Magic Memories: Yawgmoth's Bargain

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    First, I want to get one thing out of the way, and it's a big thing: Necropotence. When either of these cards come up in any context outside of the use of Necropotence in the mid-90's before Bargain existed, the comparison between the cards almost inevitably follows. And before today, I had this idea in mind that Necropotence was going to have to be one of the next cards that I'd talk about; I envisioned it as "next in the queue" for a Magic Memories thread. I kept putting it off, mostly because I figured that once I started talking about Necropotence, it would be impossible to get me to shut up about it. I've vacillated on whether my personal favorite card is Dark Ritual or whether it's Necropotence, as the two are so closely linked in my mind: I played them together a lot. But Dark Ritual, well, there's only so much to say about it, because it only has a few different uses, and all of those involve using it to enhance the value of some other card, so my Dark Ritual memories are more about the cards that I used Dark Ritual to power out than they are about Dark Ritual itself. I could have come up with more to say about it, and perhaps I will revisit the Dark Ritual thread, but I think I covered the important parts. Necropotence, though? I could write a novel. I'm worried that I might!

    So when I mention Bargain, Necropotence as a point of comparison seems like a given. I've seen others do so when discussing Bargain. To top it off, both cards are banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage where, historically, they've been used alongside each other in "TPS" or "DPS" decks (almost every TPS/DPS deck runs a copy of both enchantments, and hardly any other decks in the format run either one). But for me, it actually goes beyond that. I talked about this in the Academy Rector thread...

    We played various versions of those decks against each other so much. It was a formative experience for both of us and definitely cemented my obsession with Necropotence, which I harbor to this day. So yeah, when I talk about Yawgmoth's Bargain, Necropotence is inherently the elephant in the room. I suppose that I'd better do a quick, simplistic, side-by-side comparison of the two...

    [IMG][IMG]
    • Bargain costs twice as much.
    • Necropotence exiles the cards that you discard, which sometimes matters.
    • Necropotence does not actually draw cards, but sets them aside and then later puts them into your hand, which can matter, especially when other cards have abilities that are triggered when players draw cards.
    • Necropotence hides the cards from you until the end of your turn. You cannot look at them and do not know what you will or will not get, only how many cards you're getting.
    • Bargain gives you cards right away, whenever you activate it. Opponent's turn? Fine. During your upkeep with Ivory Tower's ability on the stack? Go for it. Found exactly the card that you want? Feel free to stop.
    I'll presumably cover this once I'm actually raving about Necropotence in a thread dedicated to it, but the card has been used in aggro, control, and combo decks over the years. I think of Necropotence primarily as a card for control decks, but as more cards have been printed over the years and more options are available, especially now that it has such a specific (and small) niche in Vintage, it is generally associated more with combo decks. Aggro is the least popular, but it turns out, if the environment is ripe for it, that an aggressive black deck would do well for itself to be running a card, playable off Dark Ritual, that refills its hand every turn. But Bargain? Bargain is a combo card through and through. That, in my view, is the main point of emphasis in the comparison.

    Well, enough about Necropotence! For now. Mostly. Maybe. Look, I make no promises. Anyway, I'm starting a thread on Yawgmoth's Bargain largely because in the past few months I've encountered some isolated mentions of the card as it pertains to different formats, and that's been brewing in my mind. Specifically, I've seen other people who are not me cite the card as a possible safe unrestriction in Vintage, as a safe unban in Legacy, and as a safe unban in Commander. The contexts of the card in those formats were each brought up by different individuals, none of them connected to each other (as far as I can tell). I have my own opinions for each case, but also a lot of uncertainty and trepidation.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    When it comes to Bargain as a possible unban/unrestriction, the closest point of comparison is probably not Necropotence, but Griselbrand...

    [IMG]

    That's quite the mana cost, but in a black-heavy deck that is using some form of mana ramp, it's two mana more than Bargain. While that is a significant increase, a 7/7 flying lifelink creature is nothing to scoff at. Also, creatures tend to be easier to cheat into play than enchantments, and it's an oft-raised and fair point that in many decks, especially in Legacy, Griselbrand's mana cost is irrelevant. It might as well cost a million mana: you're not paying for it anyway. So the comparison isn't truly six mana for Bargain vs. eight mana for Griselbrand. It's six mana for Bargain vs. however much mana you use to cheat Griselbrand onto the battlefield. While Bargain can be cheated out too, the means of doing so are more limited, and you don't get a 7/7 flying lifelink creature out of it. Griselbrand is commonly played in Legacy decks that either reanimate it or use Show and Tell or Sneak Attack to cheat it out. In Vintage, it tends to be used primarily in Oath decks. So in the one format where Bargain is legal, Griselbrand already sees more play.

    Another card, once commonly played in Vintage and still used in Legacy tournament decks, is Ad Nauseam...

    [IMG]

    Hey wait, I wrote an article all about Ad Nauseam and I think it was actually not half-bad! So here's that.

    Ad Nauseam is one mana cheaper than Bargain. That can actually matter a lot. Many commonly achieved board states in fast combo decks hit five mana without being able to hit six. These decks use a combination of artifacts, lands, and instant/sorcery mana sources to get more mana on early turns of the game. Obviously, it is easier to get one mana than two, two mana than three, and so on. But the magnitude of the difference in difficulty at each of these gradations is not uniform, and the exact reasons for this are rather technical. An easy example of such a difference is the simple case of decks using Dark Ritual. For such a deck, it could never be harder to reach two mana than three: that wouldn't make any sense, as all of the states that hit three mana also hit two. And it could be easier, such as if the deck is also using Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, or Mox Jet. But Dark Ritual would account for some of the ways to hit two mana, and it always also hits three. While it would technically be possible, for a given deck, to use eigenstates to compute the exact odds of achieving a certain amount of mana on a certain turn, such thorough statistical work has not, to my knowledge, been done. Still, years of experience are informative, and players have some common understanding of this concept. As it happens, while the jump from 6 (Bargain) to 8 (Griselbrand) is pretty big, the jump from 5 (Ad Nauseam) to 6 (Bargain) is also pretty significant. Of course, Ad Nauseam introduces deckbuilding constraints: it's bad to have other cards in your library that cost more mana, as they eat more life. However, players have shown that it is perfectly possible to work within these constraints and that, in some cases, Ad Nauseam gains the potential to dig deeper than Bargain could. Ad Nauseam doesn't accrue life loss on lands or zero-cost spells, so in a library dense in such cards, it can keep digging with no penalty. Also, because Ad Nauseam doesn't require you to pay life, but instead incurs life loss, it can be used with something like Angel's Grace to "go infinite" and draw your whole library.

