Look at You, You're The DCI

Posted in Serious Fun on February 18, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

I've said in the past that I don't endorse banning cards in casual formats. For those of you who missed the long version, here's the short one: I don't endorse banning cards in casual formats.

So why am I going to suggest you start banning cards in your group? I'll start with a story. (No, it's not a Rosewater-style-commit-a-full-two-hours-on-a-56K-modem-choose-your-own-adventure story. You people are so spoiled! This thing is going to last, like, a paragraph. Brace yourself for disappointment.)

Our weekly playgroup was slinging cards one Thursday night a few months ago. I was playing my favorite deck, a blue-green-black monstrosity with Pernicious Deed, Mystic Snake, Spiritmonger, and a bunch more Apocalypse rares that I just can't do without. At one point, my friend Todd lets loose a volley of furious spittle.

"Freaking Pernicious Deed!" he screamed. (He screams all the time. He's an actuary who spends five days a week twisting himself into a writhing mass of statistical tension, and then in one night lets it all out where his wife and kids can't see or hear him. Incidentally, I'm a big fan of poetic license when it comes to making my friends look like raging fools). "Just once I would like to see you play a deck without Pernicious Deed!"

So the next game, I played my "Radiation Seizure" deck (based on my first article on this site). This time, it was my brother-in-law Paul who had the heart attack.

"Freaking Radiate!" he cried.

Okay, then. On to my Beast deck . . .

"Freaking Blastoderm!"

. . . or perhaps Zombies . . .

"Freaking Sarcomancy!"


Now, I want to be clear about one thing. I'm not the only player in my group who finds himself the target of ire-tinged ennui. Every player is diabolically creative and has at least one deck that the others hate.

Land Equilibrium and Armageddon. Sneak Attack and Altar of Dementia. Aluren, Planeshift Battlemages, and Planeshift gating creatures. Lifeline and . . . well, just about anything.

It gets to the point where the mere sight of a Bottle Gnomes or a Savannah gets people wired.

We become too predictable.


So about once every six months, our group indulges in a format that gives us a night free of the same old same old. A week in advance, we each vote out six different cards -- one of each color and an artifact. Even after just three sets of votes, we often have a list that requires abandoning half the decks we use:

So, how many of your decks have I just disqualified? And we're less than a third of the way through our group's most recent list.

In the week that follows, we have to build one or more decks that avoid all listed cards. No other unusual rules apply -- we otherwise follow a typical Type 1 Banned and Restricted List and play all formats from chaos to hunt to emperor. (If you don't know what these are, look over past articles. In a few months, I'll also run a refresher on basic multiplayer formats.)

The bigger your group, the more creative you have to be. And this is why I love the format -- I've spun decks from this format that last months, if not years. The last deck I spun from it was a green-white Astral Slide deck:


Download Arena Decklist

Of course, this deck itself is easy to ban, and a few months from now, a simple vote for Astral Slide (or, amazingly enough, Cartographer) will do it in. The question is, how will one of my friends best cast his precious vote(s)? As anyone who has followed the DCI players' organization knows, banning cards is not a science -- it's an art.


If you decide to play this format, you'll need to think hard about what you ban. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you pinpoint the best cards possible:

1. What decks get played most often in my group? For each player, write down the deck he or she plays the most. If it's a tie, list the one that's most annoying. If you still can't pick between two, don't worry: we'll nail both in a moment.

2. What is the linchpin of each deck? Now, hold on -- that's not the card you're necessarily going to ban. The problem with linchpins is you don't often find them in more than one deck. A player may have a Grave Pact deck, and no one else plays with Grave Pact because the natural tendency of most casual Magic players is to find new territory, not go over old ones. So identify the linchpin, and use it as a last resort if you don't see anyone else eliminating that deck. But you should try to aim wider first.

3. What's a staple card in the deck? Better Swords to Plowshares than Worship. Better Blastoderm than Aether Charge. Better Terminate than Void. Usually, the staple card is common or uncommon -- which means multiple players are more likely to use it, and you're likely to have a higher impact with your vote.

4. What's the rage in the group? If cycling's the rage, Astral Slide is an easier pick. If it's Slivers, nail Crystalline Sliver (or maybe Muscle Sliver or Brood Sliver). If it's creatureless decks, gun for Fireball, Earthquake, Pestilence, or whatever seems most popular. A card that probably affects two different player is almost always better than a card that definitely affects just one.

Now that you've ruined your friends' fun, let's talk about the deck you'll build. Even though I don't know you or your group, I believe I can make some fairly strong predictions about where this format goes. Experience is a nasty guide.

1. Beware the power enchantments. Among the easiest cards to get banned are Disenchant and Naturalize. Once those obvious choices are gone, most people forget to pack enchantment or artifact removal in their decks -- and out comes a bunch of new combo decks sporting Subversion, Psychic Battle, or whatever. Be smart and find alternatives -- Purify, Tranquility, Aura of Silence, and Hull Breach are probably your best bets.

2. Expect search cards. With decks that act less predictably than their favorites, many veteran players will seek to comfort themselves with cards like Worldly Tutor or Impulse that help their decks regain a certain level of consistency. This is particularly true if they go the combo route, which is popular in unusual formats as there's often more time to set up. Because most search cards are instants, consider Quash or Disrupt if you're playing blue.

3. Try the idea you've always dreamed of. Now's the time to get creative. Don't worry if the first draft isn't perfect. This is where you try group discard with stuff like Mindslicer and Unnerve, which no one thinks to banish (unless you're the odd kind of group that tries heavy discard regularly). Or get all the Squirrel cards you can slap together, and see how that works. Don't follow a predictable pattern. Build the deck you would never build, in colors you normally wouldn't touch. It will freak people out, open new doors for you, and probably be a raging success.

When you stretch your imagination to create new decks, you tend to use colors (or creature types or strategies) that you don't have as many preconceived notions about. It's like young blood entering an old company -- you'll make a walloping mistake or two, but you'll also come up with ideas no one has thought of before. You'll bring a little beatdown into a control deck, a touch of green into a black deck, a Cat Giant Legend into your Firecat Blitz deck. As with all the formats I suggest, the point is not to figure out the metagame perfectly and win. The point is to spend time considering the many possibilities and to have fun before, during, and after the deck's first night.

I'll leave you with the starts of other decks I built in consideration of the many choices being banned:

(Multiplayer deck fragment)

Riptide Shapeshifter is not for creature-themed decks, if you think about it real hard. In fact, the more varied and obscure your creatures, the better . . . Mix with lots of card drawing and mana -- you'll need it.

and so on

(Multiplayer deck fragment)

In this age of Onslaught, many Beasts, Elves, and Zombies will get banned. But who'll ban Spiders?

and so on

(Multiplayer deck fragment)

If you're expecting to play team at all that night, build a power deck that's unlikely to intersect with the kind of group-smashing cards your friends will ban. I added Hypnotic Specter after the ban was over . . .

and so on

Enjoy banning -- and creating!

Don't forget that the Multi-Lab is open. Please follow the guidelines I set out last week. While I'll get to everyone eventually, I'll first answer those readers who take the time to give me the best information they can.

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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