Banned & Restricted update 2016

It's that time of the year again. For real this time ;)

We got input from a lot -a lot- of active players this year. Some things are pretty much equal across the different groups; e.g. a great majority thinks that City in a Bottle should be unrestricted and that Strip Mine should be restricted, but there are still a handful very vocal opponents against their current status. Further away from the status quo than that, I've heard great players well invested in the format give arguments for restricting cards like Swords to Plowshares and Power Sink, and others arguing the merits for unrestricting Balance and Mana Drain. As noted by the response for the Aprils Fools post this year, it's easy to give somewhat good arguments for many, many different cards. And everyone wont always share the same experience playing with or against them. So it's important to test, talk to people, look at actual results, and understand that the changes should be made in the spirit of having people enjoy the format. It's a format for us who like flipping Chaos Orbs on Circle of Protection: Black and putting Shivan Dragons into play with Eureka after all.
A few of the cards that spark debates
Many players from different communities gave input this year, including building and playtesting decks. In particular the four last world champions and all round pillars of the community that are Elof Gottfridsson, Christoffer "Stalin" Andersson, Kalle Nord and Martin Berlin; and the skillful players and tournament organizers Markus "KungMarkus" Guldbrandson and Gordon Andersson. Among the other players who provided most valuable input I'd like to give a shout out to Gael from France, Marc Lanigra from Germany, Martin Lindström and GaJol from Sweden, and many others from across the lands.

And again, everyone wont like everything. As we've done for the last nine years, we might well keep making minor tweaks to this list every year for a long time coming. Promoting a small update to the meta, while at the same time trying to not mess too much with any pet decks. And if you don't like the changes or really want to play with four Strip Mines or 4th Edition Sylvan Libraries, just organize a gathering and do it. Make up your own house rules, or you can follow Eternal Central rules, BoM Rules, ChannelFireball rules, Local Danish rules, Ravenna rules, UK rules, EudoGames rules, Australian rules or whatever you want. There are a lot of variants. A group in Spain decides Chaos Orb flips with a coin flip to get a 50/50 chance of destroying a card rather than flipping the Orb itself. It's not like a gang of raging Scandinavians will come to your home and spill out your beer and break your kitchen table.

That said, I do realize that the great majority of the different players and playgroups around the world follow this B&R for their Old School needs. Even if many groups allow a few additional reprint sets, the B&R is almost uniformly consistent outside of USA. It's used in most all of the large European tournaments, and it's the list commonly used for 93/94 on Skype (more on that next week btw!). So we try and approach it with some thought to make it easier for players in different groups have a mostly common ground to stand on when they face each other across the borders. As a community driven format, I think that there will always be some differences, but it's important not to mess too much with the baseline and alienate players. Sure, it would be cool to legalize Rebirth, but it would also be a pretty weird play. Maybe in the future sometime ;)
I mean, you don't even have to ante if you don't want to.
Time to delve down. A lot of cards were discussed this year, let's take a look at five of the most heated suspects.
In a world where everyone has full power and everyone wants to play "the best deck", Black Vise might actually not be that much of a hassle. It's not a blow-out against powered UR Burn as they will empty their hands to four cards or less within a moment. It's not that good against The Deck, as The Deck plays full power to ramp out their hands of artifact mana and then still can operate a Jayemdae Tome with 3-4 cards in hand. And if it should be a hassle, The Deck has a lot of ways to remove it. It is however a ridiculous (and highly disliked) card against budget decks, and it makes power all that much more important. Say you're on White Weenie (a fast deck), and you face the double Vise start. Even if you curve out almost perfectly with turn 1 Savannah Lions, Turn 2 White Knight, and a drop or two turn 3, you still looking at at least 12 damage. If you don't curve out, opponent has some mana denial, or if you play something like Distress or Enchantress, you probably just lose. A card that does fairly little against the top tier decks but is pretty much insane against decks without moxen doesn't seem like something we need in the format. It is also a very high variance card; broken turn one on the play, but usually a feel-bad topdeck in the lategame. Combine those things with the fact that it isn't even needed to have it to have archetypes like prison or mana denial winning tournaments, and it just seems like a card that would make the format worse and decrease diversity (see e.g. Distress from the last Arvika top8, Oldschool's winning Nether Void deck from the Mindstage Convention, or Pefken's winning Parfait from n00bcon 4 for some different examples on prison decks). Black Vise stays restricted.
Going bigger.
Recall might not look like much for the modern mages. Five mana and discard two cards to pick up two from the graveyard doesn't seem to warrant a restriction these days. Well, it does in old school. Anyone who has ever cast a Recall for a Fork and a Time Walk, or just something like a Swords to Plowhares and a Mana Drain, can attest to it's power. There are some seriously good spells to pick up in this format, and a long game ensures that Recall often can be cast for seven or even nine mana. Unrestricting Recall would, again, make the power cards much more prominent and work against the spirit of having them restricted in the first place. It would also make the blue decks with a lot of restricted cards better, which they don't really need to be. Recall stays restricted.
"The Jace, the Mind Sculptor of 93/94" -Stephen Menendian
The Book has really stirred some feathers in the last few months. Trying to summarize the argument of why it should be restricted, it goes something like this: Old School Magic is a format were the answers are generally more powerful than the threats. You can't win with just answers though, so trading creatures for creature removal 1-for-1 would eventually put the creature player on top at some point as a creature will stick. But with the Tomes, the control players usually have access to two or three times as many cards as their opponent, while at the same time getting to play cards with better tempo that are more powerful in a vacuum. Many players think that The Deck needs to be taken down a peg or two, and the natural choice would then be to restrict the "glue" that keeps the unfair cards flowing. It can be argued that it would make the game more enjoyable if we cut down on the strongest unrestricted card advantage engine in The Deck.

