Magic Memories: Tolarian Academy

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Jun 4, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Humor my crass summation of some mid-00's cinema. It is my primitive attempt to emulate the human construct known as "metaphor." And in drawing this tenuous connection, I expend more exposition than I save. A futile gesture, but that's what I'm all about...

    In the movie Kill Bill, the protagonist is Beatrix Kiddo. We learn that she was an elite assassin who fell in love with her boss, the titular Bill. After she became pregnant, Beatrix had some epiphany about life or whatever and attempted to abandon her vocation and change her identity. Bill tracked her down and brought Beatrix's former coworkers to her wedding rehearsal, where they massacred the wedding party. Then Bill shot her in the head. Most of the movie follows Beatrix, having spontaneously awoken in a hospital from a vegetative state, hunting down the perpetrators of the massacre. In the final confrontation, Bill explains that he thought Beatrix was dead and was attempting to track down her killers to avenger her, but inadvertently found her alive, engaged, and pregnant. He describes his subsequent actions as "I overreacted." There is a drawn-out pause between them before Beatrix blurts, "You overreacted?"

    That, in a nutshell, is the history of Tolarian Academy. Too vague? I'll explain...

    In some of my other Memories threads, I've talked about a topic in the history of Magic that has become one of my favorites: early combo decks. Channel/Fireball, Underworld Dreams, Time Vault combo, Power Monolith, Vercursion. In the popular zeitgeist, combo decks weren't really prevalent until Prosperous Bloom in 1997. In reality, it seems like most combo decks from the first few years of the game's existence were nullified by either card errata or by bans and restrictions. By the time tournament Magic got going, the few combo decks that did stick around were strictly Type 1 anyway, and the tournaments that got all of the attention were Type 2. Considering that Type 2 started out with just Revised Edition, The Dark, and Fallen Empires, it's unsurprising that there's wasn't really a good combo option in the pool (they still had to ban Channel to make that happen, though). 1997 also saw the implementation of the Extended format, which made combo deckbuilding more viable than in Standard, and gave us things like the Fruity Pebbles deck.

    And then Tolarian Academy was printed...

    To be clear, just in case it's not obvious enough already, the card is totally broken. In terms of the power level of an individual card, of the impact it can make on the game, Tolarian Academy is probably the biggest mistake ever. Seriously, I do not want to understate this. WotC have made some mistakes and they are the first ones to admit it. I think it's meaningless to compare categorically different types of mistakes when it gets as broad as "the design philosophy of this set" or "the gameplay of this mechanic." So, sticking to individual cards that were overpowered far beyond their original intentions, there's some stiff competition. And if I were to try to list these "biggest overpowered mistake" cards, there'd necessarily be a caveat that the cards from 1993 (and possibly 1994) were made in a different context from the cards in later sets. When Richard Garfield first designed the game, he envisioned that essentially every player would only open so much sealed product, so broken cards would be restricted, not by a governing body, but by the nature of the game itself. Richard Garfield knew that Ancestral Recall was extremely powerful, but if the game had borne out in the way he was planning, that wouldn't really be a problem. The guy who owned a copy of Ancestral Recall probably wouldn't be the same person in your local playgroup as the guy who owned a copy of Black Lotus. Even crucial aspects of the game like the four-card rule weren't in place. In a vacuum, we'd probably state that Time Walk is "more broken" than Skullclamp. But I contend we'd also state that Skullclamp is a "bigger mistake" because the designers of Darksteel ostensibly knew better.

    While there's some subjectivity to it, I'd cite Tolarian Academy as the "biggest mistake" for the power level of a single card. In fact, despite how amazingly strong some of the competition has been demonstrated to be, I think that in the imaginary contest for first place in this category, it's really not even close. What's really impressive, though, isn't just that Tolarian Academy is a bigger mistake than its contemporaries, but that even if we stripped away the caveat and compared its power level directly to the old cards designed before the game developed its real structure, Tolarian Academy still shines. It is that strong.

    I want to be eminently clear about this and put it in context, because a lot of discussion about broken cards in Urza's Saga or even the block as a whole doesn't really capture how egregious Tolarian Academy really is. Yes, the set had other mistakes. Yes, the block had other mistakes. But every set has mistakes. Tolarian Academy as an irredeemably powerful card is every bit as potent as some of the most broken mana-producers of the early, pioneering era of the game. As a "mistake" the card should kinda be regarded as in a league of its own.

    When the tournament environment of 1998 gave way to "Combo Winter" more of the combo enablers being used to power Academy decks were from the sets in Rath Block than from Urza's Saga itself. Tolarian Academy was banned before it could dominate Standard, but it took over Extended and Type 1. Tolarian Academy hit the game like a ton of bricks. And as a new player with no tournament experience, I was dumbfounded at all this "Academy" fervor going on. So yeah, the card was a mistake and probably the worst mistake of its kind ever to happen. Banning it was a sensible move. Restricting it in Type 1 was a sensible move. But then, well, Wizards of the Coast, out of fear that some other combo deck might cause the same problem, overreacted...

    December 1998
    Standard: Tolarian Academy and Windfall are banned.
    Extended: Tolarian Academy and Windfall are banned.
    Type 1: Tolarian Academy, Windfall, and Stroke of Genius are restricted.

    March 1999
    Standard: Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Fluctuator, Lotus Petal, Recurring Nightmare, and Time Spiral are banned.
    Type 1: Time Spiral is restricted.
    Block Constructed: Time Spiral and Windfall are banned.

    June 1999
    Standard: Mind Over Matter is banned.
    Extended: Time Spiral is banned.
    Block Constructed: Gaea's Cradle, Serra's Sanctum, Tolarian Academy, and Voltaic Key are banned.

    August 1999
    Extended: Yawgmoth's Bargain is banned.
    A whole bunch of cards receive power-level errata.

