And so the wheel turns. Last month the Five Color Council voted on the status of four cards. This month, we vote on three more cards, plus there are a couple of issues to attend to.
Every few months, the council gets really busy with changing the status of cards. Then, after adjusting the format, we lay back and let things settle for a while. The goal of the council is to foster the most balanced format, while having the smallest restricted and banned list. Well, at least that’s my goal. I’m sure it’s the goal of my fellow council members as well, but I am unable to speak on their behalf.
My typical reminder for these articles is to let readers know, as briefly as possible, that Five Color is a separate format and unsanctioned by the DCI. Players must build a deck with 250 or more cards and eighteen cards of each color. The format uses cards from all Type One sets, but has its own banned and restricted list.
Nine council members oversee the format, voting on changes and streamlining rules. We have changed the format a lot for the better, cleaning up some antiquated rules and streamlining the restricted and banned lists.
This month’s article will be divided into two parts. First, I’ll look at what the vote was last month, how I voted, and what the result was. Second, we’ll peer into this month’s ballot, including a side rant about a card on the official watch list.
Question of Council Succession – Will Brinkman’s seat to whom?
Fabricate, for restriction
I expected last month’s votes to be close and split, as the cards in question were very close to the edge. In fact, last month’s ballot included two cards to be voted on for banning. Up until last month, only nine cards were banned because of their power – Battle of Wits, Earthcraft, Holistic Wisdom, Insidious Dreams, Intuition, Phyrexian Portal, Survival of the Fittest, Wild Research, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Let’s begin our examination of last month’s ballot by looking at the cards that were slated to be banned.
Panoptic Mirror – It’s not as if the Mirror had a long shelf life and was about to be retired. In print for only a short time before being voted upon, the council had to make a decision about the Mirror based on only a few weeks of testing. I believed that the Mirror was sufficiently powerful to warrant banning. The Mirror is brokenly powerful and provides repeat abuses with very little effort. As such, I voted to ban the Mirror. The vote was 5-4 in favor of banning the Mirror, so away it goes.
Yawgmoth’s Will – Another card up for banning, the Will is almost the opposite of the Mirror. It’s been around for ages, and represents, arguably, the best card on the restricted list. Some card has to be the best, and I personally can’t think of why we need to lower the bar. If we ban Will, some other card will become the best restricted card – should we then ban it? It’s a vicious cycle. I feel that Will is where the restricted list should end and the banned list begins. I voted for Will to remain restricted. Unfortunately, 5-4 people on the council voted for the banning of Yawgmoth’s Will.
The net effect of these two votes was to add two more cards to the banned list, a list that only had nine cards on it for banning thus far in the history of the format. I believe that we are feeling the aftereffects of these votes this month on the ballot. Also, note how close the council was on both votes – exactly as I predicted. Two cards from Darksteel were on the ballot to be restricted. How did they do?
Reap and Sow – Only the fourth card made that can tutor for any land, Reap and Sow is hindered by its casting cost, but helped by having the additional ability to destroy a land. The added option is very nice. I felt that tutoring for a Tolarian Academy and putting it into play was simply too abusable to leave around unrestricted, and I voted for the restriction of Reap and Sow. The vote was 6-3 in favor of leaving Reap and Sow unrestricted. I can, by the way, fully accept that vote. Hopefully, Reap and Sow and Tolarian Academy will not create an overly powerful combination, and we can keep another card off the list.
Reshape – I do not believe that Reshape and Fabricate should both be unrestricted – that is, I feel, unhealthy for the environment. Last month, I discussed how Fabricate was sort of restricted, but not really. With an unrestricted Fabricate, I voted to restrict Reshape, although ideally Reshape should be allowed and Fabricate should be restricted as the more powerful tutor effect. The council voted 6-3 to keep Reshape unrestricted, and I get a chance to get my ideal situation this month, as you will soon see.
Since neither of these cards were restricted, Darksteel only added one card to the overall banned and restricted list. But, stay tuned to the March Ballot, because you are about the see a significant change about to be voted upon.
Armageddon, for restriction
Although there are only three cards on this month’s ballot, they present a powerful problem. First of all, we have the artifact tutor problem. I’d rather have restricted artifact tutors than a banned tutor, a pair of restricted tutors, and an unrestricted tutor. The first is much easier to remember. It also shouldn’t cause too many problems among players. With Reshape recently voted to remain unrestricted, we now see Tinker and Fabricate on the voting list.
