Culling the Weak

Back in 2003, Aaron Forsythe wrote an article explaining how R&D looks at the Banned and Restricted list. One of the pearls of wisdom in the article was when Forsythe said,”in general, if a restricted card isn’t showing up in decks, its status probably deserves some scrutiny by the DCI.” I happen to be an expert on what cards are played and not played in Type One, so I figured I should get around to looking at the list right before the June 1st announcement.

One of the precedents that I really liked in 2003 R&D policy was Aaron ForsytheType One Players Speak Out” article on magicthegathering.com (all the moreso because I got quoted long, long before I really knew what I was talking about). It was an active effort to gain a greater understanding about what needed to be done to keep the most broken format plodding along. He didn’t ask for it, but since then Type One players have done their best to publicize the problems we’re having. One of the pearls of wisdom in the article was when Forsythe said,”in general, if a restricted card isn’t showing up in decks, its status probably deserves some scrutiny by the DCI.” I happen to be an expert on what cards are played and not played in Type One, so I figured I should get around to looking at the list right before the June 1st announcement.

I compiled all my occurrence stats on the Restricted List, and found that just four cards were not played in winning decks at all, in the span from late-September to the end of April. Those four are Doomsday, Dream Halls, Earthcraft, and Mind Over Matter. We’re going to pause for a moment and scratch Dream Halls off the list, because anyone who talks about unrestricting it is transparently, undeniably ignorant, in light of the evidence of past tournaments. I try not to make unconditional statements, but Dream Halls calls for a lot of them, such as”haha, Inquest said it was the worst card in Stronghold, therefore you should not believe Inquest’s opinions on new cards without strong corroboration.”

I have also been convinced that Doomsday is not as hard to set up as was initially thought, and that it makes infinite mana combos relatively easy to tutor up out of nowhere. I think that, since this is the Restricted List, caution is warranted with a card that essentially says”your deck no longer has to obey the sixty-card minimum; try to find the brokenest thing you can do with a five-card library.” I’m not sure if it’s faster than what’s currently out there, but I don’t really feel like spending three to six months finding out the hard way.

Earthcraft is a long-bemoaned addition to the list. I think (keep in mind this was several months before I ever saw themanadrain.com forums) that Army of Squirrels, the Squirrel Nest + Earthcraft combo deck, won a Dulmen once. I’ve heard a lot of people under the impression that it was restricted to keep it out of Type 1.5, and I have the sneaking suspicion that a few people (who probably weren’t even at the forefront of T1.5) in that relatively obscure format wrote letters detailing the peril caused by a combo with fundamental turn 3, resulting in restriction/banning. However, in light of how good and fast the Worldgorger Dragon deck is in that format, thanks in large part to Marc Perez a.k.a. Phantom Tape Worm, I think it’s pretty obvious that turn 3 is not a problematic level for combo decks there. Since any case based on”too fast for Type One” got laughed out once Tendrils of Agony hit the scene, I think we can safely unrestrict.

Finally comes Mind Over Matter. When Avi Flamholz addressed the topic of unrestrictions in February, he did not mention this card, probably because of some speculation on TMD that there might be a broken deck hidden under the engine it provides. I think, though, that there’s a case explaining why MOM cannot ever again be a dangerous card, if it even was at the time of its restriction. In this case, casting cost may actually matter for several reasons.

First, there’s already plenty of ways to draw insane amounts of cards in Type One combo without having MOM and some”Tap: Draw” permanent in play. I’ve seen people not use the fourth Diminishing Returns in Draw7, and TPS (the Long deck with slightly less”oomph”) doesn’t use any copies of Returns at all. Not only is this draw power abundant, it is also cheaper than Mind Over Matter, and yet still problematic for its cost – the worst thing about Diminishing Returns is the 2UU pricetag, which MOM quite exceeds, even without whatever permanent drawer is being untapped.

Second, there’s always something better to do with your Tutor if you have some way of paying for or dodging the cost of Mind Over Matter. If you’re going for a six-mana enchantment, you would be a fool to skip the one starting with”Yawgmoth’s” and ending in”I Totally Just Won The Game.” Color is, by the way, irrelevant, due to the mana fixing in the format, and the fact that Black restricted cards always make combo more consistent and powerful. Essentially, there’s no reason to invest in MOM when you could instead go for something almost strictly better. This is why we don’t see even a single copy played in any of the different incarnations of Tendrils combo over more than eight months, or in Academy Rector decks, which theoretically have the best chances of dropping big enchantment bombs to the board.

