Magic Online Commander format splitting from "official" paper version

Discussion in 'CPA/WOTC Magic Issues' started by Oversoul, May 6, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    There is a lot to talk about with these changes generally, and I don't even know where to start. The weirdness of the Commander Rules Committee? The huge popularity of a casual multiplayer format format? The prevalence of an official sealed product line (containing tournament-legal cards) meant specifically for a format not officially regulated by WotC? The effects of Commander on the Magic singles secondary market? The doomed "spirit of the format" shtick? The conflict between traditional multiplayer Commander and the increasingly popular 1v1 variants? Historically poor banned list management by WotC? The effects of MTGO on "paper" Magic?

    Well, we can talk about those, but first, I want to analyze the list itself. I'll use the same categories that they did...

    "Fast Mana"
    Black Lotus
    Gaea's Cradle
    Mana Crypt
    Mana Vault
    Mishra's Workshop
    Mox Emerald
    Mox Jet
    Mox Pearl
    Mox Ruby
    Mox Sapphire
    Sol Ring
    Tolarian Academy

    I've italicized the cards that were already on the "official" banned list. Both the Commander Rules Committee and WotC have long taken a dim view of "fast mana" but the particulars are a bit different. The RC list bans the original Moxen, but ignores cards that are generally stronger than them: Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Mana Vault. This list is a bit more aggressive, targeting those artifacts as well as two previously unbanned lands, Gaea's Cradle and Mishra's Factory.

    "Combo Enablers"
    Bazaar of Baghdad
    Food Chain
    Gifts Ungiven
    Hermit Druid
    *Protean Hulk*
    Survival of the Fittest
    Time Vault
    Yawgmoth's Bargain

    Again, I've italicized the cards that are banned on both lists. I also marked Protean Hulk separately because it was taken of the RC list very recently. Because the gap between the RC unbanning Protean Hulk and this accouncement by WotC is only about a week, it seems likely that the developers of the new list, basing their work in part on the existing list, included a card that they didn't know was going to be removed. Or perhaps they did know and chose to ban the card anyway because it's bonkers. When it comes to which list is better, I'm quite divided on this section. On the one hand, the WotC developers correctly identified combo enablers that are much stronger than some of the ones already on the RC list. On the other hand, this is some pretty harsh anti-combo policy. I have Bazaar of Baghdad in my own Commander deck and it's, well, impressive in a way, but not really banworthy. Survival of the Fittest is also in that deck, and in lots of Commander decks (I'm the only person I've ever seen use Bazaar of Baghdad in Commander) as it's a popular card, but again, not one that I'd call banworthy. They even hit Doomsday! Who doesn't love Doomsday? Oh, they also did not ban a couple of the combo enablers that are on the RC list.

    Panoptic Mirror
    Recurring Nightmare

    And yeah, neither of those were really banworthy. And of course, there are tons of combo enablers that are missed entirely on both lists, some of them generally more powerful than some of the ones banned in Commander. I can applaud the developers of this list for ascertaining that Panoptic Mirror and Recurring Nightmare were not really threats, but they went overboard on some of this other stuff.

    "Oppressive Commanders"
    Arcum Dagsson
    Braids, Cabal Minion
    Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
    Edric, Spymaster of Trest
    Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
    Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
    Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
    Zur the Enchanter

    They added five commanders that weren't on the existing list. They also omitted two that were.

    Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
    *Leovold, Emissary of Trest*

    Honestly not sure what to make of this. As with the previous categories, they're adding more new cards than they are omitting old ones. But is it better or worse? I marked Leovold because that change was recent, as with Protean Hulk.

    Ancestral Recall
    Back to Basics
    Library of Alexandria
    Mana Drain
    Mind Twist
    Natural Order
    Oath of Druids
    Serra Ascendant
    The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
    Time Walk

    Here's where it gets really crazy. Banning those Power cards (but not the whole P9, as Timetwister remains legal) is typical, Karakas would be a problem in Commander, and Balance and understandable ban. The RC list also bans Library of Alexandria, and both groups are basically just wrong on that count. It's not 1994 anymore. But as for the rest, the RC doesn't have any of them banned. I vaguely recall that a few of them may have been banned years ago, but unbanned since. This is excessive and more than a little bizarre. What kind of format do they hope to craft by banning Back to Basics? This is way too heavyhanded.