    More recently, I've seen Bargain in Vintage compared to another five drop...

    [IMG]

    On the surface, the cards have little in common. Yawgmoth's Bargain is a card-drawing engine and Dark Petition is a tutor. Here's the trick: both get used in much the same way. You drop some mana-producing cards, cast Bargain, and then try to use it to win. Similarly, you cast some mana-producing cards, cast Dark Petition, and then turn it into Necropotence, which you try to use to win. Necropotence and Bargain are both restricted, but Dark Petition is not. So, the argument goes, if ramping up to five mana and casting Dark Petition for Necropotence for an attempted storm combo finish on the following turn isn't dominating Vintage (and it's not), then would using the same mana ramp plus one more mana into an unrestricted Yawgmoth's Bargain really threaten the format? Obviously Bargain is more powerful than Necro, but there are some advantages to this approach. Firstly, like I mentioned already, it's a bit of a jump from 5 mana to 6. Secondly, in many cases Dark Petition can be used to find something else for a combo finish in cases where Bargain wouldn't work. This is highly dependent on cards in your hand and graveyard and on the amount of mana available, but the most common target would be Yawgmoth's Will. In my own gameplay of "DPS" decks, I found myself reaching for the Dark Petition into Yawgmoth's Will combo finish a whole lot of the time. By itself, this is not sufficiently reliable to build a deck around, but in conjunction with Necropotence and other tutor targets such as Black Lotus, Mind's Desire, and Wheel of Fortune, I can see a potential case that unrestricted Dark Petition, which makes for a fringe deck in Vintage, isn't really all that bad compared to unrestricted Yawgmoth's Bargain.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    My previous post talked about some of the cards that, in tournament play, occupy some of the same space as an unrestricted Yawgmoth's Bargain hypothetically would, and how those cards might be similar or, in some ways, even better. What those comparisons didn't convey is just how good Bargain is. In the right combo deck, a the ability "Pay 1 life: draw a card" is so strong that it outclasses these other options. Yes, a 7/7 flying lifelink creature is good. Yes, Griselbrand also doesn't make you skip your draw step. And yeah, technically "Pay 7 life: draw 7 cards" is the same amount of life per card. But "Pay 1 life: draw a card" is potentially so much better that a Bargain player would not even care about that other stuff. This is especially relevant in Vintage, where you might pay only a few life, then go, "Stop. I would like to take a break from paying life for cards, cast these spells, and then draw 7 cards without paying any life. OK, now I have a full hand again, and let's go back to paying life. Oh, stop again. I'll play these spells, tutor for this, and you know what? Let's cast another draw-7. I'll cast these spells and oh, this one too. I'll pay some more life. Not enough? OK, a little more. And there we go, I kill you." When your next topdeck might give you a new line of play toward a kill, it's much, much better to have the flexibility to draw the cards one at a time. Batches of seven aren't bad, but they do lose out on some of the potential that Bargain offers.

    Ad Nauseam may cost a little less and have the potential to dig deeper in the right scenario, but it relies on specific combos or on a plethora of zero-drops to do so. In Legacy, ANT decks often go for the Past in Flames kill because if they get unlucky with Ad Nauseam, they might have to stop digging before they get enough cards to win. And TES decks deliberately forgo Cabal Ritual and move most of their sorceries into the sideboard to be fetched with Burning Wish, mostly to capitalize on Ad Nauseam. It's a tremendous amount of special modifications to decklists just to approach the consistent 1 life = 1 card provided by Yawgmoth's Bargain. In some cases, Bargain might even be used over more than one turn, so you can at least untap your stuff, while Ad Nauseam is one-shot. But the main distinction is the deckbuilding flexibility.

    Dark Petition into Necropotence might be cheaper, but it's a lot less reliable. Even an extremely skilled player has to attempt to estimate probable lines of play and hope that they've paid just the right amount of life for the particular board state. In the case of an unrestricted Bargain, you don't have to play that kind of guessing game. That's not to dismiss Dark Petition's other uses, but intuitively, it seems like the play of "make six mana and cast Bargain" has a better chance of working than the play of "make five mana and cast Dark Petition into Necro."

    Before I try to take sides on either the potential unrestriction of Bargain in Vintage or the potential unbanning of it in Legacy, I'll note that it seems most who advocate for such a change have a grasp of the facts that I've outlined. The argument doesn't necessarily have to be, "This other option is stronger than Bargain." Rather, there is a case to be made that these options, while not quite as good as Bargain, are sufficiently similar to show that Bargain would not dominate. That's an important distinction. Sometimes a card is unbanned and goes on to make no substantial impact in the format, as was the case with Land Tax in Legacy. Other times, a card might be unbanned and go on to have a real presence in the format, but not one that is a problem, as was the case with Entomb. It's not that anyone suggesting that Bargain is unrestrictable/unbannable is dismissing the card as bad or as definitively worse than other options.
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I should note that while I find this speculation interesting and don't personally come down hard on either side, the point is moot. WotC have no interest in unbanning or unrestricting Yawgmoth's Bargain, as their current stance is hostile toward combo decks and they can't even be bothered to unban even more innocuous cards anyway. Even if Bargain were safe, they would not touch it. This was not always the case. Stroke of Genius, Grim Monolith, Mind Over Matter, Replenish, Crop Rotation, Dream Halls, Time Spiral, Entomb, Metalworker, Mox Diamond, Doomsday, Voltaic Key, Illusionary Mask, Braingeyser, Burning Wish, and Worldgorger Dragon were all once banned or restricted out of fear that they would cause undue format distortion by enabling broken combo decks. All have since been proven safe, so either the initial action taken was unnecessary or, much more likely in at least some cases, the formats evolved beyond the state in which those cards would be a problem. However, official attempts to trim chaff from the lists or use unbannings in attempts at increasing format diversity have been fading away in recent years. And then there's the historical context. People remember Yawgmoth's Bargain as one of the broken cards from Urza's Block, along with things like Tolarian Academy and Tinker. It ran rampant in Standard and Extended with fast combo. The role of a single card in the Extended format in 1999 has no bearing on its role in Vintage in 2017. But all most people will see is a broken card from a broken block of broken sets. Nevermind if a card might be safe today. It was so scary back then.

