Musings on Bannings

Last week I borrowed all of the cards for Pauper Storm on MTGO. As you may have heard, the cards that make the deck a deck have now been banned. There were also some bans made for Modern. Frankly, I think that this B&R announcement was sloppy at best. I was planning on writing a lot of sweet things that I’ve been learning from playing Storm, but instead I’m going to break down every card that was banned this week and what I like and dislike about the banning. I’ll start with Modern as more people are probably interested in those even if I believe it to be the worse of the two formats.

Seething Song

I’ve heard a lot of people say that this ban confused them, and to be fair Storm isn’t exactly dominating Modern and it is super easy to hate out when it gains popularity. However, the Seething Song ban is simply consistent with WotC’s Modern philosophy. It leads to somewhat regular turn three kills and when you kill before turn four in Modern WotC takes the game ball and goes home. Dem’s da rules.

Now, while this ban is consistent, that doesn’t necessarily make it good. There are a few reasons that this is problematic.

The first is that there is another turn three deck in the format. It’s not too difficult to Groundswell out a win by poison on turn three (and it’s even possible on turn two!) with the current Infect decks. If Seething Song is getting the hammer then it stands to reason that something should be banned out of Infect. Banning Groundswell and/or Might of Old Krosa would presumably be the way to go. But then, that brings me to the other problem with the Seething Song ban…

I’m talking about banning freakin’ Might of Old Krosa. What universe am I even living in? They banned a green creature that only attacks and blocks, a reusable Shock, and here I am arguing that their approach makes a better Giant Growth bannable.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the turn four philosophy sucks.

Modern has existed long enough where it would seem that R&D should have figured out a way to make the format more diverse by offering solid ways to defeat the oppressive strategies. Instead what we’re doing is waiting a while to see what people play and then one by one banning everything.

The single greatest argument that I have against this philosophy is that with it in place, no matter how cool your deck is you have to race Burn. Just given the quantity of red spells in the format, there will exist a Burn deck that can race you. I understand that some players swear by Mono-red, but I’m going on record here stating that it is the singularly least cool Magic deck ever and that the Modern Philosophy gears us towards a format where it can thrive. Skullcrack is about to make this deck a lot better and I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually hits tier one status. I find it hard to believe that “Modern is fun you get to Lava Spike people!” is the model that is going to lead the format to reaching its greatest potential.

I am NOT saying that Burn shouldn’t be a deck. What I am trying to say is that there should be decks that Burn is incapable of racing. Every other deck in Modern has a number of matchups that are very difficult, but if we trend down the path that leads to only turn four or later kills then Burn will more and more be about mulliganing well than caring about the metagame much at all. At that point do we ban Lightning Bolt? I should hope things never come to that.

Bloodbraid Elf

I don’t think that it’s too surprising to see Jund be the target of a banning, but I honestly don’t think that this is going to stop Jund from being a tier one strategy. I’d wager that it even remains the most popular deck despite this banning. While Bloodbraid Elf is a hell of a card, Jund is good because of its ability to interact on multiple fronts, and this banning doesn’t hinder the deck in this respect.

If our goal is to make the format more diverse then why not target Deathrite Shaman? The card is crazy popular and makes the notion of playing a graveyard-based deck in Modern laughable if it could even be said that any were viable in the first place. Perhaps it’s just too early to make the call on such a card.

That said, the way that I would dethrone Jund would involve just having some good non-basic land hate in the format. Jund thrives as a deck because it gets to have good spells with a relatively low curve spread across three colors with rather heavy color requirements. Just make a functional reprint of Price of Progress and see how long a deck like Jund could continue to dominate. Hell, Standard is hurting for such a card as well. Let’s be real; basics are truly awful right now. A PoP effect would kill two birds with one stone.

The Modern changes don’t bother me too much, as if you play this format at all you should expect that it’s going to experience bans and unbans a lot for at least a couple more years. The format just hasn’t been very good yet and it requires more experimentation. Hopefully WotC can figure it out because I really do miss Extended. At any rate, the Pauper bannings are the ones that I’m actually upset about.

Grapeshot

I’m going to start with the only of the three bannings that I can more or less get behind. Now, I personally believe that Storm is one of the decks that makes Pauper a really cool format. People hear “commons only” and think “wow, that sounds lame”. Then they see that the format has a number of turn 2-3 decks and see that the format is quite powerful. For me, that was really awesome.

