The way WOTC handles Historic & the banlist could be way better.
By: ThyrixSyx - 24 Nov 2020
Hey folks, I am ThyrixSyx, an Arena content creator who focuses on historic because standard is lame imho. I don't really have credentials per se, just someone who is passionate about card games and have played a loooooad of online ccgs.
At the end of this post will be a link to a video on my second channel, which I would love for you to check out. I talk in greater detail there about some of what I write about in this post, but what is here should be sufficient to start a good conversation on how Wotc could move forward and treat historic as the online only format that it is.
The first issue, and this spans all formats and aspects of magic, is that Wotc does not communicate with its players at all. Honing in on historic I think it would be very helpful if Wotc could give us concrete information about their perspective on the following topics which will make up the bulk of the rest of this post:
1. What turn speed do they want historic to be.
2. What are the exact lines or ranges of percentages for play rates and win rates which add to the likelihood of banning.
3. To what extent does "fun" play a role in the likelihood of banning.
4. How Wotc feels about the power of archetypes, not just specific decks and cards.
5. What cards Wotc is looking at as being on the edge of banning or unbanning.
6. Wotc's position on what power level they want for historic in reference to all other formats.
7. What they feel is the goal of the historic anthologies and the remastered sets.
8. How they plan on addressing the issue of reprints, both in terms of the economy as well as the cluttering of the outdated deck builder.
9. How they could address historic in ways other than bannings.
10. How they plan on promoting historic as the (current) arena eternal format.
What turn speed is historic?
As far as I can find, we don't know. Back in 2011 Wotc gave us some information on how they choose what to ban in modern.
"We used two criteria to guide us in choosing what cards to ban. First, we have a rule of thumb about Legacy that we don't like consistent turn-two combination decks, but that turn-three combination decks are okay. We modified that rule for Modern by adding a turn to each side: we are going to allow turn-four combination decks, but not decks that consistently win the game on turn three."
Note that for this specific instance they are talking about the consistency of combo decks, but I am assuming this applies to all deck archetypes. So legacy is a turn 3 format, modern is turn 4 (or at least was initially intended to be), and let's assume that vintage is turn 2 for the sake of ease. I have been unable to find a comparison like this made to standard, pioneer, and now historic, but I like to think that Wotc having these set thresholds is better for the game for a number of reasons.
First, players will have at least some idea of if the deck they play might see bannings. If they are playing modern and the deck they are piloting is consistently winning on turn 3, then they can recognize that Wotc doesn't like that, and they can prepare for potential changes. Second, having these thresholds is a relatively simple way of communicating differences among formats. Although playing vintage doesn't mean that every, or even most, games end on turn 2, players looking to get into the format will be aware that it is a possibility and that Wotc wants it to be that way. Lastly, it gives players some semblance of power to hold Wotc accountable for the format. If a deck is winning consistently before the format's turn speed, even if it isn't a huge meta share of the format, then people have a reasonable course to ask for bannings.
The banning of Winota makes it seem like historic shouldn't be a turn 4 format, but other decks in historic also violate this speed.
How high is the play/win rates threshold
This one is very simple. Wotc has banned things in a number of formats due entirely to their meta share or their win percentage. Knowing these thresholds means that we as players can still hold them accountable but not only for bannings, but unbannings as well. I recognize that some number of people will think that they can game the system by making sure a deck doesn't pass this threshold, but reddit is not the entire arena community and Wotc has all of the data. Let me clarify what I mean by giving us power for unbannings as well. If Wotc has a ceiling for these rates, they can also choose to introduce a floor so that when a card gets banned from a deck and they deck falls below the floor, we can ask them to reevaluate the card that was removed. Of particular note is the removal and reintroduction of burning tree emissary. For my thoughts on this card's legality check the video linked below.
How important is fun
One of the reasons that Wotc claimed for banning nexus and agent was that they lead to unfun play patterns and game states. If Wotc were able to give some qualifier information, like the specifics of what makes play patterns or game states unfun, we can hold a candle to them and let them know that this is unfun. They have poor integration of surveys in the client already; beef it up. Right now there are random questions about the enjoyment you had during a game. These outcomes can be due to a number of reasons and thus can't adequately be used for detailed interpretations of data. If instead, they internally flagged cards as potentially unfun, and ask more specifically if a particular card or interaction during a game was unfun, they would have better data to work with.
Are there any archetypes that are too powerful
Yes. Will Wotc recognize this? that is a better question. The number of ramp decks in historic seems to show that decks which aim to "cheat" on mana are too good in this format. Because many players see mana limitation via good rate land destruction or tax effects are unfun, Wotc has decided to essentially remove any real counterplay to those strategies. In addition, typical search your library ramp is sharing more space with things like growth spiral that allow you to just put a land into play after replacing itself, nissa which just doubles your mana while protecting you, and mana rocks, which are the most vulnerable and limited so not a specific worry at this time. For what it is worth, I do believe that the power of ramp decks is due in large part to uro and nissa. The reason for this is that the weakness of ramp is supposed to be while they are building their mana, allowing aggro decks and certain midrange decks to capitalize before they get to the haymakers. Unfortunately, these two cards circumvent this by proving card advantage and defense in the form of life or blockers while still being incredible for their ramp abilities.
Let us know your suspects
I would like to be in a world where Wotc makes updates weekly giving their thoughts on format health from their vast data banks. I don't want banning to happen weekly, but it would be nice if Wotc talked about what cards they are looking at (un)banning and gave us exact reasons why they are on their radar.
What is historic's power level
Because historic is a specially curated selection of old cards mixed with standard sets, the format doesn't have a clear identity in terms of power level. Obviously it is hard to really describe, but I for one would love to see what Wotc considers to be the power level ladder of their constructed formats.
