You CAN Play Type I #148: Trinisphere, and Does Fun in Type I Mean Interactivity?

Trinisphere wasn’t broken, but it was restricted anyway for contributions of “making the game unfun.” Is fun a viable reason to ban or restrict a card? Oscar Tan has his own opinion on this one and he’d like to hear yours: Did Wizards of the coast screw up when they restricted Trinisphere?

This is Type I. Broken things happen, right?

The restriction of Trinisiphere (see Aaron Forsythe, “Eight Plus One“) itself wasn’t as big a shock as the criteria used: Trinisphere was not, um, fun.

Yes, it really sounded that simple.

To quote Aaron, first, he said, “One of the most damning statements that can be made about a game is that it is not fun.

Then he continued, “We know what to do if a format is horribly unbalanced, but what do we do when it is equally unfun?”

Now let me quote the three-paragraph explanation on Trinisphere itself:

Trinisphere is a nasty card, no bones about it. It does ridiculous things in Vintage, especially combined with Mishra’s Workshop. As I’ve said in a previous column, we almost restricted it before it was even released.

“Now that it has been floating around for a while, the Vintage crowd understands that the card does good things for the format, and bad things to the format. While it does serve a role of keeping combo decks in check, it also randomly destroys people on turn one, with little recourse other than Force of Will. And those games end up labeled with that heinous word-unfun. Not just “I lost” unfun, but “Why did I even come here to play?” unfun. The power level of the card is no jokes either, which is a big reason why I don’t feel bad about its restriction.

“Vintage, like the other formats with large card pools, always runs the risk of becoming non-interactive, meaning the games are little more than both players “goldfishing” to see who can win first. Trinisphere adds to that problem by literally preventing the opponent from playing spells. We don’t want Magic to be about that, especially not that easily. If combo rears its head, we’ll worry about it later. But for now, we want to people to play their cards. Really.

Trinisphere was NOT broken!

Honestly, perhaps the person most shocked about the Trinisphere restriction is Oscar Tan.

In the last few bannings we’ve seen, there was a clear twofold criteria: 1) brokenness, and 2) clear proof.

The brokenness is easy. We’re talking about things from Tolarian Academy kills to unrestricted Fact or Fiction to Dark Ritual and Burning Wish (for Yawgmoth’s Will). The clear proof is similarly easy, and you just need to show a string of credible Top 8s that turn Type I into monotony, or a decklist that reliably goldfishes on Turn 1.

We’ve seen these and they were, well, unfun.

The thing is, this criteria clearly did not apply to Trinisphere. For every time I’ve cursed Trinisphere as I sat with a full hand but waiting for my next turn and next land drop, I’ve also answered a first-turn Trinisphere with a Force of Will and a first-turn Wasteland on Mishra’s Workshop and made my opponent cry.

With respect to combo, it’s a very good card to slow it down, but especially with cards like Rebuild, combo players claim a good matchup. As for what passes for aggro nowadays, Food Chain Goblins, to cite one example, has procedures that get around a Trinisphere, and also claims a good matchup.

Read Forsythe carefully, he said it was powerful, but he also clearly says it isn’t broken.

Neither is there any clear proof. Forsythe didn’t say anything, and if you check with Philip Stanton, there are a lot of other cards seeing more play in Top 8s.

So if it’s not brokenness, what kind of “unfun” are we looking at here?

This is very important since management has been paying more and more attention to the Type I community and relying on their input instead of extensive in-house playtesting. If you want to restrict a card or block a restriction, you have to know what to take to DCI.

Fun over brokenness: A throwback to Oscar Tan whining?

The best intuitive articulation I can give you is, for lack of a better term, “Oscar Tan whining.” In October 2003, I actually wrote “The State of the Metagame Address” and said that the bottom line is that Type I should be slowed down to make it more fun. You could push tempo to the envelope that you needed broken starts to be able to compete, and I thought it was getting as boring as everyone whipping out Glocks at a karate tournament.

The arguments were more theoretical than real. We have good arguments on why cards like Mishra’s Workshop, Bazaar of Baghdad and Illusionary Mask are overpowered and can trace their influence on the metagame. People who find certain cards annoying to play against have good anecdotes, too, and can make a case for feeling stifled. I felt it odd, for example, that Sligh became obsolete because it was too slow, and the eight Red Elemental Blast plan could not disrupt enough to make up. But if you were looking for Top 8 evidence, it just wasn’t there.

To emphasize, though, the coin flip factor was definitely there, talks of dominance aside. Do you mulligan into your Force of Will? Does he play Workshop-Sphere of Resistance first, or do you get to dump those Lion’s Eye Diamonds? Does he get to play his second Island before your first key spell?

