Schools of Magic: History of Vintage – An Alternative History of the Banned and Restricted List

January 26th 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Duelists’ Convocation’s mandatory Banned and Restricted List for constructed Magic, and therefore the birth of the format that would eventually acquire the name “Vintage.” To commemorate this anniversary and reflect on the influence of this momentous event, I will look back at every Banned and Restricted List announcement that changed the format.

In this article, I will examine what happened, why it happened, and what should have happened. With the benefit of hindsight, we can examine the evolution of the Banned and Restricted List against the historical record to consider what might have happened. As we take this friendly stroll down history lane, we will see how pivotal decisions by the Duelists’ Convocation International (originally just known as the Duelists’ Convocation, but soon rebranded as the DCI), the tournament sanctioning body for Wizards of the Coast, set the trajectory of the format. We can measure the hopes of the format’s managers against the reality of how that format unfolded. With the wisdom of experience, we can imagine how a different set of policy choices might have produced a different set of outcomes. “If we knew then what we know now…” will be a recurring refrain.

In this review, we will also see how the considerations and criteria used by the DCI have subtly changed over time, evolving along with the understanding of the game itself. We will also see how the Banned and Restricted List became a critical tool in the policy toolbox to manage or mitigate other institutional policy shifts, such as the unbuckling of Banned and Restricted Lists among emergent constructed formats, or the various approaches to card errata, including the institution and removal of power-level errata, most notably in the cases of Flash and Time Vault.

But the history of the Vintage Banned and Restricted List – let alone its alternative history – is not merely a story of top down policy making. Rather, it is also a bottom-up story of a central policymaker responding to the evolution of a metagame, and the demands of a community. Over and again, debates over the format within the Vintage community and with the game’s managers, at times pushing back or pushing forward, rarely without controversy, shaped its ultimate trajectory.

This article complements my long-running series Schools of Magic: History of Vintage, a year-by-year history of the format from 1993 to 2018, by examining a particular aspect of the history of the format. For a deeper look at the events described here, including a description of the major events and tournaments, the metagame context, secondary sources and citation, and much more, please consult the relevant chapters in that series covering the events described herein. This is a more laconic and concise look at the evolution of the Vintage Banned and Restricted List.

In the Beginning…

With the launch of Limited Edition, the entirety of Magic’s rules were contained either in the simple rulebook provided in the starter decks, or on the cards themselves. As you may know, the Limited Edition rulebook prescribed 40 card minimum decks, with generally no other deck construction limitations. This initiated a period described as the “era of Wild Magic” by many contemporaneous sources, partly because of the inherently broken possibilities, but also because it was an era without a well-defined metagame.

By the end of 1993, however, the “Duelists’ Convocation,” Wizards of the Coast’s official “Deckmaster” tournament organizer, the entity which “sanctioned” official Magic tournaments, created a “recommended” set of deck construction rules, which specified that players should have a minimum deck of 60 cards, no more than 4 of any non-basic land, and no more than 1 of any artifact. As these deck construction rules were merely “recommendations,” local organizers routinely developed their own deck construction parameters.

It was not until January 26, 1994, that the Duelists’ Convocation published, under the leadership of Director Steve Bishop, more detailed deck construction rules, along with helpful floor rules, that were now required, but only for DC sanctioned tournaments. To emphasize that these rules only applied to such tournaments, Beth Moursand, the Wizards NetRep, prefaced the publication with the disclaimer that “WotC is not in any way saying that all tournaments must use these rules — only that the Duelists’ Convocation tournaments will use them.” Nonetheless, the new rules became widely adopted, even among casual players. These rules not only created the “Banned and Restricted List” that is the subject of this article, but it also introduced the concept of the sideboard, prohibited outside assistance, and explained how DC sanctioned tournaments should be organized (all sanctioned events for most of 1994 were single-elimination events filled up to “an even factor of two” e.g. 16, 32, 64, 128 players).

This announcement brought to a close the aforementioned era of “Wild Magic,” when players designed decks free of such constraints, where imagination and the size of one’s collection were the only limits.

January 25, 1994

What Happened:

The following cards were restricted:
• Ali From Cairo
• Ancestral Recall
• Berserk
• Black Lotus
• Braingeyser
• Dingus Egg
• Gauntlet of Might
• Icy Manipulator
• Mox Emerald
• Mox Jet
• Mox Pearl
• Mox Ruby
• Mox Sapphire
• Orcish Oriflamme
• Rukh Egg
• Sol Ring
• Timetwister
• Time Vault
• Time Walk

The following cards were banned:
• Contract from Below
• Darkpact
• Demonic Attorney
• Jeweled Bird
• Shahrazad

What Should Have Happened:

The following cards should have been restricted:
• Ancestral Recall
• Black Lotus
• Braingeyser
• Channel
• Demonic Tutor
• Library of Alexandria
• Mind Twist
• Mox Emerald
• Mox Jet
• Mox Pearl
• Mox Ruby
• Mox Sapphire
• Sol Ring
• Timetwister
• Time Vault
• Time Walk
• Wheel of Fortune

The following cards were banned:
• Contract from Below
• Chaos Orb
• Darkpact
• Demonic Attorney
• Jeweled Bird

Analysis:

Perhaps the defining moment in the history of the format, if not the game. This list is both strikingly familiar and strange. The core of the cards that we now associate with Vintage, the Power 9, were each restricted in this announcement, as was Sol Ring and Time Vault. But so were a number of unusual cards and a handful of artifacts like Icy Manipulator, Gauntlet of Might, and Dingus Egg.

We can forgive the DC for restricting cards whose text did not function as intended, such as the Alpha printing of Orcish Oriflamme, or Arabian Nights’ Rukh Egg. These cards were removed less than a month later when nascent errata policy corrected these templating errors. But the restriction of these other artifacts is harder to justify. Dingus Egg neither inspires fear nor revulsion, except perhaps aesthetically. Beth Moursand later explained in the The Duelist magazine #10 that the lack of artifact removal available in most colors, pre-Antiquities, made the DC especially circumspect about artifacts. These cards were unrestricted following the release of that set.

Berserk may seem like a perfect candidate for restriction, given the potential for exponential growth in multiples, but it is unlikely that Berserk truly warranted restriction under standards applied today. The so-called Granville Explosion deck was much feared later in 1994, but Berserk could have been managed with the tools that existed in the card pool with enough discovery and effort.

Ali From Cairo was restricted for similar reasons to the aforementioned artifacts. According to Beth Moursand, the “Ali-Jade Monolith combination made Ali’s controller completely invincible unless his opponent had one of a very few cards, and some colors had no way at all to deal with this combination.” I suppose we should forget that Nevinyrral’s Disk existed, but the restriction of Ali From Cairo is not absurd on its face. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is not a card that would likely have been restricted at this point.

In addition to restricting cards it probably shouldn’t have, the DC missed a number of cards that likely should have, including Demonic Tutor and Wheel of Fortune, foremost among them, followed by Library of Alexandria and Channel. With no Strip Mine yet in the format, Library of Alexandria was a brutal card, and the earliest tournaments held and organized by the Duelists’ Convocation under the new rules demonstrated this. Although unverified, some sources show 4 Library decks winning “Spring Magic ‘94”, a major tournament held in Austin Texas, and the “Mana Fest Destiny” tournament held in San Francisco around the same time. Library should have been restricted at the earliest possible opportunity.

Balance and Mind Twist both fall into an interesting category of cards that were not immediately restricted, but were eventually recognized as format defining spells through the efforts of innovative and Spike-minded players. Mind Twist caught on earlier, and was the format defining deck through the summer of 1994, winning major tournaments such as Matt Wallace’s victory at Mana Fest Destiny, Bin Chen’s victory at DragonCon ’94 in Atlanta, and most importantly, Bo Bell’s victory at the first US Nationals at the 1994 Origins Gaming Convention (all three decks are featured in HOV 1993 & 1994). These tournaments demonstrated that Mind Twist merited restriction.

It took much longer for Balance to catch fire, but the Maysonet Balance Rack demonstrated its full power in the spring of 1995. Perhaps a far-sighted Duelists’ Convocation could have pre-emptively restricted both cards a priori, but the fact that they did not allowed us to observe their real-world metagame impact. Balance should not have been restricted until the Balance deck emerged as a metagame force, but Mind Twist is a closer case. Since Braingeyser was pre-emptively restricted, Mind Twist could have been given the same treatment.

With the benefit of hindsight, Mind Twist probably should have been restricted at this time, while Balance should not have. In contrast, Chaos Orb should have been banned at the outset, for the reasons it is currently banned (the near impossibility of adjudicating disputes over dexterity cards), but I personally enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t, as it became a part of the fabric of the experience at the time.

Shahrazad was regarded as a menace in the era of “Wild Magic,” because, according to Beth Moursand, it led to an unacceptable number of draws. In a time when there was no set or consistently applied round time limits or easy way to resolve unresolved matches at the end of rounds, Shahrazad may have been problematic. But under a standardized rules regime such the one today, Shahrazad is less troublesome. In any case, to the extent that Shahrazad was a problem, a more measured response would have been to restrict it.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is more impressive what the nascent DC got right, than what they got wrong. There was no precedent to refer to or available standard to apply. This was a bold step on a blank canvass, and the first Banned and Restricted List became the foundational element of the format, especially by targeting the Power Nine.

March 23, 1994

What Happened:

• Channel is restricted
• Copy Artifact is restricted
• Demonic Tutor is restricted
• Icy Manipulator is no longer restricted
• Regrowth is restricted
• Wheel of Fortune is restricted
• Time Vault is no longer restricted, and is banned

What Should Have Happened:

• Regrowth is restricted
• Bronze Tablet is banned

Analysis:

The second Magic expansion, Antiquities, was released in March. On that basis alone, it was not unreasonable to fear Copy Artifact, as it was a strongly artifact-themed set. With Mishra’s Workshop, players could now cast turn one Juggernauts or Su-Chi, and then play Copy Artifact the next turn for an absurd tempo advantage. The real reason that Copy Artifact was restricted, however, was because it “allows for multiples of other restricted cards,” and was hyper efficient, according to Beth Moursand. In short, it was restricted on partly categorical grounds, rather than metagame effects. Under standards applied today, Copy Artifact probably should not have been restricted.

