The ‘Buy A Box’ fiasco – Time for me to take a break from Standard.

The TL:DR  because I ramble – the new Buy A Box promo card is pushed enough to maybe be a strong Standard card, and is much rarer than mythics. This is bad enough news for players that I’m taking a holiday from Standard unless/until it is fixed.

 

Dominaria included a rarer-than-mythic Standard legal card, and the sky didn’t fall in.

Today’s news was different. For the first time, Day 1 of official set release previews ended with me looking at three cards then closing my browser in disgust. It’s been hours (including an entire quiet work day) and I still haven’t been interested in looking over M19 spoilers.

 

Dominaria’s Ultra Rare, and why it wasn’t a big problem

Not available in boosters, F&S was at a new rarity rarer than mythic – it was available only as the ‘Buy A Box’ (BAB) promo card.

In the BAB promotion, game stores that actively run Magic events are given some number of copies of F&S to distribute to the first players to purchase an entire box of Dominaria.

Historically, BAB promo cards, when they existed, had been a card from the normal set, typically a good rare. Celestial Colonnade was the best one.

Specific rares in Dominaria average about 0.6 copies per booster box and mythics around 0.3 copies. At first glance, it might seem that F&S occupies a rarity between uncommon (1.35 per box) and rare.

However, an overwhelming majority of boosters sold do not qualify for the BAB promo.

Loose packs outsell boxes in most stores, and loose packs do not qualify. Stores do not get enough of the promo card to offer one to each player that buys a full box, and players that purchase more than one box only get one copy of the card.

Magic Online redemption sets do not include this card, and a lot of cards come from redemption.

Most importantly, boxes and cases sold by online retailers and boosters sold in venues that don’t run tournaments (such as Target) do not qualify either. Nor do all of the boxes cracked open by stores and other singles dealers.

There’s a lot of unknowns, but my personal estimate is that there are about 6 copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria for each copy of F&S in circulation. Without exact print runs we cannot be sure, but I’m going to assume this 1:6 estimate for this article.

 

Supply and Demand

We’ve discussed the low supply of Firesong and Sunspeaker. Now let’s consider the demand for the card.

If you play Commander or Brawl and want a commander for your casual WR spell-based control deck, you are the target market for the card.

While Commander is a popular format, WR is unpopular, and F&S demand remains a tiny sliver of the Commander playerbase. The card is otherwise poor – it’s a 6 mana creature that is easily killed, only slowly takes over a game, and generates no immediate value on most boardstates. You are almost always better off casting Combustible Gearhulk unless you build an entire deck around making F&S do silly things, and Combustible Gearhulk is far from the best red finisher even in Standard now.

This is why F&S has remained relatively cheap and easy to acquire, despite being extremely rare.

 

What’s different this time?

Wizards announced today that the ‘Buy A Box’ exclusive card, Nexus Of Fate.

Yes, that collector number reads ‘306/280’. Cards 1-280 are all that can be found in packs.

Firesong and Sunspeaker was not a strong card. Zero demand from competitive players, and only tiny demand from casual players.

Nexus of Fate looks weak at first glance, as a card that costs 7 and does not immediately end the game.

However, it’s not clear that this is the case.

This is the first instant Time Walk effect printed, and this effect is improved a lot by being able to be played at the end of an opponent’s turn. Taking two turns with access to all of your mana has previously been mostly a Vintage-only affair.

The five mana Time Warp was playable in Tempest Standard, and a very good card in M2010 Standard, and some six mana Time Warps have seen play in Standard too.

One of the best Planeswalkers in Standard right now allows you access to two additional mana in your end step.

Finally, its shuffle effect will increase its casual appeal drastically while making it slightly better in competitive games than a Time Walk effect that self-exiles on cast.

The Standard playerbase is huge, far larger than the playerbase of WR spell based control in Commander. Even if Nexus of Fate doesn’t end up in optimized lists, not everyone plays optimized lists. Demand will be considerable.

This doesn’t even touch upon its Commander demand. Taking extra turns is tremendously popular in casual games, especially when the extra turns come with a built-in recursion mechanic.

Beacon of Tomorrows is a weak card and Nexus is strictly better (costing 1 mana less, having some resilience against discard, and being upgraded to instant). Even then Beacon is one of the more expensive rares in Fifth Dawn (not super expensive, but in the top 20).

 

Fear Of Missing Out

If Nexus takes off and is played widely in blue control decks, there is no precedent for how expensive it could become. But it absolutely could eclipse the previous price records in Standard, records that were set by two different Jaces.

We can see a related effect right now with a number of ultra-low demand Reserve List cards such as Firestorm. Firestorm is a low print run card that sees some (not much) competitive play and isn’t on most casual players’ radar.

With no reprint on the horizon (or ever, as long as the Reserve List remains in place), there was a recent panic buyup of all of the copies of Firestorm listed on American trade websites, and the card’s price exploded.

This may be market manipulation, but it may also be players thinking “I need to buy this card now, because if I wait, I will no longer be able to afford it. I buy it now or I forever go without.”

Generally, market manipulation and fear of missing out build upon each other.

Firestorm is not a unique case. The mtgfinance community on Reddit regularly has people post “Supply of card X is drying up”, followed rapidly by a buyout of all remaining copies.

Nexus of Fate has the potential to be similar.

If this card puts up competitive results once, even if it is a complete fluke, we can expect a staggering price spike. Spikes everywhere will rush to get their copies before the market dries up, and speculators will jump in as well.

It takes a lot of demand for a mythic to explode in price. It will only take one-sixth of the demand for Nexus of Fate to do so, and there is no precedent for how high it could get.

I would not bet $50 on Nexus being the first $150 Standard-legal card. However, were someone to offer me a bet, their $50 against my $10, that it hits $150 while in Standard, I would seriously consider them up. If it becomes a staple control card – even as less than a 4 of – then supply, demand and fear of missing out could very well push it there.

 

The Promotion’s Good Intentions and Horrible Execution

The ‘Buy A Box’ promotion is an attempt by WotC to pay Magic stores for the work they perform in promoting Magic, teaching new players the game and providing a space for players.

In the past WotC have had a number of products – most notably From The Vault – which filled this role for stores. Stores were charged a pittance for a small number of box sets they could sell at a huge markup.

FTV, however, had a very serious issue.

A tiny number of stores were also incentivised to record fake tournaments to increase their FTV allotment, although in my opinion this was much rarer than many players believe. Store owners that would risk their entire liveliehood over $600 in potential profits are few and far between.

More importantly, players who didn’t understand the nature of the product accused stores of price gouging for selling FTV boxes at the market price, which was far, far above the MSRP.

What was intended as a gift to stores became a PR issue for them.

Some stores charged market prices for FTV and simply weathered the complaints, aggrevating some of their best customers in the process.

Others charged MSRP, and ended up simply giving free money to the first mtgfinance savvy customer that walked into the store with $500 in cash to buy the entire stock, only to relist it for $2000 on eBay.

Others reserved FTV for tournament prizes, or for their regular customers.