I don’t really have an opinion on the succession of council seats. Having public voting is too easy to gerrymander via the Internet. Plus, there is no community on the ‘net that fully represents Five Color players. I suspect that I’ll end up voting for the council to appoint someone in future cases, but I am unsure as of right now.
Anyway, without further ado, the cards.
Fabricate, for restriction – I spent five paragraphs last month talking about Fabricate, and it wasn’t even being voted on. I have been public in my view that Fabricate should be restricted. A few months ago, when Fabricate was voted upon, I espoused the view that Fabricate was simply too powerful to be left unrestricted.
That means that twice now, I have spent a significant amount of space and time discussing the potential and abuse with Fabricate in one of these articles. I hope that this will be the last time.
Fabricate fits smoothly into a mana curve. Fabricate on the third turn (or faster with mana acceleration), slap down a Fabricated Isochron Scepter, and have mana to activate it the following turn. One of the reasons tutors are powerful in a 250-card deck is because you have more space devoted to answers. Fabricate can get you anything from an answer to beatdown (Masticore, Crumbling Sanctuary), to control (Defense Grid), to general utility (Isochron Scepter), and all points in between. It’s a powerful card with a powerful effect, make no mistake about that.
With a large influx of artifacts into the environment, the ability to tutor for an artifact is becoming more powerful, not less. As such, the Fabricate should be acted upon, and restricted. Vote to restrict.
Like Insidious Dreams, at first, it appears innocuous. You only get one random card of seven, and only when you would normally draw a card. That doesn’t seem to be all that powerful… or does it?
In an environment with an unrestricted Contract from Below, it becomes easy to draw seven cards instantaneously. Drawing seven cards at blitzkrieg speed is pretty powerful. It is rare that you lose if you get to untap and play your turn after laying down a Parallel Thoughts. The card is simply too powerful.
That is ultimately why Insidious Dreams left, although it didn’t work with Contract from Below but another seven card drawer – Wheel of Fortune. You could discard your whole hand to Insidious Dreams, make Wheel of Fortune the top card, and then draw three or four cards. Tutoring for three or four cards is powerful stuff.
Parallel Thoughts allows you to tutor for seven cards. Isn’t that worse?
Tinker, for banning – How many more cards need to be banned before we are through? If the votes for Parallel Thoughts and Tinker are in favor of banning, then we will have gone from nine banned cards (due to power) to eleven to thirteen, in two months. That seems to be a pretty steep jump. What’s the issue about here, anyway?
There’s a Darksteel card out there. It’s a very powerful, broken Darksteel card. It is uber-powerful when Tinkered for early in the game. When you Tinker for this card on the third or fourth turn, you can usually win the game. What is this powerful Darksteel card, you may ask? Sundering Titan.
Sundering Titan provides a three-turn clock while simultaneously destroying most or all of your opponent’s available mana. If you are facing a Sundering Titan, even if you can marshal some land and an answer, you’ll still likely lose the land you played.
You’ll need to have an artifact in play to Tinker. In a mono-brown deck, this isn’t such a chore, but in other decks, this may prove to be a bit of a problem. This artifact will have to cost two mana or less, so that you can have it out by the time you want to Tinker.
You need to have enough mana to play your Tinker. That means that your starting hand, in addition to having a cheap artifact, will need to have some mana.
You will need a Tinker. If you do not draw your single copy of a Tinker, then you will need to acquire it somehow. Only a few tutors will allow you to get a Tinker by turn 3. Remember, you will also need your early mana to play the artifact that you will sacrifice.
Your opponent will need to have no countermagic available. With one of the top decks of the format featuring an aggressive deck with a good helping of countermagic, this is not as easy as it may seem.
Your opponent will not need to have a response. Adding two mana to my mana pool and then casting Naturalize is not going to be nice for the Tinkering player, who may then have to destroy some of his land.
Your opponent will need to largely or exclusively have either basic lands or dual lands as his sole mana base. A player who has a Mox Diamond, Plains, and City of Brass out is going to chuckle if you Tinker for a Titan. An Avalanche Riders would destroy the same number of lands in that scenario.
