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Author Topic: In response to: February 2021 Watchlist Update    (Read 1696 times)
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« on: 03-02-2021, 01:07:03 AM »

This is a concise response to the recent watchlist announcement (01/02/21), specifically directed to a passage that - surprisingly - so far has not been picked up on by the broader player base. Perhaps because it sounded rather unusual, but this is not supposed to be a rant. The passage that really got me excited was labelled “unbanning cards in time”, and here I am quoting directly from it:

“Currently we are discussing and want to discuss with you, if this might be the right time to unban cards for half a year to test the impact on the format. Length, cards etc. will of course have to be decided at a later point, but we want to start the general discussion with you now.”

First, I want to acknowledge that the tone in which the council addresses the community has noticeably changed to a more inclusive and engaging demeanor and that this organ seemingly cares more about creating a tangible understanding of their decision amongst the players. I am also seeing signs of progress regarding a clearer vision on where the format is supposed to be headed powerlevel-wise. The council shares some sentiments of the community, most urgently that we need to think thoroughly about how combo should be governed and how to direct bannings accordingly. Thus, before jumping to the actual point of the paper, let me just briefly state this: if the council feels that imbalances exist in the overall metagame, then what needs to be done is an appropriate scaling of powerlevel between deck archetypes; either by weakening the consistency of the best performing decks or by offering competitive alternatives. I am fine with both ways, but since the task is to offer an opinionated response to the council’s request, I am going to make the case for three unbannings that I firmly believe would be both very beneficial to achieving greater diversity within the meta and relatively safe to release.

*A quick disclaimer: I am not going to follow the policy that cards are first placed on the unban watchlist before they are allowed to enter the format. The reason being that the unban watchlist is sadly rather short and that we haven’t had an unban in years, so change is already hard to come by. That being said, I try to account for the worst possible scenarios an unban would have on the meta to keep things in the right perspective. *

Birthing Pod.
Looking into other Highlander variants, Birthing Pod decks are experiencing serious competitive success without homogenizing creature-based strategies. This observation is important to take notice of, because this seems like the most immediate downside to releasing Birthing Pod to the public. Although this is not my area of expertise, you can build around individual combos, combine some synergistic and intersecting combos, or simply play this as a value card always finding you the right piece to react and advance. This would propel strategies and cards which have fallen out of favour into competitive limelight and give players that enjoy such gameplay a reason to keep engaged with the format. Both due to reasons of power-creep as well as limitations in the card’s design, I am confident that Pod would not take over the format. Apart from the recent influx of flexible removal options (Assassin’s Trophy; Kolaghan’s Command; Drown in the Loch; Oko; you name it), the following things are keeping the card in check: it can only be used as a sorcery; you have to have enough fodder or the correct pieces to get a chain going; it requires at least 4 mana to come down and activate, thus realistically starting from turn 3 the earliest (which is on par with if not slower than established combo decks and easier to disrupt); and people are currently flying on Opposition Agent. Additionally, although at first this might sound a bit odd, there is value in helping players reap the rewards of unusual card choices. Players seem to be longing for a card like Abrade to be a more respectable card choice. Incidental artefact removal is always something you want to load up on, but overall, there are not enough playable artefacts to rationally justify playing more versatile yet a bit underpowered removal spells. Maybe a certain degree of satisfaction might result from this as well. Of all the cards presented here, Birthing pod is by far the most sensible choice if the aim is to encourage creature-strategies or diversify the shades of combo currently available.

Umezawa’s Jitte.
People should play Stoneforge Mystic more often. Considering the amount of pseudo Elvish Visionaries currently seeing play, this one is probably among the best, yet people forgo playing SFM because there are not many attractive options to tutor for. Even though Batterskull’s stock in the format is rising due to Uro allowing for higher mana curves and generally longer games (plus a recurable 4/4 lifelink vigilance body being a more than roadblock for many snowballing threats of the earlygame), players avoid the cards as it seems quite clunky without its natural companion. Instead, they opt for cards with a lower ceiling that are less taxing on the mana. Umezawa’s Jitte would round up a competitive Stoneforge-Mystic package and allow for a more flexible toolkit to decks that otherwise lack removal options or ways to surmount boardstalls. It is that powerful that I think a slight shift in the metagame would happen to white-x decks; at least their overall performance would improve. Thinking of what could have held the card back for such a long time, it could be that a creature-mirror with one side having Jitte is not that great of an experience, to put it mildly. However, the metagame is somewhat diverse and the format inherently variant, making it that not every game revolves around Jitte. Considering what has been printed in the last couple of years, something akin to Umezawa’s Jitte is definitely in the realm of imagination.

