Changes in Five Color — October

On the ballot this month are issues dealing with Mana Crypt, Gifts Ungiven, Recurring Nightmare, Restock, and the Judgment Wishes.

Welcome to the pristine world of Five Color. Welcome to tall decks, big life swings, and seldom played cards. Welcome to beauty.

Five Color is, at its heart, a simple variant. It allows all Type One legal sets, requires a minimum of 250 cards in the deck and 18 cards of each color, allows ante, and has its own banned and restricted list. You can get all of the messy details over at www.5-color.com

The interesting part of any format is trying to achieve balance. Ideally, you want a format to be balanced and fair, yet still have as much room as possible for players to get creative. As such, a person who oversees the rules of a format has to walk a tight line between having as short a banned and restricted list as possible, while also having a fair environment.

The Five Color Rules Committee (some call it the Ruling Council, use whatever nomenclature you desire, the abbreviation is 5CRC, however) is charged with overseeing this format and making decisions that affect the whole environment. In Five Color, this is especially difficult, because there are so many dynamics in play. For example, there is a large contingent of casual Five players, and a decent number of tournament players. In Five Color, the gap between the two is greater than virtually any other format.

Confronting these kinds of challenges are the nine members on the Committee, of which I am proud to say that I am a member. Regular readers of this column know that every few months a large ballot comes up that has a significant potential impact upon the format. This month is one such ballot.

October’s ballot is:

Mana Crypt for restriction

Gifts Ungiven for restriction/banning

Recurring Nightmare for unrestriction

Restock for unrestriction

Number of byes for qualifier (5CQ) winners at worlds (5CW).

What I’ll do is list each line on the ballot separately, address the issues, then I’ll let you know where I stand and how I’ll vote. Additionally, there has been a question regarding the five Judgment wishes recently, so I’ll chime in on that as well.

Mana Crypt (for restriction)

Mana Crypt is the sort of card that arguably slipped through the cracks. When some people looked at the banned and restricted list a while ago, the honestly wondered what had happened to Mana Crypt. Wasn’t it on the list?

Mana Crypt definitely fits the profile of a restricted card. For no mana at all, this artifact taps for two colorless, which can be used very effectively to fuel an aggro or combo engine. It’s only disadvantage is that you will occasionally lose life at the rate of 1.5 life per turn.

Mana Crypt was recently abused in Pat Fehling’s world champion deck. In his deck, he used them to power out a variety of artifacts, including Mindslaver, Recycle, Myr Incubator, and even more mana from cards like Gilded Lotus and Thran Dynamo.

His win helped put the Mana Crypt issue to the forefront. As such, several people have clamored for the card’s restriction. At its heart, Mana Crypt is a very simple card. The issues surrounding it are simple as well.

The only possible mitigating factor to Mana Crypt is the occasional story about how Mana Crypt players missed three or four coin flips in a row and swiftly died. Although that does happen, the occasional but rare story about it being bad does not really keep it from being overpowered. It is virtually always a cheap Sol Ring that has an upkeep of 1.5 life. That’s a great deal, and Mana Crypt should be restricted on the strength of it. Vote to restrict Mana Crypt.

Gifts Ungiven (for restriction/banning)

Some are arguing that Gifts Ungiven is actually better than Intuition, at least in Five Color. I prefer to view Gifts Ungiven as its own card, rather than as a combination of Intuition and Fact or Fiction.

Gifts Ungiven cannot instantly tutor for any three-of in your deck. However, there is definitely room in your deck for redundancy. If you need to take out an artifact, you can Gifts Ungiven for Seal of Cleansing, Aura of Silence, Artifact Mutation, and Orim’s Thunder. The same is true for cad drawing, creature kill, and so forth.

With that in mind, Gifts Ungiven can be a versatile tool, but hardly broken. Where Gifts Ungiven gets tricky is when people combine it with the graveyard to create parlor tricks. Since two of the cards go directly to the graveyard, using Gifts Ungiven to get Genesis, Anger, Wonder, and Glory gives you two powerful incarnations right in the graveyard, plus two more to play.

Gifting for four incarnations can be a powerful play, but Buried Alive puts three Incarnations in your graveyard, yet no one seems to be calling for action on it. As such, we have yet to see how the Ungivening of Gifts can be broken.

Then people pull the Intuition trick. The old Intuition trick involved some variant of getting Yawgmoth’s Will, Time Walk and Restock. Or, Contract from Below, Contract from Below, Yawgmoth’s Will. Or Recoup, Time Walk, and Restock (you get the idea…)

That was where Intuition became broken. It could singlehandedly tutor for every card required to go off. Gifts Ungiven has the same potential. Feel encouraged to tutor for Time Walk, All Suns’ Dawn, Restock, and Regrowth. No matter what two cards they give you, you can go off for several turns in a row.

Some have argued that Intuition and, by extension, Gifts Ungiven are not nearly as powerful since we whacked Yawgmoth’s Will. This is certainly true, as Public Enemy Number One under an Intuition was the Will. Yet, as shown above, Gifts Ungiven can still set up a potentially devastating set of cards with the current stock. Yawgmoth’s Will turns Gifts deadly, but the virus still seems quite potent on its own.

As such, restriction seems called for automatically. However, whether to go for restriction or banning is a difficult decision. I can honestly go either way on this. I see arguments for both sides. As a general rule, though, I prefer to restrict now and look at banning later if it remains a problem. Vote to restrict Gifts Ungiven.

Recurring Nightmare (for unrestriction)

Recurring Nightmare has been on the restricted list for way too long. I believe that this is an artifact from the days when Corpse Dance was similarly restricted. Recurring Nightmare is a powerful tool, but it hardly seems restriction worthy in today’s environment.

