Banning Magic Cards has become a much more acceptable and less controversial thing in all formats in recent Magic history. We’ve seen aggressive bans recently in both Standard and Modern, the two formats that Wizards of the Coast take the most seriously. This should lead us to two pretty important questions that have to be asked.
1. Is this a good thing?
2. Is Wizards of the Coast losing control in terms of their banings?
To quickly answer those two questions, I think that the answers are “no” and “not yet, possibly in the future, but they can definitely handle it better.” Let’s examine card bannings, where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how they can change for the better.
One of the important things to realize is that Wizards of the Coast is now going to look at banning cards more and more now that they have doubled the amount of Banned & Restricted updates we have in any period of time. Wizards has attempted to assure players that this doesn’t mean that there will be two times the amount of bannings, but rather two times the amount of opportunities to ban cards. Aaron Forsythe described this change as not dishing out more bans, but giving “granularity” to when they ban cards. But this vague criteria and seemingly unpredictable wave of bans by Wizards has had a lot of negative effects on the game and there is not a lot that people can do to feel better about Wizards going on the offensive when banning cards.
More than anything, it’s made players significantly more worried about their cards getting banned. The fact is that while people can predict to some degree what cards might be banned or unbanned, Magic is a privilege to play and is an expensive hobby, so for some people the prospect of the value of their cards being wiped out due to it being too good for the format feels extremely unfair to them, and it turns them away from investing more in the game.
However, bannings are frequently necessary for gameplay itself. Rest assured I am not against the act of banning cards on the whole. I only worry that Wizards of the Coast has a greater desire to ban cards aggressively in order to proactively fix a problem which doesn’t yet exist. If Forsythe is right in how the extra opportunities for bannings won’t effect the amount or type of bannings, I’m all for more granularity, but I worry that it might not actually have that effect.
But what does this mean for gameplay itself? I would argue that it actually distorts the metagame to some degree. Players will elect to play less good decks in order to ensure that the value of the cards that they bought doesn’t get wiped away in a split second. People are going to be more inclined to play “fair” decks that they know are less likely to be on the receiving end of the ban hammer, rather than combo decks which are always being gunned for by Wizards.
I can provide a solution to this problem and while it may not perfect, I think it can help solve a lot of these problems. If Card X is simply too powerful for a given format and it is banned, those players should be able to mail those cards into Wizards of the Coast for sealed product. Not a silly promo or a playmat, but sealed product of the most recent Standard set. This would be fair to those people who invested their time and money into a card that is now banned, and would restore a lot of faith in Wizards of the Coast that they’ve admitted banning cards always causes them to lose.
[Editor’s note: Going off of this, it might be interesting to have a separate piece of sealed product that contains one random rare from the most current set, or one random Modern Masters rare if it was a Modern card that was banned. This way, Wizards isn’t giving away packs that are potentially more valuable than the banned card was, and players still get something at the end of the day that takes the sting out of a card they invested in being banned.]
Let me know if you have a better solution.