In every case, players that missed out on getting FTV at MSRP felt they were being fleeced, and often blamed the store.

The Buy A Box promotion is intended to allow stores to compete with online dealers with lower margins. Stores can’t compete on price, but if you buy from the brick and mortar store, you will get an extra bonus.

For this card, however, this will be an unmitigated disaster.

Undoubtedly, a couple of dodgy store operators will ‘forget’ to give away some copies of Nexus. This will be rare (and rarer than most people think), but it will happen.

Stores that sell Nexus of Fate after legitimately trading for it will be accused of doing just this, and of stealing from the Buy A Box promo and/or players.

Players that buy a box but miss out on the promo due to allocations being too small will be furious, especially once the card is no longer a forgettable budget rare.

Stores should get some WotC gifts, but not ones that come at the expense of players. Exclusive cards are bad. Exclusive cards that are extremely scarce are even worse.

 

Voting With My Wallet

I made my feedback clear about the dangers of BAB-exclusive cards when Firesong was announced. It was ignored, and so I will be voting with my wallet.

Unless/until this card receives a wide release (or is banned or allowed to be proxied), for the entire time Nexus of Fate is legal in Standard, I’m taking a break from Standard and probably all of Magic. I will not play in Standard events, nor purchase Wizards of the Coast products.

This isn’t a threat. It is a promise to the MTG community, who deserve better than the introduction of ultra-rares by stealth, and WotC deflecting  all of the bad PR from this decision onto stores.

I still like my local store, and so will continue to purchase from them. In tabletop roleplaying games, WotC’s main competitor Paizo, the publishers of the Pathfinder RPG, has some interesting looking stuff coming out over the next year. I’ll be spending my Magic budget on those books.

This isn’t a call for a boycott, but it’s my way of making feedback that was ignored a little louder.

If enough other people feel the same way, we may see some change.

-sirgog

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My Response To Mark Rosewater’s “What Is A Game” Article

The official Wizards of the Coast Magic site posts lots of articles worth reading, but one today is possibly the best to come out in the 15 odd years I’ve read it.

It’s Mark Rosewater asking the question – “What is a game?”

Go and read it now if you haven’t.

It got me thinking enough to write Mark a response, which I’ll make public.

 

Hi Mark

Your article today was a fascinating read, to a question I’d never have thought to ask.

I do disagree with one point, however, and have an alternative definition for your consideration.

You raise the condition “Lack of real world relevance” as part of your definition of a game.

Magic is often played for stakes. When I started ante still hadn’t gone away, but even today, a match in a tournament can decide small stakes (e.g. ‘whichever of Alice and Bob wins this match gets the cool promo card’).

Tournament matches can be played for medium stakes (finals of an event where the winner gets a box of boosters, or a dual land).

Sometimes they are even played for almost life-altering stakes (the grand final of a Pro Tour, where USD 30000 rides on one match outcome on top of the USD 20000 each player is guaranteed to win).

In my opinion Magic remains a game whether the stakes are nil, a cool promo, a booster box, a dual land, or even a five digit sum.

My proposed alternative to your definition is as follows:

“A game is an activity with a goal, a failure condition, restrictions, agency, and that is participated in willingly and deliberately, usually for entertainment”.

The ‘failure condition’ clause is minor, but required to clarify that you can, in fact, ‘lose’ a game. A ‘game’ you cannot fail at is, in my opinion, also a toy or a puzzle.

For example, the Rubik’s Cube is an activity with a goal – solving all six faces. It has restrictions, agency, and is participated in willingly and deliberately (or has no real-world consequences to use your criteria instead).

But it has no failure conditions other than abandoning the puzzle because you tire of it. I do not feel that this makes it a game.

On the flip side, the much harder puzzle of attempting to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded does have a failure condition – you declaring incorrectly that the puzzle is solved – and I feel this makes it more like a game.

(And yes, there are people that can perform this feat, including at least one truly awe-inspiring seven year old kid)

The ‘willingly and deliberately, usually for entertainment’ clause is intended to weed out elements of life like your suitcase packing example, or other optimization puzzles that we come across, such as asking “I am in Melbourne and want to get to Sydney. Should I drive, fly, catch a bus, or do something else?”

I feel it achieves this without the issue of also excluding Magic tournaments, games of Poker, or anything else where more than just bragging rights are on the line.

Best Regards

– (real name redacted from this web post, but it’s sirgog)

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Dominaria’s MTGO Collation Issues

This article went longer than I planned, but it needed to explain booster collation so I’m not posting a TL:DR. It’s 2000 words, give or take.

 

Over the weekend, both paper Magic and MTGO had their prereleases for the new set, Dominaria.

Players were reminded just how good Icy Manipulator is in Limited, and got to play around with a whole lot of new legends.

If you are passing this card in draft, you are probably making a mistake.

The set has a real Kamigawa feel to it – there are Legends everywhere (albeit with names that are easier for an English speaker like myself to pronounce), and a number of intriguing build-around-me cards at the higher rarities. Although the Kamigawa block was polarizing, it has stood the test of time well, introducing at least two cards that are Legacy staples (Glimpse of Nature and Umezawa’s Jitte), many Modern staples and archetype-enabling cards, and it is one of the most significant blocks for casual formats like Commander.

I was hyped for Dominaria for this reason – and on top of that there’s the nostalgia of returning to the plane that the first set I experienced (Ice Age) took place on, and Saga cards that explicitly attempt to turn the stories of these sets into cards.

The MTGO prerelease, however, was marred by a significant issue.

 

Card Collation

Booster packs are not perfectly random, and this is by design.

Not considering factory errors, in paper Magic, you cannot open two of the same card in one booster. However, in packs with 10 commons, duplicates would actually be a very common occurrence if boosters were truly random.

To prevent this, Wizards de-randomize the packs. The first uncommon added to a pack is effectively random, but it then determines the other two uncommons in the pack. A more complicated system is used for commons, but the same principle applies – the first common put in the pack influences the other commons that can be added, and this is done in a way that prevents duplicates.

Foils break these rules (so you can open Dauntless Bodyguard and a foil Dauntless Bodyguard in one pack, but not two non-foil copies, assuming the system works).

So packs are not perfectly random. But this also applies to booster boxes.

If packs were randomized within boxes, players that opened entire boxes would regularly encounter duplicate and triplicate rares. While opening three copies of Steel Leaf Champion in a box would be a happy outcome, opening three copies of Two-Headed Giant would be disappointing or even infuriating. And most rares printed are not chase cards.

The probability of getting 3 or more non-foil copies of Steel Leaf Champion in a perfectly randomized box would be 2.148%. This isn’t high, but when you factor in that there are 53 different rares, you have around a 70% chance of having a triplicate rare in your box, around a 30% chance of having two or more triplicate rares, and a 10% chance of getting 3+ triplicate rares.