The arguments against restriction is first that The Deck isn't the "end all be all" deck of the format, and restricting a card that isn't inherently broken by itself to nerf a great, but not really suppressive, strategy is bad policy. It's not like we're looking at The Deck before the restriction of Mana Drain. Second, it might not really make that big a difference; it's still very possible to play the deck with just one Tome and add something like Transmute Artifacts, Jalum Tome or Scepters in it's place. And third, the guys that are successful with The Deck are among the absolute elite in skill level in the format. It's not like any player showing up with The Deck will go top8.

This was a really hard one, and the discussions went back and forth. In the end, it seems better to possibly err on the side of keeping cards legal. I'm sure we'll look at it again next year, and maybe the meta has tipped the scale in the other direction then. Jayemdae Tome stays unrestricted.
Summer is coming.
To quote Brian "Brian Goddamn Weissman!!" Weissman: "With modern functionality the Factories become much stronger defensive weapons, at a modest cost to your mana base. Their ubiquitous presence in the format definitely sounds like they should be restricted." With 32/32 Factories in the n00bcon top8, and 28/32 Factories in the Arvika top8, it's hard to argue that they aren't extremely powerful. If opponent goes turn one Savannah Lions, turn two White Knight, and you go turn one factory, turn two island, you just built yourself a Moat for no mana or card investment. They are uncounterable wincons. The most popular version of The Deck just runs the Factories as their main win condition, and playing "the Mishra lottery" between control decks is usually not a good time.

But, and here's a but for you, people really like to play with the Factories. It's kinda like Brainstorm in the Legacy format; it may seem like an uniformed decision to keep them legal if we are objective about it, but people like playing them and a majority of the players would never want to restrict them. The Factory discussion started with a lot of animosity towards the card, but the longer it went, the more clear it was that most players really wanted to play with the card and didn't feel its power level was a big deal. So in the end we have a case of what might not be the most logical choice in a strictly competitive sense, but what's best for the format in a utilitarian sense. And after all, the answers are there and we could all afford to play a Stone Rain or two. We'll keep a close eye on the Factories the coming year, but for now Mishra's Factory is still unrestricted.
"After I started playing MtG again I can't even fork a GitHub project without tapping two mountains." -Bjørn Einar Bjartnes
Fork is awesome. Lets just say that this was a long discussion as well. Now go out and brew Fork Recursion, BR Trick Decks, Big Red or Erhnam Burn'Em. Let's see if mid-90s Mark Chalice was right and this really breaks the meta. Fork is unrestricted.

The update will take effect in tournaments from May 15, but feel free to try it out already. I'm always happy to get feedback, even if it's just "This sounds ok". There are always a lot of people who don't agree who make their voices heard, and it's always nice to balance with people who might agree ;)

Oh, also go check out Stephen Menendian's awesome article on the history of The Deck, complete with new (!) tech from the original 1994 control master Brian Weissman if you haven't yet. A great read with some very impressive research.