    September 1999
    Extended: Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Lotus Petal, Mind Over Matter and Yawgmoth's Will are banned.
    Type 1: Crop Rotation, Doomsday, Dream Halls, Enlightened Tutor, Frantic Search, Grim Monolith, Hurkyl's Recall, Lotus Petal, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Mind Over Matter, Mox Diamond, Mystical Tutor, Tinker, Vampiric Tutor, Voltaic Key, Yawgmoth's Bargain and Yawgmoth's Will are restricted.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I don't want to extend the scope of my analysis to say which of those cards should or shouldn't have been banned/restricted. That's not what I'm trying to get at here. Instead, what I want to emphasize is the sheer volume and the apparent thought process. It seems completely fair to say that WotC were terrified of combo decks at the time, and anything that might enable a strong combo deck was a potential target.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    These days, major Standard tournaments following the release of new sets are the norm, and now they even name tournaments after new sets, so we have "Pro Tour Dominaria." But that was not always the case. Large-scale tournaments used to be seasonal affairs, so sometimes the tournaments would be Standard, sometimes Extended, and sometimes Block Constructed. The infamous Combo Winter of 1998 corresponded to the Extended season. Lists varied, but the most popularly cited decklist from Combo Winter is Tommi Hovi's winning deck from Pro Tour Rome...

    4 Ancient Tomb
    3 City of Brass
    4 Tolarian Academy
    4 Tundra
    4 Volcanic Island
    4 Lotus Petal
    4 Mana Vault
    4 Mox Diamond
    2 Scroll Rack
    3 Voltaic Key
    3 Mind Over Matter
    3 Abeyance
    3 Intuition
    3 Power Sink
    4 Stroke of Genius
    4 Time Spiral
    4 Windfall

    1 Arcane Denial
    4 Chill
    4 Gorilla Shaman
    2 Red Elemental Blast
    4 Wasteland

    Almost all of those cards (and all of the important ones) were Standard-legal, and the implication was clear. If Academy could dominate Extended without relying on pre-Standard cards, then surely it could dominate Standard too. So Academy was banned before it could get a chance to dominate Standard, simply by a quirk of the tournament schedule at the time. If there had been Standard tournaments in October/November/December of 1998, there's no doubt that Academy would have had the power to dominate them.

    While "Combo Winter" mostly started out with Extended, Academy was also, during that same time, unrestricted in Type 1. Here's what Zvi Moshowitz called "the deck that killed Type 1."

    4 Hurkyl's Recall
    4 Windfall
    4 Force of Will
    3 Mystical Tutor
    1 Capsize
    1 Time Walk
    1 Timetwister
    1 Ancestral Recall
    1 Regrowth
    4 Stroke of Genius
    3 Prosperity
    1 Braingeyser
    1 Fastbond
    2 Abeyance
    5 Moxen
    1 Black Lotus
    1 Sol Ring
    4 Mana Crypt
    4 Mana Vault
    4 Lotus Petal
    4 Tolarian Academy
    4 City of Brass
    1 Gemstone Mine
    1 Strip Mine

    This dominance might have been thorough, but it was short-lived. In December, Academy was banned everywhere except Type 1, where it was restricted. But that's just the beginning! I said they overreacted, and not by banning/restricting Tolarian Academy, but with the other actions that followed.
    Psarketos likes this.
  4. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Thanks for the Zvi link. I loved reading that guy.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I'll see if I can dig up one of my old decklists for my casual Academy deck. I didn't own any copies of Tolarian Academy until well after it was banned, but since I didn't care about the ban anyway, I was happy to run a playset of Tolarian Academy. If I do find one of my old decklists, I'll probably cringe at how inefficient it is. But it was powerful enough anyway. I even used four copies of Sol Ring! I think I always ran two copies of Windfall because the card was strongly associated with Academy, but in hindsight I wonder if that wasn't a mistake...

    Windfall was banned/restricted in the same announcement that took Tolarian Academy, and conventional wisdom seemed to be that it was basically a blue Wheel of Fortune. The card remains banned/restricted everywhere to this day. And while I can't say every instance in every format in which Windfall was banned was/is a bad call, I can say it's not the blue Wheel of Fortune.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I do not want to zero in on Windfall for too long, but I do think this point warrants some emphasis. At the time, in 1998, everyone acted like Windfall was effectively the blue Wheel of Fortune. And they were using it in that way. Wheel of Fortune had already been banned/restricted for a few years, and Windfall was widely considered the second most problematic card in Urza's Saga. I've seen this favorable comparison (or unfavorable, if the context is that overpowered cards are bad for the game) from multiple sources, and it seemed to go completely unquestioned. And when I say "sources" I don't just mean random people or even official announcements from WotC (I've long been critical of the rationale presented by WotC for their decisions on bans/restrictions, for several reasons). I'm mostly thinking of people who actually played the Academy deck. They had relevant experience. They knew what they were talking about. They know that Windfall functioned in this way because they played it in-person. For that matter, I played it in person, and so I can corroborate firsthand what everyone else has already told you (as though that matters). It was a sentiment echoed by all and, from everything I saw, refuted by none. The case against Windfall is rock-solid. And yet...

    What could possibly contradict such testimony? Just one little detail, a paltry matter, this minor factor that does seem to be inconsistent with the "Windfall breaks combo decks and acts just like a blue Wheel of Fortune" narrative. It's what I guess I'd call twenty years of competitive tournament history. That's right. Twenty. Go ahead: count 'em. Windfall might have been hot stuff alongside Tolarian Academy before both were restricted in Vintage and banned everywhere else, but Windfall has been legal as a one-off in Vintage decks and played in those decks to some extent in the years since. The results have been, to put it bluntly, not good. A synonym for "not good" is, by the way, "bad."