(Disclaimer: I’ve modelled these estimates with binomial distributions, which those of you with a statistics background will recognise are not perfectly accurate here. I’m confident that the estimate will still be close. If you want to run a Monte Carlo simulation of opening ten million boxes, feel free to report your findings, and the maths geek in me would be particularly interested in a rigorous analytical solution to this problem).

To avoid the extreme feel-bad of opening a box with three triplicate bad rares, Wizards of the Coast use a variety of sorting algorithms to decide which rares go into a box that minimizes duplication, just as they do with the commons and uncommons within a pack. They then add in further tweaks to reduce the predictability introduced, which led to the ugly phenomenon of ‘box mapping’ around six years ago.

The end result is a very complex collation system with a lot of moving parts, especially when paired with the 121 card print sheets Magic has used for a very long time.

Dominaria’s ‘every pack has a Legend’ adds to this collation complexity.

 

The MTGO Impact

That’s all been about paper Magic. Why does this matter for MTGO, where no informed customer ever cracks bulk boosters?

MTGO is designed to simulate paper Magic as accurately as possible, albeit with a few improvements (cheating is basically impossible, and the chess clock most judges would like to see in paper if it were feasible). It also has a few silly bugs, and an omniscient judge at every table.

MTGO is programmed to reflect most of the card collation decisions made in paper. This is true within packs (if you ever see two copies of Adamant Will in a Dominaria booster, one of them will be foil).

It is also true to an extent across multiple packs, making it impossible for a draft to open 3 copies of a given rare in one round of packs. I believe that the 8 packs opened simultaneously in each round of the draft are intended to mirror 8 packs that come from the same box. (This information is based upon my personal recollection of a now long deleted post on the old Wizards of the Coast forums from around ten years ago, so it may not be exactly correct).

This combines to give MTGO a very complex set of algorithims for card collation. And like we all know, when you have a very complex system, something can go wrong.

And in Dominaria, something did go wrong.

On MTGO, most players prefer non-foil cards, at least for cards in the various post-8E frames. The animation on foils performs poorly on many computers that can run MTGO just fine, and as a consequence people who open foils tend to dump them on dealers quickly. Dealers then compile them into complete sets, and these digital foil sets mostly get sold to paper MTG stores. These stores then use MTGO’s redemption program to swap these digital foil sets for foil sets of traditional paper cards. (Side note: Individual players can use redemption too, but it does not appear that these players are a large factor in the MTGO economy. Most redemption appears to be done by people intending to resell the paper cards).

A few hours into Dominaria prerelease events, the large MTGO dealer chain Goatbots realised that they were not being offered any copies of most of the foil Legends in the set.

Possibly because of the complexity of Dominaria’s collation, these cards simply did not get inserted into Dominaria packs online. At the time this article is being written, they still do not exist.

 

Why This Matters – for MTGO players

If you play MTGO and draft a lot, you probably sell most cards you open to dealers, in exchange for Event Tickets. You probably sell every foil you get, with the possible exception of nearly-valueless foil commons.

Dealers only pay for these cards because they are confident that they can compile sets and then onsell these sets in bulk to the owners of paper MTG stores.

Assuming one foil rare or mythic per 36 packs (this ratio has never been confirmed, and could be as low as 1:27, but I’ll write this assuming 1:36), every 4356 boosters of Dominaria opened online generates enough mythics for 36 normal sets and 1 foil set to be redeemed, as well as a bunch of excess foil commons through rares that don’t assist redemption as mythics are the bottleneck.

This isn’t quite true for smaller numbers of packs (e.g. if only 43560 packs were opened, variance would dominate and you would not have close to 10 of each mythic), but over the number of packs that are drafted during a set’s redemption timeframe on MTGO, these variances become less significant.

This sets a minimum price for cards on the MTGO secondary market. Assuming prices are reasonably similar to the last set of the exact same size (Amonkhet), 36 regular sets will typically sell early on for around USD 2520, and the foil set another 210. This $2730, spread over 4356 boosters, or approximately 60 cents per pack, is what I term the ‘redemption equity’ of boosters on MTGO – it’s the value boosters would be expected to have if you assumed that the only value of digital cards was to compile them into sets to sell to someone who will redeem them.

At the moment, it is impossible to compile a foil set of Dominaria. This means that foil cards have no redemption equity at all, and the redemption equity of each booster is consequentially around 5 cents lower than it should be, and this has been the case for every Limited event run so far.

We don’t know what caused the collation issue, and it’s entirely possible that the missing foils have been replaced by foil cards of the same rarity. However, this does not restore the missing redemption equity.

While a 5 cent rip off here and there doesn’t add up to much for an individual player – even if you entered six release events you’ve only opened 36 boosters of the new set for a grand sum loss of $1.80, it is still something Wizards should make good on.

 

Why This Matters – for Paper Players

If you don’t play on MTGO, this may seem like a storm in a teacup.

However, MTGO redemption has a large impact on the secondary market for foil cards in paper Magic.

Redemption is a huge source of cards – I know of one MTGO dealer (who is far from the largest one) that sells 600 digital sets a year to their third largest customer alone. Whilst I’ve never redeemed more than 20 of any given set, large paper chains redeem so many sets that they are sent on pallets.

And because foils are not particularly popular online but are hugely valuable in paper Magic, very large percentages of the available foils on MTGO are redeemed.

I won’t go through my methodology (as I’m not confident it is correct), but my best estimate is that about 8% of the copies of a given foil mythic in the paper game come from MTGO redemption.

If you are a paper player and desire foils from Dominaria, this will result in you paying more for them, and having a harder time finding them.

 

What’s The Solution?

I believe Wizards are right to have MTGO collation mirror paper collation, to ensure that booster draft online is a similar experience to paper draft.

And with systems this complex, mistakes will happen. Programmers are humans.

One of the best things about MTGO is that, unlike in the paper world where it is very expensive for WotC to replace a defective product once it has been sold to a wholesaler, then again to a dealer, then again to a player, on MTGO it is relatively easy for the system to retroactively give players additional digital objects for events they entered.

I believe the best way for WotC to fix this mistake is firstly, to fix the collation issue for future packs.

Then, they should give everyone that has participated in a release event a small promo pack for each prerelease they entered.

Some of these promo packs should contain one of the ‘missing’ foils, at a relative rarity that is carefully calculated so that these cards are no more and no less rare than other cards of the same rarity. My estimate is that about 1 in 5 packs should contain these foils.

For example, if there have been an average of 120 copies of each foil mythic in DAR ‘printed’ so far, the promo packs should be assigned probabilities that produce an expected 120 copies of foil Lyra Dawnbringer. The same should be done with the missing rare and uncommon foils.

Variance may then decide that there are 116 or 127 copies of a specific mythic foil legend printed, but that same variance would have applied to ‘normally’ printed ones anyway.

The remainder of these promo packs could then contain a tiny bogey prize – 5 or 10 play points, a random Modern-legal rare/mythic, or something similar.

Humans make mistakes. This mistake is pretty easily fixed, and should be fixed ASAP.

  • sirgog

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Initial thoughts on Brawl – The ban list should change.

