Bans and restrictions are one of the most popular and most controversial discussion topics for good reason. Particularly for Eternal formats, B&R announcements are more likely than new printings to cause seismic metagame shifts. Furthermore, the high price point for Legacy and Vintage mean that it’s inherently risky to make moves that can cause players to lose a significant amount of money. Thanks to the Chronicles reprint debacle, we have a Reserved List. Wizards has remained firm in their commitment to that promise, and have demonstrated through their careful reprints that they care a lot about the secondary market and its effects on player satisfaction. Nobody wants to wake up with a $1,000+ hole in their wallet, and while some might argue that they would prefer to lose some money to make the format more accessible, Wizards has erred on the side of caution.
Overall, Wizards has done a good job of managing the Eternal B&R list. In Legacy, mistakes like Mental Misstep and Treasure Cruise have been corrected quickly, and they waited as long as they realistically could before banning Sensei’s Divining Top. In Vintage, things have been rockier, and the specter of Mishra’s Workshop has continually forced R&D to contort and tiptoe around the elephant in the room. Few people disagree that Mishra’s Workshop is the most powerful card in the format, yet R&D is reluctant to enforce a restriction.
Personally, I agree with that decision. If Vintage were a Magic-Online-only format, we would have seen a restriction a while ago. To have the smallest restricted list possible, Shops should be restricted and cards like Thorn of Amethyst and Lodestone Golem can return. But the price point of Mishra’s Workshop has been the reason to hold off. Perhaps even more importantly, Vintage is a format with fans who have played the game since its inception. Shops is a pillar of the format, and it’s a pillar that deserves to stay, because enough people have put their heart and soul into their Vintage Shops decks, even when they weren’t necessarily tier 1. The Forino brothers, Roland Chang, and many more, have played the archetype for many years as an alternative to the various blue decks and Dredge. Vintage would lose a huge part of its flavor if Shops was restricted. Prison strategies are rarely tier 1 in Magic, and while they are not the most “fun” to play against, having them be a viable option in at least one format makes sense to me.
Before I go into what I would recommend for B&R changes, I will establish what I perceive to be Wizards’ guiding philosophy behind managing the B&R list for Eternal formats.
- Price matters. Wizards cares about the secondary market and will try not to disrupt it. Corollary: expensive cards like Imperial Seal and Mana Drain might be okay from a power level perspective for Legacy, but I don’t see them coming off the list anytime soon because they could significantly increase the price of the format. This might change as they push more reprints, but that is where we are today.
- History matters. Brainstorm and Mishra’s Workshop are both problematic cards, but their heritage in Magic history earn them a place in their respective formats.
- Size matters. Other things being equal, Wizards would prefer to ban the enabler and reduce the size of the B&R list. See Survival of the Fittest, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Mystical Tutor. Corollary: cards that won’t see much play should probably come off the list. See Yawgmoth’s Bargain in Vintage, Worldgorger Dragon, and Land Tax in Legacy.
- Diversity matters. This might seem obvious, but “diversity” as an idea can mean different things. There’s strategic diversity, which means having the ability to play a variety of different archetypes successfully. There’s card diversity, which means having more distinct cards seeing play. Then there’s color diversity, which means having a roughly balanced color wheel. Currently, Modern is significantly more diverse on all three of these axes than Legacy or Vintage, but I see no problem with that as #1 and #2 don’t apply to Modern as much as they apply to Legacy and Vintage. So of the three diversity subtypes, I would rank them:
- Strategic Diversity
- Card Diversity
- Color Diversity
- Power matters. If it’s one of the most powerful or broken cards left in the format, it should perhaps be considered for a ban.
All right, so now we have established the grounds for making B&R changes. You may disagree with the criteria I listed above, but I believe these are Wizards’ criteria and that they are reasonable to look at as a framework for what we can expect to happen in the future.
Let’s talk about unbannings first, as they are generally more popular and less controversial.
Combing through the list, this is how I would rank the candidates.
Tier 0: No-Brainers
I don’t believe either of these cards would see play. Mind Twist is inferior to storm in Dark Ritual decks, and Grim Monolith decks are so weak right now that I wouldn’t mind if they saw a boost. My guess is that it would be like Black Vise and Land Tax in that people would try it, but it would just be unplayable. The same goes for Earthcraft. There may exist some sort of Squirrel’s Nest or Enchantress deck with it, but I doubt it. Let ‘em go free.
Tier 1: Go Ahead
Windfall’s power level is low in Storm decks, and it gets worse if your opponent is on the play or mulligans. It’s not particularly fun to play against so I would be fine with it staying on the list. I think it would see a bit of play in Burning Wish Storm sideboards, but I wouldn’t expect it to be a major player.
