Tag Archives: bannings

Why Eye of Ugin is the Ban

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We are just a few days away now from what will become a major turning point in Modern Magic’s history. For the past three months we’ve been living in “Eldrazi Winter,” and as much as I don’t love naming every period in Magic “winter” — a reference to the “combo winter” of old — it’s hard to argue that the term doesn’t apply to where Modern has existed since the release of Oath of the Gatewatch.

The Eldrazi decks, starting with the colorless and blue-red versions that took the Pro Tour by storm, quickly became dominant in Modern, a format ripe for the picking after the ban of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom left it without some of its former pillars. No matter how you feel about those bans, there’s no question that Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was a wide-open affair, and a wide variety of decks showed up for the event.

Unfortunately, none of those decks could stand up to Eldrazi. As our tentacled overlords began to lay waste to the format around them, it became increasingly important to not just have a plan to beat the rest of the format, but to have a plan for the mirror. After all, as deck after deck tried and failed to down the Eldrazi menace, planning for the mirror became the most defining part of any given Eldrazi deck, whether it was colorless, blue-red, red-green or the omnipotent white-blue versions.

As the format tried and failed to push out Eldrazi, the calls for a ban heated up. When the triple-Grand Prix weekend of Melbourne, Bologna and Detroit saw five of the six Finals deck turn out to be White-Blue Eldrazi — and with the deck making up more than 40% of the Top 100 Day 1 decks at all three events and winning on Day 2 at a percentage rate similar to Standard CawBlade pre-ban — the writing was on the wall, and a post-event interview with Aaron Forsythe all but confirmed changes would be coming in the form of a banlist update.

Thus led to the next great debate, and the topic of today’s article: what piece will be banned?

Before I go any further, I want to make a few disclosures. First, I have no inside knowledge of what will be banned, and though I am fairly confident in my ability to read Wizards’ tendencies with bans there is no guarantee of what they will do.

Eye of Ugin

It’s also worth noting that I’ve been on record since the very beginning stating Eye of Ugin should be banned. Long before the Pro Tour or any inkling of the actual decklists to come, I believed Eye of Ugin would become too unhealthy for the format to be allowed to exist, and you can hear my reasoning then during a guest appearance on the podcast Masters of Modern. This earned me the designation of “town crier” during an interview with BDM during GP Detroit coverage, but considering the fallout from Eldrazi it’s a title I’ll wear proudly in this circumstance.

Why Eye will be Banned

It’s Unhealthy

Now the argument about the “health” of a card is something that can go miles deep. After all, “health” and “power level” don’t always go hand in hand, though they often do.

Consider, though, Simian Spirit Guide, another card oft-talked about in regards to bans. It’s not like the card is too “powerful” on its own. While something like Jace, the Mind Sculptor is on the banlist because of how game-impacting it is on its own, Simian Spirit Guide is the opposite. Unless your plan is to beat down with an overcosted 2/2, it actually doesn’t do anything by itself. It’s rarely in “very good” decks, much less oppressive ones, so there’s no argument for it being too powerful as a card.

Simian Spirit Guide

But is Simian Spirit Guide “healthy?” Without derailing the topic of today’s article too much, I consider this the post child of “unhealthy” based on a simple criteria: Does this card further strategies that improve the play experience for a reasonable amount of Magic players? In the case of Spirit Guide, it does nothing but turn a Turn 3 deck into a Turn 2 deck in the vast majority of archetypes it sees play in. In this sense, it’s incredibly binary — it’s either incredibly good, or laughably bad, and I would argue this does not improve the average play experience. While I’m not making an argument today to ban Guide, I do believe it exemplifies many of the qualities that make a card unhealthy in a given metagame.

Eye of Ugin falls too far on the “unhealthy” side for me, though not terribly far from center. The card is very binary in all senses — it either is the best card in your hand or the worst, depending on how many copies you draw. You either play it with Eldrazi or it does nothing. There’s really no in-between with Eye, and feast-or-famine is not a particular healthy way to play games.

It is Ridiculously High Variance

This is a natural progression of the “health” argument, so consider for a moment the following card.

Variance Incarnate

Instant

1

Flip a coin. On heads, you win the game. On tails, you lose the game.

This is a “fair” card, Krark’s Thumb notwithstanding. After all, since you win or lose exactly half of the time on average, it’s the epitome of balanced. But is that amount of variance something you consider enjoyable when you sit down for a match of Magic?

Eye of Ugin cuts too close to that extreme. If it’s in your opening hand and you have the famed Eldrazi Mimic-into-Reality Smasher start, you’re going to win an extremely high percentage of your games. On the other, plenty of people have made the argument that because it’s bad in multiples certain hands and draws become “auto-lose” because you drew too many copies of your Legendary land.

Again, in theory this can be balanced (even if it hasn’t been in practice). If the draws where you have the dream are offset by the draws where you lose to drawing too many copies, you can have a deck that isn’t “too powerful” for Modern.

But, again, I’ll ask: is that how you want to play Magic?

It creates more mana than any other card in Modern

Legacy is a high-power format where there are multiple lands like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors that exist as “sol” lands to provide more than a single mana a turn. In that context, Eye seems fair.

