It seems that every few weeks we have the same discussion popping up in Legacy. A whole lot of people start complaining about a card that is seeing some success and demands that it be hit with the banhammer. It's really rather ridiculous.
High Tide wins an Open or two? Gotta re-ban Time Spiral! Hive Mind is successful in a few Misstep-flooded Opens? OMG, Show and Tell definitely has to go! Storm is big at the first Open after the Misstep ban? Lion's Eye Diamond, that's enough for it to finally be banned! And it isn't even limited to ridiculous combo-enablers. Tarmogoyf was repeatedly suggested for banning for more than a year (!), and now Stoneforge Mystic has joined the club of random two-drop creatures people want to see nuked.
It really seems like there is a growing group of people who simply want to see every single good card banned until there's nothing left to play but Zoo and midrange (aren't they doing that in some other format already?). Just go play Modern; Wizards has obviously been tailor-making that format for you guys. In the meantime, you're trying to ruin the fun for everyone else in Legacy.
I'm sick of the “clamor for bans” way of advancing the format, so today I'll be talking about the philosophy that should inform the ways cards are banned (or restricted for that matter), followed by my argument against banning the latest card in the sights of the ban snipers.
A lot of people seem to forget that banning cards has one specific goal: to make the game experience more fun than it was before the banning. This is a very important thing to keep in mind. Making a format cheaper/more accessible, ensuring archetype variety, adjusting a format's fundamental turn, and making sure the format is balanced color- or strategy-wise aren't the primary considerations when something gets banned. Cards are banned because their presence makes a format less enjoyable to (most or all of) its players than it would be with those cards gone.
Now that doesn't mean that the aforementioned criteria are useless. You see, fun is something different for different players. I may not find playing with or against Belcher fun—my opponent who just activated the Goblin Flame-Burper (which would be the literal translation of Goblin Charbelcher's German name) for 46 on turn one most likely does. Some people hate playing with or against fast combo; some people despise Dredge; some can't stand hardcore control (I'm not one of those, obviously); and others think turning guys sideways is about as exciting as watching the grass grow (now that would be me). With so many different reasons and ways to enjoy Magic, it is very hard to define something as “unfun” clearly enough to actually make ban decisions based on this criterion straight up. That's where all those secondary considerations come in.
Clearly a format with a fundamental turn of 1 would suck—every game would be decided by the die-roll. Similarly if mono-green control is by far the best strategy or any deck without white in it isn't possibly viable, we have a problem (and not only because people somehow can't beat mono-green control). These extremes make it quite obvious that variety (in all areas, from cards seeing play through actual decklists over strategies to whole colors) and a format's fundamental turn play a major role in making a format fun. It's therefore understandable that many people have mentally shortened the role of bannings to “make sure there's a ton of different viable decks in all colors, and I don't die on turn two all the time.” That doesn't mean the two ideas are identical, though, and slavishly adhering to “diversity is everything” will not by necessity lead to a better format.
Still, approximations are necessary as mentioned, so let me describe the goals we should be aiming for when deciding if and what to ban.
This is definitely the most important criterion of all. A totally degenerate format in which all games end on turn 1 without interaction is probably the least fun environment imaginable, much worse than one with zero diversity. Just imagine playing pre-banning Caw-Blade Standard (as much of a one-deck format as we've ever had, I think), a very non-varied environment that a significant number of people actually enjoyed anyway. You played with and against the same cards over and over again, but at least skill mattered, and the games were long and interactive. Now imagine playing a format in which the only viable deck was Belcher, and you know why Flash was banned the moment it showed to be as good as advertised.
So we just ban everything that enables interactions that win the game fast and/or without possible interaction from the other side, right? In some formats (*cough* Modern *cough*) that might be the idea, but there is a balance to look at here, especially in an old card format like Legacy. You see, there are a significant number of players who enjoy playing with (and against) interaction-challenged decks, and those people should be allowed to have fun in Magic, too. They make up a non-negligible part of the player base, and the game of Magic would be poorer if there were no home for these people and the strategies they enjoy. Eternal formats are that home.
