Some Thoughts on Ban Lists
Should a card be banned? This not a new question. After all, Wizards banned their first cards only one year after Magic the Gathering was created. Every format has had to wrestle with this question both at its outset and throughout its life as new sets are released. PDH is no exception. While we discuss the new ban list and debate which cards belong on it, I wanted to add some structure to the discussion. What follows is an overview of the basic reasons I see for banning a card. I believe that these reasons match what I have heard from Wizards over the years, and I hope that this will spur constructive discussion about the PDH ban list going forward.
Reason 1) The Card Violates the Established Rules of the Format (Or of Magic as a Whole)
These cards are perhaps the easiest to establish. There are certain cards that were printed some time ago that go against subsequent rulings. Common examples of this are Ante cards such as Jeweled Bird and manual dexterity cards such as Chaos Orb.
Commander (EDH) is an interesting format since it is set up for 100 card singleton, since it is primarily played as multiplayer and since all players have access to a legendary creature every game. These differences in rules have led to some necessary bans. One such example of a card that does not work in that specific format is Limited Resources. Trade Secrets also comes to mind as a card that does not work in a multiplayer format.
Reason 2) The Card Makes Too Many Games Take Too Long to Play
In constructed Magic, it is important to be able to finish most games within the 50-minute time limit. If a small set of players goes to turns every game, it is going to have a negative impact on the flow of the tournament as a whole. This reason to ban a card is rarely sited but there have been some examples. In modern, Eggs and Birthing Pod both got the ban hammer due to the length of their average match.
Reason 3) The Card Hurts the Diversity of the Format
When a format has a robust tournament scene, it is possible to collect a large amount of data on the types of decks that are seeing play at all levels of play. This data can be used to determine whether a certain archetype is under or over represented in the format.
At times, the ubiquitous presence of a card in most decks will result in the impossibility of playing a specific archetype. The recent Deathrite Shaman ban is a good example. One of the reasons that Shaman needed to be taken out (according to the ban gods) was that it was graveyard hate in the main deck without having to sacrifice any power. Since so many good decks were playing it in the main deck, graveyard strategies such as Reanimator and Dredge were suffering.
On the flip side, a certain deck may have an average win rate but is making up too large a percent of the meta game. Formats are not especially fun if every other game is a mirror match.
I think there is actually another way to impact diversity. If every deck, or every deck of a certain color regardless of archetype, all play the same card. It makes games feel similar and hurts creativity and deck construction. I look at Commander and the controversial Primeval Titan ban. The reasoning behind that ban was not that you had to play Green to be a good deck, or that Green made up too much of the format. The reasoning was that, if you were playing Green, you had to include Prime Time. Almost every Green deck ran him. I think you have to be careful with this argument since there are many staples in every color that are going to make it into a lot of decks. Just because something is being played a lot does not mean it needs to be banned. But it is something to consider.
Reason 4) The Card Allows One Deck to Have Too High a Win Rate
I would say that this is the number one reason to ban a card from a format. If you have to play a specific deck (or the counter to that deck) to do well in a tournament, that deck may have one of its key cards banned. There are countless examples throughout the history of Magic. Oops moments where they printed a card and didn’t realize the impact it was going to have.
Most of the time, if a deck with too high of a win rate is not caught early on, it will also begin to hurt the diversity of the format in other ways as discussed above. This is especially true in formats where tournament results are published. It only takes a week or two to understand what deck stands out as the one to beat.
It is more difficult to measure the win rate of a deck without tournament data and bans come slowly after much deliberation. But through playing many many games against many different decks you can start to get a feel to the power level of the format. Then you will be able to tell whether one specific card needs to go.
Hopefully this has been some food for thought. As we move forward in developing the ban list for the PDH format, we can use the above reasons to guide our conversations about specific cards. Please comment below if there was something missed or if you would like to discuss further.