Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 1, 2015. As in, this April 1.
Modern is broken. I’m a statistician, so you can trust me when I say the numbers prove how screwed the format is. Did you see the attendance at Starcitygames’ Modern event this weekend in Richmond? 178 players?? What, did SCG secretly host a Netrunner tournament instead of Magic? SCG brought Modern to Richmond a year ago for a Grand Prix, and 4,303 players showed up. I don’t know what’s scarier: The thought of 4,303 Modern players in a single room, or the fact that Richmond saw a 96% attendance drop in just 12 months. And guess what? 100% of that attendance drop occurred after the January 19 banlist announcement. That’s a perfect correlation (R = 1) between the death of Pod/TC/DTT and the death of Modern. If this doesn’t prove Wizards is trying to kill Modern, I don’t know what will. They might as well do a Modern Masters reprint of Tarmogoyf at mythic to finish the job.
But I was unwilling to give up hope yet! Wizards’ plan couldn’t just be to make Burn 50% of the metagame by printing Atarka’s Command, right? In light of these disturbing trends, I snagged an exclusive interview with one of Wizards’ most important employees. He agreed to share some insights on R&D’s recent bannings, and the longterm plans for Modern and the Modern banlist. But he’d only spill the beans on two conditions. First, we had to promise not to ask about enemy fetchland reprints in Battle for Zendikar. Second, we had to ensure total anonymity for our source. So to kick off April, I’m releasing this abridged version of my interview with Faron Oarsythe.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Mr. Oarsythe. It means a lot to the Modern community you can speak out on these important issues.
Tell that to Twitch chat.
I wanted to start things off by asking about the January 19 bannings. Can you explain the thought process that went into those decisions?
Well, we had Birthing Pod on our radar for a long time, but after banning Deathrite Shaman last year we were too scared to ban anything else. The hatemail was too hot to handle; My work inbox could be a Criminal Minds episode. But when Siege Rhino came out, we knew we had to do something or Pod was going to take over the format.
Did you ever consider banning Rhino?
No way. Cards like Rhino are the gateway drugs of Modern. First you play Standard with your Rhinos and Thoughtseize, and it’s just clean, Friday night fun. Then you realize you have most of the cards for a deck like Abzan Liege anyway, so why not shell out a few hundred for the difference? And before you know it, you’ve liquidated your parent’s IRA to support your Tarmogoyf habit.
So once you banned Pod, did Cruise just have to go?
We can only have one format dominated by blue and that’s Legacy. Vintage doesn’t count because it’s more of a “lifestyle choice” than a “Magic format”. Delver was already about a million percent of the format before we banned Pod, so we had to drop the hammer there too.
What about Dig Through Time? A lot of players were pretty dissatisfied with the rationale given for banning that card.
They wouldn’t let us ban the blue fetchlands. How else were we supposed to keep blue down? Besides, we aren’t banning Brainstorm in Legacy any time soon, so we need to take out our blue-card-draw hatred somewhere.
Let’s look ahead to R&D’s longterm goals with Modern. A lot of players have questioned Wizards’ ability to manage the format, communicate its goals, and support the playerbase. Do you share these concerns?
Absolutely not. Between Modern Masters 2, reprints of Modern staples, and cards specifically pushed for Modern, we are committed to supporting Modern at all levels. Our decision to revert the Pro Tour back to Modern was an example of this. We also keep communication channels open on Twitter and at Magic events like Pax East. And if you want to really understand our inner workings, you can always purchase your very own Magic 8Ball to consult the same higher powers we do when banning and unbanning cards.
It sounds like the banlist is at the core of a lot of Modern discussion, both internally and in the broader community. What plans does R&D have moving ahead with the Modern banlist?
There’s this perception in the Modern world that we just want to ban everything. That’s ridiculous. How do you think little Jimmy is supposed to enjoy Modern if his deck gets banned every season? Actually, that’s easy; he’ll probably complain about it on reddit, sell his collection, and then buy back into the next hot deck in a few months. More to the point, how do you think Wizards is supposed to pay my salary if our player base is saving for college, a new car, or a down payment on a house instead of cracking MM2 boosters? No one wants bans and we do what we can to avoid them.