The Ferrett himself weighed in and said I was a victim of getting what I wanted. Type I is changing, he said, so you have to keep up. JP Meyer, too, said that if we restricted everything some players felt was unfun, we would go back to the 2001 metagame.

I felt vindicated in a sense when, after this exchange, they had to restrict a lot of things in Extended just to put on the brakes. I don’t think a particular deck was dominating, but a lot of decks in the running were considering turn 3 as the late game. On the other hand, since then, both the level of Type I play and the diversity of decks has peaked.

So, I think even Oscar had to conclude that Oscar was just complaining about the sky falling, no matter how many gripes about Mishra’s Workshop locks he had.

And then Trinisphere was restricted, while admitting it wasn’t broken.

Incidentally, “Oscar Tan whining” was not quite limited to Oscar Tan back when that article was written in 2003. Out of a survey of sixteen players (see “The State of the Metagame Address Charts“), a number were asked what cards they would restrict.

Roughly speaking, present Mean Deck members had the lowest counts, the present Short Bus members were in the middle, and the old school Paragons had the highest.

I talked “Oscar Tan whining” to death in that article and you can refer to it, but I wonder of Mike Flores recent conceptual discussion of “non-interactivity” (see “The Limit of Interactivity“) accurately captures this kind of “unfun” for Type I.

With respect to Trinisphere itself, it actually got me thinking because while Stax does seem like a non-interactive deck in that it wants to lock you out of playing anything during the entire game, it’s easy enough to argue that by accepted definitions, Stax actually has to interact to lock you out.

Taking Trinisphere, it isn’t a turn 1 combo engine, so it isn’t non-interactive in the Lion’s Eye Diamond sense. But when it keeps a combo player from dropping cheap artifacts, my problem is that it isn’t so different from Force of Will or Wasteland, which were examples of interaction in Mike’s article.

Consider the problem: Are Stax and Trinisphere actually non-interactive or interactive?

You might say that Stax doesn’t want the opponent interacting and is therefore non-interactive, yet its pieces like Trinisphere arguably have to interact with the opponent, since if Trinisphere stops affecting the opponent, the lock falls apart.

What a conundrum indeed, especially if this is elevated to a restriction philosophy.

Are counters truly interactive?

I’d like to take a category of spells Mike specifically discussed as interactive, and see how we apply interactivity to them and Type I.

Mike said: “Counters are generally highly interactive cards (involving decisions based around the other player’s cards and predictions about what he might [be able to] do next), but in Rome, the ‘free’ nature of Force of Will made it perfect for forcing through a combo (in a room full of Force of Will).”

For a Type I player, this might mean that your circa 2000 mono-Blue player is “interactive” and therefore one of the good guys, while your Gay Fish player is similarly “interactive” and therefore equally one of the good guys.

For a Type I player, something is wrong with this statement. Let’s play some old tapes of famous mono blue duels:

Yoda: Interacting, am I. (plays Fact or Fiction, gets Mana Drain and Mana Leak)

Patsy: Um, do you have a counter?

Yoda: Why not find out do you? (plays Fact or Fiction, gets Force of Will and Misdirection)

Patsy: Can I actually play a spell?

Yoda: Do, or do not. There is no try. (plays Fact or Fiction, gets Mana Drain and Mana Leak)

And then:

Patsy: Casting a…

Maul: :: hisssssssss!!! :: (responds with Daze then attacks with Spiketail Hatchling, Cloud of Fairies, and Faerie Conclave the following turn)

Patsy: Casting a…

Maul: :: hisssssssss!!! :: (responds with Force of Will then attacks with Spiketail Hatchling, Cloud of Fairies, and Faerie Conclave the following turn)

Patsy: Casting a…

Maul: :: hisssssssss!!! :: (sacrifices Spiketail Hatchling then attacks with Cloud of Fairies and Faerie Conclave the following turn)

When these decks work in other formats, from Blue/White control to things with Meddling Mage instead of Force of Will, it’s not generally different.

Is aggro-control truly interactive?

Counters are used in control and aggro-control decks, and Mike labeled both as highly interactive decks. He talked of Extended Counter-Sliver with Duress and Force of Will, for example.

From the above Darth Maul lampoon, though, you wonder if counter-based aggro-control really seeks to be interactive. It’s hard to defend this. At heart, an aggro-control deck just wants to disrupt and slow down the opponent until its slower clock carries the day. Sure, it has to pick what to counter, but the bottom line is it couldn’t really care less what it’s countering because it plans to just counter for several turns until the clock runs out.

