Papal Bull: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – The Restriction Candidates

In the first half, I went over the restricted list and covered the mechanics which appeared in the restricted cards. To recap, they were undercosted cards (Ancestral Recall), overpowered cards which cannot properly be costed (Balance), mana producers (Black Lotus), cards which are overpowered in multiples (Black Vise), tutors (Demonic Tutor), and combo engines (Dream Halls). In this half, I’ll go over some of the other cards that are unrestricted in Vintage that might fit into one or more of these categories along with some of the commonly requested restrictions.

In the first half, I went over the restricted list and covered the mechanics which appeared in the restricted cards. To recap, they were undercosted cards (Ancestral Recall), overpowered cards which cannot properly be costed (Balance), mana producers (Black Lotus), cards which are overpowered in multiples (Black Vise), tutors (Demonic Tutor), and combo engines (Dream Halls). In this half, I’ll go over some of the other cards that are unrestricted in Vintage that might fit into one or more of these categories along with some of the commonly requested restrictions.

First off, it seems that I forgot to include Mind Twist in my earlier article. It would seem to me that Mind Twist is a Balance. At first, I thought it might’ve been an Ancestral Recall, but after I started playing around with the casting cost, I noticed that it was just becoming a somewhat worse version of a card like Fill With Fright or Stupor (never mind Hymn to Tourach). I think that the part of Mind Twist that is the problem is actually the X in the casting cost. The X can allow it to be a game-over in the early game while also allowing you to “cheat” on the casting cost later on by letting you modulate the casting cost (for instance, if you take into account a counter war). Basically, the casting cost gives you the possibility that it can cost less as the game goes on while still making the card read for all intents and purposes “target player discards his or her hand”.

Academy Rector:

Category: Demonic Tutor, Black Lotus

As a tutor effect, there is no issue with the casting cost of Academy Rector, since the reprinting of Diabolic Tutor in the basic set (which can find any card, rather than just enchantments) has shown that four mana is fair for a card parity tutor. The real point of contention that people have with Rector is with the Black Lotus half of the card. Even if you used say, Diabolic Intent rather than the standard Cabal Therapy as a sacrifice outlet, you are still generating six mana for only two mana (assuming that you’re getting Yawgmoth’s Bargain, of course), which is more mana straight up than any strict mana producer on the restricted list can produce outside of Channel.

Ancient Tomb and Mishra’s Workshop

Category: Black Lotus

I’ve grouped both of these together because Ancient Tomb is most commonly used in artifact decks. The greater-than-normal amount of mana acceleration that Workshop decks get to use is the main reason behind their oomph. One thing that I noticed about these decks (that you’ll see later on) is that the strength of the disruptive permanents in Workshop decks is greatest in the early game. If you compare them to say, Juggernaut, an unanswered Juggernaut will kill in four turns regardless of whether you cast it on turn 1 or turn 20. In comparison, a Smokestack will lock the game in a single turn if cast in the first few turns, but may take five turns to lock in the very late game.

Also, you shouldn’t think about Ancient Tomb as simply a weaker version of Mishra’s Workshop. Ancient Tomb allows you to cast many of the other spells like Thirst for Knowledge or Wheel of Fortune that often show up in artifact decks. Because of this, I’m personally unconvinced that restricting Mishra’s Workshop would do much to slow down artifact decks.

Bazaar of Baghdad

Category: Dream Halls

Applications in decks like Madness and Cerebral Assassin* notwithstanding, the main use of is to make Dragon go. One thing that I’ve started to notice is that when cards aren’t bound by some resource (such as how Psychatog and Arcbound Ravager don’t require say, life or mana), there’s a great potential for abuse. Bazaar is normally locked in by the fact that you have to tap it. Dragon can get around that through Worldgorger Dragon’s ability, which shows how the card is so much stronger there than in decks which have to play by the rules with Bazaar.