Instead, the goal needs to be to keep brokenness in check to a point that trying to do something degenerately broken is a good and viable strategy but never becomes the most high EV decision for a large number of players. In addition, it is very important that matchups that are essentially non-interactive pre-board can be turned into interactive ones post-board if a player chooses to do so.
The first of these criteria can be insured by banning cards until degenerate decks are either sufficiently weak to be consistently beatable by other strategies or so prohibitively hard to play that a human player will not be able to get maximum value out of them even with significant experience.
Anybody who has played against a Storm master while allowing take-backs will be aware how ridiculously good that deck is if you remove the skill cap, for example. At the same time that same Storm master will drop from a lot of tournaments, realizing he threw away half the matches he lost, but is unable to get better to the point of eradicating the small mistakes that cost him those games.
The second criterion is also rather straightforward. If you build your deck in a way that makes it unable to interact with a significant part of Magic, you're making the decision to accept game one loses to decks focused on abusing that particular facet of the game. If you choose a deck that can't touch the graveyard, good luck beating Dredge. If you can't interact with spells on the stack or in hand, have fun fighting Storm. If you can't answer resolved permanents, enjoy scooping to Aether Vial.
What a large number of people out there don't seem to understand is that that doesn't make these cards or strategies ban-worthy. It simply means that there is a cost to pay for every choice you make when choosing or designing your deck. This wouldn't make the experience of getting blown out without any interaction any better, though, but luckily there is a solution to this dilemma built into the rules of tournament Magic: the sideboard.
If there is a particular angle of attack that you can't reasonably address in your maindeck (and sixty cards means there is a limit of what your maindeck can do), you get fifteen cards to make sure there is some way for you to force interaction in games two and three. As long as that is the case, and as long as these sideboard cards are sufficiently powerful, games two and three will play out quite differently from game one and return to being an actual battle, especially as the opponent will need to dilute their deck with answers to your hate. This is part of the game, and people really need to learn to accept that.
Problems in this area come up when the necessary sideboard cards don't exist, when they are too weak to actually provide a solution, or, quite significantly, when the non-interactive decks are too easily able to answer those sideboard options. This last issue is the reason banning Mystical Tutor was probably a good idea.
There are ways out there to deal with problematic matchups of basically any kind, but in the same vein, answers to the answers do exist—and those answers to the answers usually happen to be instants or sorceries. As a result, non-interactive decks relying on Mystical Tutor could easily interact with even significant amounts of hate without diluting their deck with more than one or two otherwise unwanted cards. This ability is not something we really want to see in decks that interact on non-standard fields of battle. Being non-interactive should definitely come with a cost. It does, after all, already provide a significant advantage before the opponent gets to adapt.
Promoting Strategic Variety
Yes, I just argued that variety isn't the be all, end all. That doesn't mean it isn't important. The driving force behind Legacy's success and why I think so many different players enjoy the format so much is the sheer depth of different strategies available (that and how skill-intensive the format is). Whichever kind of deck you prefer playing, you generally have a viable option at your disposal. The beat and burn plan of fast aggro, the high synergy beatdown of tribal decks, a clock backed by disruption of all varieties (hatebears, mana denial, discard, countermagic), the long slow grind of prison, midrange and hard control strategies, the relentless graveyard abuse of Dredge, the blitz of pure speed combo, the math puzzles and baiting games surrounding Storm, and the one-two punch of two-card-combo decks, not to mention all kinds of options for hybridization. If we're talking about the benefits of diversity, this is definitely the big one. Whatever you like to play, there is a viable deck for you that has the chance to perform well.
As an aside, in writing this and putting my thoughts down on paper, I realize that banning Mental Misstep was probably for the good of the format, and I now agree with it leaving. While I personally enjoyed the slower format it gave us, it shut out a large group of players, though amusingly not those complaining the most (aggro could definitely be built in ways to punch through the Misstep metagame); the people who were actually screwed over were the Storm players. Sure, combo remained a viable archetype during Misstep's reign, but fast combo in general and Storm in particular simply couldn't survive a field in which even the aggressive decks suddenly wielded free countermagic and where their ancient enemy (blue) presented an overload of maindeckable countermagic.
