Hell No, Ritual Won’t Go

Should Dark Ritual go? Monday morning Ben Bleiweiss argued yes, but frankly I disagree with him. Yes, Dark Ritual is powerful and can pump out turn 1 wins on the back of Necropotence and Doomsday, but being powerful alone is not a reason to restrict. The entire format is broken, and frankly Type 1 players like it that way. We like doing stupid broken tricks involving Time Walk and Yawgmoth’s Will. Is Dark Ritual warping the format or doing destructive things to Vintage? Does Dark Ritual really do enough to put it on the same list with the Power 9?

Should Dark Ritual go? Monday morning [author name="Ben Bleiweiss"]Ben Bleiweiss[/author] argued yes, but frankly I disagree with him. Yes, Dark Ritual is powerful and can pump out turn 1 wins on the back of Necropotence and Doomsday, but being powerful alone is not a reason to restrict. The entire format is broken, and frankly Type 1 players like it that way. We like doing stupid broken tricks involving Time Walk and Yawgmoth’s Will. Is Dark Ritual warping the format or doing destructive things to Vintage? Does Dark Ritual really do enough to put it on the same list with the Power 9?

Dark Ritual is acceleration, but it’s not broken acceleration. It provides +2 mana – the same amount as Mana Crypt and Mana Vault. However Mana Vault and Mana Crypt are reusable, and can be powered using any type of mana. On the other hand, it’s not like Dark Ritual is unplayable; most decks have access to Black mana through Moxen, dual lands, and City of Brass. So what can Dark Ritual do? For the mana Dark Ritual produces, you can cast Yawgmoth’s Will, arguably one of the most powerful cards in Magic. You can also Mind Twist for two or more. (And this is at a time when we’re even considering unrestricting Mind Twist!) Sounds like a perfect fit into 4 Color Control, which also runs Moxen to power brokenness. But nope, no copies of Dark Ritual in 4 Color Control. In fact, if we check the StarCityGames.com “Decks to Beat” archive, we find Dark Ritual showing up in only 4 decklists: Belcher, Doomsday, Death Long and The Perfect Storm (TPS). Dark Ritual can conceivably fit into Sui Black as well, but since almost everyone dismisses the deck as unviable, I feel no remorse in excluding it from our examination. So basically, if you’re going to talk about Dark Ritual, you’re talking about combo. Only one combo deck, Dragon, doesn’t run a copy of Dark Ritual.

So let’s first look at Doomsday, the deck that Bleiweiss bases his arguments on. Smmenen piloted it to a third place finish at StarCityGames Chicago, winning him a Mox Sapphire. He went 6-0-1 in the swiss rounds despite the decklist being posted in advance, so clearly the deck has some power. But is the deck beatable? Sure. Storm-based combo has vulnerabilities to cards like Trinisphere, Pyrostatic Pillar and Stifle. If we are going to restrict anything, we need to figure out which card is the culprit: Doomsday or Dark Ritual.

You could say Dark Ritual is the problem card in the deck. A Dark Ritual (or Cabal Ritual) powered Necropotence can let the deck go off on turn 2 with tutors, a high storm count, and Tendrils of Agony. But in the same way, a deck like Death Long or TPS can go off with Moxen, Black Lotus/LED and Yawgmoth’s Will, without ever seeing a Dark Ritual. Doomsday seems to be getting all the blame recently for its ability to drop some mana, Dark Ritual, and win on turn 1, but without the deck’s namesake, it’s just a bad storm-based deck. Steven Menendian writes about Doomsday when it was taken off the restricted list, “I figured, however, that with the Type One card pool, it only takes one truly inspired set of five cards to break the living hell out of it.”

Sure, if you restrict Dark Ritual, the probability of a turn 1 Necropotence or Doomsday + kill goes down significantly, but if you ban Doomsday, the deck goes back to hide in its cave. So I ask again, is Doomsday to blame, or Dark Ritual to blame? Ben Bleiweiss complaints all seem to be about the power of Doomsday; Dark Ritual just powers fast and broken Doomsdays. If any card there needs to be restricted, it would be Doomsday, because Doomsday is doing the winning.