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Modern is not that. This is a format where mana — the thing that hall of famer Zvi Mowshowitz said is always the place to start with a format — has been tightly controlled. Seething Song is banned. Rite of Flame is banned. Chrome Mox is banned. Cloudpost is banned. Summer Bloom is banned.

In a given game in the Eldrazi deck, Eye makes more mana than any of those (with the possible exception of Cloudpost). Any hand containing Eye and multiple Eldrazi Mimics or Endless Ones represents 4-6 mana all in the neat little package of one land drop, not even counting the interaction with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth that allows Eye to actually produce three mana for an Eldrazi. That’s simply playing a different game than the other decks have access to.

I’ll just let PV handle this one

That pretty much nails it. There’s nothing wrong with explosive starts; after all, decks like Goblins can kill as early as Turn 3, but that explosiveness is supposed to come with a tradeoff. Fast starts are often punished by weak lategames — there’s nothing as bad as drawing Llanowar Elves or Frenzied Goblin off the top when you really need a card that does something powerful.

Eye not only dodges this problem; it completely inverts it. Not only do Eldrazi players root for an Eye of Ugin in their opening hand, they root to either draw it on Turn 8 if they don’t have one, or to draw the lands that allow them to activate. It gets the best of both worlds in a way that no other deck in Modern does, and that’s a role that nothing but Eye of Ugin can fill. When a card simultaneously allows access to both the most explosive starts and the most conisistent lategame, we have a problem.

Banning Eye helps Control emerge

This may one of the more contentious points I’ll make in this article, but it’s one I truly believe after playing thousands of matches of Modern over the last few years.

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Eye of Ugin is a big part of the reason traditional control decks don’t exist.

I know people like to point to the absence of Force of Will and Counterspell — and the lack of Force especially does have an impact — but it’s one that can be handled. Mana Leak and Remand aren’t Counterspell, but they aren’t bad, either. We have seen, at times, control decks like Jeskai or traditional white-blue pop up and have success, but those times are few and far between.

Remand

A major reason? Eye of Ugin takes the traditional domain of the Control deck — the late game — and gives that power to the Eye player. Eldrazi decks can spam out huge amounts of power early in the game thanks to Eye – that’s something Control can plan for. Eye can provide a stream consistent threats late game – that’s something Control can plan for.

But it can’t plan for both. And you can’t build a Control deck that can reliably beat a Turn 3 Karn Liberated while also beating neverending Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or an untouchable Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in the late game.

Yes, I’m talking about Tron. A lot of people have pointed to its use of Eye of Ugin as a reason Eye won’t be banned, but the truth is Tron’s use of Eye of Ugin has been suppressing Control in deckbuilding for a very long time. The fact that the Turn 3 Karn deck will have a worse lategame after an Eye of Ugin banning is a feature, not a bug.

They Always ban the Engine

They banned Birthing Pod, not Kitchen Finks. They banned Second Sunrise, not one of the eggs. They banned Cloudpost, not Emrakul or Vesuva. They banned Hypergenesis, not Violent Outburst. They banned Splinter Twin, not Deceiver Exarch. They banned Stoneforge Mystic, not Batterskull.

I could take the analogy back to other formats, and the trend would continue. They always ban the engine that makes a “broken” deck run, not a cog in that engine. While you could ban Eldrazi Mimic or Thought-Knot Seer, those are simply the beneficiaries of the engine that is Eye of Ugin.

What it Won’t Be

I hope you’ll agree I’ve made the case why Eye of Ugin specifically should be banned, not simply claimed it was the only option. Of course, other people feel that something else should go, name Eldrazi Temple or even something else. I want to touch briefly on these other options.

Eldrazi Temple

This is the big one people have claimed should go before Eye. After all, Eye loses its wielder some games if too many are drawn, and doesn’t help cast big threats as much as multiple Eldrazi Temple do.

While this would certainly power down the deck quite a bit — possibly even moreso than an Eye of Ugin banning — I don’t believe this is the correct answer, and it goes back to the bit on the “health” of a given card. Yes, Temple may be powerful in the Eldrazi decks, but is also more healthy than Eye.

Image

Think about it. Eye of Ugin has this huge variance attached to it; sometimes it creates six mana on Turn 1, and sometimes it loses games when you draw multiples. If Temple is banned — which may or may not be enough to “kill” the deck, which is beside the point anyway — the Eldraiz decks will become even more dependent on that Eye of Ugin variance, just hoping to draw the perfect opening hands all day long and being heavily rewarded when they do so and heavily punished when they don’t.

Contrast this with Eldrazi Temple. It does the exact same thing every time it is cast, and will never make more than two mana the turn it is played. This increases interaction, since things like Ghost Quarter actually can interact with the times where the card would represent more than two mana over the course of the game. Eye of Ugin, on the other hand, can come down on Turn 1 and immediately spew out 4-6 mana worth of creatures before the opponent can interact. Decks can plan around Eldrazi Temple and its one-mana boost to Eldrazi, whereas it’s much more difficult to plan for a deck that sometimes makes 4-6 mana on the first turn. The goal of any healthy format is meaningful interaction, and Eldrazi Temple encourages that interaction over several turns. Eye of Ugin does not.