Pauper has never had any rules about killing on turn two or three, and Storm has a number of bad matchups in the format, which makes this ban rather baffling. The argument that I will concede in terms of Grapeshot Storm is that the deck is disgustingly boring to lose to. In order to get Grapeshotted out you have to watch your opponent play a lot more Magic than you play. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was WotC’s official reason for the ban but I haven’t seen a link to their actual reasoning yet. If somebody has one then please enlighten me.

Empty the Warrens

Empty the Warrens, on the other hand, doesn’t take nearly as long of turns when it goes off. Most commonly going off with Empty consists of storming for five and then playing a Goblin Bushwhacker. Though sometimes you do go off for a little more…

Some games just aren't close.

Now, this screenshot probably looks a bit absurd to those not experienced with the format. It looks like my deck is completely insane, but this is just an example of me drawing an unbeatable hand. Things don’t always go this smoothly and this is one of the deck’s best matchups. Stompy isn’t very interactive and is at least a full turn slower than Storm.

If you play much Pauper you’ll recognize that the Dispel in my hand denotes that this is likely a post-board game, and this screenshot is a good example of why I think that Empty Storm is completely reasonable in Pauper. In this game, the only reason I was able to win was because my opponent kept a bad seven and when I probed him and saw I could safely go off. If he had a pair of Fogs and/or Sandstorm in this situation I would just lose this game. Probe allowed me to see that he had neither and considering the Lotus Petal in my ‘yard with an untapped mana up I would’ve been able to counter one such spell, but that is not indicative of every game.

The fact of the matter is that when you go off with Empty there are a lot of things you need to worry about, not the least of which being your opponent actually just killing you first as my Stompy opponent in the above image was only one turn away from doing with any pump spell. There are a LOT of cards that put you in a position where if you try to go off you will just lose. Echoing Truth, Echoing Decay, Sandstorm, Prismatic Strands and Electrickery are just a few such cards that make your life miserable. The point is that basically any deck is capable of interacting directly with your combo and that it takes a very good hand to both go off and fight against hate.

Let’s assume that there exists a good counter-argument to everything that I’m saying here- and I’m not saying that there isn’t, just that I haven’t seen it. A banning like this has a pretty dramatic impact on the Pauper format as it eliminates some of the matchups that make up the metagame position of other decks. One major impact that this has is that it takes away a type of deck that can race it with reasonable consistency, which brings us to our last banned card:

Invigorate

I would wager a substantial sum that the banning of Invigorate was an afterthought to the other bannings. Infect is generally most concerned with decks that can kill at the same pace that it can and decks that are very efficient at interacting with them. By eliminating one type of deck that can consistently race Infect it makes some sense to make a move to weaken the overall power level of Infect itself.

That said, this type of “ban this because we banned that” attitude doesn’t make complete sense because the fallout goes well beyond impacting just two deck types. For starters, Infect being on average slower is going to make Delver have a better matchup against them. Delver also no longer needs to waste slots on Echoing Truth so it will in general just be a better deck. Many would argue that Delver already takes up more than its fair share of 3-1 and 4-0 finishes in dailies.

The other major impact that I believe this will have on the format will be a dramatic increase in the power of Temporal Fissure Storm decks. With fewer decks that can effectively race them and more mono-blue decks (a pretty strong matchup) I would think that TF will be a major player in the future Pauper metagame.

The Takeaway

The general theme that I see in this B&R update is that all of these changes appear to be attacks on the boogeyman with the intended result of increasing diversity. However, the impact that I see them having is simply forcing the boogeyman to take on a different form.

While Grapeshot is a ban that all in all I think I can get behind the rest of these bans I just see spiraling these two formats into cycles of more and more bannings. In the section on Empty I made the argument that the hate cards available do a pretty good job of keeping the deck from being dominant, and for this reason I see hate cards being a dramatically better answer than bannings.

If our interest is in increasing the diversity of formats a banning will make other decks viable while a powerful hoser will make those decks viable in addition to allowing the hated deck to exist in a different section of a metagame.

~

I very much believe that philosophies that advocate bannings in eternal formats only lead to more and more bannings as time progresses and ultimately lead to less diversity as the banned list grows longer. How long before Burn is the best deck in Modern? Will Delver and Temporal Fissure end up leading us to needing more Pauper bannings? I can’t say that these things will happen without a doubt, but I believe that the road we’re on has a good chance of taking us there.

Do you disagree? Know something that I don’t? Please let me know in the comments section. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, this is all just food for thought. Let me know what you think!

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

Ryan Overturf

Ryan "Broverton" Overturf is a Minnesotan grinder that loves wasting his life talking about Magic. He fancies himself a strong deck tuner and a grand storyteller.

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