Your opponent will not have a quick answer, such as a White mana source and Swords to Plowshares or some such.
That is a lot of things that need to go right in order to Tinker out a Sundering Titan. And there are a lot of countermeasures. Play a Meddling Mage naming Tinker. Run Countermagic. Run Sacred Ground. Run more non-basics, non-duals. Run more basics as well as cards like Planar Birth. Make sure to stock some Oxidizes as another one-mana solution.
Despite the countermeasures, I need to ask myself if the conditions surrounding Tinkering out a Sundering Titan (and having it be any more or less powerful than Tinkering for other creatures) are that unlikely. You can get the mana easy enough, no problem. You can get a tutor or Tinker regularly enough that it is certainly playable. With artifact lands, you run more artifacts to Tinker, as well as having lands that are immune to Sundering Titan’s ability. Many Five Color players run countermagic, so on that note you’ll need to be lucky. You’ll need to hit them when they have a lot of basic and duals, so on that note you’ll need to be lucky. Most of these, however, are not that unlikely.
Let’s play a numbers game, just for fun. Let’s add a percent likelihood to each condition. We’ll say that you have a 70% chance of having an artifact in play, a 95% chance of having enough mana, a 40% chance of having a Tinker or a way to get a Tinker, a 70% chance your opponent will not have countermagic available, a 90% chance your opponent will not have a response that kills or stops the Titan, a 50% chance your opponent’s manabase will be easy pickings for the Titan, and a 90% chance that your opponent will not have a quick response like Plains-Swords. These numbers are purely off the top of my head, and probably do not reflect reality too much, but they give an idea of likelihood. Now, given those percentages, what is the chance that you can pull off the Tinker–Sundering Titan trick in a given game?
That seems pretty high to me. That means that there is a 15.08% chance of either playing pulling it off (roughly). One out of every seven games? That is just too high. As such, my decision is relatively easy. Vote to Ban Tinker.
The Watch List –
Armageddon, for restriction – Five Color has always reminded me of a mature format. The players have often played Magic for a while, and they have figured out what is what. That is what makes Armageddon so surprising.
We often put cards on the watch list if people complain about them. Once a few voices are heard, we want to see if more agree, so on the watch list it goes. More times than not, a card leaves the watch list without ever being voted upon. Only occasionally does a card move to a vote. That happened last month, however. Fabricate was on the watch list, and now we are voting on it.
Some players complained, and now Armageddon is on the watch list. Armageddon is a fine card for weenie decks to play, but it’s not even sure how much the loss of Armageddon would hurt the aggro archetype. Many aggressive decks pack Winter Orb, either to supplement Armageddon, or in lieu of it altogether. How much does Armageddon matter?
I want my position on Armageddon to be perfectly clear – I will never vote for Armageddon to be restricted, no matter how many people claim it should be. I have never felt more strongly on any Five Color issue (except for restricting Contract from Below, which is something long overdue). Allow me to explain my reasoning.
Armageddon is an essential element to an environment’s health. Every strategy should have a counterstrategy. If you want to hose artifact decks, you should have options. Want to shut down weenies? You should have options. Tired of dying to a Price of Progress? You should have options.
Armageddon is the primary option to address largesse. A finely tuned, honed deck does not need to fear Armageddon. A deck that has no central design, is just a bunch of cards slapped together, that is the perfect target for Armageddon. Cards like Armageddon push an environment towards better play. Play faster cards, a smoother mana base, cheaper versions of cards, in order to counter the effects of Armageddon.
In other words, Armageddon is the winnower of Magic. Its existence is an essential element to the environment, and it should never be curtailed simply because some players find it boring or frustrating to be killed, because their opponent destroyed all lands. Just like Armageddon is a countermeasure to excess and out of tune decks, there are also counters to an Armageddon strategy.
In Magic, you are supposed to change your deck or style of play if you are getting defeated, not just whine about it. That’s the beauty of an unrestricted Armageddon – it forces adaptation. No other card does what Armageddon does as well as Armageddon does it. (Although, arguably, cards like Ruination and Impending Disaster are pretty good as well).
Ah, me. As always, writing this sort of article is a lot of fun. The format changes, the circle rolls on. Feel free to leave your opinion here on the forums. I have changed my mind in the past, and am always open to doing so again.