Thoughts On The Banned & Restricted List

This week Brian shares his thoughts about the banned and restricted list in Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Standard. Post what you think in the comments!

For as much as people (myself included) complain about various aspects of the banned and restricted list, the list itself is ultimately a good and important element of tournament Magic. With no banned and restricted list at all, players would be forced to play only broken and non-interactive Magic.

My mana base is four Black Lotuses and four of each Mox, and we all agree that is not okay.

Obviously, 99.9% of us all agree that there is an area on the far end of the spectrum where we desire to see some sort of order brought to the formats we play. The 99% agree that banning and restricting cards is a necessary part of tournament play, and everybody consents to the existence of this list. However, once we move out of the vivid area where we all agree that the Power Nine needs to be banned or restricted in Legacy or Vintage, discussion of which cards go too far and which cards haven’t gone far enough becomes a touchy subject to many players.

Ultimately, it becomes necessary to weed a card out of a format when it does one of three things:

1. It produces mana too quickly (i.e. broken mana acceleration/production).

2. It produces an effect that is too powerful for the mana investment (i.e. it is undercosted).

3. It is a fine card on its own, but when teamed up with another card, the effect far exceeds the mana investment (i.e. a broken combo).

Of course, we are all entitled to our own opinions about how much and fast mana is too much or how undercosted is too undercosted, and that is where all of the disagreements come about. My definition of too much is often very different from what other people find as desirable conditions to play Magic. Obviously, difference in all forms creates the spice of life.

Many cards are only competitive because they are undercosted.

Food for thought.                              

Add one colorless mana to the cost of these cards and tell me they are even playable.

The fact of the matter is that if these cards cost one more colorless mana to cast they would not be playable in Eternal formats. The reason they are good because what a player gets is better than what they need to invest into the card.

Interestingly enough, I think Stoneforge Mystic would still see lots of competitive play at 2W, which really speaks volumes about how great that card is and why it is rightfully banned in Modern while cards like Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf play on.

It’s also important to note that we as players don’t actually get to vote or decide the fates of the formats that we play and support. The DCI looks at tournament results and data and makes unbiased decisions about what will be in the best interest of everybody moving forward, which is good because most people are not very objective about their opinions regarding the B&R list.

Go to any Vintage or Legacy forum board the week before an announcement and you’ll see people making the most absurd claims and assertions:

"Dear DCI, if you ban Brainstorm in Modern, I will jump off a bridge. And my blood will be on your hands if I do. Will you be able to live with yourself?"

"If they restrict Lodestone Golem in Vintage, my Mishra’s Workshops will be worthless, and I will quit the game."

I’m glad that players don’t get to make the decisions about what the formats they play look like because most players cannot remove themselves enough from the situation to make a good decision about what would create the most interesting and dynamic format.

People like to talk about decks in terms of them being their own. If they restrict Lion’s Eye Diamond, I won’t be able to play my The Epic Storm deck anymore!

While it’s true that player won’t be able to play The Epic Storm anymore, it’s also true that thousands of players won’t be able to play that particular tier 1 deck anymore.

It’s also important to conceptualize Magic formats and metagames as completely contextual and based on the available card pool. Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall are only the best cards in the game because there have not been cards printed that are more powerful. If the game were full of zero mana make four, five, and six mana artifacts or one mana draw four, five, and six cards, those cards would quickly become outclassed.

Obviously, this example is hyperbole in the cases of Ancestral and Lotus because they are the best cards ever printed and it is reasonably clear that Wizards will never print new cards like these ever again. Discussion of the necessity of banning or restricting Black Lotus is a moot point because we all agree that broken outliers like these warrant inclusion on basically any list.

The context is important when looking at these lists because what was unacceptable years ago can become perfectly reasonable years down the line. For instance, look at Land Tax as a card. It was on the Legacy banned list for years and years, and it came off and hardly sees play.

Funny story. In the week before Land Tax got unbanned in Legacy, I was driving back from a Grand Prix with Michael Jacob and Gabriel Nassif, and we were talking about what might happen. I asked him, "What do you think about unbanning Land Tax?"  To which he vehemently replied, "Absolutely not! That card is so broken! Control would be unbeatable!"

It’s true that years ago Land Tax was completely broken and overpowered given the card pool, but things change. His conception of Land Tax was obviously having played with and against the card at a time where it was truly one of the most overpowered things that players could be doing at that time, which obviously colored his opinion on the matter.

Power creep is a real thing, and the cards do tend to get better and better as time goes on. While it’s true that they don’t make ’em like Swords to Plowshares, Brainstorm, and Dark Ritual anymore, some card types (especially threats and hate cards) tend to become more efficient as time goes on.

