of Thorns and her young hero counterpart's first ability now reads:
- The first time an attack action card you control deals damage to an opposing hero each turn, create an Embodiment of Earth Token.
Previously, you would get an Embodiment each time your attack actions deal damage to opposing heroes.
- Ball Lightning is banned.
- Plunder Run is banned.
- Ball Lightning is banned.
- Duskblade is banned.
Evaluating the ruling
For the first time, we have a functional errata to a hero card. Cheerios Briar took the metagame by storm during Nationals as an extremely aggressive deck consisting almost entirely of zero cost cards: 4 power attack actions with go again or card draw, and non-attack actions that augment damage or provide card draw (Plunder Run). Most 4 card hands are capable of delivering 14 or more damage per turn, and sequences like this were not uncommon:
Plunder Run from arsenal -> Nimblism, get an Embodiment of Lightning -> Scar for a Scar with Go Again for 10 threatening to draw a card -> Entwine Lightning fused for Go Again -> Ball Lightning -> pitch card drawn from Plunder Run to attack with Rosetta Thorn.
That is a 22 damage turn that only required a card in arsenal to pull off, and could net anywhere from 1 to 4 Embodiment of Earth tokens. Normal counter-play to card hungry decks like this would be to attack the hand, either by matching their aggression or by connecting with punishing on-hit effects. But other aggro decks struggle to match Briar's damage output, which makes racing a losing proposition, and Briar's often overwhelming offensive capabilities tends to give her big stacks of Earth tokens, which as it turns out are great for stopping dominated Cranial Crushes and Chilling Iceveins.
This errata should fix that problem and allow for substantially more counter-play by opponents seeking to tax Briar’s hand.
I do think they may have missed a cool opportunity to incentivize dealing damage multiple times with a single attack by limiting it to once per turn. Briar has lost just about any reason to consider cards like Electrify and Shock Charmers with this errata - Kevin Brayer
The banning of Duskblade in Blitz isn't surprising as it was already on the watch list. LSS's explanation hits the nail on the head. Games of Flesh & Blood involving Duskblade change what the game is about in a manner that isn't conducive to a positive play experience. The card is simply too powerful. Unfortunately, it's also a card that slipped in and easily passed LSS' normal testing processes, so this is somewhat to be expected as a result.
The banning of Ball Lightning in this format is intended to reduce Briar's consistency. Notably, this removes the Sting of Sorcery + Ball Lightning vs Arcane Barrier issue that proved problematic for opponents to adequately equip against without compromising their equipment suite. This should decrease the amount of effectively un-blockable damage Briar can present, which, in conjunction with the Duskblade ban, means there will be more opportunities for effective counter-play.
Today's announcement should be felt most prominently in Classic Constructed. Similar to Blitz, banning Ball Lightning should hurt Cheerios/Lightning Briar's consistency and remove the pesky replacement effect that made Sting of Sorcery feel unfair at times (and was one of Briar's tools for punching through fatigue opponents' defenses). But the real headliner is the banning of Plunder Run, which is a staple of many aggressive decks beyond just Briar.
Briar and Chane set the pace for aggressive decks in the format, and Plunder Run is a big reason why. While it does require a small bit of setup to maximize its effect, the effect is worth it and sometimes just playing it from hand is good enough. But why is Plunder Run just now worthy of a ban? It's a generic card that has been around since Arcane Rising. It's seen play in Katsu and Viserai decks without seeming too egregious. What do Briar and Chane have that sets them apart?
The answer is twofold. Card advantage, and consistent access to extra Go Agains. Because Plunder Run's draw effect triggers "the next time an attack action you control hits", it gets better the more times you threaten to draw a card while still being able to extend your turn.
Chane gets both via his Soul Shackles, with the card advantage becoming very obvious in late game situations (and honorable mention to Art of War often being a draw 3). Briar gets her Go Agains via two non-attack actions, but her card advantage is more subtle. Briar is incentivized to play as many cards in a turn as possible, which led to the Cheerios builds that are nearly all zero cost cards. With all her cards lacking a cost, Briar effectively has an extra card each turn since she doesn't need to pitch to play anything.
The math of it is simple. Most cards block for 3. Most of Briar's attacks hit for 4 (requiring either a 2 card block, a defense reaction, or armor block), with most of the damage buffs giving +3 (negating 1 cards worth of defense). Briar takes advantage of these common breakpoints to put opponents in no-win situations where the only real choice is whether you let her draw a card on this attack action or the next one, which only furthers the card disparity between her and opponents who need to pay resources to play cards.
Where do we go from here?
While the collateral damage of the Plunder Run ban to heroes not named Briar is unfortunate, I still think these bans will be a great improvement for the format. It should allow for more variance among aggressive decks, while also leaving more breathing room for midrange decks that couldn't withstand the hyper aggression. I also believe there is a reasonable version of Plunder Run that can exist that only threatens to draw a card on the next attack, much like the Mauvrion Skies hit trigger only applies to the next Runeblade attack action, and I think it's only a matter of time before a card like that is printed.
Briar players will look for card advantage elsewhere, possibly leaning more on the plethora of Tomes at their disposal. Chane survived the Seeds of Agony ban, and he will survive this ban too, though the dedicated Chane players will have to dig deep to find their suitable replacements (maybe in Everfest?). Between these bans and the impending release of Everfest, it's safe to say the metagame is in for some serious upheaval.
In the meantime, we'll see if the Australian and New Zealand Nationals metagames contort themselves to keep the Plunder Run-wielding menaces at bay, or if Briar will continue her reign of brambly terror up until the final moments of legality.
(My money is on Viserai. #Runebois)
Kevin Brayer (@Hannibal in Discord circles) is an author for the Rathe Times and has been playing Flesh and Blood since the release of Crucible of War. A Software Developer living in the US, he is a competitive player with a background in MTG. He loves putting time into mastering archetypes and is looking to make his mark by bringing everyone's favorite Arknight into the competitive scene. Kevin is excited to give back to the community by sharing his insight, humor, and love of all things Demonastery.
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