Through all this, the combo players weren't clamoring for a ban; they accepted and adapted, working on ways to get their game to work in spite of the hostile environment (or admitted defeat and chose something else to play). Honestly, any complaints I remember from Storm players during the era generally were calm and could be presumed as simply stating they didn't enjoy what Misstep did to the format. Every single person ever that has written a post about how card X is br0kz0rs and needs to be banned should strive to emulate their example. So to all the Storm players out there, I hope you guys enjoy Wizards having removed the leash. I know I have just developed a new appreciation for that particular banning.
Back to the regularly scheduled article.
The desire for strategic variety is the reason that we're better off without cards like Skullclamp and Survival of the Fittest in the format. They provide strong engines that need to be built around (a large number of creatures, something to benefit from the drawing/tutoring) but also have flexible enough requirements to enable a large number of strategies to adopt them. This kind of card means that whichever strategy you want to play that naturally includes creatures will be more efficiently implemented by simply building around Survival/Skullclamp than anything else, reducing strategic variety by a fair margin.
Note that I'm not saying they make it necessarily impossible to play other strategies (fast Storm combo, for example, was a very solid choice in a metagame saturated with Survival decks), but that they absorb a large part of the strategic spectrum (essentially all aggro-control decks as well as most aggro strategies in Survival's case) and base it around one engine. With the engine taking up rather a lot of room, those decks by necessity converge, and games—even against somewhat differently positioned decks (e.g. G/W Survival compared to G/B/w Ooze Survival, or Midrange to Aggro-Combo)—become very similar as far as playing the actual games is concerned.
All the different strategies essentially transform into subcategories of the insert broken engine card here strategy (Survival strategy, for those too lazy to do the inserting themselves). When that happens, a large number of players will stop playing, turned off by the fact that they either need to choose from a very limited pool of strategies or play a deck in which most card choices are made even before considering the strategic direction the deck is supposed to take because they need to make room for the dominant engine.
You may have noted that the header for this section is “strategic variety,” not “variety.” I did this intentionally because I think the ability to run a large number of strategies is what is important for the amount of “fun” people in general have when playing a format. The value of variety in card choices (multiple “best” green two-drops, for example, aka the “ban Goyf” argument) and color identity (like having a blue-based control deck, a red-based control deck, and a black-based control deck) simply pales in comparison to the importance of having certain kinds of strategies available. As these are often used as the basis for arguments if something should be banned or not, I'll explain why I don't believe they make sense as goals for banned list management.
Card Choice Variety
Having a panoply of options available for every slot in your deck instead of an accepted best option leads to more variety in gameplay (as more things can now potentially matter) and makes deckbuilding a more interesting process. Instead of just slotting in the agreed best card, you now have to weigh options. While these are excellent things to have, that's it. Those are the benefits of banning cards that are simply the best at what they do. Removing the best option for a particular function doesn't change the way games play out the way having different strategies available does. As such, banning simply to provide card choice variety isn't an efficient use of something as hurtful as swinging the banhammer.
Most importantly, though, the whole concept is flawed on a fundamental level. If we eliminate a card that is simply the best at what it does (say Tarmogoyf—best splashable two-drop, though now he has competition in the form of Stoneforge Mystic), deckbuilders will take some time to figure out what the correct replacement is in each deck and use that instead. Between power creep and fetch/dual manabases, anything new that is similarly good will provide an instant replacement, necessitating continuous re-bans, something I don't think anybody really wants to see happen.
The problem goes even further, though. Even assuming that, for some time, nothing to truly occupy that role in the majority of decks is found or printed, there will rapidly be an accepted best choice for each archetype, and the variety effect largely disappears anyway. As such, trying to ban the best card at doing a particular common job to promote varied card choices is doomed from the word go.
