August 26, 2019 Banned and Restricted Announcement

Oversoul

The Tentacled One

Holy changes to Not-Legacy, Batman!

Standard
Rampaging Ferocidon is unbanned.

Modern
Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is banned.
Faithless Looting is banned.
Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned.

Vintage
Karn, the Great Creator is restricted.
Mystic Forge is restricted.
Mental Misstep is restricted.
Golgari Grave-Troll is restricted.
Fastbond is unrestricted.
 

Melkor

Well-Known Member
It's interesting that they had the same sort of comment for Stoneforge and Fastbond, that they periodically review the banned list for things to remove. Hopefully they will do that for Legacy.
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
This is easily the most interesting B&R announcement in a long time, and I have a bunch of thoughts on it. Some things I like a lot and some real qualms too. I'll write some obnoxiously long post later. Maybe.

For now, though, I'll just highlight one thing...

Other cards we've discussed unrestricting in the future are Windfall and Necropotence.
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Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Like I said, this is easily the most interesting B&R announcement in a long time. I'll offer my exhaustive analysis on it. But first, some preliminary remarks...
  • I am generally happy with these results, unexpected as they are. Mostly step in the right direction, probably. I think that things will get better.
  • I remain steadfast in my position that these broad, sweeping changes are the wrong way to go. Modern has three changes at once and Vintage has five. WotC has a track record of sitting on "no changes" announcements repeatedly, sometimes for much longer than would seem prudent, with occasional point changes, but also with the more rare "five simultaneous changes to one format" announcements. While I do not think that it should be an unbreakable rule, a general policy of making one change at a time, smaller changes but more often, is a superior method.
  • The lack of Legacy unbans continues to frustrate me.
  • The longer explanation offered for these changes is a nice touch. I mean, I'll go over it and have some criticisms for the details, but this is so much better than the cryptic explanations we've seen for many announcements in the past.
On with my blathering!

We periodically review the banned and restricted lists for cards we can remove that will positively impact a format. Rampaging Ferocidon was banned during Ixalan-year Standard in order to weaken aggressive red decks and provide more counterplay by blocking with creatures and gaining life. Since that time, aggressive red decks have become weaker in the metagame as stronger and more varied strategies have emerged.

Two popular new Standard decks enabled by Core Set 2020's release are Scapeshift and Orzhov Vampires. Both decks seek to win by putting lots of small creatures onto the battlefield, and the Orzhov Vampires deck has many ways to gain life. Rampaging Ferocidon should give red aggressive strategies and other decks, like Jund Dinosaurs, an additional option to fight Scapeshift and Orzhov Vampires. While we're generally happy with the health of the Standard metagame right now, we believe Rampaging Ferocidon will further improve the metagame's general balance and ability to self-correct for the remaining Core Set 2020 Standard season, until rotation with the release of Throne of Eldraine.
Not a lot to say about this one. I don't play Standard and currently, I associate with far more players who are active in Modern than in Standard. I don't have any strong opinions on the format or on this particular card. There is one aspect of this that strikes me as highly noteworthy, although I have seen no discussion on it thus far. This is a kind of momentous occasion for Standard: it's the first unban the format has ever seen. An aberration and footnote, or a sign that things have changed? I don't know, but I'd think people would be talking about it...

Note that Rampaging Ferocidon will be unbanned in traditional best-of-three Standard on MTG Arena (as of September 4), but will remain banned in best-of-one play. This is due to differences in the metagames between those play modes, with aggressive red strategies already performing well in best-of-one.
I probably should just not care, but this part doesn't sit well with me. I mean, what's this silliness about a card being banned in one mode of a format, but not in another mode? Are Magic tournament formats going to be subdivided into absurdity?
 

Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Modern

Since the release of Modern Horizons, graveyard decks using Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis have had an enormous impact on the Modern metagame. After early signs of the metagame being unable to self-correct, such as players adopting large amounts of main-deck graveyard hate and the Hogaak deck still boasting high win rates, we restricted Bridge from Below to weaken the deck.
Banned, not restricted.