Regrowth is a trickier case. It isn’t until the release of the Legends set that the combo decks begin to make recursion a much deadlier proposition. But the DC, not unreasonably, felt that such recursion tactics evaded the purpose of restriction, much like Copy Artifact. We no longer think that way (restrict cards on a categorical basis because they recur or copy other restricted cards), and Regrowth is safely unrestricted in Vintage today.

Given the fact that Regrowth can target a much larger array of restricted cards than Copy Artifact, like Time Walk, and, perhaps even worse, can target brutally punishing unrestricted cards, like Strip Mine, Regrowth was nonetheless probably deserving of restriction. One reason it made sense to restrict Regrowth separately, and after the initial wave of restrictions, was to better gauge the efficacy of restriction as a policy. With the initial Restricted List firmly in place, it made sense to restrict cards that evaded the purpose of restriction in a second wave.

As stated earlier, Wheel of Fortune and Demonic Tutor should have already been restricted.

Bronze Tablet should have been banned immediately, as it required Ante.

May 1-2, 1994

What happened:

• Bronze Tablet is banned *
• Candelabra of Tawnos is restricted
• Feldon’s Cane is restricted
• Ivory Tower is restricted
• Library of Alexandria is restricted
• Dingus Egg is no longer restricted
• Gauntlet of Might is no longer restricted

What Should have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

As noted above, Bronze Tablet should have been banned immediately, and Library already restricted. We should applaud the DC, however, for waiting a month or so to assess the fall out from Antiquities, to see which cards needed restriction.

Feldon’s Cane was restricted on the same reasoning that Copy Artifact and Regrowth were restricted. Based on contemporary standards, however, the difference between Feldon’s Cane and Regrowth indicate a line between cards that may be deserving of restriction on that basis, and cards that aren’t. Since Feldon’s Cane was card disadvantageous, and did not actually put any card directly into hand, it is largely innocuous. The categorical approach to restricting went too far in that case.

Ivory Tower was obnoxious in multiples, and so the decision to restrict it could be justified on that basis. Instead, according to Beth Moursand, the reason Ivory Tower was restricted was the same reason that Shahrazad was banned: it produced “exceptionally long games, an unsuitable situation for tournament play.” Tactically, Ivory Tower was a good antidote to Black Vise decks and burn decks. Ivory Tower would gain power with the printing of Legends, with Sylvan Library and Land Tax as synergistic complements. It’s possible that Ivory Tower may have truly been restricted at that point, but the truth is that Ivory Tower probably did not merit restriction, based upon contemporary standards. Although time-wasters may be frustrating, there is no undisturbed precedent for restricting cards on that basis today.

Candelabra of Tawnos was an interesting case. It could have fallen into the Berserk category, of simply being problematic in multiples. It was ultimately restricted, however, as a mana accelerant. According to Beth Moursand,” vast amounts of mana could be produced with Candelabras and means of producing more than one mana per land (Urza’s lands, Mana Flare) in play.” These reasons seem less compelling with the benefit of hindsight, both because competitive decks rarely played such effects, or they could be countered with a variety of widely available tactics.

The one card from Antiquities perhaps most deserving of restriction at this time was ultimately restricted a little more than a month later, on June 13, and it was Mishra’s Workshop. Since Juggernaut was already one of the best creatures in the format, with Su-Chi, Triskelion, and Tetravus not far behind, there is a strong case for restricting it. A better policy, however, would have been to wait to see how well such decks did in the format with Legends in the card pool, since its arrival was imminent.

Mana Vault is also a strong candidate for restriction at this point, especially with Transmute Artifact in Antiquities, and as a more general purpose – although one shot use – Mishra’s Workshop. Mana Vault was also a critical component of the Mind Twist decks, and so could have also been restricted at this time to curb game-swinging Mind Twists.

August 1, 1994

What Happened:

• Chaos Orb is restricted
• Divine Intervention is banned
• Falling Star is restricted
• Mind Twist is restricted
• Mirror Universe is restricted
• Recall is restricted
• Sword of the Ages is restricted
• Tempest Efreet is banned
• Underworld Dreams is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Falling Star is banned
• Mirror Universe is restricted
• Tempest Efreet is banned

Analysis:

In a strange historical anomaly, only one of the two Ante cards from Legends was banned with the Legends set release in June. Rebirth was banned on June 1st, and Tempest Efreet was not. Both cards should have been banned at the same time, and banned immediately. Following the problems with Chaos Orb and manual dexterity cards in general, Falling Star should have also been banned, not restricted.

Mind Twist’s restriction here was completely justified after its dominance in a string of summer tournaments mentioned before. As noted above, the DC could have also restricted Mana Vault at this point, since it fueled the Mind Twist decks.

Recall’s restriction follows the same logic as Feldon’s Cane, Regrowth, and Copy Artifact, but Recall should probably not have been restricted. It is unrestricted in most 93/94 Old School environments (Eternal Central’s being the main exception), and it’s not heavily played, as least not as of yet. Since Recall exiles itself, like Felon’s Cane, it does not permit unlimited loops like Regrowth.

Underworld Dreams creates a fascinating combo deck with Winds of Change, and was a popular win condition in the fall of 1994 and in Type I tournaments of 1996. According to Beth Moursand, “Dealing damage for each card your opponent draws is good by itself, but in multiples it is devastating. If accompanied by Howling Mine and other cheap ‘force your opponent to draw’-type cards, Underworld Dreams can be nearly unbeatable.”

This is a case of missing the forest for the trees. While Underworld Dreams led to some of the game’s first post-Banned and Restricted List combo decks, these decks were a unique and strategically diversifying force in the format. Perhaps even more importantly, these decks were a perfect answer to the growing power of control decks following the Legends expansion, which ushered in the so-called “creatureless era of Magic.” Underworld Dreams provided the perfect metagame antidote, since it could be played off a Dark Ritual before a blue player could make their second land drop for Mana Drain.

Mirror Universe is a similar, but different case. Although Mirror Universe also offered a combo finish for decks like Lich, it had a historical bug that made it more powerful than it would be in a modern rules context. Specifically, under Third Edition rules (which arrived with Revised Edition), players did not lose games due from damage or loss of life until the end of the phase. As a result, players could inflict damage upon themselves, and then use Mirror Universe as a win condition before moving to their draw step. While it is unclear just how dominating such a tactic could be when unrestricted, it was not unreasonable to restrict Mirror Universe on that basis.

Divine Intervention is annoying, but the card is almost impossible to cast. It should not have been banned, along the same reason Shahrazad probably should not have.

The restriction of Sword of the Ages is inexplicable. According to Beth Moursand, it was restricted because it “allows any creature-heavy deck to do a huge amount of nearly unstoppable damage.” Yet, this was a case of bad timing. As noted above, the Legends expansion ushered in the “creatureless era of Magic,” a hyperbolic description to be sure, but it was nonetheless a metagame where this card was rarely seen. It should not have been restricted.

October 10, 1994

What Happened:

• Maze of Ith is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

The only card restricted in the wake of The Dark expansion (which arrived in August), the restriction of Maze of Ith spurred the first documented case of community pushback I’ve uncovered. After explaining that The Dark was “engineered” to avoid possible restrictions, NetRep Tom Wylie engaged in a sustained back-and-forth conversation with Magic community members who questioned the reasoning behind this restriction, and created a template for such conversations today.

Initially Tom explained that Maze was restricted “basically…for reasons of popular demand.” This explanation was found wanting by community members. One Usenet commenter sarcastically chided Tom with a sharp-tongued rejoinder: “Lovely precedent. Ok, everyone in unison now: RESTRICT THE HEALING SALVE!!!!”

In response, Tom conceded that his initial response was an oversimplification, and that “Maze of Ith was restricted because it was unduly dominating play…People were feeling compelled to have four of them in their decks just to be competitive, and therefore to design decks built around getting rid of Maze of Ith. Therefore, it was restricted. If Healing Salve ever reached this level of domination, it would be restricted too, but somehow I don’t see that happening…”

Rather than resolve the controversy, his explanation raised more questions. Players wondered how Maze was more “dominating” than a handful of other anti-creature tactics, including The Abyss or Forcefield. As one commenter put it, “I thought that the only reason that a card is restricted is because it unbalances game play so severely that four can make a duel out to be just another ‘who gets a better draw’ match.”

Tom explained that Maze of Ith was played at a much higher frequency than the other cards mentioned, and that if other cards reached that level of play (“dominance”), they, too, could be restricted. When pressed, however, Tom conceded that another factor in the decision to restrict Maze was that it was a “game-dragger,” and that if not for this fact, as well as the fact that it was dominating some metagames, it would probably not be restricted. It is also possible that the emergent ‘creatureless era’ scared the Duelists’ Convocation, and restricting Maze of Ith was an obvious way that they could nudge more creature decks back into the format.

For the same reason that Ivory Tower and other so-called “game draggers” should not be restricted, neither should have Maze of Ith. I have been unable to uncover any evidence that Maze of Ith dominated Magic tournaments in two months it was unrestricted, despite Tom’s claims (which are presumably correct). But even if it did in particular regions, the fact that it was not heavily played even as a restricted card suggested that it may not have truly warranted that status. Note that The Deck never ran Maze of Ith. It slows down the game, but in a format with unrestricted Strip Mine, and land destruction strategies widely played, it was hardly a problem card.

The full discussion of this matter is described in the 1994 chapter, but the explanations that Tom advanced help clarify, for an early audience, the Duelists’ Convocation’s emergent frameworks and criteria for restriction.

