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MY TAKE ON THE RESTRICTED LIST

Last week the DCI made major amendments to the Eternal Banned and Restricted lists.

VINTAGE:

CHALICE OF THE VOID: is restricted

DIG THROUGH TIME: is restricted.

THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE:is unrestricted.

LEGACY:

THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE: is restricted.

BLACK VISE: is unrestricted.

For both formats the changes are gigantic and will be felt in the ways that the formats will look, feel, and play moving forward.  In today’s article I will walk through these changes, step by step, and give my take on whether they are positive or negative based on how I expect these changes to impact Eternal.

For the record, if I had to give the overall performance of the DCI a grade for last week’s changes I would give them an “F.”  The reason I selected this grade is quite simply because there wasn’t a lower grade for me to choose.  (Yep, I dislike these changes THAT much).

 

THE CHANGES TO THE VINTAGE RESTRICTED LIST

It was clear going into this banned and restricted announcement that something needed to be done about Vintage.  MISHRA’S WORKSHOP decks were dominating the format and warping what the other decks were allowed to do in an oppressive way.  The results from the Vintage Championship (the largest Vintage event of all time) showed us that the format had essentially warped into a two archetypical strategies: various flavors of Workshops and UR “anti-Workshops.”

I applaud the DCI for making a move because we had essentially reached a crossroads where it was clear things had nowhere else go.  DCI intervention was a long time coming as MUD decks had been operating at an unacceptable level for well over a year now.

Last winter I was asked on social media which cards needed to go in order to open things back up.  My response was that DIG THROUGH TIME and CHALICE OF THE VOID were both prime candidates for Restriction in Vintage.  The problem with my statement was that I made it at a point in time where I wasn’t actually playing Vintage and thus my solution was 100% based in theory rather than practice.

Over the summer I spent a lot of time and energy working on various decks in preparation for the events leading up to the Vintage Championship and many of the things that I ultimately concluded were in direct contrast to my assumptions about how Vintage worked and played.

The first assumption that I quickly discarded was that “If you want to beat Mishra’s Workshop decks — you can.”  I’ve played Vintage for nearly 20 years and it has always been the case that if you wanted to build a deck that thrashed Shops all you had to do was try a little harder.  Even my most hateful, spiteful decks that were built to beat Workshop ultimately proved to be less than 50% to win when they were on the draw…  It is also worth noting that in order to get these still pedestrian percentages I was giving up tons of ground in the blue mirror, the combo match up, and vs. Dredge.

My conclusion was to switch gears and join the enemy and play MUD.

It is worth noting that I and several other elite level Vintage players and deck builders (specifically, Paul Mastriano and Rich Shay) came to the exact same conclusion: Workshops are a level better than even the “UR anti-shop decks” and made the switch.  For NYSE and Champs the bluest of the blue mages had all left their MANA DRAINs at home and were fighting for the Phyrexians.

Clearly, something needed to be done:

 

chaliceofvoid
 

Chalice emphasizes the one-sidedness of Workhsop on the play because it takes away the opposing player’s ability to deploy Moxen.  On the surface, it would seem that this is the kind of card that is unhealthy and ought to be restricted.

At the Vintage Championship preliminary event I won I played 3x Chalice, at Vintage Champs (9th) I played 2x Chalice, and at the Serious Open I won I played no Chalices.

So, how does one get from the point of suggesting Chalice of the Void as a candidate for Restriction to  not even playing the card?

Well, as it turns out the Chalice is only high impact in certain kinds of match ups and metagames.  The format had adapted in anticipation of having to deal with Chalice on the first time by not greedily overloading on Moxen.  Instead, players were opting to play more lands in order to have reliable sources of mana through the midgame.

As it turns out, my initial analysis of Chalice being a problem card hinged on my perception of Chalice being “unbeatable” against the decks that I was playing last year.  I had been championing Steel City Vault which in addition to running all of the “real” Moxen also played a full set of MOX OPALChalice for zero is devastating against those decks.  However, as I changed gears and approached the match up from the Workshop side it was apparent that Chalice was basically great against fast combo decks but very mediocre against the decks that were actually being played.

It is worth noting that there are worse things in the world than the Workshop decks having access to cards that are fantastic against truly degenerate, fast, all-in combo decks.  There should be checks and balances for linear decks that play the Restricted list and look to hit critical mass on the first or second turn.

Final analysis of Chalice of the Void restriction: I applaud that the DCI finally admitted that the great heights Workshop decks had reached were unacceptable and that something needed to be done.  However, restricting the card that is primarily only good against degenerate combo decks and not the decks that people actually play seems quite silly.  It is also worth noting that the DCI Restricted a card that the format had widely been able to adapt to in order to decrease it’s effectiveness.

 

The next card that was shown the door:

dig through time
 

The Restriction of Dig Through Time is something that doesn’t surprise me, but unnecessary at the current time.

My thought process is two-fold here.  First, one thing at a time.  I would have liked to have seen the DCI address the problem (Shops are too good) and then wait to see what happens next rather than make a bunch of changes all at once.  Restricting a card from Workshop could have unforeseen ripples down the road and so making a bunch of changes all at once creates a lot of moving parts.

