Should Wizards Of The Coast Emergency Ban Hogaak Arisen Necropolis?

PVDDR, Andrew Elenbogen, and Patrick Sullivan take on five statements about Modern as we head into SCG Richmond, answering “Fact” or “Fiction” to some of the community’s most asked questions!

Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa, Andrew Elenbogen, and Patrick Sullivan are here to render their verdicts on five statements about the current state of Modern leading into SCG Richmond. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

1. Wizards of the Coast should emergency ban Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis.

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa: Fiction. If we didn’t have a ban announcement scheduled for very soon, then I would say they should just go ahead and emergency ban it but given that there is going to be one on 8/26, I think we can wait until then. The situation is dire but not so dire that they need to just ban it two weeks before it’s actually banned. An emergency ban is a huge event in Magic and leads to a lot of uncertainty (people start wondering if they’ll ban anything at any minute) and I would rather not open that door.

There’s also a big Modern tournament in the meantime (Grand Prix Las Vegas), and people have been preparing for this tournament for months. I think it’s unfair to just ban a card outside of your scheduled announcement with no warning, since that might just change the entire metagame, affecting not only people who were planning on playing Hogaak, but everyone who made a deck decision based on the fact that they expect Hogaak to exist.

Andrew Elenbogen: Fiction. Modern is a one-deck format right now and it was a significant error to print the card Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in the first place. However, these mistakes do not imply an emergency banning is the right call. At this point, many people have booked plane tickets to Modern events in the next several weeks. Many of those people do not have the time or resources to learn and obtain an entirely new deck in a radically transformed format. When you sign up for a Modern tournament immediately after a banned and restricted announcement, you know what you’re getting into. When an emergency banning occurs after you’ve already booked, it could easily leave you out of a deck, out of time, and out of luck.

Even more important is the fact that emergency ban announcements are an awful precedent to set. The entire purpose of having a scheduled banned and restricted announcement is to allow people to make decisions knowing precisely when cards might cease to be legal. Without that predictability, booking plane tickets to tournaments and buying into powerful Modern decks both get noticeably riskier. While the current situation is bad, no marquee tournaments like Mythic Championships or Worlds will be ruined by 0-mana 8/8s. As a result, I don’t think that breaking precedent is warranted.

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. People are pointing to Memory Jar as precedent, but I don’t think that comparison works on a number of fronts. Urza’s Legacy was released in 1999, making it about as distant in age from Alpha as from the oldest Modern-legal sets. I think pointing to precedent in reference to something as constantly evolving as Magic is suspect; what happened in the past can be a useful reference point for framing conversation but shouldn’t be invoked to justify a decision that would be hard to do otherwise.

Even if you hand-wave that, the current circumstances, as dire as they may seem, do not compare to that of Memory Jar. I was there, beginning to reengage in Magic after dropping about after Tempest, and Magic was in extremely rough shape. Tolarian Academy, Windfall, and a few other offenders were facilitating frequent Turn 1 kills in Standard, and Memory Jar promised to compound those recent issues. Magic had a much smaller player base at the time, and it wasn’t clear if the game could absorb another few months of intolerable games. The measures were extreme but so were the circumstances, and I would bet the confluence of the two will never meet again.

Without Memory Jar lingering as a distant memory I doubt people would consider the possibility of emergency banning, in part because Hogaak isn’t that ruinous, even if it should be banned at the soonest scheduled opportunity. People still play and win with other decks. The games themselves aren’t that bad; the deck is plainly overpowered but there are typically a lot of decisions on both sides of the table. The right sideboard cards can move your win rate in the right direction. I do not mean to be sarcastic when I say for a dominating, overwhelming deck that shouldn’t exist in its current incarnation, you could do a lot worse.

On the other side of the argument, people have purchased cards with an understanding that the soonest those cards could be banned would be with the next update, and with an expectation that they can play with those cards in the appropriate formats for at least that long. Bannings may be necessary at times but they represent a violation of the tacit agreement Wizards of the Coast makes when they sell you cards: you get to play with them. Circumstances may require them to ban every now and again, but the bar for doing it outside of the regular cadence need to be extraordinary to avoid engendering even greater distrust and hurt feelings. I do not think Hogaak comes close to clearing that bar.

2. Even once Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is inevitably banned from Modern on August 26, Bridge from Below should simultaneously be unbanned in Modern.

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa: Fiction. Bridge from Below wasn’t the perfect ban for stopping that deck, but it still doesn’t feel like a Magic card, and I don’t think it should exist. You’re never going to do anything reasonable with that card and it’s always going to be useless or degenerate.