True Name Nemesis.
This is more an aesthetic argument, but also exemplifies some important points regarding the development of the format. First, I do believe it is not a good testament to the format if a three mana 3/1 creature is on the ban-list while some of the cards I am going to mention in the last section are allowed to roam free. TNN is not impressive, stats-wise: it does not race particularly quickly in light of the Uro/Oko lifegain inflation and the increased loyalty of planeswalkers; against combo, it often consumes too much mana and does too little too late; and seeing how many great (green) midrange threats have entered the format, its board presence is relativized. Contrary to what people think, the creature density in blue tempo isn’t actually that high, and in the context of what I just said, it fills several important roles at once. Of course, it will have its good matchups and scenarios where it seems nye unbeatable, but that has to be expected from three mana cards these days. Even if you don’t have dedicated removal for Nemesis, a competitive board-centric deck should by now have several strategies of dealing with it, for instance by swarming the board, presenting bigger or long-lasting threats or just forcing the opposing nemesis out of its current offensive or defensive role. Powerlevel-wise, I think the card is less impactful now than it has ever been. If I were to decide, this card would for sure be unbanned.

As the council itself seems to notice, now is probably a good time to let some of these cards see play. Competitive stakes are low, people are enthusiastically brewing and gathering online, players report and communicate their experiences more frequently and the winds of change are blowing stronger throughout the community. I would go so far as to say that unbanning Birthing Pod and Jitte is almost a no-brainer, as they tilt the existing balance of power and allow for more creative deckbuilding, reintroduce cards to the format that have fallen off the wayside. Unbanning True Name is probably contentious, but I think that my case for it has been solid. So I hope that my article resonated with some parts of the community. Maybe together we can work towards a more balanced format.

Concludingly, I couldn’t help but to mention some cards whose continued legality thwarts most well-intended efforts to create a diverse metagame and enjoyable play experience. Therefore, before responding to my article, please be reminded these are also the values that guide my contributions to the European Highlander format and that I am very much willing to exchange opinions regarding the substance matter of my proposal.

The first, and hopefully less controversial one, is Oath of Druids. Let’s face it, this card belongs in a quadruple Force-of-Will format or one that can counter its combo potential turn 2 on the backswing. Oath is, in a theoretical world of Highlander, better than Thassa’s Oracle or Hermit Druid and it’s a major miracle that this card is not seeing more play in the format. I am not going into too much detail here, but instead opt for a broad brushstroke overview of its brokenness: it is very well positioned in the meta (the vast proportion of decks ultimately try to win via combat damage), it requires virtually no setup and has two tutors that can provide access to it on turn 1; its so cheap that it slips through most disruption and also requires very specific answers AND, most frustratingly, it basically stops you from playing your game (a reason that, on even weaker cards, has sufficed to enact a ban). So please talk more about this abomination of a Magic card. As things stand, the format is not equipped to handle it (and yes, for those who thrive on that fact, also tempo is not in most scenarios).

The second one is Demonic Tutor. DT is the best card in the format by a wide margin because it fundamentally cheats the system. Looking into other Highlander variants, it is among the highest pointed cards for good reasons. It has no deckbuilding cost, is easily splashable, grants immediate access to any card and is on top of that way too cheap, mana-wise. While I am not a member of the “ban more tutors camp”, I think the format would be in a better state if Demonic was banned. The consistency boost it grants is not equally distributed between deck archetypes, as it disproportionately increases the consistency of decks that are already trying to leverage tutors to their fullest advantage. Simply put, tutors in a combo deck are there to kill you outright. Therefore, reducing the density of game winning spells (in particular one that has no limits as to what it can find and is competitively priced), would result in lower numbers of consistency and fast combo kills. In the future, it might well be that a ban of DT could prevent the constant banning of “problematic” combo-pieces which dissatisfies players that were basically playing the format for the possibility of playing exactly this or that combo. In my assessment, if you are generally badly (or positively, for that matter) positioned against combo, losing Demonic Tutor in your average “fair” deck is less severe. Of almost equal weight is the argument that it completely distorts fair matchups as well – don’t tell me you never had a “feel-bad” when your opponent topdecked DT, thus immediately getting the mirrorbreaker while you would have loved for to slowly grind back into the game. I am a big fan of tutoring in decks in which it is sensible to do so and would love to see a meta which is more defined by deck-specific tutors.

