Anxieties About Unscheduled Bannings

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For the uninundated, Wizards of the Coast announced today (the day I’m writing this, certainly not the day you’re reading this) that they will no longer be regularly scheduling their updates to the Banned and Restricted list, instead adjusting the days for ban announcements to fall on any given Monday. I had a lot of words to say about this change, but most of them were swear words so I kept them to myself.

As someone who has spent hundreds of hours testing for a specific format, only to have my deck banned a couple days before a tournament due to an emergency ban, this is unwelcome news. To think that such an embarrassing misuse of my time could become a regular occurrence is… well, swear words.

I was planning on being good, but Ben Bleiweiss from StarCityGames posted a lengthy response to the update indicating that he believes it to be a good change. Ben Bleiweiss is well-known for providing objective and fair commentary on current Magic events and how they affect the MTGFinance world. He is an excellent critical thinker and will take the side of an argument that does not necessarily fall in line with what outsiders believe will generate his company the most revenue, as long as it is in line with what he thinks is right.

With that said, I strongly disagree with the sentiments reflected in his tweets, enough so to write about it at length. Let’s begin!

The First Assertion

To say that this B&R strategy has not “in any way, shape or form hurt the growth of Pioneer” is shaky speculation at best. What he means to say is that Pioneer has grown and proven very popular despite this change. There is no way to prove that it would not be more popular than it is now if its ban announcements were more regularly scheduled, and logic inclines us to believe that it would be more popular.

Anecdotally, I had to wait until the week of a tournament to buy cards for my Pioneer deck due to fears that cards from it would be banned the Monday before. I was one of the lucky ones, pulling the trigger on my cards the day of the announcement so that, after paying for expedited shipping, they would arrive in time for the tournament.

For many others, this was not the case. There was a lot of money to be made that weekend selling Vivien, Arkbow Rangers to players who did not react quickly enough in the days leading up to the tournament. Vivien had no sort of supply issues, and yet it was difficult to find them for less than double TCG Low price on-site at the Invitational.

Wizards of the Coast’s response to this issue was that it’s not their fault that StarCityGames scheduled a tournament for Pioneer considering the current frequent bans. This attitude from WotC shows that they do not feel responsible for damaging third-party tournaments.

I don’t think it’s even reasonable to ask WotC to tiptoe around every large third-party tournament with regards to bans, but scheduled bans solved this problem. If you’re attending a StarCityGames tournament that occurs the weekend after a scheduled ban announcement, you at least can plan for the possibility of a ban based on the context of the format. I know many people who have stayed away from Pioneer for this reason, and I think it’s pretty unreasonable to assert that they’re merely isolated instances.

Continuing On:

“We’ve been through two rounds of Standard banning already since Throne of Eldraine was released. Weeks after these changes, Standard attendance is way down across the board, at both MF & LGS levels.”

Everything Ben said here is correct, but this point only hinders his argument further. Bans in general drastically reduce players’ desire to play Magic. MF Oklahoma is fairly far removed from the bans, and yet still had abysmal attendance. Factoring in that there was a Banned and Restricted announcement set for the day after the tournament, it’s no wonder that players were not excited to play Standard, despite there being a low chance of cards from their decks getting banned.

Lots of players who bit the bullet and bought into Standard for Throne of Eldraine were burned, and are not willing to risk it again so soon. WotC had the brilliant idea of saying “You know how players don’t like when their deck might get banned next Monday? Well from now on we’re doing that every Monday!”. I’m not normally a cynical guy, but I’m having trouble seeing how this pans out favorably for Magic as a whole, particularly for the competitive players.

An Additional Point

This is certainly not correct based on recent trends, and it is somewhat optimistic to think this will be the case moving forward. To elaborate, this would be true if Magic bannings were an infrequent occurrence that happened only once or less per Standard season, but recently, bannings have been more frequent.

Sure, let's say they can figure out that Oko, Thief of Crowns is Broko, Designed by Clowns quickly and get him banned closer to the format’s inception than when it was in reality. Then, Standard is still dominated for a while by Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer. They then get lucky and figure this out quickly and ban both cards two weeks after banning Oko. How did this solve anything differently than just waiting a month to ban all 3 cards?

Players who felt confident after the Oko ban and bought into Standard would still get burned. Trust in WotC’s ability to maintain the format without bannings is still low. If Play Design is doing such a poor job that a card is going to need to be banned from every Standard set moving forward, it’s simply too optimistic to think that need would be limited to just one card per set. Sometimes there will be 2 or 3, and we’ll be in the same unfortunate position we find ourselves in currently.

Wrapping Up

The full truth of it is: We don’t know how this change is going to affect players’ feelings towards bannings and the formats they affect yet. What we do know is that bannings lower player engagement, and WotC loosening their guidelines for the frequency of ban announcements works opposite to instilling confidence in the playerbase.

This announcement is likely not of much consequence, so please don’t interpret this as “omg Magic is dying” or anything ridiculous like that. I just think that this is pretty clearly a net-negative to the average competitive player, and that, for the first time in Magic history, Ben Bleiweiss isn’t right.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to facing off against you all on the tournament floors once the Winter lull is over!

Sam Lowe

Sam Lowe is a Magic player in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan. He and his girlfriend, Joslyn Lambaria, own and operate the online store Valkyrie Games out of their apartment. He frequents the SCG tour and can usually be found haggling for Collector's Edition cards instead of playing Day 2.

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Posted in Analysis, Announcement, Banning, Buying, FreeTagged ,

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