I like formats that are dynamic and that provide me as a player and deckbuilder with lots of interesting and viable options. With that being said, it’s reasonable to assume that the more cards available in a format, the more options I would have at my disposal.

The problem with that logic is that when some of the cards break any of rules #1, #2, or #3 that one’s options become extremely limited. If strategy X is broken for one reason or another, then a player has to either play that deck, jump through hoops to have game against that deck, or play another deck that is at least as outright powerful as that deck.

One thing that I really enjoy is when Wizards prints cards that are extremely efficient at fighting broken strategies. Every good strategy ought to have a foil.

Dropping your hand and going the weenie beatdown rout?

Dredging and playing out of your graveyard?

Have an affinity for artifacts?

Splashing a million colors?

The list goes on and on and on . . .

Vintage Restricted List

A couple of years ago I came out really strong on wanting Bazaar of Baghdad restricted in Vintage. I said that the deck was oppressive to the format, that it did something that was fundamentally broken (won the game on turn 2 without needing to use mana to cast a spell), and that many strategies simply didn’t have any way to fight against it.

While people remember that I said Bazaar of Baghdad should be restricted, they forget that I also said that if it isn’t going to be restricted then Wizards needs to print good, efficient, and playable foils for an all-in graveyard strategy in Vintage.

Now I’m cool with Dredge existing.

I would rather have Bazaar of Baghdad in the format as a four-of with legitimate hate cards existing to fight against it than for it to be restricted. I’m really happy that these cards now exist and that every deck has a way to combat Dredge if they so choose.

The joke was that I wanted to play a Bant deck in Vintage back in the day and I simply didn’t have options for beating Dredge that actually worked. I was playing four Tormod’s Crypts, four Ravenous Traps, and two Scavenging Oozes and wasn’t even 50% after sideboard against them! Oh, and I basically didn’t have a sideboard for anybody else either.

I’ve been really happy with Vintage over the past six months. I’ve gotten a chance to play a few tournaments and have been building and testing out decks on a weekly basis. Vintage appears to have a ton of diversity at the moment, and for that reason I wouldn’t change anything right now.

If anything, there are a few cards that could come off and not a whole lot would really change. I’d start with the safest one:

Poor Gifts.

Nobody even plays with one Gifts Ungiven anymore, so I don’t think that there’s much harm in unrestricting the card. Most of the time Gifts is just going to be a bad Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Context is also really important when talking about Gifts Ungiven.

Are these good against Gifts Ungiven?

Back in the day when people were playing decks like Gifts and Slaver, it’s important to note that there were no one-mana counterspells! Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm would have provided a ton of easy answers to Gifts decks.


All Spell Pierces and Flusterstorms noted, Thirst for Knowledge is an unrestrictable Magic card in Vintage. Control Slaver and its Thirst for Knowledges were always better than Gifts Ungiven, and I’m of the opinion that a four-of Thirst for Knowledge deck would very easily be the best deck and dominate Vintage if the card were unrestricted.

Mana Drain is always secretly the best deck—let’s not make it the best deck again.

One last thought on the Vintage restricted list:

I’ve got books by everybody!

I have mixed thoughts on the unrestriction of Library of Alexandria. On one hand, I believe that it would be a good deck in its own right. I’m not sure it would be as good as Gush or Dark Confidant, but I could certainly see a four-of Landstill deck being a very solid strategy.

The card is non-interactive. You just sit back and draw two or three cards per turn and kill everything that the opponent does. So I don’t really think the card allows for fun or interesting games of Magic.

The other thing that I don’t like about the card is that it probably becomes a premier sideboard strategy in a lot of decks. "Well, I’m playing against a deck without Wasteland, so I board in four Library of Alexandrias." While it does offer a depth of strategic diversity (which is good), it also creates games that are likely to be highly non-interactive (which I think is bad).

The other thing that I don’t like is that it would likely spike the cost of Library of Alexandria into the $400 dollar range, which is really annoying. Vintage is already a super expensive format to play, and it doesn’t need to be made even more so.

Another reason that I don’t like unrestricting Library of Alexandria is that it would create another four-of card that would make it hard for players to fit within the ten to fifteen card proxy limit of many Vintage tournaments.

While I think that Vintage will eventually see a time where players are free to play four Library of Alexandrias, I would like that time to be a few years down the line.

Legacy Banned List

I have long been one of the most outspoken proponents of banning Brainstorm and Show and Tell in Legacy. The fact that Brainstorm has been legal for all these years basically blows my mind and has been in my opinion the DCI pandering to the masses.