    So, is Yawgmoth's Bargain potentially safe? I'm uncertain. I tend to be wary of it, although if it turned out to be playable, I'd eagerly build a deck around it.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    To address Legacy specifically, I'm going to ramble a bit here...

    Yawgmoth's Bargain has been banned in Legacy since the format's inception a carryover from the old Type 1.5 ban list. It's only been in the last few years that I've seen some espouse the belief that Bargain should be unbanned, and this mostly seemed to come from people who had never played with the card in their lives. The people advocating for such a change often wanted to make other drastic changes to the format, so I generally viewed them as cranks. But the idea did pick up some steam after the rise of Griselbrand and perhaps more importantly, Show and Tell.

    Why Show and Tell? Well, Show and Tell became a premier combo card for the format, the driving force behind both blue/red "Sneak & Show" decks based around using the card and also Sneak Attack to cheat big creatures onto the battlefield and monoblue "OmniTell" decks designed to use the card to cheat Omniscience into play. Both decks have, at various points, become one of the best decks in the format. And for a while in 2015, OmniTell dominated Legacy, resulting in the banning of Dig Through Time. With Dig Through Time gone, Show and Tell reverted to its former role as a strong combo card, but not a dominant one. Some considered this to be a well-reasoned choice for the health of the format, citing the fact that Miracles , which had also adopted Dig Through Time, was the second-best deck in the format. So a ban on Show and Tell would not have stopped the Dig Through Time problem. Others figured it was probably just a knee-jerk reaction to the explosive power of the Delve mechanic. Either way, Show and Tell remains active in the format, powering one of the strongest decks (Sneak & Show). Show and Tell hasn't taken over the whole format or anything, but it has had some extremely powerful decks based around it, and people talk about it a lot. Many players would like to see it banned just because they think that a three mana "cheat out anything" card is inherently broken. While I think most Legacy players don't go so far, it does lead to an interesting point about the ban list in general. The argument goes something like this...

    The point of the ban list is to keep the most overpowered cards out of the format. Many cards that are currently on the list are clearly less powerful than some of the other cards that are already available. This should be fixed.

    That's a very simplistic rendition of the argument, but I think it captures the spirit of it. Right out of the gate, the most important thing to note is that a lot of other players object to the initial premise, arguing that the point of the ban list isn't to police broken cards but to allow for the right kind of environment, i.e. one that is fun, balanced, diverse, etc. So they might argue that even though a card not on the list might technically be stronger than a card that is on the list, if it produces a metagame that they think is better, then that's fine. In real discussions, both philosophies develop nuances and caveats, with different people rehashing the same points over and over. So even in a room where everyone present agrees on the relative power level of cards, they might disagree on which ones should be banned because they have different philosophies on how a ban list should be set up in the first place. Hm, this is getting too vague and theoretical. OK, specific example: Frantic Search. It's banned in Legacy. Another blue card with the same mana cost is Show and Tell. If you don't like that comparison because the cards have such different roles, another blue draw spell is Brainstorm. Both work for my example, really. Brainstorm and/or Show and Tell are generally agreed to be more powerful cards than Frantic Search, and yet Frantic Search is the card that is on the ban list. But even where that is agreed, there are some who would argue that Brainstorm and/or Show and Tell should remain unbanned because they are key components in decks that keep the environment healthy, whereas Frantic Search might be a bad candidate to unban because of the effect that it might have on making decks that are already good too strong.

    Along come other people who bring in a completely different philosophy, saying that you can't just look at a snapshot of the metagame as it is right now and analyze the ban list based on the hypothetical impact of cards on that one environment. They believe that the ban list should be there just to keep the most egregious cards out and let everything else remain, that archetypes and their representation should arise organically, with a minimalist banlist that only targets the cards that would dominate. In this philosophy, it is a mistake to ban cards in a targeted, goal-oriented manner, attempting to weaken a particular archetype or to shift the overall balance of the metagame.

    I'm rambling a lot. To summarize, I've noticed a pattern in discussions of the Legacy ban list and I notice two incompatible overarching philosophies on display by the interlocutors. I'll make up names for them that seem appropriate: Sowers and Planters.

    Sowers harken back to some of the response to the original ban list in 1994, and the concern of "You're telling me that I cannot play with my cards!" They recognize that there needs to be some regulation in order for the game to be a viable game in the first place. If people are allowed to use full playsets of the original five Moxen, for instance, everyone would be trying to win on the first turn every game (or trying to sabotage opponents on the first turn so that they would be unable to win), and it wouldn't make for a format people would actually play. But once there is some general definition for how a format should work (in Vintage, problem cards are restricted rather than banned, and in Legacy there are no restrictions, only bans), a ban list should strive for minimal interference. As new cards are released or new playstyles are discovered, it may come to be that something gets out of control. If that really turns out to be the case, if we think that the game cannot handle a certain deck and players have had sufficient time to adapt, but it remains dominant, then the next step is to identify the card deemed most responsible for the domination, the "broken" card, and to ban it.

    Planters have, to some extent, been around since the beginning, but they really got going in the early 00's in Vintage, with the consolidation of the format into competitive archetypes and the advocacy by prominent players of goal-directed restrictions meant to maintain the balance between the major archetypes. Planters have a vision for their format, and while the chaos of real-life competition won't match up 100% to what they have in mind, they want to nudge the format in the right direction and, to that end, are willing to use bans and/or restrictions as tools to cultivate the environment, to shape it to match that vision. In contrast to Sowers, who just want to cast the necessary bans/restrictions onto a format and let the format grow on its own, Planters would prefer to use the lists as management tools, as something to direct the format. The most obvious prototypical example of this philosophy was in the original 1994 list with Dingus Egg, which was targeted in an attempt to weaken land-destruction without actually restricting any of the land-destruction cards themselves. As the philosophy emerged in player analysis, one of the most vocal pioneering Planters was the CPA's own Rakso, who spoke out against new archetypes that were overturning the balance between traditional "The Deck" control and its traditional aggro opponents (mostly on Star City Games, I think, but perhaps it was on Beyond Dominia or The Mana Drain—I forget).

