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Author Topic: Watchlist changes July 1st, 2019    (Read 3455 times)
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« on: 01-07-2019, 12:23:51 AM »

Cards on the following list will be closely observed and are potential candidates for a banning on October 15th, 2019.

  • Demonic Tutor
  • Dig Through Time
  • Entomb
  • Mana Drain
  • Scapeshift
  • Tainted Pact
  • Tolarian Academy
  • Treasure Cruise
  • True-Name Nemesis

Cards from the following list are still banned but will be under testing for a potential unbanning on October 15th, 2019.

  • Gifts Ungiven
  • Skullclamp *new*
  • Umezawa's Jitte

Off the Ban watchlist:

Before Scapeshift, there was Bring to Light in the watchlist, which was dropped in favor of Scapeshift. Scapeshift was added to the watchlist in October 2018 as it was considered as the real offender among the three top tier combo decks, constantly finishing in top-8 in tournaments, and as such too oppressive to some Highlander areas. It was also noted that Scapeshift enabled various midrange decks with a single card combo win, making the archetype too flexible.

But Scapeshift-decks haven't received too much of new playable cards in the last sets, and that people have moved on to different decks. Additionally players learned better how to play against this kind of decks. At least Scapeshift doesn't seem too oppressive right now so we decided to cut this one from the ban-watchlist.

Off the Unban watchlist:

Gifts Ungiven
This card has been introduced to unban-watchlist on January, 1st 2018. It has been added especially because higlander meta has changed much since its ban in 2011. It was questionable if a card on CC4-slot can still be too strong while aggro-decks become faster since 2011 with every set. In fact there are only three cards left on banned-list with CC4 (Natural Order, Gifts Ungiven and Birthing Pod, which is virtually a CC3-spell due to phyrexian Mana).
Furthermore the power-level of cards has risen drastically since that time. But this is partly a reason why Gifts Ungiven stays on the banned-list. The banned-list allows explosive starts and combo-decks like Academy could benefit most of Gifts Ungiven while this card probably won't see much play outside combo-decks. As there is currently no noticeable requirement to push combo-decks or adding another powerful tutor to the meta we decided to cut this card of the unban-watchlist for a while.

On the Unban watchlist:

Although Stoneforge Mystic is unbanned equipments do not get much love recently. Predominant you will find a package with SFM + Batterskull and a Sword (of Fire and Ice mostly) if a player decides to add any equipments to his/her deck. Skullclamp is (together with Jitte) on the banned-list for eternitys, even Highlander veterans haven't had the chance to play with those equipments ever although there have been long debats which impact adding one or both equipments could have on our meta all over the years. Maybe time has come to test this out finally. In theory Skullclamp needs a specific deck to shine while Jitte can be thrown into almost every deck which run enough critters to carry it. At least in some of the tier-1 decks where the creature-count is low (e. g. Reanimator, Academy, some Scapeshift-builts) both equipments hardly find a slot so other decks, which stands behind right now would get some powerful weapons to compete.

Now you might ask: Why has this card been removed from the watchlist in April just to be reintroduced in the next announcement? We know this looks odd but there‘s a simple explanation: As communicated there have been internal changes to the council and those changes also lead to a new majority agreeing with the above reasoning.  

Other announcements:

The London Mulligan replaces the combination of Free Mulligan + Vancouver Mulligan

Hardly any discussion has polarized as much as the recent mulligan discussion. The community and the council largely agree that, with the London mulligan becoming the new industry standard for mainstream Magic, not implementing it or not at least trying it would be a hardly justifiable non-action. This leaves us with two possible outcomes:
1. A new combination mulligan of Free mulligan + London mulligan or
2. the implementation of the London mulligan.
We have tried to take into account the main arguments  of the two groups.

Uniformity across formats (LM):
One of the main arguments of the LM group was the standardization across the formats to make it easier for newbies and players of other formats to enter Highlander. In addition, the recognition by WotC for Highlander as a "real" format was repeatedly called. In fact, Eternal formats are strongly and very often different from rotating formats. Many would say that makes the charm. All in all, magic is a very complex game anyway (layer system, priority, stack, etc.) and we doubt that unifying one rule would significantly simplify format transition nor would WotC have more sympathy and support for us.

Highlander has always had a combination mulligan with Free + X (FM + LM):
In fact, that's not true. Especially older players will remember the Spoils mulligan, where any number of cards of your starting hand were put away, then you would redraw to seven and after that the stowed cards would be shuffled back into your library. The Spoils mulligan quickly became too strong, allowing players to aggressively fish for specific cards and excessively streamline their decks. The outcome of the games was more often than not determined during the first few turns with one player running away with game on the back of a perfect hand. Consequently, the Free mulligan followed. Just a few years ago, the Free mulligan was then supplemented with the Vancouver mulligan, creating the first combination mulligan.

Allows for "better games" / less "non-games" (FM + LM):
This argument doesn’t really help because of the many possible different definitions of "non-game". We asked many players about the topic and got a different description from each of them. Player A finds the mulligan should mitigate the resource problem Magic has. Meaning, one does not want to draw too few or too many lands or mana resources within the early game. Player B thinks the mulligan should not only fix the resource problem, but should also allow them to play their spells during the first turns, so one would not only want to draw the appropriate number of lands, but also the fitting low-curve spells. Player C expects from the mulligan to make their deck not only steady and dependable but also wants to access their key cards with relatively high probability. So they demand specific cards on the starting hand or a direct way to these spells. In the best case they always have an optimal starting hand or an approximately perfect starting hand. The questions which we had to ask ourselves were "What is the task of the mulligan?" or "Is this still the task of the mulligan?". "At what point does the wish of Player A, B or C exceed the idea of Magic so much that it does more harm than good?" and how does that work with the subjective idea of avoiding "non-games"?