Anything else

Banning Eldrazi Mimic or Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher to hurt Eldrazi is like banning Boros Garrison to hurt Amulet Bloom: it may work to lower the power level, but it doesn’t address the root problem (For those who don’t realize it, Amulet Bloom can’t have its nut Slayers’ Stronghold combo without Boros Garrison). Why treat the symptoms instead of the disease?

Thought-Knot Seer

From a larger game design standpoint, making decisions like this actually sets a dangerous precedent. What happens when you ban one of the peripheral pieces to lower the power level of a deck (say, Deceiver Exarch), and then the deck finds a way to fill the hole and picks up right back where it left off? While this won’t happen every time if you take this approach, it will happen some of the time, and then Wizards is in the unenviable position of having to go back and try again to fix the problem. Imagine if Exarch had been banned but Twin simply adapted to play Bounding Krasis and kept plugging right along? Given their goals with that banning, Wizards would have had to go back and ban another piece, or possibly Splinter Twin itself. And if Splinter Twin eventually ends up on the banlist, why does Deceiver Exarch belong there? Do they then unban Exarch?

That’s a lot of uncertainty that undermines consumer confidence, and is entirely avoidable simply by peeling the band-aid off at once and getting it over with. It’s also why they banned Dig Through Time alongside Treasure Cruise. Sure, most Modern decks weren’t exactly jamming Dig very much, but what if they just replaced Cruise with Dig after the ban and kept warping the format? Then you have players who thought the bannings were over with get punished a second time around when Wizards makes another run back at the deck.

That’s why you’re not going to see them tip-toe around with this one. The Eldrazi decks needs to be trimmed, and Eye of Ugin and possibly Eldrazi Temple alongside it are going to banned to do that.

And then the Modern world opens wide for us to explore.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/Youtube

 

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Splinter Twin: The Ban, the Reaction, and the Fallout

I first heard the rumors driving from Friday Night Magic, where I had just defeated Splinter Twin with Abzan Company to finish undefeated. I was headed to another store for the Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease. A scattering of Twitter posts, a deleted Reddit post, all saying the same thing: Summer Bloom and Splinter Twin were showing up as banned on the Magic Online beta.

Splinter Twin

Rumors like this fly around every three months when a banlist update comes around, and at first I didn’t want to believe it. Everyone seemed happy enough to see Bloom go, but Twin had long been looked at as the defining deck of the format. It couldn’t kill before turn four—exemplifying the “turn four rule” of Modern—and never felt “oppressive” in the same way that Treasure Cruise or Deathrite Shaman did.

But it didn’t take long for my fears to be confirmed, and it became official that Twin was getting the axe.

That was just the start of the fallout.

Initial Reactions

While I was pretty upset about the ban, and was far from alone in that sentiment, it was not a universal reaction. To be honest, things seemed pretty evenly split between people upset about the ban—many of whom were upset about the monetary value they lost (an understandable frustration but a known risk of playing competitive Magic) or because their favorite deck was no longer playable, or like me, simply liked the format the way it was and didn’t want a change—and those who were happy to see Splinter Twin and the ever-present fear it brought with it gone forever.

A divisive argument, and one that largely comes down to emotions and opinions. Unfortunately for those who thought Splinter Twin improved Modern, it’s ultimately Wizards of the Coast and the DCI’s opinion that matters here.

That opinion, for reference:

“We also look for decks that hold a large enough percentage of the competitive field to reduce the diversity of the format.

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Antonio Del Moral León won Pro Tour Fate Reforged playing Splinter Twin, and Jelger Wiegersma finished third; Splinter Twin has won two of the four Modern Pro Tours. Splinter Twin reached the Top 8 of the last six Modern Grand Prix. The last Modern Grand Prix in Pittsburgh had three Splinter Twin decks in the Top 8, including Alex Bianchi’s winning deck.

Decks that are this strong can hurt diversity by pushing the decks that it defeats out of competition. They can also reduce diversity by supplanting similar decks. For instance, Shaun McLaren won Pro Tour Born of the Gods playing this Jeskai control deck. Alex Bianchi won our most recent Modern Grand Prix playing a similar deck but adding the Splinter Twin combination. Similarly, Temur Tempo used to see play at high-level events but has been supplanted by Temur Twin.

We considered what one would do with the cards from a Splinter Twin deck with Splinter Twinbanned. In the case of some Jeskai or Temur, there are very similar decks to build. In other cases, there is Kiki-Jiki as a replacement.

In the interest of competitive diversity, Splinter Twin is banned from Modern.”

You and I may not like it, but it’s possible to understand the reasoning. Splinter Twin, after all, was less of a deck and more of a one-size-fits-all package. You throw four Deceiver Exarchs, four Splinter Twins, and two Pestermites into your dec,k and all of a sudden you have access to an extraordinarily consistent combo that will always be potent no matter what shell you surround it with. Sure, the pieces around it may change, but you will always have access to what may be the most powerful combo in the format (or at least “powerful enough”) but is certainly the most consistent.

We may dispute the fact that Twin was too good for Modern, but the fact remains it was the best thing to be doing at nearly every point of the format’s existence. Remember this?

