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Magic: The Gathering hands down the first two Explorer bans, and it’s exactly the two you’re imagining

Winota’s second no-go, and strike three for Tibalt’s Trickery.

Card art for Tibalt's Trickery from Kaldheim. The planeswalker Tibalt stands in front of a fiery background as he burns a pair of manacles off of his wrists, smiling wickedly.
Image credit: Anna Podedworna/Wizards of the Coast

Magic: The Gathering has handed down the first Banned and Restricted list update to include the extremely new Explorer format in Magic Arena, targeting two early troublemakers that have some experience feeling Wizards of the Coast’s judicial wrath. Winota, Joiner of Forces and Tibalt’s Trickery will no longer be legal in Explorer as of May 12th, 2022.

Anyone who has spent time in the Explorer queue will likely be intimately familiar with two decks built to transform an opponent from alive to very dead and frustrated as soon as possible. To appreciate why a lot of players are likely breathing a sigh of relief and raising glasses, let’s dig into how these cards earned their lethal reputation and why MTG is punting them from its newest format.

Winota is a legendary Red and White Mana creature from Ikoria that cost four to cast and, when a non-Human creature attacks, lets a player dig through the top six cards of their library and play a Human creature for free who is also attacking. It just so happens that some of the best and most reliable creatures who give players access to extra mana (a process called ramping) are non-Human - geese and elves being the standard build. This means Winota could be hitting the board and activating off a player’s aggro goose by turn three, plopping a Kenrith, the Returned King or Tovolar's Huntmaster for free and leaving the poor opponent crawling for the concede button.

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Tibalt’s Trickery is a wholly different beast. The Kaldheim instant is used to counter someone’s own spell (yes, this is technically possible) in order to activate its silly combo on the very first turn. See, the red Mana counter is supposed to negate an opponent’s efforts but gives them a consolation prize in the form of casting the first non-land card from their deck for free. But if a player counters their own card - say, a spell with an X Mana symbol and a big ol’ zed plugged in - Tibalt instead digs his greedy fingers into their own deck. This goofy interaction opens up the possibility of inviting a huge planeswalker or creature onto the battlefield before an opponent even plays their first land. It’s unreliable but admittedly a tad frustrating to sit and watch your opponent essentially pull a slot machine and concede when it doesn’t go their way.

Both decks surged to the forefront of Explorer as the new format, which aims to build an environment that will one day match the paper-based Pioneer one-to-one, largely due how fast they can win games. A longstanding criticism of Magic Arena is that daily rewards prioritise winning games over interesting deck builds or interaction. Thus, free-to-play users or those farming the gold rewards earned from quests flood queues with decks that run their opponents down by turn three or die trying. This can, if not handled, create a seriously unfun meta.

Wizards of the Coast announced the two bans on May 11th, less than a month after its release on Arena. In the blog post, Donald Smith and Andy Clautice explained that these restrictions are likely not final. “As this is our first Explorer ban since the format's launch, we want to reaffirm our intentions that cards banned specifically in this format will become playable again as we realign the ban list to match Pioneer. One of Explorer's primary goals is fidelity to the Pioneer experience, so we intend to maintain this ban for only as long as it proves necessary.

The company specifically said Winota will be reviewed once Dominaria United launches in the fall, but Tibalt’s Trickery may stay in time out for longer given his relative unimportance to the Pioneer format. Neither card was banned in Pioneer, though many players would have you believe Winota, at least, can be just as troublesome in Explorer’s cardboard equivalent.

Anyone who has crafted copies of either Winota or Tibalt’s Trickery will be awarded equivalent wildcards once the ban goes live on May 12th. Seeing as this is not the first restriction rodeo for either card - both were previously ousted from heroic for similar meta-upsetting reasons - players will only receive additional wildcards for cards earned or crafted after that first ruling.

Technically, this means a player can craft a playset of each to earn the wildcards, but only if they do so before Arena updates on May 12th. And those looking to clean up a few more easy wins are on a dwindling clock.

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