  1. Epic times ahead! Awesome list, PowerTwist 3.0 here we go ;-)

  2. If this results in more Mind Twists being forked back at their casters, I'm all for this change. :)

  3. This sounds ok.


  4. Maybe we'll see more of Oldschool in the meta nowdays, when he can sling fork decks.

    Lovely article as always MG. <3

  5. Sweet!!! :D Thx Mg!

  6. I really like this B&R update. It is absolutely right to keep the Tome unrestricted, one of the view sources of CA that is available to non-blue and budget Decks.

    Keeping the Mishra's unrestricted makes sense, considering that this format is mainly about having fun, and not strictly competitive oriented.

    Fork seems like a nice and not too dangerous unrestriction.

    So, like last year, we have a carefully and well-thought unrestriction, while not bringing too many changes to a healthy metagame.

    Thumbs up.

    Andreas (Custer)

  7. Frankly a little bit disappointed that no try was tempted to counterbalance the power of The Deck, especially through a mishra's factory restriction.

    Playing it in the current rules (3/3 and deals its damage) makes it too insane and too powerful agains so many creatures that can't deal with it: knights, elvish archers, savannah lions, whirling dervish, and so many smart creatures we don't see a lot in the decklists.

    Of course oldschoolmtg is not only about competitive magic but lots of oldschool players meet at convention/tournaments and the aggro archetype is lacking in the decklists
    If anyone hast to reserve 4 slots to include stone rains/ sinkhole/ ice storms, I don't think that's the best solution about that.

    Speaking about fun, does anybody find it fun to cast mind twist? I mean, all powerful deck turned to splash B only for this and demonic tutor...

    Anyway thanks for your blog

  8. WOHOOO! I am very happy with this B/R update for the second year in a row, time to try something fun with Fork // Jhovalking

  9. Definitely the right call on Factory. I can't imagine an old school format where I couldn't run the four seasons. Turning Factories into creatures does make your mana more volatile; having your lands be susceptible to Bolt, StP, Disenchant, etc is a big deal.

  10. It's not that of a big deal when you run moxen and Fellwar Stones. Logic would restrict the Factories and I think it would redefine the whole meta in a good way. But at the same time, it feels wrong to play the land as a singleton. The argument is purely emotional, but it flows with the spirit of the format which seems stronger than rational thinking.

  11. 1) I'm going to argue a quite undemocratic point : I don't think people should get what they want. Not always I mean, and I'm not just talking for kids or individuals, I mean the people at large. Since this is the basis for every tyranny or decrease on the influence of the people on politics it's quite easy to dismiss everything that follows. I'd still frame this in a positive right for the people : the right to be wrong. I'll never forget when a government first wanted to abolish death penalty in my country : the majority of the people were against it, said the polls. Did that make the law undemocratic ? Certainly, to some extent. That didn't mean tough that the people was right since it changed its mind later on : people have a right to be wrong because they have a right to change their mind. Let's get closer to games. Football. Many people after seeing their favorite team lose an important match to a referee mistake finally give-in : "enough with that ! Give us video-assisted judging !" I guess they tell themselves, when they don't shout it out on the rooftops. That's what they want. They wouldn't like the outcome tough : football would be fair, therefore much less dramatic, it would lead to the best team almost always winning, which is nice in principle but in practice football as a spectacle depends a lot on its unpredictability, including in
    no small part the possibility for the weaker team to trick the referee into helping them by giving them a penalty, a red card to an opponent etc. Give the people what they want in football regarding video-judging and they'll end up being much less passionate about it, the audience will decrease, the game will falter.