The third point about Mind Over Matter concerns its mana generating potential. The skeptical observer rightly asks,”Even if drawing cards is covered by other available tools, don’t we always have to watch out for Tolarian Academy getting untapped tons of times?” Basically, if untapping Academy is so key or worthwhile, we should expect Frantic Search to be much more common in Tendrils lists. In case the argument is that MOM is different because it allows multiple untappings, I don’t know where that much mana is going. Unlike pre-Scourge Academy lists, the modern combo deck kills with Tendrils of Agony, requiring four mana instead of roughly sixty for Stroke of Genius or roughly twenty for an X-burn card. If you’re investing several mana in MOM, you could just win the game instead, and save a maindeck slot along the way. All of this is aside from the fact that MOM + Academy is a two-card combo that doesn’t win the game directly, which is just so passe.

Hopefully that clarifies why I think Mind Over Matter can be unrestricted, wrapping up my coverage of the totally unplayed cards. Next are (for a surprise) the played cards. I’ll start by getting the obvious”keep-on-the-list” cards out of the way.


_3.8,_5.6,_3.8,_4.2,_4.2 Strip Mine

_3.0,_2.2,_3.1,_3.0,_5.6 Tolarian Academy

_6.3,_5.6,_6.4,_5.7,_6.2 Black Lotus

_3.2,_2.4,_3.2,_3.0,_4.4 Mana Crypt

_2.0,_1.4,_2.8,_1.8,_3.1 Mana Vault

_2.0,_1.8,_2.2,_1.7,_2.3 Memory Jar

_5.9,_4.6,_6.0,_5.1,_5.3 Mox Emerald

_6.1,_4.8,_5.8,_4.8,_5.8 Mox Jet

_5.6,_4.6,_5.6,_3.8,_5.7 Mox Pearl

_5.8,_5.0,_6.4,_4.3,_5.6 Mox Ruby

_6.4,_5.4,_6.8,_5.2,_6.3 Mox Sapphire

_6.3,_5.0,_5.4,_5.3,_5.8 Sol Ring

_6.3,_4.0,_6.0,_5.2,_6.2 Ancestral Recall

_0.4,_0.2,_0.6,_0.6,_1.4 Frantic Search

_0.8,_0.4,_1.0,_1.0,_0.6 Gush

_1.0,_0.0,_0.6,_0.3,_0.7 Mind’s Desire

_3.4,_2.4,_3.4,_2.9,_2.2 Mystical Tutor

_5.5,_4.0,_5.2,_4.6,_5.6 Time Walk

_1.9,_1.6,_1.8,_1.2,_2.2 Timetwister

_1.9,_1.2,_1.6,_1.1,_2.3 Tinker

_0.9,_0.4,_0.6,_0.6,_0.9 Windfall

_0.7,_0.0,_0.0,_0.3,_0.1 Demonic Consultation

_5.6,_2.8,_3.8,_4.0,_3.9 Demonic Tutor

_1.0,_1.4,_1.4,_1.8,_1.8 Mind Twist

_1.5,_0.2,_1.2,_1.0,_1.1 Necropotence

_4.7,_2.4,_3.6,_2.8,_2.8 Vampiric Tutor

_1.5,_0.2,_1.4,_0.8,_1.0 Yawgmoth’s Bargain

_3.9,_2.4,_3.4,_3.0,_3.3 Yawgmoth’s Will

_1.8,_1.2,_1.4,_1.7,_1.6 Wheel of Fortune

_0.3,_0.6,_0.2,_0.1,_0.8 Crop Rotation

_0.3,_0.0,_0.2,_0.2,_0.1 Fastbond

_2.3,_1.2,_1.8,_1.6,_1.4 Balance

The closest things to debatable in that group are Frantic Search and Crop Rotation. I think the Extended banning of the former (despite Academy already being Extended banned for years) and the obvious”turn 1 Academy all the damn time” play of the second puts them beyond the pale for enough of the audience that I needn’t discuss them further.

_2.5,_1.8,_3.0,_2.9,_2.6 Library of Alexandria

_1.5,_1.8,_1.4,_2.0,_2.1 Fact or Fiction

There are arguments for the unrestriction of Library, but in the case of cards restricted due to control decks, I think the burden of proof is pretty high, considering how continuously those decks are top dog of the format. I additionally believe that the reason control cards get restricted is that they provide too large of an early game swing (see Tony Sculimbrene’s article from November), and are too difficult for the opponent to recover from. Unrestricting Library would promote random”Library Of I Win” games instead of the skill-testing contests that make control the quality archetype we all know and love. In the same vein, unrestricting Fact or Fiction would invite far too much consistent, bomby drawing. Compared to Skeletal Scrying (the new standard-bearer for standalone multiple-card draw), it digs more cheaply, presents no mana problems, and has neither of the additional costs that balance the Black instant. I say leave both alone until there’s much more compelling evidence for action.