Thanks for reading the piece. I hope the style of argument presented here as well as the undertone were in accordance with the community guidelines. Stay healthy and safe!
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« Reply #1 on: 03-02-2021, 03:31:25 PM »

First: Thank you for starting the discussion and the input!

Before I’d like to start answering on the points you brought up, I want to make sure that you’ll take these as what they are: my answers. I cannot and will not speak for the whole council and all opinions on cards or decisions are mine and may not be the ones of the council.

But let’s get started:

Birthing Pod:

Even though I see that Birthing Pod might open up possibilities on deckbuilding (especially on creature based combo decks), I think that unfortunately this is a card that only grows in power and never decreases at all. It’s the kind of ability that Survival of the Fittest has as well, with constantly tutoring, with no drawback at all. With more powerful creatures and combo-options getting released in nearly every set, the potential power just increases. At this point I want to remember the unbanning of Natural Order, which impacted the format heavily and was just banned at the next possible point in time. A thing that you might hear from me more than one time is that it unfortunately has only a few advantages for “fair” decks. However, “unfair” decks would gain a boost and this might not be the decks we want to push currently. Additionally, I dont think there are a lot more answers than there were before the ban. I doubt that adaptation to the decks would happen in a reasonable time frame, as this unfortunately is not the mind set  the majority of the players have.
Overall this card pushes: combo decks and may be some ramp strategies do you really think this helps the format?

Umezawa’s Jitte:

As an aggro / midrange player I’m quite afraid of this card, as this solely destroys these decks or makes it really unpleasant to play against. Some time ago we tested Jitte as well as Skullclamp on our FNMs, and (even though sample size was super small etc..) it was just as expected: every creature based deck trying to get jitte online as fast as possible to just destroy the opponent. I would also say it does not even help those decks against the problematic match ups, as in those it “just” increases the pressure, which usually you should have enough anyway. On the opposite no one stops powerful decks (like Tempo) to include this as well to bully decks that rely on elves.
Additionally, I dont think we have to strengthen stoneforge mystic at all. At least this cannot be a reason to unban Jitte in my opinion. Stoneforge Mystic had it’s time in the sun (until it got banned) and is still a good card in certain decks. And again the next good (maybe not broken) equipment printing may be just ahead of us with wizards releasing new sets at hyperspeed.
I think this would not help the right decks, as it just makes creature mirrors worse and is not as effective against others.

True-Name Nemesis:

Even though I also think that this card is not as powerful as other cards on the banlist, I’m not convinced that this card would help the format in any way. It is most of the time just one thing: annoying. And on this point you might just have to think about what this means to the community, as they might feel uncomfortable by playing against decks that include this one.  For me this banning is in a way similar to Sensei’s Divining Top, in the case that it is not banned because it is the most powerful card in the universe, but it influences the game in a way that (at least for a part of the community) is unwanted. That's why for me this is a difficult candidate to unban any time soon, as the feeling against this card has not changed and it’s not like this card creates a lot of depth to it as well.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not against unbanning these cards (especially for a limited amount of time). However, I’ve not decided yet, whether I want this or not. I just see a lot less benefit from those, with looking at how people have reacted to these cards in the past and how these have the possibility to create unpleasant games.

At this Point: What is your opinion on Scullclamp? It’s a card that is named quite often as an unban candidate, especially together with Jitte as an “equipment package”.

Regarding the potential banning of cards:

First: Of course Oath of Druids is a broken card, and I would be the first to erase it from HL, BUT let’s think about it. As you just wrote Oath of druids is not played very often. I dont know the reason for this, but i assume it’s a mixture of a boring deck concept or people staying with their pet decks etc. However, not being played a lot and if played not dominating at all, is almost a guarantee to not get banned. I mean why take a decktype away from the format if it is played rarely and does not overperform? There is a reason that Oath of Druids is on the watchlist since like forever, cause (nearly) everyone is quite aware that this card is (sometimes) stupidly broken. I think the main question here is why does no one play if it is that strong?