April 19, 1995

What Happened:

• Balance is restricted
• Fork is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Mana Drain is restricted
• Balance is restricted
• Strip Mine is restricted

Analysis:

At the beginning of 1995, the DC carved a new format out of the existing constructed format, and dubbed the original format “Type I,” and the new format, “Type II.” These formats shared the same Banned and Restricted Lists, for administrative simplicity, despite sharing different card pools.

The April announcements were the first change to the Restricted List in many months, and the first restriction entirely driven by metagame developments rather than new printings.

The impetus for the restriction of Balance was the aforementioned Maysonet Balance Rack deck. Balance was sufficiently annoying and problematic that it really did justify restriction.

Fork was restricted because of the Fork-Recursion deck, which was more of a novelty than a tournament killer. But Fork also violated the DC’s desire to avoid cards that evaded the impact of restriction, like Copy Artifact, Regrowth, Recall, and Feldon’s Cane. By mid-February, an NYU student named Robert Hahn identified Black Vise and Fork as “two of the more powerful unrestricted spells in the format.” Like Berserk and Candelabra, Fork also ‘multiplied’ existing effects. Bay Area player Mark Chalice’s “Fork Recursion” deck appears to be the immediate impetus for the restriction of Fork, although that deck was not quite so fast or powerful as the DC believed.

It took several turns for the Recursion deck to build up to the combo, and it probably did not defeat many Control decks. In February, Brian Weissman’s The Deck had won the DundraCon Type I tournament in San Francisco, and The Deck became the format’s best deck. If the DC really feared this deck, a better restriction would have been Fastbond, or possibly even Howling Mine. What probably made Fork the logical target was the Feldon’s Cane/Copy Artifact factor, a consideration we no longer credit.

Mana Drain, on the other hand, probably should have been restricted around this time. It was clear by late spring of 1995 that Mana Drain control decks like The Deck were the best thing in the format. Although the coming Ice Age would rebalance the format, Mana Drain should probably have been restricted here.

Also, the predominance of Strip Mine across the format, in both control and aggro decks, and the overwhelming power of land destruction strategies, probably should have led to its restriction here, and not three years later when Wasteland was printed.

Strip Mine actually fit the criteria that the DC described when restricting Maze of Ith. It was used by most strategies across the format, from creature decks, to creatureless Black Vise decks, to control decks like The Deck.

November 1, 1995

What Happened:

• Channel is no longer restricted, and is banned
• Chaos Orb is no longer restricted, and is banned
• Falling Star is no longer restricted, and is banned
• Zuran Orb is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Demonic Consultation is restricted

Analysis:

As already noted, Chaos Orb and Falling Star should have been banned at inception, and Channel could have remained safely restricted.

Zuran Orb was restricted for similar reasons to Ivory Tower. As Beth Moursand later explained, “Much like Ivory Tower’s ability, the Zuran Orb’s ability to create a lot of life makes tournament games drag on far longer than is acceptable.” If Ivory Tower warranted restriction, then Zuran Orb probably did as well. But neither truly merited it. However, the Banned and Restricted List, as of early 1995, was being managed for two formats, Type I and Type II. Zuran Orb was probably more problematic in Type II.

Zuran Orb was also immensely powerful with both Land Tax and Necropotence. However, Necropotence was panned upon release, and it would take some time for its full power to be appreciated.

Demonic Consultation presents one of a handful of special and more difficult cases in the history of the Banned and Restricted List, let alone an alternative history such as this one. One of the advantages of historical hindsight is that we better appreciate the benefits and risks of cards such as this. Demonic Consultation was not a format dominating tactic like Mind Twist was in 1994, or Mana Drain in the first half of 1995.

Many players likely shied away from this hyper-efficient tutor because of an irrational fear of the risks. Given what we know now, Consultation should have been restricted at an earlier date than it ultimately was (in October 2000). In particular, Consult was used by a variety of combo decks, and could have been used by many more (such as Reanimator decks), in addition to a variety of black decks, including Necropotence decks. But it is unclear exactly when it should have been restricted.

The one drawback of Consultation is that it presents a much higher risk case when Consulting for restricted cards, such that decks that rely heavily on the Restricted List have a more difficult time making use of it. Still, restricting Consultation here or thereabouts was probably the best structural decision for the format, with the immediate effect of reducing the power and consistency of the emergent Necro decks, which were one of the best decks in the format by 1996.

If Illusionary Mask had been issued the errata it was later given in 2001, the MaskNaught deck, which could be built after Mirage, would have been a perfect example of how abusive this card is unrestricted, and why it probably deserved restriction. In addition, giving Reanimator decks consistent access to Bazaar of Baghdad or Animate effects is another example of why this card merited restriction. Not because of those decks per se, but because of the kinds of deck construction Consultation enables.

February 1, 1996

What Happened:

• Black Vise is restricted
• Mind Twist is no longer restricted, and is banned

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

This was a screwy situation. Black Vise was restricted in Type I because it was a problem in Type II. Type I players were livid, and not unjustifiably so.

Black Vise had become a very important strategic weapon, both to combat control decks like The Deck and Necropotence decks, but also the win condition for decks like the Nether Void deck. Restricting Black Vise single-handedly crippled a broad class of decks. By his own account, Sean O’Brien wrote a strongly worded, profanity laced letter to Wizards protesting the restriction of Black Vise in Type I. The DCI (rebranded from the DC in late 1995) must have taken notice of community anger, as it asked readers of The Duelist magazine to write in and share their thoughts about whether the Type I and Type II Banned and Restricted Lists should be separated.

As Beth Moursand later admitted, the restriction of Black Vise here was the impetus for separating the Type I and Type II Banned and Restricted Lists. When that happened a few months later, Black Vise was unrestricted in Type I. This may be the first instance of a successful campaign to unrestrict cards. The DCI also decided to unrestrict a few more cards as well.

Why was Mind Twist banned? As we saw, Channel was the second card banned outright in Type I for power level reasons. But Mind Twist’s path to the Banned List is somewhat different. Brian Weissman, lost the quarterfinals of a Type I tournament in November to a Hymn/Mind Twist deck, and vowed to go on “Magic strike” and urged other players on the Internet to boycott DCI-sanctioned tournaments until the card was banned. Another player started a poll on the issue, another first. Paul Pantera, another active Usenet poster and contributor to The Dojo, helped lead the campaign, to its successful conclusion.

This was perhaps the first highly visible example of public pressure leading to a restriction or banning.

April 1, 1996

What Happened:

• Ali from Cairo is no longer restricted
• Black Vise is no longer restricted
• Sword of the Ages is no longer restricted
• Time Vault is unbanned

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

Since none of these cards should have been restricted, none of them needed to be unrestricted. Again, Sean O’Brien’s letter and the collective response helped lead to the separation of the Type I and Type II Banned and Restricted Lists, so that Black Vise could be unrestricted in Type 1.

The unbanning of Time Vault requires further explanation, however. What happened here was that Time Vault was given power-level errata that rendered it relatively inert. Instead of correcting for a templating mistake, Wizards issued remarkable power-level errata that changed the fundamental intended and ruled functionality of the card, going so far as to add a “time counter.” This errata solved the metagame problem, allowing it be unbanned, but doubled down on a policy that would become discredited in time.

October 1, 1996

What Happened:

• Fastbond is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Fastbond is restricted
• Mana Drain is unrestricted
• Mirror Universe is unrestricted

Analysis:

Fastbond was restricted on account of a new artifact from Alliances, Storm Cauldron. As the DCI explained: “Fastbond has occupied a spot on the DCI’s ‘most watched’ list for some time. Fastbond is similar to Channel in its ability to create grossly overpowered, game-winning combinations. This is most obvious when Fastbond is used in conjunction with Storm Cauldron, effectively creating a Channel for colored mana, with preventable damage.”

Fastbond is a reasonable restriction, but not for this reason. Fastbond enabled the format’s best and most consistent combo decks, which grew even more powerful with Ice Age. Restricting Fastbond was a reasonable way to curb these decks.

With Zoo decks and Necropotence decks providing competition for The Deck in 1995 through 1996, Mana Drain could probably be unrestricted around this time. And with Combo about to truly blossom around the corner, Mana Drain would become an important foil.

With the introduction of Fifth Edition rules with Mirage a month later, which caused players to die immediate upon reaching zero life, rather than at the end of the phase, Mirror Universe should have been unrestricted around this time.

July 1, 1997

What Happened:

• Black Vise is restricted (again)

What Should Have Happened:

• Mana Crypt is restricted
• Mana Vault is restricted
• Vampiric Tutor is restricted
• Mystical Tutor is restricted

Analysis:

Visions was a transformative set for Type I. Years of gradual printings had provided abundant, but largely unused mana supplies such as Mana Crypt and Mana Vault (and Hurkyl’s Recall). Although some players like to play these cards to fuel large Fireballs, what was lacking was a powerful engine to abuse that mana. Visions’ Prosperity provided that fuel. Prosperity Combo became the best deck in the format, and not just a theoretical one. It was actually wining tournaments everywhere.

The reason Black Vise once again got the axe here was because of the emergent Prosperity Combo deck, like Patrick Chapin’s here. Instead of restricting Vise, the mana engine should have been restricted, including Mana Crypt, and probably Mana Vault, along with the two tutors. If not that, then at least Prosperity should have been considered for restriction.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see, however, that these mana accelerants would be used by other combo strategies, and that Prosperity was only ever a problem in Type I on account of these artifact accelerants.

Restricting Black Vise was like restricting Tendrils of Agony. It was the wrong target, and mistook the salient feature of the deck for the deck’s true engines.

Vampiric Tutor and Mystical Tutor also needed to be restricted, as they could efficiently find other restricted haymakers like Ancestral Recall, Timetwister, Balance, and Time Walk. The tutors were asymmetric in helping some decks more than others, such as the combo decks and The Deck, but like Demonic Consultation, they were omnipresent deck building tools that ultimately deserved restriction.

