Discussion in 'CPA/WOTC Magic Issues' started by Spiderman, Jul 2, 2018.
July 2, 2018 Banned/Restricted Announcement
Legacy: Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe are banned.
Well, there it is. These are garbage changes, poorly thought out, born of ignorance and illogical conflation. I hate these changes. They are stupid and bad.
Annoyingly enough, these changes will probably improve the format.
Every time they ban something in Legacy, it makes me afraid that my deck (B/R Reanimator) will cycle to the top of the heap and get something banned, thereby pushing me out of Legacy forever. The ban smacks too much of format grooming and I just don't think that's appropriate for Legacy.
It's hard enough to predict what the shakeup will be when one card is banned, let alone two cards (unless you're psychic, like the people who make these decisions apparently think they are). So while I really don't know, my first instinct is that B/R Reanimator isn't in danger for now. It theoretically gets a boost from the disappearance of prominent maindeck Deathrite Shaman, but other archetypes also exploit the graveyard. If there's an uptick in Loam decks, players will bring graveyard hate to counteract that, which incidentally affects things like Dredge, ANT, U/B Reanimator, TES, Nic Fit, and of course B/R Reanimator. Even the Threshold creatures and Delve creatures are vulnerable to graveyard hate. But there are a lot of variables. Maybe they'll ban something else. Who knows?
The Deathrite Shaman ban is totally format-grooming and that's frustrating. But Gitaxian Probe sets an especially bad precedent. The sequence of events was as follows...
Vintage Mana Drain enthusiasts become agitated at the resilience of Gush-based decks to countermagic. This is exacerbated by Gitaxian Probe, another manaless card-drawing spell, which helps Gush decks play around traditional control. They coin the term "perfect information" to express their gripe with the card. Notably, there's no such thing as "imperfect information" and so the term actually has no real meaning. It's a dog whistle. The mechanic of "I can see my opponent's hand" goes back to 1993 and has been done in all sorts of ways. Lots of cards show you an opponent's hand. I've seen exactly one card ever described as providing "perfect information" and the information it provides is 100% the same as all those other cards no one complained about. But somehow, the term catches on. Even in serious discussions about gameplay, discussions that have nothing to do with banning cards, I've seen "perfect information" tossed around as a shorthand for "Gitaxian Probe shows me my opponent's hand."
Gitaxian Probe is banned in Modern. This is explicitly because Modern is a format curated for speed, and Gitaxian Probe enhances the possibility of third-turn kills. It had already been established that even absent dominant performance, cards in Modern could be banned for enabling third-turn kills. In theory, this should mean that the ban applies only to Modern and has no relevance for Legacy. "Perfect information" is used in the announcement anyway, because it "hurt the ability of reactive decks to effectively bluff."
Gitaxian Probe is restricted in Vintage. The explicit reason for this restriction is the prediction that restricting both Gush and Gitaxian Probe would weaken Mentor decks, which would in turn entice Workshop decks to play fewer Sphere of Resistance effects. Again, the "perfect information that comes with Gitaxian Probe" is brought up. This prediction demonstrably failed, and Vintage saw other restrictions to attack the same problem.
Even though no deck using Gitaxian Probe is dominating Legacy and the two best-performing decks with Gitaxian Probe both rely on Deathrite Shaman, which is being banned, Gitaxian Probe is banned anyway because it was already restricted in Vintage and banned in Modern, so now the formats are consistent.
I mean, I talk about these things far too much, but this is the perfect example of why. Couldn't ask for a better example, really. These decisions matter. This is why I'm harshly critical of the Modern banned list. They ban an innocuous card in that format and I think the decision seems dumb, but hey, I don't play the format, so should I even care? Then they restrict it in Vintage because "we predict that it will have this effect" and they turn out to be verifiably wrong. But that's grounds to ban it in Legacy, because it makes things nice and neat. So now one of my favorite plays in Legacy, Gitaxian Probe into Cabal Therapy, is gone forever. Was it actually a problem? Well no, but you see, it still had yet to "reach a boiling point."
