I have fourteen different Survival of the Fittest builds in my Extended folder.
I’ve played them all numerous times. I have experienced the joy of success with them; I have experienced disheartening failure as well. I have blended Survival with blue, with red, with white, and with black, with a parade of colors in twos and threes.
I have abused my graveyard with Ashen Ghoul, I have locked opponents with Riders Avalanche and Tradewind, I have overrun defenses with Yavimaya Ants and Skizziks. I have seen Survival Idealized, and unfortunately have seen it Cleansed; it has been buried by Realism and my savage creatures soothed by Lyricism. I have been alternately Charmed and Disenchanted. Living Death, I hardly knew ye – but Tortured Existence, we were just becoming more than casual acquaintances.
Squee, let’s go drown our sorrows.
Survival of the Fittest is gone. I was just beginning to develop some wacky ideas; attempting to incorporate different themes and tricks into what is arguably my favorite card of all time – and I don’t even like green.
I mean, green ANNOYS me. It doesn’t have effective instants. I’m all about instant-speed responses. Give me white, give me red, give me blue, then tell me I can never play another color, and I can deal with it. You can take the green and black side of the spectrum off of my mental map. I want to do something at the end of your turn and repeat it during upkeep. I want to destroy your creatures and enchantments and artifacts without paying four or six mana to do so.
…because of one card, I have played more green in Extended than I know what to do with. It’s hard to conceive of playing a deck that doesn’t drop a Wall of Roots and a Spike Feeder – or, with the right draw, a Forest-Mox-Wall turn 1 and a Blastoderm or Avalanche Riders on turn 2. Holding other cards in my hand is unfamiliar. Conceiving of desleeving (rhymeunintentional) my Survival deck is anathema. I have a number of cards from various Survival builds sitting on a table, already sleeved, lands and all – so that if I decide to switch from”Reasons to Be Beautiful” to”Hit So Hard” to”Live Through This” to”Use Once and Destroy,” I can do so in a handful of minutes with a modicum of effort.
Because of Survival, I have intimate knowledge of every 187 creature in Magic; I have heard the whispers of the creatures that yearn to be sacrifice or placed in the graveyard, begging for death and rebirth. I have heard (and paid for) their echoes time and again. Now, the gibbering voices of creatures yearning to be summoned are now silent.
In their place, Wizards of the Coast has spoken.
You know, in a strange corner of my mind I can’t help thinking that of any two cards in Extended, there are two based on name alone that should be proof from banning: Survival of the Fittest, and Force of Will.
Survival wasn’t fit enough; Force of Will, however, has persevered. It has been placed on the mythical Watch List, the list that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere and is kept closeted next to the records on Area 51 and JFK’s assassination. Does anyone remember that Necropotence was on the Watch List? I think it was, but I’m not sure – the pre-2000 archives at Wizards were annoyingly inoperative while I wrote this. I know Rishadan Port was placed on the Standard Watch List at the start of 2000. What other cards have been placed on it? I don’t know, and am curious if there were any.
Rishadan Port is sort of funny. When it was banned from Masques Block Constructed, it was because”When four copies of a card appear in almost every deck, that card is too strong for the environment.” So they place it on the mythical Watch List for Standard a year ago. It proceeds to show up in almost every deck; its strength in Standard is noted.
Is Port banned? No. What gives, R&D?
This isn’t about Standard, however. It’s about the pillaging of Extended.
THE PARTY LINE
Says Wizards:”All of this quarter’s Extended bannings are aimed at
reducing the amount of unhealthy combo play. As always, our aim is to increase the number of viable deck archetypes, while promoting player interaction.”
Replenish? Okay, that’s combo. Hey, wait a second. What about the rest of these? Survival? A combo card? That doesn’t sound quite right.
Survival has one card that abuses its ability: Squee.
Is Survival a powerful card? Definitely. Is Survival/Squee abusive? Yes. But which of the two components creates the abuse? Remove Squee and you change the character of Survival decks greatly. No more free Masticore upkeeps, no more abuse with Stormbind. Is Survival-Death overpowered? No. Is Survival-Junk overpowered? No. Is Rec-Sur overpowered? No.