October 1, 1997

What Happened:

• Candelabra of Tawnos is no longer restricted
• Copy Artifact is no longer restricted
• Feldon’s Cane is no longer restricted
• Mishra’s Workshop is no longer restricted
• Zuran Orb is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

In all probability, none of the cards unrestricted here merited restriction in the first place, although the DCI would have had to monitor the case of Mishra’s Workshop over the years to know for sure. Since Workshop was restricted for the duration, we can never know how much play it would have seen in the interim as an unrestricted card.

While most of the cards unrestricted here were obvious, the case of Mishra’s Workshop deserves an explanatory note. An articulate, but young Type I player named Brian Kelly (yes, the future Vintage Champion), wrote compelling letters on the Usenet to Wizards arguing for the unrestriction of Mishra’s Workshop, and entitled his letters a “campaign to unrestrict.” The timing suggest a possibility that his letters may have had some effect.

January 1, 1998

What Happened:

• Strip Mine is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Lotus Petal is restricted

Analysis:

The DCI finally restricted Strip Mine once Wasteland was printed in Tempest, but Strip Mine should have been restricted long before.

Lotus Petal was printed in Tempest in October 1997. This would have been the time to restrict it as well. Petal was an automatic four-of in all of the Prosperity decks of 1998, and then later the Tolarian Academy decks of the near future. It should have been restricted on the same grounds as Mana Crypt and Mana Vault. Petal was particularly important to the combo decks of this era because it could be used to play cards like Abeyance, City of Solitude, and Vampiric Tutor.

January 1, 1999

What Happened:

• Stroke of Genius is restricted
• Tolarian Academy is restricted
• Windfall is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Stroke of Genius is restricted
• Tolarian Academy is restricted
• Windfall is restricted
• Yawgmoth’s Will is restricted

Analysis:

Urza’s Saga was perhaps the most significant addition to the Type I card pool since Legends, or perhaps even Limited Edition. As Zvi Mowshowitz put it in his set review, “If Type I is to survive as a playable format…several cards in the set will have to be restricted. In fact, at least one of them was so obviously a problem card that it should have been put on the Restricted List before it was even printed.” He was not wrong. The only question was which cards needed restriction.

The DCI got it nearly right upon the release of Urza’s Saga. The problem was that they let too many cards slip by beforehand.

If Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Lotus Petal, Vampiric Tutor, and Mystical Tutor had been restricted already, the Academy decks that existed in late 1998 and early 1999 would never have been as fast or as brutal. The only halfway decent unrestricted artifacts available would have been Mox Diamond and Lion’s Eye Diamond, which should have been left unrestricted. And with just one Academy, Candelabra isn’t good enough to restrict. At most you want one or two.

Yawgmoth’s Will is going to be a problem, but the metagame had not yet bore that out. With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can see that Yawgmoth’s Will should have been restricted. It is mind-boggling that neither Lotus Petal nor Lion’s Eye Diamond were restricted at this point, and could be played with 4 Yawgmoth’s Will.

April 1, 1999

What Happened:

• Maze of Ith is no longer restricted
• Memory Jar is restricted
• Time Spiral is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Memory Jar is restricted
• Tinker is restricted
• Crop Rotation is restricted

Analysis:

Even after the January restrictions, the Tolarian Academy decks were still too good, and got new fun tools from Urza’s Legacy in the meantime. These decks dominated the Type I portion of the Magic Invitational.

Memory Jar was deserving of restriction, but there is no way Tinker should not have also been restricted. It’s essentially a cheaper (and more flexible) Memory Jar.

It’s possible that Lion’s Eye Diamond also needed restriction here, as it is especially good with Yawgmoth’s Will, but we can assume that the restriction of Yawgmoth’s Will would curb that tactic.

Crop Rotation needs to be restricted so that Academy could not be reliably found.

The reason Time Spiral does not need restriction here is because Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and Lotus Petal should be restricted, but were not. Time Spiral is not too good, in any case.

October 1, 1999

What Happened:

• Crop Rotation is restricted
• Divine Intervention is unbanned
• Doomsday is restricted
• Dream Halls is restricted
• Enlightened Tutor is restricted
• Frantic Search is restricted
• Ivory Tower is no longer restricted
• Grim Monolith is restricted
• Hurkyl’s Recall is restricted
• Lotus Petal is restricted
• Mana Crypt is restricted
• Mana Vault is restricted
• Mind Over Matter is restricted
• Mirror Universe is no longer restricted
• Mox Diamond is restricted
• Mystical Tutor is restricted
• Shahrazad is unbanned
• Tinker is restricted
• Underworld Dreams is no longer restricted
• Vampiric Tutor is restricted
• Voltaic Key is restricted
• Yawgmoth’s Bargain is restricted
• Yawgmoth’s Will is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Yawgmoth’s Bargain is restricted

Analysis:

This is where things really slipped the rails. The DCI’s measured restrictions of just a few cards in January and again in April were fairly well targeted. They missed a few things, like Tinker, Crop Rotation, and Yawgmoth’s Will.

They must have just thrown their hands up, however, because they restricted 18 cards here, as many as the original January 26, 1994 announcement. True, the final set in Urza’s block, Urza’s Destiny, introduced more broken cards, but only one probably needed restriction, Yawgmoth’s Bargain.

Of the 18 cards they restricted, 8 should already have been restricted, and the remainder did not need to be. Hurkyl’s Recall, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, and Mox Diamond probably did not deserve restriction with Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, and Lotus Petal restricted.

Doomsday was a cool, but extremely fragile combo deck at this point. Andrew Cuneo and some European players had success with Doomsday in Type I, but the Doomsday deck required the combo player to loop with Timetwister and Regrowth, and would have been greatly weakened with Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Lotus Petal restricted.

Mind Over Matter was a problem in other formats, but, so far as I am able to tell, saw little to zero Type I play before its restriction. Its restriction is inexplicable, and a clear sign of an overreaction or perhaps exasperation. There is a similar case with Dream Halls, which was, like Doomsday, an engine for another recursion loop combo called TurboZvi, that posted no documented Type I results.

The restrictions of Enlightened Tutor and Frantic Search were also overreactions.

Notably, 5 cards were unbanned or unrestricted here, including Shahrazad. Apparently, the DCI determined that Shahrazad’s logistical problems were not so damaging as to require a ban, let alone a restriction. That determination would not hold, however.

October 1, 2000

What Happened:

• Channel is no longer banned, and is restricted
• Demonic Consultation is restricted
• Mind Twist is no longer banned, and is restricted
• Necropotence is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Necropotence is restricted

Analysis:

This is the point where Necropotence definitively needed restriction. The Trix deck was the best deck in the format, and it was dominating Type I tournaments. In the March 2000 Magic Invitational, 9 of the 16 competitors played “Necro-Donate.”

It is possible that Necropotence should have been restricted earlier, but many players felt that it was a necessarily foil to control decks like Keeper or The Deck. Necro decks were popular in the format, and popular among the player base. In any event, despite the enormous card advantage, Necropotence was somewhat acceptable when finishing with Corrupt, pump Knights, or Juzam Djinns. It was destroying the format when finishing with Illusions/Donate and Pyroblast.

Demonic Consultation should already have been restricted, and neither Channel nor Mind Twist should have been banned in the first place. The DCI’s explanation, however, made perfect sense in context. Neither Channel nor Mind Twist, as singletons, were capable of dominating the format.

January 1, 2002

What Happened:

• Fact or Fiction is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Fact or Fiction is restricted

Analysis:

The sweeping restrictions of 1999 did their job too well. They did more than cripple the combo decks that had gradually emerged in 1997 and 1998, like the Prosperity or Doomsday deck. They wiped combo out of the format, until the discovery of Necro-Donate, and then Necropotence became the most powerful combo engine.

When Necropotence was finally restricted, the format reset in a fairly radical way. The Deck, in the form of Keeper, once again rose to the top of the format. Single-color Aggro decks and multi-color Zoo decks composed pretty much the remainder of what could be described as Type I post-Necro. That is, until players figured out how to best abuse Invasion’s powerful new draw spell, Fact or Fiction.

It took about 6 months, but by March of 2001, Type I players had honed in on what was called “Accelerated Blue,” or Blue-Bullshit, as the most powerful home for Fact or Fiction. A player named Ed Paltzik (aka Legend) began winning Type I tournaments at Neutral Ground in New York, one of the few regular Type I stores in the United States. Tom LaPille started dominating online play with his version in the emergent hub of BDominia for Type I discussion. Players elsewhere found this formula overpowering.

The problem was that the mono blue deck could not only race Keeper in terms of resolving and chaining Facts, but it had the powerful tactic of Back to Basics as well, as a super-trump in control matches. Quick Morphlings trumped anything that Aggro decks could do, while Powder Keg cleaned up weenie threats.

Fact or Fiction dominated the format, especially the American Type I metagame, and the restriction was quite merited. When the DCI did restrict Fact, Ed Paltzik, with a note of self-congratulatory approval, applauded the decision: “This will bring to an end 9 months of the greatest deck I have ever had the privilege of playing.”

April 1, 2003

What Happened:

• Berserk is no longer restricted
• Earthcraft is restricted
• Entomb is restricted
• Hurkyl’s Recall is no longer restricted
• Recall is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

The story behind these changes is somewhat complex.

A controversy over the format had erupted in 2002, when Mark Rosewater made a fairly uninformed comment about the state of the Type I format, elicited an angry reaction from the Type I community, which led to yet another controversial article dedicated to Type I.

The controversy spiraled in a dozen directions, touching on issues as diverse as Wizards support for the format, the Reserved List and reprint policy, printings for Type I, the Banned and Restricted List, and errata.

In the end, however, it produced several tangible results. First, Mark Rosewater announced the creation of a dedicated Type I Championship at GenCon, and second, that the DCI would be looking for more cards to remove from the Restricted List, and third, that they would give Type I more attention on the Wizards homepage.