    Notably, Sowers can disagree with other Sowers over when and where to draw the line, or over which cards are actually too powerful. Likewise, Planters can disagree with other Planters over what sort of environment they want to cultivate and over which measures will best guide a format toward that goal. But because they don't all wear signs saying which philosophy they prefer, it often happens that Sowers argue with Planters and the two are talking at cross purposes, broadly agreeing on the circumstances behind the power of the cards and the effects that a ban/restriction will have, but disagreeing on the fundamental reasoning behind the lists in the first place. To further complicate things, a lot of people, maybe all of them, are some hybrid between the two philosophies, leaning toward one, but applying the other in some cases. I suspect that WotC have a general bias toward the Planter mentality due to the emphasis on Standard. In Legacy, I think most of the players have more of a Sower mentality. This is at least partially responsible for the disconnect between the playerbase and the people who actually manage the ban list. Most Legacy players want Mind Twist to be unbanned. The opposition, including the responses from WotC on the matter, have been along the lines that Mind Twist wouldn't add anything valuable to the format, that it would either do nothing or it would do something unfun. So even though the card has arguably never, in the entire lifetime of Legacy, actually been strong enough that it would have dominated the format, it remains on the ban list to this day.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I had a second part to my previous post an the message board ate it. I don't have time to rewrite it now. But rest assured that I was going somewhere with this. I'll get back to finish my train of thought at a later date. Really annoyed that the message board ate my post. :mad:
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Like I said, part of my very long post was lost. I'll try again, but it won't be exactly the same. the stuff I'm writing now is definitely taking on a different form than if I'd tried to write a structured article. When I started that post, I had no intention of trying to elucidate the Sower/Planter disconnect, but I thought a lot about the idea while I was writing about Show and Tell. It's an important point because when it comes to longstanding ban lists, the waters get muddied. Yawgmoth's Bargain and other cards on the ban list are, or were at some point, very strong cards, but the format also allows other very strong cards, such as Show and Tell, to be included in decks. It's not necessarily the case that the cards that are banned are ones that are more broken than the ones that are used in the most prevalent decks in the format. And that's possibly the biggest gulf between Sowers and Planters.

    Anyway, most of the debate I've seen on the topic of Yawgmoth's Bargain as a possible Legacy unban hasn't looked like Sower vs. Planter, but actually a case of Sower vs. Sower. The advocates for a Bargain unban compare it to things that are already possible in the format, and in particular compare it to Griselbrand and Ad Nauseam, as those cards take on a similar role as black card-drawing engines used in combo decks. Detractors of this proposal point to the extreme flexibility of the "Pay 1 life: draw a card" ability, something that would allow a Dark Ritual fueled storm deck to do things that the currently legal cards cannot.

    So where do I stand? Honestly, I am uncertain. My position evolved sometime while I was writing my articles on the history of the Legacy ban list. In Part 1, I wrote...


    But by the time I wrote Part 3, my attitude was...


    Essentially, that's still my view. I worry that it's too dangerous, but I don't think it's so crazy that it should be completely off the table. If I got to make a reverse watch list for card that shouldn't be unbanned in Legacy yet, but should be scrutinized for possible future changes, Bargain would be on it. Contributing to my indecision on the matter, if a Bargain deck could be played in Legacy, it would be my pet deck. My own bias toward the card sways me, but I think sometimes it sways me in different directions. There are times when I wish the card could be unbanned and I'm hopeful that it would be strong but not dominant, and there are other times when I want it to stay banned as a kind of testament to how powerful the card is, thinking that we should keep Ad Nauseam in Legacy as the "fixed" version and let Bargain haunt the ban list as one of the great combo enablers of yore. But even if Bargain is potentially safe in Legacy, it wouldn't be my first unban choice. I believe that changes to the Legacy ban list, barring extreme circumstances, should happen one at a time, allowing the environment to adjust to each change individually.