Ancestral, Walk, and then Brainstorm—the most powerful nonartifact spells ever printed.

Obviously, I excluded Contract from Below because we don’t talk about that card.

The existence of Brainstorm has long provided for the dominance of blue decks over the format, which I believe has really stifled diversity over the years. I don’t understand why people would even bother playing decks that don’t play Brainstorm when provided the option to play with it.

Let me show you how to get to Emrakul Street.

Show and Tell is a card that was once fine and fair that the power creep in high-end creatures has made completely unreasonable. I have said many times that Show and Telling an opponent a Verdant Force is fine but an Emrakul or Griselbrand is a little outrageous.

These are opinions I have held for a few years now.

However, today is the first time in the past two years that I’m going to write something to the contrary of the opinion I’ve held for so long.

My hope for the Legacy banned and restricted list is that there will be no changes!

Let’s get over this case by case.

Show and Tell

Does Show and Tell violate at least two of my rules for why cards ultimately get banned? Yes. The card costs too few mana for what it does, and it enables a very broken combination by cheating cards into play that simply end the game. Check.

Here is why I would leave Show and Tell alone for the time being:

Here I come to make everybody miserable forever!

True-Name Nemesis is a completely messed-up Magic card. The card should realistically cost five mana for what it does.

Show and Tell is one of the few decks in the format that doesn’t care about True-Name Nemesis and can keep aggro-control decks from really taking over the format. If there’s no Show and Tell, what keeps the format from being all about putting an Umezawa’s Jitte on a Merfolk Progenitus?

While I think that Legacy gives up a lot of strategic diversity by allowing Brainstorm to exist and for blue decks to have an obvious advantage (via having the best card in the format not close), I think that banning one of the blue decks will only tighten another blue deck’s stranglehold on the top tier.

The other reason I wouldn’t ban Show and Tell (yet) relates directly to why I don’t think Brainstorm should be banned either (yet).


Did you guys hear about this new card in Born of the Gods?

The ghost with the most hate.

In my conversation about Bazaar of Baghdad earlier, I said that I hate when something is the best and completely unchecked in the format. I feel that when those conditions are met, we are left with the choice of play with the enemy, play something else that stands a chance against the enemy, or lose to the enemy, which means the format is in a bad place and something needs to change.

If things are stale and unbalanced, I favor banning or restricting. However, I always prefer that Wizards prints and provides players with an answer to try instead of banning a card.

With that being said, Spirit of the Labyrinth seems like a fantastic card to combat Brainstorm in Legacy, and I anticipate that it will see a lot of Legacy play.

I can only imagine how brutal it will be when people start Aether Vialing Spirit of the Labyrinth down in response to people trying to Brainstorm. How about you draw zero and put two cards back on top of your library?

I’m content to wait and see how the Spirit will impact the format and consider the possibility that this one card could potentially help to make the world safer for non Brainstorm decks to exist.

The only thing I might change about Legacy right now is that I would be very happy to see Mental Misstep back in the format. I believe it was a big mistake to ban the card in the first place. My thought is that the card was very good against the way people built decks in the format and that players were not given enough time to adapt to the card being around. Sure, it’s a great card and is very good against a lot of different things, but it’s a reactive card for goodness sake.

I find it hard to believe that a narrow counterspell is too powerful to exist in a format where people are allowed to play with cards like Brainstorm, Show and Tell, and Stoneforge Mystic.

I wish I could counter my opponent’s Brainstorms.

I understand how good the card is, but let’s face it—it’s no Mana Drain!

I like that the card takes away some of the tremendous advantage that decks like Delver have when they are on the play. The opening of Delver or Aether Vial + Daze or Wasteland could really use a foil like Mental Misstep to help players who are on the draw to not be immediately in such a huge hole.

I don’t like the argument that "everybody can play it" as reasoning for Misstep being banned either because there are already lots of cards that fit that description: Wasteland, Sensei’s Divining Top, Brainstorm. (Let’s be fair—most people play blue decks.)

I played at the SCG Legacy Open in Columbus a few weeks ago (6-2-1 record, 27th place), and I had an absolute blast. I played against:

Round 1: U/W Stoneblade, 2-1 W
Round 2: High Tide, 2-0, W
Round 3: U/W/R Delver, 1-2 L
Round 4: U/R Delver, 2-1 W
Round 5: Storm, 2-1 W
Round 6: RUG Delver, 2-1 W
Round 7: Sneak and Snow, 1-2 L
Round 8:  Bant, 2-0 W
Round 9:  ID

Hmm, looks like eight for eight on four-of Brainstorm decks.

I really hope that Spirit of the Labyrinth helps to create diversity in Legacy, and for the time being I’m more than willing to give it a chance before calling for cards to be banned.