    Too harsh? Maybe. The card is still one of the strongest Wheel imitators in existence, and I wouldn't call it a bad card. Not at all. But "Neo-Academy" decks in Vintage always used a copy of the card, and after Storm combo became a thing, Storm pilots followed suit. And for all lofty notions of Windfall as the blue Wheel, the lesson that's been beaten into combo players as the years have gone by is that "draw 5" is not the same as "draw 7." You do not usually dictate how many cards are in your opponent's hand. Yes, sometimes your opponent has no responses and you land an early Windfall for 7. Sometimes you land an early Yawgmoth's Bargain, run through your deck, cast some mana acceleration, and Windfall for even more than 7. Sometimes your opponent already has a slightly depleted hand, but you Wheel or Timetwister first, then follow it up with Windfall later in the same turn. And those are all good. But on other occasions you are stuck leading with Windfall, and it's not landing for 7 or even 6. Some opponents aren't particularly trying to hold onto cards, and Windfall can become a dead topdeck, something no one playing a fast combo deck wants. The rise of Vintage Paradoxical Outcome decks has sidelined even the strongest of the "draw 7" cards, because bouncing all of your own mana-producing artifacts to draw cards, then replaying those artifacts and doing it all again is stronger than refilling your opponent's hand. Pretty much everyone who has been paying attention considers Windfall a safe unrestriction. In the Memories thread for Tendrils of Agony, I speculated that the hypothetical unrestriction of Windfall wouldn't even contribute anything to Bargain Storm. Since then, I've only become more convinced of this.

    I love "draw 7" cards. I've hopefully belabored that enough. Wheel of Fortune is one of my favorite cards ever and Timetwister is a contender for one of my personal favorites even though, being so rare, I've hardly actually gotten to play with the card. I've taken a serious look at every wannabe Wheel effect in existence. Every single one. Even the least promising. Of course I can't rattle all of them off from memory, but when a new set comes out with a card that can even kinda-sorta mimic Wheel/Timetwister, even for more mana and with multiple drawbacks, I take notice. I've been testing some of them for EDH. A lot of these cards are unsuitable for tournament play, and I'm more enthusiastic for Wheel effects even than the other casual combo nerds out there. I won't pretend that I have more insight into Windfall than everyone else in the world or anything, but I think most other people who do have experience with the card also come to the same conclusion I have. When it's acting like Wheel of Fortune, it's good. But sometimes it's acting more like Dark Deal...
    Now, "when it's good it's good and when it's bad it's bad" is not really a profound statement, but maybe it is more apparent to combo players in Vintage trying to sling restricted card-drawing spells for a couple of decades and sometimes running into a "Windfall" that turns out to be anything but. When you need something explosive, Windfall has the unfortunate tendency to be a dud. Not every time. Sometimes you use it when it seems less than ideal and you get lucky anyway with a "draw 4" or whatever. But Wheel of Fortune it ain't. And while this is obvious enough I feel kinda silly emphasizing what borders on trivial, that bit of nuance was lost on players in the wake of Tolarian Academy's devastating impact on the game. They saw a blue combo deck picking up first-turn kills and using a blue card that did an impression of a known banned combo component.

    My point isn't that Windfall was unjustly banned or restricted. I can't know that. Maybe it's not too strong for Vintage now, but it was back then. Maybe it would have been a problem in Standard and Extended, but not in Vintage. Or maybe something else. I could speculate, but that's all I'd be doing. What I can, quite comfortably, say, is that the Academy deck would have been broken even without Windfall. Banning Windfall wouldn't have solved that problem. Also, banning Academy killed the Academy deck (except in Vintage, where the card was only restricted, but more on that later). With no Academy deck, it isn't necessary to ban another card to weaken the Academy deck. It's already gone: you can't kill it twice.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Anyway, I think Windfall was mostly targeted due to guilt by association with Wheel of Fortune and Timetwister. Additionally, Braingeyser was already restricted in Vintage and the very similar card Stroke of Genius had been used in Academy decks. Many players argued that Stroke of Genius was more powerful than Braingeyser, instant speed being worth the additional mana cost. So, even though Academy was getting restricted anyway, it's not surprising that Stroke of Genius was restricted. Trouble is, Braingeyser hadn't ever been restricted for real dominance, but rather was a dinosaur that had been caught up in the attempts to carve out the original DCI lists, back when there was only one format (Type 1). Both Stroke and Braingeyser were viewed as dangerous combo payloads. The prior success of ProsBloom (which didn't have Braingeyser, but used Prosperity, which was similar) and the usage of Stroke of Genius in Academy decks must have been considered damning. But at some point, WotC learned better. The blue X card-drawing spells are almost universally regarded as benign these days.

    And that was the first wave. But other victims of "Combo Winter" would soon follow...
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Recurring Nightmare
    Just a bit before Tolarian Academy showed up, a popular Standard deck was a creature toolbox/reanimation deck called "Rec-Sur" for Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest. That really put Recurring Nightmare on the map and it seems like most of us still strongly associate Recurring Nightmare with Rec-Sur. But with Urza's Saga, a powerful Standard combo deck emerged based around the interaction between Recurring Nightmare and Great Whale. Banworthy? I honestly don't remember, but it was a combo deck, so something had to go.

    Dream Halls
    Somewhat infamously, InQuest Magazine called Dream Halls the worst card in Stronghold. From what I can discern, the card was banned in Standard pretty much entirely on the basis of its performance at the Magic Invitational, where a couple of players tried out a combo deck that used Dream Halls, Meditate, Mind Over Matter, Time Spiral, Intuition, Stroke of Genius, and Mana Vault. I built my own version of this in high school. It was one of my favorite decks at the time. It would use Mana Vault to cast an early Dream Halls, then pitch parts of its hand to use cards like Meditate, Opportunity, and Time Spiral, eventually using Dream Halls to cast Mind Over Matter, discarding extra cards to make 3 mana each with Mana Vault, and then emulating the Tolarian Academy + Mind Over Matter + Stroke of Genius engine by using Mana Vault as a makeshift Academy. I won't speculate as to how good it really would have been in Standard, but it was a fast combo deck living in the fallout of Academy, so something had to get banned.

    If Earthcraft + Sacred Mesa + Overgrowth seems like a pretty benign infinite combo today, that's because it really is. It takes all three cards to go infinite, and no two of them are really that powerful without the third. But even that wasn't tame enough for WotC, so Earthcraft was banned.

