Saturday, 14 January 2012

Reviews: The Banned List

Library of Alexandria
Library of Alexandria 5.0

It is very hard to lose if you have this in your opening hand on the draw, its pretty hard to lose on the play too when I think about it. Essentially you give your opponent a time walk while you draw two cards a turn for the rest of the game. As good as time walk is, it is least powerful on the first turn and cannot really compete with that kind of card advantage unless they win with pure tempo in the very early game. Knowing when to turn off your library, tap it for mana and cast lots of spells to recover the tempo is the only real skill tester with this card. It works well in basically any deck though obviously offers a lot more to those than can refill their hands and turn the library back one. As there are too few answers to an early library, when it is at its most powerful, combined with its low skill level, auto include status and the fact that it increases the power of already dangerously good cards like time spiral it seemed a prime choice to ban.

Ancestral Recall
Ancestral Recall 5.0

Just to gain some perspective before we start this one - Ponder has recently been banned... This card is pointlessly good and savagely bland to boot. There are no interactions or tricks or anything fun about this card. It is an auto include, it is highly splashable and is unquestionably one of the top four most powerful cards ever printed. It has no drawbacks and no interesting things to consider when including in your deck or on the curve. While it doesn't ever win games in the same way that a library or a jitte can it just crops up now and again and freely gifts a player a huge advantage for basically no cost at all. Even if this bolted you in the face when you cast it it would do something to make it more of an interesting card if not to make it less over powered. I have very little regret at seeing the back of this spell. I even find reviewing it to be dull, what is there to say? The arrival of snapcaster mage makes it even less fair?


Umezawa's Jitte 4.5
This was one of the last of the cards we banned from the cube and for different reasons than most of the other cards. It is hard to say which is better out of Jitte and Skullclamp for trump equipment slot but it is not really the issue. The reason for the banning was simply the dominance it had over any deck based around using attacking with guys to win. Against combo it is mostly slow and useless and against control matchups it is less good than most of the swords. Against the creature decks however this card got out of control very fast, one hit is enough to gain a big advantage and after a few without an answer the game is mostly unrecoverable. While certainly not as powerful as most of the other banned cards it was ruining otherwise interesting and balanced games between creature decks. As monsters have been getting the best deal from the power creep of late and with the arrival of stoneforge mystic the jitte was getting more tedious, returning to the days of Kamigawa block where decks were made ugly by forced inclusion of answers for jitte. I am somewhat sad the card is so unbalanced in regards the archetypes it is powerful against as it is in someways quite a cool card. To remedy this slightly we have a house rule whereby if you deck contains a minimum of 5 proliferate cards you become eligible to play the jitte.

Sol Ring
Sol Ring 5.0

Another one of the top four most powerful cards ever printed, many think it is the best card you can first pick. Of the four (lotus, ancestral, time walk and this) the Sol Ring carries on providing its powerful effect until you have won or it is dealt with. The one thing that means this card is not the clear cut best pick is simply that some decks such as red deck wins don't want to play it as their curve tends to mostly end at about 2 mana and the deck has a very low overall colourless mana requirement. The Sol Ring is most at home in a control deck and its absence has been very noticeable with control decks no longer dominating the cube, passing that mantle on to the beatdown decks (this is not just the lack of sol ring as creatures have got better and come complete with card advantage and a wider variety of threats now also exist for control decks to deal with such as man lands and planes walkers). Additionally being a cheap source of artifact mana the Sol Ring also buffed the big mana style decks which was probably the best archetype pre-bannings. This is certainly a card I would entertain returning to the cube if control continues to get weaker.

Burning Wish
The Wishes: all 4.5ish as we used them with burning highest

The reason we banned these is because of the rules we allowed for them which was simply any card not in any deck being a viable target. This meant that wishes often found hoser cards like Flashfires and ruined games somewhat. Limiting the choices to cards in your card pool however makes them very unexciting. Golden Wish was always poo and Death Wish was found to be fair and balanced but Cunning, Living and Burning were all highly versatile and under costed. The reason they were played so much was the way in which they smoothed out a 40 card deck as you need to run fewer specific outs with the wish acting as many. Although it was felt like we could probably balance the wishes appropriately they were making games less fun simply because of how much extra thought having a wish in hand requires of a player with practically infinite options. Wishes were slowing down games and giving people a feeling of having been ripped off so they went.

Fastbond 4.5

Fastbond is another card that only just got cut as it is far from an auto include as a deck really has to be built around it. As with much of the power and banned list Fastbond is a card that enhances the power of cards like time spiral and by cutting it you can make the power level of the cube more consistent with fewer total cards cut. Fastbond is also the centre piece of one of the best cube combos - Crucible of Worlds + Zuran Orb + Fastbond. The combo is so good as it is cheap to assemble and all the cards are very good on their own. The Fastbond also fits well into the blue green based storm decks which were also top tier combo decks and very tedious to play against. Fastbond is certainly not as clear cut a card to be banned as many on the list especially as combo decks barely exist at all in cube in recent years and may see a return if this continues to be the case. That being said it is clearly a card well above the power level and when working as intended utterly dominates and changes a game. It is a card that can offer better opening turns than black lotus hands and while not as consistent as the lotus being potentially more powerful is good reason to see it gone.

Strip Mine (Sky, Even Terraces)
Strip Mine 5.0

Directly better than Wasteland and offering redundancy on that front. Strip Mine cannot really be played around and frequently wins games in the first couple of turns. Unlike the other cards in the banned list it does not offer unreasonable power to a player. The Strip Mine offers a few free wins for little cost of inclusion in any deck. The red deck wins style decks often being those who can abuse most effectively with their cheap threats but control decks still more than happy to run in order to deal with pesky man lands and other utility lands. Wasteland still provides the removal option on man/utility lands but it cannot offer the free wins resulting from mana or colour screw. As mana screw is the random element of magic that is least welcome I am always looking for ways to reduce losses from screw and removing strip mine does just that. Probably the least powerful of the cards cut I still can't imagine my returning this card to the cube as it is not very skill intensive, has minimal drawbacks or considerations for the user and increases the randomness of games.

