Changes in Five Color – February

The cycle continues. Every few months or so, the Five Color Council has a larger ballot. February appears to be the largest one in a while. This month, we take a close look at three new cards and try to see if an old card should be put out to pasture. We also have an interesting question of succession.

The cycle continues. Every few months or so, the Five Color Council has a larger ballot. February appears to be the largest one in a while. This month, we take a close look at three new cards and try to see if an old card should be put out to pasture. We also have an interesting question of succession.

Just as in October, the format has been quiet for a bit. Mirrodin created a bit of a bang with Isochron Scepter and Sylvan Scrying. We’ll talk about Fabricate in a second, because it creates an interesting situation.

As a quick reminder to the readers, Five Color is a separate format, unsanctioned by the DCI, wherein players must play a deck with at least 250 cards and 18 cards of each color. The format uses cards from all Type One sets and has its own banned and restricted list.

I always like these articles. You don’t usually find this sort of article outside of the occasional piece by somebody speaking on behalf of the DCI. We’ve all probably thought at one time or another that a card should be banned or restricted in a certain format. I have the power to help change an environment for one of the most popular casual formats, and that is a big power. Even if I am just one voice in nine, I still have a voice. It is a heavy responsibility.

It is the duty of the nine council members to oversee the format and vote on changes. During my tenure, we’ve revamped several rules including the ante and mulligan rules, we’ve banned a few cards, restricted some more cards, and removed some cards from the banned and restricted list. The list makes a lot more sense today than it did 18 months ago.

Anyway, the following ballot has been published on the Five Color Yahoo! Newsgroup as well as likely being placed on the Five Color Forums. We try to achieve the maximum possible exposure with our ballots so that as many people want to have an opportunity to see the ballot and e-mail the people on the council. Several council members, including myself, have publicly admitted that e-mails from players have swayed their vote.

The February Ballot:

Panoptic Mirror, for banning

Reap and Sow, for restriction

Reshape, for restriction

Yawgmoth’s Will, for banning

Question of Council Succession – Will Brinkman’s seat to whom?

Watch List:

Fabricate, for restriction

Normally, I begin with the ballot and then say a short bit about the watch list. However, this month I am going to go in reverse order. Our last major vote, in October, saw some interesting things happen with the Fabricate vote, and it may have an impact this month, so I want to take a look at it.

Watch List – Fabricate, for restriction: Five Color does not like tutors. The five Wishes from Judgment began their life banned, then moved to the restricted list, and only recently were Death Wish and Golden Wish unrestricted. I can remember when Eladamri’s Call and Skyship Weatherlight were restricted.

The policy for the past bit has been that creature tutors are not powerful enough to warrant restriction unless they are recurring and powerful. Survival of the Fittest remains banned while Citanul Flute remains restricted. Tutoring for other card types, however, was considered powerful enough to warrant restriction. Tinker, Enlightened Tutor, Sterling Grove, Gamble, Sylvan Scrying, and Merchant Scroll are all restricted.

Then along came Fabricate. The council was minus one member due to a resignation, so with only eight council members, we had the potential for a tie. Fabricate was voted upon as were several other cards, and in the end, there were four votes to restrict Fabricate and three to keep it unrestricted.

Wait a second, weren’t there eight members? Sure were, and one didn’t vote. So the vote was 4-3 in favor of restricting Fabricate. Now, with one member not voting, there are basically two paths to choose from – firstly, you can say, 4-3 against Fabricate, so restrict it. That makes sense, of the votes that were cast, more wanted to restrict Fabricate than leave it available in fours. The other option, which is what happened, was to think, if the person who didn’t vote had voted for Fabricate, then there would be a tie. With the potential for a tie, let’s go ahead and leave it unrestricted.

Ergo, Fabricate was not restricted. The good news was that Fabricate has been pretty quiet these past several months, but it is still awfully close to restriction. However, in view of Fabricate not being as much of a problem, there are more questions about tutor effects being restrictable automatically. This month, we have two tutor effects that are powered down for their effect. What will happen? It’s interesting to see the council in this sort of potential evolution.

Panoptic Mirror, for banning: There are very few cards that are banned in Five Color. Most of the cards are those that produce regular, reliable tutoring effects or pseudo-tutoring effects, such as Wild Research, Holistic Wisdom, Insidious Dreams, and so forth. Panoptic Mirror creates the same sort of situation that Isochron Scepter does, only more powerfully.

Where the Scepter can only be used once a turn and required two mana, the Panoptic Mirror, after the initial imprint, occurs automatically. Whereas the Scepter only imprinted an instant of two mana or less, the Mirror can imprint any instant or sorcery.

Obviously, the Mirror is much more powerful. People have already been creating a list of Broken Panoptic Mirror plays. Time Warp, Contract from Below, Price of Progress. That’s the problem with Panoptic Mirror – even the worst cards look good on it.