    Time Spiral
    I talked about the limitations of Windfall, but Time Spiral actually got to see a lot more tournament play. It was a key component of that Dream Halls deck, and in other formats it would enable High Tide decks. Banning it when they were banning Dream Halls anyway seems like overkill. I think it's overkill.

    Lotus Petal
    I have no idea why they targeted Lotus Petal in Standard. I guess it was just because the card made fast combo decks faster.

    Did a Memories thread on this one a while back. I've found no record of a Standard-legal Fluctuator deck ever being played in tournaments. There was an Extended Fluctuator deck that used Haunting Misery to kill the opponent, but Haunting Misery wasn't in Standard anymore, so the deck had no kill condition. In casual play there were attempts to use Living Death as a kill condition for Fluctuator, but the gulf between the cards in that context is huge. They banned Fluctuator anyway.
  9. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    So I got in my head to try to find out some of the reasonings behind the Standard bannings and while I'm not done, I started with a Google search and ended up at the Banned and Restricted Timeline at Gamepedia. Checking out some of their sources, it looks like this is a copy of the March 1999 B/R Announcement, where it simply states for Fluctuator:

    (Bolded emphasis mine). So obviously there was some debate and turmoil about this card, and it also begs the question of what Fluctuator deck was second tier that would have moved up (didn't get to that yet).

    Your posts are little confusing in that you're freely mixing talk about a card being restricted in Vintage and banned in Standard and it's hard to discern which point or argument (or discussion) you're trying to make for which environment. I *think* you're mostly talking about Vintage though.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Ah, thanks for reminding me of that. I remember looking at that same document when I was writing posts in the Memories thread for Fluctuator. That announcement is the earliest example I've seen of multiple DCI bans with explanations that attempted to predict alternate futures. For example, on Recurring Nightmare they said...

    ...and of course...

    To some extent, the DCI explanations when cards were banned/restricted have always been somewhat inconsistent. It seems like most people who write extensively about these matters (especially in Legacy and Vintage, from what I've seen, although it's also evident in other formats) attempt to craft robust terminology in categorizing cards, decks, archetypes, strategies, etc. And they often compile and/or cite statistics. Within communities, people may disagree about what threshold should be applied before a card is a problem and should be banned, and they might even disagree on the philosophy of how bans should be targeted. But at least they think there should be a governing philosophy of some sort, even if they can't agree on what it should be. And when it comes to inconsistency, perhaps the very earliest bans/restrictions were the worst (Dingus Egg, for instance).

    But it does seem to me that Tolarian Academy set off a trend of hypervigilance in actions targeted against combo decks. So Dream Halls was able to cheat mana costs, recapitulating some elements of The Academy deck, with Time Spiral and with the Mind Over Matter + Stroke of Genius + (something that taps for multiple mana) engine. But even though they're already banning Dream Halls, they specifically refer to "Time Spiral decks" as though that was some distinct thing. Dream Halls was the "Time Spiral deck" up to that point. And with that deck now killed twice, they also targeted Earthcraft because it could go infinite. And they also (as I forgot to mention in my previous post) issued power-level errata on Great Whale and the other "free" spells, killing the Recurring Nightmare combo deck. But then, despite the Recurring Nightmare + Great Whale combo no longer functioning, they banned Recurring Nightmare. So that deck was also killed twice. And then Fluctuator was banned because it was ostensibly going to "rise to the top" in some unspecified way.

    It sounds like I'm critical of these decisions, and I suppose that I am. So what really must be emphasized is that some of the decisions themselves might have been warranted. I didn't start this thread to take WotC to task for 20-year-old decisions. This is a roundabout way of talking about Tolarian Academy. Because really, that was the culprit. It was broken and was justifiably banned. And in light of the furor it caused, when taken in context, how could WotC not react with caution when it came to combo decks? They might have been legitimately worried that the continued dominance of fast combo would drive players away from the game.

    I assume you mean it raises the question. And the answer, from everything I've seen, is that there was no second-tier Fluctuator deck in Standard. There was no third-tier Fluctuator deck in Standard. Even the Extended Fluctuator lists were somewhat gimmicky (relying on either Dark Ritual + Haunting Misery or on Songs of the Damned + Drain Life and hoping the opponent had no way to stop it). The only Standard-legal Fluctuator lists I ever saw were not competitively viable.

    Ah, sorry about that. I think I see what you mean. I did list a snippet of the timeline in the first post of this thread, but that's now a ways up the page. I'm not sure how I'd rectify that, though, because I'm trying to talk about Tolarian Academy's effect on the game in general and not just a specific format. Hm...
  11. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I think it's because they have different people writing/making those decisions (somewhat like how we did the Casual Hall of Fame here). I say "writing" because I'm not sure if they are stating their opinion or just being the spokesperson for the "committee decision", and if the latter, I say "people" as in that committee which no doubt changes over the years, so people have different views and ideas how the cards and decks affect the tournament scene.

    I agree, but it's not clear if those communities interact with each other as well or are in their own "bubble", so to speak, and just see the "local" effects. I'm assuming (dangerous!) that WOTC sees all of the data from all of the tournaments and thus sees the "bigger picture" better.

    Oh, I agree. I think either one of those sources I linked or another one (but definitely part of that Gamepedia source list) had an article (by Randy Bueler maybe?) stating that Academy was the first wave and the March 1999 was the next wave (that was the only time Memory Jar was added outside of the initial announcement because of the fear of what it could do) and there maybe was a third part? Or maybe that was depending on how the the first two waves affected the scene? Not sure....

    "Might have been"? I think they definitely were :) In fact, it was also stated in one of those sources that "players were leaving in droves" due to Combo Winter. Not sure what "droves" translates to in exact numbers, but it was definitely a concern.

    Ha, yeah.

