League Update And The Kokusho Test

Sheldon brings you up to speed on the changes for Armada Games EDH League 16 and then talks in a little detail about their eight-week test of having Kokusho, the Evening Star unbanned.

Tomorrow starts Week 2 of Armada Games EDH League 16. Even though I was out last week covering the unprecedented action of the World Magic Cup (perhaps more on my trip next week), I thought I’d bring you up to speed on the changes for the League. I’ll then talk in a little detail about our eight-week test of having Kokusho, the Evening Star unbanned.

Changes for the League

There wasn’t any overhaul to the points system itself. We’ll actually be using the same set of points as we did for League 15 (although I think they’re dropping the penalty for pronouncing Omniscience as "Omni-Science," since the "joke" has thankfully died).

The major change to the League is the frequency with which League games will be played. There’s always been a concern that folks were missing out on the action with games starting at 7 PM, due to work or school or simply not being able to stay until midnight. League Chairman and Armada Games owner (not to mention Monday Night Gamer) Michael Fortino threw some ideas at me before coming up (with no help from me, by the way) with the idea that instead of a single start time, there will be four.

Games will start at 2 PM, 4:30 PM, 7 PM, and 9:30 PM. Your League registration fee (still a low, low $3, which also nets you a current set booster pack) lets you play in as many of those as you want. At each table each round, the top two point scorers get a pick from the Promo Binder of Doom. If you play in two or more games, your best two scores (with a caveat) will count toward your League total. Your best six of the eight weeks will count toward the League Championship. The caveat is that any negative point total will still count. For example, if you play three games and your scores are 1, 3, and 5, your total for the week is 8. If you score -1, 3, and 5, your total is 6.

To me, this is an important part of the plan, since players can’t grief an entire table and not have it count against them. Obviously, if players don’t really care about League standings there’s really nothing to stop them from piling up as many negative points as they want, but the points system can only go so far in shaping the style of play in the League.

What the new schedule means to me personally is that I’ll probably play in the first three and then head out. That way I’ll be home early enough to maybe have a hot tub and drink with my wife instead of coming home after she’s already asleep. Seems like winning all around.


Much of what went on has already been reported in my articles starting on June 6th. I’m not going to rehash everything that’s already been said, but I will hit on a few salient points.

First of all, if you expected a highly scientific, laboratory coat and clipboard type of test, you’ll be disappointed. Statistics are great when you can get a sufficient sampling, and there’s no way this sample is large enough to be relevant. I can tell you (actually, have told you) what happened, and the best I can do is offer some impressions and the conclusions I’ve drawn.

Second, the parameters of the test are important. I specifically set out to see how broken the card is without actually designing around it. I don’t think we need to do any testing to realize that the card is pretty bonkers if designed around, although it’s not unique in that regard. I really wanted to see if Kokusho is, as L5 Judge and RC member Toby Elliott first coined it "accidentally broken." 

All I did was replace cards in my black decks with Kokusho. Although each of the decks underwent changes, none of the changes were even remotely focused on getting, protecting, or reanimating KK. The only card that is even close is Leyline of Sanctity, which I put in my Karador deck to protect my graveyard from Bojuka Bog and Tormod’s Crypt, but that’s protecting the graveyard strategy, not any single card. I suppose the cards I replaced are data points, so here they are:

Adun Oakenshield:  Avatar of Woe

Karador:  Skullmulcher

Karrthus:  Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Kresh:  Melira, Sylvok Outcast

Lord of Tresserhorn:  Gravedigger

Merieke:  Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet

Mimeoplasm:  Evil Twin

Thraximundar:  Skeletal Vampire

The only decks I play that can really make any rain of the card are Karador, Karrthus, and Kresh. Without intervention, Karador can continually (although not infinitely, since it still costs mana to do) cast, sacrifice, and recast anything, Kokusho included. Karrthus’ window is a little narrow since most of how it would come back involves Bladewing, the Risen. Kresh has several more ways of getting it back, although it’s mostly via Mikaeus or Living Death. Thraximundar has Rite of Replication which can make a game-ending play, and I suppose that any deck with Mimic Vat and a sacrifice outlet could make things happen.

As I reported, there were a few times that the card came up and was significant in the game. There were times that it came up and was immediately dealt with (Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Duplicant) before it could engage in any hijinks. There were times that it came up and wasn’t particularly important. There were obviously times that it didn’t come up at all.   

One time I don’t think I reported on was when I was playing Karador. I had KK and Greater Good on the battlefield and about 20 cards left in my library. Someone decided to Oblivion Ring my Greater Good. I had to make the choice right there whether or not to sacrifice KK. Earlier in the game/with more cards in my library, the choice is easy. Milling a quarter of my remaining deck makes it a little tougher. I decided to not sacrifice her, at that point resolving to use her as a beater and potentially one-time drain. I think I ended that game with four cards in my library, so it was indeed significant that I didn’t use her the way she’s intended.