If Bridge from Below was currently unbanned, then I wouldn’t go ahead and ban it in this announcement, but given that we’ve already paid the cost of getting the card banned, I feel like it’s better and safer for everyone to just leave it there.

Andrew Elenbogen: Fiction. Let’s start here: unbanning cards is the most overrated concept in Magic today. Banning a card is an enormous cost, causing tons of players to be unable to use cards they own and even more players to lose the entire value of decks they have purchased. Plenty of people have left the game due to the blow that is having a favorite deck suddenly cease to exist. But once a card is banned, unbanning it does not undo those costs. Players already own and paid for Bridge from Below and it’s supporting cast, and any players who left because of its banning are unlikely to come back.

As a result, I think cards should only be unbanned if there is good reason to believe they won’t continue to be dominant and they will make the format significantly better as a whole. I acknowledge that this is a high bar, and as a result I favor a conservative unbanning strategy. Bridge from Below has literally never done anything fair or interactive in the history of its existence. It’s an effect that arguably shouldn’t exist in the game of Magic to start with. It is nowhere close to the high bar that unbannings require, even if it’s banning in the first place was questionable.

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I’ve toyed around with writing a “Ten Worst Designs in Magic’s History” article for a little while now, and just like any other Top 10 list drawing from a deep pool, it is hard to narrow down to just ten. Bridge from Below would make it without question, however. Setting aside the whole “mana cost with no text on the battlefield” thing, the mixture of power level, incentives, and tracking burden are almost unmatched (in the worst way possible), and I simply cannot fathom wanting to give more reason to play around with your graveyard in Modern after the last few years.

Bridge from Below is a prime example of how certain cards scale up in power as the card pool gets larger. It is easy to imagine plenty of Standard formats where the necessary pieces to make Bridge from Below tick simply don’t exist, but as one adds more cards, eventually the interactions emerge. Maybe Bridge from Below would be “safe”, maybe not in the immediate aftermath of an unban, but it would sooner or later boil over again. Forget about this one and move on.

3. Ignoring Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, Modern Horizons is a well-designed set that will have a positive impact on Modern for years to come.

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa: Fiction. I think Modern Horizons is a little too much on the strong side and the strength is concentrated in places I don’t like. Some of the cards in it are fun (for example, I’m happy the cycling lands are back, and I’m happy the horizon lands exist), but cards like Wrenn and Six and Force of Negation are too strong and warp the format – the only reason they haven’t done that yet is because Hogaak just eclipses everything. Other than those, you have several cards that do nothing but speed up decks that were already potentially too fast for the format, such as Scale Up or Eladamri’s Call.

I think Wrenn and Six in particular is a problem because it has the Goblin Chainwhirler issue in that it completely hoses a lot of decks, but you don’t get punished if you aren’t playing against these decks. It’s not really a metagame choice in any way – you’re going to play it, and people with one toughness creatures will be punished. One toughness is too large a subset of creatures for this card to just completely stop you from playing. That’s not even mentioning what it does to Legacy, where you can get Wasteland-locked very early in the game.

It’s definitely possible I’m wrong here and, once the Hogaak dust settles, Modern is the best it’s ever been, but if I have to pick one of the two options now then I think it’s not going to be just positives down the road.

Andrew Elenbogen: Fact. While I do think Wizards of the Coast went substantially too far on hate cards for both one-toughness creatures and artifacts, I think those are blips on the radar. Modern Horizons will have a positive impact on Modern for one main reason: Force of Negation.

Fundamentally, this card pushes Modern to be a slower, fairer format. It punishes all-in combo decks like NeoBrand and Dredge while being ineffective against archetypes like Jund and Humans. It’s good enough to maindeck several copies of, but exploitable enough to not warp the format around it. There’s even a chance it makes Azorius Control into one of the best decks in Modern, a result that would be as welcome as it is unprecedented.

Patrick Sullivan: Fact to the first half, Fiction to the second. Given the enormity of the challenge, I think the design team on Modern Horizons mostly made sharp bets. The lion’s share of the power is in cards made for playing longer games, in what I assume was an effort to push back against high-powered formats speeding up over time. It is reasonable to question the wisdom of the specific execution of Wrenn and Six, Fiery Islet, Knight-Captain of Eos, or any other individual design, but I agree with the ideology that would motivate trying to put the power in cards like that.

I do think Modern Horizons is a lot of initial excitement that will translate to an enormous debt over time, however. Modern is already a challenging format to manage only adding Standard sets to it and the diversity over time has shrunk. Having Lightning Bolt be head-and-shoulders above all the other cards might stifle innovation (“of course I have to play Lightning Bolt”) or add to it (“all of my cards are good against Lightning Bolt”); if you have forty cards of different types that are about as good as Lightning Bolt you just build out of a collection of those cards. Modern Horizons represents such an incredible influx of power into the format that even if the individual bets were well-thought-out, it will reduce the chance that novel cards from Standard-powered releases have a chance to enter the format.

