Magic Memories: Tolarian Academy

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

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Jumping back to the history of Academy itself for a bit, the card had been restricted in Type 1 to stop the dominance of the Academy deck, but combo decks with only one copy of Academy, commonly known as "Neo-Academy" were still possible. Type 1 records from back then are deplorably sparse, and I truly do not know how strong Neo-Academy was relative to the competition in 1999. Perhaps it was dominant. Well, this led to sweeping changes to Type 1 in September...

    Shahrazad and Divine Intervention were unbanned. Both had been banned based on the philosophy that they would be detrimental to competitive play if they hypothetically could be exploited, although neither demonstrated much potential for exploitability.

    Ivory Tower, Mirror Universe, and Underworld Dream were unrestricted. Those restrictions were historical relics from the original constructed tournament format in 1994, and by 1999 the DCI had gained a better handle on how tournament decks played. Ivory Tower had been restricted out of an archaic fear that efficient recurring lifegain would draw games out to extreme lengths and ruin tournaments. The other two had been reflexively restricted to quell ancient combo decks.

    But the big change came in the form of restrictions. A whopping eighteen cards were added to the restricted list. 18 cards. Perhaps Standard and Extended contributed more to the reputation of the Urza's Block sets as broken, but I remember the waves of Type 1 restrictions being considered a big deal at the time because Type 1 was the format where anything could happen, where the restricted cards had previously been old and broken stuff like the Power 9. But there are some real issues with this wave of restrictions, so I'd better actually list the cards, then point out some details. These were the eighteen cards simultaneously restricted in September of 1999...

    Crop Rotation
    Dream Halls
    Enlightened Tutor
    Frantic Search
    Grim Monolith
    Hurkyl's Recall
    Lotus Petal
    Mana Crypt
    Mana Vault
    Mind Over Matter
    Mox Diamond
    Mystical Tutor
    Vampiric Tutor
    Voltaic Key
    Yawgmoth's Bargain
    Yawgmoth's Will

    Now then, I'll note some points about these cards, which might range from obvious to slightly esoteric...
    1. Only 7 out of the 18 were actually printed in Urza's Block sets. The other 11 cards (what I'd call most of them), were older.
    2. Of the 7 Urza's Block cards restricted in this wave, only 2 of them remain on the restricted list today: Tinker and Yawgmoth's Will.
    3. While separating cards targeted for specific archetypes from cards with more general utility is subjective, about half of this list was restricted to target the Neo-Academy deck. The other half were restricted to nerf what were, at that time, fringe combo decks (or nonexistent combo decks that it was feared would emerge in place of Neo-Academy).
    4. Of the 11 older cards that were restricted in this wave, 6 of them were later taken off the list. The 5 that remain restricted are Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and 3 mana-producing artifacts.
    5. Even acknowledging that I'm looking at this stuff with 19 years of hindsight, it strikes me as abjectly silly that up to this point, players could use playsets of Mana Crypt in tournaments. Like, it's a complex game and there's a learning curve. Players and WotC needed time to learn that Vampiric Tutor really is too strong a tutor to leave unrestricted, because it wasn't directly comparable to Demonic Tutor and it takes some actual experience with the card to go, "Hey, this is still too strong." But Mana Crypt?
    The most important point might be that these restrictions didn't actually kill Neo-Academy. It remained the top combo deck in the format for years, perhaps because of these restrictions: they targeted components of any other combo deck that might have stolen the spotlight from Neo-Academy. It's also an example, perhaps the definitive example, of a Vintage phenomenon that would show up in future restrictions. I don't know of an established name for it, but we could call it, "You restricted a card that I was already only using one or two of anyway, so I'll just keep doing what I was already doing." Neo-Academy didn't need four copies of Mind Over Matter or Grim Monolith. And as became apparent after the restrictions, it really didn't even need two copies of them. Losing unrestricted Crop Rotation probably did slow the deck down, but most of these restrictions didn't hurt Neo-Academy any worse than they hurt other decks.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    When I try to talk about consequences, about the effects on thing had on another, it can be frustrating to try to sort everything out. After all, none of these cards/decks/whatever are any more inextricably linked to each other than they are to anything else in the game as a whole. And yet...

    Tolarian Academy is obviously overpowered and demonstrated this fact in a dramatic fashion. The takeaway I've often seen from this, rather than "Yep, Academy is busted" takes forms like...

    "Urza's Saga is broken."
    "All of the Urza's sets are broken."
    "Combo Winter almost killed Magic."

    And the inherent brokenness of Academy I'd concede, have already conceded, and conceded before I even started this thread. It's also not the only overpowered card in the block. But I contend that these sets weren't, overall, too powerful. Wizards of the Coast reacted with multiple waves of sweeping bans and restrictions, and from what I've talked about in some of these posts, I think there's a partial picture of why that was. But if we're to judge all of this with the only tool we have available, hindsight, then I can't escape the conclusion that it was excessive and led some people, myself included, to a distorted picture of cards from this era. I say, "cards from this era" because the previous block was also targeted and was viewed as part of the problem.