True to their word, in February 2003, Aaron Forsythe invited readers to make suggestions for changes to the Type I format. Taking up that offer, I created three polls on themanadrain.com, asking the community to vote on the possible unrestrictions of Fork, Berserk, and Recall. 90% of players supported the unrestriction of Recall, 63% of Berserk, and 53% of Fork. I reported these results to Mr. Forsythe, and he cited my letter in his column, along with other feedback he received.

At the next official DCI announcement, the DCI unrestricted Recall, Hurkyl’s Recall, and Berserk. In addition to just cleaning up the list, the DCI noted that Hurkyl’s Recall would be a counter-tactic against artifact-heavy decks. How right they were.

These restrictions were sensible, but these cards should probably have not been restricted in the first place.

The explanation for why Entomb and Earthcraft were restricted is also not straightforward. The official explanation said: “Every good “tutor” card is restricted in Type 1. Entomb is one of the best tutors left in Type 1, and it now joins Demonic Tutor, Demonic Consultation, Enlightened Tutor, etc. on the restricted list.” Similarly, it said “Earthcraft joins the many other combo cards that are restricted in Type 1.”

I was told, however, by a judge connected to Organized Play and the DCI, that Earthcraft and Squirrel Nest combo and Entomb-enabled Worldgorger Dragon combo decks had dominated play in Type 1.5 (later known as Legacy).

By rule, every card restricted in Type I was automatically banned in Type 1.5. This meant that the only way to correct the problems in Type 1.5 was to restrict the cards in Type I, even though they were not a problem in that format.

Since Type I format decisions should not have been based on the needs of Type 1.5, these cards should not have been restricted.

July 1, 2003

What Happened:

• Gush is restricted
• Mind’s Desire is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Gush is restricted
• Mind’s Desire is restricted

Analysis:

This is one of the first restrictions in a period where widespread Top 8 data – and not just tournament reports – from regular Type I tournament was being reported. There was a regular monthly tournament called the Dülmen in Germany that regularly enrolled 80-100 players, and a handful of other major European events, in addition to regularly reported tournaments in the United States.

Based upon these results in the months leading up to this announcement, Gush decks had risen to 37.5% of Top 8s. The morphling.de archive is no longer live, but that was a good source of data at the time. Carl Devos also archived tournament reports, and did a great job of doing so, from the old Usenet and elsewhere.

The restriction of Gush was not unreasonable, but it might have been more prudent to wait a few more months to see whether the recently emergent Workshop decks could tackle it. That said, it probably would have proven necessary to restrict.

Mind’s Desire is an interesting case, and the first case of a pre-emptive restriction of a new printing in the history of the format. The mocked up “Slurpy” deck (so named on account of the win condition, Brain Freeze) promised to be one of the best Combo decks never played, because Mind’s Desire was pre-emptively restricted.

The problem with pre-emptive restriction is that it is impossible to know, with any degree of confidence of certainty, that a card truly merits restriction. It is a better policy to let cards play out. There are too many cases of cards being wrongly overhyped and completely ignored to trust one or even a few great minds to understand how it will unfold in a complex metagame.

On the other hand, the DCI probably did not want the inaugural Type I Championship a few months later at GenCon to be marred by Mind’s Desire. That was probably the right call.

January 1, 2004

What Happened:

• Burning Wish is restricted
• Chrome Mox is restricted
• Lion’s Eye Diamond is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Lion’s Eye Diamond is restricted

Analysis:

The precipitating factor for this decision was the emergence of a new combo deck, called “Long.dec,” also known as “Burning Tendrils” or “Burning Academy.” This deck was brutally fast, and was defeating the format’s most powerful control decks in testing and some notable tournaments. It was not, however, dominating the format in any conventional sense of that term. It did not win any large, major tournament in the final months of 2003 or disproportionately represent the Top 8 finishers of local events. It did win a number of local tournaments in the hands of the right pilot.

The DCI announcement grounded the restriction of these three cards in categorical terms. It described Burning Wish as an “efficient tutor,” and Chrome Mox and Lion’s Eye Diamond as “fast mana.”

The terse announcement was supplemented by a more detailed explanation, not just of these three restrictions, but of other cards they considered, in a “Latest Developments” column by Research and Development head Randy Buehler. In his article he differentiated Cunning Wish and Spoils of the Vault from Burning Wish. Although Spoils was more ‘efficient,’ Randy declared it ‘not a problem.’ Thus, the real nature of the restrictions was somewhat obscured. It was not simply the fact that Burning Wish as a tutor, and thereby evaded restriction (as noted in the DCI announcement), let alone an ‘efficient one,’ but some other criterion besides.

The rest of Randy’s explanation seemed to provide the answer:

“A month ago when we were trying to decide whether any cards needed to be added to the Type 1 Restricted List, we put together a copy of “Long.dec” and did some goldfishing. Our version could kill a goldfish on the first turn 60% of the time – an absurdly high percentage of the time, even for Type 1. The public was also complaining about this new deck so we concluded that we clearly needed to do something about it.”

They did. However, they did not need to restrict three cards to neuter Long.dec. Restricting Lion’s Eye Diamond would have quite sufficed. The deck was almost entirely reliant on Lion’s Eye Diamond for its speed and consistency. Restricting LED would have slowed it down considerably, as subsequent versions of the deck demonstrated. Burning Wish was not so much better than Grim Tutor or Death Wish (which were, in some ways, easier to cast being playable off a Dark Ritual). Chrome Mox was not even used in the most common versions of the deck, such as mine that was listed in Randy’s article. In addition, the recent printing of Chalice of the Void was just beginning to have a metagame impact, and was a powerful anti-Long.dec tactic.

September-December 20, 2004

What Happened:
• Braingeyser is no longer restricted
• Doomsday is no longer restricted
• Earthcraft is no longer restricted
• Fork is no longer restricted
• Stroke of Genius is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Braingeyser is no longer restricted
• Stroke of Genius is no longer restricted
• Trinisphere is restricted

Analysis:

Following the rebranding of Type 1.5 with the creation of the “Legacy” format, the DCI unbuckled the Vintage and Legacy Banned and Restricted Lists. With these lists no longer conjoined, these unrestrictions were appropriate or long overdue.

Earthcraft, as noted, was restricted because of Type 1.5 (Legacy). With the lists separated, it could be safely unrestricted.

Doomsday should not have been restricted in the first place, as the combo – before the Mind’s Desire/Beacon kill was discovered – was absurdly convoluted, and required a Timetwister loop to work. It was a neat hat trick, but not a format killer.

Fork was about to be reprinted in less than 12 months, but as a blue spell, Twincast. Fork’s heyday was a blip, and should never have been restricted. Its unrestriction was long overdue.

The unrestriction of Braingeyser was a no-brainer at this point, and Stroke of Genius being restricted makes little sense with Geyser similarly unrestricted, so it was unrestricted three months later.

However, Aaron Forsythe noted that the complaints about Mishra’s Workshop needing restricting “come pretty close to being true.” Mishra’s Workshop Aggro decks gradually rose in power and prominence starting in late 2001 with Stacker, then Stacker 2, then a powerful deck known as Tools N Tubbies (TnT).

When Stax formally emerged, however, tolerance for Workshops began to ebb. Players did not enjoy getting crushed out. The printings of Trinisphere and Crucible of Worlds in 2004 amped up these decks tremendously.

As Aaron said, “If trends continue, something will have to be done about the unholy trio of Workshop, Trinisphere, and Crucible of Worlds. We’re not there yet, and perhaps we never will be, but if current trends continue we will have to react. Again, I don’t want people living in fear that the DCI is after their favorite cards, but I also don’t want players to think we aren’t aware of one of the biggest hot-button issues in the format.”

They eventually intervened.

March 20, 2005

What Happened:

• Trinisphere is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

The first card restricted from a Workshop deck, the case of Trinisphere is one of the strangest cases in the history of the format. Released in Darksteel in February of 2004, this card was allowed to exist not three months, 6 months, or even 9 months. It was legal in Vintage for a full year.

This gave players more than enough time to observe its effects. For starters, Trinisphere decks accounted for half of the Vintage Championship Top 8 in 2004. On the other hand, Control Slaver won the tournament, fueled by Thirst for Knowledge and Goblin Welder.

Trinisphere decks had a clear impact on the format: they made tempo Workshop decks sporting Juggernaut a better choice than more pure prison, Smokestack-based decks. After all, Juggernaut just wins the game after a first turn Trinisphere, where Smokestack creates a long, drawn out game, even if it is close to a soft lock.

A first turn Trinisphere was almost impossible to deal with. The only three things you could do were Force of Will it, play your own Workshop, or Wasteland your opponent’s Workshop to try to get back into the game. That said, it was not a world beater.

In the final two months before its restriction, Trinisphere decks put up just 26.2% of Top 8 decklists. Trinisphere’s restriction cannot be explained by simply tournament performance or metagame dominance. Trinisphere fundamentally distorted game play.

Indeed, the DCI’s explanation emphasized this. Writing on behalf of the DCI, Aaron Forsythe emphasized the non-interactive component of the card.

“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 is the first, unambiguous instance of a card being restricted because it was “unfun,” and on-interactive rather than tournament performance. That said, this is not a sharp binary. If Trinisphere had seen zero tournament play or Top 8s, it’s unlikely it would have been restricted.

In any case, the timing was strange. Trinisphere deserved restriction, but it probably should have been restricted three or six months earlier.

September-October 20, 2005

What Happened:

• Portal and Starter sets become legal for play
• Imperial Seal is restricted
• Personal Tutor is restricted
• Mind Over Matter is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Imperial Seal is restricted

Analysis:

One of the suggestions Aaron received in 2003 was to bring Portal sets into the Type I (now rebranded “Vintage”) format. This was something that took months of planning, but was finally accomplished. Accompanying the introduction of the sets, however, was the restriction of cards that mimicked restricted cards.

