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 Overturf

Ryan has been playing Magic since Legions and playing competitively since Lorwyn. While he fancies himself a Legacy specialist, you'll always find him with strong opinions on every constructed format.

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Comments

  1. David SchumannDavid Schumann says

    “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. ”

    I couldn’t agree more…I don’t like this “perfect mana” Magic we have going right now…I remember the days when you wanted to tap a land for mana of different colors you took 1 damage for it.

      • Gus Landt says

        Wrong.

        Check the

        Banned/Restricted page

        This question was on both my rules advisor test and my L1 judge practice test. “Select all the Eternal formats”. I got it wrong the first time because I selected Modern.

        Only Legacy & Vintage are Eternal.

        • Ryan OverturfRyan Overturf says

          On a technical level WotC classifies only those two formats as eternal, but players are still going to recognize eternal as meaning non-rotating. I almost wrote “non-rotating” but didn’t because I guarantee you people knew what I meant.

  2. Anthony Fox says

    On the one hand, you complain that the format is being steered in such a direction that Burn could be a viable Tier 1 deck, on the other you want a reprint (functional or actual) of Price of Progress. You really can’t have it both ways.

    • Ryan OverturfRyan Overturf says

      Those are two facets of the argument that are contingent on different factors. They are so far from contradictory that I don’t even know how to address your comment.

  3. Ben Logan says

    I very much agree.

    I just got into pauper. It was advertised to me as one of the “purest” magic formats, that combo, control and aggro are all equally viable. Now wizards just banned combo from the format. I know that R&D has decided that combo is a terrible thing, but let them force that policy on standard, leave pauper alone. When I play in person with friends, we’re just planning on ignoring the bans.

    I feel like they banned bloodbraid because they had an image problem, not a metagame problem. Jund happened to win a couple of tournaments. But look at the top 8s of those tournaments! Additionally, look at the number of people playing jund. Of course jund will see some finishes when such an absurd number of entrants play it. People liked to whine about jund dominating, but to be honest, most of those people were just bad at magic and didn’t know what they were talking about. It saddens me that the dci appeased them.

    • Ryan OverturfRyan Overturf says

      I agree. While BBE isn’t what makes the deck the force that it is, it is the card that involves the most variance/ can reward poor play the most. It’s easy to perceive BBE as the major problem and that’s what most of the community does, and with WotC catering to popular opinion over most anything else the BBE ban is, like the Seething Song one, consistent if not very sound.

  4. Ryan OverturfRyan Overturf says

    I disagree that the decks were completely non-interactive. You always needed to be mindful of what responses your opponent had to your combo and side boarded games involved paying quite a lot of mind to your opponent. I think it’s fair to say that this constitutes interaction.

  5. Ryan OverturfRyan Overturf says

    Bloodbraid Elf made Jund too good in Standard. Bloodbraid elf is a card that is too good not to play in Jund in Modern. This banning won’t stop Jund from being a top deck in modern and when I’m proved right you can buy me a coke or whatever.

    • Ryan Overturf says

      Quote me where I said that the deck doesn’t get worse. Stop wasting both of our time with your drivel.

      Also your claim that BBE is the most unfair card in the format is outrageous, especially when your entire argument is that the deck wins fair mirrors. Emrakul is probably the card you’re playing if you’re doing unfair things in modern.

  6. Jon says

    I actually think the pauper bans are bad for delver decks. The way I see it, the top tier of the pauper format is three decks: delver, post decks and storm decks. This trio has a rock/paper/scissors relationship. Storm loses to delver, which loses to post, which loses to storm. Now with storm gone, delver has decent matchups against the rest of the field, sure. But post’s worst matchups (infect and storm) just disappeared, making it a much more appealing choice than it was pre-ban, and it was even pretty popular then! I am predicting the return of post mirrors, and for anyone who complained about dying to storm on turn 2…you have never had the pleasure of playing a post mirror.

    I do think familiar storm will make a comeback, especially in a sea of post decks. At the same time, if post is the uncontested best deck now, land destruction will start creeping into maindecks. Who knows, but I’m glad you mentioned the pauper bannings. I don’t support them at all.

    • Ryan Overturf says

      I think it’s pretty easy to conceive of a monoblue deck that beats post. Pre-Delver I was winning about 90% of my matches against post with MUC. All you need to do is not by dregs like Cloud of Faeries.

  7. Jon says

    Formats that don’t rotate can always be called “stagnant”. Unless you’d like to elaborate more on what makes the format stagnant I’ll take it with a grain of salt. Delver of Secrets hasn’t even been around for two years though, so saying it has been a top tier deck for 2+ years is a bit of a stretch. While this will probably shake up the places that certain decks hold in the metagame, it won’t actually diversify the format. It’s not like new decks will emerge now that storm is gone, plenty of decks with awful storm matchups already occupied slots in daily events.

    I can say from personal experience that red decks are not a bad matchup for post. And while we could argue about this all day, it won’t actually do anything. Maybe people pilot post decks differently or have builds that skew the results, but I wouldn’t say goblins or mono red is favored against post. As for infect losing invigorate…There’s a format where the infect decks don’t have access to invigorate. It’s called Silverblack, and the rest of the deck is nearly identical. I have played against these decks and they are not even close to the same without that card. I’m not saying the archetype will die, but I don’t think it will be earning many tix.

    I am not making snap judgments. I have played warrens storm for quite a while. I played it before people knew how to play against storm in pauper. I played it when it got completely hated out of the format. I played it when everyone else and their grandma was playing it. And I have played countless matches against it. I think I have a pretty grounded idea of how Empty the Warrens impacts the format. And I don’t think its impact was detrimental enough to warrant a ban. I think the storm decks actually helped keep the format balanced. Maybe that’s just another word for ‘stagnant’.

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