The Art of Banning

You may want to consider reading the Ban Philosophy as well.

Who are we?

The Oathbreaker rules committee is currently made of six players with a wide range of playstyles and Magic experience. Five of the six were original members of Weirdcards Charity Club. All of us have played both competitive and casual formats. We have an L1 and L2 judge among us. We have a newer player who didn’t start playing until Commander 2015 and we have experienced players who started back in Revised. When Oathbreaker started in mid 2017, most of us were in the midst of playing a mix of modern, legacy, and commander. Since the inception of the format, two of us have had children and one of us has their first on the way. Oathbreaker has remained a passion and priority for all of us.

How do we go about banning cards?

The answer is “simple” : play testing. As the format has grown we’ve often had the same thought we’ve heard from the masses, “Oh, this has to be broken” or “this can’t be healthy for the format”.  In most cases, we were wrong, and in a few, we were right. We really don’t like banning cards and want players to play their style of magic with as many cards as possible. We have a very high bar for banning cards. We hope this gives you some insight into our ban list philosophy.

When will we ban cards?

Currently, we’re planning to announce bans 90 days after standard legal sets are released. We’ll roll supplemental sets into the announcement at least 90 days out. We will keep a close eye on cards as they come out and will only release an emergency ban for severely problematic cards.

Historic Bannings

As we developed the format, we started at what we thought was a logical place, the EDH ban list. You have to start somewhere. After the first year, we had the rules ironed out, and we started to question the ban list. Did Karakas [] really belong on the Oathbreaker ban list? We unanimously agreed it didn’t, since Oathbreaker isn’t dependent on legendary creatures, which would make the land less abusable. So, we made a list of cards we thought could be a problem in the format and, for good measure, included the cards on the commander ban list. During several meetings, we went through each of these cards and discussed why to ban and why not to ban cards. Some cards were easy bans (or unbans), while others required a lengthy debate and intensive play testing. We have a high degree of respect for the Commander banlist, so it was harder to justify unbanning many of those cards, especially the instants and sorceries. For a card to earn a spot on our banlist we decided it would require a super-majority of voting members voting to ban the card. Unbanning a card works in a similar fashion.

Banning New Cards:

  1. How does the card perform in our playgroup’s normal meta? We play a wide range of decks, some being pure flavor and others being strong decks with lots of synergy. This step is really meant to be a time saver. If a card isn’t a problem in our playgroup, it’s not likely to be a problem. If the card is too good for our playgroup’s meta, we take a closer look. We also listen to the community on social media platforms when there is a large outcry about certain cards.  Most of the time, those are already on our radar, but there have been a few cards that we were happy to hear about.
  2. We playtest each offender against multiple archetypes (aggro, control, combo) that likely contain a higher level of interaction than our normal playgroup’s meta to further stress test the card or deck in question. We try to have these testing decks be of a similar power level to the offending deck in an effort to level the playing field. These “Answer” decks aren’t created specifically to beat the offending deck, but we want to make sure the offending deck can prove its problematic nature even in that environment. When we tested Saheeli, the Gifted [], we made sure our decks had answers for artifacts. These Answer decks still needed to function as a viable deck, so they weren’t just “the deck that hoses Saheeli,” but a good deck that has reasonable number of answers.
  3. Once we have all the “data” (used very loosely), we have a discussion on how we view the card in question according to our philosophy. Finally, we vote! This is why it’s important to have a varied group of players on the RC and why we require a super-majority to ban or unban a card.

FAQ on Bannings:

  • Will we be ban Narset Parter of Veils []?

    Honestly, we don’t know yet. We’re currently playtesting the Narset deck, and while it’s good it’s not great at winning (at least not in a timely manner). This is probably part of the problem, it grinds the game to a halt. Opponents to the Narset deck are stuck topdecking until they can get to an answer, hoping their hand doesn’t get Windfall []ed away again. As we’ve tested the deck, it’s fairly easily to interact with, and since it requires 6 mana to go off in one turn, this gives opponents time to draw into an answer. The deck can sometimes get through all this interaction and cause a near standstill. We also have concerns about the implications of this type of ban. Do we consider banning all Planeswalkers with two card combos? That doesn’t fit with the way the RC views bans.

  • Why isn’t card X banned?

    The most common reason is the card is not as good as you think it is during actual gameplay.  Oathbreaker is designed to be multiplayer, which can throw a monkey wrench in the best goldfish plans.  Other times, the card is too slow or depends on specific cards being drawn or specifics cards being in play.  We do try to playtest as much as we can and we depend heavily on experienced players to alert us to potentially problematic cards.  For example, the wonderful moderators of the Oathbreaker subreddit have been instrumental in identifying cards to be reviewed for banning. Another aspect that is often missed when this question is brought up is the social contract of the group. Often game politics and group dynamics will weed out problematic cards that make games unfun. We feel this is healthy and up to the players to establish for their playgroup. When a card goes beyond the group’s ability to self-regulate, that is when the RC feels it should step in to help. We don’t want to have a long ban list, so as long as the format is healthy and fun for the vast majority of players, the Committee will use a light touch.

  • Why was Saheeli, the Gifted [] banned?

    When Saheeli was spoiled, the RC was immediately concerned and playtesting showed these concerns were valid. The first round of playtesting happened straight out of the box, cutting 40 of the worse cards and using Saheelis Directive [] as the signature spell. The deck easily handled our playgroup’s meta. From here, we tested Saheeli running answers to the artifacts, and we quickly realized that outside of mass artifact removal, the interaction had minimal impact. This drastically limited the number of answers opponents could run. So maybe the problem was Saheeli’s Directive? Replacing the signature spell with an extra turn spell showed itself to be more problematic, making the deck more consistent.  Every spell we tried with Saheeli became problematic and, in the end, we decided banning Saheeli was the less painful choice than banning all of the spells she could exploit.

  • Why ban Sol Ring [] and other mana rocks?

    These were a pretty easy ban for the RC. If you’ve played Commander, you’ve seen the insane advantage a turn one/two Sol Ring can provide. We found that this advantage was compounded with the presence of spell in the command zone and the speed of the format. In Commander, games often last long enough for the Sol Ring advantage to be overcome. We found the same wasn’t true for Oathbreaker.

In Conclusion

We want to be as transparent as possible with the community that has started supporting Oathbreaker. We want the format to be long lasting and healthy, and we’ll need community input to keep that going.

Don’t hesitate to talk about the banned list in the forums.

Keep making Magic happen,
The Oathbreaker Rules Committee

**You may want to consider reading the Ban Philosophy as well.