I’m going to keep this article short and sweet, because so much of what there is to say about the banning of Lurrus of the Dream-Den has been said ad nauseum. Let’s just stipulate to some stuff that really doesn’t merit debate.
-Lurrus is the best creature in the history of Magic
-The original Companion mechanic was the worst design mistake since the Alpha days
-Games of Magic surrounding Lurrus could often times be pretty good, despite the sheer brokenness of the card
I expect these three points to occupy a lot of the discourse today, but none of them are really debatable or interesting to me. Instead, I want to talk about the concept of a “good ban,” and why Wizards of the Coast should look for more of them. Before we get to that, we need to have a discussion about the mechanics of banning a card.
Much of my argument in favor of good bans supposes that the act of banning a card no longer has intrinsically negative impacts on the game of Magic–that is, the standalone act of having to ban does not suggest that Magic is in some way a flawed or broken game, less deserving of our attention. In an era of digital balance, I do believe we are 99% of the way there. Put simply, there is just not an appetite for inconvenience or imperfection in the world of modern game design. Gerry sent me this fascinating tweet yesterday:
That image is from Dragon Warrior (or Dragon Quest, if you prefer) on the NES, where you did in fact have to open a menu and select STAIRS if you wanted to climb up or down a flight of stairs. Dragon Warrior was the game that I played more than any other as a child. It caused me to fall in love with RPGs, and the genre remains my favorite to this day. But when I went back for a nostalgia replay, what do you think it was that soured me on the experience?
I’m not sure the inelegance of STAIRS even crossed my mind as a child, and it’s possible that my sensibilities at the time actually let me view the act of selecting STAIRS as more immersive. But the author of the above tweet is right. My appetite for friction in 2022 is absolutely shot. If things are inelegant, broken, or annoying… just fix them. Companions were all of these things, and I’m never going to argue in favor of their continued presence in Magic out of some historical sense of duty. I will celebrate every single one that gets unprinted, and I extend that same mercilessness to any card that is equally flawed.
Note that above, I mentioned we are 99% of the way to accepting the utility of bans. Let’s talk about that 1%.
Are bans announced in advance?
Are bans timed to avoid impact on upcoming events?
Do we use win-rate data or metagame share to determine when bans are appropriate?
The answer to all of these questions is “I have no fucking clue.” I have no idea about the mechanism behind bans, the timing requirements, or really anything else that drives ban decisions. Who actually decides whether bans happen? Is it just Ian Duke? Play Design? A blindfolded Mark Rosewater?
This kind of self-awareness was cute when Wizards of the Coast was a plucky upstart company trying to bring a new method of gaming to the masses. Now, when they just had a billion-with a B dollar year, I’d prefer some transparency and accountability. Not in the “this person should be fired” type of way, but in the “here is a person who is EXTREMELY generously compensated to function as a conduit between Magic creators and Magic consumers.” Reinvest in your infrastructure, and make it possible for communication to happen again. Lay out some fundamental guidelines for how bans work and are timed. They don’t have to be concrete and irreversible. We just need something. The opacity is just another set of STAIRS.
If we reach this point, the door is wide open for more good bans, and I think the guideline for such a ban is shockingly simple:
-Does not invalidate any existing deck in its entirety
-Does not represent a source of dramatic financial loss for the player base (note: I understand this wont ever be expressly acknowledged–that doesn’t mean it can’t be considered)
-Opens additional options in deckbuilding and deck selection
The good ban should be a rarity, and not one that you really need to go hunting for. It should present itself clearly, and come and go with little debate. Unsurprisingly, I think Alrund’s Epiphany was the other good ban we experienced recently. The Izzet deck continued on without it. Huge numbers of cards were introduced back into the card pool with its exclusion. Little was lost financially. If you lay the groundwork for good bans, the only consequence that will come of them is that we all get a game we are much more excited to play.
This finally brings us back to the focal point of this article: Lurrus, and the deep, insightful take on today’s announcement you’ve been waiting for.
What else is there to say?