…and we’re back! Hope all is well, everyone. I was able to do some testing last night on both Thraximundar and Sisters, so we’ll get to that soon enough. Right now, though, I’m feeling like spending some cash…
MONEY IS NO OBJECT
I came to a conclusion the other day while pondering my “Sentimental Value” binder that I think is completely valid. I believe the Rules Committee needs to get rid of their second criteria for banning cards. Here it is for reference:
“A card’s dollar cost is prohibitive for most players and the card usually detracts from the playing experience of everyone else in the game.”
The main problem with this particular criterion is that it is effectively two separate rules put together. Looking closely, we see that there’s a link drawn between “cost” and “detracts from playing experience” that in my opinion is misplaced. Now, undoubtedly, the two can go hand in hand, but they certainly do not do so absolutely. Recurring Nightmare, for example, can currently be picked up for about $7 or $8 on the open market, and there is no question that this card is degenerate beyond reasonable doubt. On the same token, I’d be hard-pressed to pick up a decent copy of Juzam Djinn for under $100 these days, and the card has not aged well at all in the potency category. Money does not equal degeneracy; a card should be examined on the basis of how it stacks up against each category independently of each other. If it breaks both, all the more reason to ban. But it is absolutely misleading to put the two criteria together.
This gets me to my main point-
Dollar value should have no place in determining whether a card is ban-worthy.
TAKING A WALK
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that Time Walk has a place very near to my heart. I was sorting through some of my unused collection last week, thinking about piecing together a sell list for some store credit, when I mentioned off-handedly to a friend that I wanted to get my hands on a Time Walk.
“Why?” He asked.
“I want one for my “Sentimental” binder.”
“I’ve got this binder with a ton of cards that I used to love to play back in the day. I’d love to add a Walk to it.”
“You only play EDH. Not Vintage.”
“Why not just fold up $400 and slip it into one of the binder pockets? Same effect.”
“Come on…you understand what I’m going for here.”
“Nope. I get that you’re a sap.”
“Not fair. I’m just prone to nostalgia.”
“You still tear up at the end of ‘Titanic‘?”
He does have a point, though. There’s a difference between sliding a Revised Black Vise into a binder because I used to win tournaments with the card; coming out of pocket for a card worth Texas-$$$ that will do nothing but get older in a sleeve does seem a bit pointless.
Which is why I should be able to play with it.
(And for the record, that ending is emotional, dammit. Rose climbing the Grand Staircase, with all the other passengers there to welcome her, and Jack is there, and…
…ah, screw it. I hit my thirties and became an emotional wreck. I’m fairly sure if Budweiser put together a reasonably sappy beer commercial, I’d probably tear up. This is probably why my wife refuses to go out to movies with me anymore. Getting old sucks, kids…)
WHAT’S COOLER THAN BEING COOL?
The conversation made me think about what makes EDH so great, and the parallels that are drawn from it to a time before there was any such thing as a “format” to begin with. When I started playing Magic, it was an “anything goes” game. Back then, with no internet to log on and throw together a quick Star City order or complete an EBay auction, it was all about trying to get your hands on things that no-one else had the old fashion way – by finding other people who had these cards, and working out an epic trade. I imagine this was exactly what Richard Garfield had in mind when he designed the game to be collectable; you’d scour the locals, build up your binder, and then head off to another town and dig in. No one looked at cards and saw dollar signs in those days. Every new person you came across meant a new collection of stuff no-one local had, and opening each new binder was like cracking open an untouched Egyptian tomb for the first time. It felt truly magical.
There was an unbelievable aura that surrounded cards like Black Lotus; it really felt like you were playing with something ultra rare and amazing and powerful when you dropped it on the table. If you had one, chances were good it was the only one in the local area code, and people would be in awe. Other games would stop so the players could come to your table and see a Mox Pearl in person, or watch as Ali From Cairo came down and made the game absolutely unwinnable for the opposing mage. It was utterly electric.
Simply put, these cards defined the collectible nature of the game in a way that has never and will never been replicated.
These days, a strictly-Standard player might gloss over a Mox Jet in a trade binder. Legacy Players will skip straight past Ancestral Recall to get to Ancestral Vision. The trade grinders will start mentally converting cardboard into incremental dollar values with all the warmth of a gynecology exam. With the advent of the internet and the onset of formats, Magic gained a ton of popularity and lost the sheer mystique that it was born with.
THE REBIRTH OF COOL
But it lives on in EDH.