*or as I like to call it “Hadley Cerebral Assassin”

At first, I wondered if Bazaar might be undercosted, but I don’t think that it is. The card technically is card disadvantage and has the built in restriction of one usage per turn. I probably wouldn’t want to have to spend a card or spend mana for that effect.


Category: Balance

Brainstorm is not degenerate, but it’s still one of the most commonly played cards in Type 1 not named “Force of Will”. Its biggest strength is its low casting cost of only U, which makes it easy to slip into just about any deck. How do you properly cost Brainstorm? Since it’s a pure cantrip, it simply can’t cost more than one mana. But you also can’t change it to drawing two cards and putting one back, because at that point Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand might be better.

One comment that I had gotten about the previous article was that it seems that a large portion of the Type 1 cardpool is made up of Balances. If you just increased the power of an effect by a smidge or dropped the casting cost just a notch, the card would go from unplayable to incredible. If Brainstorm only let you draw two cards (which is only making it affect a grand total of one less card), you basically would just be rearranging the top card of your library, which isn’t worth a card, but by having Brainstorm draw three cards, you get a chance to dig for an important card and/or the opportunity to resculpt your hand.

I haven’t figured out exactly what sort of effect a restricted Brainstorm would have on the format. I think that the presence of Brainstorm allows decks to get away with cards that normally could be inconvenient, such as Darksteel Colossus in a deck packing Tinker. It doesn’t seem like it makes the format faster or slower, just less random. That seems like a good thing to me.

Cabal Ritual and Dark Ritual

Category: Black Lotus

Quite simply, these cards can make a lot of mana. Dark Ritual is on par with Mana Vault and Mana Crypt and Cabal Ritual can net as much mana as Black Lotus if you have threshold. Considering how it can produce as much mana as numerous already restricted cards (not to mention the added synergy with Yawgmoth’s Will that those artifacts lack), Dark Ritual is commonly cited as potentially the next card to go in Vintage. I don’t think that Cabal Ritual has gotten the attention that it probably should in deckbuilding until now. After playing Meandeck Tendrils and after watching the TPS deck from the Top 8 at Waterbury, I noticed just how easy it is for a Type 1 combo deck to reach threshold. If you do manage to cast one at threshold, it will probably provide you with all the mana that you will need until you finish with Tendrils. It still needs to prove itself a bit more, but Cabal Ritual has nowhere to go but up in Vintage.

Crucible of Worlds

Category: Ancestral Recall

Crucible of Worlds was the big thing last summer when it came to cards that people had wanted restricted. People had compared it to Black Vise, but I think that that wasn’t a very accurate comparison, since a fair portion of the decks running Crucible were only running a copy or two in the first place and relied on their tutoring to find it. It seems to me that the problem with it is really just the cheap casting cost. It’s really easy to cast a Crucible on turn 1 or 2 and then lock your opponent out of the game. However, if you delay Crucible by a few more turns, you not only have a greater possibility of countering or removing it, but it also would take longer for it to lock another player out. Of course, if it were fairly costed, it might not see play at all.

Death Wish

Category: Demonic Tutor

Almost everything that I said about Burning Wish in the last article applies to Death Wish, but there are two important differences. The first is that Death Wish requires two colored mana to cast, which excludes it from being used in Blue-based control decks like Burning Wish could be and relegates it to Black-based decks, which at the present are combo decks with Dark Ritual and possibly even Cabal Ritual. The second is that you can fetch any kind of card rather than just sorceries. This second part makes the card even more of a true tutor effect for combo decks rather than how Burning Wish was generally used for finding Yawgmoth’s Will. This helps in a way to work around the fact that Death Wish costs one more mana than Burning Wish, in that you might have to kill later than you would with Burning Wish, but if something bad happens in that time difference, you’re better equipped to deal with it.

