Some pre-B&R meta ranting

I ran a mudrace called Råskinnet yesterday. Now everything hurts and I keep finding new wounds on my body. Should probably not have topped it of with a pubcrawl. Damn traditions.

Anyway, did you guys follow the latest B&R update from Wizards a couple of weeks back? They banned Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy which made people very upset, both due to the fact that it was banned and due to the fact that it hadn't been banned earlier. And they didn't ban the CopyCat combo in Standard, which made people super upset. Then they decided to ban it after all, and people on social media got even more upset.
The yearly B&R update here is by far the post that promotes the most reactions. Some people go full tilt over the fact that the consensus isn't aligned with their own gut feelings. It is fun to see that people care so much, but my day job isn't douche bag whisperer and it's impossible to cater to everybody. If we would just follow all the suggestions received, this would be the start of the changes:
Well, I don't deny that it could be an interesting format. Maybe we'll land there someday. Would be cool to see everybody happy at once ;)

Before we do the B&R update this year, let's do our first ever top-tier meta analysis and look at the over-all health of the format. As one other variation of 93/94 has grown a lot overseas during the last two years, this time we also have the opportunity to do some comparisons with another B&R approach to get better data. This isn't super scientific as our sample sizes are still kinda small, but it gives us a good road map and feel. Let's start with the top16 decks at n00bcon 9 (102 players):

1. Disaster (Black)
2. The Deck
3. Zoo
4. The Deck
5. The Deck
6. UW Skies
7. The Deck
8. UR Burn
9. Michael's Toolbox
10. Transmute Burn
11. Artifact Aggro
12. UB Beatdown
13. Lestree Zoo
14. Eureka
15. Power Monolith
16. Arabian Aggro
Kalle's Transmute Burn. Perhaps the most blinged out deck ever ;)
I'm not sure about all of the decks that went 5-2 at n00bcon (place 8-21 in the standings), but I saw that two of them were MirrorBall and The Machine. But let's skip the ones outside the top16 in the stats for now. To make sure that we have a decent sample of top decks, let's also check out the top8 of the ~50-player Arvika Festival 3 tournament (the last Giant Shark tournament before n00bcon 9).

1. UWGb Zoo
2. ErhnamGeddon
3. ErhnamGeddon
4. The Beast
5. Copy Toolbox
6. Power Monolith
7. The Deck
8. UB Beatdown
Gordon's The Beast.
That gives us a basic meta breakdown of the top performing decks in the largest tournaments in 2017 like this:

5 The Deck (20.8%)
4 Zoo (2 UWGb, 1 Arabian Aggro, 1 Lestree) (16.7%)
2 Erhnamgeddon (8.3%)
2 Power Monolith
2 UB Beatdown
2 UR Burn (1 "classic", 1 Transmute)
1 Disaster / Monoblack (4.2%)
1 Copy Toolbox
1 UW Skies
1 The Beast
1 Eureka
1 5c Toolbox
1 Artifact Aggro

So 13 different archetypes among the 24 decks, and obviously some big differences between the decks in the same archetype.
Sehl's ErnhnamGeddon from Arvika.
If we were to go back and check the data from the top8/top4 in all tournaments over the last two years that have deck lists and reports on the blog (a total of 21 tournaments with 136 decks in the elimination rounds) we see that The Deck drops to 14.7% of the top tier meta. If we ignore the smaller tournaments and only look at gatherings with 20+ players, that number rises a little to 18.2%. And, as we saw, if we look at the latest of the "most competitive" Shark tournaments (n00bcon and Arvika), we're up to 20.8%. That is actively looking for a sample that gives us the highest number of The Deck though, and perhaps not a very professional way of choosing a sample if we look at the format as whole. But if we want to make a comparison with the Eternal Weekend tournaments, I still think that the correct approach is to only look at the Shark tournaments right now, as they have comparable size and similar "bragging rights" in the pot.