Secondly, “Dig decks” were not good because of any other reason than they were blue decks that got to play the great Shop hate decks.  We didn’t see UW Dig, BUG Dig, Etc., rather it was always various flavors of Izzet competing with Shop.  These decks were not good because they played Dig, they were good because they had the tools (INGOT CHEWER, LIGHTNING BOLT, and DACK FAYDEN) to play competive games against Workshops.

I think it was clear that something from Workshops needed to change but if things were done correctly and Workshops were brought down a notch I would have liked to play that format before deciding on Restricting cards from the blue decks.  We have to remember that the blue decks that occupied the top tier of the metagame were basically in reaction to Workshops being so good.  They are not “broken blue decks” but rather “anti-workshop decks.”

My analogy would be to look at the decks that were popular in Standard when Ravager Affinity was the dominant strategy and deciding to ban ARCBOUND RAVAGER and OXIDIZE because those are two cards from the best two decks.  That format was also defined by an over-powered Artifact deck that was a level better than everything else and so the format was transformed into “Best Deck” vs. “Anti-Best Deck Deck.”  If the DCI fixes the “Best Deck” problem they can take a wait and see approach to see how the dust settles before premptively banning or restricting more cards

It is possible that Dig Through Time would have needed to be addressed moving forward but I would have preferred they wait and give the format a chance to sort itself out first.

It is also worth noting that Dig isn’t a card that decks always play four copies of.  For every deck playing four copies there is another blue deck only playing a couple.  If this is the case than Dig is a card that creates tension with regard to deck construction.  Should I play all four or should I play something else?  I don’t think that anybody would argue that the availability of cards that make deck builders choose between different paths are a good thing.

In this case, Dig is a card that creates questions and space for deck builders and players to be creative and do different things and I would have liked to see things had played out.

Final analysis on Dig Through Time:  I would have liked to have seen one thing changed at a time.  If we can bring Shops down a notch and create new space for other decks to occupy we can take a “wait and see” approach to whether or not decks that dig begin to separate themselves at the top.

 

The last move that the DCI made is the most puzzling and bothersome.

thirst for knowledge
 

I don’t understand this move in the context of the other restrictions.  First of all, aside from the “silly not-real cards” that occupy the Restricted list I am of the opinion that TFK was easily one of the most unrestrictible cards in Vintage.  First of all, it is a lynch pin, build around me card that has only and will only enable completely ridiculous things.

My historical example is that Thirst has been the lynch pin in two of the most dominant and powerful decks in the history of the format: “Control Slaver” and “Tezzeret Control.”  For those of you who didn’t play through these eras of Vintage these decks completely warped and dominated the format.  The Tezzeret control decks were occupying roughly 80% of the slots in Vintage Top 8s when they finally decided to give TFK the axe.

The card has a track record of being a problem in the format and always leads to the same conclusion: big blue combo control decks separate themselves as the best deck.

If the mind-boggling move of bring Thirst back for an encore performance was going to be the case I think the DCI would have been more than safe simply leaving Chalice and DIG alone.  In that alternate universe I would still bet my money on TFK being the best deck but at least all the other decks would have all of their tools in tact to fight against it.  In fact, I believe the TRINISPHERE is actually a safer card to unrestrict than TFK.  As ridiculous as it sounds to say this out loud, I think 4x 3ball is more healthy for Vintage than 4x TFK.

The other thing that I hate about the changes to the Vintage restricted list is how all the changes seem to be warped around the idea of making the world once again safe for big blue combo control to dominate the format.  Not only did they bring back an unsafe lynch pin in TFK but they also at the same time restricted Chalice (which forces players to not go too bananas with Moxen) and Dig (the premier draw spell for aggro control Mentor decks).

The other thing that is problematic about this perfect storm of Vintage changes is that the last time we had TFK in the format this card hadn’t been printed yet:

 

mox opal047
 

It seems like a potential oversight that there are decks that might want to pair TFK and Mox Opal to great effect and will enjoy not getting Chaliced out of the game.  Opal lets us have more Moxen to cast Thirst as quickly as possible and also gives us additional artifacts to discard so that we always get the card advantage.

I 100% expect various flavors of Opal and Thirst to separate themselves from the pack as the Tier I archetype and I’m not sure that any of the other decks have the tools to push back.  Sure, they can be beaten and other decks can win tournaments — but my point is that we should expect these decks to see a ton of play and to occupy large percentages of Top 16 finishes in the coming months.

null rod
 

But Brian, what about Null Rod?  Won’t Shops and Fish play Null Rod?

Yes, they will.  However, my issue with Null Rod is that it forces a player to make concessions in their deck in order to play with it.  If a Shop deck is playing Null Rod they can’t be Ravager, Hangarback, Metal Worker, or Forgemaster. They also can’t count on using their Moxen to cast spells.

The cost is high.  Also, don’t forget that the blue decks can just Nature’s Claim, Ancient Grudge, or Hurkyl’s Recall it away, and that is only if they don’t counterspell it…  Yes, the card is well positioned but the problem is that in order to utilize the card we are forced to play a less powerful strategy.

