Banned-ing Week

Posted in Latest Developments on December 5, 2003

Click here if you want to read the article I wrote about Extended right after Pro Tour New Orleans. Click here if you want to read the follow-up. In those two articles I gave you my view on the current state of Extended and my perspective on its history. As I said in those articles, the current format requires bannings and on Monday of this week the DCI announced its verdict: six cards banned in Extended (and three restricted in Type 1). Lots of you have expressed an interest in hearing more about the reasoning behind these sorts of decisions so that’s exactly what I’m going to give you in this week’s article.

Tinker

Tinker

As I have mentioned before, we’ve been worried about Tinker for years. It’s both a “tutor” and a “put into play for free card.” We talked about Tinker while we were developing Mirrodin and decided that we just had to ignore it. Our attitude a year ago was something like “If this set means we have to ban Tinker that’s fine – it’s probably time for Tinker to go anyway.” We also know that there are more artifacts coming later on in the Mirrodin block that would be quite ridiculous to Tinker out early in a game so this was not a difficult decision.

Ancient Tomb and Grim Monolith

We debated long and hard about how to deal with all the fast mana that’s available in Extended, and we put a lot of cards up on the whiteboard. At various points we debated the merits of Ancient Tomb, Grim Monolith, City of Traitors, Metalworker, Chrome Mox, and Voltaic Key. Everyone agreed immediately that Tinker had to go, but everyone also agreed immediately that the Tinker deck would still be too good even without its namesake card. After all, Tinker was only the 5th most played card at the Pro Tour (not counting basic land) – Ancient Tomb, Chrome Mox, City of Traitors, and Grim Monolith all saw more play. In other words, the Tinker decks weren’t the only decks using these cards. If we left all that fast mana in the environment, we knew that the best deck would be whatever deck was able to most efficiently abuse the mana acceleration cards.

At that point the debate kind of switched gears -- instead of “should be ban this card?” and “should we ban that card?” we started arguing about how many pieces of fast mana we needed to ban and which were better than which. Voltaic Key was deemed the least powerful of the cards on the table since it was only really good with Grim Monolith. Sure it’s useful with cards like Gilded Lotus or Phyrexian Colossus, but those combos seem fair. It would be much more efficient to just ban the Monolith than to worry about Voltaic Key.

The next fast mana card we eliminated from contention was Chrome Mox. If you look at Standard, Chrome Mox is pretty good, but it is by no means broken. My theory about Chrome Mox is that the only reason it was so popular and so powerful in Extended was that the format required speed at all costs. Because of all the broken things that you could do by turn 2, you had to sacrifice resources to do things faster. In other words, if the rest of the format wasn’t broken then Chrome Mox would be fair.

Now we get down to the cards that received the closest scrutiny. Metalworker can do some degenerate things and we did give it a long hard look. In fact, we fully expect “mono-brown” decks to remain an important part of the metagame and we’re expecting Metalworker to be an important part of those decks. However, at the end of the day Metalworker just doesn’t measure up to the other three cards for two main reasons: 1) It costs three mana to get it onto the table and 2) It dies to creature removal spells. Since we knew we needed to take at least one piece of fast mana out of the environment, we knew it wasn’t going to be as easy to get to 3 mana as quickly as before. In addition, we’re hoping that creature decks become an important part of the metagame again and if that does happen then players will start packing creature kill again, thus making Metalworker worse.

At first we were thinking of Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors as a pair. They were “the two mana lands” in our minds and their fates seemed entwined. The more we talked about it, however, the more Ancient Tomb seemed a full notch better. In particular, it’s a lot better on turn 1. The fact that Ancient Tomb was the most played card at the Pro Tour also spoke volumes about its power. For quite a while we were considering banning just one piece of fast mana, but we couldn’t decide whether it would be better to ban Ancient Tomb or Grim Monolith. Ironically, one of the reasons so many people played Ancient Tomb was because you could use it to put out a turn one Grim Monolith (and one of the reasons Grim Monolith is so good is because you can put it out on turn 1). Eventually we noticed that none of us were even considering City of Traitors for the title of best single piece of fast mana. It’s just not the land you want to play on turn 1 and that makes it less abusive than Tomb or Monolith.

There were passionate arguments made in defense of banning just one piece of fast mana (since two cards was already a lot to take out of one deck, even if it was the best deck) and there were also passionate arguments made in defense of banning three pieces of artifact mana (the two mana lands plus Monolith). Once we noticed that we kept debating whether Tomb or Monolith was better (and City of Traitors just wasn’t really in the same category), we decided to compromise and ban two pieces of fast mana. There’s still enough sauce left to build a pretty fast artifact deck – a Mox plus a City of Traitors will still let you play a turn 1 Metalworker, which could fuel all kinds of crazy turn 2 plays. However, our goal was not to eliminate all fast mana from the environment or to prevent anyone from enjoying an all artifact deck, so we decided it’s ok to stop at two cards from this category.