They are indeed powerful, however. Survival SPAWNS archetypes. There is no dominant Survival deck blowing away the field. If you are playing Survival, you have tens of routes to go in deckbuilding strategies. A lot of decks can use it because it’s easily splashable into different strategies because it’s green.
But – unhealthy combo play? C’mon, Wizards.
Miss the Target
Look at target player’s hand and choose any unhealthy card in it. Remove all cards except that card from player’s hand, library, and graveyard.
In Extended, all of the colors have certain cards automatically associated with them in our head. Black has Duress and Necropotence. Green has Survival and Oath of Druids. White has Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant. Red has Fireblast and Ball Lightning. Blue has Force of Will and Morphling. These are hallmarks of the various colors, prime examples of their power.
My assertion is that none of these cards, Survival and Necropotence included, contribute to unhealthy combo play.
Wizards says to us on one hand that they don’t want unhealthy combos. Then they proceed to leave the combo in existence
Is Illusions still in the environment? Yep.
Is Donate still in the environment? Yep.
Is blue the color of library manipulation? Yep.
Problem solved? Nope.
Yet they deceive us anyway. Alright, that’s a bit too harsh -it’s not lying per se; it’s that they are missing the target, that they’re looking in the wrong place, and that they are, quite simply, mistaken.
Imagine for a second if these cards were banned:
Are the problems of the environment solved?
Does this meet the stated goals of Wizards to reduce unhealthy combo play and increase the number of viable deck archetypes while promoting interaction?
Replenish is an imbalanced, overpowered card. I think most people can agree with that; it was evident in Standard play, and it’s evident in Extended.
Donate isn’t imbalanced per se. It does, however, exist for one reason: Combo. It’s a card that will only find usage in combo decks. It exists to cause people to throw down their hands in disgust. Originally my reaction to the bannings was”Illusions should have been banned.” However, having thought rationally about it (believe it or not, and the same sort of thought that I wish Wizards would have put into their bannings), I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem isn’t Illusions.
Illusions’ price IS a hefty one. If someone wants to abuse it with Necropotence, all power to them. The upkeep will catch up in a hurry. I do not mind high risk/high yield cards, which is the same reason I disagree with Consultation being banned. I’ve seen it win and lose games. I’ve seen it present an immediate solution to a threat, yes, but then because they’ve milled away so many of their responses be unable to deal with one on the following turn.
Back to Illusions – the only reason Illusions has any sort of negativity
attached to it is because of Donate. The sudden lifegain isn’t the problem – the problem is Illusions being given to your opponent, particularly so if the cumulative upkeep is already at four. I can’t think of another more blatantly wrong act than receiving the benefits and making someone else pay the price for it. If Illusions didn’t exist, someone would work on Donating Embargo, I’m sure. Or Delusions of Mediocrity (bounce me!) Or Forbidden Crypt. Something would come about that it would be advantageous to Donate.
Replenish and Donate gone = Two easy solutions to the combo troubles that plague us. Two easy solutions to”unhealthy combo play,” or brokenness, which is the term I prefer. It just sounds better. So there.
It could have been so different.
Date: March 2000
Announcement:”In considering the Extended format, we took into account the proliferation of certain combo decks, such as the increasingly popular Necro-Donate deck. Data was analyzed from Pro Tour(tm) – Chicago, recent Qualifier tournaments and Grand Prix events. Although many cards were considered (including Necropotence, Donate, and Demonic Consultation), it was decided that it was more important to deal with the core of the problem: fast mana. Dark Ritual and Mana Vault both provide mana too easily, allowing certain combo decks to win much too quickly. Removing these two cards from the environment allows combo decks to exist, but decreases the speed at which they can win, balancing the decks in relation to the rest of the field. This decision also allows other interesting, balanced deck types to exist within the format.”
Thank you, Wizards website.
The core of the problem. The CORE of the problem? What?
Seems to me the core of the problem would have been”Donate” Illusions to opponent.