    It wasn't so much Academy as going into the list of March 1999 banned cards for Standard. I know you kind of segued into that by transitioning from an Extended decklist and saying all of the important ones were Standard legal, so the deck would have (essentially) the same effect in that format, but by further expounding on the Standard bans, it becomes a "what if" exercise since you don't really cite any examples of Standard decks that actually used those cards. You could be arguing that the ban pre-empted such decks, but then it's a "we'll never know". And if Academy is the focus of the thread and was banned first and you're just stating the implications/impact of WOTC trying to stem the combo tide with the subsequent bannings, then the thread message is diluted/lost.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Probably true.

    Well, they couldn't see all of the data. They could see what was reported from sanctioned tournaments and anything else that was publicly available, but it's worth noting that it's only been in recent years that they mention, in announcements, considerations with respect to bans/restrictions that are data-driven. For some of the recent Standard bans, they talked about percentages and even mentioned a bit about which decks were winning against which decks, implying that these data informed their decision. But further back, they talked more along the lines of "X is too good" than "X has made up y% of recent top 8 appearances and wins z% of the time against opponents that are not Q."

    As I think think you might remember, the culture surrounding these things was very different back then. Announcements were published in the Duelist magazine and, depending on where you lived, you might not find out right away. So there was a delay between the announcement and the date the changes took effect. To be clear on the timeline for Memory Jar...

    February 15: Urza's Legacy is released.
    March 1: Urza's Legacy becomes legal in Standard. Memory Jar, a card in Urza's Legacy becomes legal in Standard. A new DCI update is announced, which is set to go into effect on April 1st. So until April 1st, none of the announced cards will be illegal in tournaments.
    Early March: The "Broken Jar" deck begins appearing in tournaments. It is almost as fast and consistent as the Academy deck, i.e. it is a worse problem than any of the cards that were just announced to be banned. Randy Buehler retroactively adds Memory Jar to the list of cards that are about to be banned.
    April 1: Dream Halls, Time Spiral, Earthcraft, Recurring Nightmare, Lotus Petal, Fluctuator, and Memory Jar are all banned.

    This might be a bit blunt, but I'm actually not inclined to take their word on that "droves" part. Maybe they're 100% right. And if not, maybe that fear would eventually have come true if they hadn't taken action. It all seems logical enough, but the thing is, Mark Rosewater and others have claimed the same thing about Mirrodin, and I was following tournaments more closely then. Most players who left (and locally, several were personal friends of mine) stuck around for the entire block and left sometime around Champions/Betrayers of Kamigawa. WotC have noted that for years Mirrodin had the record as the best-selling set. Darksteel and Fifth Dawn performed well too. So if Mirrodin had players leaving in droves, it's weird that the sets sold like hotcakes and players waited until the following block to stop purchasing cards.

    Although really, I'm not sure how much any of that matters. If they thought players were leaving in droves or even if they thought players were about to, they'd presumably behave in the same way as if players actually were leaving in droves. Whatever "leaving in droves" actually means, anyway.

    I actually have an old copy of Scrye magazine (the oldest one I own, unfortunately) that I remember has a Recurring Nightmare decklist. So I'll dig that up. As for Dream Halls, it seems like Brian Selden's performance at the Invitational is the really famous showcase for it. I could have sworn I saw that decklist because I modeled one of my own casual Dream Halls decks after it, but perhaps I'm mistaken, as a brief Google search doesn't turn up an actual decklist, just some mentions of it and a play-by-play of his games against Randy Buehler. I know I've seen Extended Earthcraft decklists, but can't remember having seen the deck in Standard.

    One confounding factor in all of this is that most large tournaments, the sort that were covered extensively and for which there are still records, were not Standard at that time. They were still doing that seasonal rotation thing where they'd shift between Extended, Block Constructed, and Standard.

    I don't think that'd be my argument so much as it would be the one WotC was making. Although I'd admit to agreeing with them in some cases.
  13. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I'm not sure why there's a "but" after this. Sanctioned tournaments is all they need to make a decision - the B/R List applies only to them, really. If a tournament is non-sanctioned, they can play and use whatever rules they want, in- or excluding B/R lists. But WOTC isn't going to make a decision (necessarily, really, who know?) or rather, need to based on such other sources.

    Perhaps, but again, we don't know the reason why this has happened (that I know of). Has it always been this way but the "person in charge" decided to make information more transparent recently? Because I think the considerations have always been "data-driven".

    I think I forgot to include "a card" in my statement that might have prompted this. What I meant to say was

    "that was the only time a card, (Memory Jar), was added outside of the initial B/R (added for more clarification) announcement because of the fear of what it could do"

    My intent was more to focus on the aberration (or extreme measures taken?) of a card making it in between the announcement and taking effect, which just so happened to be Memory Jar this time. At no other period of time from when there was a announcement to taking effect did this occur (because I'm assuming that the March 1999 wasn't the last time for this time period lapse).

    So, three things about this paragraph. One, just to be obtuse, I'm not inclined to take your word about this statement (just like you're not inclined to take WOTC's word) :p

    Second and more seriously, what is "most" and how do you know or come by this "amount"?

    Third, it depends on what "selling" as viewed by WOTC means. Does it mean sales of the set from out of the warehouse, i.e. to websites, warehouses, players, stores, etc? Or is it sales to players from stores (online and mortar)? And kind of an offshoot, when you say "left", do you mean stop playing the game? Because collectors and/or traders could still buy the cards but are not intending to play with them.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    You quoted the exact phrase that was my reason for appending a "but" and then you ignored it. :confused:

    I said "they could see what was reported." Perhaps I should have said, "reported to them." Tournament organizers didn't always collect enough data for meaningful analysis. I'm not knowledgeable as to which tournaments had everyone fill out form with their decklists and maintained records of all brackets and which tournaments did not, but I do know that there were some of each. And at least for some small and medium-sized tournaments back then, I know most record-keeping was for operational purposes, not something prepared so that it could be handed over to WotC for DCI analytics. Seemed like the tournament operators I knew back then were reporting to the DCI which player won the tournament, but not anything like a metagame breakdown. I'm not saying it was a completely murky, information-deprived scenario for them. I'd like to think that WotC used the tools they had at their disposal to get some insight into the actual numbers at play, but it obviously wouldn't have been anything like what they can do now with MTGO.

