I started the Banned Series with Bronson back in April. Every week, I built decks around a couple individual cards off the Legacy banned list and we ran them against a mini gauntlet of tier-one decks. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot.
Going in, we weren’t trying to prove anything so much as get a better feel for the cards and how they might work in the current Legacy scene. Naturally, two guys testing various matchups aren’t going to reach the polished lists that the worldwide community would come up with, but it was a step up from pure conjecture, which is what most banned list talk boils down to.
Basically, my goals were:
1) Fun and entertainment.
2) To get some hands-on experience jamming old brokenness into a new world of power creep.
Some weeks were harder than others. We tested cards that have never really been legal in Legacy, cards mostly absent from Vintage, cards that were banned in Extended so fast that an optimal list was never agreed upon.
As the series wound on, there were a number of requests for an article with more developed thoughts and conclusions based on what I learned. While I maintain that the series has its flaws, including a small sample size and finite time for tuning, I do have a better feel for these cards and a follow-up article makes a lot of sense.
The Banned Tournament
I just heard about this, but apparently there was a small six-round Japanese tournament that played with a lot of cards unbanned, and I’ve included some of those lists here to provide balance. Note that since they were playing with multiple cards unbanned, they had to tune for each other and that warps a lot of decisions, like maindecking Chalice of the Void in Goblins.
In case anyone’s interested in the results:
1. Goblin Recruiter
4. Mental Misstep (Sneak and Show)
5. Wheel of Fortune (Belcher)
6. Goblin Recruiter
7. Regular MUD
8. Hermit Druid
The rest of the tournament was made up of:
2 Yawgmoth’s Will
9 Mental Misstep
1 Goblin Recruiter
2 Black Vise
The Mental Misstep decks were all regular Legacy lists with Misstep thrown in, the wonkier cards were all brews, and the Recruiter deck that did the worst was the only one playing Food Chain.
Black Vise did the worst.
Here’s my rating system for safety to unban:
0: Power Nine
1: Absolutely busted, do not unban.
2: Dangerous, potentially format damaging.
3: Looks scary, but probably fine, especially if it gives value to underappreciated archetypes.
4: Potentially competitive, but not busted. Not ban-worthy on power level alone.
5: Either unplayable or close to it.
And fun factor:
0: Made me quit Magic.
1: Makes me want to quit Magic.
2: Miserable to play with and against.
3: Fun for the most part. At least, someone’s having fun.
4: Not just fun but also creates interesting interactions.
5: Skipping meals, sleep, and article deadlines to cast this card.
I had a blast playing with Dragon, and it was way more fun than usual Reanimator. The only reason Dragon didn’t get full marks on the fun factor was because MTGO doesn’t have a demonstrable loop shortcut, and you have to go through each iteration by hand. Getting enough mana to Oona someone out was more painful than combing with Splinter Twin.
I think the main reason people consider it ban-worthy is that the loop draws the game if you don’t have another target for Animate Dead or an instant speed win condition. However, most of the time if Dragon is comboing they probably have a way to win or at least a way to end the combo. Remember that if any creature at all is in either graveyard then they can’t keep the loop going indefinitely.
I’ve seen Dragon draw some games in Vintage, but I’ve never seen it be a bad play experience (though I’m sure it has for someone). I’d much rather move on to a new game than watch an opponent slowly Loam or Top between three irrelevant cards on a stalled board state.
To be fair to Black Vise, I didn’t find a very good shell for it, though I’m unconvinced that such a shell exists. I put it in UR Delver thinking that Stifle and Wasteland might be able to strand cards in the opponent’s hand, with Goblin Guide adding even more cards.
I hated it. I hated flipping it to Delver, I hated drawing it in the late game, and I hated casting it on turn one instead of doing something relevant. It felt like I was running a more situational Vexing Devil. It’s possible that there’s a shell out there for Black Vise, but it’s really hard to imagine it being broken or damaging. If you’re stranding cards in the opponent’s hand, you could probably win with a more consistent threat like Nimble Mongoose or Cursed Scroll. If you’re burning the opponent out, you’re still losing to the cards that burn usually loses to.
These days, a turn one Black Vise is more likely to do three damage than five. When you consider that it gets worse on the draw, worse when your opponent mulligans, and absolutely miserable when you topdeck it, the card is very safe.
Fun: I’m sure someone wants to cast it, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t let them.
While I lost a few games casting Windfall that I might’ve won if I’d taken a different line, I wasn’t really interested in a typical storm draw.