    But I'm stating this in a way that removes me from the picture. Of course, I've long been a combo enthusiast. So these late 1990's cards that were controversial are a laundry list of cards I jammed into my own casual decks. Looking at the record of DCI list changes for 1998 and 1999, I've played extensively with every single card named in there except for Underworld Dreams, Mirror Universe, and Shahrazad, and I've actually played around with Mirror Universe and Shahrazad somewhat. Well, that's understatement. When I say, "extensively" what I really mean in some cases is that I built multiple decks based around these cards and that some of those were my go-to decks for years. And in a few cases, it goes beyond even that. Like, I can't actually get data on this, but just knowing what I've found when I read up on some of these cards, it strikes me as quite likely that I'm in the top 0.1% of people to have actually used them in different ways. Again, I have no way to measure this and putting it into words I think it's too bold a claim, but there just aren't that many people who have spent much time building different shells around Fluctuator, Memory Jar, or Dream Halls. They're not cards that got tons of play in tournaments and it didn't take long for them to fall out of favor in the casual settings (that I've been able to observe, anyway) on account of them being banned cards and therefore broken and therefore taboo. But my circumstances were somewhat unusual.
    1. I wanted to play with the most powerful cards I could get my hands on.
    2. I had sufficient know-how to build reasonably effective combo decks.
    3. I had like-minded friends play with. That's not to say they were all combo players. Most of them were more into control decks. But we had decks that were appropriately matched against each other.
    4. Since I only dabbled in established tournament formats (and even that was later on, after Legacy was announced and I got really into it), I was able to devote my time to some thorough explorations of these cards.
    The lesson that I learned, eventually, firsthand, despite my own stubbornness, was that most of these "broken" cards weren't so egregious. Oh, some were and are. I suppose it's a spectrum. Tolarian Academy is one of the most overpowered cards ever. We could probably throw Tinker and Yawgmoth's Will in there too. And some cards might not be that extreme, but can be understandably problematic for tournaments, like Yawgmoth's Bargain. Others are certainly powerful, but not associated so much with broken decks, like Gaea's Cradle. And some are just not that dangerous, like Fluctuator.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Hey, let's use Dream Halls as an example! Again! Not sure why I named this thread "Magic Memories: Tolarian Academy" if I'm going to keep insisting on talking about Dream Halls...

    For a real blast from the past, here's a thread I started in 2004.

    Now, it's not my intention to call out a bunch of people who are no longer here. In fact, I largely agree with what people were saying in that thread, or at least appreciate the comments in hindsight if I didn't appreciate them back then. About my only gripe would be that Tabasco's cheeky "hierarchy" concept didn't and doesn't sit well with me because I've met people who espouse that sort of thing and take themselves seriously about it. But I digress. The mild criticism I got from that thread was generally well-placed. I don't know that I ever really made clear, nor do I know how to do so now, that in the sort of games I was playing in back then, my Dream Halls deck wasn't really considered bad form.

    Just yesterday, I was playing Brawl and the topic of Legacy decks came up for some reason. One guy mentioned being in a game somewhere that players had taken time to set up tables and chairs for a gigantic multiplayer game, figuring they'd play one epic free-for-all with 25 people. One guy brought his Legacy Reanimator deck, and he rolled a 20 when they were determining who went first, so the very first turn of the game had him going Dark Ritual, Entomb, Exhume Jin-Gitaxias. Players just started conceding after that. That's understandably frustrating. And while I wasn't there to witness this game and don't know what expectations people had, it's all perfectly legal. Not sure if the context is that the identity of the deck as "this is a Legacy deck" was established before or after the game, but that might not matter so much anyway.

    I was already thinking about Dream Halls, because of this thread. My use of multiple copies of restricted cards was brought up. I was using a multiple copies of six different restricted cards. And what I technically knew but didn't really appreciate is that all of those cards were restricted in the wake of Academy and that five of them are no longer restricted. So in other words...

    Neener, neener, neener, I was right. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    Uh, sorry. That's not how this works at all. But yeah, it's kind of amusing that if I wanted to build that deck in Legacy now, I'd just need to do something about Mana Vault and Frantic Search. Well, it's my opinion that Frantic Search (which has been unrestricted in Vintage since 2010) should not still be banned in Legacy, but actually, there are better options now and I probably wouldn't use it in this deck even if it were legal. That leaves Mana Vault, which could be replaced with Grim Monolith or other options. To use the exact setup I was trying back then, Mana Vault would be optimal, but it's not necessarily vital. And with new cards, there are tools that could upgrade the deck in other ways, compensating for the loss of Mana Vault. Not going to put together a Dream Halls deck right this minute, but I am 100% confident that I could build a more broken one now, and I could make it completely Legacy-legal. For tournament play, it wouldn't even be worth it: Dream Halls isn't strong enough to outcompete first tier Legacy decks right now.

    What does all of that mean? I'm honestly not sure. Just some stuff I was brainstorming last night. Is it significant that so many of the taboo cards I was using, which were banned in the past are now legal? Does that say anything at all about whether they were broken back when they were banned? For how long? What changed? It's messy.
  4. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Off the top of my head, more cards/sets.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Sure, there are more cards now. Different formats too. And now we have MTGO. And there are more players. And Magic theory has evolved. And we've seen power creep, color pie shifts, new archetypes, new ways to play the game...