Since then, the results of Mythic Championship IV in Barcelona, several Grands Prix, and other tournaments have shown that Hogaak continues to have a high win rate and oppressive effect on the metagame. In looking at the evolution of the archetype over time and the variety of successful ways to build the deck, it's clear that the card Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is the crux of the problem. Therefore, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is banned.
Everyone I know who is into Modern was pretty confident that Hogaak was going to be banned, so this is probably the least surprising part of the announcement. I mentioned in a brief discussion at my LGS that I kind of feel bad for WotC on this one. I mean, Hogaak as a card design was a silly mistake, and that's on them. But from what I could tell, their explanation for banning Bridge from Below seemed cogent. I bought their reasoning for why they targeted that card specifically. And then data clearly showed that their targeted ban did not have the desired effect. It seemed like it could have worked, but it did not work. And hey, sometimes that's how things are going to happen. Couldn't fault them for trying.

Coming out of this period of an unhealthy Modern metagame, we want to avoid taking a half step that once again leaves the metagame in a place where it can't self-correct. Over the past year, graveyard-based strategies have been occupying a large portion of the Modern metagame, to the point where deck-building diversity is being suppressed. This is reflected in the rise of heavy-handed main deck anti-graveyard cards like Surgical Extraction, Leyline of the Void, and Rest in Peace. We'd like to shift gameplay a little bit away from the graveyard and back toward the hand and battlefield.
This is exactly the sort of reasoning I have a history of quibbling over in these B&R announcements. A certain deck was demonstrating dominance, was a problem for a format. So they announce that they're banning that card in that format. But then, in the same announcement, they consider the possibility that with the problematic card gone, the overall metagame will shift in some direction that they also don't want, so they had better go ahead and ban a card that wasn't demonstrably the problem. Official statements from WotC have no track record of making accurate predictions for how formats will evolve. Quite the opposite: they've failed in their predictions when they've been so bold as to make them. I wish someone with some clout would sit the decision-makers down and explain to them that they need to stop pretending to have fortune-telling powers. In some instances, there may be information that suggests banning two cards is necessary, perhaps to deal with a demonstrable duopoly in tournament results. And those exceptions are one thing. But it's another thing entirely to see the card that's a problem, ban it, and then to go, "While we're at it, we believe that in the future, this other card that isn't the problem might become the problem. So we'll ban that too."

And I remain highly critical of the philosophy that WotC impose on Modern. They outright state that they are banning cards not to curb dominance or other problems, but because they'd "like to shift gameplay a little bit." This kind of aggressive curation, not of what might win too much or might inhibit others from winning, but of style, is simply too invasive. The only saving grace is that it's mainly been confined to Modern. But I worry that the overall philosophy has infected the regulation of Legacy too. The banning of Gitaxian Probe sure seemed like a sign of that.

The key card enabling the majority of these graveyard-focused decks is Faithless Looting. By our data gathered from Magic Online and tabletop tournament results, over the past year the winningest Modern deck at any given point in time has usually been a Faithless Looting deck. Examples include Hollow One, Izzet Phoenix, and Dredge and Bridgevine variants (both pre- and post-Hogaak's release). As new card designs are released that deal with the graveyard, discarding cards, and casting cheap spells, the power of Faithless Looting's efficient hand and graveyard manipulation continues to scale upward. Regardless of Hogaak's recent impact, Faithless Looting would be a likely eventual addition to the banned list in the near future. In order to ensure the metagame doesn't again revert to a Faithless Looting graveyard deck being dominant, we believe now is the correct time to make this change. For this same reason, we're choosing not to unban Bridge from Below at this time.
Somewhat amusingly, Spidey recently reminded me of my submitted-but-unpublished frontpage Comboist Manifesto article "The Graveyard." That article was written back in October of last year, but it's looking especially relevant now. Anyway, Faithless Looting seems like a pretty innocuous card to me, but then, so do some other cards that are banned in Modern. It's not my format and I shouldn't dwell too much on this stuff.