Imagine imprinting, say, a Lava Axe on it. It’s not like anybody is ever playing a Lava Axe, but doesn’t it look good on a Mirror? Imagine an Armageddon that constantly keeps your opponent from ever having land again. It’s easy if you try. Imagine a world where Panoptic Mirror has imprinted a simple Traumatize. A few turns of that and you’ll be able to use other methods to actually deck a person. Now imagine an imprinted Wheel of Fortune. An imprinted Vindicate. Imagine all the people…..

That’s the issue with Panoptic Mirror. No matter how measly a card may appear to be (Impulse, Demonic Tutor, Searing Wind, etc.) on a Mirror, it becomes very impressive. Even something like Harrow or Rampant Growth will be very helpful quickly until I find something better to imprint.

The interesting thing about the Mirror are its weaknesses. With an Isochron Scepter, you can immediately use any card you imprint if you have the mana. You can also include situational spells like Counterspell. Not so with the Mirror. The imprint cost is high, you cannot use it immediately, and your opponent has a turn to try and find an answer.

All of which leaves us with one question – is the Mirror’s power limited enough by the weaknesses that it should be banned? Initial results say no. The Mirror is simply too powerful too easily. As such, it should be banned. Vote for banning.

Reap and Sow, for restriction: For the longest time, we only had one card that tutored for any land – Crop Rotation. Onslaught brought us the Weathered Wayfarer and only the second card with that ability. For the entire Onslaught Block, we just had those two cards, and it seemed like the ability to tutor for any land would remain a limited one.

Now we’ve had two sets released back to back that offer us this ability. The number of cards that tutor for any land has doubled in two sets. Sylvan Scrying was restricted in October, and now we find ourselves facing Reap and Sow.

And here, opinions remain divided. Here’s a little clue about competitive Five Color – the best mana searching cards cost one or two mana to use. You can’t be dithering around too much fixing your mana base. Rampant Growth, Lay of the Land, Tithe, the landcyclers, and Land Grant are the sorts of cards that you want to use. Our previous entrants into the”tutor for any land” race felt right into that curve. Crop Rotation and Weathered Wayfarer are both two drops and the Scrying will give you an early land of any type.

This is why Reap and Sow’s restriction status is under question. Although it tutors for any land, it costs four mana to do so. That’s a prohibitive cost for smoothing out one’s mana. You are just not going to want to rely upon Reap and Sow getting you an island or that second plains. The other restricted land search effects could always get a needed bit of colored mana, that was what made them good. Reap and Sow is much more limited.

However, like Crop Rotation, Reap and Sow is the only one of these effects to put the land directly into play, thus speeding up your mana development. Additionally, although Reap and Sow lacks a strong ability to smooth out your mana, it can be used to pop one of your opponent’s lands. It’s more useful than Sylvan Scrying or Crop Rotation in the later game when you can both get a land and destroy one. You can use it to hurt an opponent’s mana base by taking out their only land that taps for a particular color. Five Color’s manabase is always tenuous.

Let’s not fool ourselves, Reap and Sow is good enough to be included in lots of decks. From a splashable Stone Rain effect that will also smooth out your manabase, Reap and Sow has a lot of diversity with enough power to see inclusion in many Five Color decks in multiples of four.

If Reap and Sow simply tutored for, say, a basic land, then we would have no problem. If it tutored for any non-Legendary Land, we probably would not have this problem. And there’s the rub. Sure, you could use it to get a Bazaar of Baghdad or Library of Alexandria, but doing so on the fourth turn seems a bit underwhelming. Tutoring for a Tolarian Academy is the issue.

A deck that runs Academy and a lot of artifacts will love having four Reap and Sows available to tutor for the Academy. Does this make Reap and Sow a victim of a restricted Academy? If Academy were banned, I would not be in favor of restricting Reap and Sow.

But with it available, I think Reap and Sow increases significantly in potency. As such, Vote to Restrict Reap and Sow.

Reshape, for restriction: If Fabricate is on the border between restricted and unrestricted, then where does Reshape fall? Although Reshape puts an artifact directly into play, it does have a significant cost. It is obviously not as good as Tinker, and not even as good as Transmute Artifact.

Is its power level, although watered down, sufficient for restriction? Of course, that depends on what artifacts one might tutor for. A Memory Jar, for example, is going to cost UU5 to get from a Reshape, and that doesn’t seem bad. With just a small commitment of mana, say UU1, you can accelerate your mana with a Sol Ring or Mana Vault. UU gets you a Mox that can fix your mana base by giving you a needed color. UU3 will get you that recently restricted Isochron Scepter, UU6 your Urza’s Blueprints for a combo deck, and on the list goes.

Yet the question still remains, what can Reshape possibly get to warrant restriction? Well, you have to consider combo decks. Will having four unrestricted Reshapes that put an artifact directly into play push combo? I like having viable combo decks in the format, but tutoring an artifact directly into play may be a bit much.

Reshape is exactly like using Transmute Artifact and sacrificing a zero-mana artifact like a Mox. In this case, both spells will have the same cost. Transmuting an early artifact like a Mox or Mind Stone is very frequent, and yet, Transmute Artifact is restricted with essentially the same disadvantage as Reshape.

Ultimately, one simple fact remains for me. Reshape puts any artifact directly into play, and with that sort of power, we need to limit its availability. Vote to restrict Reshape.

