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An Analysis of the Legacy Banned List
By Stephen O. Bahl
Legacy is a relatively new format: it was introduced to the world on September 1st, 2004. I was largely satisfied with the banned list initially given to the format when I first saw it. I remain largely satisfied with the banned list, which has not changed so far. However, I have seen precious little discussion as to cards that should be added or removed to the banned list (or which cards should definitely remain on the list). I plan to remedy that here.

To begin, there are two categories of cards, which I will not cover alongside the rest of the banned list. The first of these is very well defined. It includes only the cards that are on the Vintage banned list as well. Nine of these are ante cards and two of them are cards that are thrown. These cards are: Amulet of Quoz, Bronze Tablet, Chaos Orb, Contract from Below, Darkpact, Demonic Attorney, Falling Star, Jeweled Bird, Rebirth, Tempest Efreet, and Timmerian Fiends.

The second category is more subjective. Many of the cards banned in Legacy are banned not only because of inherent power, but because they present a financial barrier (Legacy is supposed to be cheaper than Vintage). Not every card that costs more than $50 is banned in Legacy, but most of the pricey cards that are particularly powerful are on the banned list. Some of these cards are restricted in Vintage. Some of them are used extensively there. Cards that Iím lumping into this category are: Ancestral Recall, Bazaar of Baghdad, Black Lotus, Illusionary Mask, Library of Alexandria, Mana Crypt, Mana Drain, Mishra's Workshop, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Time Walk, and Timetwister. Very few, if any, of these cards would ever be considered for unbanning if they happened to be widely available. And it is also quite unlikely that any of them will become widely available in the near future.

So, with those out of the way, I will analyze the rest of the banned list in greater detail.

Perhaps the most prominent culprits are the fast mana-producing artifacts: Grim Monolith, Mana Vault, Metalworker, and Sol Ring. The prospect of a Grim Monolith/Power Artifact deck in Legacy is rather daunting by itself. But Mana Vault, Sol Ring, and, to a lesser degree, Grim Monolith could all provide overly fast mana to combo decks in need. Unbanning any one of those could have drastic consequences. Metalworker is generally milder. But in the right deck, it could provide ridiculous amounts of mana. Its summoning sickness does make it slower than the other mana acceleration, but only three artifacts in hand could yield six mana under a single Metalworkerís ability. And decks using Metalworker will often have hands with more than three artifacts, not to mention untapping a Metalworker for multiple uses. There hasnít been a time in this game when fast mana was bad. Verdict: All four of these artifacts have safe homes on the banned list.

When the banned list was first introduced, Oath of Druids was one card that I thought didnít need to be there. The release of Forbidden Orchard changed all that. The card looks like it was built for Oath of Druids. Before Forbidden Orchard was printed, Oath of Druids was more of a way to stop an opponent from playing creatures (often while being beaten down by man-lands) than a way to fetch creatures. Were Oath unbanned now, it would lead to control decks with access to fourth turn kills (or maybe even quicker). Verdict: Leave banned.

There are four ďDraw7Ē cards banned in Legacy: Memory Jar, Time Spiral, Wheel of Fortune, and Windfall. Even with fast mana like Sol Ring banned, Legacy still has some ways to play these cards very early in the game. Elvish Spirit Guide, Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, Mox Diamond, and Chrome Mox come to mind. Legacy also has Lionís Eye Diamond, which makes these cards even more insane. While I like playing combo decks, Iím not eager to see them completely dominate the game. Verdict: All four of these artifacts have safe homes on the banned list.

When it comes to Necropotence, I donít know which to worry about, control or combo. Blackís current bomb for BBB is Pox. Pox is pretty good, but not as good as paying a single life for a new card (as many times as you want). If this were unbanned, The Necro decks of old would regain virtually all of their weapons. I remember when Necropotence was not banned in the old Type 1.5, and this card-drawing engine seems just a bit too powerful for Legacy. I hope that WotC does some testing though, just to make sure--because if Iím wrong, then Iíd like to start building a Necropotence deck. Verdict: Leave banned (sadly).

I can see a case for unbanning Black Vise. It is a powerful control hoser, but the combo decks that might kill too quickly to worry about Black Vise are not as dangerous in Legacy as they are in Vintage. However, it seems all too likely that Black Vise would be even more worrisome unbanned than it would be if unrestricted in Vintage. In the right deck, mana denial could allow a Black Vise or two enough of a full hand to kill without any other damage sources getting involved. It is not immediately clear just how well Vise-based decks would do, but unbanning would certainly warp the metagame, especially with the easy availability of Black Vise and cards that complement it (like Stone Rain). Verdict: Leave banned.