    All of this is moot anyway. WotC take a very conservative Planter-type stance when it comes to Legacy unbans, especially pertaining to combo decks.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, now that I've talked Legacy to death, it's time to address Vintage. I see one major factor that makes this easier than the Legacy analysis and one major factor that makes it harder...
    • To make things easier, Yawgmoth's Bargain is already restricted in Vintage, rather than banned. This means that the card has a presence. We do not need to wonder what Bargain does in Vintage, as we can observe it in action. The question is whether the increased consistency of being able to run up to four copies makes the card too good. And as a pretty good starting point, we can imagine what a Bargain deck would look like by extrapolating from decks that run Bargain as a singleton.
    • To make things harder, Vintage is kind of a broken format at the moment, and analyzing a card in the context of the current Vintage environment can be tricky.
    To unpack the first point, Yawgmoth's Bargain in today's Vintage seems to show up in two different kinds of decks: dedicated storm decks and decks running Academy Rector. The latter are slightly obscure. I've seen some interesting Show and Tell lists that can use Rector to fetch either Omniscience or, if it won't produce a kill, they can go for Bargain instead, and it can be quite effective. Setting aside the fact that decks like this are pretty rare, they're probably also irrelevant to an unrestriction discussion. They are only allowed to run one copy of Bargain, but they look like even if they could run more, they would not. It's worth noting that in Vintage, sometimes even when a restricted card is played, and even when is demonstrably good, it's not necessarily the case that unrestricting the card would motivate players to use four copies of the card. This is especially evident from the fact that many unrestricted cards only show up as singletons already. Storm is a different case. The advent of Dark Petition in 2015 brought about a resurgence of "TPS" decks. Bargain is still an inclusion in these decks, but its role is limited. Usually, these decks hope to chain a few spells together, build up mana, and win with a lethal Tendrils of Agony. Yawgmoth's Will is the most powerful Dark Petition target, but if things aren't working, Necropotence is a powerful card-drawing engine that can set up a kill on the next turn. However, these storm decks have waned since 2015, and last year, Paradoxical Outcome began its takeover as the dominant combo engine card.
    [IMG]
    The card lives up to its name. Normally, bouncing your own cards in order to draw more cards is a good way to overfill your hand and ruin your board position. And in other formats, the holds true. But Vintage has so many cheap artifacts that can be tapped for more mana than was used to cast them that it yields a true paradoxical outcome: the card can both draw cards and generate mana. Not all Paradoxical Outcome or "PO" decks are storm decks. Many of them primarily rely on Monastery Mentor as a kill condition. But the idea is similar in both cases.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Does a Bargain-based combo deck have more to offer than one relying on Paradoxical Outcome? Dark Petition? Ad Nauseam? Griselbrand? I think so. Outcome is heavily reliant on artifacts. Petition is dependent on having both the setup to cast it early with spell mastery and the potential to follow it up with something that wins the game. Ad Nauseam clashes with too many good cards and is constrained to a one-shot burst that puts cards in hand. Griselbrand needs setup (generally Oath of Druids or Show and Tell) and is generally constrained to either exactly 7 or exactly 14 cards. But Yawgmoth's Bargain also enjoys better synergies with some other cards, including Lion's Eye Diamond, Windfall, Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, and Tendrils of Agony. In turn, those cards synergize with Yawgmoth's Will, so even though Yawgmoth's Will and Yawgmoth's Bargain don't directly help each other much, a Bargain-based storm deck would almost certainly make better use of Yawgmoth's Will than any other deck in Vintage. That using so many potent card-drawing spells and so much fast mana production could easily mean quick kills even without ever casting Bargain is a nice perk.

    But I'm envisioning something like TPS with four copies of Bargain instead of one, and that is probably not quite right. Because when you know that you have four copies of a powerful card to work with instead of throwing it into a deck as a one-off, that changes other deckbuilding considerations. Maybe going back to Burning Wish like the fast storm decks of 2003 would be the right move. Or maybe Bargain and Dark Petition belong in the same deck. Still, I strongly suspect that were Bargain unrestricted, whatever deck it led to, regardless of how the particulars would vary from other combo decks, it would at least result in a deck using Dark Ritual and Tendrils of Agony. And those decks are a known entity in the format. They've been around for 14 years. At the moment, such decks are a tiny fraction of the Vintage metagame. Without knowing whether unrestricted Bargain would boost them to be a bit more relevant or if it would become completely dominant, we have a sort of starting point on what to expect. We know that it would be a very fast deck, that it would be resilient against spells that target permanents, that it would be vulnerable to Mindbreak Trap and Flusterstorm but a bit more resilient in the face of traditional countermagic, and generally that almost everything that has been true about all of the Ritual-based combo decks of the last 14 years would also be true about a Bargain deck.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Now, to unpack my assertion about Vintage being a broken format at the moment. That sounds bad, but I really don't think that it should be too controversial. Vintage has always been known as the format with all the powerful cards, where crazy things can happen. For many years, the format was defined by a kind of balance between "pillars." There were artifact-based decks (Stax, MUD) using Mishra's Workshop. There were fast combo decks (Storm, Doomsday) using Dark Ritual. There were grindy control decks using Mana Drain (Slaver, Oath). There were aggressive decks that kept broken decks held in check with Null Rod (Fish, Hatebears). There were explosive graveyard-based decks using Bazaar of Baghdad (Dredge, Dragon). There were fast blue-heavy "Turbo Xerox" decks that played a lot of cantrip spells (Delver, Gush Aggro). And there were even various rogue decks or cases where the "pillars" shifted in some way. Sometimes decks that otherwise looked like Null Rod decks dropped Null Rod and relied on Blood Moon to cripple opponents' manabases. Sometimes countermagic-based control decks became lower to the ground and shifted away from Mana Drain. But my point is that with some representation from each of those rough, broad categories, there was diversity in the metagame. But over the past few years, Vintage has become a virtual duopoly between cantrip-fueled decks (mostly Monastery Mentor decks, but also Paradoxical Outcome storm combo) and "taxing" Thorn of Amethyst decks (mostly Workshop decks, but also Eldrazi aggro). Like everything else that doesn't generally fit into either of those two camps, Dark Ritual has fallen by the wayside. And with it, Bargain has become rare in Vintage.

    While I think it's fair to criticize a severe duopoly as "broken," the problem goes beyond that. Not only does a duopoly exist, but it has been attacked by multiple restrictions over time and has only become more severe. Restrictions, so far, have shifted the balance of power between cantrip decks and taxing decks in the matchup between them and the composition of the decks in those two categories, but they haven not cracked the duopoly. There is the concern that the format has reached a critical mass of restricted cards. Yeah, you can restrict Gush and Gitaxian Probe, as happened in the last change to the restricted list, but players can still use one of each, and they're already using singleton copies of Brainstorm, Ponder, Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Ancestral Recall. Those alongside unrestricted cheap card-drawing (Preordain, Dack Fayden, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy) form a suite of cards that let one filter through a deck for very little mana setting up either a kill with Monastery Mentor's tokens or enough artifact acceleration for giant Paradoxical Outcome plays. Cheap card-drawing is powerful if you can find something to use with it, and once there are enough different cards that fill the role, restricting all of them just amounts to causing decks to use one of each. At some point, once enough tools are available, restriction as a countermeasure against a dominant deck loses its teeth. By playing cheap artifacts that make cheap card-drawing spells more expensive, "taxing" Thorn decks can have an advantage against cantrip-based decks. But as I mentioned in another thread, multiple cards have been restricted over the years to keep Mishra's Workshop from dominating the format.