What are the goals of the anthologies and remastered sets
I have been incredibly critical of Wotc's implementation of the anthologies. What I expected to be the greatest hits of those sets for constructed turned out to be a watered down list of cards for limited mixed in with cards that immediately changed the format. I have still yet to hear a reasonable response to why Wotc refused to make all of the (not bannable) cards from these sets available even if they could't be opened in limited packs. The packs on arena are already different between limited and store, so why in the hell has Wotc arbitrarily decided what cards we actually want to play. For both remastered sets I compiled a list of what cards were being left out and each time I had a number of people comment about the fact that they were going to miss out on their favorite cards or archetypes from when they played the set initially. Plague belcher, adorned pouncer, flameblade adept, mechanized production, battle at the bridge, and fairgrounds trumpeter are just a sampling of the cards denied to the player base by Wotc. Considering that all of these cards had been on a version of arena at one point and the packs would have an inflated number of cards to collect, Wotc could make more money by actually letting us play with these cards that we wanted to play with. For AKR, they also added in a series of cads as a sort of small anthology tacked on. While I don't dislike this practice, the cards they added seemed to have been picked at essentially random and they didn't even bring in damnation when arena already has wrath of god, but that is a tangent I could rant about for hours. Moving on, what are the points of anthologies? Are they meant to introduce new archetypes/support, provide answers to archetypes that are on the edge of too good, both, some number of other things? Who knows. Harkening back to my main point on communication, I would like to see Wotc just tell us why they are adding each card in, even if they aren't super specific about it.
Historic and the economy
I'll defer a lot of this section to a post on MTGGoldfish by Saffron Olive here . Suffice it to say that reprints in big sets like anthologies make collecting cards from those dense packs worse and that needs to be addressed. In addition there is the issue that reprints are handled like actual trash in the deck builder. Why is it that I have to have like five spaces for duress, befuddle, plummet, etc in a modern deck builder? Like card styles, these should be choices within a single space for that card such that when I choose duress I choose what set and style I want to see. But that might get tedious every time you make a new deck, I hear some of you say, and I completely agree. I think, and thought that Wotc planned, that the entire deck builder needs a massive overhaul which allows for way more customization than is currently available. For example, you should be able to turn off certain card styles from appearing in your collection altogether such that I can see all of the set styles (storybook, comic book, etc) and remove styles I will never use (the awful parallax and the godzilla styles which just aren't for me). Maybe, if Wotc wants to be really user friendly, we can even give exceptions; the nyx lands are the only cards where the parallax looks good to me. Bringing this back to historic and reprints, if I know what version of a card I want to use, let me set that card as default. If I want to make a later change I can select a button in the deck builder that pauses preferences to just toggle back to the comprehensive set of cards. This could even go deeper with Wotc letting us select a number of versions. Maybe I use the elf duress most of the time, but I still use the mask duress a decent amount, I can select both of those with no style and when I am in the preference version of the deck builder I can see both or confirm selection when I add the first one. These preferences would be even better for lands. The vast majority of lands, I don't plan on using, but I still have to scroll through all of them unless I know exactly which land I want to use for a deck. Let me designate any number of lands to show up when I am in my preferences version. Maybe I have 15 plains I like but only 5 islands, let me have that. When it comes to printing new cards or new versions of reprints, they can be added to the preferences version since it should be easy for players to remove them from preferences.
Other ways of addressing historic bans
First and foremost, historic is an online only format. That should give Wotc the freedom to explore a number of avenues for the format balance. Maybe players would like a restricted list; make it a free event (even if it has essentially no rewards) to gather data like play rates, win percentages, and survey players about how they liked it. If Wotc is worried about specific combinations of cards, like heliod/ballista and saheeli/felidar, explore a complex banlist like letting felidar and ballista come to arena, but making it so that players can't play a deck if it has both pieces of the combo in it. There is some precedence for this when stoneforge mystic was allowed in standard when it was otherwise banned by needing to be in an exact 75 sold in an event deck. What I particularly like about this style of format policing is that you can reduce the power level of specific decks while still allowing other decks that wish to use the would-be banned card with less powerful intents. The last, and most radical option, Wotc could do that I want to address here is literally changing the cards only in historic. Now this has been discussed before and is obviously very controversial, but hear me out for a few words. I don't believe the overall design of a card should be changed because that would cause real confusion for players. But, if slight number changes or specification changes were made, I think there is room for that to work in the context of historic unless players are as easily confused as Wotc claims they are. Let's take uro as an example. Obviously, we don't want to change anything the card actually does, but we could change the numbers, make it cost a generic more both on cast and escape, or make the healing down to 1 or 2, or make it a smaller creature like a 4/4 or 5/5. Any of these changes would keep the design intact, while nerfing the card to make play patterns in historic better. I accept that most don't like this option while some, like my dood Noxious, think it is reasonable space to explore. I stand on the side of preferring complex bans, but some exploration by Wotc would be great since they can easily reverse the tests if they don't like the results.
I love this format. It seems like Wotc hates it based on what they have done and chosen not to do. Remember, Wotc initially wanted double the cost of wildcards for historic cards. Sure, they backtracked on that when there was sufficient push back, but it really shows how little they cared about the success of historic. Wotc needs to implement better social features such as spectating, a true chat option, and most importantly an integrated tournament mode, especially one where the organizer can reward winners from their own resources. I understand that this has potential to be gamed, but Wotc can put limitations in place to curtail that. The open thing was nice but the third one went back to be standard only. Let us choose. Magic is hugely popular, stop (pretending?) worrying about queue times until they actually become an issue. Also the official forums need work and integration into the client.
Well those are some of my thoughts regarding how Wotc handles historic. I would love to know what you all think about this. If you know of other subreddits where this might belong, feel free to cross post it.