>From www.m-w.com, my favorite
Main Entry: core
Pronunciation: ‘kOr, ‘kor
a : a basic, essential, or enduring part (as of an individual, a class, or an
What were Ritual and Vault? Acceleration TO the core – but not the core. Basic, yes. Irreplaceable? Not at all. The CORE, dear Wizards, is the most essential card of the deck:
Without Donate, there’s no Trix.
There’s no unhealthy combo.
And combo decks still exist.
So, if you’re worried, Wizards, then get rid of them. Just like I’m going to get rid of the quotation marks I want to put around”unhealthy.”
Taking into account the bannings in March 2000 and 2001, they’ve essentially decided to treat the illness with a frontal lobotomy instead of an appendectomy.
I may want to use”neutered,” instead, however, because it seems
that’s what they’ve slowly done to black since then. I already said I don’t like black; I have no special desire for it to be overly strong or weak. But, man…just look at the cards we’re missing.
Poor black mages.
Legalize those cards, and tell me what unhealthy combos exist.
Dark Ritual and I have a love-hate relationship. I hate the concept of the
three-something for one-mana, but until black starts getting creatures
equivalent to Birds and Elves and Trees, it’s a necessary balance for the mana acceleration axis of green/black. I’m still waiting for:
Creature – Imp
T, Pay 1 life: Add one black mana to your mana pool.
Balanced acceleration. Voila.
But it’s not there; and thus Dark Ritual makes up for it in spades. Think about it, however. In Extended, is a first-turn Ritual any more abusive than my playing Forest, Mox Diamond, then any of Wall of Roots/Survival/Seal of Cleansing? No – its first turn plays AREN’T too advantageous. First turn Necro, pay some life, get some cards, and I Seal it. No problem.
Acceleration is not the sole facilitator of a combo.
That being said, however, I do realize there’s a card out there called Hatred, and that Dark Ritual enables it to be cast on turn 3 on whatever Dauthi creature happens to be in play. Yes, that IS powerful. So is Ritual-Duress-Dauthi.
But was Hatred ever considered broken? Admittedly, I’m not sure -I didn’t play much against it; when I did play against it, I usually had some form of removal for the shadow creatures, or lifegain capability. My perception, therefore, is a bit skewed, because I was not then the player I am now. I’m willing to give Dark Ritual the benefit of the doubt, though, and say that if you want to play a first-turn Necro and start whittling away at your life total, then go to it. Have a blast, go to town, light up everybody, join us in this celebration.
Likewise, Mana Vault – so, you can cast a 4cc spell on turn 2.
Okay, so my Survival deck can cast 4cc spells as well with my second-turn Blastoderms. But, I won’t be taking a point of damage from ol’ Blasty, unless it’s from the smell when he reeks of my opponent’s imminent death.
Ok, so Stompy can have a 5/3 trampler on turn 1.
The speed of Extended won’t go away. You can’t cut out the speed effectively; people will find a way to be faster. There’s too much, peeps, just too MUCH. When the Masques Block is the oldest set in Extended, then maybe, just maybe, it’ll slow down. Is taking out Survival going to stop me from dropping turn-2 Blastoderms? No.
Removing Dark Ritual and Mana Vault did nothing to solve what they claimed was the problem. Because of that badly-aimed banning, they’ve missed the target and wound up going to extremes in order to compensate.
Removing those other five cards, taking a tasty pie slice out of our frontal lobes when all they needed was a quick incision, is like firing everyone in the office because they can’t get along with their supervisor – and letting the supervisor keep his job.
You want viable deck archetypes, Wizards? Then leave healthy cards – like Survival and Necropotence and the gang – alone.
What did they say again about Survival? Let’s look:
“Survival of the Fittest
Cards that have been introduced since this card left the Standard environment have severely increased the power level of this already undercosted enchantment.”
Which cards were introduced, again? Squee, Goblin Whore.
Okay… What other cards?
Ah. All righty, then.
Why do I have the feeling that somewhere in Wizards R&D there’s someone going”But we never tested Squee with Survival? OR Spellshapers!” Squee probably shouldn’t have been made; or it should perhaps have errata in some form or fashion. If you’re going to ban something, consider banning him. Don’t kill the messenger.