    Under this duopoly, the kind of deck that might employ Yawgmoth's Bargain is already disadvantaged. And this is where some people come in an argue that unrestricting Bargain would boost the faltering Ritual-based combo decks and bring them back into the metagame, smashing the current duopoly.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Operating under the assumption that Yawgmoth's Bargain would be used in a ritual-based combo deck, what would it mean for Vintage? I do think that Bargain has a significant advantage over most other unrestricted options, such as Ad Nauseam and Griselbrand. In some circumstances it is weaker than Paradoxical Outcome, which can generate mana and increase the storm count, but that is contingent on reaching a sufficient amount of mana-producing artifacts, so most Outcome decks eschew rituals and play a more controlling game. Anyway, I strongly suspect that the best use for Bargain would be in a ritual-based storm deck and that, were Bargain unrestricted, the best ritual-based storm deck would be a Bargain deck. And as I've alluded, ritual-based combo has greatly diminished lately. Would Bargain be able to reinforce a crumbling pillar? I have my doubts.

    Ever since the rise of the original "$T4KS" decks, Workshop decks have been the default predator for storm combo in Vintage. A single Sphere of Resistance taxes disruption and provides an obstacle that must be removed before a chain of spells can function. Trinisphere, Lodestone Golem, and Chalice of the Void are all restricted, but Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst are not. A Bargain deck could include some fast countermagic or artifact removal, especially Hurkyl's Recall, but it's still a bad matchup. Because Workshop decks also prey on cantrip-fueled blue decks, they're already the most successful decks in Vintage right now. So even if, in other circumstances, Bargain could boost ritual-based combo, it's unlikely to do so when such a deck's worst matchup is already the best deck in the format.

    Workshop decks may constitute an insurmountable obstacle, but even more prevalent are the blue-heavy "Turbo Xerox" cantrip decks. Those decks present numerous challenges, but the worst of the lot, by far, is Mental Misstep. That card is already a huge slap in the face to Dark Ritual, and is so useful in Vintage that it is run as a full playset for other reasons, hosing Dark Ritual as a mere side effect. If a storm player attempts to use 1-drops to get enough mana going to set up Bargain or another big spell, Mental Misstep has Dark Ritual, Sol Ring, and Mana Vault that it can block, ruining the attempt, even if the player is tapped out. The best hand-sculpting tools are also hit by Misstep: Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Vampiric Tutor, Ponder, Preordain. And in order to go off in the face of disruption, it is common to attack opponents' hands with cards like Duress and Cabal Therapy, which can also be easily disrupted by Mental Misstep. As long as there are Missteps floating around everywhere, these decks are just inherently worse. Yawgmoth's Bargain does nothing to address that weakness.

    With two unfavorable matchups constituting such a huge chunk of the metagame, I don't envision ritual-based combo moving beyond the status of a rogue deck anytime soon. And I think that holds true in a world with Bargain unrestricted. Ultimately, I conclude that Bargain is unrestrictable. But why even bother when the real problem is the duopoly, which it would not solve? That being said, if we could get a Bargain rogue deck, I'd build it and I wouldn't want to play anything else.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Yawgmoth's Bargain is banned in Commander. Because of the strange nature of the EDH ban list, I don't know exactly when or how this happened. Really, I could write an article about the oddity of the EDH ban list, but I'm not the best person for the task. And really, I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone else do so on another Magic site. I've certainly seen people complain about individual choices and even about the Rules Committee in general, but there seems to be little discussion of the bizarre details surrounding the list itself. Without launching into a tirade, I'll note that the oldest archived versions of the ban list that I could find from dragonhighlander.net use the following preamble...

    And here's the version used today...

    It may seem nitpicky of me, but I have serious qualms with both statements, for different reasons.

    The current version uses the designation "official." It isn't official in the sense that it comes from WotC, the governing body for the official rules for "DCI" formats. It's "official" in the sense that some highly visible people have become the de facto curators of the format, simply by virtue of their early role in the format and their high profile. Yes, community-driven formats do and should exist, and it's perfectly fine that a consensus can establish some informal group as the authority for an unofficial format. If I'm playing Peasant Magic and no additional criteria are stated, I'm probably going to assume that my opponent is using the rules from "Mtg-Peasant." But here's the rub: those guys don't brand themselves as "official" and then go on to get support from WotC and acknowledgment through multiple avenues by WotC implying that their rules are endorsed. They haven't had Magic Online ban lists modified to suit their decisions. They haven't had sections of the Comprehensive Rules modified to suit their decisions. The EDH/Commander Rules Committee, on the other hand, have had those things. What they have not gotten is definitive, unambiguous endorsement of their authority. I assume this is for legal reasons, but it puts the format and its governing body in a weird spot. They make their rulings and then WotC quietly adjusts things. So even though there's no technical reason that the Rules Committee should be considered to have any more authority than, say, the people who manage the Peasant Magic website or Killer Joe's MML or even Ransac, one would be forgiven for assuming otherwise. Nearly everyone I talk to is under the impression that WotC have openly given the Rules Committee their blessing to control Commander as a format. They haven't. Oh, they've linked to the website and so far, at every turn, they've made changes to accommodate them (such as adding the "tuck" rule into the Comprehensive rules after the Rules Committee changed it) and they've avoided making changes that directly conflict with them. And individual WotC employees have made statements implying that the Rules Committee has authority. But they have never actually ceded authority, with the assumption that, as with other formats, they even have it to cede in the first place. And really, of course they haven't. They produce a hugely successful annual product specifically for the format. The minute the Rules Committee get in over their heads and do something that might interfere with that cash cow, WotC will start "officially" managing the format in-house. But as long as that doesn't happen, the Rules Committee can enjoy their de facto authority over a popular Magic format.

    This is not some minor quibble. This is something that has already had consequences. For years, WotC was adjusting the ban list for Commander on Magic Online to match the changes made by the Rules Committee. But the Rules Committee was explicitly interested in Commander as a casual multiplayer format, and did not account for competitive one-on-one play. Well, there's another longstanding community-driven organization dedicated to competitive one-on-one Commander gameplay: the French "Duel Commander" committee. As an outsider, I don't find all of their choices to be perfect, but it's clear that they have spent years cultivating a fun, reasonably balanced format. Earlier this year, when WotC changed the Magic Online list to one that they developed in-house (with some specific choices that baffled players), they received criticism from both the casual multiplayer EDH/Commander and the competitive Duel Commander communities. In response to these concerns, they revised their change to apply to one-on-one Commander, ignoring the established Duel Commander community and their format. While of course they're free to do this, it is also well-known that the members of the Commander Rules Committee are personal friends of WotC employees. So, if you have enough clout in your "community-driven" format and your buddies are the right people, you get support from WotC in comprehensive rules updates, Magic Online management, and fully-fledged sealed product tailored to your format complete with brand new cards. But if you were unfortunate enough to build your community starting halfway around the world from Renton, Washington and you don't have any connections to the mothership, then you get nothing except maybe undermined. I find this disconcerting.

