Recently Aaron Forsythe, Vice President of Design for Wizards of the Coast, reached out to the Magic community on Twitter about a potential change in the frequency of ban announcements.
When would you prefer ban announcements happen?
— Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron) November 11, 2019
I believe the approach that WotC should take is a scheduled monthly State of the Meta announcements where a brief analysis of all formats is given and a “watchlist” of potential threats to a healthy meta are described. The regular announcements will provide predictability, the Ban Watchlist will allow players to plan ahead to prevent feel bad purchases, and provide a catalyst for dialogue so that R&D and the players can be on the same page.
A successful model for this State of the Meta is the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee reports where the Federal Reserve releases a summary of their current outlook on the economy and includes a “dot plot,” which shows their projected actions on the interest rates over the next couple of years. These plots show an aggregate opinion of the various regional board chairs and allow investors and other interested parties to assess the internal mood of the members. If you are making a long-term investment, this information can be very comforting and bring confidence in the decision you are about to make. The near-term predictions have been very accurate (though not entirely predictive) while the long-term predictions have updated as new information becomes available. A similar model can be followed with the curation of the Ban List.
As an example, there have been whispers surrounding Mox Opal on the ban list for years, and frankly I am someone who would have been building Affinity at several points over that time if I knew whether it was on the Watchlist or if it’s actually Krark-Clan Ironworks or Urza, High Artificer or Paradoxical Outcome that are/were the cards on the Watchlist. Imagine if earlier this year Wizards announced that Bridge from Below and Hogaak were on a long-term watchlist for bans. I wouldn’t be deterred from buying into classic Dredge or Arclight Phoenix because neither decks relied on those cards. If Faithless Looting were then added in a future month, I would read what Wizards wrote about the format and be able to assess the risk to my deck that might receive splash damage. Even if it is eventually banned, it isn’t surprise-banned out from under me like it was for many people. Only those who utilized services like Channel Fireball’s Ban and Reprint Protection were spared! More information can add predictability and reduce feel bad moments.
The Feel-Bad Moments
Several years ago I was building my first Modern deck. I finally got the last piece and was planning for a local event at the Channel Fireball Game Center. Before that first event even arrived, Splinter Twin was banned and I never had a chance to play the deck in a tournament. I’ll admit that this has made me gun-shy in pulling the trigger on future purchases for decks that I determine to be at risk of bannings. If I had insights into what WotC was thinking and what they considered to be a threat or considered not to be a threat would help in planning and provide me confidence to go forward. Similarly, if Mox Opal were placed on a watchlist it would likely negatively affect its price on the secondary market, but not as much as if it were outright banned. This diminishes the feel-bad moments if it is eventually banned because it didn’t just drop like a rock in value, but rather had several steps down from the warnings given in the periodic announcements.
The same benefits also would theoretically apply for unbans. In the graph below, look at the price spikes that occurred before every set release for Stoneforge Mystic over the last five years until it was eventually unbanned in August. If you were someone wanting to buy that card for Legacy or casual play, this can have a large damping effect on your behavior due to the speculation. If there were an “Unban Watchlist” where it was explained why cards were or were not in those monthly reports, then this would greatly diminish that. You would probably see one increase in price when it was added to the Watchlist, but then it would slowly decay in price the longer it stayed or if WotC’s stated outlook didn’t change month-to-month.
Addition by Subtraction
An Unban Watchlist would also allow the opportunity for previously banned cards to make a return into the format. You can imagine a world where after a card is banned, but maybe it wouldn’t be as oppressive after the release of the next set balances out the format. Maybe Smuggler’s Copter wouldn’t have been as large of a problem once Abrade entered the scene. Maybe Smuggler’s Copter could have gone from banned and on the Unban Watchlist to being unbanned and on the Ban Watchlist. This Unban Watchlist allows the banlist to be used to shift the meta by addition rather than nearly exclusively shift the meta by subtraction.
I am a proponent of transparency in most things. Much of the anger about bans/unbans from the online forums come from surprises or from players assuming they know what Wizards is thinking when really the two bodies are not at all on the same page. Anything that helps to clarify that misunderstanding and close that expectation gap is good for the confidence of the secondary market, good for the players, and good for the game.
Here’s what I think should have been on Wizard’s inaugural Ban Watchlist–and the Standard bans earlier this week show that was a pretty good guess. Share your watchlist or your feedback on my watchlist in the comments below!
Modern: Urza, Lord High Artificer
Legacy: No changes
Modern: Splinter Twin
Legacy: Frantic Search