Tier 2: Dicey, But Possibly OK
I wouldn’t unban either of these, but that’s my personal preference. Both cards are generally played in non-interactive decks, and I would personally dislike High Tide as a tier 1 option because I think many players would go to time and I prefer shorter rounds. I don’t think either card would create a tier 1 deck that consistently beats the Grixis decks that are on top today.
Tier 3: Don’t Do It
Recruiter is a time sink and a 1-card combo, which is a big no-no in my book. The same goes for Survival of the Fittest. Yes, Deathrite Shaman and Surgical Extraction see a lot of play now, but Survival can be built in a way that it doesn’t rely on the combo. Much like Birthing Pod in Modern, I think Survival would be tier 1 and be nigh unbeatable when it draws Survival, and still a good deck when it does not. Imperial Seal and Mana Drain are too expensive, and Memory Jar is another non-interactive combo card that is more dangerous than Yawgmoth’s Bargain.
Pros of banning Brainstorm
- Restricts color diversity.
- Restricts card diversity.
- Most powerful card left in the format.
Cons of banning Brainstorm
- History of the card. It’s been a defining factor of Legacy and many players are really enthused to play it.
- Strategic diversity is still possible.
Personally, I’m on board with keeping Brainstorm around. Legacy is about playing powerful cards, and it’s the last bastion for Brainstorm. I say it stays. We’ve seen a lot of non-Brainstorm decks crop up and be successful in Legacy, and while they might not be able to sustain their success like Brainstorm decks, at least they are a viable option.
Pros for banning Deathrite Shaman
- It’s the most powerful non-essential card to the format. I consider Wasteland and Force of Will to be the two essential cards that regulate combo decks and greedy mana bases.
- Strategic diversity: Currently, Deathrite “good stuff” decks are the best decks, and there’s no efficient way to attack Deathrite Shaman. It simply does too much for too low a cost.
- Color Diversity – Deathrite breaks the color wheel in half. There are many non-green decks that have access to permanent mana acceleration, and while it increases the “number” of colors that see play, the traditional strength of green is hurt by the existence of Deathrite Shaman. Why play Noble Hierarch when Deathrite Shaman is an option? I know I wouldn’t.
- There are cards that are “good” against Deathrite Shaman, such as Rest in Peace. But playing Rest in Peace means that you miss out on cards like Snapcaster Mage.
Cons for banning Deathrite Shaman
- Unfair graveyard strategies might see a lot more play. They would be well positioned at first, but the tools are available to make sure they don’t overtake the format.
Legacy is a format for powerful cards, and there aren’t any fair creatures on the banned list.I’m for a ban because Legacy has been stale for a very long time. I don’t like that Deathrite Shaman breaks the color pie, and I would welcome some change and innovation. People are tired of Grixis decks being everywhere, which is part of the reason so many people bought into the “Popeye Stompy” hype.
Pros for banning Gitaxian Probe
- It’s essentially free. Chalice of the Void, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Lava Spike punish it to a certain extent, but in general Probe doesn’t do anything good for the format and allows decks that play it to play a completely different game at basically no cost whatsoever.
Cons for banning Gitaxian Probe
- It really doesn’t see that much play.
I’m definitely not for a ban at this time, but if it starts to see significant amounts of play, it could get the axe. Who knew Phyrexian mana was fundamentally broken?
Personally, I don’t see any unrestrictions now (assuming no Shops restriction, etc). Other than perhaps Brainstorm/Ponder and possibly Lotus Petal, the cards there all break the game in a way that is too powerful.
I wouldn’t restrict Mishra’s Workshop. That being said, Shops is still too powerful and I would restrict Sphere of Resistance. I’ve played a lot of Shops recently, and a Sphere restriction would open up the ability for more blue decks to run Energy Flux, which I have had a lot of trouble beating as a Shops player. I would restrict Sphere of Resistance and see how the metagame shakes out.
Mental Misstep would be the other card I would target. The best blue decks play a slew of 1-for-1s like Mental Misstep and then create an advantage with cards like Gush, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Thoughtcast, and Thirst for Knowledge. Mental Misstep makes this “Turbo Xerox” strategy a bit too powerful, much like what cantrips did, so it’s time to say good riddance.
Decks like Storm or Dredge may benefit from this restriction, but Vintage also has the tools to keep those decks in check.
I’m looking forward to the comments. What cards did I miss? What cards was I off-base on? Chime in below!