That was five years ago. Since then, a few more powerful decks have come and gone via the banlist, but Splinter Twin has been a constant. Even when Jund and Pod were at the height of their powers, Twin was a top-tier deck that put up a bunch of numbers every year, because it was just so damn consistent.

Personally, I was surprised by the banning. But in retrospect, and after taking a few days to process it rather than push out an angry article with my kneejerk reaction, maybe I shouldn’t have been.

A Brief History of Modern’s banlist

birthing-pool

“Over the past year, Birthing Pod decks have won significantly more Grand Prix than any other Modern decks and compose the largest percentage of the field. Each year, new powerful options are printed, most recently Siege Rhino. Over time, this creates a growing gap between the strength of the Pod deck and other creature decks. Pod won five of the twelve Grand Prix over the past year, including winning the last two. The high percentage of the field playing Pod suppresses decks, especially other creature decks, that have an unfavorable matchup. In the interest of supporting a diverse format, Birthing Pod is banned.”

The key phrase there? “In the interest of a diverse format, Birthing Pod is banned.”

It doesn’t end there.

Bloodbraid Elf

“While the rest of the format is quite diverse, the dominance of Jund is making it less so overall. The DCI looked to ban a card. We wanted a card that top players consistently played four copies of in Jund, but ideally was less played in other top Modern decks. That would give the best chance of creating a more balanced metagame. The card that best fits our criteria is Bloodbraid Elf.”

There’s that sentiment again. “Best chance of creating a more diverse metagame.

Let’s go back even further.

Wild Nacatal

“We looked for cards to unban, but not only could you play the Amsterdam deck as is, other powerful cards are already available in Modern. For example, Æther Vial was unavailable to Marijn, but is legal in Modern. The Vial is considered one of the stronger cards in Legacy Merfolk decks. The problem is that other decks try to use synergy to get rewards, but those rewards aren’t any better than the Wild Nacatl. For example, the Doran decks use Treefolk Harbinger to find Doran. When it all works, the Harbinger is effectively a 3/3 for . With shock lands, Wild Nacatl is a 3/3, and doesn’t let you down when your opponent kills your Doran. With some effort, Student of Warfare becomes a 3/3 First Strike creature, but that isn’t a sufficient reward for the effort compared with Wild Nacatl. This creature is so efficient it is keeping too many other creature decks from being competitive. So, in the interest of diversity, the DCI is banning Wild Nacatl.”

In the interest of diversity, the DCI is banning Wild Nacatl.”

Every single one of those bans was questionable at the time. People claimed that, much like Splinter Twin, Broodbraid Elf went into a variety of decks, not just one or even a completely dominant one. People argued—and still do—over whether it would be good for the format. Some people fall on one side, some on the other. We can, and will continue to, have that same argument over Twin. I feel like it was good for the format, but others who don’t like the way it forces you to play the third and fourth turns disagree.

And that’s perfectly fine.

The problem? Somewhere over the craziness of the past six days, we stopped having that discussion.

The Tweets

You can find the full series of tweets here, but I’ve summed up the most relevant threads.

Forysthe Tweets 1

This is the one that people ultimately ran with, but there was plenty more to be found.

Forsythe Tweets 2

Forsythe Tweets 3

Forsythe tweets 4

Forsythe tweets 5

There is a lot of information to digest there, and before we go any further, I want to both give props to and criticize this approach. I love that Aaron Forsythe—a high-ranking member of Wizards who has been very forthcoming with us in the past, including talking to us about coming fetch land reprints on a 2014 Brainstorm Brewery episode—is communicating with us on this issue. A more complete understanding of the thought process  behind the bans is a Good Thing™.

But Twitter is not a very good vehicle for that. Not only does it reach precious few people, but it forces people to condense their thoughts into tiny paragraphs that don’t fully show context. This context should have been included in the announcement, not trickled out from Twitter in the days following. It’s this phenomenon that I believe has led us to problems.

“Splinter Twin Was Banned for Ratings.”

This is essentially how people have chosen to read Aaron’s tweets, and it sparked an outrage at Wizards we haven’t seen in, well, at least a week since the last time we brought out the pitchforks. And it’s pervasive—I’ve seen it repeated in articles, comics, and social media circles aplenty. When I asked Twitter what we learned from the ban, more than 80 percent of the responses were along the lines of “the Pro Tour needs to ban cards to be exciting.”

No longer are we talking about whether or not Splinter Twin deserved to go, the conversation has become about whether Wizards is even being honest about the reasons for the ban. All because of a few short sentences one member of the deciding committee communicated.

The only problem with this? It’s not painting the complete picture. Like so many things on the internet that are able to be reduced to social media soundbites, it lacks context.

The problem I have with the response goes a step further. Not only are people suggesting the reason for the ban was improved ratings, they’re out-and-out presenting it as the gospel truth, all based on what Aaron Forsythe described as “a pretty imaginative interpretation of [his] response.”

This is a problem. It’s one thing to debate the merits of a Splinter Twin ban—spirited discourse isn’t a bad thing—but it’s fully another to create a narrative that the man you quoted to create said narrative disputes it.