    Obviously a lot of things are different now. A simple answer to the question of cards that were banned/restricted for years, but aren't overpowered now, is something like "new stuff came out and things changed." But I wonder, in a given case, what that actually means...
    1. WotC overestimated the problem presented by the card.
    2. WotC correctly determined that a deck was dominant or otherwise problematic, but targeted the wrong card.
    3. The card was overpowered at the time, but the competition became more powerful and caught up to it.
    4. The card was overpowered at the time, but better countermeasures emerged, mitigating the problem.
    5. The card was key in making a certain strategy too strong, but game evolved to a point where that strategy became obsolete.
    6. The card was/is powerful, but attitudes shifted and it stopped being considered a problem, even if the potency of the card remained much the same as ever.
    7. The tools to keep the card/strategy in check were already available, but were (for some reason) not seeing play at the time, although they're prevalent now.
    8. Rather than having inherent power, the card was a problem in the context of a complex environment and was targeted as a balancing act, which was bound to eventually become obsolete.
    9. The card was used in decks that were a problem, but the philosophy of what to do, of what kind of cards to act on, evolved to the point where the card in question was no longer seen as being the problem.
    10. WotC correctly took action the first time around, and the decision to undo this was actually a mistake.
    Those are ten possible explanations off the top of my head. The could be others. I would guess that for most real banned/restricted cards in history, the best explanation is some combination of things like those, and not just one of them. But there are two issues that I find especially curious here.
    Firstly, I was using a deck with six cards that were all proscribed roughly around the same time as each other, and five of those would later go on to have bans/restrictions rolled back. In the old thread, I did hint a bit at the kind of competition I was facing; I suppose that just how egregious my six-banned-cards deck was is a subjective matter. So yeah, take it all with a grain of salt, but I do wonder what the relevance is there. If my deck was thought of as a transgressive deck, an unfun deck that I shouldn't have built and was a jerk for playing (given the context of what I was playing against, I don't think that's really fair, but it is a possible conclusion), do the rollbacks on those banned cards vindicate me? Or are they dismissed as irrelevant because they happened years later and the game evolving to a point where those cards no longer need to be banned means nothing, with their being banned at that time being the salient point? And if DCI lists are the relevant metric for making statements about casual decks, is the Legacy Reanimator deck dropping a first turn Jin-Gitaxias and abruptly ending a 25-man game considered less egregious on account of the fact that the whole deck was perfectly legal in tournaments?

    Again, my goal isn't to take anyone (real or imaginary) to task for letting DCI bans/restrictions inform casual deckbuilding decisions. It strikes me as only natural to do that. It just seems awkward in some cases. Like, if you (and by "you" I mean some hypothetical person for discussion purposes) declare a deck to be broken because it has banned cards, can you also seriously call a different deck broken that doesn't have banned cards? Didn't you already establish that the DCI list is the metric you're using, so now it's the metric you're stuck with?
    Secondly, it sure seems to me that some cards are just outright dangerous for gameplay and are the closest thing Magic could have to true inherent brokenness. Tolarian Academy, Tinker, and Yawgmoth's Will, for instance. They're still restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy. I imagine that they always will be and that no amount of new set releases will change that. But is that wrong? And if those cards are truly and permanently broken, why is that? What's the distinction? I would have thought, in 1999 or in 2004, that we'd all be putting Dream Halls into that same category. But now that's out the window. Dream Halls is legal in Legacy, sees occasional fringe play in Legacy in what is currently a rogue deck (OmniTell), and generally isn't a problem anymore. Tolarian Academy is still bonkers as ever, and that shows no signs of ever changing. If anything, Tolarian Academy is more dangerous now than it was in 1999.

    Are cases like Dream Halls ones in which a card was overestimated by pretty much everyone out there, or ones in which the game evolved so much that a broken card became "fixed." And what makes a card like Tolarian Academy any different? Am I just projecting my own vague notions of Magic theory onto the vast beast that is the growth of the game over decades of new set releases?
  6. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    I am light-years away from really discussing this in depth. I didn't even bother to click the link to the old thread. But if you want my (uninformed) thoughts, I would say it's a combination of 3 and 4. Why? Because trying to look back at decisions made 17/18 years ago when you don't have (or aren't/can't presenting) first hand information about *why* the decisions made means this is all an "armchair" exercise. You can go on forever saying "what if" and "if these people had really thought that" when, given the decisions made, they obviously thought *something*. You can go by what little documentation there is and then you have to decide whether you believe them or not or maybe wait until more documentation come out in the future, if any.

    Perhaps a rhetorical question, but sure. Being on the banned list means it was recognized by the official ruling body and made part of the rules, but it's not an either/or thing. The Tolarian Academy "deck" was broken before the cards were banned.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    For which card? You mean just in general? I'd actually agree that those are the two likeliest explanations overall. I can think of individual cards where I think another explanation is a better fit. Case in point: Dingus Egg. It was restricted in 1994 because land destruction was considered too powerful and unfun. As tournament play (and WotC) grew, attitudes shifted and the card was unrestricted. I think that had more to do with changes in philosophy than anything to do with new card printings or strategies.

    I mean, yes. I am sitting in an armchair right now. :rolleyes:

    Also true. I mean, no I don't intend to go on forever, but I do tend to ramble in these threads. It's what I do. :)

    I think that's completely right, but I was getting at a context that's a bit different. I think anyone should agree that a deck can be broken without anything yet being banned/restricted. Like you say, the Academy deck existed and it's not like it started being broken only after the DCI list changes. Hm, let me put it this way...