So what about Dark Ritual in non-Doomsday decks? Well, it can power fast Death Wish/Yawgmoth’s Will in Death Long… and it can help pay for Goblin Charbelcher. That’s about it. If Dark Ritual were as powerful as everyone says, many decks in many tournaments would run it. Remember that according to the SCG Decks to Beat archive, four decks are each packing 4 copies: Belcher, Death Long, Doomsday and TPS. That’s only 23% of the field. Compare that to Force of Will that shows up in a whopping 65% of decks. Still not convinced? Compare Dark Ritual to some broken, restricted cards. Everyone agrees Tinker deserves its place on the restricted list. 7 out of 17 decks pack a copy of Tinker, at 41% of the field. That means that more decks are running the full complement of Tinker than they are of Dark Ritual.

Look at the numbers of Dark Rituals versus some broken acceleration cards. Mana Crypt and Mana Vault show up at 71% and 35% respectively, and they are both restricted. And if you want to compare Dark Ritual to Black Lotus, Black Lotus shows up in 88% of decks, only not making a showing in Fish and a budget deck. These are the cards that Dark Ritual is supposedly analogous to in terms of power, and Ritual is simply not making the same showing that these other cards are. The cards that have recently been restricted, like Tinker and Skullclamp, were putting up much higher numbers. In Standard, every deck either ran four Skullclamps, packed hate to kill opposing Skullclamps, or both. At Pro Tour: New Orleans, more players packed Tinker than Forests, Swamps or Goblins. Dark Ritual comes nowhere close to this sort of field-warping representation.

What about the individual decks Dark Ritual is showing up in (Doomsday, Death Long, Belcher, TPS)? Are they warping the metagame or winning an unusual amount of tournaments? When Bleiweiss argues against Workshop, he lists Chicago, SCG P9 #2 and GenCon World Championships results.

Chicago: 4 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 1 deck. 12.5% of the T8. 3rd

Richmond: 0 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 0 decks. 0% of the T8.

GenCon: 4 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 1 deck. 12.5% of the T8. 3rd-4th

So what about some other tournaments?

Hadley: 0 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 0 decks. 0% of the T8.

Waterbury: 12 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 3 decks. 37.5% of the T8. 16 T16 copies in 4 decks. 25% of the T16. 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 14th

TMD C3: 8 T8 copies of Dark Ritual in 2 decks. 25% of the T8. 1st and 2nd

Aside from The Mana Drain Championship #3, the last entry on our list (also one of the older examples), Dark Ritual has not been doing much. Yes, making the T8 of a major tournament is a big accomplishment, and so is wining it. But one or two appearances does not make a card or a deck broken. If you compare Dark Ritual to something like Mishra’s Workshop, it’s extremely unlikely that you’d ever see a major tournament without a Workshop powered deck (or a Mana Drain powered deck). By comparison, it’s almost rare for a combo deck to reach top 8.

Need more proof? Check out [author name="Philip Stanton"]Philip Stanton’s[/author] Ultimate Table of Vintage. Dark Ritual has been consistently putting around four copies of Dark Ritual into the T8 of tournaments since March. That’s one slot of the average tournament Top 8 filled by a deck that packs Dark Ritual. Let’s compare this to our other “candidates for restriction”. Mishra’s Workshop puts between 4 and 11 (averaging more around 7-8) copies of itself into the Top 8, and Crucible has been filling 7-8 slots in the T8. For Workshop, that’s anywhere between 1 to 3 Workshop powered decks, and for Crucible that would be anywhere from 2 to 4 Crucible powered decks.

Compare Dark Ritual to Tinker, the other card Bleiweiss writes about in his article to “prove” his arguments on Dark Ritual. Tinker puts 2-4 copies into the average Top 8 (from the giant table), but that means that 2-4 decks in each T8 are running a copy. Considering that Tinker is restricted, four times as many decks are packing Tinker as Dark Ritual. Ignoring Tinker’s tutor ability, Dark Ritual and Tinker both provide mana acceleration. Dark Ritual can power out a turn 1 Necropotence or Doomsday to win the game shortly thereafter, at acceleration +2. Tinker can turn a Mox into a Darksteel Colossus to win the game shortly thereafter, at acceleration +8. Dark Ritual into Necropotence costs 1 mana and requires two cards in hand. Tinker into Memory Jar for a new hand and often winning the game requires two slots and three mana (two if the artifact you’re throwing away is a Mox).

