All About the B&R Announcements

Posted in Latest Developments on December 19, 2008

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

This slot was originally scheduled to be on-theme for Rerun Week, but it was commandeered for something meatier: an explanation of the December 1 and December 20 Banned and Restricted Announcements from Tom LaPille, who tackled the reasons why R&D didn't plan to ban anything after Pro Tour–Berlin.
–Kelly Digges, editor

Today's Banned and Restricted Announcement was the first under the new schedule that was announced on December 1 of this year. Traditionally we accompany our announcements with a Latest Developments article explaining the changes. However, we haven't told you why we changed the announcement dates, nor have we explained the changes we made to Magic Online formats in the December 1 announcement. I'll be doing those two things first, and then talking about today's announcement.

Banned and Restricted Announcement Schedule Changes

We have chosen to change the schedule of banned and restricted list announcements. The new announcement dates will be March 20, June 20, September 20, March 20, June 20, September 20, and December 20 with effective dates of April 1, July 1, October 1, and January 1, respectively.

We made this change in timing for two reasons. First, the World Championships is by far the tournament that gives Magic R&D the best data about the most formats all at once. It traditionally features Standard and another Constructed format in the individual Swiss rounds, and this year the team portion also gave us data about Legacy. It also features the best players in the world and offers them lots of money as an incentive to build good decks. All of these factors mean that seeing the World Championships results is extremely valuable to us when we are making banned and restricted decisions.

Worlds is usually scheduled in early December, which is immediately after the announcement date under the old system. This was very awkward for us this year because we wanted to be able to take into account the massive data download from Worlds before making a recommendation about Extended, but we also realized that the system wasn't set up to let us do that. Under our new system, we will have time to use the results from Worlds to make better decisions about banned and restricted announcements, and conveniently the December 20 announcement will take effect right before the first PTQ season of the year, the format for which is Extended.

Second, the new announcement dates will give us better control over Pro Tour Qualifier seasons. In the future we expect to have a Qualifier season each year that starts at the beginning of January, as well as a season that starts in October right after a set release. The new schedule lets us make decisions that will be able to make changes to formats when it matters the most: right before most people start playing them in tournaments for many weekends in a row.

You might wonder why we are specifically concerned about the health of Pro Tour Qualifier formats but not as concerned about Pro Tour formats. The reason is that thousands and thousands of players play in hundreds of Qualifiers across the world over many weekends while less than a thousand individuals a year play in Pro Tours, which take place only four times each year. A format that you only have to play once can be interesting to play even if it contains a broken deck, while playing with and against that same broken deck weekend after weekend quickly becomes un-fun. Under the new schedule, we will be able to make changes that take effect right before Pro Tour Qualifier seasons begin so that the latter situation is much less likely to happen.

The change also shortens the window between announcement dates and effective dates from twenty days to ten. The twenty-day time duration was originally chosen to allow the information to disseminate completely to all of our players before it took effect, but we believe that in recent years the Internet has sped up this process considerably. Therefore, we reduced the time between announcement and effective date.

We took this opportunity to shorten the window because "lame deck" formats that are about to change aren't fun for anyone. Preparing for Constructed formats that will soon change due to an announced banning is annoying because all the effort put in will soon become useless, and for the same reason reading coverage of events that use a format that will be changed by an announced banning isn't very interesting. Under the new system, there will be fewer tournaments run in "lame deck" formats because only about ten days pass between an announcement and its effective date.

Overall, we think that the new system is better for everyone. It's better for us because we get better data when it matters and our announcements take effect right before PTQ seasons, and it's better for players because high-profile tournament formats will be better controlled and events are less likely to be held in formats that are about to change. We're excited about the improvement, and we hope that you are too.

Magic Online Formats

Magic Online

On December 1, we made a number of changes to Magic Online formats. We eliminated Classic Singleton while separating the 100 Card Singleton and Commander banned lists, created Pauper as a new format, and completely overhauled the Prismatic banned list. I'm not part of the Magic Online team and therefore wasn't part of any of these decisions, so I spoke to Mike Gills and Worth Wollpert to understand them. Much of the information in this section of the article comes from my discussions with them.

The bottom line for Magic Online formats is that we will support the formats that you show us you want to play. Our goal is to give you the opportunity to play what you want to play, and we learn what you want to play by watching what you actually play. All of the decisions we made in this announcement were reactions to our observations of your play patterns. I'll cover Pauper, Singleton, and Prismatic, in that order.


Pauper is a Magic Online format in which all cards used must have been released at the common rarity in a Magic Online set or product. Other than that, the usual rules for Constructed decks apply. If a common version of a particular card was ever released on Magic Online, any versions of that card printed at other rarities are also legal in this format. Our official support of this format was the result of a prolonged grassroots campaign from players that included a web site and regular community-run events. That, combined with vocal players on our forums and the frequency of games played with the Pauper format in the casual rooms, made it obvious that we should support it officially.

Classic Singleton

As of December 10, Classic Singleton has been eliminated, and the banned lists for 100 Card Singleton and Commander are now maintained separately. The number of 100 Card Singleton games played per month was many orders of magnitude larger than the number of Classic Singleton games played per month, so we decided to end support for Classic Singleton and instead support the more popular version of the format as an entity that is separate from Commander and has its own independent banned list. This will allow Commander and 100 Card Singleton decks to play against each other, with a few exceptions, while also allowing us to support 100 Card Singleton as a tournament format and give Commander players a banned list more suited to multiplayer.


