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The Comboist Manifesto Volume II, Article 3: The History of the Legacy Banned List Part 2
By Stephen Bahl
This is the sequel to my previous article, which you've already read. If you haven't read my previous article, then shame on you. Stop reading this article and go read that one. I'll wait. This article will still be here when you get back. If, on the other hand, you have read that article, you have my permission to read this one, so disregard this entire paragraph and proceed to feast your eyes on the rest of this article, free of any shame. Or perhaps shame is still involved for some other reason, which I did not anticipate. Look, I can't be held responsible for all shame. I'm not some sort of shame-god. I just write silly articles about Magic: the Gathering. And this is one. You can even read it, if you want. But only if you've already read the previous article! These articles follow a strict chronology, and that is not something to be taken lightly.

As you are already aware, my previous article covered the original Legacy banned list, created in 2004 when the old Type 1.5 was replaced with Legacy, a new tournament format. For your convenience, the original Legacy banned list was...

Amulet of Quoz
Ancestral Recall
Balance
Bazaar of Baghdad
Black Lotus
Black Vise
Bronze Tablet
Channel
Chaos Orb
Contract from Below
Darkpact
Demonic Attorney
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Dream Halls
Earthcraft
Entomb
Falling Star
Fastbond
Frantic Search
Goblin Recruiter
Grim Monolith
Gush
Hermit Druid
Illusionary Mask
Jeweled Bird
Land Tax
Library of Alexandria
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Memory Jar
Metalworker
Mind Over Matter
Mind Twist
Mind's Desire
Mishra's Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Necropotence
Oath of Druids
Rebirth
Replenish
Skullclamp
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
Tempest Efreet
Time Spiral
Time Walk
Timetwister
Timmerian Fiends
Tinker
Tolarian Academy
Vampiric Tutor
Wheel of Fortune
Windfall
Worldgorger Dragon
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Yawgmoth's Will

Of course, the list has changed since 2004. I had planned to write about those changes in my previous article, but the original list is actually rather long, and I blathered on about it for too long, so here we are. Like I said, chronology is important, so let's start at the beginning.

September 2005: Imperial Seal is banned.



For Legacy, the big change in 2005 was that the old introductory sets became legal for tournament play. These sets provided simplified versions of the game and were products that Wizards of the Coast used in an attempt to make things easier on prospective new players. They were generally maligned by existing players and probably did a poor job of what they were meant to do, although I did start with the first of them myself. One issue was that cards only printed in these sets were not legal in any sanctioned tournaments. This was corrected in October of 2005, so Portal, Portal Second Age, Portal Three Kingdoms, Starter, and Starter 2000 all became legal in Legacy and Vintage simultaneously. Most of the cards in those five sets were either reprints or were crap anyway, but there were a few cards that mattered. Off the top of my head, Jungle Lion gave aggressive green decks another tool to work with, Cruel Bargain could act as copies 5 through 8 of Infernal Contract (for anyone crazy enough to go that route), Personal Tutor acted like a mediocre version of Mystical Tutor, Imperial Recruiter became a powerhouse (first in Aluren, then in Painter decks), Loyal Retainers became a powerhouse (in Survival decks and later in Maverick), Grim Tutor was actually used in combo decks (illustrating just how good Demonic Tutor must really be), and then there was Imperial Seal. The card is inferior to Vampiric Tutor. While Vampiric Tutor would be too enabling for combo decks in Legacy and leaving it banned is preferable, Imperial Seal, being sorcery-speed, may actually be acceptable in the format. The DCI banned it anyway. Although they didn't go into detail, it can safely be assumed that the similarity to Vampiric Tutor was the primary impetus for the ban. There is another reason, though...

What I thought then: 2005 was still early enough that monetary concerns were a legitimate aspect in shaping the format. As a rare from a set with a very, very low print run, Imperial Seal is extremely scarce. Price was confirmed to be an issue for cards like Mana Drain. Despite being an inferior version of Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal is all but unattainable to most players.

What I think now: Imperial Seal is restricted in Vintage, where some combo decks use it. The card now rivals the Power 9 for price. But Legacy already has issues like that now, such as The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. If secondary market prices are no longer a contributing factor in the Legacy banned list, Imperial Seal is arguably safe to unban. And how would I ultimately side in such an argument? I don't know. I'd prefer to first unban other, more interesting cards.

June 2007: Flash is banned. Mind Over Matter and Replenish are unbanned.



