An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast
In light of the recent announcements with the release of Amonkhet, I have felt it necessary to speak out. Since January of 2016 I have started to really question Research and Development decisions including but not limited to set construction, premium play, and the banning/restricting of cards in formats.
Banning And Restricting
My lack of faith in decisions made by Wizards of the Coast began when printing the cards “Treasure Cruise” and “Dig Through Time”. I assumed whoever in R&D felt these cards were a good idea simply made an oversight and didn’t realize they essentially gave Modern, Legacy, and Vintage a functional reprint of “Ancestral Vision” with “Treasure Cruise”. I understand that in no way are they able to effectively test a card’s impact in non-rotating formats, but come on, this should have been dead obvious. The speed in which Control and Delver decks, which were the primary abusers of “Treasure Cruise”, fill their graveyard in these formats is enough of a reason to set off a red light in someone’s head. Of course no one seemed to notice at Research and Development.
The massive boost that “Dig Through Time” gave to Combo and Control Decks was just as crazy. The principle way we’ve fought combo for years has been a mixture of Counter Magic, Hand Disruption, and praying you kill them before they top deck a key piece. “Dig Through Time”, for two mana, basically said go find the piece you need. Or in the case of Omni-Tell in Legacy; go find whatever you want for free. This one I’m not questioning Research and Development as heavily on but it could have been more carefully designed. I can’t recall how many games I lost to Scapeshift in Modern off my opponent finding that one Scapeshift, between one and seven cards down, off a “Dig Through Time”.
Of course “Treasure Cruise” got banned immediately at the next Banned and Restricted announcement, with “Dig Through Time” getting the ban hammer at the same time in Modern and 8 months later in Legacy. And from there everything was good, right? Wrong.
Fast forward a year later. 365 days after the banning of Treasure Cruise. Nine months after Splinter Twin was reprinted in the most poorly released reprint set since the disaster that was Chronicles. “Splinter Twin Banned in Modern – January 18 2016”. I remember waking up that afternoon and reading that. And for a brief moment the part of me that wanted to see that god awful deck wiped off the face of the earth rejoiced. And then I sat there and thought about it. And the longer I thought about it the more I thought oh god what have you done.
Now a little about me to explain my position on this. The very first deck I encountered when I started playing Modern in the summer of 2012 was Splinter Twin followed by Kiki Pod. Both decks left an absolutely awful taste in my mouth after losing to them. I remember sitting there thinking to myself what the hell is this garbage?[ How is this interaction a legal action? This is outright dumb. I never wanted to play Modern again. However I’m either too dumb or too stubborn to quit so I went back at it. Again and again. And for nearly 4 years “Splinter Twin”, “Deceiver Exarch”, “Pestermite”, and “Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker” were the bane of my existence. I wanted nothing but to see that deck gone. But as I matured as a player I realized Splinter Twin had its place in the format. It policed decks that otherwise would get out of hand. And the day it got banned I couldn’t understand why.
The format in Modern is a much more diverse place at the moment, but what it comes down to now is “can you beat Death’s Shadow?”. The field has shifted yes but we’re still in the same place we were one year and 3 months ago. My theory on why Wizards of the Coast banned “Splinter Twin” has been that they wanted something else on camera. And again I can’t fault them for that. No one wants to watch “Splinter Twin” on camera every Pro Tour. That gets stale. But wait, they dropped the Modern Pro Tour from their Premier Play schedule in the same year (more on this later). So clearly I’m wrong here.
Saffron Olive over at MTG Goldfish had a different theory on the banning. Money. At its heart Wizards of the Coast is a business and businesses want to make money. Since Modern is a non-rotating Format it does very little to generate revenue for Wizards of the Coast. So in order to try and bring more Standard cards into Modern they killed the deck that was most likely suppressing new cards from entering the format.
To this day I will argue that this decision was greedy, shortsighted, and very poorly planned. Wizards of the Coast used to state that when they banned cards from a format it was to increase diversity and weaken an overly powerful deck to make the competitive field more diverse. I feel the better way to handle it would have been to ban “Deceiver Exarch so they are forced to splash into other colours to have enough enablers but most, if not all targets, would be susceptible to Lightning Bolt.