Survival should probably have been 1GG in cost. Undercosted cards, however, make up Extended, and that alone is not a rationale for banning. Nor is the fact that Squee drastically has changed Survival’s strength in Extended.
I’m tired of saying”unhealthy combo” when we all know I mean”brokenness.” So I shall. It begs a question, though…
WHAT IS BROKEN?
Overall, the concept seems simple: Ban the cards that create the brokenness.
It is wise to remember that nothing is broken in itself. Interactions are always what are broken. So quoth Will Rieffer.
We know the interactions that caused the bannings; so, to use Wizards’ words, let’s look at the CORE. What card is the core of the deck, the one that facilitates the brokenness?
Perhaps I’m just silly, but I still don’t consider Necropotence broken. Survival’s abusive effects are facilitated by Squee, but in and of itself, Survival is an undercosted but not ban-worthy card. I’ve made a case for Dark Ritual and Mana Vault and Consultation.
Power does not equal broken.
Undercosted does not equal broken.
Brokenness applies to cards or engines that require a near-immediate response. If such response is not forthcoming, a properly-played combo deck will be nearly impossible to disrupt once it is running, and will generate a win condition with haste that will cause you to lose. This win condition is often reliant on the resolution of the core card – or, in certain combos, two or three core cards (for example, in the decks Fruity Pebbles or FecAltar). When a broken combo hits the board, it means that the opponent is far more likely to lose – no matter what deck they’re playing – than to win.
That is the essence of comboness; that unanswerable ability that generates lethal effects. To use Wizards’ term for my definition,”healthy” cards are therefore those that, if you lack an answer to them, you can realistically hope or expect to draw into an answer for.
Blastoderm’s a powerful card, for example. If Scott lays down a Blastoderm, I can hope to draw into a blocker, or an Earthquake, or a Wash Out, etc. It’s a strong clock and threat, but not an unhealthy one. (Random aside: Blastoderm’s power is why you’ll likely never see an untargetable creature with a toughness greater than three in future sets.) If Blastoderm had trample? It’d move closer to brokenness.
An example of broken Survival interactions that some people might refer to is the innovative Full English Breakfast, with its ability to supersede any instant-speed responses. I’d hazard saying that it’s probably the most abusive and combo-oriented Survival effect. Is it unhealthy? The key card is Volrath’s Shapeshifter. It’s a creature, so I say no. The only creature close to broken is Morphling, and potentially Masticore (particularly with Squee).
As for Squee, yes, Masticore and Stormbind abuse Squee. Although those two cards are useful in Survival decks, the true abusive effect is Squee’s ability to break the symmetrical”pitch one creature to get one creature” aspect of Survival that makes it a broken interaction. Without Squee, if you draw one expensive creature, but really want a Wall of Roots, you can use Survival to fix that. However after you do that, if you draw non-creature cards for your next six turns, you’re not doing anything. With Squee, you’re getting new creatures every time you have free green mana. Thank you for delineating that, Scuta Forster.
Combo decks are narrow and focused. Burn doesn’t care if it kills you with a Cursed Scroll, a Fireblast, or a Mogg Fanatic. Stompy doesn’t care which of its disposable creatures it hurls at you. Survival says,”Crunch, we’ll make more.” True Control decks are close to Combo on the Metagame Clock and are a near equivalent; however, they rely on counterspells instead of combo elements, so that Morphling, for example, represents their one-card broken combo.
Why is Morphling near-broken? Because, it’s nigh impossible to get rid of AND generates a quick win condition with its mutable power and toughness. The fact that Masticore can be targeted drops it down a notch. We all know how extremely powerful it is, but there are answers to it. Try Pillage, or Cursed Totem, or even Lashknife Barrier if you want to get crazy.
A first-turn Hypnotic Specter was powerful and threatening, but not broken. Juzam Djinn was undercosted, but not broken. Academy Rector COULD have unhealthy interactions (Yawgmoth’s Bargain), but it was a form of tutor/accelerant, not broken in itself.
