MTGTheSource.com is a dedicated Legacy strategy forum, and recently the Banned/Restricted thread has been on fire with debate over the prospect of banning Brainstorm. It achieved an astounding 64/64 slots in the most recent Premier IQ, and 32/32 slots in the most recent Legacy GP. SCG Open Worcester’s Brainstorm record was a bit more “reasonable” as it was slotted into 26 of the Top 32 decks. Zealots from both the pro-Brainstorm and anti-Brainstorm camps are utterly convinced that they are in the right, as internet fanatics are often wont to do. I decided to take some of the arguments from both sides and look at them. I don’t think there is necessarily an obvious right answer, but it is definitely a question worth considering.
- Blue decks have been the most successful decks. The current online metagame percentage is at 77% while my paper metagame analysis puts it at 72%. This number is absurdly high and illustrates that Brainstorm gives blue decks a huge advantage by adding unparalleled consistency.
- Blue vs. non-blue metagame diversity. If Brainstorm were banned, fair blue decks would have a significantly smaller advantage vs. fair non-blue decks. This seems like it will reasonably promote metagame diversity.
- It allows cards like Dig Through Time to be played as a 4-of too easily. Delve cards have the drawback of being clunky if you draw too many of them, but being able to Brainstorm extras away mitigates this disadvantage. Overall, Brainstorm enables more situational cards to see play.
- The format has been reduced to pro-Brainstorm and anti-Brainstorm decks. The non-Brainstorm decks currently succeeding are Death and Taxes, Lands, Elves, and MUD. Of these, D&T and MUD can reasonably be classified as “anti-Brainstorm” as they play cards like Thalia and Chalice of the Void to make Brainstorm bad. The other two decks, Lands and Elves, attack the Legacy metagame in unique ways and find other ways to maintain consistency (Gamble and Green Sun’s Zenith). If there were better cards to reduce consistency in other colors, the metagame would be a lot more color-diverse.
- Lack of consistency in other colors.To think that Sylvan Plug (a mono-green Chalice of the Void deck) plays a full 4 Sylvan Library in order to get some of that consistency does make me conclude that the other colors are, without a doubt, worse off. Furthermore, even Green Sun’s Zenith and Gamble place significant restrictions on deckbuilding unlike Brainstorm, whose only restriction is that you need to play lands everyone wants for mana-fixing anyway.
- The card is inherently fun and skill-testing, and it helps to greatly reduce variance. This definitely favors experienced and strong players.
- Eternal formats are fundamentally a “race to the top.” As the card pool gets wider and more cards are printed, there is definitely a “survival of the fittest” effect where better cards are just going to see more play. Brainstorm is that best card right now, and as best cards go, it’s not that oppressive. The logic that “I want to play as many different cards as possible” simply doesn’t make sense in the context of an Eternal format.
- Brainstorm isn’t a very limiting card. It allows people to play with great strategic diversity. While Miracles is the top deck right now, it is still beatable.
- Banning Brainstorm might lead to a rise in decks like Belcher. While this effect might occur, most metagames will self-adjust and Force of Will decks will become more popular. Preordain’s power level is far lower than Brainstorm but still very Legacy playable.
- “Diversity” is not synonymous with “fun.” In my opinion, the primary criteria for a card’s inclusion or banning should be whether or not it makes the format fun. We all play the game for different surface reasons, but the ultimate reason that anyone plays is because they ENJOY it. Formats that had top decks like Affinity and Caw Blade were inherently unfun for a lot of the Magic community because people would show up and get beat by the same deck over and over. So, I would agree that lack of diversity can definitely cause lack of fun. As a counterpoint though, the current Modern metagame is quite diverse, both strategically and color-wise. Yet, I don’t find Modern to be particularly enjoyable because a lot of games come down to sideboard cards or skewed matchups. Just like how Modern doesn’t need to become Legacy-lite, Legacy doesn’t need to become as color diverse as Modern to be fun. It still offers significant strategic diversity, and new cards entering the pool have definitely affected recent metagames, so you can’t argue that Legacy is completely stale either.
- Banning Brainstorm would cause people to quit Legacy. This is a frequent argument that I hear, and I am very skeptical. People have invested thousands of dollars and countless hours into this game, are you really going to quit just because a card was banned?
I’m sure there are more arguments out there, but I believe I have captured most of the important ones. I don’t necessarily think there is a single right answer here, and my approach has always been a data centric one. I would suggest organizing with your local Legacy communities and perhaps have a mock league where you actually sit down and play some blue decks without Brainstorm and see if you prefer the format that way.
Ultimately, Legacy attendance is still at an all-time high and I see no reason to mess with the status quo until the format genuinely becomes “unfun” for most of the crowd and causes dwindling player attendance. Nobody really has a definitive answer, so please be respectful of everybody else’s opinions, particularly if they are different from yours.
My first proposal for a fix would be to print new cards in a Commander product, particularly cards that either add consistency to other colors (like Sylvan Library, Faithless Looting, etc.) or cards that are good against blue decks and against combo (Thalia). Non-blue decks traditionally struggle against combo due to not having Force of Will, so by printing cards like Thalia that are good against Brainstorm and combo, there is ample opportunity for other colors and strategies to share the spotlight.
My second proposal would be to ban some other oppressive cards within blue that aren’t particularly fun and have pushed out some other colors/strategies. The top of the list includes Show and Tell, Delver of Secrets, and Dig Through Time. Show and Tell is not a fun card to lose to, Delver of Secrets makes non-blue aggro decks pointless, and Dig Through Time is just too powerful in conjunction with cantrips. Dig Through Time might be closest to the chopping block as it is the 4th-most-played card in Legacy (behind Brainstorm, Force of Will, and Ponder) and made a non-interactive, difficult-to-hate combo deck (OmniTell) tier 1. Similarly, I think Miracles is a bit too overpowered right now so I think banning Sensei’s Divining Top or Terminus might make sense too.
That’s all I’ve got. Please be respectful of everybody else’s opinions, particularly if they are different from yours. Other than that, chime in below and let me know what I missed!