Anything with the word “Delve” on it. Maro has the Storm scale. We now have the Delve scale. Become Immense is bad enough, but Tasigur, the Golden Fang is the real offender: How are we supposed to justify Goyf at mythic if you can just play Potassigur at rare?
Speaking of Become Immense, are there any other cards you might want to ban that break the turn 4 rule? I know Amulet of Vigor has received a lot of attention recently.
Amulet isn’t going anywhere. How else are we supposed to convince Legacy combo players to jump ship and play Modern? Also, do you have any idea how expensive it would be to cut Primeval Titan and company from the MM2 print run in March?
What about unbans? There was a lot of surprise when Golgari Grave-Troll was the only card unbanned during that January 19 announcement, and again when nothing got unbanned on March 23.
One of our most important goals in R&D is format balance. We want a variety of viable decks in the format. We can only publish articles on Daily MTG that tell readers “Modern is really diverse!” so many times before people start wondering why MTGO is 50% Burn, Abzan, and Twin. Unbans are a great tool to ensure balance. We thought it was too risky to unban anything before knowing what the metagame looked like. Troll was the exception. I’m not sure what gave the Wizards legal team more trouble: The reserve list or #FreeTroll.
Didn’t you guys learn anything about the “draw three cards” text with Treasure Cruise? After Cruise, Modern players should be happy to see Concentrate in a future set; talk about power creep! Yeah, there are a few guys in R&D who think AV is fine for the format, but these are the same guys who walk around with the “PATRICK DICKMANN IS MY TWIN BROTHER” t-shirts, so I’m a bit suspicious of their motives.
As for Sword? It’s up in the air. Let’s just say if you want to know where all the foil Swords and Foundries went online, I wouldn’t check my storage unit.
How about some of the other cards on the list? Bloodbraid Elf for instance?
I don’t understand Modern players. First they complain there’s too much black-green midrange. So we ban Deathrite. Then they complain it’s all gone. So we ban Cruise and let them keep Rhino. Now they complain there’s too much again? It’s not like Elf is going to make that situation any better. I swear, pleasing you guys is almost as bad as pleasing those Commander players.
It’s not totally off the table though. Looking at past data, we see Elf can go into Zoo decks to give them a bit of a boost. And if I know anything about Zoo players, it’s that they get what they want with the banlist. I’m still finding Wild Nacatls hidden around my house and car signed in red pen with “Free us -Brian Kibler”.
Are there just some cards on the banlist that are totally off limits?
It’s what you would expect: Skullclamp, Dread Return, Blazing Shoal, and so on. If it already broke Modern at one point in time, like Shoal, or has a Legacy power level, like Hypergenesis, you won’t see it here. Also, no artifact lands. All the guys that worked on those sets? They’re handling distribution in Alaska. Me? I’m sitting right here. That’s because while they were designing Cranial Plating and Disciple of the Vault, I brought us sunburst. And nothing says “job security” like Solarion.
I notice you didn’t mention everyone’s favorite planeswalker. What about Jace, the Mind Sculptor?
Last question from me. Could you give us some clarifications on some of the ban criteria? In particular, the turn 4 rule is always cause for disagreement.
Isn’t everything in Modern? But seriously, it’s pretty simple. At first it was “decks that consistently win on turn 3 or earlier”. Then it was “top tier decks that consistently win on turn 3 or earlier”. But on the R&D side of things? It is now, has always been, and will always be, “decks that beat me at Wednesday-Wizards-cafeteria-Modern on turn 3 or earlier.” There’s a chain of command. You can’t have your staff killing you on turn 2 because some designers can’t pull interns from coffee duty to test for Modern.
Anything you want to leave your readers with? Favorite card? Favorite deck?
Anything with Meddling Mage or Nevermore. But I’m also a big fan of Living Wish and the wish cycle. As much as I enjoy ending possibilities, I love creating them too. What can I say? You have to wear lots of hats in R&D.
Big shoutout to Mr. Oarsythe for agreeing to conduct this interview. Thanks for your time!
Thanks for having me. Tell your fans to check me out on Twitch; FaronSengir, streaming evenings on Pacific Standard Time. Donations welcome!