Innovations – ManaLeaks: Banning Survival and Saito

Monday, December 6th – Let’s get something straight; there are three good decks: control, aggro, and combo. Control is G/U/x Survival, aggro is G/W/x Survival, and combo is G/B/x Survival (Necrotic Ooze).

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Survival of the Fittest

So, first we were like, “Cool, we get to be the only guys to show up with Survival in our deck.”

Then we were like, “Hey, look, Survival is really taking off in popularity, big surprise.”

But then we were like, “Okay, it’s pretty clear Survival is actually the best deck.”

After that, we were like, “Ban Survival? You really want to ban Survival? People always want to ban everything good.”

Which was followed like, “They might have to ban Survival; here’s the last line of defense.”

And finally, Jared Sylva amazingly
insightful article

was like, “Survival is the most dominate deck in years, absolutely demolishing the field, which will surely result in a ban.”

We have 1560 results from the past two months, not counting draws. Survival of the Fittest appeared in 13.5% of decks. Survival of the Fittest is responsible for 15.9% of the match wins. Now, that may not seem like that big of an edge, but another way to look at it is that Survival of the Fittest’s match win percentage is 64.45%, whereas the rest of the field combines to win about 47.9% of the time. You may be asking, what about bad decks bringing down the win percentage of the good decks? Which decks again…?

Let’s get something straight; there are three good decks: control, aggro, and combo. Control is G/U/x Survival, aggro is G/W/x Survival, and combo is G/B/x Survival (Necrotic Ooze).

List of best performing archetypes in the field (makes up at least 2% of the field, with at least ten appearances):

Survival with White      – 67.75%

Survival with Black      – 64.43%

Survival with Blue        – 62.53%

G/W/B Junk                – 56.97%

Bant Survival              – 56.72%

Countertop                 – 51.49%

Ad Nauseam               – 51.01%

Merfolk, Goblins, Zoo, Affinity, Dredge, Burn, Show and Tell, Charbelcher, Elves, and Enchantress – each is individually below 50%.

Canadian Threshold, Reanimator, Eva Green, and Team America also post win percentages over 50%; though we’re now starting to talk about some pretty small sample sizes with five to seven pilots each. To give an idea of just how fringe that makes these decks, less than 1% of the field was Canadian Threshold during that time period. Additionally, Reanimator’s performance is quite suspect, as there’s only one recorded match in this time frame of Reanimator versus Survival (a loss, not surprisingly, for Reanimator).

There are only seven “archetypes” with winning records and at least ten appearances. Four of them are Survival decks!

67 Survival decks were played. 42.4%

91 played non-Survival decks, or 116 if you count the fringe. 36.6%

So depending on if we want a minimum threshold of 1% or 2% for a deck to be an archetype, we’re talking about only 13.52% of the field being made up of Survival decks but making up 36.6-42.4% of the decks with an overall 50%+ win percentage.

Survival of the Fittest’s win percentage against each of the other major archetypes:

Merfolk-             67%

Goblins-             60%

G/W/B Junk-       61%

Countertop-        65%

Ad Nauseam-      58%

Zoo-                  63%

Are you freaking kidding me? We have all had the experience of hearing someone say that their deck has no bad matchups. Survival is actually that deck! It’s not only the most collection of decks in the field, it performs even better against popular decks, and it performs even better against other decks that post winning records. Non-Survival players make Top 16 an average of one in twenty-one, but if you place a Survival deck,
at all,

you’re already better than one in three to make the Top 16!

It doesn’t end there, either. Canadian Threshold is 40% against Survival, Eva Green 0%; in fact there are zero major archetypes that post winning records against Survival! That’s unparalleled dominance. We’ve all heard the foolish braggart who claims that their deck has no bad matchups. Well, with Survival, it actually doesn’t! We’re talking about literally no bad matchups. There appears to be no realistic way, that anyone can find, to combat it, and I suspect
even Sirlin

would argue for its banning.

In fact, that’s why, while being a bit worse against everything else (such as only 55% against Goblins), U/G is probably the best, as it is 73% against other Survival decks. That makes it probably the best deck in the format and the best deck to play (which is at least somewhat supported by the last couple of winners also being U/G Survival, beating top tables filled with other Survival decks).

The percentage of players with winning records that happen to play Survival is higher than the percentage playing the deck in the first place. The percentage making Top 16 is even higher. The percentage of Top 8 competitors with Survival is higher still. Amazingly, this trend continues all the way – Top 4, finals, and winner. At every step, Survival not only is the best performing strategy, but it actually does better and better the tougher the field.

Some players call for the banning of Vengevine instead of Survival. This is most likely a result of their attachment to Survival of the Fittest and their unwillingness to admit the card is fundamentally broken. It was already absurd with Squee, Loyal Retainers, Anger, Krovikan Horror, Wonder, Basking Rootwalla, and more, but even if Vengevine were banned, it would just be something else that pushes it over the edge. Besides, between Loyal Retainers and Necrotic Ooze, it’s painfully clear that Vengevine isn’t a necessary component for Survival degeneracy.

