The case for Force of Will

Last week I wrote about possible design solutions to keep Legacy healthy in the wake of the firming up of the reprint policy. Prior to that, I talked about why I have non-power-card reasons to want reprints, and since then I’ve put together an estimate of the total number of dual lands in the world. Now, I want to turn toward something else interesting…
Are Legacy staples all necessarily overpowered?
Click through to the extended entry to read more.

Probably the default “best” deck in Legacy right now is Countertop Progenitus:
Countertop Progenitus

14 Creatures:
Trygon Predator
Rhox War Monk
Noble Hierarch
28 Spells:
Swords to Plowshares
Sensei’s Divining Top
Natural Order
Force of Will
18 Land:
Windswept Heath
Volcanic Island
Tropical Island
Misty Rainforest
Flooded Strand
Dryad Arbor
15 Sideboard:
Krosan Grip
Pithing Needle
Ravenous Trap
Relic of Progenitus
Rhox War Monk
Volcanic Island

Twenty-seven of these seventy-five cards are legal in Standard. Another sixteen are Extended legal (it would be nineteen, but for the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top). So, how broken are the remaining thirty-two Legacy-only cards?
The duals have already been discussed at great length. They’re basically too good — in almost all circumstances, a strict upgrade over basic lands, which is a design problem. If we were going to remake the duals these days, we’d make something like the Ravnica duals, that force you to make some kind of cost-benefit analysis in deciding to use the card. So it goes.
The rest of the deck’s Legacy mana base is simply Onslaught fetches. They’re structurally the same as the Zendikar fetches, which speaks to the fact that they’d be just fine in a Standard environment. I expect we’ll see them back again in Standard someday.
Brainstorm is right on the edge of too good. It’s a very powerful effect, but we’ve see that it’s okay to have it operate as a Sorcery (Ponder, Jace), and it’s possible that absent the plethora of power cards available in Legacy, it would be just fine to have it back in Standard. My recollection from playing the nascent Standard-esque environment back in the days of Brainstorm was that it was a fine card, but by no means back-breaking.
Natural Order is clearly broken in half. If Natural Order were in Standard right now, every single deck running green would be playing it. If you already dislike Jund, you’ll hate Jund when it can Natural Order a Thrinax away and get a Progenitus and three Saprolings. I love how Natural Order gives Countertop the ability to threaten a quick kill, but there’s no sane way you could reintroduce a card like this into any modern Standard.
This brings us to Force of Will:
Is this too broken for Standard?
You know, I’ve been thinking about this, and I don’t think so. Consider the following two cards:
Swords to Plowshares is from the earliest days of the game, when the value of certain drawbacks was unclear. As players quickly figured out, a control deck is happy to hand out almost any amount of life to the opponent in exchange for quickly and cleanly removing a major threat. Essentially, “one mana, one card, and you get some life” is a negligible cost when it comes with the benefit of “you lose a card that was instrumental to you winning the game.”
Path reflects over a decade and a half of learning about value in Magic. “One mana and one card in exchange for you losing a creature and getting a card” is no longer a gimme. There are all sorts of issues associated with card disadvantage in general, as well as with the specific and often tremendous concern of actively ramping up and fixing your opponent’s mana. Is their creature worth effectively putting them a turn ahead of you in the game? That’s a true cost-benefit decision.
Considering all of this, I think it would be reasonable to have Force of Will in Standard. Although the 1 life cost is negligible, the fact that you must make the cost-benefit decision to two-for-one yourself to counter a spell means that Force of Will is a genuine skill tester. It would be a powerful counterspell, but in many ways it’s far less effective than Cryptic Command. Sure, you “always” have access to it, facilitating tapout control, but it’s only ever a counterspell, and it requires that you keep another blue card in hand if you want to use it. In contrast, Cryptic Command is a Falter, a Boomerang, and a Dismiss. That’s crazy power and versatility.
I wouldn’t want to reprint the whole pitch cycle from Ice Age, mainly because the other colors aren’t nearly as good. But that was just an issue of the times. You could instead put together a reprint pitch cycle for M11 from the 87 alternate cost spells available in the history of Magic. My recommendations if you were to do this:
…and you know what? None of the green pitch spells are especially exciting except for Land Grant, which may be somehow broken. Hm.
Overall, I like alternate costs for the same reason I like alternate win conditions – they change how you think about the game, and that’s fun. I’d like to see more tries on alternate costs in the future – the Zendikar traps have been a great take on this idea! In general they aren’t especially broken, and add a lot to how we think about the game.
I think some future Standard could incorporate Force of Will and friends just fine.