Ophidians, Magpies, Maro, Ernham Djinn, Verdant Forces, and Serras – all excellent creatures that have shined at various times in various environments. Do they make you seize with apprehension when they’re on the table? Do they make you say,”Damn, I have no chance,” even if you’re holding removal? Are there decks whose sole creature is one Magpie that WINS? Or Verdant Force? Or Serra?
Possibly Serra was in the old days -but who would play her now when Morphling’s around? That’s why they can afford to bring her back. She’s still very good, but she’s not the worldbeater she used to be – though I look forward to attempts at a Stasis–Serra deck. When Morphling is cast, you either have an answer to it RIGHT THEN – or, unless you’re playing Wrath of God, Cursed Totem, Diabolic Edict, or a Burn deck, you don’t get rid of it. No other creature does that except – again, this is my disclaimer – occasionally Masticore. It’s an”answer me now or lose soon” card.
At least they caught that one early.
I realize that there will be times when someone Shallow Graves or Sneak Attacks a Polar Kraken, but again, it’s not the Kraken that’s facilitating anything; the other cards are. Morphling is self-sustaining.
I know that some individuals support bannings, believing that they create new environments out of stagnant ones, and that they challenge us to find new archetypes and rekindle interest in the Extended format.
I think it would.
I think they’re very lucky they didn’t ban Force of Will, because that would have very much lobotomized the environment.
New environments are not meant to be created through bannings; they’re meant to be created by new cards and by rotating blocks. I think that the concept of”well, this card is a powerful one, let’s ban it to make a better environment” goes against the concept of Extended. I can’t help but fear that more doors have been closed than opened.
How does removing Survival and Necro create a healthier environment?
Why would the presence of Survival and Necro cards diminish interest in
Extended? How would those two cards make other decktypes nonviable?
I’ll answer my own questions:
It rids the environment of the two primary”solitaire” decks and opens
up a number of alternatives instead of forcing decks to have a response to two particular decks in their builds.
Why would the presence of those two cards diminish interest in Extended or make them nonviable?
Because it limits deckbuilding to know that you have to have a sideboard against both, play Sligh, or lose. Mind you, mono-blue Trix still works. Guess what, Wizards, unhealthy combo play is still there. It’s analogous to playing for 5 or 6 turns and casting a twenty-point Fireball. Blaze. Whatever.
These two cards represent both the highest and lowest impact on an environment.
They have high impact because they immediately disable the unhealthy combo decks Wizards claims to abhor. They have low impact because it is the minimum amount of bannings needed to fix the perceived problems of unhealthy combo play. Who will miss Donate or Replenish aside from those combo players?
When you ban Survival, when you ban Necropotence, however, you lose a wealth of deck versatility and viability.
If Survival concerns them that much, then take it a step further and rid the environment of Squee. Doing so prevents abuse with Masticore (not that the card disadvantage is too much of a pain anyway), Stormbind, and Survival, and any weird Spellshaper decks you might stumble across -and no one will miss it. Squee exists for the sheer purpose of being an engine of some sort. It’s a pseudo-card. Should pseudo-cards exist?
Will people miss Squee?
Nah. I love the little guy, but I could live without him.
I have long stated that I believe Extended is stagnant. I believe this happens because of the number of powerful, undercosted, and imbalanced cards available to us. There are a handful of cards in each expansion that will become part of viable Extended decks. Take, for example, Sligh and Stupid Red Burn. What cards have been introduced in the last year that would contribute to those red decks?
The environment is stagnant because we have too many old cards to rely upon. If you want a card to do a certain thing, chances are you’re going to find it, particularly because it took awhile for them to start clearly delineating abilities with certain colors.
Banning is not the solution.
Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar and I discussed the effect of bannings on the
environment, and he mentioned that Extended (which is our least favorite format) is MEANT”to be the format in which the environment is stable and decks can survive a long time. The idea is for the wave of change to be much slower in Extended. Not absent, but slower. Unfortunately, that also means it will be a format that holds little interest for many individuals,” particularly newcomers to the game.”The sheer power of decks that have been tuned for upwards of a year is something many don’t enjoy competing against.” When the best minds tune the best decks, there’s little room for major innovation after a certain point.