Edit 23-Apr-2018: It turns out that I was partly wrong in a prediction here. Baral is hegemonic in 1v1 Brawl according to the first major tournament (a $25 buyin event on MTGO).

Baral made up 6 of the top 8 and 11 of the top 16; results better than Skullclamp Ravager Affinity Aggro ever put up in events during the month after Darksteel’s release.

While I’d expected The Scarab God to be the biggest danger in the format, it’s now clear that Baral needs an emergency ban. I’ll leave the article unchanged, just take my conclusions with a grain of NaCl.

 

 

Brawl was announced recently.

As someone that leans toward the Spike end of the spectrum, I can’t get into Commander. So you might ask why I’d give Brawl any thought at all.

 

An aside on Commander.

Feel free to skip this section down to the ‘end rant’ text below. It explains why I’ve never liked Commander despite thinking the idea has a lot of potential.

Commander promises fun times until you try to optimize decks at all. At that point, you feel obliged to play a whole lot of decidedly anti-casual effects – absurd combos like Prossh (as a commander) and Food Chain, completely broken mana sources like Sol Ring, and utterly broken consistency engines like Demonic Tutor.

But unlike Vintage, where even stronger combos are common and all of the individually broken cards are also allowed, Commander sharply restricts the available counterplay. Efficient and powerful answers like Mana Drain, Mental Misstep or Force of Will are restricted to 1 per deck, while you can play a lot of tutors.

More powerful in combo than it is in any other archetype, this card epitomizes the consistency a 100 card singleton format should rail against.

When you play to the letter of the Commander rules and observe the official ban list, and then you attempt to win, the optimal strategy is to minimize interaction while you aggressively tutor and assemble some sort of killer play. This could be Tooth and Nail, or a two-card combo where your Commander is one of the cards, or a two-card combo where your Commander can play a role in assembling the combo.

This then ruins the spirit of a singleton format. Singleton formats are (supposedly) intended to increase variance – the amount that games differ from each other. The existence of Magic’s most broken tutors, however, adds a degree of consistency at least equal to that found in Modern.

It also squeezes out all the zany plays possible in a singleton format.

A part of all Magic players – even Spikes like me – has wanted to put Followed Footsteps on Rhox Faithmender while you control Doubling Season.

Zany board states, enormous plays, crushing reversals – these are three of the things that make Magic fun.

Commander could have that feeling, and in groups that agree not to abuse the weaknesses of the ban list, it does. But it is hard to push away the Spike tendancies, and to any Spike, the official ban list screams ‘play combo, or lose to people that do’.

This factor results in me simply giving up on Commander, which is a shame because some previously popular singleton formats (like Australian 7-point Highlander, or Canadian Highlander) have been a lot of fun.

Australian 7-point Highlander in particular was something I have fond memories of. If you are unfamiliar with the format, it’s a singleton format that has a pseudo-Restricted list. Certain cards are allocated ‘points’ and you were limited to running 7 points in total. Cards like Demonic Tutor had huge point scores (4 when I followed the format), and so playing them was only possible if you did not spend a lot of your 7 deckbuilding points on powerful combo payoffs. You could play DT, you could play Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal or Grim Tutor, but you could not jam all of them into a deck alongside explosive mana and multiple two-card combos the way you can in Commander. Nor did you begin the game with a Legend already tutored up for you and protected from interaction as well.

End rant.

 

So that’s been a bit of a rant about why Commander breaks when you attempt to optimize it. The raw power of tutors available allows you to build a consistent deck with an extremely proactive game plan, alongside generic good cards to try to win when you do not pull off your combo(s).

Brawl does not appear to have this problem.

Despite Standard having experienced two bannings related to combo strategies in very recent history (Felidar Guardian from the Crazy Cat Lady Combo deck, and Aetherworks Marvel from  yet another deck that could play either a combo game or tapout control), Brawl’s nature as a singleton format with only one half-decent tutor ensures that there is no way to assemble combos reliably.

 

Brawl’s Ban List

At present Brawl inherits the ban list of Standard. The following seven cards are banned:

Aetherworks Marvel

Smuggler’s Copter

Felidar Guardian

Attune with Aether

Rogue Refiner

Rampaging Ferocidon

Ramunap Ruins

 

Marvel and Guardian are banned in Standard because of combos that were too strong for the format, but that are unlikely to be good at all in the context of Brawl. Felidar Guardian is not legal if Saheeli is your Commander, and if Saheeli is not your Commander, you have to naturally draw both pieces of the combo or use a janky tutor like Djeru or Mastermind’s Acquisition to find them.

This card is one of two tutors in the format that could get a piece of the Crazy Cat Lady Combo, were it legal in Brawl. You can only play one copy.

Aetherworks Marvel is even less exploitable in the format. All the energy cards are either banned (Attune, Refiner) or limited to one copy, and it’s just impossible to get the required critical mass of energy generators. Even if you do manage to set off the Marvel, big deal – the highest impact play you can spin up is probably Bolas, and you are only allowed one copy of him.

The other cards on the ban list are all there because of highly tuned decks that assembled a critical mass of synergistic cards.

Ramanup Red put two cards on the list, as did Temur Energy. Both decks simply would not function in a singleton environment.

For this reason I think that every card on the Brawl banned list, with the exception of Snugglecopter, should definitely be removed. Snugglecopter I’m less sure about but my initial thought is that it would merely be a good card and an incentive to try to play aggressive strategies, rather than the incredible powerhouse it was in Standard.

At the same time, Brawl’s nature as a format where you can guarantee access to specific cards empowers two of Standard’s more powerful threats to levels that might render them oppressive.

I’m talking Baral, Chief of Compliance (a card that was an absolute terror in MTGO’s 1v1 Commander format until he was taken out the back and shot), and The Scarab God.

The Scarab God is one of Standard’s best threats, and his existence shapes many removal choices. Players run Vraska’s Contempt largely because Vraska can actually answer TSG, unlike removal spells like Murder that would be better in most Standard formats.

However, in a format with the Commander ruleset, these cards fail to answer TSG. He can be recast from the Command Zone when the opponent draws their one Vraska’s Contempt or their one Cast Out. Instead of answering TSG, these cards simply throw it off balance for a short time, much like Unsummon would.

These same concerns about the TSG posing a nearly unsolvable threat also apply to The Scorpion God and The Locust God, but those cards are not close to as powerful as their blue-black cousin.

Baral may not even be good in the format, but his effect is dangerous when you can rely upon always having access to it.

 

Conclusion:

I’m not usually an advocate of minimalist ban lists.

Standard has improved tremendously with each banning that has happened over the last while, and we’ve reached a point where the major design fuckups of the last 3-4 years have all rotated (Collected Company), or been banned (Crazy Cat Lady Combo). Standard was terrible for a period, but it’s now quite a decent format.

That said, in the case of Brawl, I’m advocating a clean slate.

Brawl’s banlist should be decoupled from Standard’s banlist, and Brawl should start out with nothing banned.