    Moreso with newer players I've observed than with my own casual decks, I've seen people point out banned/restricted cards in an educational manner. A kind of "You should be aware of this" and not "Your deck is bad for using this." Informative rather than proscriptive. And, I've also seen people cite broken decks as something that could be a problem for casual gameplay, because they make for degenerate experiences or whatever, can ruin the fun in some circumstances. As an example from that thread I linked to, you said...

    And I think those are fair points. A deck that is meant to kill everyone as quickly as possible has severely limited value as something to bring to the table for real (fun) gameplay. So in this old post of yours, you both raised the point of banned/restricted cards being a potential sticking point (depending on the players) and the point that there's only so much to do with a broken deck, that people might just avoid playing against it in casual play, etc.

    But some of the other comments from different people in the same thread, specifically... treads more in the territory of, "It's broken and banned and you shouldn't use it because it's against the rules."

    I guess there's a fine line between "it might be better not to use broken stuff in your casual decks, and this card is so broken that it's banned" & "the cards that are broken are the ones that are banned and this card is banned so you should not use it."

    The former seems fine to me. The latter makes it seem like if you can find a way to do something broken without using banned cards, then it's essentially fair game.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Looking back over the past few posts, I get the distinct sense that this is probably too messy to untangle. In some sense, I'm trying to isolate the reaction to Academy itself from the other things going on in the game around the same time, and the reality was that the responses people had occurred in contexts with entire pools of cards. Academy is inextricably linked to the rest of the game, and it's not really possible to separate it from the other stuff. So I've kinda got this thesis going that there was an overreaction to Academy, and that this had certain lingering effects on the game. I do believe that this is true! But pinpointing them and completely removing them from context, which would be definitive, isn't something I could accomplish. The system doesn't work that way. There are so many other factors.

    Like, I can look at the patterns of DCI actions and interpret the explanations behind them, and think that I'm probably deducing at least some of what was going on in the minds of the people making those decisions, but I have no way to assess how right or wrong I am on that stuff. Sometimes, what I know and what I've seen from different sources seems to paint a partial picture, and everything is falling into place. But sometimes, it's surreal. Like, looking back at that announcement Spidey linked to, Lotus Petal was apparently banned ostensibly to keep Yawgmoth's Will in check, or something...

    Now, Lotus Petal is restricted in Vintage and is a staple in Legacy combo decks. It has certainly proven itself and one could argue banning it in various formats like other "fast mana" cards. It's also extremely good with Yawgmoth's Will. What strikes me as surreal isn't that they'd ban Lotus Petal or even that they'd ban it as a precaution to hold unspecified combo decks at bay. It's that Yawgmoth's Will was, apparently, considered worth saving. These days it's almost universally recognized as one of the ultimate combo enablers. Its use in Vintage has declined with the shifting of prevalent archetypes, but it was one of the most popular restricted cards for years and there were even calls to ban it in Vintage, because some of the factors that make cards weaker when restricted to only a single copy per deck don't affect Yawgmoth's Will as much as they affect almost every other card in the game. While it's subjective, I'd say that Will and Academy are easily the two most broken cards in Urza's Saga.

    I'm usually a lot more hesitant to ban cards than WotC themselves have historically shown themselves to be, but I'd have thought axing Yawgmoth's Will would have been a logical course of action. I guess its power at the time wasn't as obvious. Hindsight? Probably. One mitigating circumstance I can think of offhand is that the first broken combo decks to emerge in late 1998 were mostly monoblue. And then when more black cards were used in combo decks, there was generally some other other culprit like Recurring Nightmare, Memory Jar, Yawgmoth's Bargain, etc.

    But yeah, Academy played a role there, certainly. But how much does that matter? On the one hand, it's possible that most or even all of those cards were overpowered in those formats at that time, and Yawgmoth's Will only made stronger that which was already pushed over the top. On the other hand, "ban cards to keep Yawgmoth's Will from being banned" isn't much of a rallying cry... :confused:
  9. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Aye. That's how you seemed to have prefaced the list, at least.

    I actually disagree and do believe it was from strategies. Or rather, the "fallen off the being playable" strategy. Because I believe in 1994, the (limited) card pool back then and no restrictions on anything meant land destruction decks were among the "top tier" decks played. Dingus Egg was in the very first wave of restrictions, meaning people were "running rampant" (ha! or so I like to imagine) with four copies of Moxes, Sol Rings, all manner of cards. So against someone unprepared, it was put out a land, boom, it was destroyed and take damage. Rinse and repeat. Get killed by whatever final kill condition the land destruction deck had (multiple Eggs? Kird Ape? Serra? who knows). 5 months later with the new restrictions, I bet the egg hardly showed up in decks anymore (not sure about land destruction as a whole) so it was unrestricted.

    What that tells me is that different people had different opinions about your question/situation. There's no one "right or wrong" answer. Basically it just goes back to how YOU feel about using such cards and what kind of "fallout" you might/will face for using them.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Ah, well that's not what I meant. When I prefaced it, the exact phrase I used was "in a given case" and perhaps that's too vague. What I meant that hypothetically, for a specific card, on a case-by-case basis, some combination of those descriptions might apply, or that perhaps there were other descriptions I didn't even think of, outside the scope of those ten. I would not want to extend all ten of them to equally apply to cards in general: in fact, some of them contradict each other.