The US Eternal Weekend tournament uses EC rules, which means that e.g. Black Vise, Strip Mine and Mishra's Workshop are legal as 4-offs, and Fallen Empires is a legal set (with unrestricted Hymn to Tourach). Glorious tournament organizer and "Grandfather of Pimp" Jason Jaco hosted a major 93/94 tournament at Eternal Weekend last year (86 players). He also posted all the the competitors' deck lists and the top16 standings. This was the top16 at the 2016 Eternal Weekend:

1. WW
2. UR burn
3. UR burn
4. The Deck
5. The Deck
6. Monoblack
7. Shops / Tron / Artifact Aggro
8. Troll Disco
9. Shops Prison
10. The Deck
11. O'Brien Prison
12. The Deck
13. Erhnam Burn'Em
14. Deadguy
15. Monoblack
16. UR Burn
Dario Moreno's Shops Prison. Can't really be built the same way without EC rules.
To get more data and an equal sample size, we can also go back and check out the Eternal Weekend 2015 top8 (54 players, similar to Arvika in size, and I only found the top8 standings), and compare those with the n00bcon 9 top16 and the Arvika top8.

1. The Deck
2. The Deck
3. UR Burn
4. The Deck
5. Trick Deck
6. Zoo
7. UR Burn
8. UWB

This gives us this top tier meta breakdown for Eternal Weekend:

7 The Deck (29.2%)
5 UR Burn (20.8%)
2 Monoblack (8.3%)
1 WW (4.2%)
1 Shops / Tron / Artifact Aggro
1 Troll Disco
1 Shops Prison
1 O'Brien Prison
1 Erhnam Burn'Em
1 Deadguy
1 Zoo
1 Trick Deck

(It could be interesting to note that we see a slightly higher number of Mishra's Factories here (3.3125 per deck at EW compared to 3.125 at Shark tournaments), and an average number of 3.0 Strip Mines per deck.)

A healthy 13 different archetypes here as well; clearly the EC rules also offer a lot of variation and exciting brews for those who might think it's just a Strip Mine lottery with control or prison decks. Both B&R approaches look healthy and produce similar decks in the top of the standings; perhaps skewing a little more in favor of Prison decks using the EC rules and a little more in favor of Combo using the baseline rules. Though that might also be due to the players. Sean O'Brien will play prison, and he will play it well.
The school of Magic carries his name after all.
A weird thing, which I hear almost constantly in discussions regarding the B&R, is that some people seem to assume that allowing some combination of Strip Mine, Black Vise and Hymn to Tourach should relegate The Deck to tier2 status. I never got that argument, and it is one of the reason I wanted to delve down a little and compare numbers. It is amusing theory crafting, but not much more than that. Another thing is that people assume that The Deck is the end-all-be-all of the format, and that it shouldn't be fun to play now that it's "solved". Having the most popular tier1 deck taking up 21% of the top spots in the format isn't a sign of an unhealthy format. It's a sign of a solid deck that you have to have a plan against if winning is important to you. And I promise you that the format it still fun to play.
Just look at how happy he is.
But we do see that Mishra's Factory is a very popular card. Not really a surprise there. 15 out of 16 decks in the EW 2016 top16 played multiple factories, as did 14 out of 16 decks at the n00bcon 9 top16. It could be worth noting that only one of these decks at n00bcon 9 played less than the full playset, but a full 5 of them played 2-3 copies at EW 2016. This looks to be mostly due to avoiding mana screw, as the decks with less than 4 factories at EW play 3-4 Strip Mines. Playing the full playset of both can be very constraining for getting colored mana. 
Still, the numbers clearly tell us that unrestricting Strip Mine isn't an answer to having people play less Mishra's Factories. Maybe people just feel they need a more powerful answer to the Factories while still having them as a major part of the meta, and prefer facing an average of three Strip Mines per deck?

I think I've heard almost all possible arguments for Strip Mine. Errata it to Wasteland, allow two per deck, allow three per deck, and a myriad of others. I don't think allowing it would "destroy the format" as some other people argue (just look at the diversity at Eternal Central), but I do believe that more people currently would dislike an unrestriction than would enjoy it. The proponents are more vocal but the opponents seem more numerous. I'm sure that we'll eventually try out playing with four Strip Mines "officially" here as well, but it's not in the cards yet.