Color Variety / Color Balance
This one is less clear cut because I think we can all agree that a format in which only a single color is actually playable limits the game significantly enough to shut out a large number of players and makes it less fun than it could be. At the same time, though, it is completely impossible to perfectly balance a huge complex system like Legacy in a way that has all colors represented in equal amounts, so the final goal of someone wanting to ban for this reason is inherently impossible to achieve, making the approach suspect and the goal murky.
In addition almost every player I know likes colors because of what they offer as far as strategies are concerned—that is to say because that particular color allows them to play the game in the way they enjoy playing it most, be it beating down, countering spells, or storming into a huge Tendrils. What I'm saying is that color identity is important, but what actually influences gameplay is largely not the colors someone is playing but what they're trying to do in those colors. When building a deck, you don't (or at least you shouldn't) decide which colors to use and then build a deck in those colors. What you do is decide what you want your deck to do and choose the colors according to which combination allows you to do that best. As such, strategic diversity simply overrules considerations for color balance as far as decisions to ban something are concerned. Cluttering up the system by trying to ban for more reasons than strictly necessary makes it more likely one of the primary considerations is inadvertently neglected and something much more relevant is lost in the process. That and a shorter banned list is, generally speaking, a better banned list.
Preservation of Skill
This is the last major point I consider a necessary component of any viable banning process from a pure game mechanic point of view, even though I don't think anything has ever had to be banned on this criterion alone so far (with the possible exception of Trinisphere in Vintage). Most people playing Magic in any competitive form play this game because it allows players to outwit and outplay their opponents. As such, anything that makes it so that skill is essentially valueless and/or makes game decisions practically scripted undercuts one of the major incentives for playing.
Degenerate decks are one facet of this but far from the only one. I dislike playing Sealed Deck, for example, because so many more games in Limited than in Constructed come down to mana screw, mana flood, and who drew more/better bombs (opening said bombs is covered under the “degenerate deck” issue in my opinion).
As there aren't any definitive examples for a ban purely based on this issue (because the decks that violated it usually proved either degenerate or too limiting to strategic variety anyway and were banned for that reason), I'll use a somewhat more abstract example.
The original “Lightning Bolt deck” (20 Mountain, 40 Lightning Bolt) illustrates the point quite well. It doesn't do anything we'd consider really degenerate today (it can't win before turn 4 just for starters), but there are nearly no decisions to be made when playing it (your whole plan is to cast seven Bolts to the head; if that isn't enough, you're pretty much running on empty). Assuming a strategically varied format with multiple decks like this—let's say the Bolt deck for “aggro,” a deck along the lines of 36 Counterspells, 4 Urza's Factory, and 20 Islands as control, and something that is 2 Grapeshot, 10 Mountain, and 38 Manamorphose representing combo just for a minimal metagame—we still won't have a fun gameplay experience. One deck only casts Bolt to the head; the other just counterspells everything it can; and the last one chains Manamorphoses whenever it hits two mana. There are different strategies; none of them is totally degenerate (maybe the Manamorphose deck would be), but playing that format would still be boring as hell because neither deck demands any relevant decisions whatsoever. As I said, this is somewhat of a theoretical concern because it hasn't ever come up in this form but should definitely be considered when looking whether something needs to be banned.
Similarly if almost every game in a format comes down to someone being on the play or on the draw (independent of how long the game takes to play out afterwards), there is a problem. The games might be interactive; they might last many turns and be enjoyable in themselves; but if it is impossible to win if you lose the die roll, the game will feel like an unnecessary chore because you already know how the game ends before you've drawn your opening hand. Might as well simply roll the dice at that point.
Finally, I feel it's important to mention here that different players have different skillsets and should have the opportunity to profit from their superior skill at least some of the time. Some people are excellent at doing combat math (not me); others are good at predicting what the game state will look like five turns from now; and again others have the ability to predict and play around their opponent's outs incredibly well. There is a multitude of other relevant skillsets, but the important point is that a great format (and that's what we're looking for, right?) needs to give each player the opportunity to profit from their particular skillset at least some of the time. Otherwise that person definitely isn't going to have fun.
