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Evolution of Magic: Banned and Restricted List

Today we're going to be looking at the early history of the magic banned and restricted list. I'm not going to go through every single change to the B&R list in every single format; I'm mostly going to discuss the more interesting ones, talk about their impact or the reasoning behind them, or just point and laugh at the most ridiculous ones. Hop on!

We need to do something about these cards!

When Garfield created magic, he thought that people would buy a few boosters, maybe trade a little, gain cards through ante, and that's about it. He figured that rarity would be a balancing factor because if you only buy a few packs and get cards through ante and a few trades, how can you get more than one, maybe two of any rare? Initially, there wasn't even a maximum number of copies per deck!

Ancestral Recall [LEA]

At first, one might think that the jarringly overpowered cards in Alpha were just mistakes due to Garfield not realising how powerful those cards were, but I don't think that's completely right. Garfield certainly knew they were powerful. This is why ancestral recall is rare, when the rest of its cycle is common. The problem is that he just didn't expect people to go out and buy tons of boosters, trade aggressively, or even buy singles to get the cards they want!

And so the 4 cards per deck restriction came. That still wasn't enough though.

The first banned/restricted list came in January 1994. By then, ABU had been released as well as Arabian Nights, the first magic expansion. At the time, there was only one format, which was the equivalent to today's Vintage (but at the time was just called "Magic"!).

Shahrazad [ARN]

First, all ante cards were banned, because competitive magic wasn't for ante. They also banned Shahrazad. From the very first version of the official WotC tournament rules:

The last card on the list [Shahrazad] requires players to play sub-games of Magic; this simply takes too long and holds up the whole tournament.

Black Lotus [LEA] Sol Ring [LEA] Time Vault [LEA]

Some of the obvious suspects were on the restricted list: the Power 9, sol ring and time vault (this was before its first errata). Berserk and Braingeyser were also there, and stayed there for quite a while! (until 2003 for Berserk and 2004 for Braingeyser)

Then there are a few strange choices by today's standard:

Icy Manipulator [LEA] Gauntlet of Might [LEA] Ali from Cairo [ARN] Dingus Egg [LEB]

Icy manipulator was really, really annoying when you were trying to win with fatties. It could also act as a pseudo Rishadan Port and combo'd weirdly with a bunch of artifacts (since they would turn off when tapped).

Gauntlet of might probably felt like it gave mono red way too big an advantage in the early days.

Ali from Cairo; I remember when I started, I was in awe when I first saw that card. That said, it's one of those cards that's really easy to overestimate and I guess that's what happened here. In a world of terror, lightning bolt and swords to plowshares, I really can't imagine it being that big a problem.

Dingus Egg? Someone must have been really sour about getting hit by the Armageddon Dingus egg combo!

But the two that must be most surprising at first sight are rukh egg and orcish oriflamme.


Orcish Oriflamme [LEA] Orcish Oriflamme [LEB]

Orcish Oriflamme was printed with the wrong casting cost in Alpha. It was fixed in beta, but the problem is, at the time, the rules was that the cards did what was written on them. There was no oracle. So if you had an alpha orcish oriflamme, well, you could play it for 2 and laugh at your opponent for paying 4 for his beta copy! I'm not sure if it was restricted out of fairness, or if they actually thought the card was overpowered at 2 mana (can't imagine the thought process, when crusade and bad moon were fine, but then, they restricted gauntlet of might, so maybe they didn't like red guys getting pumped!)

Rukh Egg [ARN] Rukh Egg [8ED]

Rukh egg looks fine today, maybe even pretty weak. However, in its original wording, it made a 4/4 flying token when it went to the graveyard from anywhere. On the draw? Turn 1, do nothing, discard rukh egg, get a 4/4 flying, go! Also combo'd pretty well with bazaar of baghdad (the original dredge deck!) Again, no oracle, meaning they couldn't fix the wording, so they had to restrict it.

That was just a Draft

In May 1994, they gave it another shot. First off, they introduced the concept of errata, so rukh egg and orcish oriflamme could now go free. They also figured that dingus egggauntlet of might and icy manipulator probably weren't that strong, so they were released from restriction.

Time Vault [LEA]

On the flip side, time vault was still way too strong and became the first card banned for power level reasons.

Wheel of Fortune [LEA] Demonic Tutor [LEA] Library of Alexandria [ARN]

 Channel [LEA] Regrowth [LEA]

They also introduced a new group of cards to the restricted list. Some were obvious misses from the previous list: Wheel of fortune is basically a red timetwister. Demonic tutor kind of defeats the purpose of a restricted list if you can just tutor the restricted card! Library of alexandria was just massive card advantage. Channel is just broken. Regrowth allowed you to reuse your restricted cards a little too easily (only got unrestricted recently, 2013!)

There had also been a new set released in the meantime: Antiquities! With a new set, a new group of convicts!

Candelabra of Tawnos [ATQ] Ivory Tower [ATQ] Feldon's Cane [ATQ] Copy Artifact [LEA]

Candelabra of tawnos: allowed you to abuse the powerful lands too easily (mishra's workshop and library of alexandria in particular).