For years, Flash had been subject to a power-level erratum. During the redaction of power-level errata, Flash was restored to its original functionality, which drew the attention of almost no one. But once word of the card's newfound combo potential got out, it led to the most powerful combo deck in the history of Legacy. Flash was promptly banned in Legacy, but remained unrestricted in Vintage for another year. This led to the first prisoner exchange of the Legacy banned list: something has to be banned, so something else gets to come off. In this case, two chaff cards were cut from the banned list.

What I thought then: On Flash: “This allows creatures with comes-into-play or leaves-play abilities to hit the board and use such abilities at instant speed for two mana. Which creatures work best with Flash? Does it matter? The possibilities are ridiculous. The only issue is finding the right setup to murder everything else in tournaments. The configurations that ended up dominating were based around Protean Hulk and could kill on the first turn. Fun.”

On Mind Over Matter: “I called for an unbanning of this in my original analysis, and I think this was one card for which I was 100% right. Solidarity can't use MoMa. Sorcery-speed High Tide can, but MoMa costs six mana, which is a huge barrier. If MoMa makes High Tide a competitive deck, then fine. The format could use a reliable combo deck.”

On Replenish: “This was another card I claimed should be unbanned, although I was not as sure of this one at the time. Basically, my experience with Replenish has been that it's overrated. It looks impressive when you do 84 damage off one spell, but cool, flashy kills aren't necessarily broken. Quite frankly, it was never demonstrated to me that Replenish is the ban-worthy powerhouse players seemed so worried about as long as there isn't something already unhealthy about the format. If nothing else, Legacy players have access to Tormod's Crypt, which costs zero mana and stops Replenish by itself.”

What I think now: The most compact combo I know of with Flash uses Protean Hulk with Reveillark, Body Double, Body Snatcher (in case a combo component is in the hand rather than the library), Carrion Feeder, and Mogg Fanatic. This would allow for an incredibly fast, resilient deck. Too broken for Legacy. Mind Over Matter has turned up in some Legacy decks, but has never produced anything first tier, let alone dominant. Some players have tried it in High Tide decks, but now Time Spiral does the job better for that archetype. As for Replenish, while it has been employed in Enchantress decks, it has had even less presence in Legacy tournaments than Mind Over Matter. So in retrospect, the ban and unbans here were good calls.

September 2007: Shahrazad is banned.



I once joked that the Vintage banned list consists of ante cards, cards that refer to throwing themselves, and white sorceries from Arabian Nights illustrated by Kaja Foglio. Shortly before Shahrazad was banned, there were rumors about players planning to exploit the card in sideboards, stalling by creating subgames in order to cause match times to expire. Shahrazad was ostensibly banned for logistical reasons. I was skeptical at the time and I remain skeptical. There doesn't appear to be a single documented instance of this actually happening, nor any rigorous demonstration that it would be a viable tactic in any tournament environment. I invited people to prove me wrong back then (I forget where this was, but whatever), and the offer still stands. But the DCI shot first and never asked questions. That being said, there are multiple ways to look at the issue. Shahrazad has never been viable in Legacy, and some would argue that since the card is useless anyway, it would be better to have it banned just in case it would present logistical issues. Others, myself included, would rather trim the banned list and accept the possibility that the card could later present logistical issues and require banning.

What I thought then: Well, I can't find anything I said about it at the time, but I was opposed to this ban.

What I think now: Shahrazad would continue not being a problem if unbanned, but now that it is ostensibly in the same category as Chaos Orb, it is probably a permanent resident of the banned list. Oh well, there are better cards to unban anyway.

September 2008: Time Vault is banned.



Time Vault was banned from tournament play way back in 1994, then allowed back, but with a power-level erratum in 1996. Every time someone tried to find a way to break Time Vault, it got a new, more elaborate Oracle text to fix it again. The card actually had a temporary home in Legacy with Flame Fusillade. In what could fairly be called the culmination of the power-level errata redactions, Time Vault was restored to its original functonality, making it one of the most powerful cards ever for the first time in many years. Time Vault was preemptively restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy.

What I thought then: Pretty cool to make the game more intuitive. When I was in high school, I played a game against someone using a proxy deck and he tried to use Time Vault + Voltaic Key. This led to me and a few other players trying to explain that while the card did say that it did something, it actually operated in another, different way. Getting rid of unnecessary errata was a move I heartily endorsed.

