On June 20th Wizards of the Coast will announce any updates to the Banned list for Legacy. I predict that there will be no changes which is a shame. No I don't think anything needs to be banned; the format is fine right now. There are several cards on the banned list that deserve to come off so that the cards can have their day in the sun. It would be a sign from Wizards that they do pay attention to Legacy and want to keep it current and fresh. Only a few years ago the Vintage restricted list had clunkers like Hurkyl's Recall on it an example of how out-of-touch the DCI was when it came to that format. When the list was updated and several cards came off of the Vintage restricted list it added steam to the format. We can have that in Legacy as well. I am calling for Wizards to clean out the Augean Stables that is the Legacy banned list.
Before I look at a single card I want to make clear that there is a difference between "good" and "broken." A good card is strong played often and can feature in several archetypes performing different functions. Polluted Delta is a strong card as is Ponder Tarmogoyf Counterbalance and a host of others. They don't end the game in a way that makes it feel like the opponent wasn't playing a game of Magic. They are powerful threats in a format full of other powerful threats and answers. "Broken" on the other hand conjures ideas of Randy Buehler's Memory Jar deck and the controlled insanity and fun of Vintage. An extra turn is broken at 1U but fair at 3UU for example. When I list cards your first instinct is very likely to be "he's insane that card is BUUUUSTED!" and you're justified in thinking that. A lot of cards on the Legacy banned list got there because of fears of what they would do not any real proof of their power. Several cards on the list are there based on how the cards performed in another format and some were there because they were strong in their time though outclassed now. All I ask of you as a reader is to thoughtfully consider why you think a card is banned and whether it's at the power level we're used to in Legacy. When you think "that could fuel a turn 2 kill" keep the Ad Nauseam decks in mind. If you feel that "that card will lock out games too easily" remember that Dragon Stompy does lead with Trinisphere and follow up with Blood Moon already. I'll be referencing existing cards and interactions in the format when I do my analysis but arm yourself beforehand with objectivity and reason instead of emotion (and please carry this over to the forum debates that will result as well!).
Let's start by looking at the easy unbannings.
I don't think anyone has ever played fair with Earthcraft since it was printed. The first iterations of the deck planned to stick a Wild Growth on a Plains land Earthcraft and make an arbitrarily large number of Pegasi through Sacred Mesa. Randy Buehler and Mike Turian concocted Horsecraft which used Overgrowth and Recurring Nightmare to Corpse Dance a Mogg Fanatic over and over again. Perhaps the most efficient version of the Earthcraft engine involves Squirrel Nest making an army of squirrels to munch through the opponent the next turn.
Earthcraft has problems though. It will only untap a basic land and requires either a creature in play or a creature generator to even do its thing. We're already talking a two-card combo. Perhaps the God-draw of the deck would go like this: Turn 1 Forest channel Elvish Spirit Guide for a Green mana Gaea's Touch Forest #2. Turn 2 tap both Forests for Earthcraft play two more Forests tap one and sacrifice the Touch to play Squirrel Nest on the other Forest and make lots of pests. That's 8 cards! That's the best I could come up with! Obviously in a shell with cards like Choke and Argothian Enchantress the SquirrelCraft engine gets a little more potent but is that merely good (if even good) or is it broken? Is this a card on the level of Tolarian Academy or is a "fair" card like Lion's Eye Diamond? Earthcraft is the easiest card to come off the banned list and it would be telling if Wizards leaves it on there.
Along with Earthcraft we come to another card that was banned because of a fear of what it might do instead of a proven record of broken play. Dream Halls was moderately scary - once. If you've played Zvi's Dream Halls deck before you know that it could get rolling and take a 20-minute turn decking the opponent with Inspiration eventually. That was in Mirage/Tempest block though! If we're banning cards that are scary in Block let's get rid of Lin-Sivvi as well. The only other time I've seen Dream Halls be halfway good involved putting Mind Over Matter into play with Tolarian Academy in play already. There are fears about it combining with Draw-7 cards and eventually making the storm count to blow an opponent away with Brain Freeze. I even made a Dream Halls deck awhile ago with that strategy in mind using Show and Tell to cheat it out on the second turn. I didn't think it was very good then and I definitely do not at this point. Remember this format has Grindstone and Painter's Servant a cheap lethal decking combo with far less hassle than the Halls. Dream Halls requires cards in hand a library dedicated toward fueling the combo and an opponent with no relevant now free cards in their hand. Strangely I think one of the most fascinating aspects of this card is that you simply discard to play spells instead of removing cards in your hand from the game. The discard element is interesting and worth exploring but I don't think it's broken. This is another no-brainer unrestriction. It's a combo piece without a combo and we've let Mind Over Matter in already; it's time to have Dream Halls back in Legacy.