Desperate Ritual and Seething Song

Category: Black Lotus

I don’t think that I’ve seen these in a single Type 1 deck yet, but I did want to point them out because of how nicely they channel together and how Seething Song provides enough mana to cast a Goblin Charbelcher and then follow it up with a Goblin Welder after your opponent tries to stop you with Force of Will. Also, if you manage to have access to four mana and two Desperate Rituals, you can splice one of them onto the other and then cast the one that you spliced, leaving you with seven mana, which is exactly enough to cast and activate a Charbelcher.

Elvish Spirit Guide

Category: Black Lotus

I’ve seen ESG show up in more and more combo decks, which makes perfect sense. It gives you a mana at no cost, and the fact that it’s green can be randomly useful if you need to say, cast that Oxidize that you found with Death Wish. It’s kind of amusing to note that the closest thing to a drawback on ESG is that it doesn’t count as a spell for your storm count and that you can’t reuse it with Yawgmoth’s Will. Of course, this can also be a bonus in some circumstances, such as allowing you to evade Trinisphere.

Gifts Ungiven and Intuition

Category: Demonic Tutor

Casting cost-wise, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with either of these cards-if you’re considering them as a tutor for a single card. In actuality, these cards get used typically as a tutor for many cards when they’re used in concert with Yawgmoth’s Will or Goblin Welder. Three cards for three mana is definitely pushing it, since after all, Fact or Fiction costs four mana to get three cards and it’s restricted.

One other interesting that I noticed with these cards is that also like Demonic Tutor, they are often used to set up a game-winning play (DT’ing for say, Will or Bargain,) but they also have good “default” targets as well. Where DT would get Ancestral, Intuition also can find Accumulated Knowledge and Gifts Ungiven can make a setup like Yawgmoth’s Will, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Mind’s Desire, and Necropotence.

If restricted, Gifts Ungiven is still randomly good since it doesn’t warp your deck construction like Intuition does. Intuition might end up as one of those cards where restricting it is as good as banning it.

Goblin Welder

Category: Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall

Goblin Welder is another one of those popular targets right now. Goblin Welder does a lot of little things well and it does them with just about the smallest price tag that you can attach. Goblin Welder’s ability lets you totally circumvent an artifact’s casting cost. Think about how much mana Welder is making if you look at it like that. If you reanimate something big like a Mindslaver or Sundering Titan, that’s the equivalent of 6+ mana right there, and furthermore, Welder is reusable.

Massive mana production isn’t broken by itself. It seems that in fact, it has less to do with the amount of mana being produced and more to do with what the upfront cost is. This is probably the reason why Metalworker and Cabal Ritual don’t see as much play as cards like Mana Vault despite the fact that they can net more mana. If Goblin Welder costed say, four mana, it could still produce that 6+ mana, but it would be doing so at a time when a boost of that much mana isn’t as much of a problem. Furthermore, once you hit a certain point when it comes to mana, you start getting diminishing returns. Something like Mindslaver will probably straight up win you the game at six mana so it really doesn’t matter if you can produce say, thirteen mana and use that to cast a Darksteel Colossus with a couple floating.

Also, what Goblin Welder really seems like to me is like Aether Vial in Extended. Almost everything [author name="Chad Ellis"]Chad Ellis[/author] said about Aether Vial in Extended holds true for Goblin Welder in Vintage, with the only real differences being that unlike Aether Vial, Goblin Welder can provide explosive mana in addition to constant mana, and that Goblin Welder can’t produce colored mana, which isn’t even totally true if you use Goblin Welder to bring out an artifact that gives you an ability outside of yours on the color wheel. Welder is an annoyance as well on the player interaction-level. His mana acceleration ability might be his biggest draw, but his reusability doesn’t help when it comes to encouraging players to interact. When he’s out, there’s no point to countering or destroying artifacts, but there’s also little point to trying to kill him since there’s really only a one-turn window for you to kill him before your removal becomes irrelevant. Furthermore, if you’ve only got a one turn window before you lose, would you rather win or simply not lose?