Three cards – Snugglecopter, Baral and The Scarab God – are moderately likely to prove themselves troublesome. There may be others that I haven’t considered (Bontu and Oketra come to mind in particular as Commanders that are potentially troublesome).

Even if the cards named wind up fine, if the ban lists remain coupled and Brawl is supported in the longer term, it’s almost certain that some future card like The Scarab God will cause issues in Brawl but is a positive force in Standard.

I don’t want Wizards to be faced with having the choice of either letting that card ruin Brawl, or having to hit Standard with a banning that is purely collateral damage from an action to save Brawl.

In the event that one or more of these cards actually proves itself troublesome, it should be promptly banned. But unless this transpires, Brawl provides a great opportunity to play with some of the cards that are banned in Standard but are too weak for the larger formats.

In conclusion: Decouple the ban lists, just as Legacy’s ban list was decoupled from Vintage’s B&R lists about 15 years ago. Then unban everything in Brawl, but be ready to throw Snugglecopter, Baral, The Scarab God or potentially other cards under the bus if/when needed.

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Assessing the Consequences: What Happens If Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned?

I ramble so here’s the TL:DR: if SFM becomes legal in Modern, expect a rock/paper/scissor meta with Combo>Tron>Control>Combo. This is bad.

<end TL:DR>


These two cards are best friends forever.

If I had a kitten for every person that suggested SFM be unbanned in Modern, I could serve kitten stew to every player at every GP this year.

 

Please, don’t go Unruly Mob on me. I don’t actually have any delicious kittens…

Stoneforge Mystic spent half of its Standard tenure as a bad rare with potential. Every set has a few cards that are inherently powerful but often never find a home in the format because the right supporting cast does not exist.

SFM then became solid (but far from broken) when she learned to use Swords.

In Mirrodin Besieged Standard, the Mystic tutored up either of these Swords to fit the situation, allowed you to drop the Sword at end of turn, and then provided a small body to wield it if you had no other board presence. This was a big payoff for three installments of 2 mana, but nothing the format could not handle.

Then Batterskull happened.

Alongside her new BFF, SFM became so dominant in Standard that she had to be banned. Instead of three installments of 2 mana, SFM and Batterskull only required you pay two installments, and the payoff was immediate.

Two easy payments of two mana to beat aggressive decks? Where have we seen THAT before?

The ability for the Germ to block an attacker, gaining you life immediately, then to counterattack with vigilance gaining you even more life, meant that aggressive decks in Standard could not defeat SFM without a removal spell.

The recursion effect of Batterskull and the ability to just play its weaker mode (equipping it) ensured that midrange decks could not go over the top of the SFM/Batterskull combination either – just as creature decks usually could not go over the top of Umezawa’s Jitte.

If you had an outstanding removal spell like Go For The Throat or Vapor Snag, you were still miles behind. Usually it was correct to remove the Mystic herself, other times to kill the Germ – but you still needed to kill one of them.

SFM became both a 2 mana creature requiring an immediate answer, and also a source of card advantage. This is a powerful package.

Cards need to present a powerful threat to be even considered in Modern – this is, after all, a format where a Loxodon Smiter, a 4/4 with two big upsides for 1GW, is widely considered unplayable.

But I’ll argue that SFM does too much.

 

What impact would SFM/Batterskull have on Modern?

Firstly, I’ll preface this by saying I could very well be wrong. This is the insight of one person, not an all-seeing mastermind with a time machine. I posted an article last week on how B&R changes could be meaningfully tested and I have performed no such analysis.

No one person can.

I want you to start by putting yourself in the shoes of a pilot running an aggressive deck against an opponent playing SFM/Batterskull. Your opponent went first and played a Hallowed Fountain tapped, and you’ve opened with a high-quality one-drop for your deck (Nactyl, Monastery Swiftspear, or Flameblade Adept if you like your aggro with a side of combo).

Your opponent’s second turn sees them cast SFM and search up Batterskull.

If Batterskull hits the board and survives a turn cycle, your opponent can expect to gain 8 life, and you can expect to lose the game.

Consequentially, you must now spend at least one – maybe two – of your mana on your second turn killing the SFM.

This means you cannot meaningfully advance your own game plan by casting an Eidolon of the Great Revel, or a Goblin Lore, or whatever else your deck is intended to do. Your opponent has presented a threat on turn 2 that you must answer before they untap, or lose the game.

Costs two mana. Wins the game on turn 4 with the right support cast. Doesn’t help you find the support cast. Still causes a minority of players to want something from Storm banned.

Provides a must-kill threat for 2 mana, but when it dies, it hasn’t drawn you a free high impact card. And sometimes, you have the all-ramp, no action hand and the Cobra does nothing.

Sometimes, you will have the right answer on turn 2, the SFM will die, and you will still win the game on turn 4.

What will happen most often is that you will spend enough mana answering this must-kill two-drop, that you lose the aggressive initiative. Your clock slows from turn 4 to turn 5, and that simply isn’t fast enough.

If legal, the SFM-Batterskull duo will serve to push ‘honest’ aggressive decks out of Modern.

Remember, this isn’t a two-card combo like Baral and Gifts Ungiven. This is a one-card combo, because you only need to draw one piece.

Infect and Affinity can still beat an opponent that has absurd ground blockers and gains lots of life, but in SFM world, Burn, Aggro Humans and Zoo are gone.

And do you know which deck is just waiting for aggressive decks to die out?

May I talk to you a moment about Our Lord and Saviour, Karn Liberated?

My bold prediction is that if Stoneforge Mystic is made legal in Modern, the metagame will be pushed in a very negative direction. We will see a metagame where combo beats Tron, Tron beats control, control beats combo, and aggro is nowhere to be seen because it loses to all three.

I’m not a person that thinks aggro-dominated metagames are healthy – in fact I’ve written an article looking at how aggressive decks can be as oppressive to play against as combo or prison decks. The worst ever year in the Standard format’s history was dominated by an aggressive deck.

However, I do not want the aggressive archetype removed from Modern. Legacy is a healthy format with (almost) no viable aggressive decks (burn is Tier 3 and makes up about 1.2% of tournament successes according to MTGGoldfish, and it is the only aggressive deck putting up any results at all in the format). However, unlike Modern, Legacy has multiple Tier 1 or Tier 2 tempo decks as well as multiple Tier 2 aggro/prison hybrids like Eldrazi. Modern has much less of a tempo presence.

Unbanning SFM poses a very real risk of eliminating aggro entirely.

As a final point some have argued in favor of unbanning SFM and banning Batterskull.

This would, to my mind, achieve little change in the format. However it sets a fairly troublesome precedent of artificial rotations via bannings that I’d rather not unleash. Players will be forever asking things like “Will Liliana of the Veil be banned so that Deathrite Shaman can have another chance?”.

I’d rather B&R action be saved for when there are problems with the format, or for when the format has increased in power so much that former problems cease to exist.

For example, it is my belief (and I could be wrong…) that Jace the Mind Sculptor wouldn’t cause problems any more. He’d be the best all-around 4 mana threat in the format if legal, and with fetch/shock manabases Jace could be played in decks of any colour combinations. Even Jund or Abzan could run him if they wanted.

