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The Great Banlist Experiment

Written by Tyler Priemer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

The Great Banlist Experiment

Tyler Priemer

Tyler has been playing TCGs for nearly 20 years. A long brewer with a knack for Legacy, there's nothing he loves more than making crazy decks a reality

From late December to early January, there is absolutely nothing to do Magic-wise if you don’t have Magic Online. Sure, you can watch holiday cube streams, but if you actually want to play some Magic, there isn’t a whole lot going on. And God forbid you have a Mac, as I do, further restricting your Magic playing. All I could really do was wait for Born of the Gods and the next DCI banlist announcements. This void of entertainment, along with a couple days off from work, inspired me to conduct the following experiments. This is the result of many sleepless nights and an incredible strain on my mental state. Enjoy!

Format banlists are not something to be taken lightly. While often reactionary in nature, banning a card takes a lot of time and consideration for the health and future of a format. It’s something that doesn’t happen often, but an even rarer occurrence is unbanning a card. Often these cards were banned for very good reasons, but as the game grows and evolves with new sets and staples, there are arguments to be made for unbanning particular cards. With my infinite boredom, I set off on a mission to see if some of Legacy’s most notorious banned cards would be safe to bring back.

WORLDGORGER DRAGON

Right off the bat I knew this was going to be a fun card to test. For the life of me I can’t remember when or even why it was banned in the first place, but in my mind there is absolutely no reason why it should stay banned. Worldgorger Dragon’s strength lies in using Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead to reanimate it, causing a loop of blinking and bringing back the enchantment with the Dragon’s abilities. By floating mana in between each instance of exiling all your permanents, you can generate infinite mana for something like Oona, Queen of the Fae or Banefire to kill the opponent. Thanks to Entomb and discard outlets like Faithless Looting, this combo can go off as early as turn 1.

Why is it safe to unban? One word: Griselbrand. There is already a deck that does virtually the same thing (reanimating a giant creature and winning that turn) called Tin Fins, and that deck has the advantage of using Griselbrand to draw through your entire deck. With Dragon Combo you pretty much need to have your win condition or Infernal Tutor in your hand or you have nothing to do with your mana. In my opinion, so long as Griselbrand is legal in Legacy there is absolutely no reason for any creature to stay banned, but will unbanning Worldgorger Dragon suddenly cause everyone to drop their demons and pick up the infinite mana deck? Absolutely not. Tin Fins will still be a deck, but what this does is sheds some limelight on lesser known cards that are more financially viable for newer Legacy players. If you were getting into Legacy and you had the choice of spending $60 for your Goryo’s Vengeances and Shallow Graves, $80 for Griselbrands, and $160 for Emrakuls, or spending $20 for the entire core of Dragon Combo, which one would you choose? It would provide a cheaper alternative for Legacy players looking to play a reanimator/combo deck without bleeding their wallets dry.

HERMIT DRUID

This is a card I had fond memories playing in the Standard of my youth, and I remember quite well why it was banned to begin with. Untapping with this creature in play meant you could mill your entire deck for a combo kill, either by reanimating Sutured Ghoul, Angel of Glory’s Rise, or go for the Dredge kill with Flame-Kin Zealot. While milling your entire deck is certainly powerful, in the current Legacy there are two creatures that can do what Hermit Druid does but faster: Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer. Oops All Spells is already a viable Legacy deck, one that I’ve written about before in exceptional prose, and it combos off considerably faster and more reliably than Hermit Druid. After all, with Hermit Druid you have to untap with it. There is a substantial amount of removal being played in Legacy right now, and having to wait a turn to go off can be deadly.

So why bother unbanning it when it’s so clearly outmatched? While Hermit Druid is the slower alternative, it does grant you the ability to run nonbasic lands in your deck, creating a kind of hybrid combo-control deck capable of protecting itself with countermagic like the Hermit decks in Vintage. You don’t have to go all-in in a single turn like All Spells. You can drop the Hermit and sit back until the coast is clear. The closest comparison of the two would be Sneak & Show and Tin Fins. While they share similar game plans in cheating a legendary fatty into play, one is clearly more explosive than the other, but the other has the ability to protect itself with counterspells. Does being slower make Sneak & Show any less viable? Of course not, but having an alternative archetype available gives players more choice in how they play their cards. The same could be said of All Spells and Hermit Combo if Wizards give Hermit Druid a chance.