My thoughts on Mind over Matterís place on this have changed, but not in the same way that my thoughts on Oath of Druids did. Early on, I tried to build a solid High Tide deck for the new format. I failed. The cute Solidarity deck, while better than anything that I could come up with, isnít all that threatening to the format either. Mind over Matter would not be a great help to either of these decks and is simply too expensive for its effect as long as nothing like Tolarian Academy is involved. Even if a deck could abuse MoMa, itís still quite likely that the deck would not be too good for the Legacy metagame to handle. Verdict: Unban.

Before I started writing this, I decided that I would allow myself to leave one card totally unexplained, simply because it is too broken to ever consider unbanning. So the card that Iíve chosen is Balance. Verdict: Leave this evil card banned.

Because many of the broken cards that are restricted in Vintage are fully banned in Legacy, some of the tutors are still completely available, but Demonic Consultation, Demonic Tutor, and Vampiric Tutor are all considered too good. As far as I know, this issue is fairly unexplored. The cards that these would be abused with the most are also the cards that are banned. Still, the ability to find any card in oneís library is considerably powerful. Verdict: Undecided.

Channel might seem innocuous enough at first. The amount of mana it provides, although large, is quite limited. It has a double green mana requirement in order to be cast, and if it doesnít win the game for you, it will probably kill you. But combo decks have become quite tuned since the days of Channel/Fireball, and a ton of mana is exactly what certain decks would be looking for. Belcher is an obvious choice. Itís fast enough without Channel. Channel would easily make the seven mana necessary to cast Goblin Charbelcher and win. There are likely more sinister possibilities as well. Verdict: Leave banned for now.

I havenít seen this sentiment anywhere else, but I donít think Replenish needs to stay banned. I understand that the card is quite powerful. But what deck are you going to use it in? PandeBurst? With Intuition? I would find the various Survival-based decks to be more threatening than something that is no faster and can be shut down with Tormodís Crypt. I know that I could be wrong about this though--the card is quite powerful. Still, I donít know why Replenish was considered more dangerous unbanned than Survival of the Fittest. Verdict: Unless a decklist can be presented which indicates that it should stay where it is, unban.

With Dream Halls, Iím also not sure what sort of deck might use it. But where Replenish breathes some life into fallen enchantments, Dream Halls makes spells free. I donít know how best to break this in Legacy, but Iím sure that someone could find a way. And with Dream Halls, itís better to err on the side of safety. Unfortunately, there isnít a way to prove that weíre all paranoid about this, but Iíd rather be wrong and have Dream Halls banned needlessly, than be right and watch it dominate the format. Verdict: Definitely leave banned.

In Vintage, Entomb can act as a tutor, putting any card from your library into your graveyard, where you can do whatever it is with it. Iím already not sure if the other tutors are good enough to merit banning in Legacy. One that puts cards into your graveyard instead of your hand is less impressive still. What are you going to Entomb anyway? Worldgorger Dragon? Oh, sorry, thatís also banned. I donít even know what principle this card was originally banned on. Presumably, it was banned because itís a tutor, and tutors are scary. I have my doubts, but they arenít strong enough to say that Entomb should stay banned. Verdict: Unban unless Worldgorger Dragon is unbanned.

Of course, Strip Mine would simply be bad for the game. Wasteland is already pretty good, and with Strip Mine there to boost it, nonbasic lands would be too much of a liability to run. On top of that, Crucible of Worlds would become much more powerful and decks running both would be nigh unstoppable. Verdict: Definitely leave banned.

Earthcraft can perform a few different functions. The one it is banned for is its interaction with Squirrel Nest. The resulting deck, known as Army of Squirrels, would certainly be viable. Just how good it would be is debatable. Having infinite creatures on turn two is tough to argue with though. Earthcraft does rely on basic lands, which makes a multicolored deck considerably difficult. Verdict: Undecided.

Tinker canít produce the banned Memory Jar, a favorite target, in this format. However, the sheer power of the card is something to be wary of. And in Vintage, Darksteel Colossus has become a new favorite Tinker target. Unbanned in Legacy, Tinker could lead to consistent 11/11ís, which is not a pleasant thought. I happen to have played against such a deck in some casual games, and my opponent didnít even have Sol Ring to speed Tinker up. The deck was still very good. Verdict: Leave banned.

Worldgorger Dragon was one card I was surprised to see when the banned list was first unveiled. I do realize that the deck might be good. It might even be very good. Combo is already not doing all that well. Banning Bazaar of Baghdad, Entomb, and Worldgorger Dragon seems like overkill. Granted, if Iím saying that Entomb should be unbanned, then it would have a very attractive target if Worldgorger Dragon were unbanned along with it. Dark Ritual followed by and Entomb and an Animate Dead seems like too easy of a win. Dragon is not a deck Iím at all fond of, but Iíd like to see some competitive combo decks in this format. Of course, if someone could find a way to use Worldgorger Dragon with Survival of the Fittest, that would only worsen the domination of Survival decks. Verdict: Unban unless Entomb is unbanned.

