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Sebastian  P.

Food for Thought: The August Ban List Update

We take a look at the newest entires for the Expanded ban list.

07/21/2017 by Sebastian P.

"This article is part of 60cards article competition"

 

Introduction

Two days ago TPCI announced that Archeops (BW-DEX / BW-NV) and Forest of Giant Plants (XY-AO) will be banned from the Expanded format as of the 18th of August 2017. In this brief article I want to discuss the implications of the ban, reasons behind the decision, as well as talking in general about the topic of banning cards.

The ban hammer: a necessary evil, or an obvious oversight by the design team ?

The first thing we need to address is whether banning cards is a good sign or not. In the first glance one might come to the conclusion that banning a card can never be a good sign, as this would indicate that a format is so unhealthy that the design team saw no other choice, than to ban a certain card.
Although there is a certain merit to this line of reasoning, I'd tackle the topic from a different direction. As an avid Magic the Gathering player, I'm anticipating the ban & restriction update every 3 months, as the changes are likely to shake up the meta game in the respective formats.
I should point out though, that you'll see the words “no changes” a lot of times, which simply indicates that a format is not being oppressed by a certain archetype, or at least enough that I'd validate a ban.
The point is that we got a fixed schedule for the ban-list update in MtG. A similar schedule, maybe once every 6 months, would help the Pokemon TCG immensely, as it'd take a certain random element out of the equation, as the current ban definitely came out of the blue.

Nothing hits as hard as the ban hammer

 

Implications for the secondary market

One topic that will always be in consideration when it comes to the banning and unbanning of cards is the card value on the secondary market. A chase rare can become obsolete in the blink of an eye, turning a 40+$ investment into a worthless piece of paper. Just take a look at the current prize drop for cards such as Decidueye-GX.
While this argument is certainly true, this problem can be solved by having a fixed date for an ban / unban announcement. If a deck dominates the meta game and a player decides to invest in it a couple of weeks prior to the next bans, well, that's simply an oversight. After 7 years of playing MtG competitively I can safely say that not a single ban has had a major financial impact for me.

View it as a risk / reward scenario. If you want to play the absolute “best” deck in the format and you know that the archetype is so strong / oppressive, that chances are hight that a certain card will get axed in the next ban rotation, that is simply a risk you'll have to live with.

A boring / stale meta are no reasons that validate a ban

Something that is often implied when we talk about the idea of a regular ban list, is the idea to ban cards, simply because they aren't fun to play against, or because the meta simply grew stale.
From a casual point of view, those reasons might be enough to validate a ban, but the matter of fact is that a ban shouldn't be thrown out lightly and certainly not because players complaint about a card on reddit and Co (we'll come to FoGP in a moment).
That being said, being able to ban cards on a frequent basis will allow the design team to have more freedom, as potential broken threads can be dealt with, while ideas that are seemingly OP on paper, can actually turn out to be completely fine.
TPCI's very own deus ex machina, that allows them to experiment with new card designs, without having to worry about the health of the game to much.

Bannings can make room for design space

Speaking of designing new cards, it's time to tackle the elephant in the room: Forest of Giant Plants.
Oh boy. I don't think any card in recent years was so despised. Toad, Nightmarch, Garbodor, Trevenant and certain other archetypes might be annoying to deal with, but Vileplume, especially when paired with Decidueye-EX, is simply the embodiment of annoyance.
In fact, FoGP was the reason good old Shiftry was banned in the first place, which is kinda ironic when we realize that now, almost two years after the international release of Ancient Origins, the Stadium was finally banned and Shiftry got out of jail.

So, did all the haters won in the end ? Did the angry mob with their pitchforks finally persuaded TPCI into banning a card ? Well, yes and no.

It's certainly no coincidence that the card will be banned almost at the same time for the 2018 Standard rotation, which will be Breakthrough onwards. With said rotation we'll finally have an Expanded format with a unique identity, as many of the major role players from the Standard format ( such as Shaymin, Lysandre, Sycamore and VS Seeker) will still be going strong in Expanded.
For the first time in ages we'll have an Expanded format that is not just Standard 2.0, but an entire different affair.

Forest of Giant Plants, by Ryo Ueda

 

However, now we are in a peculiar situation. As a card designer, no matter how good you are, you'll always have to plan from block to block. You need to keep the flavour of the set, create meaningful additions for the competitive game, while also pleasing the casual crowed.
Keeping those aspects in check is tough enough, but know you have to factor in a format like Expanded, with a much larger pool of cards, that can turn a harmless card in your set into a full blown powerhouse.
FoGP would have always been a card that stifles creative process, as any kind of grass type evolution would need to be tuned down, in contrast to it's competitors, as the card would otherwise have the potential to oppress the Expanded meta game.
Although cards like Dark- and Aqua Patch create the same advantageous position for their respective types, FoGP is simply too strong, in order to ignore it's impact in the following years.

Archeops tackles a similar issue, as the card itself is simply stifling the creative process and the ongoing emphasis on evolutions, that we're currently seeing in the S&M design philosophy.
It didn't really help either, that the card was usually paired with the ever so omnipresent Yveltal, or with Night March, giving more threads to already strong archetypes. One might ask why they didn't ban the engine ( Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick), like they did with FoGP and there is certainly the potential that either Maxie or Archie will be in the focus of a potential ban, should we see overpowered stage 2 Water / Fighting type Pokemon in the future. Although, with the amount of set-up those decks need, in order to get value out of it, it's rather unlikely that we'll see this any time soon.

 

Closing thoughts

I for one can only speculate on the reasons behind the sudden bannings and my line of thought might be as flawed as any other, however I hope that this short article at least provided a different view on the reasoning behind the decision ( creating opportunity for design space), as well as easing the mind of players who haven't had to deal with a regular ban list before.

That being said, I hope you have a great summer and of course good luck to the 60cards readers who participate in the 2017 world championship :).

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