    "Multiplayer-Pointed Cards"
    Limited Resources
    Painter's Servant
    Sensei's Divining Top
    Trade Secrets

    Only Sensei's Divining Top is a new inclusion here, and is stated to be an inclusion on account of MTGO logistical reasons. Of the other cards in this category, half of them are legitimately problematic in multiplayer games (Limited Resources and Trade Secrets) and the other half, despite being included under this header, are not. Painter's Servant is a strong card that was banned for power-level reasons. Biorhythm is a silly, non-threatening card. It's not the silliest card on the RC list, but still, it's pretty bad. So really, this part isn't particularly noteworthy.

    Finally, the new MTGO list omits several cards that are on the RC list. I already mentioned the combo enablers Panoptic Mirror and Recurring Nightmare, as well as the commanders Emrakul and Leovold. Also omitted are...

    Coalition Victory
    Primeval Titan
    Prophet of Kruphix
    Sundering Titan
    Sway of the Stars
    Sylvan Primordial

    I have mixed feelings about this part. None of these cards are particularly scary (well, Primeval Titan and Sundering Titan are both quite powerful). But some of these really could be considered multiplayer headaches.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

  4. Melkor Well-Known Member

    Pretty surprising that WotC has supported the format as much as it has without taking it over. I don't really think that's necessarily WotC's purpose here, but it's probably the first step towards that eventual outcome.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I don't want to come across as a whiney complainer with only negative dissent to offer, but at this point I'm apprehensive about both options here. On the one hand...

    Wizards of the Coast, or specifically "the DCI" are crap at generating ban lists for formats. Wait, calling them crap at it makes me sound dismissive or maybe that I'm exaggerating to prove a point. So I should go a step further. Hm, let's see. They are not only bad at this, but are so hilariously, consistently bad at it that over the years I've generally run with the assumption that something, anything must be going on behind the scenes to account for the inanity of their methods. I kinda-sorta gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was mostly just Legacy and that they could do a better job when inclined to, that the ban list management in Legacy was a product of neglect and confusion, but the mismanagement of other formats has become too vivid to ignore.

    This isn't just me hating on the company either. I've seen that whenever anything goes wrong with the game, or whenever some swath of the players are unsatisfied, it's inevitable that some people just blame WotC and insist that they're all incompetent. I don't think that. I fully believe that if the company wanted to, it could have employees use rigorous testing and thorough statistical analysis to inform ban list decisions in accordance with well-defined objectives for the various formats. And I believe that they should do this. For reasons occulted to me, they choose not to. I find it all baffling. It would be one thing if there were a distinct trend in their decision-making. But I don't really see any common trends other than "it's bad."

    This new combined 1v1 and multiplayer MTGO Commander ban list strictly 1v1 MTGO Commander ban list is, unfortunately, not in defiance of my expectations when it comes to official lists. Sure, some of the new inclusions make sense, but others make no sense to anyone with any experience with those cards. As just one example, they ban Gifts Ungiven, but not Demonic Tutor. Yes, Gifts is a powerful tutor for combo decks, but it's nowhere near as good as Demonic Tutor. It used to be the case that one of the cards picked for Gifts piles was Demonic Tutor. Meanwhile, Demonic Tutor is a powerhouse in Commander, so it's not like there's no information on the subject. The card is banned in almost every other format, so it's not as though WotC are in doubt of the card. And they're throwing Sol Ring on the list, so they're not sparing cards for the sake of nostalgia for classics or whatever. Seems pretty lazy.

    But on the other hand...

    I'm not convinced that the Commander Rules Committee are any better. I wouldn't be the first to accuse them of dismissing all criticism of their decisions with vague references to the spirit of the format and the "experience." So Hermit Druid doesn't need to be banned because someone exploiting the card wouldn't be earnestly trying to play in the spirit of the format, and the ban list would run too long if they tried to ban every such combo enabler. Meanwhile, Prophet of Kruphix is totally too strong and obviously needs to be banned. It really just sounds like people making stuff up as they go along and justifying it afterward with evasiveness and condescension. This for people who have the ear of the community.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Since apparently I'm still not inclined to shut up, I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent here...