Oath of Druids

Oath of Druids

Oath of Druids was by no means the most powerful deck in New Orleans. However, it has been one of the defining cards in the Extended environment for years now. While it doesn’t always win tournaments, it wins them often enough that all serious players have to think about it when they’re playtesting. Everyone knows that Oath will show up in some form or another and thus many players feel forced to stay away from creature decks. The impact that Oath of Druids has on Extended just isn’t fun or healthy. Our stated goal is to slow the environment down enough that creature beatdown decks become relevant again and the presence of Oath threatened to undo all that good work. Control decks shouldn’t be winning the game on turn 2 either. I think of this banning as a Lifetime Achievement Award and I think the environment will be much better off now.

Hermit Druid

Hermit Druid

The “Angry Hermit” decks that have emerged are just blisteringly fast. Either Mox Diamond or Chrome Mox allows players to play Hermit Druid on turn 1 and these decks tend not to have any basic land in them at all so one activation of the Druid dumps an entire deck into the graveyard where any number of cheap reanimation spells can bring a Sutured Ghoul into play (with Dragon Breath also hopping out to enchant it and give it haste). That’s way too easy of a turn 2 kill so we knew we had to break it up. In theory we could ban all of the cheap reanimation spells. After all, cards that put other cards into play “for free” (like Tinker) are something we now realize we need to be more careful with. However, there are so many cheap reanimation spells (Reanimate, Exhume, Life/Death, etc.) that we felt it would be better to attack the Hermit. We already walked halfway down this road when we chose to ban Entomb after Worlds –- we figured there was only one card that did what Entomb does as cheaply as Entomb does it so we could get away with banning it while leaving the reanimation spells around. Well, it turns out that Hermit Druid is also a cheap, easy, efficient way to get reanimation targets into the graveyard. Fair enough...now we’ve taken that one away too. We actually think Reanimator decks are kind of cool. Our attitude toward them is similar to our attitude toward mono-brown decks: we didn’t want to kill them completely, we just wanted to slow them down enough that they would be fair.

Goblin Recruiter

Goblin Recruiter

Goblin Recruiter plays a completely unique role in two different combo decks: Food Chain and Goblin Charbelcher decks both required him before they could pull off their combo. In addition, its synergy with Goblin Ringleader was remarkable and probably could still be abused in some other way even if Food Chain and Charbelcher didn’t exist. Thus, we all agreed pretty quickly that the Recruiter had to go. We talked about the fact that it’s still possible to build Charbelcher decks–-in fact, it was the Mana Severance/Charbelcher decks that did the best in New Orleans, not the Recruiter/Charbelcher versions. However, we took Tinker, Ancient Tomb, and Grim Monolith out of the Mana Severance decks and we think that’s enough to knock them down to size. Without Tinker, Severance plus Charbelcher costs a total of nine mana, and it requires seven on the same turm if you want to play around artifact removal spells. Maybe it’ll still be good, but without Monolith or Tinker or Ancient Tomb I don’t think those decks will be overpowered. (Note that this is by no means the only 2-card “I win” combo in Extended. Pandemonium plus Saproling Burst has been sitting there for years and no one has managed to do much with it.)

Overall

We consider six cards to be a lot of cards to ban. We’ve only banned this many cards once before, and that was during the height of Combo Winter (though, to be fair, that was a much bigger deal since it impacted the much more popular Standard-Constructed format). However, we believe the absence of each one of these six cards will make the environment significantly better. We think that this batch of bannings will eliminate all the decks that could win on turn 2 with any kind of consistency. That should slow things down enough that creature decks can come back out to play again, and control decks should now have enough time to potentially stop a combo-playing opponent too. Hopefully Extended Magic will start to feel like Magic again. Judging by the reactions I’ve heard so far, lots more of you are now excited to play Extended, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Last Week’s Poll

Which of these poll results do you think was the most important?
Is Counterspell too powerful? 2312 29.3%
Change the Reprint Policy? 2241 28.4%
End every column with a poll? 722 9.1%
Was it a mistake to print Psychatog/Fact or Fiction 621 7.9%
How do you feel about “Creature – Human [Class]? 469 5.9%
Should Starter-level cards be in the base set? 427 5.4%
What do you think of double strike? 411 5.2%
Do you like to play with lifegain cards? 222 2.8%
How much new art should 8E have? 204 2.6%
Hibernation or no? 197 2.5%
What do you think of Voidmage Prodigy’s art? 68 0.9%
Total 7894 100.0%

Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.

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