Now we get into more interesting territory. The Monolith made a showing in Standard in a Wildfire deck and tore up Extended alongside Tinker and other toys from Urza Block. Is Grim Monolith better than Cabal Ritual or City of Traitors though? It can make a single extra mana the turn it comes into play or three the turn later and neither is dangerous for Legacy. It combines with Power Artifact to make an infinite mana combo but Basalt Monolith is legal ready and unplayed. I don't see shaving a single mana off the cost of the combo to be so powerful that it's "broken." I'll concede that it would be fun to assemble but I don't see Grim Monolith helping out the decks that benefit from mana acceleration like Belcher in ways that we have not encountered previously. It's safe to unban Grim Monolith as it's no better than Simian Spirit Guide the turn you play it and worse than Dark Ritual if you are waiting for the full three mana. Existing artifact decks aren't going to become dominant and at best they'll be able to play a first-turn Trinisphere more regularly. Fair good but not broken.
I love Dragon a lot from the wacky rules interactions to the thrill of just going for it and seeing if the opponent can stop you. Dragon unlike many cards on this list was played and was really strong in old Type 1.5 five-years-ago-and-counting Legacy a format completely unlike the current one. Since that time we've had Relic of Progenitus Extirpate Krosan Grip Thoughtseize and a host of other efficient Dragon answers printed. Legacy is replete with cards that are already played that boner the Dragon combo like Snuff Out and Swords to Plowshares. Dragon can set up quickly but it's reliant on the graveyard in a way that makes it very vulnerable to Legacy staples. Is Dragon stronger than Dredge? Is it strong in a way that the format could simply not adapt to the combo? This is where you really need to be thinking about "good" versus "broken" and the Dragon combo is simply not broken. Even with Dark Ritual I don't see it overpowering without Entomb (which should stay firmly where it is (no not for what you're thinking of) (think Auriok Salvagers)). As a combo deck it's less powerful than the Ad Nauseam decks we already have. Worldgorger Dragon simply does not deserve to be on the same list as Library of Alexandria and Demonic Tutor.
After a bit of hand-wringing in Vintage Black Vise is finally back in that format and it has done very little even with decks like Stax that can strand cards in the opponent's hand. The Vise is a Lightning Bolt if it comes down on the first turn on the play but in most other situations it'll struggle to do enough damage to justify playing it. The Vise was historically a control-deck hoser but modern control decks sit with few cards in hand (like Counter/Top decks) or invest in draw spells on-board like Standstill. The Vise works best in a deck that can prevent the opponent from playing cards and Team America (UBG land destruction) comes to mind as a home for it. However the cards in the deck are already stronger than the slot that Black Vise would occupy and I couldn't see cutting something like Tombstalker for the Vise in any case. One could make a case for Stax-style decks but they already have good win conditions like Mishra's Factory that are more synergistic with their plan.
I once heard Black Vise described as "a 3/3 creature for one mana" and that helped me put the strengths and limitations of the card into perspective. Is this a card that is too powerful to see Constructed play in Legacy? I don't think so at all. It's not even particularly scary in multiples and is a dead draw against many decks and at many times throughout the game. Letting in Black Vise would give people more and probably more annoying decks (Stasis!) but it's not a card that should be languishing on the Banned list because of unproven fears about what it could possibly do to the format.
I am a little less sure about Frantic Search but only a little less. The obvious application involves High Tide and lots of floating mana. The more I thought about it though the less potent the card appears. It needs two lands in play under High Tide to generate a mana and three to be appreciable and it can never generate more than that unless the Tide is really high. It allows a nice filtration of cards for the combo deck but does not give it anything that the deck is starving for that would push it from the "has not been played in forever" category to the "kill it with fire" category. We're looking at a card that only gets good on the third turn! I was originally very opposed to Frantic Search being unbanned but without Tolarian Academy around and its best use being in a deck that doesn't see much play it's a fair card to reintroduce. Again this is a victim of people thinking it was strong instead of anyone actually demonstrating that it was strong at the time of the banning.