The next banning that doesn’t sit right with me is the most recent one. “Sensei’s Divining Top” banned in Legacy. Wizards of the Coast has stated their primary reasons for banning “Sensei’s Divining Top” in Legacy was Miracles being 10% of the meta with “Sensei’s Divining Top” being the number one reason for matches going to time. “Sensei’s Divining Top” didn’t send matches to time. Slow players that didn’t understand their deck did. Players refusing to scoop when there was a less than 30% chance of winning sent matches to time. “Sensei’s Divining Top” is not the culprit here tap one mana, look at your top three cards, put a land or “Terminus” on top of your deck continue with your match. Miracles turns take 10-20 seconds. That is it. Any longer and, yes, I would call my opponent on slow playing.
If Wizards of the Coast wanted to do something to the deck to make it less playable due to slow players they should have cut “Counterbalance” or “Terminus”. This is a deck that I have hated running into my entire Legacy career. I enjoy decks like Reanimator, Doomsday, Burn and Dredge. Miracles is not fun to play against with any of these decks. But here I am defending a deck I hate. Again, in the same article. Once again I highly doubt Wizards of the Coast put any real thought into this banning. Once again Wizards of the Coast used to claim they would remove cards to diminish the game plan of a powerful deck to increase diversity without affecting other decks. So let’s just casually hit Nic Fit, Doomsday, 12 Post in the process. But who cares about those decks? They’re just fringe decks, right?
I feel Wizards of the coast really needs to sit back and really think about how they do banning and restriction in Non-Rotating Formats. There are times where it feels they just pick things at the drop of a hat without a care as to the repercussions and that is not fair to the players. If this is the case shame on you Wizards of the Coast, shame on you.
Finally, as I write this article the following comes across my news feed “Addendum to April 24 2017 Banned and Restricted Announcement”. 2 days later they realize they forgot to deal with the fact that they basically resubmitted “Splinter Twin” into Standard with the “Copy Cat” combo. In the release Wizards of the Coast states the reason for the Addendum was the jump in success of “Copy Cat” post Amonkhet’s release on Magic Online.
Well their delivery was unprofessional but at least they actually did something right with this Banned and Restricted update. Given that Wizards of the Coast stated in the Addendum that they “Try not to introduce combos such as this” into Standard it should have gotten the ban hammer without needing more information. I feel as far as public relations go this might be a slight blunder at the hands of Wizards of the Coast.
Premier Play and an Unhealthy Standard Format
In the last few years Wizards of the Coast has been gradually removing non-rotating formats from any spotlight in Premier Play. There are very few Modern Grand Prix, absolutely scarce amount of Legacy Grand Prix, Modern has been removed from the Pro Tour and now and three quarters of the way through the season the World Magic Cup Qualifiers have been removed and replaced with Nationals. Nationals is no longer Modern it is now Standard. I understand with the rising cost of Legacy and Modern staples it is expected that this would be reduced to some extent but it is starting to feel like Wizards of the Coast is attempting to completely remove non-rotating formats from Premier Play entirely which leaves me feeling slightly betrayed as a long time player and collector.
I’ve heard rumors as to reasons why this is the case. But no concrete answers. Wizards of the Coast has stated their reason is “community input” but the biggest rumor I’ve heard is the “community input” is actually pro players complaining they don’t want to play Modern and Legacy anymore. If this is the case, how dare they say OK this is fine and just leave out the remainder of the community?
With the increase in push for Standard from Wizards of the Coast I keep hearing and thinking that Wizards of the Coast wants to make that the only way to make it to professional level events. I admit I haven’t played Standard in quite some time, and I have my reasons for that, but I’ll get there shortly. This seems a little one-sided.
While Wizards of the Coast, again, is a business and non-rotating formats do not generate the same amount of revenue that Standard does but unfortunately Standard is not the exciting format it used to be. A large part of the Standard format for the last 3 years has been comprised of 2-3 winning decks. If you don’t want to play those then accept the fact you aren’t winning anything. This isn’t diverse. This isn’t fun. What is driving me to play this?