I only mention this for completeness's sake, though, as I'm convinced that sufficient strategic variety will almost always insure this is the case anyway. I still think this point is important to remember, especially because it is a major reason why I think Magic actively needs fundamentally different formats—that way different skillsets can be emphasized in each of them, allowing players to choose the format they feel their particular skills are likely to be rewarded the most.
Catering to Player Preference/Bias
This one will probably seem like an absurd argument for most people, as there is no justification for it from an analytical, format fairness perspective (which a lot of players seem to consider the reason for the existence of a banned list in the first place). As I said, fairness is only relevant to ban decisions insofar as it concerns making a format more fun. If the vast majority of players are happier playing a format that is biased in some particular way, it's more reasonable to keep the feature causing the bias around than to ban it.
This argument should only rarely be used and then almost exclusively to justify keeping something unbanned that, from other perspectives, might be considered ban worthy. The decision to ban something shouldn't be made on the basis of player bias.
Why? Well, as long as there are players enjoying a certain play style, they should be afforded the opportunity to implement it somewhere. Decks that are patently “unfun” to play with or against have a tendency to regulate themselves as long as they don't violate any of the other criteria due to their power level (the reason I don't ever play High Tide any more, for example, is the fact that I simply couldn't stand the go-off turn any more after I had done it a few hundred times). The occasional game against the “unfun” deck that players have to suffer through is more than compensated for by the fun the person playing the deck is having every round. To illustrate this numbers wise, someone playing Belcher because they love the deck is going to have fun for seven games in a tournament while only causing one round to be “unfun” for any one other player. As long as the number of players playing “unfun” decks is limited, this creates more happy players at the end of the day than getting rid of those decks would.
The reason I think player preference can make a compelling argument for keeping a card around that could otherwise be considered for banning is the fact that in that case, the card is actively creating a better gameplay experience for a large number of players. If three quarters of the player base in a format prefer the format in its skewed form to one that is balanced by banning a card, the ban misses its main goal: to make the format more fun.
In a situation like that, those that want the format more balanced are actually making the format less fun for the vast majority only so that a minority can have more fun. To argue with numbers again, if the fun card is banned, 75% of the players in any given tournament are going to have less fun throughout the day while only 25% of the players will have had more fun than they would have with the card unbanned. Essentially every member of the 75% group is going to have seven rounds less fun in our theoretical event while every 25% player is going to have between five and six rounds of more fun (can't count the games inside the group, which makes up about a quarter of players in the tournament, hence 1-2 rounds). Comparing this on a player to player basis, we already end up a round or two in the less fun column, and that is before considering that there are three times as many players wanting the card unbanned than players wanting it banned (which would mean 21 rounds of less fun for every five to six rounds of more fun). Clearly the most fun to be gained here is by leaving the card legal.
The Not So Surprising Reason
Wow, that was a lot of theory. Happy to see you made it all the way through! Obviously something prompted me to write down my thoughts on the subject of banning right now. Here it is:
Yep, lately people have started to clamor for the banning of Brainstorm. Even ignoring the fact that we have barely more than a month's worth of results in the post Misstep, post Innistrad format (making claims for banning absolutely anything irrational because the format hasn't had time to settle at all), the arguments generally advanced by those wanting to get rid of it clash with everything I believe about why bans should be made.
Brainstorm clearly isn't a card that causes degenerate wins. I've rarely died early and without interaction simply because my opponent cast Brainstorm. I've also never had people concede because “they couldn't win any more” or because “that card is dumb” when I cast a Brainstorm. Brainstorm may be good, but it isn't degenerate.
Brainstorm also doesn't significantly impair the strategic depth of Legacy. Aggro decks, midrange decks, control decks, combo decks, Dredge, aggro-control decks, and just about every other deck type outside of combo-control (probably a good thing, even though it happens to be my favorite archetype) are all viable choices in the format. Actually, there are about as many different strategies viable in the format as there were when the Legacy boom started.
The main argument being made in favor of banning Brainstorm is that it leads to blue being dominant as a color, citing the amount of Brainstorms in recent top eights as evidence. I already went into my view on the relevance of color balance compared to other considerations, so I won't go over that again. What I will do however is show problems with the assumptions, goals, and data supporting that position.