    But I do think that for broad applicability, the ones I numbered 3 & 4 would hit the most cards, and those are the two you singled out.

    Well, I hadn't thought of it in exactly those terms, so that's interesting to me. However, I'd tentatively say I still think I'm right on this, but it occurs to me that my only source of information on that particular point has been Mark Rosewater's Drive to Work podcast. And I suppose that comes with a grain of salt because Dingus Egg was banned before Mark Rosewater actually worked at WotC. He mentioned it a few times, I think in passing, and his take on it was that the people who were originally responsible for setting up some of those early tournament rules, while they weren't necessarily bad or inept players, weren't the most experienced or knowledgeable about the game. He brought this up in the context of changes that were made by him and teams he was working on in the mid-90's, and how they were making needed improvements to the older systems. When he talked about that (in a few different episodes), he'd usually always rattle off the same cards that he thought were mistakes to ban in the first place. And he'd single out Dingus Egg as a case of a misunderstanding or misplaced concern by his predecessors (i.e. the real problem was that the prevalence of efficient land destruction was at an all-time high and most players were playing decks that could be preyed upon by it, but banning Dingus Egg didn't actually address that problem). He struck me as pretty persuasive when he described that stuff, but I do suppose that I've never heard the "other side" to that story.

    I agree.

    Because I was posting relatively small chunks in this thread and then some of it branched off into discussion between the two of us, I forget if I ever established where I was going with on that part. So...

    Because of the severe reaction to the Academy deck, a lot of comboish cards from the surrounding sets (Tempest, Stronghold, Exodus, Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy, Urza's Destiny) have been banned or restricted in some tournament format(s) at some point. That's all in the past and in contemporary Magic, a lot of those proscriptions have effectively been rolled back. By that, I mean mostly cards that were unrestricted in Vintage years later, or cards that never made it onto the Legacy banned list or were eventually unbanned in that format. But those changes took many years and there are still arguably some "innocent victims" of this (I'd particularly cite Earthcraft in Legacy). Casual players are free to interpret those results how they wish, but there does seem to be a common attitude among experienced casual players that there should be some limitations, some way to enforce a sane atmosphere of gameplay, and official bans/restrictions are the most common guidepost for that. Understandable, as they are the most visible.

    I do think that, because of this odd bit of history, there has been and still is an attitude prevalent in casual play that the strong cards from these sets are more egregious, less acceptable than strong cards from later sets, when cards weren't banned or when fewer cards were banned, at least. This despite the possibility that the newer cards are actually more powerful than the "overpowered" stuff from Urza's Block. I suspect that I've witnessed some of this firsthand lately, that casual players losing to the same cards I see dominating Legacy are reflexively opposed to "broken" cards from Urza's Block.
  11. Spiderman CPA Man in Tights, Dopey Administrative Assistant

    Now we're probably talking about the same thing. Because each card *is* a case by case basis and there are probably different reasons why it was banned/restricted and then unbanned/unrestricted. That's why originally I said I am light-years away from discussing it in depth and my uninformed (and I probably should have explicitly said "off the top of my head"), reasons 3 & 4 cover most situations (paraphrasing but that's was my intent/meaning).

    Lacking any other research and sources (and similarly lacking the desire to find out), I can go with that. Again, it was the very first set of restrictions, nothing like that had been done before and everything was new, and people were just feeling out and shaping the tournament groundwork and scene.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yeah, I'm with you there. I don't know that I really know any of this stuff any more than you do, but I seem to be coming to the same conclusions.

    Dingus Egg probably wouldn't be the only example I'd cite of a card that became unbanned or unrestricted because the philosophy of the tournament environment and how to handle things changed. But the other obvious examples also date from around that time. Divine Intervention might be a better example. And of course, it was also banned back in 1994.

    Although I do think that the tone of announcements/explanations has changed considerably over time, and even in the past few years, perhaps most of the overarching principles behind the scenes have remained the same since (at least) the late 90's.
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I didn't put a ton of thought into that list of ten explanations for the circumstances surrounding the unbanning or unrestriction of cards. Like I said, the list is probably incomplete. And most individual cases are probably a mixture of two or more factors. But just for fun, I'll try to come up with some possible examples for all ten...

    #1: WotC overestimated the problem presented by the card.
    Replenish in Legacy. There are actually a lot of cards that I might consider to fit this description, but some of my own picks might be controversial or questionable. I don't know if Replenish is the best example, but it's the first clear-cut one that springs to mind. I was pretty consistent from the beginning in my claims that the card would not be overpowered in Legacy.

    #2: WotC correctly determined that a deck was dominant or otherwise problematic, but targeted the wrong card.
    Stroke of Genius in Type 1. I don't know if it's the best example. I can think of more cards that are still banned, which I think were the wrong targets. But in this case, the concern was the Academy deck, and Braingeyser was unrestricted. The two performed very similar roles and were virtually interchangeable. Neo-Academy decks turned out to use very few copies of actual X-spells. I saw ones running single copies of both Stroke of Genius and Braingeyser. I don't think there were any Neo-Academy players running full a full playset of Braingeyser and wishing Stroke were unrestricted so they could go up above five copies of X-spells. So this restriction, which was aimed at Academy decks, may not have actually affected the performance of the problematic decks in the first place.