Besides, let’s be serious. What makes more sense, banning a popular and in-print mythic rare creature or banning a very old enchantment that hasn’t been opened in packs in years and involves repeatable tutoring as well as serving as a (debatably) degenerate card-draw engine? They ban Mystical Tutor types, not Ad Nauseam types. Again, not trying to argue what ought to be (even though I agree with all of this), just arguing that this is what will happen.

In fact, I’m hardly waiting for the announcement with anticipation. It appears to be such a done deal (unless Worlds somehow magically salvages the format). The banned/restricted list change I’m most interested to see is the Vintage list. Just recently, Master’s Edition 4 was spoiled, and it was revealed that a number of powerful cards, such as Time Vault, Fastbond, Mishra’s Workshop, and Library of Alexandria appear in the set in their first online incarnation. This announcement was promptly met with the proactive restriction of each of these cards in Classic (the online version of Vintage) with the strange exception of Library of Alexandria

How could they have missed Library? They didn’t. We’ve received confirmation that this is the restricted list they intend to go with for Classic but have declined to comment on the paper-Magic ramifications. Personally, I see only two likely reasons why such a move would be made:

1) Wizards of the Coast plans on unrestricting Library of Alexandria. This is an iconic and fairly epic card, but it has been years since it has seen much play. What’s exciting is to imagine what sorts of decks might be possible in a world where you can play four Libraries. They chain into each other, and it would allow you to build your deck in a fashion that’s better equipped to exploit the card. In many ways, I could imagine it being somewhat like Mishra’s Workshop in its ability to fuel an archetype built around it.


2) Wizards of the Coast is experimenting with unrestricting it online first to see what it does to the format. Remember, the banned and restricted list is the primary method for “rotating” the format. It’s far better to experiment with potentially busted Constructed formats than to let them degenerate into unadulterated boredom.

The other major possibility, I suppose, is that because of the lack of Moxes and so on, WotC may feel it’s less of a threat online. This almost seems
an argument the other way, however, as the slower pace only increases the effectiveness of LoA (Library of Alexandria, not


What about Legacy? Has Legacy become boring? Well, I can still imagine a number of angles to explore in the format, though they all involve Survival of the Fittest; that’s for sure. What will become of the format once Survival is gone?

Legacy has a thriving scene, and there’ll be no shortage of big Legacy events next year, many of the pinnacles of which will be SCG Open Weekends that feed into the SCG Invitationals. What will happen to the metagame without Survival oppressing us? Well, obviously the other biggest decks, such as Junk, Countertop, Goblins, Ad Nauseam, Merfolk, and Zoo will gain, but I actually imagine that we’ll see a temporary swing back towards a wide-open field that features an Aggro>Control>Combo>Aggro dynamic at its core but is far from revolving around it. Additionally, I suspect that G/W/B is going to be a much bigger player than people realize. One thing is for sure, things can’t continue as they have been, or the prosperous growth and expansion of the Legacy format will be stunted, blunted, and potentially even reversed.

Where did all this trouble start? Grand Prix Columbus, the last Legacy Grand Prix, which was won by Tomoharu Saito, amid heavy controversy surrounding continual reading of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and a finish allegedly at least partially boosted by stalling.

Tomoharu Saito

“We disqualified this player for Stalling, after it was observed that his play speed seemed to change based on his observation of the clock. It was observed by a high-level judge that twice in the round he appeared to change his play speed based on considerations that were outside the game. Consulting among the senior judges we decided that, on the basis of what we had observed, we had no choice but to disqualify the player.”
-Head Judge Nick Sephton

Stalling is when a player intentionally plays slowly in order to take advantage of the time limit. If the slow play is not intentional, it’s slow play instead. While slow play is a tournament error, stalling

by definition cheating. There’s only one penalty available if someone is determined to be stalling: disqualification followed by a possible suspension. Each month, a panel evaluates all of the disqualifications that happened in the previous month, in every event at every level, and issues suspensions based on the particulars of the case. Being caught stalling by a high-level judge guarantees a suspension, likely a significant one.

Man, so where to start on this one…

Tomoharu Saito is probably one of the twenty greatest Magic players of all time. He’s easily in the top five deckbuilders in the world today. He’s also a pivotal cornerstone in Japanese Magic, running a game store and helping organize no small amount of community-driven activities for both natives and guests alike. I like Saito a lot, and he’s without a doubt a legend, so it’s with a heavy heart that this subject is brought forth. There’s a reason I didn’t vote for Saito for the Hall of Fame.

Saito’s disqualification for cheating followed by an 18-month ban, just a week before the World Championships in his native country of Japan, where he was set to be inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame, marks one of the game’s biggest scandals of all time. His offense is unequivocally cheating, and his penalty is very clearly designed to send a message. First of all, the fact that this suspension was laid down with such a remarkably short turnaround time is quite unusual. This is very clearly designed to be expedited, so as to take effect before the Hall of Fame ceremony at Worlds.