But he would not eclipse all other 4 mana threats the way he would have prior to the printing of Kalitas, Hazoret and Nahiri.

If this assessment is correct (and it may not be), Jace is an example of a card that was once too powerful for the format, but no longer is. SFM, on the other hand, sends the format into directions I do not want to see it go.

  • sirgog

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Reassessing the Modern Banlist – A Data-Driven Proposal

The Modern banlist contains a number of the worst mistakes in Magic history – cards like Skullclamp, Treasure Cruise and Mental Misstep. Each of these cards is banned in Legacy for its raw power level.

Skullclamp is my personal pick for the most absurd Limited card ever printed – beating Umezawa’s Jitte, Pack Rat, Sol Ring, Parallax Wave, Vedalken Shackles, Attrition and Citadel Siege. Unlike the last two cards, it’s absurd in Constructed too, often drawing 6 cards or more and totally taking over games for just one mana.

The list also contains cards that seem perfectly reasonable at first glance, but that enable combos that are too fast or too consistent to be legal in the format.

Summer Bloom, Hypergenesis, Blazing Shoal, Eye of Ugin, Golgari Grave-Troll – each of these cards is innocuous on its own, and none of them save the last were good during their Standard tenures.

But each of them enables combos that are too powerful for the format. They either lead to overwhelming board states – sometimes even outright kills – on turn 2 too often for the format to handle, or alternately they allow fairly consistent turn 3 kills. From day 1 of Modern until today, every time a combo deck has hit a 2% turn 2 win rate or a 20% turn 3 win rate, the banhammer has always come for it.

Hypergenesis was outright bad in Standard and at the time a bulk rare, but with the Cascade cards introduced in Alara Reborn, it lets you vomit out an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on turn 2 around 11% of the time – in a format with fundamental turn 4. This becomes as high as 25% of the time if you are willing to settle for ‘lesser’ threats like Griselbrand or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

The list also contains a number of cards that are deemed simply too strong for the format, cards that dominate games in which they are used and that simply cost less mana than their effect should.

Deathrite Shaman, Bloodbraid Elf, Stoneforge Mystic, Umezawa’s Jitte, Jace the Mind Sculptor, Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, and the artifact lands – these cards all allow counterplay and sometimes are poor draws, but each of them have, at some point in the format’s history, earned the banhammer’s caress through being too powerful.

Some of these bans I agree with, others I do not. But I’m not going to make the case for my opinion on which cards should remain on the banlist and which should earn a reprieve. I could easily be wrong, and even if I am not you have no compelling reason to agree with me. Instead, I have a proposal for how to methodically test the waters as to which (if any) cards would improve the format if they were unbanned.

But first let’s look at some history.

 

The Golgari Grave Troll incident

This card breaks my first fundamental rule of Magic: cards cannot impact the gamestate unless they have been drawn.

An aside.

GGT was unbanned a couple of years ago. It found its way back onto the banlist after Shadows over Innistrad and Kaladesh provided the last pieces for a broken deck based around the Dredge mechanic.

If you aren’t familiar with the Modern dredge deck, it used GGT and Stinkweed Imp alongside card filtering spells (Cathartic Reunion, Faithless Looting) to fill its graveyard, and to then vomit out Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams from the graveyard without ever drawing them, much less spending mana on them.

It was an aggro-combo hybrid, much like the Affinity decks still legal in the format – but much stronger than Affinity has ever been.

Everyone knew GGT was dangerous both before its unbanning, and in the period that it was legal. Stinkweed Imp was already legal, and allowing decks to play a larger critical mass of high dredge number cards posed a risk.

WotC went ahead and made the perfectly reasonable decision to unban the Troll at a point where Amalgam and Reunion did not exist. Then, they made the perfectly reasonable decision, when the card proved itself too good for Modern, to ban it again. (I advocated for banning Amalgam and Narcomoeba instead at the time, but the result would have been the same in either case – Modern Dredge as a deck would have been removed almost entirely from competititve play).

The experience of GGT’s unbanning and rebanning sent shockwaves through the Magic secondary market, however. Both GGT and its supporting cast became extremely expensive for a time, then cratered in price again after the rebanning. A number of competitive players lost money as a result, and this soured the waters against ‘risky’ unbannings.

The end result of the unban/reban was that we got data stating conclusively that GGT was not safe to be in Modern alongside Amalgam et al, but the cost for this data was high.

There is a better way.

Isolation Testing on MTGO

Magic Online has a thriving Modern community, with thousands of players entering competitive leagues.

For those unfamiliar with MTGO’s leagues, competitive leagues run on demand, allow players to play 5 rounds, cost $12 to enter, and award prizes as follows:

5-0: 16 Treasure Chest, 180 play points (current secondary market value $57.36)

4-1: 8 Treasure Chest, 180 play points ($37.68)

3-2: 1 Treasure Chest, 120 play points ($14.46)

2-3 or worse: No prizes.

Play points are 10c coupons used toward paying for future events (for instance 120 of them can be used to enter the Competitive League) and are unable to be traded, treasure chests are ‘lucky dip’ bags of cards from Magic’s history and at the time of writing can be sold to dealers for $2.46, although this is a price that fluctuates and is typically around $2.20. 

MTGO’s competitive leagues provide an enormous incentive to ‘break’ formats.

As an extreme example, imagine a hypothetical unbeatable deck – each time you enter a league, you play your 5 matches, then get rewarded with $45 in ‘profit’ for your time. You then enter the league again, and you can build the deck on multiple accounts and enter more than one event at once.

If your deck remained unbeatable (except when you play against your own alternate accounts), and you play fast, within a day you would have made thousands of dollars. Within a week, you’d have made more than a GP winner, and within a month, you’d likely make more than a PT winner.

This dynamic – caused by the ability to immediately enter a new tournament with prizes each time you finish one, makes MTGO exceptionally good for deck innovators. In paper, if you innovate and build a format-breaking deck you may only get to enter 4 tournaments with prizes in any given week – online, you can enter four leagues in an hour and a half.

While no deck is completely undefeatable, sometimes formats are broken and a deck exists that has a 70% or even 80% win rate against the field. The various aggressive Eldrazi strategies at Pro Tour: Oath of the Gatewatch are an example, particularly the Eldrazi Skyspawner versions.

If you discover such a deck and pilot it on MTGO, you will very quickly win a lot of prizes. You will also attract attention – MTGO publicly reports decklists of a minority of players that reach 5-0 finishes, and also publishes the screen names of players that perform well on a consistent basis. If you achieve 5 5-0 results in a single league, your screen name will attract attention and people will attempt to find what deck(s) you play. Get 15 trophies (5-0 results) and even if your list is not published, people will pay attention when you are paired against streamers and will quickly determine the deck you are playing.

This means that if a player breaks a format, MTGO will adapt to them very fast. Some will build the new deck, others will play an established deck but will attempt to answer the new deck with sideboard tech. The metagame moves far faster than in paper – which is ideal for my proposed experiment.