It could be kinda sweet to play it like Ghost Quarter?
Let's take a step back again and consider fetchlands. They break Brainstorm in two, fills the graveyard for Delve, Delirium and Threshold, dances circles around Wasteland, and fixes your mana in a way not even the original ABU duals do. They help you avoid lategame mana flooding and they have great synergy with cards like Crucible of Worlds, Knight of the Reliquary and Grim Lavamancer. Apart from a small handful of decks in eternal formats (e.g. Shops and Eldrazi), every deck plays loads of fetchlands; usually for more advantage than just mana. In most ways of measuring, they are ubiquitous and simply too good. So should they be banned?

Brainstorm is too good in Legacy. Sol Ring is too good in EDH. But when a too good card work in every strategy, we need to look at it from a slightly different angle than we would looking at a card like, say, Mana Drain.
Will it be the winter of our discontent?
Some people have argued for power level errata on the Factory. Some others, like the Varberg and Scania players, are in strong support of restricting it. Others just love it and think that it balances out the playing field. Every deck can use them, and most every player can afford them.

I personally think that the only way to make the Factory less of a factor in the format is to restrict it; I don't think unrestricting Strip Mine would have that much to say in terms of how many Factories we see in a top8, nor would giving it power level errata. But I think the real question is if it is a card we actually want to see less of. Or if it is a card like the fetchlands or Brainstorm in Legacy.

(Sidebar: I wouldn't consider myself a strong The Deck player, but I think I'm fairly decent. So just to test out how The Deck would work without Factories, I tried playing a The Deck without them. My wincons were two Fireball and a Braingeyser. I played five games against a couple of different decks, and from that short experience there seemed emerge some sort of pattern. My mana was better so I had better control of the games. The games took much longer, as my way of winning was usually gaining control, casting a fireball for 10, Recalling it, and casting it for 10 again. My opponents seemed to suffer through the motions quite a bit. I didn't get "free wins" from the Mishra lottery, but the deck became even more consistent and I won all my games. Make of that what you will. End sidebar.)

If we still think we want to hurt The Deck, what would achieve that? Making other archetypes stronger, or restricting key cards like Jayemdae Tome or Counterspell probably. But again, having a ~20% cut of the top performing decks isn't really that crazy for a tier1 deck. It is a good chunk less than e.g. Ravager Shops in Vintage (~30%), and far below that aforementioned CopyCat combo in Standard they went back and forth about banning (~45%). So we ask ourselves, do we really need to restrict the Tome? Of the players I talked to at n00bcon, one guy was in clear favor of it; Martin Lindström, the top rated player in last year's PWP Standings. Dude has the highest win percentage of any any player in the format right now, and he felt that the Tome made it almost too easy. Most other (non-The Deck) players I talked to didn't care much, and felt the card was safe and The Deck wasn't that big of a problem. A fairly common answer from the people I talked to a tournaments were actually "no changes" when asked about the B&R list.
But we do kinda like changes. We've done it for 10 years now, and it's an interesting way to stir the pot and see what people come up with.
Black Vise might be the most discussed card. The main issue with Black Vise is how swingy it is and the "feel-bad" of the card. Sometimes it's "oops, I win" and sometimes it does nothing. It lies in that rare land between either being too good or too bad depending on when you draw it. And this is already a swingy format, with cards like Mind Twist and Ancestral Recall turning tables. Increasing the random factor with a card people dislike losing to isn't an obvious choice. Also, it is stated in Mastering Magic Cards that it is the most sucky card ever and should be avoided during friendly play.
It also says that it is necessary to defeat counter decks though.
I personally kinda like Black Vise. I think that it would be a cool addition to Sligh and some versions of Atog to name a few outside the Prison strategies. Some players have argued that we shouldn't underestimate the "feel-bad" of the card, which could have an discouraging effect on new players in he format. It will also increase the importance of low mana curves even further.
The winning deck from NoviceCon in Chicago a week ago (using EC rules). There are arguments to be had that this is a far worse deck to face than The Deck. Just sucking up all the fun and having it for yourself ;)
So where do we end up? Well, basically that the format is healthy with no really oppressively dominant strategy. A myriad of different decks can be considered in the top tier for those of you who care about those things. And a few of you will probably get upset by the update coming in next few days, but like the previous years it will probably end up ok ;)

Let's end with a picture of The Machine (5-2 at n00bcon 9, missed top16 on tierbreakers):
Hardy's The Machine. Ridiculously sweet pile.