    I vaguely remember that we talked about this topic before in another thread and you were taking more of a stance that they were operating with more complete information than I was giving them credit for. And of course neither of us knows the details. I do think we see hints when their explanations talk a lot more about vague trends from in-house testing and the hard stats are based on MTGO, that WotC are doing little, if any, actual statistical analysis of robust data collected from paper tournaments on the whole. And 20 years ago, they'd have had even less to work with. Tournament operators definitely were not collecting all of the data and even what they did collect wasn't necessarily reported to the DCI. The caveat to this is that the high-profile tournaments, the Pro Tours and such, could be considered the most "elite" and therefore the most important, and they were the best-reported tournaments. So perhaps one could dismiss the poor coverage of most events as most events shouldn't carry much weight anyway.

    I had no intention of emphasizing the word "sanctioned." The case where that would matter would not be Standard or Extended, but Type 1 (Vintage). Even back then, almost all Type 1 tournament play was unsanctioned. This wasn't because it didn't conform to the rules, but because WotC were not providing outlets for sanctioned tournaments in the format. This remains the case, but they still regulate the format through restrictions. I know that in Vintage today, they do this by looking at publicly available reports compiled by dedicated individuals who post their data online. That's why I used the word "sanctioned" in the first place. The people making the decisions at WotC could see data reported directly to them through official channels, which would only be for their own events. They could also see the information that any member of the general public could see, after someone else took information provided by a tournament operator and organized it quantitatively, then published it on the web. That was my point. They had/have two streams of information from tournaments: that which they had reported through official channels internally and that which was publicly presented by a tournament operator. One stream is available to pretty much anyone, the other is exclusive to them. But neither one gives them all of the data. It might give them more of the data than anyone else gets, but that's still quite limited. MTGO is different, of course. They really can get any data they want from it (and have deliberately cut back on what they provide to the public, explicitly because they believe this will prevent homogenization).

    It could be the case that the change was more one of communication than one of change in their decision-making process. Sure. I think the content of their explanations historically have given ample reason for doubt that their decisions were data-driven.

    I think it only sounds extreme because Randy Buehler repeatedly referred to it as an "emergency ban" and the term stuck. At one point, I saw Mark Rosewater point out that there was no actual emergency involved. It was just a quirk of the timing. They released a new set, then announced bans on the same day that the new set became legal, but the bans weren't scheduled to take place for another month. One of the brand-new cards was deemed ban-worthy, so they added it in to the same series of already-scheduled bans. It's maybe a bit surprising that it didn't happen more often, but I don't think it's really that strange. I've seen some commentary about it being "the only emergency ban in history" but that's just because it was the only one Randy Buehler ran around calling an emergency. Changes to the official lists that broke the pattern of the regular schedule did happen after that. Off the top of my head, Mind's Desire was preemptively restricted in Type 1, and Felidar Guardian was banned in Standard a couple of days after the regularly scheduled announcement.

    Well, if you're already admitting to being obtuse... :p

    But seriously, WotC have repeatedly gone on record that Mirrodin Block sold well. They've also claimed that the broken play environment had players leaving in droves. And they've also noted that Kamigawa Block was unpopular and that it had poor sales. If you think they've squared that circle, then you're welcome to that position. However, I'll also note that they vastly overestimated the importance of regular tournament players in their sales figures and that Mark Rosewater has said as much when he talked about Time Spiral Block. It was popular with tournament players but had poor sales anyway, because the people who were actually buying most of the cards weren't the regular tournament players, and WotC subsequently went to greater lengths to get feedback from "invisible" players. Maybe they really think Urza's Saga had people leaving in droves (whatever that means), and maybe they're even right about that! I'm just hesitant to believe they'd even be in a position to know whether that was true at all, considering how much they clearly still had to learn.

    Not sure what you're asking since "amount" is in quotation marks and I don't know what the source of the quote is. Is there an amount I was talking about?

    Yeah, you lost me. I am not an expert on the relationship between WotC and their distributors, on the percentage of cards that are sold in different marketplaces, on the percentage of purchases that are made by collectors who do not actively play the game, etc. I've heard things in passing from various people, but it's not something I'm super-knowledgeable about. It's also not (I thought) something I was bringing up in the first place. What's the actual question here?
  15. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    This seemed to be only real quote I could use, but really, this is in reply to all of it :)

    So I didn't know any tournament operators back then, so your knowledge is more than mine. I can't say whether operators/organizers (are those interchangeable?) submitted decklists for the winner, finals, top 8, or whatever. I think your last paragraph in that section explained more about what you meant and the "two streams of information", so I can go with that.

    This is probably a thread/article in itself. :)

    Again, the only real sentence I figured I could quote from that section. I don't have much else to say but you appear to be more knowledgeable about what WOTC is saying about sales and players leaving. I'm not that invested in this that I want to go off and research to find out independently what the "facts" are. :)

    Amount was in quotes because it was referring back to "most", which is some amount you must have been thinking about. I just don't know what you mean by "most" when used in that context (it was the "Most players who left..." part). I mean, is that 80% of players? 100K players? What was the player amount back then? Whenever someone says a nebulous quantification like that, I always like to know the context.

    What is meant "Mirrodin had the record of the best selling set?"
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Wow, I never thought about if there was even a distinction between operator/organizer in that context. I want to say I heard them used interchangeably at some point, but I'm actually not even sure on that point. I guess I'm assuming they're interchangeable until someone comes along and points out the difference to me? Seriously, I have no idea. :confused:

    Yeah, it's an interesting area, but I don't think I'm the right person to do the topic justice. If I remember correctly, Vintage player/writer Kevin Cron has spoken out about certain instances of this. I know that in the past, on The Mana Drain message boards, it would sometimes happen that someone would advocate for some change to the format or complain about some decision WotC made and attempt to use statistical analysis to bolster such arguments, and Kevin Cron tended to point out that WotC doesn't seem to rely on spreadsheets and fancy graphs in their decision-making process for banned/restricted list updates, that their approach (based on their own explanations) seems much more cursory.

