“Hey, kids. Do you want to see a magic trick?”
Popular Magic: The Gathering Arena streamer Merchant enters a standard match and immediately mulligans his hand down to just four cards: Two Mountains, a Stonecoil Serpent and one copy of Tibalt’s Trickery. That last one is an instant card from the new Kaldheim set, which dropped on January 28th, causing quite a stir in the trading card game’s community.
On turn two Merchant faces the camera and says, “Now, behold as I shall make my opponent’s hopes and dreams disappear.” He casts the Stonecoil Serpent and targets it with his own Tibalt’s Trickery before it even hits the battlefield, causing his deck to spit out Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The normally eight-mana planeswalker resolves and Merchant offers a giggling “Tada!” as the only explanation. It’s not the nastiest drop players have teased out with this “magic trick,” in the last two weeks, but Ugin’s moveset all but chiseled Merchant’s victory in stone just two turns in.
Merchant just performed the Tibalt’s Trickery combination, an experimental deck that has become the scourge of Magic Arena players and the subject of delight and scorn in equal measure on Reddit and Twitch. But what’s happening? How are these players able to tease out such dangerous, late-game threats with only two mana?
“You play a low or no-cost spell, such as Stonecoil Serpent or Tormod’s Crypt, then counter it with your own Tibalt’s Trickery. Tibalt’s Trickery mills a random number of cards [between one and three] from the top of your deck, then lets you cast the first non-land that is different from the spell you’re countering from the top FOR FREE!” says Amy the Amazonian, a Twitch streamer familiar with the combination.
Amy explains the deck only runs large, imposing threats such as Ugin, Vorinclex, or Koma, the Cosmic Serpent to increase the chance that Tibalt’s Trickery finds them before another copy of the instant or the zero-cost spell that started the whole bonkers chain of events.
Sean “Day9” Plott was perhaps one of the first Magic: The Gathering streamers to test the deck’s efficacy, playing nearly 40 games and crunching the math to show the combo can be drawn and executed with a 70 percent success rate. It’s a strong enough record to convince him it has some real power—enough to shake up certain formats, and perhaps even enough to prompt action from publisher Wizards of the Coast.
“The only question I was really trying to look at is, can I make this consistent? If suddenly your really powerful thing can become consistent, that’s where some of the surprising deck archetypes can come from,” Plott says.
The trick has cropped up enough to spawn Reddit threads and reaction videos every day since January 28th, with people calling for a ban. The deck is so fast and unrelenting that playing against it sucks the fun out of a game built around constantly changing responsive strategies, and piloting it feels like ignoring your opponent altogether while constructing your two-card fatal engine.
So, what’s to be done? Wizards could ban the card, which Plott says would be “very sensible,” at least in the Best of One format, where the majority of Magic Arena’s casual playerbase spends its time. Without the ability to access specific counters from a player’s sideboard between matches in the more traditional Best of Three format, Tibalt’s Trickery eats a deck’s lunch and casually proceeds to the next unsuspecting victim.
“The funny thing about Tibalt’s Trickery is that if you counter it, or if you’re a Black [mana] player, and you cast Duress and make them discard it, the game is immediately over. Like, it’s done instantly,” Plott says
The expanded toolset of some Magic formats that allow older cards also mollify the combo from constant threat to something a bit more fun: Glass cannon jank.
“According to some lovely people in my channel’s chat, it also has legs in Modern and Pioneer. Formats which are older than that, and singleton formats are fairly unaffected,” Amy says. An admittedly unscientific poll of her Twitter followers showed the majority of folks simply don’t care how Wizards addresses Tibalt’s latest shenanigans.
The combo’s limited, if substantial, effect keeps it from reaching the meta-destabilizing heights of past banned cards like Veil of Summer or Once Upon A Time. It hasn’t had a chance to dominate tournament decklists and earn an ignoble spot in the same prison where Omnath and Oko share a cell. Both Plott and Amy believe the deck will continue to haunt Best of One formats throughout Kaldheim’s tenure in the Standard rotation, making a targeted ban the most likely scenario.
It might sound obvious, but Wizards has a vested interest in keeping its game fun to play for as many people as possible. A targeted ban would free casual players from Tibalt’s turn-two tyranny while allowing other formats to experiment with the intentionally zany design in a safer environment. Are we witnessing the ephemeral rise of 2021’s first banned card? Eh, best keep an asterisk handy.