Knowing that these changes will already shake up the metagame, we consider this a good time to review cards currently on the banned list. Just as was our philosophy in unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf last year, we recognize that over time the power level of Modern increases naturally as the card pool grows. Cards that were added to the banned list on pure power level may now be more appropriate in context of a more powerful metagame. We believe the Modern metagame and power level are in a place where Stoneforge Mystic is now an appropriate inclusion in the card pool.
This unbanning surprised some people, which I find a bit puzzling. Stoneforge Mystic was among the safest of unbans they could find for Modern, and WotC does tend toward these "prisoner exchange" updates, banning stuff that they want to get rid of, but unbanning some irrelevant throwback simultaneously, even though the unbanned card could have been unbanned way earlier.

Ignoring my earlier statement about how I don't play Modern and shouldn't focus on this stuff, the Stoneforge Mystic ban was laughably unnecessary from the beginning. For those who don't remember, Modern borrowed somewhat from the framework of Extended formats in its inception. Stoneforge Mystic was excluded from Modern when the format was created, and this was due to the Extended format dominance of the "Caw Blade" decks. These were reactive control decks powered by Jace, the Mind Sculptor, with Squadron Hawk as a value engine to synergize with Jace. They could quickly and decisively eliminate opponents, even opponents who managed to contest the control provided by Jace, through the combination of Stoneforge Mystic + Umezawa's Jitte. The archetype was so infamous that that WotC felt compelled to curtail it when they created Modern. Banning a card to keep that deck from running rampant in the new format was a reasonable precaution to take. But here's what's so absurd: they banned Jace, the Mind Sculpltor and Stoneforge Mystic and Umezawa's Jitte.

Now, the format evolved into a position where a blue four-drop planeswalker control card with a chaff playset of little birdies to help it draw cards wouldn't be a powerhouse anymore anyway. But even before that, it was trivially obvious that Stoneforge Mystic was no threat without the cards that propped it up in Extended. No Jace, no Jitte? No threat. Stoneforge Mystic in Modern would have been a decent equipment toolbox card for aggro-control decks, probably fetching Batterskull or Sword of Fire and Ice. The equipment that let it take over games so easily was Umezawa's Jitte, and that card was already banned.

The danger in reintroducing Stoneforge Mystic, and the reason it's remained on the banned list up until this point, is that it's at its strongest against straightforward decks that play to the battlefield. While we think it's unlikely, there is a scenario where Stoneforge Mystic could come to suppress this type of gameplay, in which case we would re-examine its legality (similar to Golgari Grave-Troll's history in Modern). Instead, our hope is that as gameplay becomes less graveyard focused, Stoneforge Mystic serves as an enticing draw for decks to refocus toward the battlefield, creature combat, and card advantage.
That whole paragraph is a bunch of hedging. The card is tame so long as you can't use it to fetch Umezawa's Jitte.
 
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Oversoul

The Tentacled One
Vintage

War of the Spark, Modern Horizons, and Core Set 2020 have been among the most impactful sets for Vintage in years. We've been watching and listening to the evolution of Vintage over the last several months as the metagame has begun to settle. Now that the London mulligan is official and we've had some time to review data and tournament results, we'd like to take action to resolve some problematic play patterns.

Though our data shows that Vintage is in a good state of balance from an objective standpoint, with nearly all the Top 10 decks having a 47–53% overall win rate, we've heard community concerns about an increase in turn-one/two effective wins and less interactive gameplay. We agree and would like to move the format back to a place the community is happy with, even taking multiple steps over time if needed.
If you are interested in taking multiple steps over time, then why are you now taking multiple steps simultaneously? I'm not particularly sorry to see any of these restrictions, but I'm a bit frustrated to see all of them at once. It's quite possible that restricting just one of these cards would have moved the format to a spor where the other two restrictions wouldn't be relevant. But now we'll never know.

Recently, Karn, the Great Creator and Mystic Forge have turbo-charged Shops decks by giving them more early-game lockout potential (through Karn's static ability), a tutorable win condition (through Karn's -2 loyalty ability fetching Time Vault and Voltaic Key or Manifold Key), and card advantage in prolonged games (especially through Mystic Forge). Relating to Karn's static ability, Vintage is the one format in Magic where players can enjoy playing with super powerful artifact mana like the Moxen, Sol Ring, and Black Lotus. We'd like to reduce the number of games that immediately come down to an early Karn preventing the opponent from casting spells.
Again, this is a problem that probably could have been solved by restricting one card, not two. You don't get bonus points for solving the problem twice over.

