Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is Ghostly Flicker Worth Banning in Standard Pauper?

Ghostly Flicker seemed innocent enough...

Released in Avacyn Restored, this card allows you to exile two permanents you control (excluding Enchantments and Planeswalkers), then immediately return them to the battlefield under your control. As an Instant for 2Blue, this seemed decent but not certainly not broken. With it, you could dodge an incoming removal spell, break free of a crippling Aura, or get additional value out of any 'enters-the-battlefield' type effects. Of course, at least in Standard Pauper, there was a dearth of strong permanents with these sorts of effects, and so the card was not deemed particularly powerful.

Then, with the release of Magic 2013, this card suddenly became part of a powerful combo, thanks to another seemingly insignificant card - Archaeomancer. Back in August, I dedicated an entire article to this particular combo, which you can read here. But essentially, when you cast Ghostly Flicker with Archaeomancer as one of the targets, you not only get to bounce Ghostly Flicker into your hand, you get any 'enters-the-battlefield' type effect of the other target.

Of course, this still wasn't enough to make anyone think Ghostly Flicker was worth banning. After all, while there were certainly some strong scenarios that made us of this combo, it was hardly game-breaking. And, although this archetype saw plenty of play in Standard Pauper, it never really became one of the dominant decks in the metagame.

But now, a new cycle of Commons has entered the metagame and changed everything:

Again, I dedicated an entire article to the Gatekeeper cycle, and discussed the pros and cons of these interesting creatures. But consider, for a moment, the type of effects one can produce at Instant speed by using Ghostly Flicker with one of these creatures:

* Draw a card.
* Gain 7 Life.
* Create a 2/2 Knight token.
* Give a target creature -2/-2 until end of turn.
* Gain control of target creature an opponent controls.

Think about that. Those last three are particularly potent, and something that has rarely ever been available at Instant speed.

Needless to say, it didn't take long for some players to call for the immediate banning of Ghostly Flicker. In fact, you can read the resulting discussion over on the Standard forums of PDCMagic.com. Now at this point my plan is to write a feature-length article discussing this exact issue. But, in short, I think banning Ghostly Flicker is a poor idea, and here's why:
  1. The Flicker Combo has been around quite a while, and certainly has not proven itself broken in the past.
  2. There are multiple ways to interact with the combo, including graveyard removal, counterspells, and creature removal.
  3. It is too early in the new metagame to even know whether it's even an issue; on a related note, banning it now would prevent all sorts of exploration in the new metagame.
I would encourage you to read the discussion for yourself. And, if you come to some conclusions of your own, I'd love to hear about them. And as always, thanks for reading.


  1. Agree with no banning. The engine takes so much effort to set up - multiple cards and a lot of mana, which leaves you pretty vulnerable to aggro + counters. The decks therefore need cheap removal and ways to come back from being behind. I'm working on trying to break the Flicker mirrors, since 2 out of 3 decks are running it at CF Game Center now. People like to play it because it's fun, not necessarily because it's the best. I fall in that camp, too. Don't try to deny me of some sweet value :D

  2. gwyned, the reason "It is too early in the new metagame to even know whether it's even an issue" is a bad reason. Yes in combination with Gatekeepers flicker is way too nasty.

    I Made a RDW which can kill an opponent on turn 4, I have been testing it for 2 weeks, I have beaten numerous Dimir/Izzet flickers, but the only one deck I have lost almost all the time to was BUG-flicker with Gatekeepers. The only answer I see vs BUG-decks is to play monoblue with 100500 counters.


  3. I play and beat Flicker decks consistently. I have a Gruul (pttp brew of the month) deck that has a pretty good game vs. Flicker. Mono Blue and the token deck can wreck it. No way any card should be banned in standard pauper.

  4. I am not a fan of the idea. There are enough ways to interact with and interrupt the combo that it isn't unbeatable. Any format is better when rock/paper/scissors works, and a good aggro deck can beat a flicker combo pretty consistently.
    Magic players seem to love to play combos or groan about people who play combos. As long as they aren't guaranteeing wins before turn 5, let them play.

  5. rpitcher says.....it doesn't seem to be ruining the format with over-dominance(SPDC/MPDC), so what's the problem?

    So much less annoying than dominant decks of previous seasons.

  6. @draftbrewery
    Honestly the combo plays nicely. Rats=opponent can only play instants. Prophetic Prism=Card Draw and Mana Fixing. Green keeper=Tons of life and good blocker. Mist Raven = Delay enemy even further, then discard the creatures with rats. You win with attacking and/or life drain with the bat. If you get cought by surprise, there's usually an undying evil in your hand. Vines to draw gates for your keeper. Sideboarded shieldmage in case of lots of removal.

    Note that every card works towards either card advantage or stalling the game. Note that if you don't have an archaeomancer, ghostly flicker can be mindrot, divination, draw 2lands, gain 14 life, drain 4 life, unsummon two creatures, or any mix thereof - and all the while allow you to block two non-trampling creatures. The deck has an amazing ability to draw your pieces, protecting them, and stalling the game at the same time. Yes it is possible to counter ghostly flicker, and sometimes you can remove the archaeomancer. But the deck will just redraw one of them in a few turns. Unless you can consistently win by turn 5 or consistently counter everything, it's nearly impossible to get through lifegain and 2/4 blockers while discarding cards and having to recast your creatures.

    And this is just one way to play such a deck... You can also abuse archeomancer & red gatekeeper to permanently gain control of creatures, allowing you to stall the game with counterspells and red removal (i think this deck is quite popular). The fact that it is in blue makes the combo quite robust.

    Nevertheless, it is possible to sideboard against these decks and I don't like to see the cards banned. It would be a little bit sad to have a metagame be influenced largely by a single card, but that is the way it is. Ghostly flicker will go away soon anyway.