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Why Didn’t I See This Coming? – June 2011 Bannings

Jace & Stoneforge Banned

I read the big news while taking a short break at work this morning:  Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic are officially banned in Standard.  Caw Blade and its variants have been swiftly crippled, with little to no chance of recovery, and Blue/X decks across the board just got measurably weaker.  There’s been a lot of talk and speculation for months, but to be honest with you, I really didn’t think it would end this way.  To be doubly honest with you, I really didn’t think very much about it at all.

It’s been a very long time since Wizards of the Coast has felt the need to ban any card in the Standard format.  Feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but the last time I remember a Standard banning happening at all was when the fundamentals of Affinity were all banned to release that deck’s stranglehold on the format.  That was 6 years (and 6 blocks!) ago, so I suppose R&D has been doing their job pretty well since then.  Sure, we’ve had complaints and a couple of rough spots here and there (Umezawa’s Jitte, Bloodbraid Elf, etc.), but nothing people couldn’t learn to deal with and/or overcome.  Jace has been rolling 4 deep ever since he was printed, and I’ve just come to accept his presence as fact.  The Mystic has been lying in ponds distributing swords for even longer, and the day Voltronning it up with equipment becomes unfun is the day I suffer a head injury that makes me forget what feelings are.

Whenever talk of banning would come up (usually about Jace; Sister Mary Stoneforge has been able to keep a lower profile for the most part), my response was immediately dismissive.  “Come on, they’re not that bad.  We’ve been dealing with them for years, and we haven’t all died horribly.  Stop complaining already.”  And then, just as immediately, I would stop thinking about it all together.  That’s a bad idea in and of itself, and it’s why the banning announcement was as much of a surprise to me as it turned out to be.  I hadn’t stopped to really examine the power and impact of the cards in question, and whether or not they could realistically be ban-worthy material.

Some bannings are obvious.  From bans that occured during my playing career (not just in Standard, but everywhere), the ones that stick out most in my mind are the super-powerful combo enablers and engines.  Tolarian Academy, Mind Over Matter, Crop Rotation, Flash, Hypergenesis, and even the aforementioned Affinity pieces all fit into this category in my mind.  When the game starts devolving into “Turn 3 – Untap, Upkeep, you’re dead”, then it’s easy to see something desperately needs to be banned.  Standard just hasn’t had to deal with that for several years.  We cast spells, we attack with creatures, and we even have to play rounds to time every once in a while.  Things seem normal, right?

There’s another class of ban-worthy cards much more subtle and insidious.  These are the cards that let you overwhelm your opponent with sheer card advantage.  In and of themselves, the cards may not seem all that powerful, but they’re not just single cards.  Each one might as well be a million cards in the right situation.  These cards all say something to the effect of “Pay 4 or less mana:  Crush your opponent, see him driven before you, and hear the lamentations of his woman”.  What makes them so sneaky is the effect is spread out across multiple turns, and it isn’t obvious the card has taken over the game until it’s way too late for anyone to do anything about it.  By then, it’s hiding behind the other cards doing all the dirty work on the front lines.  During my playing career, a number of these such cards have been banned as well.  Necropotence, Lin Sivvi, Rishadan Port, and Skullclamp are included in this number, and it was only after getting the chance to experience piloting them that I was able to fully understand what they are.

Jace is the most outwardly obvious example of the 1 card = 1 million cards.  Not only does he hand you all the tools you need to get to doing your own thing as soon as possible, but he makes it nigh impossible for your opponent to get back to his thing once you’re able to get the slightest advantage.  While your opponent is sitting there fumbling around in the mud, either you win the game or Jace wins it for you (no cards in hand and N turns to live is no way to make a miraculous comeback).  Is it really okay to put so much in one spell?  Experience has now shown us it is not.  I’ve never gotten a chance to play with Jace, so I never got a chance to really understand him.  I can read, I can understand his abilities are powerful, and I can see what he does when played against me, but on some fundamental level I never really “got it”.

Not understanding Stoneforge Mystic is my own fault.  I’ve had a playset for quite a while now, camped out in a casual deck where I use them to assemble the Kaldra pieces.  Funny, but nothing that seemed too dreadfully powerful.  But then I added some swords of various types to the deck, and started to get the feeling something was wrong.  Honestly, starting the game with an effective 5 copies of Sword of Feast and Famine in my deck, and then followed by 4 copies of my next most powerful equipment, just feels too much like cheating.  It isn’t fair.  It’s extremely powerful.  The swords are what happened to throw Stoneforge Mystic into the 1 = 1 million role in Standard, where she’s turned into an approximation of a Demonic Tutor / Show and Tell combo, and that’s not a good thing to have around.  The ban announcement shouldn’t have been a surprise.