Unfortunately, the differences made a difference. Personal Tutor was so narrow that it should not have been restricted. Some players feared it could get Tinker reliably, but with Imperial Seal, Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, and Mystical Tutor, there was already a critical mass of Tinker tutors. Personal Tutor did not need restriction.

Imperial Seal is a more difficult case, but it probably deserved its status. The ability to consistently find a range of cards, like Black Lotus, Tolarian Academy, Necropotence, Tinker, and Yawgmoth’s Will, means that Imperial Seal would have probably needed restriction regardless.

June 20, 2007

What Happened:

• Black Vise is no longer restricted
• Gifts Ungiven is restricted
• Gush is no longer restricted
• Mind Twist is no longer restricted
• Voltaic Key is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Merchant Scroll is restricted
• Mind Twist is no longer restricted

Analysis:

There are several monumental changes here, but the only restriction was Gifts Ungiven. Gifts had been legal in the Vintage format since 2004. It took some time for the Vintage community to realize its power, and “Meandeck Gifts” ended up winning the 2006 Vintage Championship. Through most of 2006, Gifts and Control Slaver jostled as the best control deck of the year, with Pitch Long the other top tier deck in the format.

Mid-way through 2007, however, the Pitch Long and Gifts began to hybridize into a deck Patrick Chapin dubbed “The Mean Deck.” The key card in both the Meandeck Gifts deck and the hybrid deck was Merchant Scroll. This is the point at which Merchant Scroll should have finally been restricted, and possibly Brainstorm as well.

Brainstorm had reached a level of prevalence that was virtually unmatched by any other tactic in the format, and was played as a four-of in virtually every blue deck. With the printing of Onslaught fetchlands, Brainstorm became a widely played format staple. It is possible Brainstorm should have been restricted even earlier.

Gifts itself was likely past its peak. In the immediate wake of the restriction, I examined all of the tournament results, and found that Gifts was only 18.3% of Top 8 decklists in major Vintage tournaments in the months leading up to its restriction.

Unfortunately – and this is especially painful for me to admit since I won the Vintage Championship in 2007 as a result of this decision – but Gush should probably not have been unrestricted here. The restriction of Merchant Scroll may have helped reduce the chance it would dominate again, but Brainstorm probably also needed to be restricted until Gush could be safely unrestricted.

Mind Twist, as we’ve seen, was restricted in August 1994, then banned a few years later after a campaign. It was safely unbanned in 2000, and by this point, it could be safely unrestricted as well. This was a good spot to unrestrict Mind Twist. There were a few players to win tournaments with Mind Twist decks in the immediate aftermath of its restriction, but the card eventually faded into the background of the format.

Black Vise and Voltaic Key should not have been restricted in the first place.

September 20, 2007

What Happened:

• Shahrazad is banned

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

Organized Play requested that the DCI ban this card for “logistical reasons.” It was legal since 1999 as an unrestricted card in Type I and Type 1.5 (later Vintage and Legacy). While the concerns over play space are hard to quantify let alone evaluate, since tournament results show that this card was barely played, it must have arisen from more casual quarters.

June 20, 2008

What Happened:

• Brainstorm is restricted
• Flash is restricted
• Gush is restricted
• Merchant Scroll is restricted
• Ponder is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Brainstorm is restricted

Analysis:

One of the most controversial and widely contested waves of restrictions in the history of the format. The DCI’s inadequate initial explanations led to two more public attempts to justify these restrictions (Explanation 1, Explanation 2, Explanation 3).

The unrestriction of Gush had led to a polarized format by late 2007, with Workshops and GroAtog decks dominating the format, at roughly 25% of Top 8s each. As the clock turned to 2008, however, things began to shift a bit. Tidespout Tyrant Oath became the best Gush deck, and then new Gush decks porting the entire engine proliferated, including Doomsday and Painter’s Servant combo. Gush maintained about a 25% of share of Top 8s until its re-restriction. As described above though, it probably should not have been unrestricted in 2007, and therefore did not yet deserve to be unrestricted here.

A year before, however, errata on Flash had led to its banning in Legacy. Future Sight dramatically powered up the Flash deck, giving it Summoner’s Pact for the Protean Hulk. This deck ended up winning the 2007 Magic Invitational. The coup de grace came, however, with Reveillark in early 2008, producing what some were calling “the Best Vintage Deck Ever” in Hulk Flash. This was because the deck could now win at instant speed, and did not require an attack step.

Despite their raw power, Flash decks were remarkable marginal to the overall Vintage metagame. In the four months before the restriction of Flash, Flash decks were just 13.24% of Top 8s, and in the immediate two months before its restriction, they were just 8.63% of Top 8s. Clearly, Flash was restricted for reasons that went beyond Top 8 performance.

If Merchant Scroll had been restricted, Flash would not have been quite so consistent. Merchant Scroll was extremely meritorious of restriction, as it was played in over 40% of Top 8 decklists in the months leading up to its restriction.

As mentioned above, Brainstorm, however, probably also needed to be restricted. It was in 55% of Top 8 decklists in the months before its ultimate restriction. Its restriction, alone, would have severely undercut the speed and consistency of many of the format’s prevailing decks, from Flash to Gush decks to decks like Pitch Long and Gifts. It’s possible that Brainstorm needed to be restricted earlier, but this would have been a good time.

It’s possible that just restricting Brainstorm here would have been insufficient, even with Merchant Scroll restricted, to make Flash tolerable. If so, the DCI could have subsequently restricted Flash. But one of the reasons that Flash was not dominant was because it was so vulnerable to cards like Leyline of the Void, which were widely played, in part, because of Dredge. Flash suffered a great deal of splash damage as a result, which is why it never dominated the format. Even alternative Flash decks, like Rector Flash, were vulnerable to simple graveyard tactics like Tormod’s Crypt. But Leyline of the Void was played such that no amount of countermagic or disruption could prevent it from coming into play.

The best policy here would have been to gauge the performance and prevalence of Flash with both Merchant Scroll and Brainstorm restricted.

With Gush restricted still, Ponder likely did not yet need to be restricted, either.

September 20, 2008

What Happened:

• Chrome Mox is no longer restricted
• Dream Halls is no longer restricted
• Mox Diamond is no longer restricted
• Personal Tutor is no longer restricted
• Time Spiral is no longer restricted
• Time Vault is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Time Vault is restricted

Analysis:

In a truly unfortunate confluence of events, my campaign to get Time Vault restored to its original ruled functionality succeeded when I confronted Richard Garfield directly about this issue. But it backfired tremendously when Wizards of the Coast printed a powerful new planeswalker that was comically synergistic with Time Vault, in the form of Tezzeret the Seeker. This new planeswalker made Time Vault far more abusive than I could have imagined.

I originally thought that Time Vault and Voltaic Key could be something like Painter’s Servant and Grindstone, in terms of overall power. But the printing of Tezzeret fundamentally changed that equation.

The significance of the unrestrictions here is tremendous: these reversals also signaled a reversal of the categorical bases on which these restrictions were made. Among them, it signaled that Wizards was abandoning the policy of restricting “fast mana,” just because it was fast mana, which would allow new cards like Mox Opal to enter the format without being restricted. These spells should not have been restricted in the first place, but it reflected a fundamental change in restriction policy that we should take note of nonetheless.

June 19, 2009

What Happened:

• Thirst for Knowledge is restricted
• Crop Rotation is no longer restricted
• Enlightened Tutor is no longer restricted
• Entomb is no longer restricted
• Grim Monolith is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Thirst for Knowledge is restricted
• Crop Rotation is no longer restricted

Analysis:

The Tezzeret Control deck became one of the most dominant Vintage control decks of all time. From roughly October 2009 until the restriction of Thirst for Knowledge, this deck had a more than 40% share of Vintage Top 8s, outperforming basically any historical benchmark for blue decks, as archetypes. It was better than Control Slaver, Gifts, GroAtog, or even Keeper or The Deck.

The only real options, as Tom LaPille noted in his explanation, were to restrict Thirst or Mana Drain. Tezzeret was only a 1 or 2-of, and they had long since decided against banning for power level or power level errata. Thirst was probably the right target. The deck adapted by playing Dark Confidant instead, but it was not nearly as dominant as the Thirst version.

I should note that if an unrestricted Gifts Ungiven engine was supporting the Tezzeret decks, it’s possible that Gifts may have ultimately needed restriction here.

Most of the cards unrestricted here should never have been restricted in the first place, but Crop Rotation was a card that probably merited restriction back in 1999. This was a good time to unrestrict it. Serum Powder had already been used in Dredge decks, and so Crop Rotation was not needed to find Bazaar of Baghdad. And Academy was no longer the power house that it once was, as the storm mechanic obviated the need for Academy to generate the requisite mana to win the game.

In the course of his explanation, however, Tom LaPille described Vintage as being organized around 4 pillars: Dark Ritual, Force of Will, Bazaar of Baghdad, and Mishra’s Workshop. Although not presented as a way to justify the restriction – or non-restriction – of certain cards, it has sometimes been interpreted that way. Rather, Tom was describing a helpful way to think about the various strategies in the format, but not the only way.

September 20, 2010

What Happened:

• Frantic Search is no longer restricted
• Gush is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Gush is no longer restricted
• Ponder is restricted

Analysis:

This was the perfect time to unrestrict Gush.

Erik Lauer’s explanation on behalf of the DCI cemented a new, but important concept in terms of Banned and Restricted List management. As he explained:

“The DCI tries, among other goals, to maintain banned and restricted lists which keep a diversity of decks in competitive tournaments. One way to do this is to ban or restrict cards which are leading to overpowered decks. Another way is to unrestrict cards which may allow new competitive decks, and then hope that those won’t crowd out more decks. While the lists for Eternal formats do tend to grow over the long run, the DCI has been making a particular effort to make changes by taking cards off the list more than by adding cards.”