Therefore, in order to make Shops decks more interactive in the early game and more attackable in a prolonged game, we are restricting Karn, the Great Creator and Mystic Forge. We considered the further step of restricting Sphere of Resistance, but prefer to take this smaller step first and reevaluate based on data and community feedback.
As I've seen pointed out, that last part is bizarre. The KarnForge deck did not run Sphere of Resistance. It wasn't in the deck.

Dredge decks based around Bazaar of Baghdad have become more powerful with the London mulligan and some recent card additions, such as Force of Vigor as a means of fighting opposing graveyard hate. In order to slow these decks down and provide more time for interaction, we are restricting Golgari Grave-Troll.
There's some debate regarding what this does to the landscape of Bazaar decks, and I don't think I have the expertise to make a proper assessment. So I'll just wait and see.

Now, reserving judgment on what this exact change might do, there is an aspect of Bazaar decks that the changes touch on one way or another, and it brings up a kind of conundrum. The Dredge archetype has evolved in Vintage over several years. More recently, new printings also enabled the Survival Salad archetype. Since then, new printings and metagames shifts have altered the balance between which of these approaches to using Bazaar is more effective. I think that some of the new creature options for the Survival toolbox caused the pendulum to swing more toward Survival Salad, but the London Mulligan and the printing of Force of Vigor brought the pendulum way back in the direction of Dredge. Without claiming to know what the latest changes will do, I do suspect that an equilibrium between these schools would eventually collapse. And if I'm right, which is preferable? If Vintage only gets to keep one Bazaar deck, which should be allowed to reign? As a longtime SotF fan, I would lean toward Survival Salad. But Bazaar-powered Dredge has done something really unique and I'd be sorry to see it go.

Here's hoping for a stable equilibrium, I guess.

Mental Misstep has been a controversial card among the Vintage community for years. While it does provide more opportunity for interaction, it is also at its strongest against the most interactive decks. Moreover, a large part of the reason for including Mental Misstep is to fight an opponent's Mental Missteps. This creates a situation where many decks are "taxed" deck slots they must devote to fighting each other at the expense of weakening themselves against Shops. In addition, Dredge decks often use Mental Misstep to protect their graveyard engine or disrupt opponents. We believe that restricting Mental Misstep will open up more deck-building diversity, strengthen interactive decks' matchups against Shops, and weaken Dredge.
Yes, yes, yes! It's been a long time coming. This horrible card got the axe in Legacy and Modern forever ago. I hate Mental Misstep so much. Maybe now all the decks that were hosed out of the format because they lean on one-drops too much to handle Misttep.dec can have a chance to breathe again.

Seriously, how did Mental Misstep outlive Gitaxian Probe? Shame on WotC for taking this damn long to restrict the card. Just kidding: it's finally done and all is forgiven. ;)

Since our philosophy is that Vintage should be about playing with access to all of Magic, we periodically re-examine the restricted list for cards that can create new decks and play patterns, even if they come with some risk. Recently, many players have suggested Fastbond as a card they would enjoy building with four copies of. Since most Vintage decks rely heavily on artifact mana and play fewer lands, chances are that a deck built around Fastbond would look quite different from anything in the current metagame.
I was initially taken about when Stephen Menendian suggested this on the SMIP podcast, but I quickly came around and I've been on the unrestrict Fastbond bandwagon ever since. Great to see that it's finally happened.

Other cards we've discussed unrestricting in the future are Windfall and Necropotence.
Pretty please with a cherry on top? Come on, don't tease me like that. You don't comprehend how badly I want to be able to use a full playset of Necropotence again.

We're very interested in what the Vintage community thinks of these changes and whether further steps are needed. There will be one more opportunity to change the B&R list before Eternal Weekend North America, and we are willing to do so, so please continue to make yourselves heard in the same ways you have been.
This marks the 779th consecutive week that Earthcraft has been needlessly banned in Legacy. Also, unban Mind Twist already. And Goblin Recruiter. And Frantic Search. And Hermit Druid, probably. Memory Jar too. Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe too, as those were silly bans in the first place. Oh, and unban Windfall while you're at it. Maybe also look into unbanning Gush...
 
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