The Modified Banlist League Proposal

I propose that an MTGO Competitive league be set up with an alternate banlist, after the February 12th B&R announcement comes into effect. This would run at the same time as the ‘real’ Modern Competitive and Friendly leagues.

This league would run for 6 weeks, use the usual MTGO competitive league prize model, and would contain the then current Modern banlist with the following exceptions:

– Bloodbraid Elf is unbanned

– Jace, the Mind Sculptor is unbanned

– Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned

– Punishing Fire is unbanned

– Mox Opal is banned. (This will make more sense when you read the next line – I believe Opal is likely to be banned in the next 18 months in any case)

– The five ‘artifact lands’ – Ancient Den; Seat of the Synod; Vault of Whispers; Great Forge and Tree of Tales – are unbanned.

There has been a lot of testing done by individuals as to whether various permutations of these cards would be safe in Modern. But individuals aren’t as good at innovating as the Modern community in general. Individuals, no matter how talented they are as deck builders, miss ideas. It was correct to play Eldrazi Skyspawner at PT:OGW, but this card was only played by about a dozen participants – the rest never thought of it.

On top of this individuals cannot generate statistically significant amounts of data. This proposal would generate hard data, and would track how the metagame changes over time.

It would also test something that can’t be determined by a small playgroup testing alone. Standard prior to the Emrakul banning was in a strange space where the format was fairy balanced, with no tier 0 decks and more than one tier 1 deck, but the format was widely considered not to be fun. It’s entirely possible that unbanning some of these cards might lead Modern in a direction like that, and no single playgroup will have enough data to truly protect against this.

But a whole league – tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of matches played by people who have a material incentive in winning – this can and will provide very serious stress testing. It would not just be league results providing data, but also league attendance – if three different JtMS decks are widely accepted to be the only Tier 1 decks and the number of people playing the league falls off sharply by week 4, this would provide compelling evidence that JtMS is not safe to unban.

I expect that MTGO could reasonably easily be set up to put four phantom copies of each ‘experimentally unbanned’ card into each player’s account for the duration of the league, too. If this is possible it lowers the barrier for deck brewers looking to experiment with these cards.

If some of these cards turn out very quickly to be proven to be mistakes, they could be ‘banned’ midway through the league. If Seat of the Synod eats a ban on the third day of the league, players that have already enrolled in the league with Seat of the Synod in their deck would be able to complete their five matches using the card, but noone could enter the league again using it.

Conclusion:

I believe JtMS and BBE are safe to remove from the Modern banlist, that the artifact lands might be, and that no other cards are. I could very well be wrong and am very open to eating these words.

Assuming you disagree with my thoughts on the ban list, we could argue this point for hours and, in all likeliehood, neither of us will shift. Or worse, I could be wrong but convince you of my opinion, or vice versa. In any case this arguing without serious testing is about as useful as nailing a cat to your door. (Disclaimer: This isn’t useful. Please kids, don’t nail a cat to your door).

The DCI lacks the resources to do this testing, and recent Standard environments show that WotC aren’t doing a great job of it either (RIP Felidar Guardian… how you got to print is beyond me…).

But Magic Online provides the solution. All that we need is for WotC to use it.

Additionally if this league were to be a success, I think there is room to repeat the experiment in Legacy..

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Sylvan Library – A Rules Nightmare

I ramble so here’s the TL:DR – there is a solid case for errata on this card to fix some ridiculous memory issues, and to make it work the same way in paper that it currently does on MTGO (where it ‘just works’).

 

This card may not look like it, but it is a rules nightmare just waiting to happen.

Library requires you to track something simple, which you do not normally track through a game of Magic – which of the cards in your hand have been drawn this turn.

The cards you have drawn this turn are not public knowledge, and this article constructs an elaborate scenario, using only cards that are at least plausible to play in competitive Legacy, to demonstrate how messy this card can get as cards in hand change zones during a turn.

A sidenote: This card works flawlessly on MTGO, where the game client serves as an omniscient judge with access to the entire history of the game. Its problems are purely a limitation of paper Magic, where no such omniscient judge exists.

In paper Magic judges have a workaround for Sylvan Library’s memory issues – a requirement to keep cards drawn ‘this turn’ physically separate in your hand from cards drawn earlier while you control the Library.

The card’s Gatherer entry lists the following ruling:

“Any cards drawn prior to Sylvan Library’s ability resolving, including in your upkeep or in response to Sylvan Library’s triggered ability, can be chosen to be put back using this effect. Sylvan Library’s controller is responsible for keeping these cards distinguishable in hand, such as by keeping them separate from cards that began the turn in hand.”

This solves most Sylvan Library issues, albeit at a price – introducing information leaks to your opponent about which cards have left your hand.  However it doesn’t solve all issues with the card.

Players who started Magic during the present century may not have seen how strong this card is in conjunction with Sylvan Library.

Abundance and Sylvan Library were best friends in Magic during the 1990s. Abundance puts the cards into your hand without you drawing them. Sylvan Library lets you draw three cards instead of one per turn, but then imposes a steep cost – if you actually did draw cards. (Note the difference in wording between Brainstorm – which forces you to return two cards and doesn’t care which were drawn this turn, and Sylvan).

If you control both, you get to use Abundance’s replacement ability three times per turn without drawback. Whilst generally too slow for Legacy these days, it’s not impossible to assemble these two enchantments and gain incredible value. As a side note, Abundance is also good against Leovold.

Which brings us to our hypothetical.

Alice and Beth are playing in a Legacy event.

Alice is playing a UG reactive control deck that uses Abundance/Library as a value engine. She has a hand with a lot of land in it, and controls a Misty Rainforest, two basic Islands, and a Tropical Island. Unusually for such a deck, Alice plays Stifle.

It’s Game 1 and Beth hasn’t made any plays that give its strategy away as yet. She’s actually on Cascade-Hypergenesis – a strategy that has been banned in Modern since the format’s inception due to its ability to vomit out massive amounts of creatures as early as turn 2. In Legacy it’s a fringe-competitive strategy – one that many Modern Living End fans try to make work.

Noting that Alice’s mana is all untapped, Beth passes the turn, and decides to try to fire off her ‘combo’ in Alice’s upkeep. She casts an instant with Cascade, and her Violent Outburst can only cascade into one possible card – one of the three copies of Hypergenesis she plays.

Alice can counter either the Hypergenesis itself, or the Stifle trigger. As Alice has no Stifle in hand, she casts Brainstorm.

Note that at this point, Alice neither controls a Sylvan Library, nor does she have one in hand.

Alice’s Brainstorm draws her no Stifle, but instead she hits a new Brainstorm, plus two lands – a Misty Rainforest and a Tropical Island. She puts an Island and a Tropical Island from her hand on top of her library, then activates the Misty Rainforest on her battlefield and casts the other Brainstorm.

This one gets results. She draws a Stifle, an Abundance and a Sylvan Library. She keeps all three cards, throwing back two other cards on top of her library, and fires off the Stifle targetting the Cascade trigger.