    #3: The card was overpowered at the time, but the competition became more powerful and caught up to it.
    Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Modern. While I'm not as knowledgeable on Modern as I am with Legacy or Vintage, this does seem, from what I've seen, to serve as a good example of my description. JTMS was running rampant and was also banned in Extended in 2011. When Modern became an official format, the card was probably unsuitable for it. But the rest of the game caught up to the infamous planeswalker and the necessity of a ban expired at some point.

    #4: The card was overpowered at the time, but better countermeasures emerged, mitigating the problem.
    Burning Wish in Type 1. Restricted because the power to pull Yawgmoth's Will from a sideboard allowed Storm to dominate in 2003. This tactic was replicated to some success with the much costlier Death Wish. But there are far more potent anti-Storm tools printed later on, and setting up Burning Wish into Yawgmoth's Will, while legal in Vintage today, wouldn't be sufficiently reliable to warrant any restrictions.

    #5: The card was key in making a certain strategy too strong, but game evolved to a point where that strategy became obsolete.
    Thirst for Knowledge in Vintage. Restricted to curtail the dominance of Time Vault. While Vault + Key is still used in Vintage, it's now more of an alternate kill condition or backup to something else. The format became too fast for an aggressively dedicated Tezzeret deck of the sort that exploited Thirst for Knowledge, to run rampant.

    #6: The card was/is powerful, but attitudes shifted and it stopped being considered a problem, even if the potency of the card remained much the same as ever.
    Time Spiral in Legacy. One of the most infamous cards of "Combo Winter" and one of the first cards targeted in 1999. It was also banned in Extended and the Type 1.5 ban carried over when Legacy was created. Once it was unbanned, it instigated the formation of the "Spiral Tide" archetype in Legacy, so it's not like the card was bad or the unban didn't do anything. Time Spiral was still powerful. It just wasn't seen as a problem anymore.

    #7: The tools to keep the card/strategy in check were already available, but were (for some reason) not seeing play at the time, although they're prevalent now.
    Maze of Ith in Type 1. I'm a little ambivalent on this one. I think a case could be made for a lot of cards to match this description and I've seen arguments for a few cards, but I don't know that I find those arguments persuasive. Maze of Ith might fit the bill, though. It could hold a single attacker in check, but wasn't effective against creature swarms. Creature swarms were not popular in Type 1 back then, but it's not like the tools were nonexistent.

    #8: Rather than having inherent power, the card was a problem in the context of a complex environment and was targeted as a balancing act, which was bound to eventually become obsolete.
    Wild Nacatl in Modern. First example that jumps out at me. I could probably find something from Legacy I know more about, but I think this works. The card was banned to slow down Zoo decks. But Zoo decks weren't going to be on top forever. I remember that when I saw the announcement, I figured it was silly and would eventually become obsolete, if not overturned.

    #9: The card was used in decks that were a problem, but the philosophy of what to do, of what kind of cards to act on, evolved to the point where the card in question was no longer seen as being the problem.
    Dingus Egg in Type 1. Already covered this one in discussion with Spiderman and I'm too lazy to see if there's any other, more clear example. Probably almost all of them would be from 1994.

    #10: WotC correctly took action the first time around, and the decision to undo this was actually a mistake.
    Gush in Vintage (2007). I'm actually not convinced of this one, but Gush in Vintage is the card that this has been said of most I've seen. There generally aren't very many unbans or unrestrictions I view as mistakes, but some of them have been controversial among other people, so I tacked this onto the end of my list. In Modern, Golgari-Grave Troll has been cited as a case of this.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I occurs to me that I never posted a decklist for my own old Academy deck. I'm sure I could find one: I had some sort of Academy combo deck on hand for at least five years, starting in 2000. I was pretty actively involved in casual Magic back then, and I recorded decklists in a few places. So I'm sure I can find a list from some point in that window, but all of them were highly derivative anyway, generally inferior to the pre-ban tournament decklists. I tended to treat Academy as my "multiplayer" deck, so it had some early blockers and focused on setting up to go infinite with Soldevi Digger.

    Looking back, a multiplayer environment in which everyone is trying to do demonstrably broken stuff to kill everyone else at the table seems awkward. I mentioned that context is important and that I wasn't just trying to get easy wins off innocent victims who were unprepared for my combo. In most of those games I was trying to bring the most broken stuff I had against my friends who were doing the same. And now I'm tempted to conclude that we'd have been better off reining that stuff in or that it was an immature way to play. Maybe it was? I'd think so, but then I look around and like half of the EDH groups I see are doing basically the same thing. They seem to be having fun, so what's the harm?

    I guess I'd say that I lost my taste for infinite combos in multiplayer. I still love combo decks: I'm working on some now. And I'll happily go infinite in duels. But I guess I want something different out of my multiplayer games. I can't begrudge those players who do enjoy it, as after all I was into that myself for years. I'm not really sure what changed there...