What I think now: Time Vault really proved itself in Vintage, even restricted. But in Legacy, the card is out of the question.

September 2009: Dream Halls, Entomb, and Metalworker are unbanned.

This was a rather aggressive step in cleaning up unnecessary cards on the banned list. While I thoroughly approve of each individual unbanning, I dislike this handling of the banned list. I remember someone, I think it was Vintage player Kevin Cron, advocating that changes to banned/restricted lists should be limited to one card at a time. Obviously that doesn't go for Standard, but for the “eternal” formats it makes sense. In this case, it worked out. None of these three cards dominated the format, and all three actually turned out to be useful in some successful decks.

What I thought then: Dream Halls: “Dream Halls unbanned in Legacy is sort of the same situation as Dream Halls unbanned in Vintage. We can't say for sure whether it will be viable because it's such a unique card. This certainly changes things for me, though. I've been rather stagnate about deckbuilding and now I absolutely must scrap my Vintage experiments in Dream Halls and focus on using the card in Legacy. I doubt it will dominate, but if there's a chance it can be even competitive, I've got to give this a shot. This will probably only mean so much to a few people. Mostly, this is a good call and will perhaps be seen as cutting chaff from the banned list.”

Entomb: “Almost all of the discussion of this announcement so far on Legacy boards has been about Entomb (and most of the rest about the fact that Land Tax is still on the list) and I don't know that there's a consensus yet. Personally, I'd rather they'd unbanned Dragon, as I wanted from the beginning. Now that Entomb is unbanned, we'll probably never see Dragon unbanned. Oh well. This has implications for a lot of decks, which I haven't yet had time to consider.”

Metalworker: “I'm also sure Metalworker will make an impact, although what the decks using it will look like, I can't say. Metalworker/Staff [of Domination] is certainly good enough for Legacy.”

What I think now: Dream Halls saw only limited use until it became an alternative combo piece in OmniTell decks. It has proven itself to be a niche card, and a good one in the right circumstances, but nothing too dangerous. Metalworker is vital for MUD decks, but those are not currently top decks in Legacy. The main card of interest in this group is Entomb, which has homes in several Legacy decks. These decks are prevalent enough to shape deck construction across the format, but they are not oppressive or dominant, and I'm glad that Entomb is unbanned.

June 2010: Mystical Tutor is banned. Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask are unbanned



Another prisoner exchange, but this one was rather bizarre. Data from the time isn't very good, but from memory, top decks included Goblins, Landstill, Bant, Zoo, Merfolk, Aggro Loam, and Stiflenought. Banning Mystical Tutor hurt Ad Nauseam Tendrils and Reanimator, decks that did perform reasonably well, but were not even close to dominating overall. Grim Monolith and Illusionary Mask were surprises to me, but for different reasons. I wasn't worried about Grim Monolith, but thought that the DCI wouldn't unban “fast mana” artifacts. Illusionary Mask was a card that I thought was safe on the banned list because it was so old and rare that it was beyond the fuzzy “price barrier.”

What I thought then: Mystical Tutor: Well, I thought a lot. At the time, I had nearly all of the cards to build an Ad Nauseam Tendrils deck, and this change affected my deckbuilding plans. I was particularly critical of Tom LaPille's explanation of the decision, in which he mentioned how he played practice matches through Magic Online and thought decks with Mystical Tutor were totally unbeatable, and how he believed that players weren't playing with the card on purpose as part of some nonsense conspiracy. Seriously, the whole piece is surreal and I'm still baffled by it.

Grim Monolith: “Unbanning Grim Monolith is a good call. I don't think the combo with Power Artifact is strong enough to worry about and artifact-heavy decks could use a bit of a boost in Legacy anyway. It's a good card, but not worthy of a ban. I'm hoping it will make Metalworker a little better too.”

Illusionary Mask: “I'm against Mask anyway because it costs a fortune and I like the idea of Legacy being affordable to players that aren't filthy rich.”

What I think now: Grim Monolith turned out to be another niche card. Illusionary Mask as a Dreadnought enabler was worse than Stifle anyway, and while the card is still worth a decent sum, it's virtually nonexistent in Legacy now. Those cards a good to have off the list, but they don't matter much, really. The main point of interest here was and is Mystical Tutor. And for that, I want to point out something that applies to more than just Mystical Tutor, but really to any potential ban of a card in a long-term, non-rotating format.