To start with, redressing the overwhelming presence of blue will not be possible by banning Brainstorm because it is based on two things: the fact that Legacy is an Eternal format with fetches/duals and skewed appearances due to the fact that Legacy is one of the most skill-intensive formats ever (maybe the most skill-intensive one, actually).
The former is based on the fact that a well-managed Eternal format will always have a wide variety of possible threats and fields of battle as well as a high power level for both cards and strategies. In an environment like that blue's slices of the color pie, countermagic and library manipulation in particular, are just ridiculously stronger than the abilities of other colors in the context of most “fair” and even “unfair” decks.
Countermagic is the one form of interaction that allows its wielder to answer just about any kind of threat, from creature-based beatdown to purely instant-based combo. Black, the only color that has a similar ability (discard) is significantly weaker than blue because of the mentioned high power-level of the cards seeing play—a counterspell drawn late game will answer a topdecked bomb; a discard spell won't.
The strength of library manipulation has the same origin. Your own spells are stronger than in other formats (and therefore finding them consistently is particularly valuable), and the threats you're facing are more varied (meaning digging for the correct solution to the problem at hand becomes stronger than just running more answers because the answers are more likely to be the wrong ones).
Combine this with the fact that a large fraction of the best players in the game has a decided bias towards decks that can a) win every matchup and b) are highly interactive so that the players can maximize their skill edge, and you see why a large percentage of the better players at any given tournament will be sporting decks with a significant blue core (especially because one of blue's two best cards is Force of Will, which demands a significant number of blue cards while the best cards of most other colors can easily be splashed into any other shell thanks to duals/fetches).
That doesn't mean blue decks are significantly better than everything else or that the other colors don't produce viable or very strong archetypes. Legacy is a format of dozens of decks that are a within a hair's breadth of each other in comparative power level. It only means blue decks are among the highest EV decks and many players that are (or believe themselves to be) better than most of the other players in the room have a tendency to choose the blue deck as long as long as they aren't putting themselves at a disadvantage by doing so (which is only likely to happen if blue is banned into oblivion, which would probably lead to essentially the same metagame Modern has because an avalanche of bannings would become necessary if blue doesn't provide the tools to keep combo in check).
This is where the skill-intensive nature of Legacy comes in. If a significant portion of the best players at any given tournament is sporting blue-based decks while blue decks are as good as most other decks and better players are significantly more likely to win any given match because the result is highly skill-dependent, blue decks will rise to the top a majority of the time. And blue decks in Legacy other than Fish will always contain Brainstorm simply because the card is very good, similarly to how white decks at all interested in creature removal are generally sporting Swords to Plowshares and just about every red deck runs Lightning Bolt. As such, you'll be seeing a lot of Brainstorms in any given Top 8.
There also is a certain “echo-chamber effect” (not my description, but I find it apt) surrounding the StarCityGames.com Opens. People look at the last top eight, see a ton of blue tempo decks (or blue-based Misstep decks for that matter) and decide they need to play the same kind of deck because otherwise they can't win. This was false during the Misstep era (Maverick, for example, was doing very well in Europe but ignored in the US), and it still is now. If you don't like the kind of deck you see there, hop over to mtgthesource.com or sample some of this here site's Legacy content until you find something that fits your play style better. You might also want to skim through my Ultimate Legacy Compendium. There are decks of just about any strategic- and color-foundation out there that are strong enough to win a tournament. I just hope people in the US wake up and realize they don't need to run Brainstorm if they don't want to.
So much for blue being dominant. Let's get to the next criterion, skill. I haven't yet heard a reasonable argument to the effect that Brainstorm reduces the impact of decision-making and skill on the game. On the contrary almost everybody agrees that Brainstorm allows for skill to matter more. Definitely not a reason to get rid of Brainstorm.
Finally, there is player bias, and in this case I think that's a pretty big issue. I know that at least three quarters of the people attending my biweekly tournaments love to play with Brainstorm, and I know from conversations, articles, and forum posts that that seems pretty representative of the Legacy player-base as a whole (by the way, that kind of number should also be a telling sign as to why base-blue decks take up so many top 8 slots). Three quarters definitely qualifies as a significant majority as far as player bias is concerned, and pissing off the largest part of the people playing a format when trying to make it better seems like a recipe for a Pyrrhic victory to me.