    But I got distracted. What I was going to do was talk about a multiplayer deck I built in 2004, based on my existing Academy deck at that time. The impetus for it actually came from that same Dream Halls thread I linked to earlier. It's Relentless Pony!

    1x Echo Chamber
    4x Mana Vault
    1x Ring of Ma'rûf
    4x Sol Ring
    1x Soldevi Digger
    4x Mind Over Matter
    4x Accumulated Knowledge
    1x Capsize
    3x Intuition
    4x Stroke of Genius
    1x Karn, Silver Golem
    3x Ornithopter
    3x Phyrexian Walker
    3x Shield Sphere
    4x Braingeyser
    1x Donate
    3x Time Spiral
    2x Windfall
    9x Island
    4x Tolarian Academy

    Way back when I first got a copy of Ring of Ma'rûf, I used it with Obelisk of Undoing. The original text on the card indicated that it removed itself from the game after the other stuff, although errata changed it to be a cost. So I would bounce the Ring back to my hand and reuse it over and over, grabbing lot of cards from my collection and bringing them into games. I don't know if any version of the official rules ever actually allowed for that interaction, but it was how we all interpreted it at my after-school game club in 1999.

    So in 2004 I was looking into ways to go infinite with Ring of Ma'rûf, and here at the CPA I was given the idea that I'd eventually use: Echo Chamber. While I started out fitting the concept into other infinite combo decks, I eventually went with Academy. I've probably droned on about my Relentless Pony deck in enough threads here at the CPA, so I'll try to avoid the lengthy, detailed version. When I wrote the frontpage article about it, there was a question as to how the deck worked, because I guess it wasn't obvious. One person noted having copied the list onto Apprentice and failing to see a way to win when goldfishing with the deck, so I made a sample goldfish with a third-turn infinite combo into grabbing my entire collection from outside the game. Of course, spam issues have since hidden away comments on CPA articles, so that discussion was lost. Lost forever. Oh wait, I can probably use the Wayback Machine to grab it. Here we go...

  15. Mooseman Isengar Tussle

    Very involved and cool combo. I really dislike the Wishes type of cards...... getting cards from outside the game is a bit wonky.
    I had to look up all those cards to get how this works.
    What would you do if you were limited to just a sideboard?
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Back then? Not sure. If I were to do something similar today in a sideboard-limited environment, I'd probably run a single copy of Spawnsire of Ulamog...

    And my sideboard would look like this...

  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Hey, I guess I said this...

    Better late than never? The list I remembered appeared in an article by Omeed Dariani, probably written in early 1999. The cover on the magazine itself indicated April, which leads me to the assumption that Scrye followed the example of many other magazines and released new magazines under the upcoming month (so the "April" issue was actually printed in March, the "May" issue was actually printed in April, and so on). My guess is that the poor guy wrote this article analyzing the new metagame in Standard, and then an unexpected announcement completely invalidated what he'd written before most of his readers saw it. Anyway, I snapped some pictures with my phone and I think everything in the article, including sample decklists, should be legible...

    Attached Files:

  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I'm currently running a copy of Tolarian Academy in my Canadian Highlander "Colored Spells are for Nerds" deck. The card does cost a point in that format, but it is legal. The point assignments in Canlander are somewhat arcane, with some cards being moved up or down in points based on the possible deckbuilding options with point values of other cards. Go figure. So yeah, cards like Tolarian Academy, Fastbond, Balance, and Library of Alexandria are only 1 point. But Demonic Tutor and Natural Order are each 4 points. Anyway...

    That deck is actually something of an homage to Al0ysiusHWWW. He was a huge enthusiast of artifact-based control. One of the most infamous casual decks in our local playgroups was his colorless "IKEA" deck, which used full playsets of Sol Ring, Grim Monolith, and Mana Vault. It could race out Metalworker, use Voltaic Key on the Metalworker, and dump its whole hand onto the board. In duels or in big multiplayer games, he wiped out life totals with Phyrexian Colossus and Colossus of Sardia, both easily untapped with Voltaic Key. Cards in my Canadian Highlander deck that were, at various points, used in his 60-card casual deck include City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, Stalking Stones, Crystal Vein, Mishra's Factory, Scorched Ruins, Grim Monolith, Mana Vault, Voltaic Key, Sol Ring, Mishra's Helix, Nevinyrral's Disk, Scroll Rack Null Brooch, Sphere of Resistance, Tangle Wire, and Metalworker. For two completely different formats over 17 years apart, that's a lot of overlap!

    Al0ysiusHWWW also built a colorless deck for the old Seattle 150-card Highlander format, the only one I ever saw in that format. It worked surprisingly well. And later on, when we were playing Legacy, he actually brought Monobrown Stax to tournaments even though he had the means to bring mainstream competitive decks, had he been so inclined. Of course, Mirrodin Block changed a lot of things for artifact-heavy decks, and he tested the obscure tools in Mirrodin and Darksteel more thoroughly than anyone else I knew.

    With all of that, it surprisingly took some initial prodding by me to get Al0ysiusHWWW to incorporate Tolarian Academy into some of his concoctions. I guess that at first, he couldn't because I was the one who owned a playset of the card. But I shifted away from Academy to High Tide on the basis that (and yes, this was my very serious thought process back then) Academy was too fast and broken, but with High Tide my opponents wouldn't have anything to complain about because the deck just used basic islands to make mana. :oops:

    There were a few different decks Al0ysiusHWWW used, mostly with Mirrodin Block cards, exploiting both Tolarian Academy and another favorite card of ours: Goblin Welder.

