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Magic: The Gathering’s latest card ban reveals digital client Arena’s limitations

Book haters, unite.

One of the first popularly discussed combos to emerge from Adventures in the Forgotten Realm - Magic: The Gathering’s latest set dripping with Dungeons & Dragons flavour - has been banned. Sort of.

Publisher Wizards of the Coast posted a blog on the trading card game’s website announcing that The Book of Exalted Deeds would be banned from the Standard 2022 event beginning July 16th. On its own the White mana mythic card is powerful, but clever crafters combined it with Kaldheim’s Faceless Haven to concoct a situation where - barring very niche cards - its controller could not lose the game.

“When The Book of Exalted Deeds is combined with Faceless Haven, a player could control a land which prevented them from losing the game,” the blog post read. “And it was highly unlikely the opponent had a way to remove it.”

MTG Rocks explained well why this combination can grind a game to a halt, but here’s the gist: Faceless Haven is a land that can become a creature for a short amount of time before reverting at the end of its controller’s turn. The Standard 2022 event rotation contains hardly any cards that specifically destroy lands, and of those far less fit into its competitive meta. So, once that token has been slapped on Faceless Haven most decks will have no recourse but to concede.

The post on Magic: The Gathering’s website explains that the combo hadn’t been cropping up very often, and its win rate is extremely low. So, why the ban? First, imagine two players both using the Exalted Deeds and Faceless Haven combo against one another. There’s a chance both will have a token that keeps them from winning or losing. This forces a stalemate that continues until someone concedes - a stubborn battle some players claim has lasted hours.

Most competitive modes are Best of Three (Bo3) and allow access to a sideboard of cards that can augment decks to answer particularly nasty threats. Standard 2022 is what’s known as a Best of One (Bo1) event format, meaning players only have one match to claim victory. Wizards of the Coast said this is “not the game play experience we are aiming to provide.”

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The Book of Exalted Deeds is still legal in all other formats, including physical Magic: The Gathering play. Magic Arena’s digital client had no solutions, no matter how inelegant, for the situation this combo creates. Stalemates can be resolved in-person by calling the match a draw, shaking hands and moving on. Arena doesn't let opponents communicate with each other outside of emotes.

Other competitive games - Chess being the most notable example - take advantage of turn clocks as a lose condition for players who either can’t or won’t take the match to a conclusion. Implementing either of these would provide the unfortunate prisoners of an Exalted Deeds and Faceless haven combo prison a tool for escape - not to mention past and future combos that broke the client in, uh… interesting ways.

It’s a common belief, if apocryphal, that the development team working on Magic Arena are overworked, evidenced by a disappearing features roadmap and the continued lack of much needed upgrades to the base user experience. The client was originally designed to support the changing professional scene but never added a spectator mode or other requested features for enjoying those events. That Pro League was canceled in May, knocking the possibility of spectating any matches further down the road.

The Book of Exalted Deeds will not be banned in Standard once the next set, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, releases, meaning this is probably the extent of Wizards of the Coasts’ officiating its use. It likely saw this combo as too niche and temporary to invest much resources - bans are, if nothing else, efficient fixes.

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