Mox Emerald

The Moxen: All 5.0

The Moxen! I very nearly didn't cut these as I am especially fond of them. Nothing beats the Mox Pearl Kor Skyfisher and another 1 mana spell opener in my books. The possibility of a mox being played always means you have to consider way more things. Do you run more guys out to kill them next turn or are they sat on two lands with a mox and land in hand slow rolling it for their wrath? The possibility of moxen makes games more involved. They are also very interesting to build mana bases around, particularly in many coloured decks. The power level of the mox is lower than the sol ring and while giving an advantage to the player it is not quite the same bump that makes it seem like a game is unwinnable. This all being said an on colour mox is an auto include and off colour ones make most decks. There is little skill in the use of a mox and they increase the random element. Considering the other cuts it is reasonable to cut mox too but I do miss them greatly.

Contract from Below
Contract from Below 5.0

I put this in shortly before cutting the power as a bit of a joke. We played with the ante rule and if you won the card you were able to put it in your deck while they have to find another to replace it with in their deck. Sadly this only happened once and it was a basic swamp. Unsurprisingly drawing seven cards for one mana lends to winning games, even the discard effect was mostly beneficial. The risk of losing one card, even if a relevant combo piece barely ever outweighs the advantage of drawing seven. Black was underpowered at the time of adding this and was winning a lot more afterwards. It wasn't even really very fun either as it just felt like cheating whenever you played it. The ante mechanism was entertaining however, shame there are not really any interesting cards with that mechanic. Ancestral Recall with Contract from Below ante drawback would be a very interesting and playable cube card, over twice that power level and games are too dull. I can't really recommend even trying this card.

Karakas 5.0 (if able to bounce any legend)

We played this card as it read rather than the oracle wording as bouncing any legendary permanent seemed fair? This made Karakas quickly fall into the category of tedious and unfair. The interaction between this and Isamru was really cool and neat. The problem was there is basically no reason not to play this land in a white deck and it kept just randomly hosing cards to the point where things like Vendilion Clique and other legendary cards were just not getting nearly as much play. Bouncing any legend made this a lot worse as people had to stop playing any legendary lands. Karakas could also protect itself from removal with self bounce. Randomly making every other legend in the cube far less playable due to the auto include nature of this card makes this card a little lame, it would be completely reasonable if it only did creatures but our play group was so sick of it come the bannings we just got rid of it rather than errata it. Nothing makes you hate a card more than have it dominate you for a number of turns late at night until finally you rip your strip mine, only to have them look at you with pity as they self bounce in response to your over eager sacrifice...

Time Walk
Time Walk 5.0

This is generally my number one pick in the cube, while not as consistent as ancestral it has the potential to be far more abusive and is generally a bit more interesting. Early on when at its worst it tends to be a zero mana cantrip rampant growth which is better than the moxen. Lotus has more burst but can sit around late game not offering a lot of help. As is the standard for most banned cards time walk is an auto include for an on colour deck with strong incentive to splash that is well above the power level and all with zero drawbacks. I am glad to see this gone as although it is great fun to cast oneself it is soul destroying to observe your opponent cast it then regrow it and cast it then witness it and cast it and now snapcaster it one last time all while you are sat on two mana looking rather embarrassed at your 1/2. The other way it can ruin your day is late on in a closely fought tempo battle when they rip it off the top and completely turn the tide to their favour with the extra attack on top of cards, mana and planewalker activations. At least with the five mana time walks (or shit walks as they are collectively referred to as) you can't often cast and make a threat on the same turn, untap and make an even bigger one.

Black Lotus
Black Lotus 5.0

Its the big one! Personally I think this ranks in as the fourth most powerful card in magic behind time walk, sol ring and ancestral in that order. The drop off to the fifth best card is much larger than between the top four however. It is the history and image of lotus that makes it more renown and valuable than other power. Like fastbond it is a card that is best when built around somewhat rather than just always being good in isolation and can just be a dead draw later on in the game. Most abusive with Auriok Salvagers and Yawmoth's Will but equally good at winning games through making planeswalkers and baneslayers on turn one... Not the least skill intensive card but pretty low requirements and with high inclusion rate in most decks, again with red deck wins being an unusual exception. Add to that a stupidly high power level and random game swinging potential I am not unhappy with this card being cut and remaining so.

Tolarian Academy
Tolarian Academy 5.0

Even Karakas is not enough to stop this land being stupid. While Mishra's Workshop is incredibly powerful it has relevant drawbacks which the Academy lacks. The academy offers extra early power and continues to scale up in power as the game snowballs out of control in your favour. Highly abusable with the various untap land spells such as frantic search and very effective with large draw spells and upheaval strategies. The academy fits into any deck with a relatively high artifact count working well off colour too. Artifact decks are some of the most abusive, even after the bannings and are very hard to build against, particularly if your deck has to beat more standard agro and control matchups as well. The academy is the obvious card to cut in order to bring artifact decks back into line with other archetypes. A reasonable rule of thumb in magic states that other things being roughly equal the player who spends the most mana in a game of magic will win. Academy allows a player to spend more mana quickly over a few turns than moxen, black lotus or sol ring and most of the time fastbond too. I view the academy as the last card printed with comparable power levels to lotus and timewalk etc. and a solid contender for fifth best card (probably with Library). I suspect with more experience and rigorous testing from Wizards we will never see cards of this power and ability to abuse printed again and I suspect no further cards will require banning.

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