Of course, if we really want to flood the game with combo decks, Yawgmoth's Bargain is the only card that would need to be unbanned. Itís expensive, but thatís because it wins the game. The only thing to do with the gameís most broken enchantment is leave it banned. Verdict: Leave banned, of course.

Food Chain Goblins is such a good deck that something must be banned to stop it, and Goblin Recruiter was the obvious choice. There is more than one way to look at this. Goblin Recruiter, being the powerful and degenerative card that allows for such library stacking is the right card to ban. Or perhaps, Food Chain, the card that is normally useless, should be banned, so that Goblin Recruiter could be used in decks where it would not be so broken. Either way, Food Chain Goblins is simply too powerful a deck for Legacy. Verdict: Leave banned.

Most of the artifacts that normally power a Tolarian Academy are banned. But no one seriously thinks that means the Academy should be given a chance unbanned. If the mana boost from something like a Metalworker is too much, then there isnít really a question as to whether Tolarian Academy is still too good. Also, the Academy has gained some toys, like the artifact lands. Verdict: Leave banned, of course.

Land Tax is a pretty versatile card, but if a deck is going to break it, then it will probably be something Parfait-ish. Personally, I think that such a deck could be quite good. But too good? Iím not so sure. Iím leaning strongly toward the idea of unbanning it. Verdict: Undecided.

Many players forget how insane Fastbond is. Consider this a reminder. Fastbond is cheap enough that it can hit the table first turn every time. You can play as many lands as you want every turn. Sure, youíll take some pain for it, but thatís inconsequential when youíre winning the game, which is precisely what youíll be doing when you can play all those lands. Of course, youíll need some card drawing, but thatís easy to pay for when you can play as many lands per turn as you want. Verdict: Definitely leave banned.

Yawgmoth's Will has been nicknamed ďYawgmothís Win.Ē Itís especially good with mana acceleration like Dark Ritual, Lotus Petal, and Lionís Eye Diamond. The setup is somewhat difficult to manage, but generally worth it. I have no doubt that it would be worth it in Legacy. This might not be even more degenerative than Yawgmothís Bargain, but it probably would. Verdict: Leave banned, of course.

Unless Iím mistaken, the deck that Hermit Druid was banned for was ďAngry Hermit.Ē Iíve been told that this (essentially a reanimator deck on steroids) is quite effective. Through some twist of fate, I havenít gotten to actually watch Angry Hermit go off (when I played against it, I always killed or countered the Hermit Druid before it could destroy me with its incredible self-milling powers). Iím not completely positive on this one, but Iím willing to let Reanimator try to claim its share of the metagame. If Hermit Druid could seriously dominate, then thatís another matter. Verdict: Unban (although Iíd still like more information as to just how good Angry Hermit can be).

Mind Twist is simply too good with Dark Ritual. This is another card where Iím not sure what the deck that best abused it would be. Pox loves tearing at an opponentís hand, but hates expensive spells. Most other black decks either donít focus on discard, or donít like spending the amount of mana Mind Twist usually takes. But since Mind Twist possibly wins the game by itself (well, creates an irrecoverable game swing, really), Iím willing to live with my curiosity as to what exactly would happen. Verdict: Leave banned.

Skullclamp was another card that I was originally surprised to see on the banned list. Well, after I did some testing, I decided that it really did deserve that spot on the banned list. Iím still not completely positive though. Clamp-based decks might prove to only be very good, not broken in Legacy. But I dislike such decks anyway, so Clamp fans arenít going to see any help from me on this issue. Verdict: Leave banned.

Frantic Search is sometimes underestimated, since it isnít really card advantage. However, when testing High Tide, I noticed that Frantic Search was the card that it really needed in order to go off. Iím not sure how much of a boost Frantic Search would have given my High Tide design, or worse, how much of a boost it would give Solidarity. But giving combo decks a free draw spell seems like asking for trouble. Verdict: Leave banned.

I might be contradicting myself when I say that I donít think Gush needs to stay banned. Itís a free draw spell, but unlike Frantic Search, it bounces your lands. This makes it unappealing to any combo design that I can imagine. I wonder what the explanation for this being banned is, if there is one. Verdict: Unban.

And finally thereís Mindís Desire. Itís quite expensive and it loses many of its weapons that would make it so broken otherwise. But even with its friends banned, free spells are something to take seriously. I canít get over the idea that this is what would complete a broken Tendrils of Agony deck, which Legacy has been lacking thus far. Verdict: Leave banned.

So, in summation, Mind over Matter, Replenish, Worldgorger Dragon, Hermit Druid, and Gush are the cards that I would like to see unbanned. If you disagree with any part of that, you must be wrong. No, seriously, Iíd like to hear what others think about this, especially those of you who disagree with me, since I want to know where I might be going wrong (gasp!) in my analysis.

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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