 The most important question we had to answer is, where do we actually want to go with the format and what function should the mulligan actually have.

Especially tournament players, who look back on years of experience and can put strong trust in their skills often forget an important point: Magic owes a large part of its success to its considerable chance component. Each of us started sometime. And without the factor of luck, hardly any of us would play today if our tournament opponents and playgroups had only consisted of Gary Kasparows and Magnus Carlens. Good players will still prevail statistically the more games are played. But the random component also allows newcomers to emerge victorious between many defeats and thus gain new motivation. We find that in a format which has a very substantial proportion of casual players and is in need for newcomers, this aspect should certainly not be lost. Maintaining this balance between "randomness" and "consistency" ultimately determines the rating of all arguments .

"The mulligan should not punish the player" is probably a statement that every one of us would sign.
But the impact on probabilities starts much earlier: during deckbuilding. The task of the mulligan is not to compensate for a shortage of resources (whether in the form of lands or cheap spells)  which have intentionally been left out during deck building. In other words, deck composition should not be made too easy because the mulligan will just fix everything for you anyways. You need to estimate how high you would like the probability of having any number lands or any number of spells in your starting hand. With what probability do you want to start with at least two lands for example? Have a mana elf on the starting hand? A counterspell effect? Of course, you will hardly be able to speculate on a specific card, but our format not only has the "disadvantage" of being able to play each card only once, but also allows us to access all kinds of variants of the same type of effect. Of course, it doesn’t always work the way you wanted it to. This is where the mulligan comes into play. It is not a punishment but a choice. A second chance, which has a price. A compromise.
Once the mulligan allows you to orient your deckbuilding to it, the mulligan transcends its original purpose. As soon as it allows you to play fewer lands because your curve is very low and aggressive, ensuring you’ll be able to pay all your costs during the first few turns, it is not a second chance anymore. As soon as we start taking "quality mulligans", because the hand could be a little bit better, or because we feel it necessary, because the opponent does the same, the mulligan is no longer a mulligan, but we are entering an arms race. And if consistency determines our game, we no longer have to play our matches to determine a winner.
WHEN this point is reached, or IF a person feels a disturbance in this balance between "randomness" and "consistency", everyone ultimately decides for themselves. However, quite a respectable part has already acknowledged that they are planning to or must adapt their deck due to a mulligan change.

In relation to the "consistency-randomness" balance, also the desire for deceleration (LM) was expressed by some people. Highlander has undergone a significant development, especially in recent years. While a few years ago everyone still resorted to midrange and control lists, games are often decided in the first turns now. The mana curves become narrower, the decks faster, the play style more aggressive. Older players in particular will be able to remember that decks were fine at coping with something like three or four pet or test cards. That is unthinkable today. The decks are tuned and each card has its "reason for being" or is being cut. Of course, no one can tell with certainty how the meta evolves due to a change of the mulligan. And of course, our influence on this development is limited. Already with the change from Spoils mulligan to Free mulligan we were faced with the same precarious situation. Of course, specific decks have better starting conditions for adjusting to a new mulligan than others. This argument works both ways, depending on whether one chooses a mulligan who favors consistency or one who refutes it. We hope the mulligan, IF it favors certain decks, will favor those decks which are already kind of balanced in itself. Decks whose consistency cannot increase much further due to their redundant card packages. But even these decks, in the best case, will have to lose a bit of consistency and possibly have to work on their resources.

Why did we decide to change it now? Well, many forget that the discussion has been going on since the first mention of the London mulligan half a year ago, and since then it has repeatedly initiated heated conversations and demands for implementation. Since the announcement of a test run on the latest Mythic Championship the desire for change became more and more concrete and finally reached its climax when WotC announced that they decided to establish the new mulligan for its competitive non-eternal formats.
We understand the decision to go with "London mulligan only" as a conservative compromise, between people who argue for a strong focus on consistency and those who see a problem in the already existing consistency. The London mulligan will be the most suitable tool to balance out explosive play strategies and allows for more deceleration, so that Highlander may be more attractive to players who need to find their way into format and into the game first. We also strongly believe that the implementation of the London mulligan will happen without subtracting from gameplay and without reducing the strategic depth of the format at all.
We fully understand that not everyone might agree with this decision, but we would like to emphasize that this unfortunately is a problem that any rules change always has and that this decision is not irrevocable at all. If, after a certain period of time, the new mulligan does not produce the expected results, or perhaps even does more harm than good, it can of course be adjusted or turned back. However, we believe that our players can enter the new challenge with the same self-confidence as they did when we switched from Spoils mulligan to Free mulligan and that everyone will be able to adapt to the new situation.

Starting with tabletop Core Set 2020 Preleases on July 5, the new mulligan can be used for all play. It will become officially reflected in the comprehensive rules with the M20 rules updates on July 12. Stores may opt to enact the new rule for regular REL or lower events before the official rules change on July 5 to give players the opportunity to test out the new procedure. Competitive REL events cannot use the new rule until the official change.

Far below the earth
Where the demons hunt the souls of those that sleep
In the city of the Vazdru and the Drin
Where the black flame burns inside the palace fountain.
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