  1. In my opinion, Americans have not yet considered the power of playing prisons deck with 4 strip mines, 4 black vise, 4 sinkholes, 4 stone rain, 3 Nether Void. The format may be really boring. Strip mine would simply increase the number of lands in the lists, black vise would be too strong a weapon for UR. In my opinion, the only card that should be banned is Mind Twist: it's absurd that there are so many decks that splash mana with black just for Twist and Demonic Tutor. I remember, for example, the case of mental misstep. This card was banned because even monored goblin "had to" play it to counter spell that cost 1. Mishra can also be limited but in my opinion THE DECK can easily reorganize by playing Moat and Serra, becoming much more like UW skyes with a solider manabase. I would rather limit ivory tower and tome. The first is too strong in a land tax mechanic and because it makes it impossible for some decks to win (it is also played in SB and MAIN in THE DECK in 2 or 3 copies). The tome is too strong to take advantage of cards. We're sure it will be replaced by Disrupting Sceptre, but it's far less problematic for players that cast what they draw.

    1. Ivory Tower isn't even played in the vast majority of The Deck lists. I don't understand this Italian obsession with the card.

    2. The strategy of playing control with 7 cards in hand gathers too well with the ivory tower. If a player has a library of Alexandria and a tome then ... they are 4 or 5 points life per turn. If you're playing a combo ok ... but if you're playing an aggro or a prison deck and try to win the opponent with underworld dreams ... ciaone

    3. Then I wonder why so very few The Deck lists use the card. Do you think it's because they aren't aware of its existence or what it does? For reference, there are 0 copies in The Deck lists from the latest n00bcon and BSK top 8. (Two copies in total, I think, in the sideboard of UW Skies.)

    4. Maybe reb, beb, circle red, abyss and moat are enough to block decks with atog (red and or blue artifact), ur burn. For me uw skyes is another version of the deck cause there are all cards of a control deck stronger against blood moon, without mishra and maybe just one or two tome (and obv moat instead of the abyss). If you are limiting mishra you should have to consider that all the decks players will switch to UWxxx skies using a couple of ivories. But here ivory is still used in the deck in sideboard. Who plays the deck well prefers playing mirror universe maindeck as win condition and ivory just when they play against a very aggro deck.

    5. Actually we've been playing with 4 x Strip, 4 x Nether Void, 4 x Sinkhole, 4 x Black Vise, 4 x Mana Vault for 3+ years. It's a good deck, but is very fragile and lacks a strong long game. If you look at the EC Rules Eternal Weekend results you'll see a broad swath of archtypes, aggro, control, prison and combo. You also need to factor in Fallen Empires, which helps promote lower curve mono color decks (and budget players). Strip Mine helps mono-color decks, it makes low curve weenie decks outside of WW viable as well. Sweden and EC is tough to compare because of no FE but you can absolutely have a 4 x Strip Mine format and have many viable decks.

      - Sean O'Brien

  2. Thumbs up on the post in general and especially on the Steinbeck reference!

    I don't play the deck, and would really hate to see Tome restricted. It is one of the very few real draw spells in a format that can be very topdeck dependent. And moreso it is available to all colours. I don't know why it is so seldomly used outside of the deck - in my opinion a lot of decks would benefit from it...

    And yes, it _is_ a good card, but it's still 8 colorless mana just to replace itself, so let's not get ahead of ourselves here :-).


  3. Hello.

    If you look French and Italian big tournaments (like BOM), you will see that The Deck (and variants) is "overplayed".
    More than 30% of the deckpool!
    In small tournaments, we decide not to use it (except 1 or 2 guys) cause The Deck almost kills the pleasure of playing Old School.

