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Evolution of Magic: Banned and Restricted - Combo Winter

The last time I wrote an article on the history of the banned and restricted list, we parted ways in December 1996 where Wizards of the Coast decided that restricted list should be a Vintage only thing and that Standard should only have a banned list. Today, we'll start in 1997 and jump ahead into one of the most famous eras of Magic and finish with a legendary tale.

For those who haven't read the first article, you may know that back then, the formats were called Type 1, Type 2, Type 1.5 and Type 1.x. You may even know what each of them refer to. To avoid confusing newer players, I will refer to each format by their modern names.

Looking at Past Formats through the Zuran Orb

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We begin in April 1997 with the banning of Zuran Orb. The interesting tidbit here isn't so much why zuran orb was banned (although it may appear odd from a modern perspective), but the formats in which it was banned. It was banned in "Ice Age only tournaments" and "Ice Age - Alliance" tournaments. Three things:

  1. There was such a thing as "Set Constructed"
  2. Ice Age Block constructed didn't include Homelands
  3. They actually cared enough about both those formats to issue a ban in them two months after the second set in the Mirage block had been released!

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In addition to zuran orb, Thawing glaciers was also banned in Ice Age - Alliance constructed. Although glacially slow, thawing glaciers provided an insane mana advantage to control decks in the long run. It also feeds zuran orb pretty well, which basically insured that control decks would get to the late game and win it. It may look ridiculously slow, but Ice Age Constructed wasn't exactly the most aggressive format.

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You may recall from my last post that when they split the Standard/Vintage lists, they removed black vise from the Vintage restricted list. Well, that turned out to be a mistake. Black vise ended up being just as pervasive in Vintage as it was in Standard, so it got restricted again in June 1997.

Meanwhile, Zuran Orb also got an upgrade by getting banned in Standard as well. Once again, there is more to Zuran Orb's banning than meets the eye. Why was Zuran Orb banned so late in Standard? After all, it had been in Standard for a while, right? Not quite. At the time, WotC was still trying to figure out what each format should be. Ice Age had actually left Standard for some time, and in June, WotC announced that Ice Age would come back to Standard starting July 1997!

June 1997 also saw the banning of Squandered Resources for being the one piece of the combo that didn't make the cut when naming Pros Bloom. More seriously, Pros Bloom was one of the earliest combo deck. Basically, you'd get cadaverous bloom into play, then pitch a bunch of cards to it to make tons of mana, play a huge prosperity drawing tons of cards. Either you draw another prosperity, which, with all the cards you just drew, will probably allow you to draw the rest of your deck, or you draw a drain life and kill your opponent by pitching the rest of your hand.

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The thing is, cadaverous bloom is a 5-mana enchantment and it doesn't actually produce blue mana. Enter squandered resources, which allows you to basically double your mana from your lands and allows you to get that blue mana. It also had some pretty insane synergy with Natural Balance. Pros Bloom could potentially win turn 3. Let's say you're on the draw. Turn 2 squandered resources. Turn 3 tap 3, sac 2, play cadaverous bloom, sac the last land for blue, play prosperity for 8. Discard 2 cards, play natural balance, get 5 lands, tap 5, sac 5, discard the remaining 5 cards, play prosperity for 19, kill with drain life. Turn 4 or 5 is probably more realistic, but remember that this is a block deck!

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In September, WotC got sick of turn 1 dark ritual into hypnotic specter] and banned the most broken of the two from extended (hypnotic specter obviously). They also unbanned several cards from Vintage: Feldon's cane, copy artifact, mishra's workshop (for which all the Stax players are now grateful) and candelabra (for which Feline Longmore is now grateful).

Combo Winter

After September 1997, there was a whole year with no bannings! Of course, that wouldn't last and the next round of bannings would be a pretty significant one as Urza's Saga would be released in October 1998.

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In December 1998, the first round of bannings was fairly small. Ban (and restrict) tolarian academy and windfall everywhere, ban stroke of genius in legacy and restrict it in Vintage. This is what happens when you let MaRo try to fix broken cards. Braingeyser and timetwister were both restricted in Vintage since the first ever restricted list. Yet he figured "add one mana to Braingeyser but make it more splashable and make it instant!" was wise? He figured that while drawing 7 (but also allowing your opponent to draw to 7) was broken, so the fix should be draw 4 or 5, but don't let your opponent draw at all? And tolarian academy... well, that was just really, really bad.

