The Gathering Arena Streamer Merchant enters a standard game and mulligans his hand instantly on just four cards: two mountains, a stone snake, and a copy of Tibalt’s trickery. The last one is an instant card from the new Kaldheim set that fell on January 28th and caused a sensation in the trading card game community.
In turn two, the dealer stands in front of the camera and says, “Well, see, I’ll make my opponent’s hopes and dreams disappear.” He casts the stone snake and uses his own Tibalt trick to target it before it even comes into play, causing his deck to spit out Ugin the spirit dragon. The normally 8-mana planeswalker disintegrates and Merchant offers a giggling “Tada!” as the only explanation. It’s not the worst drop players have dressed up with this “magic trick” in the past two weeks, but Ugin’s moveset set the dealer’s win in stone just two rounds later.
Merchant has just run the Tibalt’s Trickery combo, an experimental deck that has become the scourge of Magic Arena players that both delight and despise Reddit and Twitch alike. But what’s the matter? How can these players fend off such dangerous late game threats with just two mana?
“You play a low or free spell like Stonecoil Serpent or Tormod’s Crypt and then counter it with your own Tibalt’s Trickery. Tibalt’s Trickery then mills a random number of cards [between one and three] from the top of your deck. With this option you can for FREE.” the first nonland to appear that is different from the spell you counter from above, “says Amy the Amazonian, a Twitch streamer who is familiar with the combination.
Amy explains that the deck is just big, imposing threats like Ugin, Vorinclex, or Koma the Cosmic Serpent, to increase the likelihood that Tibalt’s Trickery will find her before another copy of the moment or the zero-cost spell that Has raised the entire Bonkers chain of events.
Sean “Day9” Plott was perhaps one of the first Magic: The Gathering streamers to test the deck’s effectiveness, playing nearly 40 games, and crunching the math to show the combo was drawn and executed with a 70 percent success rate can. It’s strong enough to convince him that it has some real power – enough to shake up certain formats, and maybe even enough to take action by the publisher, Wizards of the Coast.
“The only question I was really trying to investigate is whether I can do this consistently. If all of a sudden your really powerful thing can become consistent, some of the surprising deck archetypes can come from there,” says Plott.
The trick is so common that Reddit threads and reaction videos have been appearing every day since January 28th. People are calling for a ban. The deck is so fast and relentless that playing against it ruins the fun of a game made up of ever-changing reaction strategies. When piloted it feels like completely ignoring your opponent while building your deadly two-card engine.
So what should be done? Wizards could ban the card, which Plott says would be “very sensible,” at least in the best-of-one format that the majority of the Magic Arena’s casual gamers spend their time in. With no ability to access certain tokens from a player’s sideboard between games in the more traditional best of three format, Tibalt’s Trickery eats a deck’s lunch and casually moves on to the next unsuspecting victim.
“The funny thing about Tibalt’s Trickery is that if you take action against it, or if you’re a black [mana] player and cast Duress and get her to ditch it. It’s done instantly,” said Plott, saying
The expanded toolset of some Magic formats that allow older cards appeases the combination of constant threat to something a little more fun: glass cannon jerk.
Modern and Pioneer
“According to some lovely people in my channel’s chat, it also has legs in Modern and Pioneer. Formats that are older and singleton formats are pretty much untouched,” says Amy. An admittedly unscientific poll of their Twitter followers found that the majority of people just don’t care how Wizards addresses Tibalt’s latest gadgets.
The combo’s limited, albeit substantial, effect prevents it from reaching the meta-destabilizing heights of past forbidden cards like “Veil of Summer” or “Once Upon a Time”. It had no chance of dominating tournament decklists and earning a ignoble place in the same prison that Omnath and Oko share a cell. Both Plott and Amy believe the deck will continue to pursue best-of-one formats throughout Kaldheim’s tenure in the standard rotation, making a targeted ban the most likely scenario.
It may sound obvious, but Wizards has a vested interest in making the game fun for as many people as possible. A targeted ban would free casual gamers from Tibalt’s tyranny, while other formats could experiment with the deliberately insane design in a safer environment. Are we witnessing the short-lived rise of the first banned card of 2021? It is best to have an asterisk ready.