4. Given Twiddle Storm is the first of many decks that will eventually get Lotus Field banned from Modern.

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa: Fiction. Twiddle Storm is a cool deck, but the bar for being banned in Modern is really high, and it doesn’t get there. We’ve clearly abandoned all pretense of Modern being a Turn 4 format, as there are already several decks that can kill Turn 3 (regular Storm, Burn, Neobrand, Leyline of Abundance combo, Infect, all Devoted Druid combos, the Puresteel Paladin deck, just to name a few), and even some that can kill Turn 2, and if these aren’t banned then I don’t think Twiddle Storm will be.

I also can’t imagine what future deck would get Lotus Field banned, given the card almost has a natural cap on how fast it can be (though you could respond to the ability and go off at instant-speed). If there is a super broken Lotus Field deck in the future, it likely involves Amulet of Vigor, and that will probably be the card that gets banned then.

Andrew Elenbogen: Fiction. I understand that this deck just did well at a Grand Prix but come on. It’s vulnerable to Chalice of the Void, discard spells, counter magic and to some extent graveyard hate. It also lacks Storm’s ability to sideboard into a pseudo-control deck and needs to find three actual lands in order to do anything. I think Twiddle Storm is fine, but it’s not even clear that it’s Tier 1 now.

Additionally, Lotus Field is a pretty difficult card to utilize, and I doubt there will be a lot of new cards printed that synergize with it. It’s not like WotC is going to bring back Arcane or make a super-pushed Twiddle variant anytime soon. This deck is probably about as good as it’s ever going to get, and it’s certainly not too good at the moment.

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. There are a lot of ways to do this sort of thing but at least Lotus Field plays a different mixture of cards than most of the other ways to do this sort of thing. I think Hogaak has ushered in a format light on interaction (why bother, you know?) and it has given an opportunity for fast, non-interactive strategies that don’t use the graveyard a chance to play above their weight class. Expect things to settle a bit once Thoughtseize or Logic Knot are cards you can consider casting again.

5. Commander-focused products like Commander 2019 should be legal for Modern play in addition to Legacy and Vintage.

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa: Fiction. I believe these cards made a negative impact in Legacy, as True-name Nemesis is arguably the least fun card to play against in Magic, and I’d prefer if that didn’t happen to Modern. Having these cards be legal for competitive play puts pressure on the set to have something that is strong enough to compete and then we end up in a spot where it’s potentially just too good.

The other concern is simply card availability. Competitive players might never even see a card from these sets, they certainly don’t draft it, and then you start worrying that you simply can’t find the card – this has happened before with cards from supplemental products – and if you do find it it’s incredibly expensive. Overall, I think we’re better off without it.

Andrew Elenbogen: Fiction. While I don’t think Baleful Strix would do any harm to Modern, and I’m fine with WotC adding cards directly to the format, I do not think that Commander products are a good way to do it. Honestly, I’m not even sure these products are a good place to add cards to Legacy and Vintage. To illustrate why, one needs to look no further than cards like Council’s Judgement and Palace Jailer. The Monarch was never intended to be a one-on-one mechanic and the fact that it’s influential in Legacy is counter-intuitive in the extreme. That is not to mention the fact that Palace Jailer works differently than every similar card printed in the last ten years. Council’s Judgement commits the sin of using a huge number of very confusing words to say something simple: “exile target permanent even if it can’t be targeted.”

Worse yet, if you misunderstand either of these very confusing cards, the in-game punishment is drastic. Voted for the wrong thing? I guess two of your cards get exiled. Did you remove Palace Jailer? Too bad, your creature stays gone. As long as Commander products are forced to contain powerful eternal staples and fun multiplayer mechanics, more cards like these will be printed. I would be fine with WotC creating more nostalgia-laden sets like Modern Horizons with deep draft formats and cards that bypass Standard. I am also not fine with them driving up the cost of casual products by randomly putting a True-Name Nemesis in each of them

Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I don’t think Magic is at a shortage of new cards being printed for Modern and I don’t think Modern is at a shortage of impactful cards being added to it, nor do I think Modern would be improved by more power being added to the format faster. I also think there is an artlessness to trying to shoehorn cards into competitive formats through ancillary channels and that artlessness increases the closer the format gets to Standard.

I know this isn’t the most popular sentiment in 2019 but I’d rather the Commander products be optimized for people who might actually want to play Commander and use the normal channels to add cards to Modern.