When I set out to compose this article, I only intended to expand on some ideas I had posted in a topic on our forums.  Now that I’ve gone full Rosewater on the topic, I actually feel a little embarassed, but I think I’ve at least written something worth reading.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  I’m curious to hear your opinions on the subject, as well.

Have fun, guys.

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  1. Poisoned Fly
    June 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    Was a good read. I, like you never really bothered to assess the power level of Jace. I assumed bitching about Jace was equivalent to bitching about Bloodbraid Elf from a year ago. The difference between the two being that Jace, as you stated, subtely generates millions of cards over multiple turns. BBE generates ridiculous card advantage as well but it is much more obvious, and not repeatable. I think it is also worth mentioning that the ability that really pushes Jace over the top, in my opinion, is the Fateseal. The ability to filter an opponents cards once your hand is stacked, which also buffs him up, carries a lot more power than I originally thought (to be fair I was looking at it re: multiplayer not standard).

    As for Stoneforge Mystic her power has been apparent to me from the beginning. This is 100% due to the fact that a guy in our playgroup has an equipment deck that uses the most powerful equipment from magic’s history. After the release of Stoneforge the deck changed dramatically. The number of equipment dropped, because Stoneforge acted as the extra copies of everything. Not only did she preform the tutor/sneak in tricks, but in a bind she could also wield the equipment which again was something that initially did not seem powerful, but when tacked onto tutor and sneak in pushed it over the top.

  2. Austin
    June 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    After always playing against Jace, I also never got what he could do. For ME. Not for my opponent. Same with Stoneforge. Although I had the luck not to play against a Cawblade deck.
    But the ban also caught me by surprise. So understanding what is going on at Wizards is a strange thing. Or could it be that there will be new deadly combos with both Jace and Stoneforge in upcoming sets. Hmmmm….

    • Poisoned Fly
      June 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      From the article explaining the banning it seems the ban is mainly due to the lack of deck diversity in the format, which has resulted in lower event attendance (i.e. players aren’t having fun). I actually think the ban might have come sooner if the large number of independent tournaments hadn’t risen dramatically in the past year, as this may have falsely portrayed a healthy format, and be blamed for the reduced numbers attending PTQs and FNMs. I am pleased that Wizards gave the format a chance to right itself with the release of New Phyrexia, and am doubly pleased that when their answers didn’t work they took appropriate action to ensure players were going to have fun.

      As for more broken interactions in upcoming sets that could only be M12, as both Stoneforge and Jace rotate upon the release of Innistrad. I think it is highly unlikely that we will see any equipment better that Sword of Feast and Famine, or Batterskull. If mini-baneslayer isn’t enough to get Stoneforge banned, nothing is.

      • Austin
        June 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        You said it much better than me. The format wasn’t healthy enough. So Wizards took action.

  3. June 21, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    My thought is the fact why isn’t (STM) banned in legacy look at all decks at GP Providence with it. It will have to be revisited soon

    • Mike
      June 21, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      In Legacy, I would compare it to Enlightened Tutor and Show and Tell, neither of which are currently banned. Granted, those are really strong effects to combine into one spell, but the subset of cards it can actually work with (just equipment) balances it out in my eyes. Umezawa’s Jitte is going the be the weapon of choice for the Mystic in Legacy, and she doesn’t offer a mana discount on it. You’re paying 1 more mana to get a Squire with your Steelshaper’s Gift, which is strong, but not totally ridiculous.

      Of course, this is the kind of thinking that made me believe Mystic wasn’t Standard-bannable either, so who knows.

      • June 22, 2011 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        Batterskull and Sword of Feast and Famine seems to be the most fetched equipment in legacy as well as in standard. The Jitte is mostly a sideboard option and even sometimes completely disregarded. The 4/4 baneslayer on turn 3 is awesome due to the lack of artifact removal before boarding. Feast and Famine is both discard, ‘acceleration’ and pro-tarmogoyf/Dismember. The presence of dismember and Sword to Plowshares has mostly pushed The Jitte away.

        • Mike
          June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Well I guess that shows how far out of touch I am with the state of any given format. =P

          Maybe I should go play some Magic or something.

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