Forsythe tweets 4

I completely understand the frustration over the ban; after all, I share in it. But if the response to a disagreement with the DCI over the merits of the ban is to completely discredit the organization based on a narrative created from an “imaginary interpretation” of Forsythe’s remarks, it crosses a line. To present something to readers as fact without any confirmation—or in this case, against an outright denial from the source—is, simply put, bad journalism, but more than that, it’s something we can do better than as a community.

How About That Context, Then?

If Forysthe’s tweets aren’t meant to mean “cards are banned to make Pro Tours exciting,” then how are we to interpret them?

I won’t pretend to tell you I have any special knowledge of how or why this decision was made. I wasn’t in that room when it was decided, but I do think I can help shed some context on Aaron’s tweets, and offer my opinion on this series of events from there.

There are a few indisputable facts we can start with.

  • Splinter Twin has been the defining deck of Modern since its inception. Its many variants lead to it almost always being good but not unbeatable.
  • Evidence of this is abundant, as Wizards etched out in its announcement and we covered above.
  • Nothing puts pressure on a format like a Pro Tour. Hundreds of the best players in the world huddle together for a week doing nothing but playing Magic. The tens of thousands of man hours put into this endeavor by the best players in the world solves things very well.
  • Wizards of the Coast made clear in the ban announcement that it sees Splinter Twin as the de facto best deck, and the tournaments cited are used as evidence of Twin stifling the ever-important goal of diversity.

I want to share a conversation I had with Magic Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl at Grand Prix Oklahoma City earlier this year, when he made the top eight with Merfolk. Being a huge fish fan myself, I was excited to talk to him about the deck, and I asked him if he had finally come around to it being the best deck in Modern.

masterofwave

His response? “It’s the best deck for this tournament.”

That’s how most of the players on the Pro Tour operate. They aren’t in it to play their pet deck or experiment for guts and glory; they’re there to play the game they love and take down a big check at the end of the weekend.

Keeping that in mind, let’s circle back to Splinter Twin. At some point over the last 12 months, Wizards decided that the deck was too powerful for Modern based on the evidence we’ve already cited. Wizards decided that for the long-term health of the format, the deck needed to go. Decision made, end of discussion.

Having already decided to ban it, the next logical question is: when? There’s only a handful of Modern events a year, from SCG Opens to Grand Prix. Unlike the Pro Tour, what players battle with in these events is hugely influenced by factors other than “the best deck.” Pet decks, card availability, regional trends: all of these things equate to putting much less pressure on the format at a Grand Prix than a Pro Tour. Outside of a Skullclamp or Eggs-style emergency, does it make more sense to ban cards before a low-pressure event like a Grand Prix in Oklahoma, or a high-pressure event like the Pro Tour? Furthermore, because there’s only one high-pressure event a year, why wouldn’t it make sense to address the health of Modern once a year?

Since 2013, four of the five Modern banlist updates have come in late January or early February, and this marks the third year in a row we’ve had the banlist update before the Pro Tour. That’s as consistent as it gets, and outside of the emergency ban I alluded to in May 2013 (due to Eggs making tournaments nearly unplayable), Wizards has updated the format once a year like clockwork. Since the Modern Pro Tour was moved to the first part of the year in 2014, this update has coincided with the Pro Tour.

Correlation Is Not Causation

A chronological order of the Modern bannings after the initial Pro Tour.

  • 2011: late December
  • 2013: late January
  • 2014: early February
  • 2015: late January
  • 2016: late January

Looks pretty darn consistent to me.

Now, a chronological order of Modern Pro Tours.

  • 2011: September
  • 2012: October
  • 2013: No event due to schedule change to winter set
  • 2014: February
  • 2015: February
  • 2016: February

 Wizards of the Coast has been extremely consistent with the timing of its Modern bans. What has not been consistent until recently is the timing of the Modern Pro Tour. Given that WOTC made the change to bring back the Modern Pro Tour in 2014 after an outcry from the player base, it seems extremely unlikely that it’s a coincidence the company lined the Modern Pro Tour up with its already-existing banning schedule. After all, if your plan is to update the banlist once a year, why not time it right before the Pro Tour?

The Pro Tour is not the reason for the banlist updates. The banlist schedule came first, and in my opinion, there’s a high likelihood it’s the reason the Pro Tour takes place when it does. Claiming that the already-decided bans are a consequence of the existence of a Pro Tour is conflating causation with correlation, and I’ve seen a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon because, frankly, it’s a lot easier to blame an outside influence like the Pro Tour (and by extension Wizards) than to have an honest debate about the merits of the ban on its own.

Again, I’ll stress that all of this could have been avoided with a more detailed explanation of the ban. Not only are Aaron’s thoughts on the matter hidden in tweet replies, but much of the context was lost in the translation to 140 characters. Had this more detailed explanation been included in the original announcement, it could have gone a long way to preventing a misunderstanding of the reasoning behind the bans. Of course, the alternative is radio silence from Wizards on the matter, and I don’t want the company to stop communicating with us through social media—I just want the additional context that can be provided to be addressed more fully in the official announcement, which is presumably seen by multiple people, unlike tweets.

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Losing Confidence in the Format?

Now that I’ve addressed the controversy of the banning announcement, let’s talk for a moment about the banning itself. While I disagree that Twin was suppressing the format, I can’t disagree that it stifled diversity. After all, when the ten-card package you can jam into a handful of otherwise-different decks is simply better than any other option, there’s no reason not to do so.