Now I want to transition from cards that I think are fine to take off the Banned list to ones that are probably fair but are less of a "sure thing."
This muchacho got his place on the list because he plays unfairly with Food Chain and Goblin Charbelcher. Stack your deck with Goblins and draw into a bunch of them or just out-and-out Belch your opponent out. Food Chain Goblins was a good deck in Type 1.5 (five years ago) and Goblins is still strong now but I don't see Recruiter being "broken." Yes I certainly see Food Chain Goblins being played and strong but it's a deck that relies on a 2G enchantment or the attack phase with a big pile of dudes. The biggest danger is that it would push out other aggro decks from playability but I could see a deck like Merfolk using Daze and Force of Will to effectively combat the combo. The Recruiter is probably safe to reintroduce into Legacy.
... if only for the hope of textless promo Illusionary Masks. Stifle does a pretty good Mask impersonation already. Sneaking out Phyrexian Dreadnought is still the best and only playable thing you can pull off with Mask that's worth trying. I could see a beasty U/B deck running Dark Confidant Stifle Masks and the usual good cards in those colors but the deck would still rely on getting an artifact creature to make contact twice. We've already got this threat! Illusionary Mask is expensive but that doesn't play into the banning calculus for Legacy nor should it to any overarching extent. It is a relic of a five-year-old banned list and I see it being played but not dominant.
This card is good to the point where I won an SCG P9 tournament with it and Quirion Dryads back when it briefly reappeared in Vintage. After playing it extensively there I found that the key cards in the Grow deck were Time Walk and Fastbond. Getting either of those power cards made it hard to lose. Neither are in Legacy and the lack of them takes a lot of teeth out of Gush. Lorescale Coatl makes Gush even better certainly but is that broken-level good? Brainstorm is at the same level or better than Gush and we've been able to manage with it all the while. Gush generates a mana and saves you from Wasteland and is effectively free but again in a format with Dread Return and Trinisphere is that below par for Legacy? The biggest barrier standing in the way of Gush's unbanning is probably people thinking that it's broken without considering what made it good in other formats.
This card is only going to be played in Dredge and that's it. It puts your entire deck into your graveyard when you activate it and then you can Dread Return whatever you want. I make no claims that it's anything other than a Dredge enabler. At the same time it's a glassjaw creature that takes a turn to untap to have any ability. I think it comes in at an appreciable power level for Legacy and will make Dredge more playable but not unbeatable. Many moons ago Hermit Druid was fearsome but these days I just don't see it. The format would have to adapt to it but when the format already contains Dredge pretty well I don't see it as too much of a problem.
At his best Metalworker speeds out Smokestack Trinisphere and Crucible of Worlds. At his worst he enables Staff of Domination and kills you on the spot. Metalworker needs three mana and a turn and several artifacts still in hand to have an explosive effect. In the meantime it dies to the same things that Painter's Servant dies to and it costs less and is more vulnerable (having no hacked Pyroblasts to support it). MUD decks would be a pain in the tuchus to face at times but would also balance out decks like Ad Nauseam and Dredge and be naturally vulnerable to the Aether Vial aggro decks around. Metalworker is probably fair to let back into the format since it's worse than what we already have.
While some may say that we're fine with the cards we already have in the format Legacy has a deep cardpool with unparalleled diversity in deck and card choices and we should enable players to use cards that they like that are not overpowered. While the cards I talked about today are mostly unlikely to see real tournament play giving players the chance to run with them is worth unbanning them in itself. I ask you to think about what you feel are the best candidates for unbanning and send me an email! Let's hope for a lighter Banned list on June 20th!
Until next week…
legacysallure at gmail dot com
P.S. While I didn't discuss some cards like Land Tax or Windfall they're certainly candidates to be unbanned. Also banning certain cards like Lion's Eye Diamond might enable further unbannings (Windfall being the prime candidate) which is an avenue that must be explored at some other time!