Ivory tower: might look a little odd today, but since the deck were slower, it really put a strain on creature based decks and gave a huge advantage to slower controlling decks.

Feldon's cane: Odd to see it there at first, but in a much slower environment, this allowed players to reuse their restricted cards a little too much.

Copy Artifact: Not actually from antiquities, but probably put there because of all the artifacts in antiquities. Although it might also have been because a 2-mana sol ring is still insanely strong.


When legends was released, all legends were put on the restricted list. Flavor reasons.

Somewhere in 1995, someone realised that this was a stupid reason and all legends were removed from the restricted list.

Legends also got a few cards restricted for actual reasons:

Recall [LEG] Underworld Dreams [LEG] Sword of the Ages [LEG]

Recall: At the time, it kind of made sense because it made it a little too easy to reuse all your powerful restricted cards. Kind of like why regrowth got restricted. What boggles my mind is that it stayed there until 2003. Seriously, look at all the graveyard manipulation you could do in 2002, and that thing was still restricted in vintage?

Underworld dreams: I'm not sure why... restricted till 1999 too!

Sword of the Ages: Now you're just pulling my leg, right?

The Great Split

So, in 1995, WotC figured two things. 1: the Power 9 was a little too strong, even when restricted. 2: The Dark and Fallen Empires were pretty terrible sets and even 4th and Revised felt to players like watered down ABU. Solution? Force people to play with the Dark, FE and 4th/Revised by creating Type 2 (known today as Standard)! It doesn't have an impact yet on the B&R list, because at this point, Type 1 (Vintage) and Type 2 share the same list. (For the sanity of players who aren't familiar with the "type" names, I'll be using "Vintage" and "Standard" to refer to Type 1 and Type 2 henceforth)

Balance [LEA]

Oh, WotC also realised something else. Balance really isn't balanced at all. To the restricted list as well!

Prelude to Black Summer

Necropotence [ICE]

If you don't know what black summer is, it's that period in 1996 when necropotence completely dominated tournaments. 1996? Wasn't necropotence printed in 1995? This is often what makes people think that magic players at the time had no idea how good card advantage was. (The inquest article calling necropotence the worst card in Ice Age doesn't help either). The thing is, necropotence actually was kind of bad when it was first release, because black vise was something a lot of people played in Standard. Black vise was basically in everyone's deck. Even people playing discard decks played black vise!

Black Vise [LEA] Mind Twist [LEA]

Black vise got restricted in Jan 1996 and necropotence exploded until we got black summer! Hurray!

Mind twist also got to join time vault in the "banned for power level reasons" club. Didn't even get to be restricted first, straight to banned!

They didn't get to party together for too long though, because in March 1996, WotC lobotomized time vault, they then deemed it was no longer a risk to society and released it from the banned list.

The Other Great Split

March 1996 also saw the divorce of the Vintage and Standard ban lists. They shared custody of a few cards, but black vise was removed from Vintage's list (it was only there because of Standard), while recall and feldon's cane were removed from Standard's list (no power 9 to abuse!). In addition, Ali from cairo was finally deemed not that good, and someone regained his sanity regarding sword of the ages. Both got removed from Vintage's list.

Strip Mine [ATQ] Hymn to Tourach [FEM] Fastbond [LEA]

In September, strip mine got restricted in Standard, but apparently, people were still fine with getting their lands blown up for free in Vintage. Hymn to Tourach also got restricted, but that didn't stop high school me from turn 1 dark ritual hypnotic spectre into turn 2 hymn to tourach in casual! (mostly because I didn't even know there was such a thing as standard, much less cared to play it!)

Fastbond was kind of too good for vintage though (and still is!), so it got the axe.

A Step Towards the Modern B&R

WotC finished the year 1996 with an interesting announcement. There would no longer be a restricted list in standard. All restricted cards were moved to the banned list. The reasons were good. First, most overpowered cards are still overpowered when they're restricted, so, in formats where there are only a few restricted cards, all that restricting overpowered cards serves is to add randomness to the game. Not only that, but when black vise is legal, you build your deck knowing that you need to deal with turn 1 black vise. When it's restricted, do you really plan for it? If you don't, how frustrating will it be when it does show up on turn 1 anyway?

The other reason is that having cards restricted instead of banned force them to restrict other cards that would normally be fair. We've already seen several cards that were restricted because they allowed you to tutor or reuse other restricted card. WotC didn't like having to limit themselves when creating cards, out of fear that fair cards would be used to tutor or reuse unfair ones.

Vintage kept its restricted list, because some people wanted to play with powerful cards (and also because Type 1.5, aka legacy had started to take root, which, at the time, was just vintage with the restricted list renamed "banned list"), but in standard, you already couldn't play with all your cards, so there really wasn't any good reason to keep a restricted list.

And I think this is an appropriate place to end this piece. If you enjoyed, I will look over some more of the B&R list history in another post!

- Filobel

Reprinted with permission, originally posted on reddit.

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