If you don’t agree with this description with respect to Fish, then let’s just talk about Growing ‘Tog (see “Head to Head: Growing ‘Tog“), and I don’t think you’ll disagree.

This kind of deck is forced to truly interact and start thinking about what the opponent is going to do only when the clock is hit by spot removal and stalling with the counters is suddenly pointless. Consider that Plaguebearer was one of the most ingenius sideboard cards against mono-Blue Fish (see “Head to Head: Fish”), and additional spot removal was what you wanted against Growing ‘Tog.

Looking at the disruption in other aggro-control categories, you come to the same conclusion.

Old Black-based aggro-control like Suicide Black and Mask relied on discard like Duress, Unmask, and Hymn to Tourach. These decks aimed to win with their fast clocks and your temporarily empty hand; in short, they prefer that you not interact while getting your face smashed by a Phyrexian Negator or Phyrexian Dreadnought.

Finally, Mishra’s Workshop-based aggro-control similarly used Trinisphere and Crucible of Worlds to keep you from interacting with the Juggernaut or Dreadnought on the board.

Because aggro-control by definition just seeks to use disruption to hold open a small window for its beatdown (see “What IS Aggro-Control?“), I think they are actually very non-interactive by Mike’s terms.

This is especially seen when you look at The Control Player’s Bible’s aggro sideboarding section. Because most aggro decks cannot race other Type I decks, they sideboard disruptive control elements and move towards aggro-control – the lone and antiquated exception being adding Rushwood Dryad to mono-Green Stompy (see “Aggro vs. ‘The Deck’“.

In fact, I concluded that aggro is now dead in Type I, and all “aggro” decks just maindeck the disruption (see “The Death of Aggro“).

Thus, in terms of “interactivity,” Gay Fish, as we all intuitively know, is really a traitor to the Dark Side.

(I note that Mike was using the rock-paper-scissors framework of aggro-combo-control. I think in the context of interactivity, distinguishing aggro-control is very important, since your interactive aggro deck is likely to be an aggro-control deck unless you expect a lot of creature combat.)

Is control truly interactive?

What about the Blue-based control decks, then? Surely, Oscar, “The Deck” is one of the good guys, and your own Control Player’s Bible’s history section names the decks Mike Flores named such as Oath and Draw-Go as its inheritors.

Okay, your control decks from “The Deck” to your Type II blue/white are Mike’s poster boys for the interactive deck. However, the question is, does this apply to the current viable Type I “control” decks, all of which have combo kills?

Certainly, our argument that Gay Fish really wants to be non-interactive has to apply to Oath. For example:

Rocky McCumbee, Oath, 4th Place, 2005 Star City Richmond Power Nine

4 Oath of Druids

4 Intuition

4 Brainstorm

4 Force of Will

4 Counterspell

4 Mana Leak

4 Accumulated Knowledge

2 Impulse

2 Misdirection

1 Spirit of the Night

1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

1 Gaea’s Blessing

1 Time Walk

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Sol Ring

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Pearl

1 Lotus Petal

1 Black Lotus

4 Forbidden Orchard

4 Polluted Delta

4 Island

3 Wasteland

1 Tropical Island

1 Strip Mine


4 Arcane Laboratory

4 Energy Flux

2 Control Magic

2 Hurkyl’s Recall

1 Iridescent Angel

1 Pristine Angel

1 Platinum Angel

Obviously, its ideal game is to force a turn 1 or 2 Oath of Druids with its fourteen counters, then counter everything for the next two turns while Akroma and Spirit of the Night kick in.

If you think about Oath as non-interactive in this way, then you also have to ask, what about Control Slaver?

Chris McDaniel, Control Slaver, 7th Place, 2005 Star City Richmond Power Nine

4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

4 Goblin Welder

4 Brainstorm

4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Duress

2 Mindslaver

1 Triskelion

1 Platinum Angel

1 Pentavus

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Tinker

1 Time Walk

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Mana Crypt

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Mox Jet

1 Sol Ring

1 Black Lotus

1 Lotus Petal

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Darksteel Citadel

3 Underground Sea

4 Volcanic Island

4 Island

4 Flooded Strand


4 Sphere of Resistance

3 Lava Dart

3 Rack and Ruin

2 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Echoing Truth

1 Duress

Even if you argue that this is Type I and every deck is really a combo deck, it still doesn’t sound right to call all these control decks inherently interactive.