I’ll repeat that there were numerous times that I was searching my library for a creature, either via Survival of the Fittest or Birthing Pod for six, when Kokusho simply wasn’t the card that I wanted or needed. I found that when Podding for six Duplicant was a more frequent answer. Sure, there were times that I went for Kokusho, even sometimes just to see what would happen. When I did, it ran the gamut of experiences. There’s no denying that there were times that it dominated games. There were times when it hit the board and everyone got scared. There were times when it hit the table that it didn’t matter whether it attacked or went to the graveyard, someone was at less than five. There was one time when I had it when everyone had low life totals, but I had no sacrifice outlet and it just won by attacking through the air.

I’ve come to a few conclusions and observations about the card:

It’s good-to-great. When it’s on the battlefield, players must pay attention to it.

Players justifiably see it as a little scary, but I think that’s as much by reputation as actual ability.

If you’re not set up to use it, it’s less than great. A one-time drain is no big deal.

It’s imminently able to be abused. It doesn’t take much to set it up to dominate a game. In that, however, it’s not unique, although it’s far more direct than many other single cards (Primeval Titan and Consecrated Sphinx being the two cards mostly spoken of in the same frames of reference).

It’s still completely broken as a Commander. Access to it at all times—even if graveyard hate has been used—is just too much.

To me, the most significant of all these points is that there are way more commonly played weapons to combat it than there were when it got banned. There are now a lot more ways to exile creatures. Additionally, players have access to a great deal of graveyard hate due to the fact that graveyard strategies are even more prevalent now than they were back in the day. There was a time when you played graveyard hate due to Kokusho. Now, there are a multitude of reasons to play Bojuka Bog, Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Scrabbling Claws, Necrogenesis, and friends. Even Mimic Vat can take care of it, although that player’s temptation to then be the abuser rears its head. It’s worth repeating that commonly played cards are excellent weapons against the Kokopuffs.

You’ve seen what I’ve said, but there’s more to the story. When passing out the League score sheets, there was a portion on the back to fill out about having KK in the game folks had played and how they had felt about it. The language was suitably neutral as to not lead anyone in a particular direction. Michael was good enough to compile the results for us.

There were 76 games in which Kokusho appeared. Only in nine cases did anyone feel strongly enough to check one of the rating boxes. In six of those cases, they noted that the card didn’t have any impact on the game. In one case, they rated the experience extremely negatively. In two cases, both of which were from people who weren’t playing Kokusho, they rated the experience extremely positively. In both of those cases, they copied the Kokusho. Suffice it to say that this simply isn’t enough data to draw any valid conclusions.

My individual (and I’ll stress that it’s individual) opinion right now is that it’s probably safe to bring Kokusho off the Banned List—but not as a Commander. This is significant movement from a year or so ago when I was pretty staunch in the opinion that she would still devolve games like she once did. I’m reasonably certain that it’s less the case now than it has ever been due to two major factors. One, as I mentioned above, is that there are a great deal more commonly played answers. It’s not like players would have to change much in their decks to deal with her being back in the format. Two, the quality of other creatures is significantly better. Back when Kokusho was banned, there weren’t Titans, or Consecrated Sphinx, or Lord of Extinction, or even Kresh and Thraximundar. As the quality of creatures has grown, the necessity of paying attention to any single one of them has diminished. Hence, it’s probably safe. Probably.

The question I have to ask myself is, "Would the format be better with Kokusho unbanned?" which is a different question than, "Is it safe?" The answer is a firm, "Maybe." I don’t think it would be significantly better or significantly worse. I think it would be a change in the margins. I don’t think the card would do the damage to games that it once did. Saying, "It’s probably not that bad" is hardly a glowing endorsement. The follow-up question is, "Is that enough to unban it?" There, I’m less sure.

There are a number of factors to consider, most of which I’ve laid out. The one we haven’t talked about is the opinion of the player base. With that, we have to think about the impact of the vocal minority versus the silent majority. How much weight do we give to the thoughts of both groups, and how the hell do we actually get a reading on the latter? What I’m telling you here is that in our era of everything being polarized all the time, this isn’t a simple or single-criterion issue.

Here’s the big part: my opinion is one of six. The RC is made up of great minds with serious experience making decisions about the play of the game at the highest levels. If a majority of the rest of them were to vote to keep KK on the Banned List, I would heartily support that decision. I’m not so strong in my belief that it’s all that great to bring her off that I’d want to battle about it.

What does all this mean to you? We continued our discussions at Gen Con, and we’ll be talking about it right up until decision time. I think fans of the format deserve the best possible decision we can make, and I hope you’ll understand that sometimes the best decisions take time. Stayed tuned in September.