By Niels Viaene
Gentry has been in a very tumultuous state since Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths (featuring 0 behemoths) has entered the format. We currently see a few issues that we will go over briefly before reaching the conclusion going forward.
Boros Cycling decks were the first breakout from the new metagame. Since they could be ported from regular Standard without losing any punching strength it was clear that there would be a power issue. Besides this issue, the deck also has other problems. The win, a Zenith Flare to the face is anti-climactic and non-interactive for most decks. The anti-climactic nature is not so much a problem from a fairness point of view but it helped in villainizing the deck faster than any deck we have ever seen in Gentry.
The non-interactive nature is a far worse contender, with only blue’s counterspells being considered fair competition. White can field The Wanderer and Gideon’s Sacrifice but neither are particularly good in many other match-ups, making this a tough sell. Black can try to fight back with discard, but by power cycling through the deck, the player can usually find a Zenith at instant speed, bypassing discard.
Companions are rare cards you always have access to and are an extra card on top of that, and one you cannot interact with until it becomes cast. All three of these can be perceived as being problematic, with Lurrus of the Dream-Den taking the overwhelming stock of played Companions in addition. A little space is left for a few others but at this time it does not seem like these decks can fight back against Lurrus.
We have seen bans happen in older formats and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has stated Companions are being looked at on a mechanical level for Standard. Everybody has an opinion on them and most of them are not too positive. A lot depends on how WotC wants to take this in the future. On the one hand they could be looking at adding more com opinions, and turning magic into a game where you usually have one, or they will balance out the set we currently have with bans.
At any time a metagame becomes clear towards the end of a rotation season (by summer, when we have 7 – 8 sets in Gentry) Control decks start becoming better. The best answers usually match up better than the best threats, that is what Magic needs to be healthy. That means they start dominating the metagame in a way that is highly polarising. Many people think this is the state of high-level magic, while others find it to be a drag that should be avoided at all costs.
The main argument against these decks being powerful is that they are not ‘new-player friendly’, which is and remains an important part of why we have Gentry as a format.
Many things were considered, but in the end we decided to only do a single change in Gentry: Moving Zenith Flare to Rare for power level reasons.
Allow me to elaborate why, and especially why there aren’t more changes.
Zenith Flare is an issue for all the reason I have mentioned above, and is a part of pushing people away from decks that aim to be active on the board. The combination of Valliant Rescuer nullifying combat and giving you time to search for (multiple) Zeniths makes for a horrible play experience for anyone not playing Cry of the Carnarium or Flame Sweep. The fact you then need a counterspell to fight against the kill cards explains why Control is currently so well positioned, something I pointed out when everyone was complaining about cycling decks.
Companions are harder to address, mostly because we currently have no idea what WotC wants to do with them mechanically and I would rather err on the side of non-action (which is less confusing to players) than adding an extra deckbuilding restriction to Gentry. Currently, it also seems like we might need them to fight back against Control. We are still looking out for any changes that will happen and will evaluate what the impact will be on Gentry.
Control is, as the paragraph said, a force to be reckoned in Gentry currently, and by design, we will see that happening very often. There currently is no clear fix that would not let Companion decks overwhelm the metagame. We also see that the metagame is very much in flux still and hope that the reduced pressure from Zenith Flare will allow a deck based on flash and tempo to fight back against the dedicated control decks. (I was right about control, let’s hope I am right again here.
The saving grace for control is that we currently see many different versions in Gentry, and while that may all feel the same to some people, it shows there is diversity. There is diversity in the different Lurrus decks (though that diversity is a lot less valid) as well.
In the end, there will be a metagame. Some people might not like the metagame, and that is okay. Things will change as we spend more time with the cards and new sets get added to the format. Just know we will keep an eye out for issues and we will take further steps if tournament results require it but going off a single given event just is not enough.
May your brews aim to beat control,