Demonic Tutor:

This of course goes into the whole combo/tutor discussion, which was already mentioned in the announcement and should be heavily discussed in my opinion. My point of view currently is that even though Demonic Tutor is “clearly” the better tutor in comparison to Tainted Pact for example. I still would prefer to ban Tainted Pact as it has a smaller influence on the broad field of decks, and at the same time weaken Thassa's Oracle combo, without (hopefully) completely destroying it.
Overall I think tutors in Highlander are somewhat problematic as they are contrasting one of the main points of the format: to not have multiple copies of a card in a deck. However, tutors are also bringing stability into the format, by adjusting the variance. That’s why I think a strategy cannot be to ban all the tutors right away, but lowering the amount to adjust the deck diversity.

Especially with the discussion about strong combo’ in the format, in my opinion the focus should not be on “let’s ban DT it’s so broken since forever”, but on if this is the right way to adjust, while keeping the possibilities and cards that people love to play with in the format.

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« Reply #2 on: 04-02-2021, 10:39:02 PM »

Let me check in here after reading your posts but primarly in response to the Watch List Announcement from February 1st.
For what it is worth some things about my person in regards of my MtG & Highlander Experience:
-   I play Highlander since around 2008/2009 with a big break around family planning between 2014-2018.
-   I would call myself a competitive player even if I have not been a winner in something bigger than a FNM or Prerelease.

So since this is my hobby and I think Highlander ist he best format that happened to Magic I am happy to share my thoughts and impression as a member of the community. In my experience it is hard to merge different opinions into a widley accepted solution. Even if the silent majority agrees and accepts the decisions made by the HL-Council. In this case just a reminder that loudness does not necessary mean someone is right. Besides that there is no objectivity possible. Even if you take every voice or argument into account there will always be someone making noise not liking what you you do…

Enough Introduction – lets get to the points:
Tutors in Highlander
  • Are necessary and vital part of  the format. Problematic Tutor-cards should be cut off the format precisely (f.e. Vampiric, Mystical, Natural Order, SotF, etc.)

Combo Decks
  • This is a though one. Combo is a part of MtGs strategic roots. You better align with WotC Game Design or leave Magic as a game.
    In connection to the Tutor-topic you have to decide between Tutor vs problematic card everytime on its own.
    In case: Thassas Oracle & Tainted Pact = Wait a little longer for the meta to adapt. If there is action needed (I don’t see it urgent for now): My Vote goes to Ban Tainted Pact

Unbanning Cards on Time
  • Open the gates :-) Let the community run wild in a controlled environment.
    Some cards are on the Banned list for their power level and some are there for unfun and non interactive behavior.
    So let me run crazy on this in a considerabel way:

Birthing Pod
: give it a try as 3 mana creature only tutor which will of course spread some combo around creatures which is always the most interaction about. It will also strengthen Midrange. This card will not be played in Tempo Decks and Thassa or Hermit Druid Decks do not have the most interest in this card respectively have to be build totally different. (gives players more to think about #1)

Gifts Ungiven: Intuition 2.0 … 4cmc instant that wins you the game, but academy is gone. Not for tempo, mostly Combo, some Control and Midrange. Give it a try. (gives players more to think about #2)

Jitte: It is unfun to play against/with (cause strategic decisions are minimal). Will be played a lot. On the other hand this card is not making things worse or better where it is (Combo+Control vs Tempo+Midrange). Especially Midrange with SFM will profit from this one. (nothing strategic, just power #1)

TNN: Unfun card, U-based Tempo/Midrange will profit. Just get it back in. (nothing strategic, just power #2)

DONT make Skullclamp playable, cause this is less investment (cmc-wise) and to much ressource-advantage in one card.
« Last Edit: 04-02-2021, 10:41:50 PM by t3nn0 » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: 04-02-2021, 11:03:45 PM »

Thanks a lot everyone for your imput.

Just a quick response from my part regarding some cards that were brought up:

Birthing Pod: Hermit Druid is already among the best performing decks and I think giving that strategy another angle of attack is very dangerous. Maybe if Thassa's Oracle was to be banned it would be safer.

Gifts Ungiven: I think this card is severely underrated (especially in comparison to Intuition). The ability to grab 4 cards instead of 3 is a huge difference and a resolved Gifts is a garantueed win without any other setup (for example: Breach/Sevinne's/LED/Brainfreeze or Unearth/Pact/Snapcaster/T.Oracle). I think this is even more dangerous than Pod.