Yawgmoth’s Will, for banning: Yawgmoth’s Will is a lot of things. It is a broken card. It is so good that many Type One players have realized that Will, not Ancestral Recall, is the most potent spell in their deck.

Here is a list of the cards deemed so broken that they were banned – Intuition, Survival of the Fittest, Holistic Wisdom, Wild Research, Phyrexian Portal, Insidious Dreams, Earthcraft, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Eight cards are so powerful, so broken, that we have banned them. This month, we are voting to add two cards to their number? Wow.

Certainly, Yawgmoth’s Will, in terms of power, belongs in that list. Also, in terms of power, it belongs in this list: Contract from Below, Ancestral Recall, Library of Alexandria, and Oath of Druids. Cards that are very powerful, sure, but are not banned.

I honestly think that Ancestral Recall and Yawgmoth’s Will are better than Holistic Wisdom. Yawgmoth’s Will is better than Insidious Dreams. So, what is a card doing on the restricted list if it is better than a card or two on the banned list?

Unfortunately, Magic is not a continuum. Restricting and banning cards would be easy if it were. Imagine that Magic cards were able to be classified somewhere along a line running from left to right. On one side, the cards are the most broken possible, and the other has the weakest cards in print. Decide where to draw a line for restriction and banning – say at 80% power for restriction and 90% power for banning. Come up with a twenty point questionnaire to ask for every card. Get sixteen or more affirmative answers, and you restrict the card. Get eighteen answers, and you ban. Simple enough, right?

100% Pure Chaff _____________________________________ 100% Pure Power

Wrong. Sometimes cards become more or less powerful in combination with other cards. Crop Rotation is a poor land fixer and Weathered Wayfarer a one-drop that can use its ability only half of the time – except that they can get a Tolarian Academy.

So, they are restricted, despite having a lower power level than many other cards. Eladamri’s Call is arguably more powerful than many of these highly restricted tutors, and yet it remains unrestricted without incident.

If restricting and banning cards were this easy, there would be no controversy. (Except, maybe arguing over where to place the lines to ban and restrict. I can see it now, a StarCity article headlined,”DCI Went to Far to the Left: How a Rightest Views the Continuum”)

Therefore, a card can be on one list and yet be more powerful than cards on the higher list. I do not think that Will is better or more powerful than most of the cards on that list of eight banned cards. Does it deserve a place of honor?

Are there cards that are restricted because of how broken Yawgmoth’s Will is? Just like Reap and Sow gets Academy, are there cards that interact well with Yawgmoth’s Will, thus placing them on the restricted list?

Fastbond would remain restricted. So would Hermit Druid. And that is arguably it. The best interactions with other restricted cards aside, those cards are still powerful enough on their own to warrant restriction. It doesn’t seem like Yawgmoth’s Will is having the impact that some claim.

Sure, resolving a Yawgmoth’s Will can essentially end the game at a certain stage. So can casting a Coalition Victory. There is always going to be a card on the restricted list that is the most powerful, and we can’t keep banning them all. Yawgmoth’s Will may be great, but it seems just a bit short of the power of the cards on the banned list. I am not ready to lower the bar as of yet. Vote to remain restricted.

Question of Council Succession – Will Brinkman’s Seat: Will Brinkman has decided to resign his seat. He has nominated a person to succeed him and take his seat. Now, the interesting thing is that we do not have any set way of filling a void left by a council member.

This has happened once before, when Jeff resigned and we replaced him with Brian Epstein. Brian was highly active on the newsgroup, one of the moderators of the Five Color forums, and a regular contributor to a variety of Five Color events. He also lives in Florida and would be our first representative from the south, a traditionally under-represented area.

In other words, Brian Epstein was the right man for the job at the right time. We allowed the public a month to comment on his taking of a seat and then the committee voted on him. After a bit, Adrian Sullivan tossed his hat in the ring and volunteered his services on the committee. Many people wrote in support of Adrian’s candidacy. Then others wrote that Matt Birkenbul would be a good council member, and again, more wrote in support of that.

Now Will B is resigning his post. He has nominated Kurtis Baumann to the council. With some support for Adrian from the last go around, the council is now going to vote between Adrian or Kurtis. We have invited public comment from both people.

I’ve never met either one of the candidates. I know Adrian from his writing, of course, here on StarCityGames.com and now magicthegathering.com, as well as The Dojo. I don’t want to penalize Kurtis for not being a writer, but that gives Adrian an advantage. However, I think that a retiring council member should have some sway on the council. As such, I take Kurtis candidacy seriously.

I am writing this probably a week before you read it. As of now, I have no way of knowing who I am going to vote for – it’s way too early to tell and neither have made any public statements. Unfortunately, I will not be able to tell you in this article how I will vote this month.

Yet, it looks like an interesting month. Darksteel brings some goodies to the table, although not as many as Mirrodin. Still, there are enough questions on this month’s ballot to prove very interesting. There are no automatic decisions this month, and seeing what will happen is very exciting!

Until Later,

Abe Sargent