    Perhaps I should note here, I think it's totally possible to make the opposite mistake. It's a game. They're trying to craft formats that are fun and interesting. A hard, strictly quantitative rubric, even one that makes impressive use of statistics, might actually result in a worse list than one contrived from the intangible feelings of some people. And there's not going to be a perfect approach that pleases everyone.

    Fair enough.

    I've always thought of "most" as being "the majority" as in >50%. Not necessarily 80% and nothing to do with a flat number. Like, if there's a jar with 10 cookies in it, and I've eaten 6 of them, I think I've definitely eaten most of the cookies. 8 of them would be even more, but 6 is still enough to be most, and 100K is right out. I thought that was how everyone used the word, but that's what I had in mind. More importantly, the question you alluded to is how it is I come to that conclusion. Because my own hazy, anecdotal recollection of the playerbase in the Seattle area many years ago isn't really compelling evidence of the game as a whole, right? Well, I was going by what WotC themselves have reported: sales and tournament attendance were on the rise for Mirrodin, dipped sharply for Kamigawa, came back up for Ravnica (but not as high as they'd been during Mirrodin), and then there was a change with Time Spiral, where tournament attendance went up and card sales went down. WotC realized that the depth of Time Spiral intrigued experienced players and made for a rich tournament environment, but that the complexity was overwhelming to many casual players, and that their sales reflected this. So they made attempts to do more outreach for players who weren't already invested in the tournament scene. I've mostly heard/read Mark Rosewater talk about this, and mostly in bits and pieces so I can't just be like, "Here's a perfect source for this one point." However, Aaron Forsythe did pretty much sum up that stuff in his talk during the 2012 Magic Cruise...

    The relevant bit starts a little after 7 and a half minutes in.

    Anyway, if I remember correctly (forget where I saw more detailed figures), sales were going up, with the fall large expansion outselling any previous Magic set every year, then Mirrodin was the last year of that, then they went down, then up, then down, and then started climbing again but took a few more years to surpass the sales of Mirrodin. The correlation between product sold and number of players isn't perfect, but I'd bet it's pretty strong.

    Although you haven't said it, someone could point out that the dip in sales/players might be a delayed effect from Mirrodin, that perhaps players bought the sets but then got burned out because of them, or perhaps that it took a while for the malaise to set in, or that Mirrodin cards continued to dominate Standard and players became bored by this. Maybe Mirrodin really did drive players away, but then the effect was masked because the players who stuck around were buying more of it on account of how powerful it was, but then they stopped compensating for this effect once the new sets coming out were filled with weak cards. We could imagine explanations in which the damage was done, and done by Mirrodin, even if it didn't show until afterward. But I'm wary of that line of reasoning because I'm pretty sure players leave for all sorts of reasons and mostly I think it's a confluence of different factors that wouldn't be expressed by most people even if you asked them directly. I remember one guy told me that he quit Magic because his precious black-bordered Ice Age cards were reprinted in the ugly white-bordered Fifth Edition. And while I don't doubt that he was put off by that, I would guess that it wasn't really about that. So even if WotC had a survey and lots of people reported that they'd quit Magic because of "Reason X" I'd still take that with a grain of salt. People might not say, might not even know their real reasons. With all of the different surveys and market research they do these days, I wouldn't be surprised if they actually do have something like that. But back then? Eh, I'm skeptical. Doesn't mean players weren't leaving, and leaving at a disproportionate rate, due to being upset with "Combo Winter." But it also doesn't really substantiate "leaving in droves." It just kinda leaves the possibility open.
  17. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    True dat.

    See, that's why clarification is always needed. Because "most" has never meant that way to me. To me, it means >75% and < 90%, as in somewhere between "some" (between 25% and 75%) and "almost all" (> 90%). "Most" means a significant amount of <whatever>, enough that it should be "taken seriously".

    I guess we could go on forever how subjective that all is; what it all means in our minds and how we attach meanings to statements based on the perceived significance to the people to whom it matters or is aimed at. I guess for our purposes specifically regarding this discussion, the reason I asked for clarification is because your "most", which could be 51% (to take it to the extreme :) ) isn't that "earth shattering" or urgent as "most" to me implies. I mean, people leaving isn't a good thing as a whole, but I just like to know what kind of numbers "more exactly" we're talking about than nebulous amounts (I think I said that above). Maybe it doesn't matter in this case and I'm nit-picking <shrug>. I think the weekend wore out my "enthusiam" for this discussion :rolleyes: :)
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I'll be sure to file away that bit of information for the inevitable event in which we both have access to the same jar of cookies. :p

    But more seriously, I guess the crux of my take on "leaving in droves" is that I really don't know one way or another how much impact Tolarian Academy or anything else in Urza's Saga had on players quitting the game and I have a sneaking suspicion that no one on the planet really has enough knowledge on the subject to be making definitive statements. Since 1993, there's been an equilibrium between departing players and new/returning players. And that has moved in one direction or another at various points. Without knowing how much a particular card, mechanic, set, block, etc. was responsible for any of this, the part that might be most important isn't necessarily how much Tolarian Academy affected the equilibrium, but rather how much Tolarian Academy affected the perception of the situation amongst people with real decision-making power at WotC. If those guys saw Tolarian Academy creating dominant combo decks in multiple formats, then saw other cards in the same set (and in other recent sets) enabling other fast combo decks and thought players were "leaving in droves" then that perception affected policy. I think I probably failed a bit in my recent discussion with you in this here thread by not emphasizing that aspect. Were players leaving in droves? I dunno. What counts as droves? I dunno. When and why were players really leaving? I dunno. But if Peter Atkinson and co. were under the impression that there was a crisis and that the crisis was caused by the rise of combo decks, well, that is something with real consequences.