Even when the card was good, it was never ban-worthy good. It has the same problem as Black Vise of being worse on the draw or if the opponent mulligans. It requires you to go all-in, and you have to spend your rituals if you want to get value out of them, which walks straight into Force of Will. If you want to Duress the opponent to ensure Windfall resolves, then congrats you just made your card worse.
If the opponent has a counter, Windfall isn’t resolving. If they don’t have a counter, Windfall gives them a chance to find one. There were a few games where my opponent discarded a pile of lands, and if Windfall had been any other piece of gas I probably would’ve won.
If Windfall was legal, it’d be a sideboard bullet for Burning Wish and that’s about it.
I’ve played some Vintage, but never with or against Goblin Recruiter. Going in, it seemed reasonable to give goblins a buff considering how they’ve fallen off lately.
One reason people argue that Recruiter should stay banned is time concerns, but others say that’s exaggerated and point to cards like Top. I’d heard that it was mostly fetching up the same stacks every time, and for the most part that’s true. It’s especially easy and fun when you have a Food Chain in play. You draw your deck, play everything, and kill them however you want.
Then you factor in the Doomsday problem, those games where you don’t have a clean combo and the opponent is pressuring every one of your resources and you need to plan several turns ahead based on their likely draws, holdings, and current board presence. To do that accurately, it takes time, and between all the shuffling and triggers goblins already takes more time than most decks.
Time issues aside, the card is probably a little too good. With the Food Chain combo, I was racing Show and Tell. Without it, I was still combining Recruiter with Vial or Cavern of Souls to set up a never ending chain of Goblin Ringleaders, making it impossible for a fair deck to win.
Alternative list by Takabehiroshi
Ah, the one people still blame me for. I had a blast testing Survival again. The old lines, figuring out how to maximize board presence and damage with a limited amount of green mana, came flooding back.
Unfortunately, it’s just too good. Even with more maindeck graveyard and enchantment hate than was around during Survival’s dominance, you can still tutor up an answer to graveyard hate and get value in response to enchantment destruction. The end result is that the fair decks just lose to Survival over and over.
Know how people complain about True-Name Nemesis being an unkillable 3/1? Well Survival tutored up a pack of unkillable 4/3s with haste for a single green each. If that wasn’t good enough, it could win with Necrotic Ooze or cheat a legendary fatty into play.
With Mind Twist, I was looking to make it large, fast, and consistent without investing too many resources, so I settled on a Tezzeret port. The list itself was a little loose since Grim Monolith doesn’t belong in Tezz, but I wanted to go turn one Grim Monolith into turn two Mind Twist for five, which happened a few times (and got countered each time).
When I wasn’t casting it for high amounts, it did a fine Hymn to Tourach impression off of a sol land and black source, and I’m sure some decks with lots of colorless mana would play the card if it was unbanned. This seemed promising. In general, I’m all for giving people reasons to play colors that aren’t blue.
The question is, what would these Mind Twist decks prey on? The decks that are strongest against it all have Force of Will and soft counters. If Twist ever became popular, the blue decks would board Misdirection for the ultimate blowout.
As for the fun factor, making it so one player doesn’t get to play magic isn’t really ideal.
Legacy would be fine if Mind Twist were unbanned, but I don’t think it’d benefit.
When Flash was dominant, creatures were worse and graveyard hate sucked. Tempo decks were beating down with Werebear instead of Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets. Now, with Deathrite as a maindeck card and Grafdigger’s Cage as a popular sideboard option, I figured Flash might be fine.
While playing the deck, I felt favored in pretty much every game one and then post board was about whether I could win through graveyard hate. Kinda like dredge but with tutors, cantrips, and Force of Will. So strictly better than dredge.
I had a tough time deciding whether Show and Tell or Flash was the more busted card. Not because Flash is fine, but because Show and Tell is that good. When Flash wants to beat a Grafdigger’s Cage, it needs to spend resources on finding and casting a bounce spell. When reanimator wants to beat a Cage, it boards in Show and Tell and continues doing broken things.
Alternative list by Shintaro Kurata
The Shambleshark is probably a clerical error, though it could be a troll slot or maybe a way to turn Summoner’s Pact into a blue card for Force of Will. Although, if that was the case I’m sure he’d play a more castable card like Coiling Oracle.
Oath didn’t test very well. Part of that was my rough port of a vintage deck, but even when Oath resolved and I survived to get my creature I was unimpressed. Getting a giant fatty isn’t necessarily going to win the game when everyone’s playing a miser Karakas.
The main advantage to Oath over other forms of cheating a creature into play is that it only takes one card, and you don’t have to have a fatty in hand or in your graveyard.