    The new MTGO ban list includes Sol Ring, as I noted in my previous post. What I didn't say was how very much that makes sense, in the context of what else is on there. And yet, for others this has been a point of criticism. It's apparent that there's a segment of the Commander community that really wants their Sol Rings. The card is so good that it is in pretty much every Commander deck I've ever seen. Even my deck, which eschews all other non-creature artifacts except for Crucible of Worlds, employs the card. Because it's seen as such a Commander staple, Sol Ring has been in every single Commander precon. The card was an uncommon in Revised too, so combining the reasonably large supply with the fact that it isn't a legal card in most formats, the pricetag on the card isn't all that high. Basically, everyone has one, and it's a popular card. So when it was included on the new ban list, that decision was decried, mainly before the subsequent revision indicating that this list would only apply to 1v1 Commander on MTGO, when non-MTGO Commander fans were concerned that this was a sign WotC was going to take over the format and change everything. The general nature of the complaint seemed to be that Sol Ring was a universal staple in the format and that banning it showed that WotC was out of touch and didn't understand the format. But there was also an implication (that I saw a couple of times, not nearly as prominent but it was out there) that Sol Ring was an innocuous card. After all, it's a 99-card deck and you can only use one copy of it, and all it does is make a little mana. Plus, everyone else is using one too, so it balances out.

    I'm not going to set out to make a definitive case that Sol Ring should be banned in Commander, because I think the "official" ban list has bigger problems that would need addressing, but I do want to speak to the sentiment that Sol Ring is innocuous or that everything balances out because everyone gets one. While most Commander players are "new" to the game compared to the members here, the format has been shaped by longstanding ideals and notions about casual magic, and casual players have historically been alright with Sol Ring. I know that I was. We definitely played forum games at the CPA with people using Sol Ring, and while that was largely done alongside prior agreement that the Vintage restricted list was in effect, such decks tended not to use very many other restricted cards. Yeah, you might see a Sol Ring, but not a Mox Emerald or a Time Walk, because those were "power" cards and these were just fun casual games. There was some game where we were spooked by Spidey's Library of Alexandria, but when I later played Sol Ring, it wasn't a play that drew any particular attention. Can't remember how many games I saw it in, but it was very common, including in virtually every tribal game, and I thought nothing of it at the time, especially since I'd gone much further myself. I used to build casual decks will full playsets of Sol Ring. So did other people in my playgroup. In the comment section of one of the articles that I wrote here, I remember someone proposing that Sol Ring should be restricted in Legacy instead of banned. Obviously we knew that the card was strong, but there was this unspoken assumption that, as a "staple" it was fine to have around.

    Recently, I've been thinking about this differently. In the past, "Power 9" cards were something I only dreamed about. I didn't use them in my decks because I didn't own them, and I only ever faced opponents using real, physical copies of them on a very small number of occasions. So they felt like something legendary (not in the rules sense, but in the colloquial sense), and not like a normal part of the game. But Sol Ring was different. It was everywhere. And so that made it OK.

    While I did a lot of Vintage testing in the past and was certainly aware, in a technical sense, of how Sol Ring, the original five Moxen, and other mana accelerants functioned, both when restricted and when used as full playsets of four, there was something about all the experience with the actual, physical cards that made Sol ring as a staple, at least one copy, feel real. But the original five Moxen? Not real. A thing of legend. Something from the days of yore, stretching back into the mists of time. Inaccessible. And then I bought them (not all at once, mind you, but over a period of a few years I did acquire a white-bordered copy of each one). And I put them in decks (mostly Vintage playtest decks). And the information that I knew in a clinical sort of sense became reality: Sol Ring is totally bonkers, even in a world with Power 9 cards. As restricted or singleton cards, the Moxen are really only particularly potent because there are five of them. From a strictly gameplay, non-financial perspective, I'd rather have four copies of Sol Ring than one copy each of the Moxen, in the vast majority of deckbuilding scenarios. There are many factors at work, but generally, Sol Ring is a stronger card than any one Mox.

    I'm not necessarily saying that the Commander Rules committee is wrong for not banning Sol Ring over other powerful cards on the list, because it's a special format with some unusual considerations to weigh. But if the issue in Commander is that a critical mass of mana accelerants would break the format, and so for the sake of accessibility the most financially expensive cards are banned and the more widely available cards are allowed to remain, then a case could be made for keeping Sol Ring but banning the five Moxen. However, if that is the idea, I do think that it should be noted explicitly.

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