Proponents of keeping Recurring Nightmare restricted rightfully point out that there have been new tools made available to the Nightmare player. Eternal Witness recursion can really break open a game and offing one or more dragons from Champions of Kamigawa can prove to be downright rude. Recurring Nightmare swaps between Yosei and Eternal Witness can easily prove devastating.

Still, it is important to point out several things. First of all, Recurring Nightmare is merely good. We have to stop having cards on our restricted list that are good, but not broken or great. Recurring Nightmare can be stopped through a variety of means – hand destruction, countermagic, killing the creatures in play, graveyard removal and occasionally, enchantment removal.

There are enough ways of circumventing Recurring Nightmare that its power is greatly diminished. In addition to all of that, Recurring Nightmare is often not that useful of a card, as its power greatly relies on the creatures that one currently has available in the game.

The sum total of all of this is that Recurring Nightmare has no more place on the restricted list than Price of Progress or Masticore. Sure, it’s a fine card and it will win you the occasional game, but it is hardly restricted worthy. Vote to unrestrict Recurring Nightmare.

Restock (for unrestriction)

It seems like there is a movement to unrestrict Restock every six months or so. In a previous article, I wrote the following about Restock:

“Sans Intuition, what power does Restock have? It grabs two cards, and that can be really good. But the job of the committee is not to ban and restrict all good cards everywhere. Instead, it is supposed to create a balanced and fair environment. Restock is fair. Five mana for two cards, and you can never cast it again. This is fair. Ergo, my vote for the unrestriction of Restock.”

There are a lot of good points all stuck together in there. You get the idea about not restricting good cards, just great and broken ones. Five mana for two cards and removed from game still seems a fair price to me. Restock is hardly restricted-worthy in other formats.

Part of my argument, however, was rooted in the fact that Intuition would be banned. In fact, it is banned to this very day. However, we now have Gifts Ungiven coming to play at the table, and Gifts simulates Intuition in several ways.

Remember in the Gifts Ungiven portion of our article about how it should not viewed as either a new Intuition nor a new Fact or Fiction? This is one area where that is definitely true. Whereas Intuition could be devastating with an unrestricted Restock, getting Restock, Restock and Time Walk (or Contract), Gifts Ungiven can only retrieve one copy of a card. As such, it doesn’t matter if you have just one Restock, four Restocks or twenty Restocks in your deck when it comes to Gifts Ungiven. There is still no Intuition effect in the environment.

I think that makes it safe for Restock to come out and play. I voted to unrestrict it then, and I’m voting to unrestrict it now. Vote to unrestrict Restock.

Number of Byes

How many byes should the winner of a Five Color Qualifier receive at Five Color Worlds? Currently, the number was set at three, but there were only six rounds this year. Come in with a bye, win your first game, and draw into the top eight. You should have to win more than one match in order to make it to the top eight. As such, the vote in to reduce the number of byes to a more reasonable two. That seems perfectly logical to me. Vote to reduce the number of byes to two.

Wishes, Redux

I honestly do not know where the Wish problem is coming from. Apparently, in some areas, people are taking too long to Wish or whatever. I want to remind readers of the Wish rule for Five Color. You cannot make your deck illegal, and the card you acquire for your deck must be able to be retrieved from where you are sitting (or playing if you are standing, laying down, kneeling, etc). This was introduced to eliminate the amount of time it took for a player to wish for a common in their commons box in the closet under the stairs in the basement.

In tournaments, players are sometimes taking sideboards of some heft. It takes a few players a significant amount of time to search their wishboard for the appropriate card.

As a result, several possibilities have emerged. Here are the current list of suggestions:

1). Leave them as is;

2). Errata them to only get removed from game cards;

3). Turn them into Mental Magic; and

4). Ban them all

Are Wishes really so severe that we are looking at banning them all? Currently, only three are on the restricted list while two others are fine in multiples of four.

Before I begin looking at the Wish issue, I think some people need to get bonked on the head. This is Five color people. We play with 250 freakin’ cards. It can take a long time to tutor, and we are complaining about using a wishboard with 60 cards? Come on.

The idea of banning all Wishes seems very unfortunate to me. Let’s not even consider it. If wishes are a problem, let’s fix the problem. They are not so powerful as to be insta-banned.

Errata’ing them all to simply getting RFG cards will clean up the restricted list, and I like that. Let’s make that plan B.

Turning wishes into Mental Magic (name a card, you have a copy) seems to have several problems. First of all, what happens if that mental spell goes to the graveyard? Get shuffled back into my library? Gets bounced to my hand? The second point is that it makes wishes more powerful, not less. I can now Living Wish for Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale if I so desire, even though I’ve never owned one in my entire life? Everybody can have a Library of Alexandria, an Ancestral Recall, or a Time Walk. This does not seem like a good plan to me. It makes the Wishes too powerful.

There are other alternatives besides the four listed. For example, you could cap the wishboard to 30 cards or so. The DCI makes a distinction between how Wishes operate in regular Magic and how they operate in sanctioned tournaments. Why can’t we do the same? In tournaments, you have access to a wishboard up to 30 cards and RFG cards. In casual play, the current ruling stands.

Doesn’t that seem fair and equitable, without diminishing the power of the wishes? It is perfectly in line with the way wishes work in sanctioned Magic, plus it makes sense and keeps the wishes powerful without creating problematic time constraints.

Ah well, you know that reasonable compromise almost never happens in life. Another month brings changes, and it makes the format better.

Until Later,

Abe Sargent