However, the restrictions it places on your deck outweigh the benefits, and I’m not talking about giving your opponent an army of 1/1s with Forbidden Orchard. In Vintage, it’s easy to build a combo/control hybrid without any creatures. However, do you really want to be playing a disruptive BUG deck in Legacy without Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, or Baleful Strix?
Legacy doesn’t have the tutors that vintage has, meaning you have to run cards like Enlightened Tutor if you want to find Oath consistently. You can hybridize it with Show and Tell, but then you end up with a worse Sneak and Show deck.
Rather than port a vintage list, I should’ve started with an existing Legacy control shell:
This deck looks much closer to what someone would actually play if Oath were legal. I’m not sure if it’s particularly good, but at least it does something when it isn’t Oathing.
After playing with the card, I think that’s a bad comparison. No one’s replacing Griselbrand with Bargain. Rather, it offers a much more robust draw engine for storm. For that deck, eight mana was too much, but six is fine due to cards like Cabal Ritual.
There are a few benefits to having Bargain over Ad Nauseam, including knowing exactly how much life to spend, but the main one is that you don’t have to watch your curve and can play a full four Bargains. If the opponent counters the first one, just cantrip into another. The end result is a much more explosive and resilient combo deck.
Because we can run as high a curve as they want, we can afford to max out on maindeck Tendrils of Agony, making the natural Tendrils more likely and increasing the deck’s resiliency to countermagic.
The biggest mistake I made in this video set was going for the early win without protection. If I’d played a better storm game, cantripping for discard to clear the way, then Bargain would’ve had a much more dominating performance.
This card isn’t safe at all.
A few people suggested High Tide combo as a decent shell for Drain, since that’s a deck that will always have blue mana, has a few different sinks for colorless mana, and runs countermagic already. I thought that was a good idea, and went to High Tide expert Alix Hatfield to figure out what role the card would play in the deck.
Hey Alix, I need the advice of a High Tide master. If you could cut four cards for Mana Drain, what would they be?
I don’t think its obvious that tide would play a full set of Drains. Utilizing extra colorless is difficult when you aren’t going off (limited to casting Merchant Scrolls and Cunning Wishes at a discount, basically). Though you would probably include something powerful as a Wish target like Fact or Fiction.
I suppose it’s more dead draws when you are going off, too.
Using Drain mana to accelerate Spiral is powerful, but you still need 3 or 4 lands in play. Still, using Drain to play a low-tide Spiral would be useful in some matchups (like against Mana Drain control decks).
Drain is also an interesting protection spell offensively, since the first one you play in a turn can net you mana in your second main phase.
Anyway, without changing the structure of the deck too much, I think there are 2 or 3 flexible slots that could become Drain. The last time i played the deck i had a pair of Swan Songs to complement the Forces. Those could be drains, but honestly Song might be better because of its efficiency.
I think Drain is actually a very difficult card to break in Legacy. Everyone’s curve is so compact.
It’s an interesting question. I feel like it’d be wrong not to play drain in a monoblue, sorcery-speed combo deck, but it just doesn’t seem that great there.
The decks that can afford to run counterspells don’t have that many mana sinks because they have to run so much disruption and filtering to function.
I dunno, I feel like Jace has given the traditional Drain deck the perfect mana sink.
I thought a Stoneforge Mystic shell with some Jaces would be pretty good, but it just ended up being regular Counterspell pretty much all of the time. Potentially playing a Jace a turn early isn’t that exciting when you could run Deathrite Shaman and for sure play it a turn early.
Really? Well, you can still play Deathrite, right? Drain does seem pretty incredible with equipment.
That’s what I thought too, but if you’re draining pre Stoneforge you need to get a huge amount of mana for it to be relevant, and then half the time Stoneforge would cheat whatever into play anyway.
If your Stoneforges are going unmolested you’re probably winning regardless.
Definitely, so Drain has this narrow window of post Stoneforge but after they kill it, assuming you even have a spell to counter and get a relevant amount of mana.
I do think that abusing Drain takes some extra work in-game. Like, when playing Counterspell in Legacy its often fine to just hold it up on turn two and slam on whatever they’re doing. Playing Drain the same way will make it less broken.
That’s a fair point.
There’s probably a trap there though. Working too hard to get Drain to do something explosive can lead to other problems. So maybe it isn’t that great. I’ve never tested it in modern Legacy, and I played very little with it in old 1.5.
One reason it’s good in vintage is because you have all these tutors. So you don’t need a critical mass of ways to abuse the mana because you can just always have your one or two ways, tutoring up whatever fits the amount of mana you’re getting.