    I think Mishra's Factory is one of those cases. If there's really an outcry of people who want to keep on playing their MF playset, then it's understandably hard to make the decision to still take that out from them, and it's wayyy easier for me and others to criticize that decision since we wouldn't be the one doing that to them and playing the party pooper part in that act. But as you can guess from what I wrote above I think this is one of those cases where there's a need for one to go above the people's wishes and do the temporarily unpopular, elitist, somewhat anti-democratic deed. It's not nice, it's not easy, but the alternative is worse imo, including for those who think they like playing like that (well technically I'd rather have MF not deal damage when tapped as a blocker than have it restricted, which would still grant them their wish, but that's apparently not an option in this specific version of oldschool). I've already given a lot of arguments against MF, and most I can find here in what Magnus has written so I'll just sum it up like that : MF destroys the balance of MtG in this format by making aggro noncompetitive. You know the score : aggro is supposed to loose to mid-range, which is supposed to loose to control which is supposed to loose to aggro. About that last part : not in this format, because Mishra's Factory as a 3/3 defender. Sure the format is warped with control elements at an all-time high, whereas creatures are modest compared to what the last decade of Magic has given us. Still with MF restricted, in my testing, you can have a truly competitive aggro deck (or more), which would make it harder to abuse such a slow card-drawing engine as Jayemdae Tome. What's done is done, I'm not angry or anything, I'm not inspired to build decks by this B&R announcement either, but that's also because I've alredy worked on my declination of the great Fork-Recursion deck. I'm sure it's not easy to make those calls and try to balance all those various arguments out, when it seems impossible to give an argument that won't be criticized, since you can clearly find one that will criticize the democratic choice ! :)

  12. 2) Also, if the format is unfair to aggro, it would make sense that it would root out many aggro players, leaving only those who are fine with the unbalance in the metagame, aka I'd say people who aren't strongly concerned by B&R lists. It would not be surprising then that a majority of people playing the format (think) they don't mind keeping things like that. I think there's a flaw in the polling there.

    The format needs more aggro players, Magic doesn't function healthily without (competitive) aggro for long, MF restriction would certainly produce more people who would voice a very different opinion on the matter. We could be in a sort of vicious circle if basing such a choice on some polling.

    3) Budget : making aggro competitive is the budget-friendly option.

  13. Let's just update the rule like they did in real Magic. Mishra's doesn't deal damage when tapped for its +1/+1 ability while blocking. That seriously does take care of both sides.

  14. Christopher - isn't that how this format is currently played? 93/94 uses all current rulings.

  15. The fix for Factory is really simple. What breaks the card is the fact that you can tap to make it a 3/3 on the defense. In original Magic rules tapping a blocking creature in combat made it deal no damage. This kept Factory much more in check. Old school creatures are not as powerful as contemporary Magic creatures and rarely capable of dealing with a 3/3 on turn 2.

    Simply errata it to work as intended with original Magic rules and make it deal zero damage in combat if it is tapped and blocking.

    Alternatively I'm all for unrestricted Strip Mine. This could open up a lot of potential with unrestricting Mishra's Workshop for some artifact aggro decks and serve to dampen the effect of Library of I win.

    1. No, it's not a really simple fix ;) Of course we discussed that option as well, as we've done multiple times for many cards. A small handful think that it's a good idea to use special errata to change cards (I wrote a post about some examples a month and a half ago btw), but most people don't.

      Letting go of Strip Mine is really not a good solution to handle Factories either. Apart from the oppressive impact an unrestriction would have on casual decks without access to power and Artifact mana, if we look at the largest tournament where Strip Mine was unrestricted (Eternal Weekend 2015), the winning Deck was a The Deck that had Factories as the only wincons.

  16. Can someone please let me know how mishra's factory is played, ruling wise? Isn't this format about current rules only, as in creature damage does not use the stack? So if I block with a factory and then tap it to make it a 3/3, it is then doing 0 damage to my opponent's creature, correct?

    1. The Swedish Baseline plays with current magic rules. Sure, we could start doing power level erratas, but thats a pretty sketchy road to start walking.

      Tapping a Mishra today will make it a 3/3, and it will deal damage accordingly. Specific playgroups might use house rules.

    2. By playing 93/94 with current mtg rules some cards were going to appear a little bit overpowered in the "New Oldschool Meta" (N.O.M).

      N.O.M is definitely something brand new:
      - because we use the current rules what was irrelevant for the players competing during these years
      - beacause it is played a lot more and through a long period, which has never been done before. Results, comparing decklists, adapted sideboard,techs, all of that can be analyzed at a lightning speed through the worldwide web. So even in the practice of the game, much has changed compared to 20 years ago.

      In the early days, Wotc and the DCI had to rule erratas on the power level of some cards, I think that all the organizers of the oldschool format should have to deal with that at some point.