Land Grant

Category: Black Lotus

I think Land Grant might be the most underrated card in Type 1 right now. In any kind of combo deck, this card is usually preferable to an off-color Mox since it can generate two different colors of mana for you and has synergy with Yawgmoth’s Will. You can’t get too greedy with Land Grant, though. If you use it, you’re restricted to three colors, max. Right now, the only combo decks using Land Grant are Belcher and Meandeck Tendrils. While I personally think that both of these decks are suboptimal, I would be most interested in seeing slightly retooled storm combo decks using Land Grant to both help with threshold and to contribute to storm. It seems like it could only help them.

Like I said above, since Land Grant isn’t commonly used in the better combo decks, it’s not restriction worthy. Furthermore, with the exception of Belcher aside (where it is essential for the deck to work), it seems like Land Grant would only be a slight increase in speed and therefore any restriction of it would really only provide a negligible slowing of the format.

Mana Drain

Category: Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus

I have to make sure not to say that Mana Drain is overpowered, because otherwise R&D might read this and then restrict it!

I keed, I keed, but still: Mana Drain is quite possibly the most powerful unrestricted card in the format. Mana Drain is obviously undercosted, as not only does it cost as much as a vanilla counterspell, but it is also cheap enough to fall into the point of the game where its acceleration is most powerful. Back in the day, control decks would sit around all day doing nothing and eventually someone would cast Mind Twist or something. If you won the counter war over that on turn infinity, you’d now have infinity-plus-eight-ish mana in your mana pool for you to do something like Stroke of Genius for infinity-plus-five-ish cards for the game win.

Mana Drain is abused much more in modern decks because they utilize the acceleration in a way similar to what I talked about in the Goblin Welder section. There is no difference between say, ten mana, infinity mana, and infinity-plus-eight-ish mana. There is however a world of difference between having three mana and having six mana on turn 3, as the six mana is quite possibly enough to win you the game right there. If Mana Drain costed 2UU, which seems quite fair for a hard counter with a powerful ability, it wouldn’t be nearly as broken simply because diminishing returns would start to kick in with regards to your bonus mana.

Tendrils of Agony

Category: Balance

Tendrils of Agony should just read “You win the game.” Granted, you need to play ten spells first, but that actually is almost a moot point if you start increasing the casting cost. An increased casting cost would simply require more accelerants to be used in order to cast the thing which doesn’t even matter seeing how you need to play ten spells for the spell to even work. If you change the card from being a two point life loss to a one point life loss, it’s not even worth a card.

Thirst for Knowledge

Category: Ancestral Recall

Using Fact or Fiction and Concentrate as examples, three cards costs more than three mana. It seems that once you start drawing three or more cards, unless you’re playing a combo deck, there always seems like there’s one or two that you just don’t need, creating a bit of virtual card disadvantage. Therefore, the “drawback” of having to discard isn’t really fooling anybody. Do you really need that one more mana? You’ve already got at least three in play if you’re casting this spell.

Thirst for Knowledge is probably better than Intuition/AK when it comes to drawing cards, but I’m unsure how much of a lynchpin it is for Control Slaver decks. Restricting it would certainly drop their power level somewhat, but those decks have a plethora of draw effects available to them in AK, Deep Analysis, and Skeletal Scrying. You could probably just fill up your hand to over seven cards and discard your expensive artifacts like that if you really need to, which shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re running a deck like the second-place one at Waterbury which had both AK and DA to back up its Thirsts.

The other important question to ask is if Control Slaver is nerfed through some other means (such as restricting Goblin Welder, although I’m not 100% sure if that would be enough) and there would thus be a reason to run some control deck other than Slaver, would it be worth playing Thirst for Knowledge in them. I could personally see it more in Four Color Control than in Tog, especially if the 4CC deck is running extra artifacts like Chalice of the Void or Crucible of Worlds main.