Beyond this simple analysis, Tinker is much more powerful. The power of Tinker is not just cheating mana requirements (which it does much better than Dark Ritual), but also that it searches out exactly what you need. For three mana, Tinker can fetch out Darksteel Colossus, Sundering Titan, Mindslaver, Memory Jar or any kind of similar brokeness. Dark Ritual can win games, but it requires a much better hand with lots of support cards. The reason Tinker sees much more play than Dark Ritual is because every deck can squeeze in Tinker and Darksteel Colossus to randomly win games. That’s 2 slots. Dark Ritual, at 4 slots, is not nearly as objectively “powerful”; a resolved Dark Ritual doesn’t just win the game. It requires your entire deck to be built around it, and even the TPS/Death Long decks don’t always win.

Take a look at Cabal Ritual for a moment. If you want to go ahead and assume that Dark Ritual is broken, then Cabal Ritual was printed as a “fixed” Dark Ritual. It’s always at least a +1 mana accelerant, and sometimes it’s a +3, which is better than Dark Ritual. Lotus Petal was restricted for as much. Elvish Spirit Guide wasn’t. Yet Cabal Ritual powers out as many turn 1 brokenness as Dark Ritual: Land + Mox + Cabal Ritual + Necropotence = Win. Check the giant Vintage table. There’s, at max, 0.4 copies of Cabal Ritual in August per T8. That means that in five tournaments, a measly two copies of Cabal Ritual will show up. Granted, the results from Doomsday haven’t come up, but the tech and even maybe a few decklists have been floating around for quite some time. Still, no one claims Cabal Ritual is broken or that it needs restriction, even though it’s at least “as powerful” as some cards on the restricted list. So if Cabal Ritual is not good enough to be restricted, why is Dark Ritual? Where do we draw the line? The arguments for the restriction of Dark Ritual come across as very arbitrary, and a lot of it is mostly people that just don’t like combo. Folks, that’s not why we have a restricted list. 4 Yawgmoth’s Will or 4 Time Walk would distort and break the format. 4 Dark Ritual doesn’t come close.

Is there any other way Dark Ritual is affecting the field? It’s hardly likely. Dark Ritual isn’t doing the kind of things that Workshop -> Crucible of Worlds is doing, or even that just Wasteland is doing. No one is playing more basic lands because of Dark Ritual. Sure, cards like Trinisphere and Pyrostatic Pillar get played. However, combo hate is not metagame warping, it’s proper metagaming.

So what if we restrict Dark Ritual? Combo outside of Dark Ritual is slim. The only combo deck that doesn’t run Dark Ritual is Dragon. Yes, Oath could be considered a combo deck, but I consider it much more of a control deck with an explosive kill, in the manner of Psychatog + Berserk. Dragon runs 5 Moxen, a Sol Ring, Black Lotus and Mana Crypt. Yes, Dark Ritual is supposedly so potent, but Dragon omits it in favor of Mana Crypt. Dark Ritual seems like a good fit. The deck uses a strong Black component for Duress, animate effects and tutor effects. Yet, the deck doesn’t pack a single copy of the Ritual.

The fact is that permanent mana sources are just plain better. When Dragon goes off, it gets free and unlimited untaps. The need for a mana source that can be reused without Yawgmoth’s Will is just too powerful. So how big of an effect is Worldgorger Dragon making? According to the giant table, Worldgorger Dragon appearances in the T8 is less than 2 consistently. It takes 4 copies of WGD to make a deck, so Worldgorger Dragon is getting played half as much as Dark Ritual combo. Sure, some of the Tendrils players will switch sides to Dragon, but if Dragon is putting up those low kinds of numbers, is it really as good as what we’ve got. It seems to me that if you restrict Dark Ritual, you’re essentially killing Dark Ritual, and that’s bad. It would be the same thing as saying, “Combo is broken. Ban Force of Will.”

Kevin Binswanger

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