The Prismatic format underwent a massive banned and restricted list change with the December 1 announcement. Some of our previous statements about Prismatic said that any tutoring effect would be banned, and we went so far as to ban every transmute card. Lorwyn came out, and we stopped updating the banned list to be consistent with that policy. Then, the December 1 announcement unbanned a bunch of tutors. Essentially what happened is that the Magic Online team was busy with big-picture issues having to do with the version change, and Prismatic simply fell off the radar. When we were once again able to devote resources to maintaining the Prismatic B&R list, we realized that the format's banned and restricted list no longer made sense. We decided that we had to either remove the format entirely or make the banned list make sense. Our initial inclination was to just remove it, but when we polled play data it turned out that it was actually quite popular with players. Therefore, we decided to support it and make a new banned list.

Starting from Scratch

In all three cases, we looked at corresponding paper formats when constructing the new banned lists. There were two popular versions of Pauper in existence before we created ours: one that banned Cranial Plating, and one that banned Cranial Plating and the artifact lands. We agreed that Cranial Plating was too good, but it is our belief that the format can handle an Affinity deck without it, so we chose to leave the artifact lands alone. For 100 Card Singleton, we looked at German Highlander, a casual format that is popular in (surprise) Germany and also happens to use 100-card singleton decks. Our decisions were very similar to theirs with a few exceptions. It is not our goal that the 100 Card Singleton format contain no combo decks whatsoever, so we have chosen to ban the most powerful tutors like Intuition and Gifts Ungiven and super-efficient combo cards like Flash and Grindstone, but leave some cards like Worldgorger Dragon and Dread Return alone.

Worldgorger Dragon
Dread Return

The new Prismatic banned list is a massive departure from the last one in that it does not automatically ban all "tutor" effects. We had previously stated that we would ban all tutoring effects, no matter how weak. In practice, this was both difficult to maintain and silly-looking since it led to the banning of cards like Grozoth that are obviously not powerful. Our new philosophy is to ban powerful tutors, but allow ones that seem benign. We also chose to ban powerful recursive effects like Eternal Witness, Life From the Loam, and Crucible of Worlds. We believe that players who specifically seek a random experience can go to 100 Card Singleton rather than Prismatic, and we have seen that players who enjoy Prismatic are often experienced players who are looking for a more casual format but are interested in solving complicated deck-building puzzles. For those players, it makes the most sense for us to approach Prismatic's banned list with power level in mind.

The Magic Online announcement was separate from the paper announcement this December, but that was because the Magic Online changes had already been implemented when the schedule change was decided. In the future, the paper and online announcements will be simultaneous.

The Magic Online team is constantly reevaluating its format offerings to make sure that we are giving you the formats you want to play, and these changes are part of that ongoing process. We will continue to discontinue support for formats that become unpopular over time and replace them with ones that we know players want. If you love a Magic Online format, the best thing you can do for it is to build support for it with fellow players. If you want to see a Magic Online format created, the example of Pauper should demonstrate to you that if you can build a sufficient player base we will support it for you. We are here to serve you, and we hope that these changes have made your overall Magic Online experience better.

Today's Banned and Restricted Announcement

The big news is that there is no news. We have chosen not to change the banned and restricted lists for our paper formats.

We were happy with the results from the Standard portion of Worlds. Only the first six rounds were Standard, and we have collected all the decks that went 4-2 or better in those rounds here. The archetypes represented include Faeries, Kithkin with and without red, Black-White Heights, red aggro with and without black, and Five-Color Control. There are also a smattering of Elves and Reveillark decks. We were glad to see that level of diversity at the top of Day One. We would have liked a more diverse Top 8, of course, but only a third of the 18 rounds that determine the individual standings were Standard. The best data from Worlds about the format is the standings after the first six rounds, and based on that the format looks healthy to us.

Extended was the format that we had our eyes on the most going into Worlds, but the format appears to now have settled down with a reasonable amount of variety. A collection of all the decks that went 4-2 or better can be found here, and the picture painted by those decks is very different from what we saw in Berlin. Faeries, Zoo, and Elves were all significant players, while All-In Red, Swans of Bryn Argoll combo, Death Cloud Rock, and many others played bit parts. This was happily nothing like the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Berlin, which was nearly all Elves, all the time. We expected that players would be able to react effectively to the infestation of Elves; now we know that they have. We're comfortable that next year's Extended Qualifier season for Pro Tour–Honolulu will be fun and competitive.

We had no immediate concerns about Legacy going into Worlds, and the team rounds of Legacy looked healthy to us. Therefore, we made no changes to the banned list. Grand Prix–Chicago in March 2009 is the next high-profile premier event that uses Legacy, and we'll be paying close attention to the results of that tournament.

It was exciting for those of us who attended the World Championships in Memphis to see so many players excited about Magic, both in the tournament itself and in the public events area. We are also excited about the Magic Online community's enthusiastic reaction to Pauper and 100 Card Singleton. We're glad that you all love our game as much as we do. Thanks for playing, have a safe holiday, and we'll see you next year.

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