    But to my chagrin, this often involved a card I hated playing against, one that haunted me for years...

    With a few mana-producing artifacts and a Tolarian Academy, it was easy for Al0ysiusHWWW to cast and activate Mindslaver. I don't really have records of most of these decks, but Al0ysiusHWWW did create a new one when we were doing our "Type Fun" blog and I archived it here at the CPA. That's the gist of it, although it's not really the version I remember best, as the version I remember best definitely had Myr Incubator and frequently won with it.

    That deck, while blatantly using multiple broken cards, almost lost when tested against my old Overburden deck from one of the single-card deckbuilding challenges. Actually, it should have lost, and only won because I forgot how my own deck worked and made a very obvious and stupid misplay that threw away what in hindsight turned out would have been an assured victory. Sometimes even the best players make mistakes. The preceding sentence has nothing whatsoever to do with me. :p

    I find that old article somewhat amusing. I actually disagree with Al0ysiusHWWW in his assessment that Mishra's Workshop would be more broken, even in this sort of deck, than Tolarian Academy. Of course, the financial aspect was and is there, but I'm not sure how much that matters in a casual context anymore. Sure, your typical casual player won't be picking up a $1,300 Mishra's Workshop, but if said individual is also not inclined to throw down $70 for a Tolarian Academy, then the difference is purely academic. Card prices are insane, is what I'm saying.

    Finally, while I'm in the habit of digging up old comments from CPA front page articles, I'll note that there was a brief conversation, started by Modus Pwnens and also including myself and Spiderman, about banned/restricted cards in casual play. It was not my intention to dredge that issue back up for the umpteenth time, but I guess the onus was on me for not more clearly noting "This article is an archival repost of and old article from our old blog." It looks like Modus just didn't see that italicized test at the top and offered (entirely reasonable) deck criticism on a deck that no longer existed. I bring all that up here, again, because I actually spotted a statement that I wrote in the comments and I actually still really like it. So although the context was something trivial and rehashed, I'd say this generally encapsulates me view on the subject of Vintage-restricted cards in casual constructed decks...

  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I've mostly talked about decks with four copies of Tolarian Academy. Of course, for most of the game's history, the card has been confined to environments where it is restricted. Academy is banned in EDH, but is available as a singleton in Vintage and in some other Highlander formats. Lately, I've been playing it in Canadian Highlander myself. It takes a point to play in that format, and my own intuition is that the 100-card deck size, the Highlander deckbuilding restriction, and the point assignments on most of the good mana-producing artifacts combine to rein in Academy somewhat, but that it still costs 1 point to keep it from being too easily splashable in fast combo decks.

    I recently had a hilarious game against a combo deck with my "Colorless Spells are for Nerds" artifact deck. I went first turn Mishra's Workshop, Foundry Inspector. Second turn, Umezawa's Jitte, equip it to Foundry Inspector, attack. Third turn attack, Vault of Whispers, Su-Chi, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer. Fourth turn attack with everything. My opponent had suspended Hypergenesis, but never lived to see it resolve.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Tolarian Academy has been something of a fixture in Vintage this whole time. Much like Sol Ring or the original Moxen, it is a kind of hyperefficient mana source, so restricting it doesn't really stop it from appearing in decks. In Vintage, most optimal decks run several cheap artifacts, so Tolarian Academy is a practical choice. This has been pretty consistently true over the years. At first, dedicated combo decks built to untap Academy multiple times in the same turn, "Neo Academy", were the most prominent combo option. These were superceded by Storm decks, but that just meant instead of trying to untap Academy multiple times for big mana and Stroke of Genius, the mana from Academy would be mixed with mana from Dark Ritual and Lion's Eye Diamond to fuel a chain of spells into Mind's Desire or Yawgmoth's Will. Over the years, Vintage combo decks further evolved. These days, they're most likely to either run tons of artifacts and Paradoxical Outcome or Dark Ritual and Dark Petition. Both of those options use mana-producing artifacts and both benefit from Tolarian Academy. Of course, Workshop decks run lots of artifacts and Academy is a no-brainer there. Even control decks usually run Academy, as they typically include ten or so cheap artifacts, and Academy can easily power out a Jace, the Mind Sculptor (among other things). The days of aggressively attempting Crop Rotation into Tolarian Academy are gone, but it's still one of the most potent restricted cards, on par with "Power 9" and other infamous restricted cards that define Vintage. Most of the Vintage decks that don't run Academy are aggro/tempo decks with low artifact counts (many of these also skimp on Moxen). Also decks based around Bazaar of Baghdad tend not to run much artifact-based mana acceleration and don't bother with Academy.

    It looks like, if I'm reading this correctly, Tolarian Academy is the 17th most played restricted card in Vintage right now. Ahead of it are Black Lotus, Mox Sapphire, Mox Emerald, Mox Ruby, Mox Pearl, Mox Jet, Ancestral Recall, Strip Mine, Time Walk, Brainstorm, Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Ponder, Library of Alexandria, Gitaxian Probe, and Sol Ring.

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