Take another look at those banning announcements from Wild Nacatl, Bloodbraid Elf, and Birthing Pod. Every single one of them points to “diversity” as the reason for the banning. Birthing Pod wasn’t oppressing the format either, but there’s no question that playing the usual Pod package was unquestionably the right thing to do. Since then, we’ve seen several flavors of Abzan decks find a home in the format, from the combo version to the midrange version to the aggressive Collected Company builds. None of that would have been possible with Pod in the format, and there would be even less possible if Bloodbraid Elf was still running around.

Which leads us back to the question of confidence in the format. Should we live in fear that Wizards is going to ban out our deck every year simply because it’s good? I would say no—but Wizards will ban something if it’s reducing deck diversity. In both cases we’ve referenced, they haven’t outright killed the decks, they’ve simply neutered them, and that holds true this time around, as well. The “combo” element of Birthing Pod is still its own deck. Jund is still playable—and depending on the meta is very good. Nacatl was pulled off the list when it was deemed to not be so strong as to warp decks around it (thanks, creature power creep!).

Forsythe Tweets 6

Likewise, your Pestermite deck is not dead. It will almost certainly have to change to either work with Kiki-Jiki or shift toward the tempo version, but outside of your singular playset of Splinter Twin, the rest of your cards are not only likely still playable in a competitive-if-slightly-worse deck, just like Amulet of Vigor is playable but worse with a replacement like Azusa, Lost but Seeking.

Moreover, our own actions as a playerbase speak extremely strongly against the “lost confidence” argument. Modern Masters sets have been enormously popular, and Aaron Forsythe shared with us that despite the bans, Modern is the fastest growing format in terms of attendance, events, and viewership (dwarfing Legacy). From WOTC’s perspective, the bans aren’t reducing consumer confidence, they’re creating a format more and more people want to play. And while I may disagree with this particular decision, it seems to me that Wizards has earned the benefit of the doubt. Remember: Modern was created to replace Extended, a format tried in multiple iterations to no success amongst the player base. Modern is a mainstay now, but it was never guaranteed to be, and it’s as popular as it is today under the guidance of Wizards of the Coast. I was wrong about the merits of Bitterblossom’s unbanning, and I can accept the possibility that I’m wrong about the merits of the Splinter Twin banning as well.

Bitterblossom

There will almost certainly be more bannings in the format, because compared to the other Eternal formats in Magic Modern is still relatively new. Sure, the banning of Birthing Pod didn’t lead to a hugely diverse metagame at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, but I don’t think there’s any question the metagame of 2015 was more diverse than that of 2014. And while Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch may similarly be crowded by a few particular decks (I consider Eye of Ugin decks to be far scarier than Affinity in our new Modern world), if and when things do settle down, players will have to look to more diverse options than Splinter Twin as a game plan. Will this lead to a better format than the one we had? We’ll see.

Conclusion

If you’ve stuck with me through all 3,000 words of this, thank you. I have a very high opinion of the Magic community in regards to how we handle disagreements inside our chosen hobby, and it truly bothers me when I see people default to the “blame Wizards because it’s a corporation” stance rather than accept that maybe, just maybe, there are real people on the other side of the discussion who may happen to disagree with you. Wizards of the Coast has made plenty of communication blunders, and those errors have in no small part led to this fiasco, but I encourage everyone out there to remember that we all have the same goal here: make Magic the best it can be.

For me, at least, that means accepting that I don’t know everything. I can write about my opinion, but I can’t tell you why something was banned. I can’t tell you that Modern is a better format with Splinter Twin than without. I can’t tell you that Wizards will or won’t ban another strong deck next year. I can’t tell you the right way to respond to such an emotionally charged situation like this.

But I can listen.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/YouTube

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How Are B&R Announcements Like Transformers?

We got some surprising bans in Modern this weekend, but I’m not here to talk about that. You have probably read so many EDH articles from me between MTGPrice and Gathering Magic that I imagine people will wonder if they even want my opinions on Modern.

I mean, maybe they do. I said to buy Night of Soul’s Betrayal at $4 and it spiked hard, just in time to tank because no one needs to worry about beating Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch anymore.

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But you’re right, you don’t want my opinion about Modern, so let’s not talk about the Modern bannings and their implications. If you want that, you can read literally every other finance article written this week. Instead, let’s delve into another interesting banning, one that no one is really talking about fully.

EDH makes its own banning announcement about around the same time as sanctioned Magic makes its announcement, the Monday after the prerelease, and EDH didn’t make its announcement early because they aren’t completely inept dipshits who banned Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom a few days early on MODO, prompting an early announcement. EDH made its announcement on time, jsut so they could make my Blue Monday even more depressing. And what an announcement it was.

* Commander-specific mulligan rules are removed
* Rule 4 (mana generation restriction) is removed
* Prophet of Kruphix is banned

The full announcement is available here.

The  Obvious One

Yes, Prophet of Kruphix is banned. Yes, I’m upset. No, I don’t think this is super-duper relevant financially for the most part. However, there is language worth discussing.