Hmm, yeah. The Legacy equivalent would be something like Green Sun’s Zenith.
Yeah Zenith doesn’t seem bad, though if it’s the best thing to do with Drain mana…
Haha I guess Draining into a green monster sounds like the opposite of broken. The most obvious broken use of drain is in Show and Tell/Dream Halls decks, right?
I could see it being good, though you can’t cast it off sol lands, and double blue stops you from cantripping that turn. Ideally I think you’d be winning or setting up a win on turn two.
I suppose it would be fairly obvious to the opponent if you had Drain mana open.
Not sure disrupting the opponent to maybe gain some mana is worth the slots, especially when other disruption spells like Flusterstorm are so much more efficient on the turn you’re going off. Like you mentioned with Swan Song in High Tide.
So you think Drain is too slow for most of Legacy’s combo decks? It is certainly clunky, which is why 2cc counterspells are never considered.
I thought if it fit anywhere it’d be High Tide.
Okay, fair enough. Are you going to argue that drain could be unbanned?
Like I said, it’s a regular or slightly better Counterspell most of the time, and Counterspell isn’t that playable these days. The main problem is the hype it’d cause and people thinking they’d need the card and the price going nuts.
I agree with that. Availability would be crappy. I think that was a big reason it got banned initially and why it has stayed banned.
Legacy does have other cards like that. Candelabras and such.
It’s getting harder to argue price as a ban criterion when Tabernacle is 700 and legal, but the price of drain would probably surpass tabernacle’s at first. People see that as a playset-type card.
Interesting. Many thanks for the discussion, by the way. You were a big help.
Cool, you’re very welcome.
We went into these thinking they’d be busted, and they sure were. Nothing to see here.
Someone pointed out how Academy would work well with Candelabra, which was an absurd oversight on my part. Here’s an updated list:
Ari Lax had a list with fewer lands, more moxen, and more tutors for Academy, but I think that leads to a more all-in approach and an inevitably weaker matchup against countermagic. One thing I liked about his list was that he was running Grim Monoliths and Voltaic Key, making for a better Candelabra deck.
Mind over Matter is a repeatable way to untap Academy, but that amount of mana is rarely necessary. Similarly, Helm of Awakening could combine with Top and Future Sight to let me draw my whole deck, but I found that I usually have enough mana to repeatedly draw with Top as much as I wanted, making infinite draw redundant.
There were some cards I skipped or didn’t get around to for various reasons. Mental Misstep was banned recently enough that most people remember it. It wasn’t particularly fun to play with or against, and it’d be even more miserable with Snapcaster Mage.
Earthcraft is worth testing for someone, but that someone isn’t me. Best case, it makes Enchantress a little better. Worst case, it makes it too good. Either way, I only care so much as I care about Enchantress, which is very little.
Memory Jar, by Ari Lax
While I haven’t played a game with this deck, I think it’s immensely clever and if I wanted to break Memory Jar this is where I’d start. I like the Liliana’s Caress is tutorable via Enlightened Tutor and only needs a couple of Jar activations to represent lethal. If you’ve drawn your opponent into an Abrupt Decay or something, you have a good chance of being able to recur it with a random Second Sunrise.
Being an artifact, and thus recur-able with cards like Goblin Welder, is the main reason Jar is on the banned list while Time Spiral is legal.
Still, considering how reasonable Spiral has been, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jar turned out to be fine too.
Hermit, by Hayashimasahito
This is exactly how I’d build the deck. No-nonsense and to the point, maximizing consistency, power, and disruption.
The plan of the deck is tempting, with all of the discard and tutors for Hermit Druid it feels like the one-card combo might be really good. On the other hand, it has the same problem as Oath in needing a full turn before it can do anything, and in Legacy a turn is a long time. Even after a turn one Duress, turn two Hermit Druid the opponent has had two turns of cantripping and has probably found some kind of answer.
Fastbond, by Tanakahisaya
Death by Piranha Marsh is not a good way to go.
While I like this deck, I definitely would’ve gone a different way with it. With blue, you get access to cantrips, meaning you find Fastbond faster, and Tolaria West could serve as a nice tutor. On the other hand, turn one Fastbond into land-land Sinkhole doesn’t seem fair at all, and it should be a fairly common opener with this build.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that the banned series took off. Somehow, I made it my job to test broken cards in formats that don’t actually exist, and I loved every minute of it.
If you need to get your #bannedseries fix, there’s a final set coming out next week, and a Modern version in the works.