Next of all, an 18-month suspension for “unsporting conduct – stalling” isn’t exactly commonplace either. This could’ve easily have been a year, but it was made eighteen months. Why eighteen months? Well, merely a year’s suspension would result in Saito being back at Worlds next year, attending a Pro Tour as a level 8, and reaping benefits from this (his latest) very successful season. With a full eighteen months off, he’ll return with no Pro Points, no invites, and only his rating to go on (which is now frozen at 2028, significantly lower than the threshold needed to qualify on rating).

Outside of the very idea that one of the top Pro Point accumulators of the year would need to win a PTQ to earn a spot to compete on the Pro Tour when next he plays, there’s the much larger issue of what this means for his chances of being inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame.

According to the Magic
Pro Tour Hall of Fame Rules,

in order to appear on the Hall of Fame selection ballot, a player must meet the following three requirements:

1. The player must have 100 lifetime Pro Points
2. The player must have participated in his first Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour at least 10 seasons prior to the current voting year.
3. The player must not be currently suspended by the DCI.

This policy makes it crystal clear that being currently suspended is absolutely incompatible with appearing on the ballot. What is not clear is whether this also pertains to someone that was voted in but hasn’t yet been inducted. Can you be inducted into the Hall of Fame

you’re suspended? This is obviously a very hot topic and an issue that’s so absolutely vital to be resolved properly, as it sets a very powerful precedent one way or the other.

Given the uproar about this and other unrelated incidents that cause people to call into question Hall of Famers or potential Hall of Famers’ integrity, I have a strong suspicion that he won’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame. If I were to hazard a guess as to how this plays out, I’d guess he’ll be suspended and then in eighteen months, will go back on the ballot. I imagine the backlash towards him will be so great that despite his epic play ability, he’ll be unlikely to be voted in, at least immediately. Mike Long might be top twenty all-time, as well, but he’s never come back to the game and “redeemed himself” in the eyes of the public, like Olivier Ruel or Bob Maher did.

Could Saito redeem himself? Absolutely. There’s no reason why he couldn’t serve his 18-month suspension, re-qualify, come back, and play with the integrity and honor of a Hall of Famer. It might take a few years to successfully persuade enough voters, and there will certainly be some voters who will never vote for him, but there’s a road to redemption possible. Saito is one of the game’s strongest players, greatest minds, and such a major figure in the community that his overwhelming love for the game could possibly drive him to pursue “another shot.” His accomplishments have an asterisk, but he’s far from the most savage around. He’s a world-class player, regardless of anything, and that’s part of the tragedy of it all – that some players cannot “not angle-shoot.”

Working against him, there are even more strikes. First of all, this isn’t Saito’s first DQ or suspension. He has been DQed twice before, once for bribery (that was little more than immature naiveté about rules surrounding collusion) and once for unsportsmanlike conduct involving deceiving an opponent into shuffling his deck in the middle of a game, so as to try to get his opponent a game loss (which resulted in his first suspension, years ago).

Next of all, there’s the backlash resulting from the broken hearts of countless adoring fans that praised the charismatic but soft-spoken Japanese storeowner, that until recently wrote articles. His last article before the incident and subsequent DQ? An article entitled “Lessons Learned,” in which he argues that “it’s not enough just to refrain from cheating, one must also not allow others to cheat.” When actions and words have such a disconnect between them, it can be hard to regain the trust of the masses.

Do I think people are lynching Saito like they did Long? Yeah, though it’s not like he deserves a break or anything, as he brought this on himself. What he does deserve, however, is to be treated decently as a human being and to be able to serve his time and then move on. I’m certainly not suggesting we ever forget this. I’m suggesting that eighteen months is a long and harsh sentence, and that when his suspension comes to an end, the highest versions of ourselves will have the wisdom and compassion to give Saito a fair shot at turning over a new leaf. If doesn’t mean you don’t keep an eye on things, but he deserves a chance to try to redeem himself.

Let’s imagine Wizards of the Coast’s position on this one. What does it say about the game, the Pro Tour, the rules, the Hall of Fame, if they admit Saito into the Hall of Fame at this juncture? Is it possible they will? Sure, a lot of things are possible. In fact, I wonder which side is actually a favorite in the banned-from-Legacy/HoF game, Survival or Saito. I don’t mean to trivialize the issue but rather stress that both seem imminent; though I probably would take the Survival side of the bet, simply on account of not having enough information to speak with much certainty about the Saito issue. That said, I’d certainly take both getting hit against the field, as it would seem more likely that Survival is banned and Saito not inducted this year than any other possible combination of events. Let’s just say, when it comes to Survival, I would download insurance to protect my investment in case anything bad should happen and things disappear.

I do want to stress that there is a silver lining, here. First of all, this sends a pretty clear message that Wizards of the Coast is serious about the integrity of the Hall of Fame. Second of all, they’re finally acting on our requests to clamp down on this sort of illegal nonsense that has been punishing clean players for years. Finally, maybe this will be the wakeup call needed to the voting committees that it’s time to stop voting based on most Pro Tour Top 8s or who is from their native country (even if it is America) and actually using the criteria laid out.

Voting shall be based upon the player’s:


-Playing ability



-Contributions to the game in general

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”