Tinder Wall

Category: Black Lotus

Yes, I know that this is only played in Belcher, but this card is still really good. Between Land Grant and Elvish Spirit Guide, Green is quite a viable fast mana combination, and the fact that this produces red is even better since if can allow you to start a Desperate Ritual/Seething Song chain into even more mana. Tinder Wall isn’t for everyone (I mean, I can’t see how this could be useful in say, Doomsday) but it seems like quite a natural fit for combo decks which depend on having access to lots of generic mana.


Category: Black Vise, Balance

Everyone refers to Trinisphere as a Black Vise because you almost need to run four because both cards are best in your opening hand and pretty awful at any other time. Unlike Black Vise however, multiple copies of Trinisphere really don’t do anything for you aside from setting you up for a devastating Rack and Ruin.

The biggest problem with Trinisphere is its casting cost. It’s easy enough to generate three mana on turn 1, and in fact it’s almost a given that you should have three mana on turn 1 in many of your games. If you start increasing the casting cost of Trinisphere, it becomes harder and harder to cast it on turn 1 and thus gives your opponent plenty of time cast spells which may in all likelihood already cost three mana. Therefore, at this point has no effect at all. I can’t think of any way to cost this card so that it can be anything other than broken.

And the point of all this is…?

Right now, I think there are more people dissatisfied with the state of Vintage than at any other time that I can remember, and furthermore, this is directed at tons of different cards and decks. There are the people that think Control Slaver is unbeatable, that Workshop decks aren’t fun to play against, that combo is too fast, that there is barely any player interaction, or that it’s too hard to come up with new decks in this awfully constricted environment.

I think that this mana acceleration problem is the heart of the problem right now in Vintage. Everyone has their own particular grudges, whether it’s Trinisphere, Yawgmoth’s Will, Goblin Welder, or Dark Ritual, but all of them seem to come down to mana. I think that part of what makes Vintage fun is the ability to have fast mana in the early game, but there is a world of difference between three mana on turn 1 or 2 and 6+ mana on turn 1 or 2. That’s the problem with a lot of the cards like Mana Drain and Mishra’s Workshop compared to the Moxes or Sol Ring.

Therefore, I don’t think that the problem is some sort of critical mass issue with regards to the restricted list, because the unrestricted mana producers actually produce more mana than the restricted ones. They might have drawbacks, such as being only be temporary (Dark Ritual), time-delayed (Goblin Welder), or more slightly more expensive (Mana Drain) but these often times don’t matter if they allow you to win the game on the spot. Just because you can use that Mox Emerald next turn but can only use that Dark Ritual this turn is irrelevant since you can’t use that Mox next turn if there is no next turn.

Then there’s Trinisphere. Trinisphere is both powerful and unfun because of how to screws up this early fast mana expectation that the top decks nowadays rely on. If you have a hand of one land, two artifact accelerants, and four spells, that’s usually quite strong because even if you miss a land drop or two, you’ll still have three mana by turn 3 which typically is enough to be able to cast more or less all of the spells in your deck. Trinisphere disables decks from getting to use their fast mana, which is crippling as well as disheartening, since now you can’t enjoy the main draw of Vintage deck construction.

So how do you fix this? I honestly have no idea. I don’t really see it as a bunch of broken cards keeping each other in check and if one goes, one of the others will dominate. It just seems more like if you cut out one, you have just one or two fewer uninteractive, excessively fast decks rather than either a wide-open field or just one dominant deck-and that’s under the assumption that you’re being thorough in your restrictions, as there are many cards which easily replace each other, such as the aforementioned Mishra’s Workshop/Ancient Tomb and Thirst for Knowledge/Intuition. I also think that there’s the whole problem of answers being worse than threats. Do you hedge your bets against Goblin Welder with Ground Seal or Lava Dart, or is it just easier to try to kill your opponent instead (either literally or figuratively) before that Welder can wreck you?

Regardless of whether or not it’s the correct decision, if you go for the latter, you’re part of the problem.

JP Meyer

jpmeyer at gmail dot com