Had it stopped there though, things wouldn't be so bad. But no, the brokeness of the Urza Block didn't stop there and winter was just starting! In the following months, every format (Standard especially) would be dominated by combo decks and players would leave the competition in droves. People would joke that early game was the coin toss, mid game was the mulligan decision and late game was turn 1.

March 1st, WotC came down hard and banned time spiral in every format as well as Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Fluctuator, Lotus Petal, and Recurring Nightmare in Standard. This was the biggest ban since 1994.

This would fix the format, right? There was just one small problem. Urza's Legacy had just become legal when the announcement was made. Two weeks after the announcement, Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer would finish 3rd and 4th at Grand Prix Vienna with the infamous GrimJar deck. There was no way WotC would wait for the next round of banning and allow combo to dominate Standard and extended for 3 more months! Memory Jar got emergency banned/restricted in every format almost immediately after GP Vienna.

That's not the end though. In June Mind over Matter got banned in Standard and Gaea's Cradle, Serra's Sanctum, Tolarian Academy and Voltaic Key got banned in Block. In addition, all the "free" spells (such as cloud of faeries) got a power level errata such that they would only untap lands if they were played from your hands.

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In August, yawgmoth's bargain was banned in extended. Just one banning? This means we're out of the woods, right?

In September, Dream Halls, Earthcraft, Lotus Petal, Mind Over Matter and Yawgmoth's Will are banned in extended. Meanwhile, Crop Rotation, Doomsday, Dream Halls, Enlightened Tutor, Frantic Search, Grim Monolith, Hurkyl's Recall, Lotus Petal, Mana Crypt ... breathes ... Mana Vault, Mind Over Matter, Mox Diamond, Mystical Tutor, Tinker, Vampiric Tutor, Voltaic Key, Yawgmoth's Bargain and Yawgmoth's Will are all banned/restricted in Vintage and Legacy.

In light of all that brokeness though, Ivory Tower, Mirror Universe, Shahrazad and Underworld Dreams looked a lot less threatening and all got unbanned!

Whew! Now you know why Urza's Block is so infamous!

The Legend of the Rebels

In the light of the new millennium, someone realized that dark ritual actually did more than power out turn 1 hypnotic specters and decided to ban it in Extended. Mana vault also got banned in Extended (one has to wonder why it was even reprinted in 5th ed!)

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There was an issue in Masques Block. Rebels. Rebels were very powerful because you basically had an aggro deck with a built in card advantage engine. More than that, this card advantage engine completely removed any form of variance. If you managed to play a turn 1 or 2 Ramosian Sergeant, then you knew that turn 3 would be a defiant falcon followed by a turn 4 lin sivvi, defiant hero and from there you could get whatever you needed. All this made the rebel deck incredibly powerful in block constructed.

The biggest issue wasn't the sheer power level. There were decks that could compete with it. The problem was how degenerate the mirror match was. The problem was that lin sivvi, defiant hero, the key card of the deck, was legendary. You see, at the time, the legendary rule was that once a legendary permanent is in play, no other legendary permanent with the same name can be played (when you played a legend while another one with the same name was already in play, the newer one would die, so it was a waste).

So imagine sitting down to play a game where you know you need lin sivvi, defiant hero in play, where you know that the first player to get lin sivvi, defiant hero in play will probably win (because the other player will be unable to play his own lin sivvi, defiant hero) and you know that the first player to turn 4 gets lin sivvi. People often complain that the combo matchup is won in the coin toss, but few matchup in the history of magic was as dependent on the coin toss as Rebel mirror.

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And so lin sivvi, defiant hero got banned from Masques Block in June 2000, along with rishadan port. Whoever thought that card would be fun had not played against strip mine often enough.

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In September, Mind Twist got restricted in Vintage. If you remember my previous article, you'll know that this actually made mind twist more playable, because until then, it was the only card in Vintage still banned for power level reasons. For necropotence and demonic consultation though, getting restricted in Vintage meant the usual thing.

Well, that's it for today! Hope you guys enjoyed this little trip back to the most broken era of Magic and for those who actually played during that time, I hope I didn't bring back to many bad memories! 

- Filobel

Reprinted with permission from reddit.

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