    As far as the old statement goes, to be fair, it is old. They don't seem to be using it anywhere on their website anymore. I quoted it because comments on the format since the removal, mostly by Sheldon Menery, have mirrored the philsophy espoused in the statement. Whenever the list is criticized, the counterargument that gets trotted out is that the critic just doesn't understand the point of the list, that it isn't like other lists, but that it captures a particular spirit, that it guides the format and promotes the kind of games that are fun. Yes, this card is on the list and that other card isn't, but the point isn't to ban every overpowered card, but to illustrate an ideal. Not only is this line of reasoning sufficiently vague that it can be used to justify the presence or absence of any card, but the implication (or, when it comes to argument between critics and individual players who are fans of the Commander Rules Committee, the outright accusation) is that if you play Commander and the experience is bad, the onus is on one or more of the players. In other words, someone must be a jerk. That's a pretty poor excuse for having a crappy ban list, and it wouldn't be accepted anywhere else. The example that I've been using for years is that Hermit Druid is broken, yet remains unbanned, while Biorythm is a garbage card and is banned. The reasoning, as I remember it, was that Hermit Druid, in order to be broken, must be used deliberately in a combo deck, that players do not accidentally win games by exploiting Hermit Druid. So the problem is with those players: they are jerks. Meanwhile, Biorythm is a stupendously weak card, but it has a very pronounced effect that might tempt players to use it alongside token-generators or in their wacky theme decks because it looks like it could be fun, but that when it is actually used it makes the game unfun. So it isn't banned for being strong, but for being misleading about the kind of results that it would get in a game. Like I said, no one would accept that kind of argument in any other format. It baffles me that they'd buy into such preposterousness for Commander.

    All those words and I've only outlined my problem with the Commander ban list in principle, without commenting on Yawgmoth's Bargain. Well, as with the other formats, it seems unclear and like a borderline case either way. In Vintage, my analysis was complicated by the unbalanced environment of the format that goes beyond the possible application/unrestriction of this one card. In Commander, my analysis is necessarily complicated by the bizarre purpose of the ban list. Really, it's only Legacy where I think there's event potentially a clear-cut answer...
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Notably, Yawgmoth's Bargain is banned in both the "official" list and the official Magic Online "1v1" list, but is not banned in the French Duel Commander rules and is only occasionally used in that format. But Duel Commander doesn't get the whopping 40 starting life used in traditional Commander gameplay. And starting life definitely matters when it comes to Bargain.

    If the idea is to use card bans to form a list that encapsulates the spirit of the format, then I admit that I do not know what that spirit is, nor what role a ban on Bargain fills in this arcane rite. But if the idea is to ban the cards that would be too degenerate, well, that's easier to analyze. Bargain would be a one-off, so building around it would be difficult, and the strategies that it supports would also be weakened, because you can only cram in so many Commander-legal accelerants into a deck before you run out of slots for the really good stuff. On the other hand, the starting life total of 40 is a huge boon for cards that let one pay life. It seems obvious enough that having more life to use as fuel is good for Bargain, but what is less immediately apparent is that because the deck size isn't proportionally as big of a jump as the life total, paying the same proportion of your starting life lets you see proportionally more of your cards. For example, if I have Bargain in a 60-card deck and I pay half my starting life total to draw cards, then I draw 10 cards, which is 1/6 or just under 17% of my total deck. But in Commander, if I pay half my starting life total to draw cards, then I draw 20 cards, which is 20/99 or just over 20% of my total deck. That may not seem like much, but it does help to compensate for the loss of redundancy in a singleton format. Really, once Bargain hits the board, if you have plenty of life, it should be great and you should be heavily favored to win. But that could be said for some other six-mana bombs in Commander. The problem is getting there in the first place.

    Griselbrand is banned, but it's a creature and would potentially be used in the commander slot, which makes it a very different case from Bargain in this format. Necropotence is not banned, but it used to be.
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Owing to circumstances, my previous post is a bit of a rushed mess, but I'm not going to fix it, so there.

    Nothing to do with Bargain, but since I brought up the proportion thing, I should note that it's an often overlooked consideration in Commander. Your life total doubles from 20 to 40, but your starting deck size only jumps up by about 2/3, going from 60 to 99. That's why milling someone out is actually more efficient in Commander than it is in 60-card constructed formats. A lot of people don't take that into account and assume that milling is inefficient because the deck size is larger, but that's not necessarily the case. It gets more complicated though, because there are more options for scaling up damage to opponents than there are ways to scale up library depletion effects. Ultimately, I think that milling is a viable strategy, but it runs into the same issues that it does in 60-card constructed formats.

    Unlike the more intricate set of considerations for archetypes that seek to mill opponents, cards that pay life to draw more cards, like Yawgmoth's Bargain, get a strict upgrade. The only catch is that singleton decks can't stack so many copies of the same thing, which changes deckbuilding. I contend that Bargain is flexible enough to compensate for this. It would be strong. It would be very strong. But there's a common theme across these formats, and perhaps it's coincidence or just my own bias. I find myself suspecting that the card would indeed be powerful, but that it wouldn't necessarily be too powerful. Bargain might be able to do some crazy stuff in Commander, but is it banworthy? And if so, why doesn't the same hold true for Survival of the Fittest? Hermit Druid? Oath of Druids? The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale? Vampiric Tutor? Mishra's Workshop? Sol Ring? It's not that I think Bargain could never be too strong, but if cards like those are allowed to flourish, then why target Bargain?