To revert back to my Ravager Affinity analogy:  Are you going to play a deck that will go down as being one of the most unfair decks of all time, or do you want to play the deck that tries to be the “anti-best deck.”

I think the appropriate course of action last week was the following:

LODESTONE GOLEM is Restricted in Vintage.

I also would have accepted the Restriction of Tangle Wire as a reasonable move, however I think that the Shop decks have a much harder time recouping the loss of Tangle Wire than Lodestone Golem.

The restriction of Golem also opens up more space to innovate various Shop archetypes.  As it stands, there is very little incentive to operate outside of the bounds of Mono Brown MUD because the deck puts so much emphasis on popping out Lodestone with ANCIENT TOMB.  If you curtail the angle of trying to be “all Golem all the time,” there is incentive build Roland Chang style Workshop decks that actually play color spells like Goblin Welder.

My opinion: 1. They hit the wrong cards.  2. It was too much all at once.  3. Restricting cards that are good against Thirst and then unrestricting Thirst is insane.

THE CHANGES TO THE LEGACY BANNED LIST

 

bgsjsa9510alphablackvise2771
 

I’m not going to go as in depth into the Legacy changes as I did for Vintage but I’d still like to use this opportunity to get my two cents in.

Bringing back the Vise is a ballsy move and I don’t mind it.  The other decks are so broken let’s see if anybody even notices this powerful 1cc artifact from yesteryear even sees play.  It seems fantastic in a Burn deck and I also like the idea of trying it out in an Affinity artifact deck.

I applaud this change because it is bold.  The card is so different than the other cards that I’m interested to see how it measures up.  The other thing is that if Burn becomes “too good” people can adjust fairly easily and so the card is just another powerful angle in a format full of powerful linear decks.

Now here is the one that disgusts me.

dig through time
 

So, are you really telling me that the DCI looked at the format and said “Well, of all the things that are going on here we need to take away Dig.”

It is such a cop out.

Yes, Dig is a card that has found a home in the Blue decks that literally have the format in a stranglehold.  The thing is that lots of these decks don’t even play four of this card.  It is just another great blue card in decks that are already filled with great blue cards.

The whole agenda for Legacy is to make the world safe for BRAINSTORM.  It is the same thing that happened with Necropotence back in the 90s.  Necropotence was a stupid broken card and instead of banning Necropotence they continued to ban various other cards to make the Necro decks fair.  It never worked and the reason was that the problem was Necro is a broken card and you can pair it with basically anything and it is still better than anything else anybody else can do.  BS is the same thing — the four Brainstorm in your deck are a mile better than any of the cards in your opponent’s deck.

Everybody knows the joke.  I’m not even going to complain about it anymore because it is clear that BS is a sacred cow and they are afraid to touch it.

If the DCI doesn’t want to act with authority and balance the format by taking away BS they could at least take away other high power, Brainstormesque tools from the blue decks.

I would suggest that SENSEI’S DIVINING TOP and PONDER would be much higher impact restrictions that have a chance of leveling the playing field for non-blue decks than Dig will have.  Don’t forget, the blue decks were already dominant before the Khans block Delve spells and they will continue to dominate despite the banning of Dig through Time.

The problem with blue decks is the one mana Library Manipulation and not two mana draw spells that people cast on turn three or four.  The reason I dislike the banning of Dig Through Time while instead of one of the other cards I suggested is that it appears that Legacy is going to be a landscape where not only is Brainstorm a sacred cow, but where every other card that is Brainstormesque (Ponder, Top) are also going to be untouchable as well.

In the case of Top, not only is the card completely degenerate in terms of the amount of value it generates in terms of card selection and advantage when paired with Counterbalance but it is also a card that is impractical for tournament Magic.  It causes multiple matches to go to time every round and for those extra turns to take FOREVER because of all the extra Topping that occurs.

Every time Legacy gets played every person in the room takes an hour of their life and flushes it down the toilet because rounds are extended because of Top.  I guess that is the price we all pay in order to enjoy the great fun of playing against the COUNTERBALANCE + Top combo.

MY OPINION:  I’m glad they brought Black Vise back into the fold.  Aside from that, I am of the opinion that taking away Dig Through Time instead of one of the 1cc library manipulation spells from the blue decks is pretty laughable.  I have been of the opinion that Brainstorm is a card with a power level that is clearly beyond the other cards legal in the format for a long time.  I’ve accepted that it is a sacred cow but why does every card that does a similar thing also have to be kept safe?

The format will be different with the banning of Dig Through Time — instead of looking how it looked last week it will look exactly the same as it looked a year ago before Khans of Tarkir.

Obviously, I’m not thrilled with the recent B&R changes but that doesn’t mean that I’m not excited to play more Vintage and Legacy in the coming months.  It is always fun to play new formats, even if those “new” formats feel eerily similar to other “new” formats I’ve played before.

Time to dust off those Goblin Welders and Black Vises and go BACK TO THE FUTURE!!!

 

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