With traditional boogeymen such as Consecrated Sphinx, you’re forced to expend a lot of your mana to cast it and will have a challenge protecting it as the turn goes around the table. With Prophet, it has virtual protection built in, negating that disadvantage almost immediately.

If this doesn’t say, “We’re not banning Consecrated Sphinx any time soon,” I don’t know what does, frankly. I don’t know that anyone was holding back on buying Sphinx, but there was always a little tension since it was always whined about in the same whiny paragraph as Prophet of Kruphix whenever whiners whined about EDH. With the future of Sphinx all but assured, new confidence in the card should push anyone who was on the fence about it off of the fence. Buy them now if you were holding off, because stock is low and I bet this dries up the last few loose copies. I expect this to end up higher than it is now.

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I’m writing this on Monday and there are a lot of $18 copies, but some jackass is trying to get $40 for his on Amazon even though there are foils for $42 on also Amazon.

If this article was too late to pick these up at this price, you should follow me on Twitter (@jasonealt), I guess. I tweet about Magic finance sometimes and even when I don’t, I’m tweeting jokes, and isn’t that half of the reason you read my weekly screeds? If I write an article with no finance content, no one complains, but if I don’t put enough ha-has in your heads every paragraph, I get a bunch of emails asking what’s wrong. Reddit is full of bad advice and bad detective work, Facebook is full of racists, and Twitter is full of people asking dumb questions. My wife is so pregnant right now that we didn’t have any ornaments on the bottom two feet of our Christmas tree, and she could pop any minute and Netflix took House of Flying Daggers off of its list in November and I just noticed now. David Bowie and Glen Frey are dead and Ted Nugent is still alive. Lots is wrong right now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a good writing gig and thanks for reading, nerds. If there are any Sphinxes left, make sure and get yours.

What takes a hit? EDH isn’t a format where a ban takes out one-fifteenth of your deck and can remove the one card that makes the deck work (unless it’s a Commander, obviously). It’s a format where you lose one percent of your deck and you can usually recover. Am I going to scrap my Vorel of the Hull Clade deck because I can’t cheat at Magic and take every turn? Nah. I’m going to put in a Seedborn Muse or one of the sweet hydras I don’t have room for. (I don’t expect Seedborn Muse to go up, by the way, because it’s not the same card and isn’t that important to do half of what Prophet did.)

I’m really deeply saddened to lose literally my favorite EDH card in Prophet’s banning, but I don’t see it making any of my decks worse. If you have a Kruphix deck where you make hella mana with Prophet of Kruphix, sure, I guess you get a little worse. In general, though, Prophet being banned means the guys with a big box full of Prophets and who traded for another foil one on Saturday (you know, me) eat it, and that’s about it. I think there is a bigger financial impact buried in the announcement and we should talk about it, but first…

The Irrelevant One

After examining several popular options, and coming up with a few of our own, we’ve concluded that the Vancouver Mulligan (with the standard first-one-free in multiplayer and a scry once you go to 6 or fewer) is the best option. The RC continues to use and recommend the Gis (“Mulligan 7s to a playable hand. Don’t abuse this”) for trusted playgroups, but that’s not something that can go in the rules.

Sell your Serum Powder, guise.

Seriously, this is a good change, but it doesn’t matter financially. I’m sure some nerd can come up with some circuitous sequence of events that will make someone some modicum of money and that would make the Rube Goldbergian sequences from the latter Final Destination films look like the plot to a porno by comparison. For the most part, though, this change is all upside and is largely irrelevant, but had to be addressed because it was included in the announcement and allowed me to set up some “The Obvious One, The Irrelevant One, and X” rule-of-three device for the article which is psychologically satisfying to me as a writer, and I’m glad it worked out that way.

The Non-Obvious One

There was another change that no one but the diehard EDH guys are talking about, and I think it’s worth delving into because it has a lot of financial repercussions that aren’t obvious, which is good because I’d feel silly telling you something you already knew. They made another rule change and this time it impacts “Rule 4” which I thought was the rule where if you think about anything, like dragons having sex with cars, someone will make porn out of it, but that’s rule 34 it turns out—and also, don’t google basically anything from this paragraph unless you’re in a public library or something. Not because someone will look up your browser history or anything, but because it’s apparently super socially acceptable to look at weird porn in public libraries if the homeless dudes at the library I go to are any indication.

Anyway, Rule 4 in EDH was a rule that limited the mana you could generate with respect to color. If your commander was Kruphix (be strong, Jason. Don’t let them see your tears) and you had a Birds of Paradise, you could tap it for blue or green and that’s all. Since there were no other colors in your general’s identity, you were limited to those two colors. This rule changed for two reasons.

…the mana system of Magic is very complicated, and trying to insert an extra rule there has consequences in the corners. Harvest Mage. Celestial Dawn. Gauntlet of Power. And now, colorless-only mana costs.

Being able to generate colorless mana more easily in Commander wasn’t going to break anything. But, it represented another “gotcha” moment for players, who were now likely to learn about Rule 4 when someone exploited the colorless loophole. We could paper over it (both “mana generated from off-color sources can only pay generic costs” and “you can’t pay a cost outside your color identity” were considered), but a lot of the flavor would be lost in the transition, defeating the purpose. Without the resonant flavor, Rule 4 was increasingly looking like mana burn – a rule that didn’t come up enough to justify it’s [sic] existence.