The game moves on after a card is banned. New cards are printed, deck archetypes evolve, and eventually there are important differences between the environment as it was when a card was banned and the environment as it is now. Of course, this means that it is possible to be in favor of a ban on a card, and later to still agree that it had to be banned, but to want it to be unbanned because the format might be better with it around. There's another side to that coin. It is possible to be opposed to a ban, to say in retrospect that the ban was a mistake, but to eschew an unban in the current environment. And that's my position on Mystical Tutor. It wasn't dominating, the arguments for banning it were inane, and in retrospect, I still can't get over how bad the case was for such a ban. But the format moved on. We lost two of the best combo decks of the time, but they were eventually replaced with other decks. Other factors changed. This was before the rise of Sneak and Show. It was before Past in Flames emerged and changed Ad Nauseam decks. I don't know whether Mystical Tutor would be safe to unban, but I'm wary enough not to want it unbanned right now, especially because it could break other cards in a combo deck and then something would need to be banned anyway.

December 2010: Survival of the Fittest is banned. Time Spiral is unbanned.



Ah, this one brings back memories. Mystical Tutor and Survival of the Fittest were two bans that I disagreed with and could say whole lot about. Far too much, really. Survival of the Fittest was too old for Extended by the time Legacy came around, and hadn't seen success in Vintage, but it had been viable in the old Type 1.5, and that continued to be the case in Legacy. Back in 2004, when people were still figuring the format out, the main Survival archetypes were Angry Tradewind Survival (a control-combo deck attempted to lock opponents down before killing them), Welder Survival (a disruptive control deck that used Survival of the Fittest to get things like Sundering Titan into the graveyard so that Goblin Welder could bring them back), and Full English Breakfast (a somewhat slower, but more explosive control-combo deck exploiting the synergy between Survival of the Fittest and Volrath's Shapeshifter). Angry Tradewind Survival was initially the deck to beat in Legacy. While Survival decks never really went away, their influence waned from the early days, with other creature-based decks becoming faster, too fast for the toolbox approach enabled by Survival of the Fittest. Survival decks mostly shifted toward aggro-control, particularly after Tarmogoyf took over the format. But Survival of the Fittest enabled a variety of decks, including elf decks, sliver decks, and infinite combo decks. And then Rise of the Eldrazi gave rise to Vengevine. Scars of Mirrodin added Necrotic Ooze and the resulting “Vengevival” decks became the most successful decks of the time. Survival of the Fittest, after five years of varying results in Legacy, finally became a controversial card. And so, in a prisoner exchange, the card was banned and Time Spiral was taken off the list.

What I thought then: There was a lot of anticipation that Survival would get the axe, so I wasn't surprised, although I was disappointed. I was also interested in trying Time Spiral in a Dream Halls deck, although I didn't come up with anything useful.

What I think now: Time Spiral was the unban that finally made sorcery-speed High Tide viable in Legacy. So that's good. I argued against a ban on Survival of the Fittest at the time, but really, there was a case to be made that it was too dominant. If the card had remained in the format for longer, it's unclear what might have happened. Hypothetically, even if Survival did need to be banned back then, I contend that it's no longer the case. “Vengevival” doesn't seem nearly as threatening in 2015 as it did in 2010.

September 2011: Mental Misstep is banned.



The “Mental Misstep era” was a weird time in Legacy. The card definitely warped the format, but this was exacerbated by timing. Mystical Tutor being banned weakened combo, then Survival of the Fittest being banned took away the predator that was keeping a slough of other aggro-control decks in check. Mental Misstep arrived in an environment that was unusually vulnerable to it, and the card showed up everywhere.

What I thought then: “In a way, I don't care. I don't think it needed to be banned, but it was not a card that I was ever going to use because really, I think it's kind of a bad card. Well, maybe not entirely. It's a weird card, and not in a good way. I don't like it and never have, probably never will. I don't find it fun, wouldn't want to see it in my hand, and am not thrilled to play against it either, but it's not terrifying. But really I don't think it changes anything (maybe a slight exaggeration because blue decks containing Mental Misstep have slowed the format down a bit). Mental Misstep has been 90% hype from the beginning. I'm more disappointed that nothing was unbanned than that some blue card was banned. On the other hand, hey, maybe this means Brainstorm is safe from being banned in Legacy.”