      Of course "Specific playgroups might use house rules", but it is not that easy. Because I'm quite sure that most communities jumped into the format by reading this blog, they follow what is decided here.
      As far as I am concerned, I cannot play as much as I would like because it hasn't spread that much in my home town, but even when we are only 2 or 3 players meeting for 93/94, we strictly follow what is tested here (thus building decklists referring to the B/R).
      We could do something proper to us but as we may play in a tournament once or twice a year with the blog's rules, we keep it the same way when playing casual.

      Telling that is by no way as a pressure surge, just trying to attest a kind of reality even in small group of players.

      Best Regards


    3. Yeah, I get that. I think that most old school players who visit this blog are in a similar situation. Using current rules certainly changes the power level of some cards (e.g. Avoid Fate was pretty close to unplayable in 1994, and All Hallows Even was much worse as it was errataed to an Enchantment and could be destroyed by Disenchant back then). On the other hand, it's kinda hard to say exactly what the "real" rules of 1994 would be; in 94 alone the B&R list was changed seven times, cards constantly got errata changes (e.g. for a while you couldn't use Maze of Ith on Serra Angel), and things like the turn structure and timing rules were changed during the year (and this was before both batches and the stack).

      I guess that we sometimes default to reply "use house rules" to players (or, tbh, more often non-players) who want us to make changes that they really believe would be good for the game, but in our experience rather would work towards creating a bigger divide or be confusing for very little return in game play value. It's sometimes an easy way out to avoid arguing on the internet ;) But in some cases it works real well (E.g. Eternal Central rules have a big following)

      But in the end I like that many players have a somewhat common ground to stand on, and I'm happy to hear that you think that our rules are good to follow :) If you have any suggestions for next years update, I'll be glad to hear them.


  17. Mg, I don't think it's that extreme to errata Mishra's Factory. They are as oppressive to aggro decks as Strip Mine would be to non-power decks. They simply ruin any viable one or two drops in the format.

    Sure, one could consider errata a slippery slope to walk on - but when the format feels a bit unhealthy due to Mishra's Factory removing aggro strategies one must give pause for consideration whether an errata to make the card play as originally intended is not just a better solution for everyone.

    The fact is that Mishra's Factory is so powerful people don't even need to play Moat anymore. That's obscene.

    I get that people can have different house rules though and I guess this is the direction to take with this. ;-)

    1. It's only really oppressive against Monoblack weenie (Erg Raiders, Stone throwing devils, Black Knight, etc), as they only have sinkhole to answer it. A standard WW deck will have at least 8 Instant answers to Factory (Plow and Disenchants, sometimes Divine Offerings). An UR Aggro have 8 Bolts and Shatters. RG have 8 Bolts and Crumble. Erhnamgeddon have Disenchants, Crumble and Armageddon. The great majority of Aggro decks will have 8-10 answers to Factories (apart from their own ones) without having to change the decklists just to handle them. A lot of playtesting suggest that Factories, while really really good, aren't that problematic for most Aggro decks. Getting to kill a land against control with a bolt of StP is even pretty good for Aggro. If your opponent has three of them in his/her opening hand it's rough, or if you're in the topdecking control mirror they are annoying, but calling them oppressive is far fetched. Close to omnipresent and very good, sure, but in the end they are not prevention a healthy meta with varied decks.

      There were more Aggro decks than control decks in both the n00bcon and Arvika top8 btw. E.g. Lestree Zoo won Arvika and went 8-0 at n00bcon before losing in the semis. In the n00bcon top8 there were as many UR Aggro decks as The Decks.

  18. So, with Winter Orb errata in Eternal Masters, will Old School adopt that ruling?

    1. Yep. It rarely happens that new errata affects this format, but it's not unprecedented. E.g. three years ago City in a Bottle and Chaos Orb got errata (changing city to affect cards originally printed in AN, and Chaos Orb to not be able to destroy tokens, respectively). We updated our own Chaos Orb accordingly back then (see Following a well-known rules set comes with a lot of benefits, and we try to avoid non-oracle errata in all cases apart from those who would otherwise force us to ban cards (i.e. Chaos Orb).

      I have gotten messages suggesting to restrict Winter Orb already btw ;)

  19. In our group (italian) we agreed that control is completely unbeatable without the limitation of mishra's Factory and swords to plowshares, too. The limitation of Swords to plowshares created many interesting situations concerning what removal spells to play in substitution, and what creatures to play expecting certain removal spells. Swords to plowshares, instead is a removal tool that can remove any single creature in the format, making all creature strategies losing strategies.


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