Moreover, even when you talk about the much, much slower control like “The Deck,” I wrote that whenever these decks drop their win condition such as Morphling, Exalted Angel, or several Decree of Justice tokens, they go aggro-control. They only have to counter everything of significance for the next four or five turns, and are not interested in interacting (see “‘The Deck’ is Now Aggro-Control?“). You saw this when Fact or Fiction was unrestricted in 2000, and what I still enjoy calling Britney Spears’ Boobs reached this point so quickly that it arguably aimed to be as non-interactive as today’s Oath (see “Brainless Players vs. Mono Blue“).

Britney Spears’ Boobs, Oscar Tan, October 2001 Test Deck

Counters (14)

4 Mana Drain

4 Mana Leak

4 Force of Will

2 Misdirection

Card Drawing/Manipulation (9)

1 Ancestral Recall

4 Impulse

4 Fact or Fiction

Others (10)

1 Time Walk

3 Powder Keg

4 Morphling

2 Back to Basics

Mana (27)

1 Black Lotus

5 Moxen

1 Sol Ring

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Strip Mine

2 Wasteland

16 Island

(The deck is labeled B.S.B. because the more popular nickname – Blue Bull Sh** – is less pleasant to use in public. Besides, B.S.B. better reflects this pile’s lower IQ level.)

In conclusion, again, you can say that mono-Blue players are sleeping with Gay Fish.

At present, one of the most important ways to force Blue-based control decks to “interact” is to slip something past the turn 2 “flashpoint” of Mana Drain, Counterspell, and Mana Leak. A lot of this is done with the threat of a turn 1 kill, or with a turn 1 Mishra’s Workshop threat.

Who’s the beatdown in Type I

Speaking of interactivity, Mike did go back to his classic article, “Who’s the Beatdown,” and added the caveat that when you force another deck to interact, you have to do so with efficient enough tempo or you just won’t be able to force interaction. He gave a lot of examples, and a lot of the interaction failures were when the interactive deck could no longer disrupt the opponent’s tempo.

I understood the original “Who’s the Beatdown” to say this:

1. Count your deck’s fundamental turn and your opponent’s deck’s fundamental turn.

2. If your deck goldfishes faster than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Beatdown and move to win while ignoring your slower opponent.

3. If your deck goldfishes slower than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Control and move to disrupt your faster opponent’s tempo.

Thinking about interactivity in these relative terms, noting Mike’s caveat about relative speed, I think applying interactivity to Type I isn’t very simple, and applying it as a restriction philosophy might need more thought.

Consider that everything in Type I is either brokenly-fast, short-of-broken-fast, or just plain extremely fast, or able to disrupt the opponent beginning Turn 1. Thus, by nature, every deck from Fish to Meandeck Tendrils arguably has a non-interactive ultimate game plan, even if the bits and pieces from Mana Drain to Trinisphere can be argued as interactive.

Again, if you keep trying to force interaction, you might say there’s no complete guarantee you will do it fast enough that you cannot be ignored. If you do interact, it’s for a short period, just long enough to stall your opponent and win, and Growing ‘Tog as the king of historical aggro-control decks is the prime example.

Going back to Trinisphere, I can’t say that I disagree since it is damn annoying and it can turn the opening into a coin-flip question of whether he has Trinisphere and a Mishra’s Workshop and whether you have a Force of Will or a land-heavy hand.

However, if you consider this kind of coin-flip situation sufficiently non-interactive to be sufficiently annoying, then you have to be very careful. Again, I said there’s been enough “Oscar Tan whining” about coin flip openings in the past that have fallen short of brokenness and clear proof.

Perhaps the best example right now is playing against Meandeck Tendrils. It has its statistical problems that bite over ten matches, and the probabilities of player error add more statistical problems. However, if it gets a Turn 1 win hand against your disruption-light hand, it’s still a 100% win for that game and all the statistics in the world won’t console you.

If you can Oscar Tan whine that this prospect is sufficiently unfun, then you can put Dark Ritual on the chopping block, and there are no more Suicide Black diehards who will throw themselves in the line of fire.

Again, if you review the “State of the Metagame” chart, there are a few other examples such as Intuition, and you can add a few more today like Goblin Welder.

From the tone of Forsythe’s explanation, I think we are assured that this definition of “unfun” will not be used to justify restrictions very often, and it seems to be a rare exception to brokenness and clear proof. Trinisphere, specifically, aside from being annoying, had a very visible Turn 1 effect and was not in a combo deck.

However, while it may not necessarily be the first step down a slippery slope, it’s still there to think about, and part of the thinking has to be a clearer articulation of how interactivity really applies to Type I.

Till next week! I hope!

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

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