I've already read analysis that we've now set up the march towards an Entomb ban 2 years down the line, so I've got that to look forward to.
The point of Legacy and Vintage is that you can play all the cards. Cards shouldn't be banned because the format is stale. Only truly oppressive cards should be banned. If WotC thinks that the format is stale, then they should first look to unban a card; and second, intentionally push a new card in a supplemental set to shake things up. Disappearing Magic cards by banning them from all constructed play should be a last resort.
I will say this about Gitaxian Probe, Phyrexian mana was clearly a mistake, and not just a power level mistake. It undermines the two essential (according to MARO at least) features of Magic, the mana system and the color pie. Unfortunately, that mistake has been made, so the place to fix it is not the Vintage/Legacy banned/restricted lists.
Phyrexian mana was definitely a mistake. But Legacy is a format full of mistakes. That's the point. The only mistakes I want banned from Legacy are the ones that are so over-the-top that they'd take over the format. And really, there are still some cards currently on the banned list, which have been on the banned list since the inception of the format in 2004, and which have consistently been safe unbans. Earthcraft has been illegal in Legacy for almost 14 years. It could have been safely unbanned at any point along the way. The usual excuse was "WotC doesn't pay attention to Legacy." And that may have been true. But now, they are apparently both paying attention and taking an aggressive approach to banning cards. After all these years, I didn't think Legacy would get the same invasively curated approach to card bans as Modern, because if they were going to do it, they'd have done it years ago. Now I'm worried that they're finally getting around to it.
The Phyrexian mana system was a glimpse into a game that Magic could have been with different foundational premises. Fascinating but ultimately at right angles to the game as they have wanted to continue it, like a Lovecraftian rift into horrifying beauty and madness
Phyrexian mana gets a lot of grief as a mechanic, and I do think it has a very limited scope as to how much it could really be used and still make for interesting gameplay. There are multiple factors at play here and it might not be possible to disentangle that mess. For one thing, a lot of stuff in that block created the atmosphere of being just wrong and made people uncomfortable, but that was also explicitly what WotC were going for. Mark Rosewater has said many times that they wanted the Phyrexians to feel creepy, that they wanted players to feel a hint of fear and dread when going up against them. So I guess they succeeded? Looking strictly at the actual cards, most Phyrexian mana isn't a real problem and some of those cards have interesting applications. And others are victims of circumstances. Birthing Pod drew controversy in Modern because it was Birthing Pod, not because of the Phyrexian mana symbol specifically. Gitaxian Probe drew controversy in Legacy because of a confluence of different things. Really, the only Phyrexian mana spell I personally view as a problem is Mental Misstep, and that's because it throws off the balance of countermagic. Normally, there's a hidden deckbuilding cost to focusing on countermagic: you need to hold mana open to use it, so you need your other spells to be instant-speed in order to accomplish that. The only exceptions, historically, were cards that set you back on card advantage (like Force of Will) or ones that set you back on tempo (like Daze). Using life as a cost isn't truly free. A lot of people underestimate the cost of paying life for something in Magic. But the danger in something like Phyrexian mana is that it's probably bad for gameplay if it can completely circumvent opportunity cost. Circumventing opportunity cost is extremely powerful, and usually it takes a combo to do it. The now-defunct Vintage "GushBond engine" accomplished it, turning Gush into a spell that one could put no mana into, get mana back out of, and draw cards. But if one card, by itself, dodges opportunity cost, that's when I think we run into trouble. Most of the other "free" Phyrexian mana spells are more conditional. You do gets something from them, but it tends to be pretty minor outside the scope of special combo or engine.
I don't know. I think I see a distinct difference, but maybe it's just my bias. Is it feasible to say that Mental Misstep is a problem because of Phyrexian mana, but Gut Shot isn't a problem on that same basis?
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