Not only was the rule a little bit archaic and not that necessary, it was going to be very confusing for players when you factored in the new “pure” colorless. You can’t use that Birds of Paradise for a mana to activate your Endbringer with this rules change. Basically, this is upside. Sure, you can’t use your City of Brass for a colorless mana to activate your new Oath of the Gatewatch Eldrazi, but you can tap that City of Brass to generate a black mana in that Kruphix deck to play a spell you have taken control of somehow. This change makes what we said about pain lands essentially being tri-lands in post-Oath EDH still true, and it also has a few implications for good cards becoming better. So if we have lands that generate any color in a deck that isn’t five colors, what’s going to get better?

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Awww, yiss. Stealing their cards is fun, but now it’s way easier to cast those pilfered spells. Lands that tap for a mana of any color are suddenly very, very good in this deck. You can load up your mana base with a ton of them in a Sen Triplets deck. You can run three Vivid lands for starters—I don’t see any of them becoming all that expensive as a result of this, but Sen Triplets has a little room to grow if the deck gets more popular, and any cards that are used in that deck to a large extent get very good. Celestial Dawn, ironically, gets a little worse, or maybe just a little less necessary but still pretty good.

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This guy plus Springleaf Drum, right?

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Hey, this does stuff, right?

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Any hope of getting a Lantern sub-$10 next week is a pipe dream. This is now a much better mana rock, as if it wasn’t insane before, and decks like Sen Triplets can use this to full effect. Stealing their spells and powering them is trivial with Lantern. I would flip these quickly, since I can’t imagine Lantern not getting a reprint in a supplementary product if it goes above $10.

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This has been a penny stock of mine forever, and now it’s getting even better now that you can cast something other than their Sol Ring or Solemn Simulacrum or use this as a bad Jester’s Cap. Being able to cast anything is amazing if you can come up with the colored mana. Remember, you can’t just jam a Gruul Signet in a Sen Triplets deck, since the mana symbol on the card still precludes it, but cards that used to tap for colorless because they produced a mana not in your commander’s identity can now tap for any color.

It isn’t just casting their spells that gets better, either.

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Casting this with five colors in a two-color deck is saucy as all get-out, and that’s exactly what you will be able to do if you have enough Mana Confluences and Forbidden Orchards in your mana base.

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Ditto on this guy. These cards were never designed to be super amazing in two-color decks, especially not in EDH, but with a new paradigm, they are looking a lot better.

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You mean I can use the lands I take? Sounds amazing.

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At this point I may just be grasping at straws, huh?

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Any G/x deck can jam this, now. That doesn’t suck.

Anything with converge or sunburst suddenly deserves a second look. Lands that add mana of any color to your mana pool should get a second look. Cards like Sylvan Caryatid and even Orochi Leafcaller get a second look. People spent a lot of time fretting over Prophet of Kruphix today, but looking a little deeper, we found a new paradigm in EDH that is a relatively rare but can be exploited for an advantage, and which can push a few cards up in price. Particularly, I’m very worried about how good Lantern is going to be all of a sudden, and its price could get out of control in the near term.

That does it for me this week. What do you think: was this super obvious or was it valuable analysis? Did I miss a card you think has upside with the rules change(s)? Am I underestimating how bad losing Prophet is going to be for your deck? Sound off in the comments and I’ll try to resist the urge to make fun of how you spell your name. Until next week!

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PROTRADER: A New Beginning

By: Travis Allen
@wizardbumpin

I was originally going to write about Oath of the Gatewatch as a set, a topic I’ve been wanting to cover for three weeks now, but this banned list change is too juicy. Maybe next week!

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom are banned in Modern. The day this article goes live, Wednesday, is two days after the official announcement was to be made Monday morning.

What you may have missed is how we found out. Friday night, news rapidly began to spread that Twin and Bloom were banned in the MTGO beta. The question was whether Wizards had been pre-empted by its own lack of foresight and planning on a digital product, or if the software was encountering one of it’s uncountable, nonsensical bugs and erroneously indicating the cards illegal. Considering both possibilities were predicated on Wizards mishandling its digital product, Occam’s razor was of no help.

It wasn’t long before Wizards accepted that the jig was up and officially confirmed the news: Twin and Bloom are out. The latter of those was a foregone conclusion; anyone that wasn’t emotionally invested in the deck knew it was coming after watching Justin Cohen trounce people at Pro Tour Fate Reforged a year ago. The deck regularly violated the “turn four rule” while still able to play a long, grindy attrition game. Defenders of the deck will point out that it hasn’t taken over the format the way combo boogeymen have in the past, but this is more a result of the deck’s extremely challenging lines of play more than anything.

I first noticed the deck when Gerry Thompson mentioned it in an article, and after loading it up in Magic Workstation, was struck by just how difficult the deck was to pilot. I mentioned as much to Gerry on Twitter, and he confirmed that it was possibly the toughest deck he had ever played. Success requires a skilled player investing considerable time and effort into learning the intricacies of the various lines, especially in the face of opposition. That any average Joe couldn’t pick up the list and pop over to his nearest SCG Open and wreck house is a major reason Bloom wasn’t dominating the format.

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