The Looming Ban

There seems to be a lot of anticipation for the upcoming Banned/Restricted announcement from the DCI. It sounds like Stoneforge Mystic is the current frontrunner, with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Batterskull also on the ballot. I’ve read quite a few articles debating the banworthiness of each of these cards. Here’s my take: Wizards should ban more cards more often to maintain a healthy Standard format. I understand their hesitation to ban cards – people buy cards with the expectation of playing with them, and if you drop $400 for a playset of Jaces, you darn well want to play with them. But let’s consider this from other perspectives.

Imagine that Wizards made a banned/restricted announcement every month, say the 1st just for convenience. And they tended to ban around 4-5 cards each month, while unbanning maybe 3-4 previously banned cards. What would be the impact of this? Well, first, let’s remember that the only people who really care about the B/R announcement are tournament players. Tournament players, for the most part, keep up on the latest Standard news and cards, or at least would expect to have to modify their deck if it includes a banned card in it. So, more regular bannings doesn’t seem like much of a problem for them, and if Wizards devoted a little space on their website for the list to be easily found, it seems quite workable. We do live in the Internet age, and there’s no point in denying it or trying to live in a cave.

We should also remember that I can play Channel at my kitchen table any time I want. With a ban-happy approach, each playgroup would essentially have to develop their own B/R list, since everyone would know that the official B/R list was prone to regular fluctuation designed mainly to keep Standard interesting. I don’t see much of a problem there. If everyone in your playgroup says, “quit playing your Worldgorger Dragon, it’s no fun for the rest of us,” you can either stop playing with the Dragon or stop playing with those friends. Simple enough. Heck, if you play in a shop, the shop could have its own public list of B/R cards, and maybe even have a regular vote by its regulars, with a very prominent and public poster list in the shop, which would let anyone playing there know exactly what’s up.

So, how might this work in practice? Far be it from me to tell Wizards how to do their job, but in the interest of showing how this could create healthier Standard formats, let me elaborate. One of the common complaints from players about Standard is that it usually evolves into a 1 or 2 best decks, plus some second tier chaff, format. Right now, there is one deck perceived to be “too good” and therefore ruining Standard, although that hasn’t stopped some other decks from putting up some good finishes lately. Still, if the DCI looked at some of the dominant decks of late and banned a key card from each of them, it would force the tournament players to find new strategies. Let’s say you banned Stoneforge Mystic, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and Vengevine this month. What would Standard look like? Well, probably lots of Splinter Twin decks and Vampires. So, next month you ban Splinter Twin and Bloodghast and Inferno Titan, but you unban Jace and Vengevine. Now you have to adapt again. Jace goes back in your BW control deck, but you still don’t have Stoneforge Mystic to fetch swords and Batterskulls for your Caws, so the deck looks for different strategies, maybe some more Venser, the Sojourner action. Too much Preordaining going on? Ban it for a month or two, see what happens. Even if you ban the wrong thing, Standard only suffers for a month, and then you correct the problem. Plus, with the possibility that every month your favorite tournament card might get unbanned, you hang on to your investments, and think more about how to use what you have. Tournaments stay fresh, and archetypes that are often not viable because of a dominant deck become more possible.

This also returns Magic’s focus back to one of its best parts: deckbuilding. I think a ban-happy policy would increase the likelihood of brewing among a greater percentage of the Magic population. Netdecking will still go on, but remember: those netdecks likely become unviable after a month when its key card gets banned. There would be as much reward for brewing your own deck as for tweaking an existing deck.

I’m sure there are some drawbacks to such an approach to tournament Magic, but any choice we make in life has potential negative and positive outcomes, and I think the upside here would outweigh the downside, after years of complaints of “stale” Standard formats. So, go ahead Wizards. Don’t just ban Stoneforge Mystic: Ban Jace! Ban Batterskull! Ban Valakut! Let’s keep it interesting and fresh.

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