“Legacy has, for years, been an increasingly aggro-control format. It's not a coincidence: pretty much every ban other than Survival of the Fittest has been one that weakened combo, while a lot of the cards players predicted would be banned never were, and those were cards that aggro-control decks use. Meanwhile, cards have been printed that make aggro-control stronger. When Mental Misstep was first revealed, before it had even touched the format, there was already hype. I think that the overemphasis on aggro-control is the reason for this. Players thought of all the one-drops they could stop. Aggro-control loves one-drops because they come out fast and force opponents to either deal with them, using removal that sets up a clear path for two-drops and three-drops, or become crippled by them. And as with Fact or Fiction, this is a card that trips bad players up, as they scramble awkwardly to play around Mental Misstep, rather than treating it as a highly situational counter. Also, blue control was already making a comeback, in part thanks to Jace. I suspect that a niche counter that happened to get played alongside good cards got a little too much credit here.

Mental Misstep is a viable card. But it's not a powerhouse. It's nowhere near as good as Force of Will, and furthermore, I don't think anyone really thinks that it is. But it's the card getting banned because it's the victim of circumstances. Oh well, like I said, I don't like the card anyway.”

What I think now: It's like the ugly version of what happened to Mystical Tutor. I liked Mystical Tutor and was sorry to see it go, but now I would hesitate to let it back into the format, considering how the format has evolved without it. In contrast, I always disliked Mental Misstep. I just didn't consider it ban-worthy. And now, I think I like the format better with it than I would like the format without it. So good riddance, I guess?

June 2012: Land Tax is unbanned.

I've already written about this one, and I know I've mentioned it before, but Aaron Forsythe's 2007 explanation for why Land Tax was staying on the banned list despite popular opinion that the card was safe is surreal. Seems like he should have known better. But at least we got to have a card unbanned without having something else banned.

What I thought then: “Finally.”

What I think now: Well, the card hardly ever actually shows up in Legacy, which is too bad. I'm more interested in unbanning cards that could contribute to the format in a meaningful way, but trimming chaff from the banned list is also worth doing. And Land Tax turned out to be chaff.

June 2014: Cards with the Conspiracy type are preemptively banned.

The conspiracies don't really fit into traditional constructed gameplay, although they could be used in variant formats. Banning them was a formality, since they wouldn't actually be playable in Legacy under the rules. The only reason I'm including them here is that they were technically added to the banned list.

January 2015: Treasure Cruise is banned. Worldgorger Dragon is unbanned.

The Legacy banned list got some attention again! It's another prisoner exchange, but at least it's something. I have mixed feelings about Treasure Cruise, but it's sort of like Mental Misstep: warping the format in a way that made things less fun, but not really dominant and not something that couldn't have eventually changed as players adapted, new printings caused the format to evolve, or more cards were unbanned. I didn't want it banned, but I wasn't particularly sorry to see it go. As for Worldgorger Dragon, I'd been calling for it to be unbanned for years. It's too early to see if the card will amount to anything, but it is an interesting prospect.

So now it's February of 2015, and the banned list looks like...

Advantageous Proclamation
Amulet of Quoz
Ancestral Recall
Backup Plan
Balance
Bazaar of Baghdad
Black Lotus
Black Vise
Brago's Favor
Bronze Tablet
Channel
Chaos Orb
Contract from Below
Darkpact
Demonic Attorney
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Double Stroke
Earthcraft
Falling Star
Fastbond
Flash
Frantic Search
Goblin Recruiter
Gush
Hermit Druid
Immediate Action
Imperial Seal
Iterative Analysis
Jeweled Bird
Library of Alexandria
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Memory Jar
Mental Misstep
Mind Twist
Mind's Desire
Mishra's Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Muzzio's Preparations
Mystical Tutor
Necropotence
Oath of Druids
Power Play
Rebirth
Secret Summoning
Secrets of Paradise
Sentinel Dispatch
Shahrazad
Skullclamp
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
Survival of the Fittest
Tempest Efreet
Time Vault
Time Walk
Timetwister
Timmerian Fiends
Tinker
Tolarian Academy
Unexpected Potential
Vampiric Tutor
Wheel of Fortune
Windfall
Worldgorger Dragon
Worldknit
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Yawgmoth's Will

Although I don't agree with every decision that has been made, I do consider this list to be an improvement over the original list from 2004. Part 1 of this series of articles analyzed the original banned list, and Part 2 has explored how we got from there to here. Now that we've arrived, my next article will analyze the current banned list, and I'll present my ideal for how the list should change in the future.

Read More Articles by Stephen Bahl!

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