Beth is having none of this, and casts a Force of Will to counter the Stifle. Noone else has any plays, and so the Force of Will resolves, the Stifle is countered, and the Cascade trigger resolves, spins up Hypergenesis. The Hypergenesis also resolves.

Alice is in deep trouble, but at least drops a Sylvan Library and an Abundance – whilst Beth drops an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

We now move to the ugly part.

It’s Alice’s draw. She does the usual ‘Replace 3 draws with Abundance activations, then activate Sylvan’ play, which puts three cards into her hand without them ever being considered drawn.

Alice then goes to finish resolving the Library ability. She looks at her hand and has no idea whether the Tropical Island in her hand was drawn from her first Brainstorm – and thus should be counted as a ‘card drawn this turn’ by Sylvan Library, or if was instead the one she had in hand at the beginning of the turn.

Assuming Alice elects not to return any cards to her library, there is no way for a judge to determine whether Alice should lose 0, 4 or 8 life to Library late return fees. She has drawn 6 cards this turn, and has moved more than 6 cards from her hand to other zones. Depending upon which cards were shuffled away, Alice may have 0, 1 or 2 cards in her hand that are drawn this turn.

All the decisions to put cards on top of her library here were all made at a time that Alice not only did not control a Sylvan Library, but quite reasonably did not foresee that she might gain control of one before her draw step.

Sylvan Library isn’t the only card with horrible memory-related rules corner cases, but it is the worst of them precisely because the card is quite good.

This card also causes awful memory issues if cast late in a turn in which Draw 7s, cantrips and the like are being flung around – especially Draw 7s which also scramble the graveyard, like Timetwister. Fortunately the Vortex hasn’t really made it into competitive play since leaving Standard.

It’s also problematic that in order to play Sylvan Library and Brainstorm in the same deck, in paper Magic you are required to feed your opponent free information every time you cast an upkeep Brainstorm, telling them how many cards out of the new three you keep in hand, and how many you return to library. Many games this will not matter, but particularly against opponents playing Vendillion Clique, or who use Gitaxian Probe or Thoughtseize to see your hand, it is a significant information leak that can punish you.

I don’t have answers to the conundrum raised by Sylvan Library. Fortunately both Abundance and Hypergenesis are seldom played in formats where Sylvan Library is legal, and so this situation is almost relegated to the level of a hypothetical. The present workaround comes close enough to working that it is not yet a major problem.

I do think the rules around this card should be tightened up, however, and Wizards should not be afraid to issue errata that maintains the spirit of Sylvan Library  without preserving its original functionality in every situation.

One option is to errata the card to

“At the beginning of your draw step, you may draw two additional cards. If you do, choose two cards in your hand drawn this step. For each of those cards, pay 4 life or put the card on top of your library.”

This would preserve the historically significant interactions (Abundance, etc) but would still allow some corner issues with draw step Vendillion Clique scenarios.

A more significant change (which would break the Abundance and Pursuit interactions) would be to change the card as follows:

“The first time you would draw a card during your draw step, instead look at the top three cards of your library, return them in any order, then choose one – draw a card; draw 2 cards and lose 4 life; or draw 3 cards and lose 8 life.”

Whilst this would be a functional change, it would be far from the most significant functional errata in recent times. But it would allow paper play to ‘catch up’ with some of the advantages MTGO offers for playing Sylvan Library.

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PSA – Blood Moon bugged on MTGO

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a moving picture.

 

 

At around 52 seconds I play a Stomping Ground into Blood Moon.

Under the new rules (introduced with Ixilan), the Stomping Ground’s ETB replacement ability should not be checked. I should not have the option to pay life, and the land should ETB untapped as a non-basic Mountain.

MTGO is still working to the rules that existed prior to Ixilan, so the ETB replacement still occurs. Fortunately this didn’t cost me the game.

This is a known bug, but as Blood Moon is one of the highest profile cards in the Modern format, and the Blood Moon – Cavern of Souls interaction comes up in Legacy too, you should be aware of this one.

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Playing To Your Outs – Lessons From An HOU-HOU-AKH Draft

This is my first attempt at using videos on the site, and using Youtube. If it looks terrible, let me know and I’ll see if I can fix it.

 

I had an interesting MTGO game recently. Here’s a replay video.

The format was HOU-HOU-AKH draft (as I’m terrible at Ixilan so far…), and after taking the best cards without regard to colour for the first couple of picks, it became clear that an aggressive WG strategy was open. However, I had enough good red cards to merit a 3 mountain, 1 Desert of the Fervent splash.

After going 2-0 and winning game 1 of the final, I see a dubious, colour screwed hand in game 2 and decide to keep it.

I fall way behind early, as a result of having 4 uncastable white cards. I spend my turn 2 cycling trying to find a Plains, and then spend my turn 6 actually fetching one. That’s the cost I paid for a greedy splash.

On my opponent’s ninth and tenth turns, it’s clear that they are just a second away from sealing the win.

Then, you’ll notice that I draw absolutely perfectly for about three turns in a row, while my opponent fails to find gas, and I end up stealing the win.

There’s a lot that can be taken from the decisions I make on the 9th and 10th turns.

Firstly, as I’m forced to accept a horrible 5-for-2 block on the opponent’s tenth turn, I accepted that there’s a lot of circumstances in which I cannot win.

If my opponent has (almost) any combat trick, I lose. So I play under the assumption that they have no tricks. I lose nothing by doing so – if they have one and cast it, I lose whether I play around it or not.

Likewise I just die if the opponent draws Open Fire or Blur of Blades on their 10th or 11th turn – so I just assume they will not draw it.

Secondly, the only chance I have to get out of the hole I am in is to win via the Pride Sovereign. That card is obnoxiously overpowered in Limited, and so I decide to protect it at any cost.

On several occasions I make plays during my opponent’s turn that will result in me losing outright if I draw a land (or another blank card like some combat tricks).

When you are behind, this is often the correct play.

After the Sifter Wurm wrecks my board, if the top three cards of my library were not all live cards, I was guaranteed to lose. So I played under the assumption that I’d get runner-runner perfect draws and the opponent would not draw perfectly.

Usually, you lose anyway. But sometimes, you get lucky enough to eke out a win from a game you would otherwise have lost.

Magic is a game of tiny advantages. Sometimes, you are a hundred-to-one longshot to win a game. In those situations, don’t concede. Play for the miracle, because sometimes they do happen.

 

As a side note, here’s a game where that deck didn’t draw particularly well, but still beat a turn 6 God-Pharoh’s Gift that triggers three times. Don’t pass so many Dauntless Avens, the card is nuts.

 

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Site Update

Hey all, sirgog here.

No posts in a while so I thought I’d give a brief update.

I’ve been *really* busy. That’s all. My 9-5 job (overseeing end of lease returns on commercial aircraft) has been busier than normal, and I’ve not had enough time to do much more than follow Ixilan and Iconic Masters spoilers.

The site isn’t going away.

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