He proposed that”Wizards seems to want to people to start innovating and took drastic measures to make this happen. My guess is that they did his as a response to lowered Extended attendance, and that doing this increases the salience of the format to everyone who plays the game. By forcing new deck ideas, they also increase card sales ultimately. That’s a guess, though. I would only hope it were based on a business decision.”
This thought seemed like a very viable concept on the part of Wizards.
I can see where that train of thought leads, and for all I know, he may be
right. It may BE Wizards’ intent. However, if you take the bannings and examine the decklists that remain, you’ll see that there’s really not much in the way of The Enlightenment of innovation or change. I don’t think that can happen without wide-scale bannings (now banned: Oath of Druids, Fireblast, Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares, Morphling, Masticore, and Rancor). The environment simply has TOO MANY CARDS to be drastically affected by bannings. The only result of these bannings is to destroy an overly-powered deck, OR to destroy a large number of moderately powered deck that, all things considered, are equal to the rest of the field.
The archetypes in Extended are established. It’s going to take something major to shake up things, and removing cards that shouldn’t be removed is only going to limit things further. The problem with the Survival banning is that Survival was a completely acceptable archetype – an unusually varied one that promoted a great number of win conditions and acceptable success ratios. Those decks are gone.
The only way the environment will truly change and cause mass innovation is simply to rotate out the Alliances/Ice Age/Fallen Empires block, and by rotating out a block each year thereafter. THAT will keep it fresh. THATwill draw people in.
Many individuals – Scott included – are vehemently against banning. In our team discussion, Scott stated it like this:”Sometimes I think I’m the last person on the planet who wants them to stop rotating stuff out just for the sake of rotating stuff out. Don’t ban 650 cards every year in Extended – that just makes it worse. I can’t play one of my favorite cards, Naf’s Asp, because it had the misfortune of having been printed too long ago. It’s not like they’re hard to acquire; I’m sure they sell for about forty cents, but for some reason they’re not legal in Extended. Neither are such power cards as Control Magic and Sengir Vampire, for really no good reason. We can’t let people Ritual out Juggernauts – but here, have fun dealing with a Rancorous Elephant on turn one. If we rotate every year, it just turns into ‘four-set Standard,’ which I don’tlike the idea of.”
At first, it seems a contrary viewpoint; in actuality, though, we were thinking identically when we both stated the easy solution: Wizards should facilitate the playing of the 1.5 format.
1.5? But no one plays 1.5 at all, right? For those unfamiliar with it, 1.5 is Type 1, except that all cards on the Banned and Restricted list in Type 1 are Banned in Type 1.5.
Type 1 speed and card selection, minus the broken power cards? Surely a lot of people play it.
Nope – but why? It’s sort of the phantom format. I hear people talkingabout Bring Your Own Block more than 1.5. The cards available in 1.5 would appease those who lose cards in Extended when blocks rotate out; indeed, if you give it a fair representation, it creates a very balanced scale of Familiar vs. Innovative, like so:
(Familiar) Type One – Type 1.5 – Extended – Standard – Block (Innovative)
“This would allow people to use Rukh Eggs and Abysses in a format that meant something. Right now, T1, 1.5, and 1.x are all very staid formats, with no good reason to differentiate between them -which is why only 1.x on up are actually played.”
If Wizards held five Pro Tours annually, as they had originally planned for THIS year, the Qualifiers could consist of these formats:
Allow Regionals to be fixed as Standard, and you have six two-month seasons.
It seems simple.
Perhaps I’m merely resentful. I dislike that it seems as if bannings are arbitrariness disguised with thin rationales, that we invest time and effort and money into a product and see bad decisions being repeatedly made. R&D has done a wonderful job with creating balanced cards. But when it comes to Extended, it seems like they’re still fumbling around in the dark, flailing their arms and hoping they’ll find the lamp and not realizing there was a light switch at the bottom of the stairs the entire time.
Two cards. That’s all they needed.
Not a lobotomy.
-m / 00010101