That isn't all, though. There is some history to be learned from. On June 1, 2008, the DCI announced that Brainstorm was going to be restricted in Vintage. Up to that point, multiple 7+ round events happened in the format every month. Six months later, Vintage players were happy to get together enough people to play even six rounds outside of special events like the annual Bazar of Moxen tournament.
Some attributed that to the dominance of Tezzeret directly following the concurrent removal of power errata from Time Vault, but honestly, that theory doesn't hold water. Vintage experienced its era of greatest success and most widespread adoption from somewhere around 2003-04 to 2008. Sure, the Time Vault combo is obnoxiously cheap and easy to set up, but so is the win when resolving Gifts Ungiven into Yawgmoth's Will and Recoup. In case you didn't know, that's the defining interaction behind the deck that dominated 2005-07 Vintage (when Gifts was finally restricted). And as if that hadn't been enough blue dominance, when they restricted Gifts, they unbanned Gush and what followed was a year of Gush being the best engine in the format, period.
Yet player numbers throughout these three years not only didn't decline; they were actually the highest ever. It was easy to find tournaments, and I could have played a tournament with 32+ players roughly every other week just in France (where I lived at the time). Today it's pretty hard to find more than one Vintage event with more than 32 players a year there (at least as far as I can tell, being back in Germany and all). It seems exceedingly unlikely to me that players who loved four years of blue combo-control dominance would suddenly quit the game because another blue combo-control deck is top dog.
On the other hand, I know for a fact that I was very sad when Brainstorm was gone (at least it helped me bear the fact that Berlin simply didn't have a Vintage scene and led to me playing Legacy), and I know a number of players who decided to snap quit the moment they saw the announcement (and I mean they quit, not they threatened to).
I also know that a number of the people I play Legacy with every two weeks now believe that a ban on Brainstorm represents the bell tolling for Legacy and plan to get out of the format (and probably the game considering that's the main format they play) before the prices on staples collapse. From everything I know and have heard, it seems reasonable to assume that this kind of reaction is what turned Vintage from a flowering format into a shadow of its former self. Not any supposed dominance of Time Vault Tezzeret but the gut reaction of people losing their favorite toy. Sure, there were probably even more Brainstorm fanatics in Vintage than there are in Legacy right now, but not massively so.
If you advocate banning Brainstorm, think about this. I'm serious, please do. Is Brainstorm bad enough for the format to risk something even remotely similar happening? If even a tenth of those loving Brainstorm quits Legacy as a result of it being banned (and I suspect the ratio would be significantly higher just based on how things went in Vintage), is that worth whatever gains you hope to make by banning it?
Brainstorm is so integral to the structure of Legacy that banning it will have totally unforeseeable repercussions. I mentioned player reaction above, but we simply cannot foresee what the removal of this pillar of the format will do to the format even ignoring player bias. Sure, it might just reduce the blue dominance a little (a good thing), but it could also lead to a cascading effect that destroys the strategic variety we see in Legacy right now and replaces it with something much more constricting and less fun. My point is: we simply don't know.
Considering all this, banning Brainstorm is simply a risk not worth taking. There would undoubtedly be a negative impact to contend with, and there are no sure positive effects to balance it out.
Well, considering we're at over 6000 words now, I think it's high time I stopped talking. What do you think about banning? Is my reasoning sound, my approach based on the right ideas or am I totally wrong? What about Brainstorm, do you want it to stay around or do you feel I'm full of it and Brainstorm is an oppressive force that ruins the format? Let me know
In any event, I think it is important that we take a step back and figure out for what reason we think bans should happen before we can meaningfully argue about which cards should or shouldn't be banned. I honestly think there's been enough of the “oh god that's so broken—ban it” school of thought. What we need is rational discourse on the matter, not senseless whining. It's your turn now!
Until next time, have fun!