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Ban Talk: Discussing "Horsemanship"

Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed, by Junko Taguchi, owned by Wizards of the Coast © All Rights Reserved.

Throughout my time playing Magic: The Gathering, I have come to hate certain cards with a truly intimate passion. There are cards that I just wish could just be removed from the game entirely. I am your average player, so I feel quite comfortable making the assumption that most players also have those few cards that they just hate, and wish were banned from the game. How great would it be if we could always remove such torturous cards, so they never interfere with our games ever again? If only life were that simple.

The question I had to ask myself right off the bat was, “What justifies a card or a mechanic being banned from a format?” As of this point in time, no cards or mechanics have been banned from Pauper EDH, but that doesn’t imply that the format is free of anything unhealthy. With this being the first installment of observing challenging cards and mechanics, I am going to give my thoughts on such a mechanic I feel is worth discussing; Horsemanship.

For those of you unfamiliar with Horsemanship, think of it similar to Flying. Such an ability allows a creature to only be blocked by other creatures with Horsemanship. When the Portal expansions were released, I was too young to be aware of the newly growing world of Magic, as were many other players today. Being so long ago, and with a limited print run, many of these cards today are quite difficult to find without a heavy price tag attached to them. Although this expansion series was designed to present a simpler form of game play for new players, it also introduced a new mechanic that is unique to these sets. Horsemanship is this exact mechanic.

Several effects do exist like this already, with many different creature types. So, why is this one particular mechanism worth a discussion? As I had said before, the line of printing for these cards fell into a small group, and this mechanic never made a return. Many of these creatures had been printed rare, so it wasn’t relevant to the Pauper EDH format for the most part anyway. A small number of common creatures existed, but at least had a very low attack, and aren't bolt-proof.

However, the online sets, Vintage Masters III and Vintage Masters IV, saw reprints of these cards, with rarity changes. For Pauper EDH, this adds a lot of new power to the mixture, that can be seen as an issue. The first item to be observed is the new eligibility of commanders. One card in particular, Lu Xun, Scholar General, is a primary concern for an overpowered general. Although not bolt-proof, the ability to not be blocked, and to draw cards is incredibly powerful. Furthermore, the overall CMC is not very high, given the utility. Several others, such as Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed, with an equally low CMC but strong attack, and bolt-proof generals such as Lu Meng, Wu General force an excessive amount of concentration on handling these few creatures.

However, despite what can be seen above, is that necessarily dangerous for the format? I can’t say I would necessarily be happy to match up against one of these commanders, but it certainly steps up the level of competitive game play. Also, it’s important to note when the online rarity update took place, several other common horsemanship creatures entered the 99 legality. These may be difficult beasts to fight, but answers to them do exist.

I have spent a long time thinking about two areas to consider when banning a card.

  1. What makes a format enjoyable?

  2. What has warranted bans in other formats?

The first of these two points is what I see to be more important. Playing Commander for several years, the enjoyment comes from an ability to do as much stuff as possible. There needs to be variety in strategy, there need to be challenges, and there needs to be different ways to build and not worry about being slammed out of every game. Looking at other formats, a major factor for banning several cards came down to one thing; Lack of variety in the format.

Let's use Modern during The Battle for Zendikar block as my example. Observe the decks being played at that time before the banning of Eye of Ugin. Eldrazi dominated everything. To remotely stand a chance, there was only one deck to play to hold your own, and it was to play Eldrazi. That, is what I see to make a format unhealthy.

I look at a commander such as Lu Xun, Scholar General, and my immediate thought is, “Man, that looks like a lot of fun to play.” If I am playing against someone running him, my thoughts are, “well, his attack is only 1, and I’ve already prepared myself with enough removal to deal with it over time.” What we see here are two different perspectives from each side of the Pauper EDH player base, that not only show an acknowledgement of variety in the format, but an incentive to play the format, and a mechanic that helps further define the format.

So, this is what I propose. Although I feel Horsemanship is a very strong mechanic, I feel that as opposed to it being a corrupting mechanic, it's the exact opposite. This mechanic not only raises the power of a deck, but also contributes an independent flavor to Pauper EDH, seen nowhere else. These commanders, although powerful, aren't powerful enough to take my focus away from playing my other favorite commanders and decks. They only inspire me to further consider all aspects of the format, and perfect my deck designs.




#Horsemanship #PDH #CardDraw #Competitive #Bans


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