(Force of) Will To Power: To Ban Or Not to Ban

Quick question: what do Trade-Survival, Trix, Pande-Burst, Counter-Sliver, Forbidian, and most of the Fruity Pebbles-spawned cereal variants have in common? . The aforementioned decks are considered among the best Extended decks currently in the format. The only non-rogue Extended decks that don’t run are the -fueled variants, Three-Deuce, Stompy, Secret Force and Sligh – and…

Quick question: what do Trade-Survival, Trix, Pande-Burst, Counter-Sliver, Forbidian, Stasis and most of the Fruity Pebbles-spawned cereal variants have in common?

Force of Will.

The aforementioned decks are considered among the best Extended decks currently in the format. The only non-rogue Extended decks that don’t run Force of Will are the Lake of the Dead-fueled Hatred variants, Three-Deuce, Stompy, Secret Force and Sligh – and you can bet that if there was some way to put blue in those decks, they’d pack the Force as well. Of these decks, only Sligh has seen any major success, primarily because they have the most anti-blue hate.

Do the following excerpts sound familiar?

…turn two Survival of the Fittest BACKED UP BY FORCE OF WILL.

…cast Donate with FORCE OF WILL BACKUP.

…three Slivers on the board WITH FORCE OF WILL IN HAND.

Things may be getting a wee bit out of hand.

There is a growing movement to have Force of Will removed from the Extended environment, either by banning that card specifically or by rotating the ALICE block out of Extended. My theories on how losing the 500+ block of Ice Age and Alliances cards would impact Extended have been discussed in greater length previously (http://www.starcityccg.com/news/Magic/Meddish/000426meddish.html).

Zvi Mowshowitz recent article on The Sideboard illustrates the problem simply: of the 32 Top 8 decks at four recent Grand Prix events, 28 ran Force of Will. Twenty-eight! It is getting to the point where Sligh decks are packing Pyroblast in the main deck to deal with the expected swarms of blue. And when players start maindecking sideboard cards, it’s a clear sign that the environment is getting out of whack and action is called for.

All the decks above use the power of the Force to trade card advantage for tempo and to be able to cast spells earlier than normal and be able to protect assets without mana available. Counter-Sliver, Trade-Survival, Stasis… all these decks use the Force in this manner. The worst offender, however, is Trix. For whatever reason, most players save their venom for combo decks, and Trix is no exception. While I admittedly am not fond of combo decks, I don’t hate them like I used to – quite simply, when you’re playing to win, you play the best deck out there, and if that happens to be a combo deck, so be it. If you have a problem with that, perhaps you best take up canasta.

Is the Force of Will overpowered and stagnating the Extended environment?


If so, the DCI has three options:

  • Ban Force of Will

  • Rotate Ice Age, Homelands and Alliances out of Extended

  • Leave Force of Will alone (the status quo for at least another three months) and work out a different solution

What happens if the Force and the Force alone is banned?

There is a ready-made replacement for Force of Will available, Prophecy’s Foil, cheaper to hard-cast but with a more exorbitant pitch cost. Counter-Sliver can’t replace Force of Will with Foil – not with its lean mana base. Trade-Survival might be able to get away with it, as would Pande-Burst. Stasis and Forbidian would take a hit but should still be viable, able to run Daze, Thwart as well as Foil.

But would Trix be dead if only Force of Will was removed from the environment? I think it would be weakened – much as it was when Dark Ritual was banned – but I still think it would be viable.

The power of Trix comes from the synergy between Necropotence and Force of Will. With a non-Trix deck, the card pitched with Force of Will is often a valuable one, perhaps a Counterspell or Tradewind Rider, because the caster may not have that much in the way of "chaff" cards in hand. Necro allows the Trix player to fill their hand up with more fodder that can be pitched to Force of Will.

So what if you insert Foil into the slot normally held by Force of Will in a Trix deck? Because the Trix player is gaining so much card advantage from Necropotence, the alternative casting cost is actually rather agreeable. Sure, you’re losing three cards instead of just two, but when you can fill your hand right back up, what’s the problem with three cards? It would require the deck to run a higher number of islands, but we’ve seen Trix adapt before.

Trix would be slower, but not by much. Of all the decks that would be hurt by the loss of Force of Will, it would only take a minor hit.

So taking out just the Force of Will would cripple many decks but leave Trix still standing as one of the powerhouses of the format.

If you like Trix, that’s good. If you don’t like Trix, that’s not so good. Combo decks would again rule the Extended environment, and almost all players have decreed this to be a "bad thing."

If Trix is truly too powerful, there remains an always popular option, which is banning Necropotence. The DCI, however, has always seemed extremely reluctant to take this step. They banned Dark Ritual to slow the engine down, but as I hypothesized, a turn two Necro off of Mox Diamonds is almost as good as a turn one Necro off of Dark Ritual.

Now call me crazy, I don’t think Necro should be banned. I think non-combo Necro decks, such as Brian Davis’ "Free Spell Necro" from PT-Chicago ’99, should remain viable and playable decks in Extended. They are not powerful but not overly so to the point where they dominate the environment.

I say keep Necro, and you know where to send the hate mail.

That leads us to the next option, which is rotating out ALICE block.

Trix becomes moot without the "silly rabbit" of Illusions of Grandeur. I don’t see the deck being quite as good using the appropriately mediocre Delusions of Mediocrity. No Ice Age block, no Trix. End of story.

But this also means losing Swords to Plowshares, Thawing Glaciers, Demonic Consultation, Anarchy, Pyrokinesis, Contagion, Dystopia, Arcane Denial, Shield Sphere, Enduring Renewal, Stormbind and many, many other good cards that have helped to define the format. Losing these cards would kill or cripple several powerful archetypes, like Forbidian, Counter-Sliver, Three-Deuce and any deck using the Fruity Pebbles engine.

However, life and Magic are nothing if not changing, ever in a state of flux. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen any truly major changes in Extended; perhaps it’s time for a shakeup.

This takes us to the third option, which is: do nothing. Leave things as they are and see what shakes out. It looks like this is what the DCI is going to do for this round of PTQs, which is both smart and typical of the DCI, seldom an organization to act in a knee-jerk fashion.

I’ll wager that at the end of this Extended cycle, they will examine the statistics from the various qualifiers and then make the determination if Force of Will is detrimental to the environment and act appropriately.

But we have at least another three months before we have to worry about that.

Next week, I’ll have my Senior Tour petition ready to go (keep those e-mails coming! http://www.starcityccg.com/news/Magic/Meddish/001201meddish.html) as well as a description of the various logistical problems I’m coming across-it ought to make for a good read.

Dave Meddish
Rabblerouser, Raconteur and 6th in Line to the Throne of Freedonia