In short, he articulated the goal of promoting format diversity, and advanced that goal with the unrestriction of Gush. With just two exceptions, for every quarter in the next three years, Gush was between 5-15% of Vintage Top 8s, with an average of 14%, a very healthy place to be. The experiment of unrestricting Gush actually worked.

The Dark Confidant/Jace Control deck was still the best blue deck in the format from 2010-2013, but Gush gave players another deck option, increasing the diversity of the format.

Later in his explanation, Erik focused on the impact of the restrictions of Brainstorm and Merchant Scroll, perhaps acknowledging the overreach of the 2008 restrictions: “Brainstorm and Merchant Scroll were restricted at the same time, however, and the DCI would like to revisit whether Gush decks can be a healthy addition to the diversity of the format if you can play 4 Gush, but not 4 of either of the other cards.”

He was proven right, at least for the next few years.

He closed, by stating that “we suspect this is an experiment worth running again with other restricted cards.” This was proven true, with a series of interesting and unexpected restrictions over the next few years.

With Preordain printed in the summer of 2010, Ponder probably needed to be restricted. This would have been the time to do so. In June 2010 Tom LaPille wrote an important column that shed further light on the 2008 restrictions, and provides a reason for why the printing of Preordain may justify a restriction to Ponder:

“In June of 2008, Ponder and Brainstorm were added to the Vintage restricted list. The short version of the reasoning is that the differences between the various blue Vintage decks had become very tiny; once they put four Force of Wills, four Ponders, four Brainstorms, all the best restricted cards, and some mana in their decks, there just wasn’t a lot of room for anything else.”

But, why then, was Preordain also not being restricted? Despite the similarities with Ponder, he explained that the DCI wanted to wait to evaluate the actual impact of Preordain, based, in part, on the reaction from the Vintage community:

“When we announced that Ponder and Brainstorm were to be restricted, there was a significant outcry from Vintage players who didn’t agree with the reasoning behind the change. We had seen enough data at that point to be confident in making the decision, but it’s been a while since four of a strong one mana cantrip has been legal, so things might be different now. Rather than shoot first and ask questions later, we’re going to see what Preordain does in Vintage before we do anything. I won’t promise that nothing will ever happen to it, but for now we’ll all get to find out together what Preordain does in Vintage.”

These explanations provide insight into the thinking and reasoning of the DCI, with implications for the future.

September 20, 2011

What Happened:

• Fact or Fiction is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Fact or Fiction is no longer restricted

Analysis:

It’s possible that Fact or Fiction could have been unrestricted sooner, but timing it would have been tricky, especially with the list as it “should” have been versus what it was. Fact would have had a minimal impact during the second Gush era (2007-2008), but Gush probably shouldn’t have been unrestricted at that time.

This proved to be the right moment.

Erik Lauer’s explanation again emphasized the importance of promoting format diversity in the management of the Banned and Restricted List. As he put it, “While the Vintage metagame is healthy, the DCI is still interested in occasionally unbanning some cards. That allows us to see if the metagame would be even more diverse with these cards allowed. Fact or Fiction was too powerful at one time, but that was when Mana Drain decks were at the top of the Metagame. They still are very good, but the DCI believes unrestricting Fact or Fiction is a reasonable risk to take to increase metagame diversity.”

Given the strength of control decks at the time, this may have seemed risky, but the empirical evidence justified the move: Fact or Fiction made almost no impact whatsoever.

September 20, 2012

What Happened:

• Burning Wish is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Lodestone Golem is restricted

Analysis:

The restriction of Lion’s Eye Diamond in 2003 neutered Burning Tendrils, and the introduction of the Portal and Starter sets gave these decks an equally good tutor in the form of Grim Tutor, and an even better one in the form of Imperial Seal. Dark Petition, printed in 2015, would give the deck an even better tutor. Burning Wish was still quite good, and could now be used to find Show and Tell to put a Griselbrand into play, as well as fetch Yawgmoth’s Will. But this deck was no longer the threat it once posed.

Lodestone Golem did real damage to Vintage. Like Trinisphere, it pushed Workshop decks into an efficient Aggro role they have never since relinquished, compared to the more refined Prison decks that had done so well before the printing of Trinisphere, and again after its restriction.

With the printing of Thorn of Amethyst, Workshop decks were set on the Aggro trajectory again, a trend which continued through Scars of Mirrodin block, which introduced Phyrexian Revoker and other big monsters. Kuldotha Forgemaster Workshop variants were another popular variant in that period, also buoyed by Lodestone.

Lodestone Golem flirted with format dominance for years after its printing, and even when it wasn’t dominant, it held the format in its vice grip. Lodestone should probably have been restricted years before it ultimately was, and this would have been the natural point, when Lodestone put up half of the Vintage Championship Top 8 in 2012.

April 22, 2013

What Happened:

• Regrowth is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Regrowth is no longer restricted

Analysis:

Probably one of the most surprising unrestrictions in the series, Erik Lauer correctly pointed out that Snapcaster Mage’s printing in Innistrad had created new competition for recursion spells. It’s possible that Regrowth could have been unrestricted earlier, but the DCI’s judgment was proven right, when Regrowth showed up in very few decks in multiples.

My biggest fear, that it would make the GushBond engine too good, was proven incorrect when the GushBond engine was proven entirely outmoded by a new class of Gush decks built around Delver of Secrets.

January 15, 2015

What Happened:

• Treasure Cruise is restricted
• Gifts Ungiven is no longer restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Treasure Cruise is restricted

Analysis:

The printing of the two delve spells in Khans of Tarkir upended the format. They were exacerbated by the printing of Dack Fayden in the summer before. In the three months before the restriction of Treasure Cruise, Treasure Cruise was making up a shocking 34% of Top 8 decklists, approaching the levels seen for Thirst for Knowledge in 2009. Something had to be done. Restricting Treasure Cruise was the right call.

This was probably as good a time as any to unrestrict Gifts Ungiven, but it probably didn’t merit restriction in the first place, if Merchant Scroll and Brainstorm had been restricted in more timely fashion. If it did, however, this was a good time to unrestrict it.

September 28, 2015

What Happened:

• Chalice of the Void is restricted
• Dig Through Time is restricted
• Thirst for Knowledge is unrestricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Dig Through Time is restricted
• Thorn of Amethyst is restricted

Analysis:

Khans of Tarkir’s damage to Vintage continued, and it’s likely that Dig needed to be restricted sooner. In the 6 months before Dig’s restriction, Dig was a shocking 43.75% of Top 8 decks.

Dig’s versatility made it a useful card beyond Comer School Xerox decks, but was used across the spectrum of blue strategies. The only reason it did not need to be restricted with Treasure Cruise was because Dig was not heavily played when Treasure Cruise was unrestricted.

Workshop decks, which had been marginalized during the Treasure Cruise moment, were resurgent again, thanks to more powerful printings. There were calls for restriction, and a nexus of players – especially on the Vintage Super League – focused on Chalice of the Void. Chalice of the Void was only in 26.6% of Top 8 decklists in the months before its restriction, compared to the nearly 44% noted above or Dig.

I argued that Chalice would not solve the problem, which was, and had been, Lodestone Golem. When Lodestone decks made up half of the Top 8 in the 2012 Vintage Championship, it should have been restricted at that point, especially since it was so oppressive in the year before.

At this point, instead of restricting Chalice, which was a lynchpin of Workshop Control decks, a better restriction would have been Thorn of Amethyst. With Thorn restricted, Workshop decks would have had ample incentive to diversify between Aggro and Prison variants again.

April 2, 2016

What Happened:

• Lodestone Golem is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Nothing

Analysis:

With Lodestone and Thorn already restricted, it’s possible that the Workshop problem would have been well in hand. If something more needed to be restricted, then Chalice could have been here.

Given the number of restrictions that Workshop decks have prompted by this point, it is also possible that Mishra’s Workshop should have been restricted around this point, if not earlier. The sheer quantity of restrictions largely on account of this card make it possible that an alternative history of the Banned and Restricted List should have targeted Mishra’s Workshop, as Aaron Forsythe suggested years before, instead of the resulting Lodestone Golem, Chalice of the Void, and Thorn of Amethyst.

The restriction of Lodestone here, however, fissured the Vintage community. Workshop players, enfranchised through Golem for its long stay, were up in arms, angry by the DCI’s decision. They vented their frustration on social media and message boards alike. This was one of the first times that a restriction was viewed as a direct attack, not just on a deck, but on a segment of the Vintage community. As such, it prompted calls for fairness and equity by restricting key components of other decks, an approach the DCI has never taken. In fact, it is antithetical to the concept of restricting to solve a particular problem, rather than restricting to rebalance the format writ large.

The metagame response was equally convulsive. Gush decks swelled in response, and the printing of Monastery Mentor the year before had become a target for vitriol.

April 24, 2017

What Happened:

• Gitaxian Probe is restricted
• Gush is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Monastery Mentor is restricted.

Analysis:

Read the explanation for these restrictions:

“In Vintage, the metagame has come to a bit of a standstill as Monastery Mentor decks face down their main predator, Workshop decks. The primary issue seems to revolve around the prevalence of free draw spells for the Mentor deck that let it churn through its library for no mana while creating an abundance of tokens. We believe by removing these free draw spells—and the perfect information that comes with Gitaxian Probe—we will significantly weaken Monastery Mentor–based strategies. Hopefully the move away from “free” spells in the Mentor decks will lessen the impact of the Workshop deck’s various Sphere of Resistance effects, opening up the metagame.”

In that short paragraph, Aaron Forsythe mentions Mentor four times, but does not even mention Gush once.

Monastery Mentor was the immediate problem, and should have been restricted here. It is possible that Gush would still have merited restriction, but Mentor was clearly demonstrated to be the bigger problem, based upon subsequent events, which proved this. Therefore, Mentor should have been the first restriction, even if Gush ultimately deserved restriction as well.