This is the place for old cards to come out of binders. This is the place for worn-out, sixteen-year-old cards to reclaim some of that prestige and power. EDH is all about doing big, splashy, enjoyable things that can’t happen in any other format. It’s all about playing things that just can’t or won’t be played anywhere else. It’s about recapturing the magic that gave this game its’ name to begin with. We go out of our way to spend money on obscure foils and rare old cards to make our decks unique and interesting. We love our Japanese foil Doubling Season and our Old Man Of The Sea and our Judge Foil Maze Of Ith. If ever there were a place for the rarest of rare cards, it’s here. To restate my point, money should simply not be an issue in card banning; it unnecessarily damages the core value of EDH.
Let me play that Time Walk, goddammit!
THE CORE OF THE ISSUE
EDH is a broken format. This is unquestioned. Anyone who wants to can break it in half at any time. With the rising popularity of EDH, there will be more and more players who shrug off the idea of the social contract so they can combo out a table of players on turn four. This is not the point of this article, though, other than to point out that cards will always need to be evaluated when they break too far out of the mold and start ruining the game as a result. Emrakul was a big issue; Erayo was a flat-out game warping problem. I have no issue with cards that will unbalance EDH from a power perspective, or due to their alternate-design nature. (As is the case with the “Un-“ sets)
I also understand that the Rules Committee decided to start with the Vintage Restricted list as a basis for the official EDH banned list; I find this to be a mistake as well for the same reasons. I’d challenge anyone to look me in the face and tell me that EDH is a bad fit for Chaos Orb. Simply put, if the card is broken enough that it warps the format or was designed outside the constraints of the game, then pull it, but let the rest go across the board.
Let’s take a look at the cards that I would argue become nothing but money bannings:
In a format where games regularly can go past twenty turns, the power level of the original Moxen is drastically diminished. At its’ heart, EDH is not an early-game format at all, and the small extra boost a Mox Emerald would provide in the first few turns is no more or less equal to what we already have in Sol Ring or Mana Crypt. And let’s face it; Moxen make terrible eighteenth-turn top-decks.
Sure…I get it. This card is good. Again, applying the same logic as the Moxen get, the plus-two card advantage you get from Ancestral is not nearly that back-breaking in a format that isn’t about breaking backs and isn’t about doing it early. It surely becomes a staple in blue decks, but it isn’t nearly as compelling in the face of a kicked Tooth And Nail or Sylvan Library/Abundance.
The effect already lives in the format several times over. Dirty Combo Players™ are less concerned with CMC in the long run anyway, and will tend to use Riku to copy Time Stretch anyway. Again, it’s good, but not broken in EDH.
Again, we have a card that is judged based on the positive card advantage it gives in Vintage to control and combo decks designed to take over a game in the first few turns. The last time I checked, most EDH players like to play their cards, not sit on them and meter them out slowly. Again, it’s an existing effect, and besides, it has terrible synergy with
…Yeah, this one is a tough sell. This probably would not pass muster in the face of the “power-level” criteria. Still, while this card does provide an unbalancing acceleration to the player who plays it, it does not create a game-winning combo like Panoptic Mirror or Biorhythm, or lend itself to a non-interactive board state like Limited Resources or Upheaval. I’d also go a step further and say that Black Lotus is and will always be the most iconic card in the history of the game. On that flavor alone, it belongs in EDH if it belongs anywhere at all.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
I realize that there is a whole other level of arguments about what happens to EDH when the best cards in the best decks are priced out of the range of the average player. There are ways around that, however; for example, if Vintage lives and dies by the availability of proxy tournaments, and most EDH playgroups recognize the nature of a casual format and already allow them to one extent or another, then I believe this is a non-issue. Not every player will flock to these cards anyway; there is a thriving pauper EDH scene, and there are tons of players that love to build ‘outside of the box’ and will steer clear for many reasons.
But it leaves the door open for those of us who want to get back to the core of the magic behind Magic to spend foolishly if we want and return to a time and place that hasn’t been available in well over a decade and a half. It allows newer players to discover the same joy us older players once did – a joy that isn’t possible in the same way in Vintage. Resident EDH Godfather Sheldon Menery likes to say that EDH is about ‘embracing the chaos’, and that is true; I’d like to take it a step further and say that EDH is about ‘embracing the magic’ at its’ fundamental core. It’s not about the money, it’s about the cards themselves, and the heart of an incredible game lives and breathes in them. It’s a shame that they can’t live and breathe in EDH, and I think it’s time to change that.
For now, you’ll have to excuse me. ‘Serendipity‘ is coming on, and I need to run out for some Kleenex…