Let’s go back a few years. Innistrad/Return To Ravnica was my first Standard experience. I had a lot of fun with this era. I never was quite sure what deck I was encountering next. While the field was primarily dominated by Jund Midrange, and Abzan Reanimator there was still plenty of other decks in the format. Fast forward 3 months to rotation we get Return To Ravnica/Theros where the field was Mono Black vs Mono Blue. Fast Forward again to Theros/Khans of Tarkir. The Format was Atarka Red vs Esper Dragons vs Abzan Midrange/Control.
This is where things got weird. After Khans of Tarkir block Wizards of the Coast decided to switch to a 2 set block rotation to try and keep Standard from being stale. I commend them for the effort. Forcing Standard to rotate every 18 months instead of every 24 meant decks wouldn’t stay around too long. Instead it has become a format with more ban requirements.
The last time a card was banned in Standard was 2011 with Jace the Mind Sculptor and Stone Forge Mystic. Before that ban list update it was 2005 with Arcbound Ravager and the Artifact Lands. Since switching to a 2 set per block format we’ve seen Wizards of the Coast ban cards on 2 consecutive Banned and Restricted announcements in Standard. The last Standard season we saw Copy Cat Combo vs Mardu Vehicles. The Season before that you had the choice between playing Smuggler’s Copter or not playing. The Season before that was the first diverse Standard format I’ve seen in some time. Rakdos Vampires, Gruul Ramp, Orzhov Control, Mardu Control, Eldrazi, Golgari Delirium, Azorius Blink, and humans. The format looked fun. Then it went back to being stale.
In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast needs to sit back and look at the mess that is Standard. It almost seems like they can’t keep a handle on it. Either the format becomes stale or expensive. I think the solution would be to scrap Standard while they overhaul it and in the meantime bring back Extended as the premier rotating format. It would solve some of the complaints. No longer are we seeing as many decks come and go in 6 months’ time. Our Extended legal cards will likely hold value for a much longer time frame. With a larger card pool hopefully we’ll see a much more diverse and open format as well. Finally in time Wizards of the Coast would be able to bring back Standard and hopefully this time we’ll keep Extended. I could foresee two Standard Pro Tours, one Extended Pro Tour and one Modern Pro Tour a year.
Premier Play is definitely something I feel the company has made some strange and, in my opinion, shortsighted decisions on. Attempting to cut Pro Club benefits last year caused a huge uproar among current Pro Club members and many players dreaming of reaching Pro status. When Wizards of the Coast cut the judge pay support for tournament organizers, it caused a dramatic increase in cost to attend Grand Prix for the players. The elimination of Pro Tour Qualifiers and the advent of Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers have made event planning and attendance a problem for many local game stores.
As a Canadian I feel we should be able to have Canadian retailers run our Grand Prix on our soil. Recently Wizards of the Coast has announced Channel Fireball will be the only organizer for Grand Prix going forward. While I believe Channel Fireball can do an excellent job at this I feel here in Canada either Face to Face Games or any other qualified Canadian retailer should have the opportunity as well as other retailers in their home country.
Most recently, at the request of Tournament Organizers, Wizards of the Coast has allowed a fee be added to entry for Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers. I can understand that judge staff and facilities are expensive with very little revenue for the store hosting the event. However I am concerned this opens up the grounds for Tournament Organizers to attempt to gouge the players.
With our decks already costing hundreds to thousands of dollars, plus travel expenses to reach to location, plus overnight accommodations for some players this is another expense for us in an already very expensive hobby. Feedback I’ve seen from the community leads me to believe that if Wizards of the Coast were to put a cap on how expensive entry can be they may feel more comfortable with this decision.
In conclusion I feel if Wizards of the Coast were to continue as they currently are they are at risk of the massive popularity of Magic: the Gathering dwindling. Perhaps in the upcoming future they should use Question and Answer sessions more effectively. I feel that more consideration to repercussions be made when Designing, Banning and Restricting cards. And hopefully with this in mind we can see another 25 years of Magic: The Gathering.
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