    I strongly suspect that both the Legacy and Commander bans and the Vintage restriction are more about guilt by association than they are about in-depth analysis or attempted tests. There's a narrative that Urza's Block was full of broken cards, and Yawgmoth's Bargain is considered to be part of that club. "Combo Winter" and all that. It led to crazy Standard decks that could achieve second-turn kills. So of course it is too strong, so the reasoning goes. But I prefer a more thought-out analysis. I don't like guilt by association. Some cards from the block, members of that infamous club, have demonstrated thoroughly their danger: Tolarian Academy, Tinker, and Yawgmoth's Will come to mind. But now that we've had 18 years of developments, I think that it's high time for a measured, case-by-case take on the infamous combo cards of Urza's Block.

    But on the topic of bans and restrictions, I've spent ten posts and probably used far too many words. Finally, I'm done. There might still be some interesting card interactions and the like to bring up, but if I make further posts in this thread, I want to focus on Bargain as a card, and not on its legality in various formats.
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In terms of my "ABC's of combo" Yawgmoth's Bargain lends itself mostly toward Pattern B, but its effect of drawing lots of cards is so powerful that it has some crossover with Pattern A and Pattern C approaches. If that sentence sounds too much like me blathering in my own made up jargon, I'll put it another way...
    • Bargain functions as a sort of bomb or "one-card combo." In combo decks that use it, assuming that their deck construction is set up to take advantage of Bargain (and that's a reasonable assumption to make, since you wouldn't put Bargain in your deck if the rest of your deck couldn't make use of it) and that Bargain has hit the board early enough that one's life total isn't already compromised, then Bargain can be used to draw enough cards that it can lead toward a win condition. Bargain doesn't win the game by itself, of course! There's nothing special about paying a bunch of your own life that means you win the game. And this is no guarantee. You might be facing an opponent who can stop you, or you might just get unlucky and draw the wrong cards. But generally, the idea is that getting Bargain out while your life total is still high lets you draw whatever cards you're going to use to win.
    • Drawing lots of cards means more chances to find the cards you want, which is ideal for combo decks that hope to assemble particular groups of cards that serve as a win condition, which I refer to as aggregates. A very simple example of an aggregate in this case is Illusions of Grandeur + Donate, which I've used alongside Bargain. Those two cards played in combination saddle the opponent with an enchantment that will incur the loss of 20 life once its cumulative upkeep isn't paid. It is possible to just draw both cards and play them. But that isn't very reliable. Cards like Demonic Tutor can help with that. But if the same deck can get Bargain out quickly, that's even better. Bargain draws so many cards that it will probably find the cards in the aggregate and even find mana acceleration to get them out faster. On the off chance that it can't draw enough cards to assemble the kill condition, it either draws into other cards that can help (again, like Demonic Tutor) or just uses Illusions of Grandeur to gain more life and dig deeper. In some versions of this deck, we could also draw into disruptive spells that can prevent our opponent from having a way to stop us.
    • Other combo decks, rather than looking to draw an exact combination of cards, play a mixture of card-finding effects and mana-producing effects with the goal of "ramping" into something big within a single turn. Because it's different from "I need this card plus this other card" and instead goes explosively from one thing to another, steering toward some win condition, I call this sort of approach to combo a chain. The most obvious chain for Bargain is to build a deck with as many spells as possible that make it easier to continue casting more spells and eventually terminate the chain with Tendrils of Agony. But that one is too easy and I want to emphasize, as this is critically important in my whole silly philosophy, that it's not specific to that one card. Chains predate the "Storm" mechanic by several years. So instead, my example is the "Sabre Bargain" deck that I already mentioned in the Academy Rector thread. The preferred approach is to use Academy Rector and Phyrexian Tower to fetch Yawgmoth's Bargain, but Bargain can also be hardcast, as the deck has Grim Monolith an Voltaic Key, Tooth of Ramos, Peat Bog, and Dark Ritual for mana acceleration. Once Bargain is used to draw lots of cards, the aforementioned mana acceleration can be used to make mana. Renounce can be used to sacrifice the tapped artifacts and lands for more life, which can be used with Bargain to draw more cards. Skirge Familiar can be cast and used to discard cards for more mana, which can be spent on Soul Feast, which generates more life, which can in turn be spent to draw more cards. Then Yawgmoth's Will lets all those cards come back and do it over again, with the whole chain terminating in lethal Soul Feasts. For Bargain, this nice thing about chains like this is that some of the same cards that power the lethal chain of spells after Bargain has been used to get the combo going can also help get Bargain onto the board in the first place. Dark Ritual and Grim Monolith can be used once the engine is going, or they can help hardcast Bargain or Academy Rector. Renounce can generate more life for Bargain fuel, but early on it can serve as an alternative sac outlet for Academy Rector.
    In competitive environments, if Bargain can fit into a viable spell-chaining combo deck, that's probably its home. That's where it will live. The synergy is too strong to ignore. But casual play is another story! I've already mentioned Nick's Bargain deck, which he put together shortly after getting into Magic. He'd often try to draw into an Ivory Tower or two, then wait until his upkeep and draw lots of cards, gaining back more life than he'd paid. He has Spellbook so he could keep his oversized hand indefinitely. And most memorably of all, he'd put Spirit Link on a Serra Avatar and gain absurd amounts of life (toward the end of the deck's run, he switched to Soul Link, and I'm not sure which was better). Because most opponents could keep up chump-blocking Serra Avatar for a while, he'd sometimes win with Celestial Convergence. This sort of thing sounds terribly impractical to me as I type it up, but that's why I title these threads Magic Memories. I was playing the game in a very different way in, say, 2000, from the way I approach it today. And I think it's important to keep in mind.
  16. Melkor Active Member

    Well, Yawgmoth's Bargain is no longer just a memory in Vintage. Unrestricted today. Seems like Wizards felt they could experiment with letting Bargain out because the format was so heavily dominated by two decks, neither of which can really use Bargain.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I mean, people were talking about it a bit and Stephen Menendian advocated for it, but I'm honestly surprised. Digging my Bargains out of my collection and sleeving them up first thing when I get home this evening. Mental Misstep is going to be annoying to contend with and I loathe the card, but with Thorn restricted, I'm very, very hopeful that Bargain will be viable.

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