Modern Banned List

I would be surprised if nothing changes before the Pro Tour. It seems that every time there is a Modern Pro Tour the DCI makes some change to the format in order to shake things up. The only cards I think would be reasonable to ban in Modern given my definition of ban-worthy cards are:

Breaking the rules and breaking the format?

Personally, I would not ban any of these cards at the moment, but I believe they are really the only considerable options.

Mox Opal clearly breaks all the rules of mana production. If Chrome Mox is banned because it’s too good, well, Opal is even better than Chrome Mox.

It really only goes in Affinity, and there are more than enough cards out there to keep Affinity in check:  Stony Silence, Ancient Grudge, Hurkyl’s Recall. If Affinity is ever the best, it won’t be the best for long. The "there is good hate for the deck" argument applies as a reason I would not ban Mox Opal.

Deathrite Shaman is one of those cards that should really cost 1B/G. It is pretty obvious that in a format that can power it up with fetch lands that it is worth a lot more than one mana.

That being said, it is a one-mana dork with some upside. I get that the card provides a lot of versatility and value, but seriously it dies to everything.

Goryo’s Vengeance creates turn 2 wins in combination with Griselbrand, which has been said to be unacceptable for the format. While the nut draw violates every rule of the format, the combo itself is very vulnerable to almost everything. The deck is a glass cannon, and for all of its raw power, there are a lot of ways to make it pay.

Of these cards, I think that Deathrite Shaman has the greatest chance of being banned because of the amount of high-profile finishes it has put up in the past year. It seems like Jund has been a really dominant strategy with regard to tournament finishes. I don’t expect it to get banned, but if it did, I would understand why.

I really like Modern the way it is, and if it were left up to me, I wouldn’t change anything, yet.

However, I have a strong suspicion that something sweet is going to come off of the banned list this time around.

Hello old friends.

One, the other, or both.

Bitterblossom is obviously a scary card, and those of us who have played extensively with and against it still have nightmares about the two-mana tribal enchantment.

Two things to keep in mind when thinking about Bitterblossom and its possible return to Modern:

1. It always had some serious help.

In old Extended, Faeries and friends were aided by better mana (Polluted Delta), Riptide Laboratory, and damage on the stack.

So much value!

Animate Mutavault, block, damage on the stack, activate Riptide Laboratory, and bounce my Mutavault.

Venser, Shaper Savant + Riptide Laboratory = Capsize with buyback.

Lock you out of the game with Bitterblossom + Spellstutter Sprite + Riptide Laboratory.

And in new Extended Faeries had some help from their friend Jace:

People forget that Bitterblossom had a little help from its friends over the years.

I don’t really think that Jace, the Mind Sculptor needs much of an explanation these days.

Both iterations of Faeries had some very big players that would not be present in Modern in the form of Riptide Laboratory and Jace. I get that Snapcaster Mage would likely be a pretty good, but Snappy is no Jace.

Fighty tiger, where art thou?

When the DCI banned Wild Nacatl and Green Sun’s Zenith, the objective was to make the world safe for people to play aggro decks other than the obvious best ones. It didn’t work.

Also, it’s important to remember that when Nacatl got banned in Modern it also had some help from a powerful friend:

Need some reach?

People will play whatever deck has the one-drops (i.e. Deathrite Shaman aka Jund).

Since there is no Wild Nacatl, I don’t think it’s very surprising that there’s no good green-based aggro deck in the format.

Personally, I have always hated Wild Nacatl as a card and will continue to hate Wild Nacatl for as long as I play Magic.

I don’t see how it would be reasonable to have Bitterblossom in Modern and not Fighty Cat. So I kind of view the pair as linked in that sense.

I also think that if Bitterblossom and Wild Nacatl don’t ruin the format outright by being too good in the long run that these unbannings would be incredibly popular with players.

What would get people more hyped up about a format that Wizards wants to popularize than allowing players to play with two of the most popular Constructed strategies of all time, Faeries and Zoo? It’s also important to remember that Bitterblossom has never been legal in Modern as a natural check and balance to Zoo.

All things considered, I will be surprised if something gets banned and just as surprised if something doesn’t come off the list this time around.

Standard Banned List

In it for the long haul.

Pack Rat is a thing. Deal with it.

I would be absolutely shocked if they banned it.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing how things unfold in the upcoming weeks and to playing some Magic. Even if nothing changes, everything always changes. We are on the cusp of a new set release, and there are many promising cards for a wide variety of formats that I am really excited to get to play with.

Change it all or change nothing—it doesn’t matter because we just want to play some cards.