    Well, I appreciate it because I'm trying to analyze something that's very nuanced and I know I'm not always clarifying everything that I should be, so I think it helps to have someone like you asking, "Whoa, what are the actual facts there?" Or something. :)
  19. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Yeah, I guess that's the crux of the question. Whatever the amount, apparently it was enough to cause concern to WOTC and influenced their Academy decision accordingly.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    An unfortunate consequence of my doing these posts in bits and pieces instead of writing a longform article is that I am taking so damn long to get to important points that I'm caught rambling about support for those points without having made them, with Spidey rightly questioning what it is I'm actually trying to get at. So I do want to take a look at the next wave of DCI actions that were a continuing consequence of Tolarian Academy, but before I do that, I think I'd better stop and explain why this matters...

    Academy shook things up. That much is clear. But apart from shakeups, environments beyond Standard can be slow to change, and decisions made in a seeming knee-jerk response can have long-term effects. WotC brought the hammer down on combo decks and, in 1999, it might very well have been the case that they had to do this. We can't know which card or cards might have created a dominant combo deck without this intervention, but I can easily imagine that the risk of even one such deck being allowed to dominate for too long would have been critically damaging to tournament attendance. So I can definitely sympathize with some trepidation at that time when it comes to combo decks. If you're trying to maintain a robust tournament circuit for a card game and the game is in danger of being overrun by decks that end games before opponents can do anything, you've got a very serious concern that those combo decks might kill your game.

    So let's zero in on a combo deck I've already mentioned: the monoblue Dream Halls deck demonstrated in the Invitational. Here was a deck that used Mana Vault, Dream Halls, Time Spiral, Mind Over Matter, and Stroke of Genius to win in a way that was virtually identical to the kill condition of the Academy deck. It was actually quite a step down from the Academy deck, but now that I think about it, being so similar to the Academy deck in form probably put it in more danger of bans than a slightly better combo deck might have been if it had nothing in common with Academy. But that tangent might not matter: the deck really did show that it could be egregiously fast (first turn Mana Vault into second turn Dream Halls was very likely to kill most opponents at the time before they could do anything to interact with it). So something probably had to be done. But what?

    In the Memories thread for Necropotence, I brought up Stephen Menendian's advocacy for what he terms "narrow tailoring." While I don't agree with all of his philosophy in that article, I would cite "narrow tailoring" as matching my own preference for taking actions when it comes to bans and restrictions. Such an approach would target a single card from this combo deck, probably either Dream Halls or Mana Vault, although I could see a case for both. But WotC seemed to take an approach more akin to "guilt by association." Dream Halls had already been used in a successful combo deck in the previous Standard environment. That'd be "TurboZvi." Time Spiral, Mind Over Matter, and Stroke of Genius had already been used in the Academy deck. Mana Vault, perhaps the most relevant culprit by today's standards, had existed from the beginning of the game and was not viewed as part of the problem at the time. So Dream Halls and Time Spiral were both banned in March of 1999, then Mind Over Matter was banned in June. Why June? As far as I can tell, WotC internally devised a combo deck with Mind Over Matter and Grim Monolith doing the same trick with Stroke of Genius that Mind Over Matter had already pulled off in both the Academy deck and the Dream Halls deck. I don't see any tournament records for this deck and it certainly wouldn't have had a window of time to prove itself in Standard, if it was even played at all. Without Dream Halls and Time Spiral, it would have needed more time to hardcast Mind Over Matter and it would have been less consistent. Meanwhile in the Extended format, Time Spiral was banned to nerf the High Tide deck. Later, Dream Halls and Mind Over Matter were also banned alongside a few other combo enablers, but I'm not sure what the basis for this was exactly, as it followed almost immediately on the heels of a ban in the same format of Yawgmoth's Bargain. So the dominant combo card was banned, then one month later five more cards were banned, but I haven't seen decklists from within that brief window.

    With all of that, the general perception was that these cards were all "broken." And when Legacy was established as a format, Dream Halls, Time Spiral, and Mind Over Matter were all banned. All three of those cards had initially been targeted for their immediate role in a post-Academy Standard deck. While they'd proven themselves in other decks before that, the lasting impact of the "Combo Winter" era was what made them infamous. And as Legacy grew and these cards were, by default, "broken" and not allowed in the format, I saw the implications of this firsthand. Players assumed that the ban on Time Spiral was all that was holding back High Tide from dominating the format. In Legacy, and even in Vintage, they assumed that a Dream Halls deck would dominate the format if the card were unrestricted. I assumed that too! I was there and I was one of them. Mind Over Matter didn't seem to be quite as infamous, although I do remember that when I used the card myself in combo decks, players sometimes brought up how Mark Rosewater had called the card one of his biggest mistakes. :rolleyes:

    Well, it took until 2010, but eventually all three cards were unbanned in Legacy. Of course, it would be silly of me to say that because those three cards proved safe in 2010 Legacy, that means they were wrongly banned in 1999 Standard. Yes, that would be silly and I wouldn't claim it. But you know what's also silly? Banning cards in a format like Legacy on the basis that they were such big problems in 1999 Standard, and then continuing to leave them on the banned list, year after year, with no evidence that they would present a problem in this completely different format. Cards from "Combo Winter" and even cards that weren't part of the fervor at the time, but were released in sets of that era, are frequently cited as broken, frequently demonized and warned against as horrific combo enablers. And when they're truly tested in a competitive environment, it turns out that the reputation doesn't stand the test of time. WotC haven't been completely oblivious to this. For example, here's a list of cards have been unbanned in Legacy...

    Mind Over Matter
    Dream Halls
    Grim Monolith
    Illusionary Mask
    Time Spiral
    Land Tax
    Worldgorger Dragon
    Black Vise

    I've italicized the ones that were historically banned, prior to the existence of Legacy, in other formats in the waves of large-scale card bans following Combo Winter (which also the exact same thing as italicizing all of the ones from Rath Block and Urza's Block). That is most of the list. Er, it's more than 50% of them, I mean. :p

    Tolarian Academy didn't singlehandedly sensationalize all of those cards (and others), but I am convinced that it severely exacerbated the situation.

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