TNN: I am all for unbanning this card. A 3 mana do-nothing on ETB drop in todays tempo decks is very unimpressiv, even if it is very good in creature matchups.

Jitte and Skullclamp I think both of them are banned for valid reasons but are also rightfully on the unban watchlist cause I feel like these cards are the closest to being okay or maybe even fine to be reintroduced into the format. I would definitely welcome some testing of both.

Tutors in Highlander
Are necessary and vital part of  the format. Problematic Tutor-cards should be cut off the format precisely (f.e. Vampiric, Mystical, Natural Order, SotF, etc.)
Basically my approach as well.

[Sorry for those very short comments. Kaldheim Release mania is taking up a lot of my time and you guys definitely deserve more eloquent and longer answers but I thought I'd rather respond very briefly than not at all.]
« Last Edit: 04-02-2021, 11:06:43 PM by SpielRaumThrias » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: 19-02-2021, 05:37:16 PM »

Cheers everyone,

thank you very much for your replies! I really appreciate you as Council-Members taking the time to respond to my thoughts. Sorry for taking my time to respond, but I wanted to wait and see if someone else might chime in. For the sake of brevity and finding common ground in the discussion, let me just address some of the points most pressing for me.

In regard to TNN - I get that people became increasingly annoyed by the card and now came to accept this as a valid reason to ban a card. Nevertheless, I think - in hindsight - we banned it at a time when it actually would have become less and less of a problem in light of the new printings. Honestly, I am currently wishing for such a resilient boardpresence that helps to get back into planeswalker-centric early and midgames..

Your responses to Birthing Pod were quite interesting and I did not expect such a reserved stance towards reintroducing the card. For me, it is not clear how much of an additional shot in the arm Birthing Pod would be for Hermit as this deck is already saturated with cheaper tutors for their main line that also require less setup (of course they would play it, but it is located at a similar and even later spot in the curve than the deck conventionally wins anyways and is more prone to being disrupted). On a second note, of course Birthing Pod grows in powerlevel the more mature the format eventually becomes, but this is already factored into my plea for unbanning the card. In my point of view, this card (re-)introduces so many cards and playpatterns and has the potential to revitalize players' interest in different strategies or even getting back into the format in the first place. This is something that we shouldn't underestimate regarding ban-related decisions, and out of all my proposals, BP can make its presence felt the most. After three years of not having an unban, i think that would be a positive sign to the community from the council. It might well prove very strong, but why not giving the playerbase some new food for thought, let them explore their deckbuilding skills and enjoy the potential experience of "having broken" the format?! What is there to lose if you can simply ban it in the next installment? A quick poll on facebook might reveal whether more people would be satisfied than dissatisfied with a potential unban (?!)

Regarding the equipments: I am fine with both Jitte and Clamp. However, I do strongly believe that Clamp would be played in much more decks than Jitte. Outside of Mana-Elf-decks, this card will 100% show up in jeskai/+b decks as they already play Young Pyromancer, Bitterblossom, Lingering Souls, Monastery Mentor (and Clarion Spirit) - decks which are already centered around drawing cards for cheap and are better equipped into converting small advantages and create an avalanche out of steady cardflows. This, i think, will overall outweigh the occasional benefit green decks get from it, which does not stike me as something the council intends with this unban. Umezawa's Jitte, irrespective of how powerful it is, would not and does not slot into every "fair" deck. I would even go so far as to say unless you play Stoneforge Mystic (and a correspondingly creature-heavy shell), you do not touch the card. It still consumes a decent amount of mana given how compressed the early game sometimes feels and is much more matchup-dependend than Clamp (while also suffering from the traditional problems of the equipment-cardtype). Overall, I do think Jitte adds more to the format than Skullclamp as it only clearly strenghtens one strand of decks (which deserve some powerup).

In sum, I am urging you to please not take this criticism on a personal level. But given that in your announcement you were explicitly asking for people to make suggestions regarding potential unbans, your responses are conveying a very hesitant (conservative even) basic attitude. I get that this stems from your degree of responsibility for the format, but at this point I think the community deserves more trust and tools to actively shape the face of the meta and counteract dominant strategies. Apart from Uro and Thassa's Oracle, the metagame has been comparatively stagnant, while some decktypes seemed to have overtaken others to a degree of insurmountability unless competitive alternatives emerge.
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