MIND’S DESIRE

Yes, I tested unbanning Mind’s Desire in Legacy. Save your horrified gasps and hear me out. When I began testing these cards, I knew Mind’s Desire would be hands down the most entertaining card to play. My only experience with it prior was in EDH and my proxied Vintage Storm deck, so I knew it was powerful as a 1-of. Where things get tricky is that the mana generation in Vintage Storm is VASTLY different from what is available in Legacy. In Vintage, getting to 4UU to cast Mind’s Desire is relatively easy due to Moxes and Black Lotus, but Legacy Storm is reliant on Rituals and mana rocks to get their mana. I was incredibly surprised how difficult it was for a deck like ANT or TES to get to 4UU since they tend to max out at five mana for Ad Nauseum or Past in Flames. Of course, once I was able to cast Mind’s Desire, I pretty much won on the spot, but that felt no different from resolving Past in Flames.

I then turned my attention to High Tide. While the archetype has fallen out of favour lately, I wanted to see what was possible running a full four Mind’s Desire. For the sake of goldfishing, I dropped the countermagic entirely and made a list that played like an all-in combo deck, and I also dropped Blue Sun’s Zenith as a win condition for Tendrils of Agony in addition to the Brain Freeze I was running normally. What I found was that despite running a set of Mind’s Desire, the earliest the deck could combo off was on turn 3. Hell, I’ve played Modern decks faster than that, so what gives?

At its core, despite being able to generate obscene amounts of mana, High Tide still requires lands to be in play to get off the ground. All Mind’s Desire did to the deck was made it more consistent and made the turn you combo off go faster. One of my least favourite things about the deck from when I played High Tide was how tedious the process of comboing was. With Mind’s Desire, I was winning in a reasonable time frame while still having to fight the same Flusterstorms and Mindbreak Traps that Storm has had to deal with since their printing. Given High Tide’s decline over the past few months, bringing back Mind’s Desire could give High Tide the shot in the arm it needs to become tournament viable again.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Survival of the Fittest is probably the most controversial card I tested with, simply because it is one of the most recent cards to go on the banlist. After all, thanks to the unique recursion of Vengevine with the Survival engine, the environment that caused its banning was so toxic that it prevented any alternative strategies. At the time, there were really only three viable decks: GW Survival, UG Survival, and Combo Survival. Showing up with something else was incredibly risky. I was just getting into Legacy as it was banned, so I never really got the opportunity to play against this supposed terror. Naturally, I sleeved up UG Survival and jammed some games against some of the top decks of today.

Suffice to say, I could not buy a win with all the money in the world. The proliferation of Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay in the current Legacy metagame made playing with Vengevine damn near impossible. Deathrite is faster than Survival and eats all your creatures, and thanks to Abrupt Decay they can destroy your Survival and there is nothing you can do about it. Even worse was the UWR Delver matchup, since they have both Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares to kill off all your Vengevines while presenting a clock in the air. Post-board they even had Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage as the last nails in the coffin. It was brutal, so I turned my attention to the combo match-ups. Surely I could win there, right?

Hell. No. Even with a full suite of Force of Wills, three Spell Pierce, and two Daze, Sneak and Show steamrolled me. Even when their Show and Tell let me put down Survival and start my engine a turn early, it didn’t mean a whole hell of a lot when Emrakul would annihilate my entire board. While the Storm match was a bit easier since I could lean on my countermagic, postboard it turned into a headache once Xantid Swarm became a factor.

I would say Survival is more than safe to unban given the current environment. What Survival would allow is a secondary engine in the Nic Fit/Birthing Pod decks that occasionally surface at large events. These decks follow similar guidelines as Survival in that they run a creature toolbox they can tutor for; however, Birthing Pod puts the creature directly into play unlike Survival. This could give Nic Fit the ability to run a different kind of toolbox such as Vendillion Clique and Aven Mindcensor which are at their best when played at instant speed, something Birthing Pod cannot do. These decks are powerful, yet hardly dominating, and giving them a new tool to work with couldn’t hurt.

At the time of my writing this, the next banlist announcement is but a scant two weeks away, and while everyone is expecting changes to Modern, I can only hope they try to shake up Legacy while they’re at it. Every now and then the format can use something new to spark creativity and bring new life to previously nonviable archetypes. I sincerely hope that we get a least one of the above cards unbanned, but until then I can only continue testing this hypothetical, no holds barred Legacy for future banlist announcements. Join me four months from now when I bring you The Great Banlist Experiment 2: The Search for More Money, and if you caught that Spaceballs reference, congratulations.

Twitter: @tylerthefro
Cockatrice: @tylerthefro

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