    And Mishra's Factory is present in almost decks in x3 or x4.
    Maybe you can restrict it, maybe you can use the alpha rule of tapped blocking creatures.


  4. I honestly don't see a way to "fix" The Deck without killing a lot fun to casual players grinding it out, and I would hate to see players who love playing The Deck to longer be able to do so.

    This is supposed to be a fun, casual format. I don't see much of a reason to try and tinker with the banned/restricted list solely on tier 1 competitive play - that's not what the format is about. The Deck can't stop everything. So long as people are building a variety of decks, it won't win every tournament.

    Only problem I see is netdecking. Internet wasn't around when these cards and decks were being used for the first time. It's unfortunate. Obviously can't take the internet away at this point, but the ones who seem to scream the loudest about bans and restrictions are the ones not able to have fun because they can't win a tournament anymore.

    Side note: I am all for banning mind twist. I have yet to see a game state where this card is fair or fun.

  5. IMO, the case to unrestrict Stripe Mine isn't as an answer to Mishra's Factory, it's as a counterbalance to Library of Alexandria.

    Library of Alexandria single handily wins at least as many games as Mind Twist.

    1. Admittedly, I am unfamiliar to the hardcore competitive play. However, my small casual play group is currently using both library and mind twist, and we are finding that library at least let's your opponent play the game still. Interestingly enough, though, mind twist does knock a library player off course.

      I'm gonna shy away from my opinion on here I think. I don't have the competitive mindset or knowledge to try and alter a banned restricted list. I find all the suggestions interesting in some way or another.

  6. Den här kommentaren har tagits bort av skribenten.

  7. Nice statistics! Have you ever tried to do a summary sheet of the card diversity in this format? It would be nice to see how many different cards where actually used in top 8 for instance and how many copies. My guess is that Nightmare is a one-off in top 8.. :) It would be interesting to see if there were other odd cards being played.

    1. No, haven't really done that (except a few calculations on the most used cards for personal use before B&R updates). I'm not that interested n dissecting the decks too much in this format, it has a tendency to remove a little of the Magic ;)

      If you're interested, it is always possible to look a the deck pictures and see if you find a Waldo somewhere :)

    2. My personal suggestion for B&R update (other than tapped creature deals no damage to twart the factories a bit) would be to ban netdecking.. :) I thought it would be interesting to compare card diversity with similar formats in cardpool size (standard??).

      To old to understand the Waldo reference though :(

    3. Ah, sorry. Where's Waldo is series of books where the goal is to try to find a character (Waldo) in crowded pictures of other stuff. So the reference was to try and find interesting characters/cards in the somewhat messy deck pictures ;)

  8. I think you should pull a Wizards for once.

    No changes :)

  9. Mg I am curious if you have put any thought into an errata for Falling Star via Skype play?

    1. I thought about it, but haven't found a good solution unfortunately :/ I guess that maybe we'll have to do a Chaos Orb errata on the card if you're trying to hit cards controlled by the opponent? I think that you should still be able to e.g. destroy two of your own Rukh Eggs with a well-placed flip, but it might be hard to hit the opponents cards when the other side of the table is in another country. Suggestions are of course welcome.

    2. Yeah I really don't know about Falling Star. Multiple flips would be cool, but nothing on the card says multiple flips at all so that'd be one hell of an errata change.

      I like the idea of only being able to choose one of your opponents cards like the orb, but being able to hit multiples of your own as in the case with rukh eggs. But then you have a grey area - do you get to stack you eggs on top of each other or just move them to surround your opponents card that you decided to target, but cannot stack them?

      I need someone to make a formal decision here ! :)

    3. Former rules manager of MtG Matt Tabak has answered all your questions already :) As soon as Falling Star hits the stack no one can rearrange anything and you can hit more than one card. It do need to touch so if you pile, be sure to leave some space for the star to actually touch.

    4. Yeah but I play via Skype 90% of the time with a buddy and my brother. Once they see the Falling Star the first time, they will awkwardly place their cards around the playing field just knowing that it is in my deck. No one wants that to happen.


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