_0.0,_0.0,_0.0,_0.1,_0.1 Black Vise

I am consistently amazed at how many people think this is a non-obvious restriction. (Even worse is the idea that it and Necropotence could balance each other. Hah!) I can assure everyone that for as ferocious as Type One has gotten, this would make it even worse. Such a control-hoser should not be encouraged, because control decks are all that stand between us and the oblivion of combo decks.

_0.0,_0.4,_0.0,_0.4,_0.2* Chrome Mox

_0.0,_0.4,_0.2,_0.3,_0.6* Lion’s Eye Diamond

_0.0,_0.2,_0.6,_0.6,_0.4* Burning Wish

The December B&R announcement was welcome news. Randy Beuhler covers this trio nicely in”Classic Developments,” so I won’t reiterate the explanation for people who still don’t think Long was”actionable.”

_0.7,_1.0,_0.6,_0.8,_0.4 Grim Monolith

_1.7,_1.4,_2.0,_1.9,_1.8 Lotus Petal

_0.0,_0.0,_0.0,_0.2,_0.1 Channel

We know fast mana is dangerous. It’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Some people might contest things like”+1 mana wouldn’t be played much more than it is now,” in which case I would point to Elvish Spirit Guide’s rising use. I’d rather not risk the plight of Extended at PT: New Orleans 2003 when it comes to Grim Monolith. Others might say Channel’s abundant colorless doesn’t really help much, because Tendrils combo is usually short on Blue or Black rather than pure quantity. The new Charbelcher deck proves that there is more than a little to be feared from this angle. Basically, mana is like radioactivity. A little of it over time is mostly harmless, unavoidable, and natural. Too much at once is A Bad Thing.

_0.6,_0.0,_0.2,_0.2,_0.2 Mox Diamond

_0.2,_0.0,_0.0,_0.0,_0.2 Time Spiral

_0.9,_0.2,_0.0,_0.2,_0.4 Entomb

_0.8,_0.6,_0.6,_0.9,_0.0 Regrowth

_0.7,_0.1,_0.6,_0.9,_0.9 Enlightened Tutor

These are my”pure caution” votes. In all likelihood, they aren’t that dangerous. Mox Diamond, despite my love of it and its well-balanced drawback, is already playable in combo, and runs the risk of accelerating things even more. Time Spiral isn’t seeing much use because Diminishing Returns is easier to cast and it’s usually only good joined with Tolarian Academy. Entomb wouldn’t make Dragon much faster, if at all, though it might promote play of the budget, non-Bazaar of Baghdad Black variant. I’m not sure if Intuition for Yawgmoth’s Will, Regrowth, Regrowth is truly busted, or too costly to work. Enlightened Tutor for Necropotence might not be the second coming of Combo Winter. However, because I don’t have much of any experience with these cards’ comboriffic uses and haven’t heard truly convincing arguments either way, I say to leave them alone for now.

_0.0,_0.2,_0.0,_0.0,_0.2 Voltaic Key

_0.1,_0.0,_0.2,_0.0,_0.0 Braingeyser

_0.9,_0.2,_0.2,_0.3,_0.7 Stroke of Genius

_0.2,_0.2,_0.2,_0.2,_0.2 Fork

The last four are the utterly harmless ones. Anything with Key is at best a two-card combo which doesn’t go infinite or win the game. The best artifacts don’t gain much from being untapped, and Metalworker isn’t really very scary. Geyser and Stroke are thoroughly outclassed by the likes of Concentrate and Skeletal Scrying (if that gives you any idea of how bad Braingeyser is). Fork is inherently limited by its reactive nature, especially since the most broken sorceries like Yawgmoth’s Will are not duplicable effects. (Who would want to double a Timetwister? Balance?) There’s just not much more I can say about how un-powerful these are, though Avi made his own explanations in the aforementioned article.

To sum up, I want to see the following six of R&D’s children return from the time-out box on June 1st: Braingeyser, Earthcraft, Fork, Mind Over Matter, Stroke of Genius, and Voltaic Key.

The next installment will look at this same type of data, but for every UNrestricted card.

Philip Stanton

a.k.a.”Dr. Sylvan”, Moderator on themanadrain.com

prstanto at uiuc.edu