Mentor and Gush reinforced each other. Community anger had focused on Gush, based upon the viewpoint that Gush was suppressing other blue decks. The problem was that restricting Gush had no impact on Mentor, while restricting Mentor likely would have had a tremendous impact on Gush. Thus, Mentor was the more logical, initial restriction.

August 28, 2017

What Happened:

• Monastery Mentor is restricted
• Thorn of Amethyst is restricted

What Should Have Happened:

• Sphere of Resistance is restricted

Analysis:

The metagame that emerged in the wake of the restrictions of Gush and Gitaxian Probe was, by any objective measure, much worse off than the one that preceded the restriction of Gush and Probe. It’s impossible to attribute a casual relationship between those two facts, but it is undeniable that the Workshop and Xerox duopoly over the format reached its utmost zenith, both during this period and from a longer historical perspective.

From April 24 until August 28th, there were 16 Power Nine or Vintage Challenges on Magic Online, producing 128 Top 8 decks. Of those, a remarkable 52 (or 40.6%) of them were Workshop decks. Another stunning 33 (or 25.7%) were Xerox decks sporting Mentor, with even more decks having Mentor besides.

In short, Mentor and Workshops combined for a nearly unfathomable 70% of top 8s. To say a restriction was warranted was an understatement.

The DCI specifically noted this. In their announcement, they observed that “Data from twelve recent Vintage Challenges reinforces this, with 40% of the Top 8 decks being Shops and 30% being Mentor. Both decks feature strategies that are powerful, stifle diversity, and can be frustrating to play against.”

Mentor should have been restricted earlier, but delay is not the worst offense. It is unusual that multiple restrictions from different archetypes are ever simultaneously warranted, but this was just such a case. To hit Mentor without hitting Shops would have been a crime, as Shops were actually the bigger overall problem.

The main debate was whether to restrict Sphere or Thorn. On this issue, the DCI said:

“Thorn of Amethyst is the more powerful disruptive tool in the Shops deck, as it allows the deck to continue applying creature-based threats unimpeded. The case for restricting Sphere of Resistance instead is to avoid splash damage on other archetypes—other non-Shops creature decks also use Thorn of Amethyst. However, given the strength of Shops in the current metagame and a restriction weakening the other top deck, we decided to make the more impactful change.”

The assertion that restricting Thorn was the more “impactful change” was interesting, as Sphere is obviously the more powerful card. Both Sphere and Thorn are remarkably asymmetrical in a Workshop deck, but Thorn is slightly more asymmetric in most matchups, for the simple reason that Workshop decks, by this point, are loaded to the gills with creatures.

Thorn was a reasonable restriction, but restricting Sphere would have allowed Eldrazi decks to thrive more in the post restriction environment. Instead, they have stunted considerably.

Today

That brings us to today. Debates are ongoing about what should be restricted or unrestricted. There is a growing consensus, based upon polls taken on the Vintage Facebook group, that Windfall and Fastbond are the best candidates for unrestriction, and those moves would be supported by most players. In fact, in the aforementioned unscientific poll, 84% of voters want Windfall unrestricted and 70% want Fastbond unrestricted. Unrestricting Fastbond and Windfall would help “Lands” decks and Combo decks, respectively.

There are intense calls for the restriction of Mental Misstep and, to a lesser extent, Paradoxical Outcome. In the same poll, 70% of voters want Misstep restricted and 62% want Outcome restricted. These are difficult cases.

Mental Misstep is a ubiquitous card, such that its precise impact is difficult to fully evaluate, from the lens of restriction. Misstep is not an archetype specific card, but a broadly used tactic in the Vintage format. For that reason, it is both like Force of Will, Tormod’s Crypt, and Leyline of the Void, cards that are heavily played but unrestricted, but it is also like Brainstorm, Ponder, Demonic Consultation, and Vampiric Tutor, in that it is a broadly used deck building tool.

That does not mean that its presence is archetype neutral. On the contrary, it clearly helps blue tempo decks like Xerox (Comer School) decks and hurts Combo decks, which use Dark Rituals and Duress effects. There are some cases where it probably helps and hurts, like Dredge, where it is used by Dredge as a tempo play, but also a powerful way for non-Dredge decks to protect their graveyard hate.

There is a sophisticated, but not entirely persuasive, argument out there that Mental Misstep helps Workshop decks by filling blue decks with dead cards in that matchup. If true, its restriction might weaken Workshop decks.

The efficiency of Misstep provides a clear ground for distinguishing it from Force of Will, but does not change the fact that none of the cards in the ‘broadly used tactic’ category mentioned above are counterspells. On some level, Misstep probably does make Vintage a fairer format. The argument against restricting it is that Vintage is better when there are more answers. For example, how comfortably are we with unrestricting Fastbond in a world where Misstep is restricted? Probably much less so.

On the other hand, there are plenty of substitutes for what Misstep does. Mindbreak Trap would see a lot more play, and Misdirection might see play again as well. Spell Pierce probably becomes a more widely used Vintage tactic again.

If Misstep were restricted, its justification would be difficult to disentangle from a card like Force of Will, which is even more ubiquitous, but does not make a certain deck dominant, despite the efficiency differences. At the end of the day, such a restriction would likely be based on a similar principal to Brainstorms restriction. It’s just everywhere, and the format, in some qualitative sense, would be better off without it being unrestricted.

Paradoxical Outcome is not a dominant deck at this time, but it has gotten close at times. Paradoxical Outcome is a card that may straddle several grounds for restriction. It is the pre-eminent blue engine at the moment, but it also has a cascade type effect on the format, and skirts the limits of what is acceptable, even for Vintage. If PO decks surge past 35% of Top 8s in a sustained way over the next few months, it will probably need to be restricted. But if they hold their 2018 average, they probably don’t need to be.

The biggest problem with restricting PO is that it would likely collapse the format back into a Xerox and Workshop duopoly at the top, with everything else far behind. So we will see what the DCI does. It could end up like every other casting cost blue spell: unrestricted, a kind of background presence like Jace, the Mind Sculptor (a card, by the way, many thought in 2010 would ultimately be restricted), or do a stint on the Restricted List.

Concluding Thoughts

Sometime in the second half of 2018, the DCI published an interesting policy statement on the purpose of the Banned and Restricted List.

“One key to the continued health of Magic is diversity. It is vitally important to ensure that there are multiple competitive decks for the tournament player to choose from. Why? If there were only a single viable deck to play, tournaments would quickly stagnate as players were forced to either play that deck or a deck built specifically to beat it. In addition, different players enjoy playing different types of decks. If there are plenty of viable options to play, there will be more players at more tournaments.

To help maintain the diversity and health of the Magic tournament environment, a system of banned and restricted lists has been developed. These lists are made up of cards that are either not allowed at all, or allowed only in a very limited manner.”

The first four sentences each stress ‘diversity’ as the main consideration behind the Banned and Restricted List. The absence of any other explicit factor should not be construed to suggest that there are none, but the emphasis on format diversity, and the recent DCI statements on balance, all suggest that the primary goal of the Banned and Restricted list is to promote format diversity.

While I completely agree with this statement of purpose, one of the challenges that this statement raises is that restriction on any other grounds, no matter how pressing or urgent, may risk undermining this primary objective. Thus, restricting cards on any other grounds may have the effect of reducing format diversity, and thereby undermine the primary policy objective. This is a challenge that we will have to monitor through future DCI policy.

DCI announcements over the last few years, especially those relating to other formats, have emphasized format ‘balance,’ in addition to format diversity. By ‘balance,’ the DCI seems to refer to win rates, and has noted that some cards or decks have overly high win rates.

In its most recent announcement, the DCI further refines two criteria that are worth noting. First, it explicitly states that the most important data points it examines are “raw win rate and […] high Top 8 conversion rates.” This is something inferred from the cumulative public statements, but has now been made explicit.

Second, the recent statement, banning a particular card in Modern and not others, is a perfect example of an attempt to avoid splash damage, or what is described in law as “narrow tailoring.” Recall that they specifically rejected this argument in the debate over Thorn vis-à-vis Sphere of Resistance. Here is the critical statement: “When we examine the effect of powerful cards, we consider whether they are increasing or decreasing the number of viable decks in the environment.” By this, the DCI does not just mean diversity, but also the ‘build around’ potential of a card.

As Ian Duke explained: “In the current state of the [Modern] metagame, the build-around nature of Ancient Stirrings supports decks that look very different from a simple collection of the strongest rate cards, and that otherwise may not exist. […] Mox Opal is a similar case […]. In addition to showing up in high-profile decks like Hardened Scales, we also see Mox Opal enabling a variety of more fringe artifact synergy decks. As a category, we think these are generally healthy provided they appear in small doses and have reasonable win rates.”

In short, the DCI’s statements have become both more detailed and more clarified through years of experience and metagame understanding.

The Banned and Restricted List does more than define the Vintage format. It reflects the evolution of the game itself, through that format. All of the controversies that have shadowed the format – over power-level errata, dexterity cards, time-wasters, interactivity, data and the metagame – they are all balled up in the endless debates over the Vintage Banned and Restricted Lists.

The Banned and Restricted Lists are both a statement of law and a vision for the format. It is a reflection of what is, and a debate over what should be. May it continue forever more.

Until next time,
Stephen Menendian

Post Script: Vintage Banned and Restricted List Facts:

• The current Vintage Banned and Restricted List is 46 cards. The smallest ever Restricted List was 16 cards. Not counting the initial restriction of Legends, the largest ever Restricted List was 54 cards, on January 1, 2004.
• There have been 96 restrictions, and 50 unrestrictions.
• There have been 39 changes to the Vintage Banned and Restricted List, not counting it’s initial formulation.
• The most cards ever restricted at a single time is a tie: 18, on October 1, 1999 and the inception of the list, January 25, 1994.
• The most cards ever unrestricted at a time is a tie: 5, on October 1, 1997, and September 20, 2008.
• Here is a line chart of the history of the Restricted List: