Dragon tamers, not slayers

Are you looking for a Jund killer?
I’m not, and I don’t think we ought to be, either.
There’s an inclination when a deck is dominant in a format to want something to come out in a new set that will crush it utterly. We want something that wrecks Faeries, kills Jund, eliminates Affinity, and so forth.
If you’re looking for that kind of card or set of cards, you’re asking for hosers.
My preference instead is to ask for what we might call “reasonable-izers” – that is, cards that even out the format, rather than crushing the top deck in the format. From a game design perspective, I think this is the far better option. There are two major flaws with building hosers into a format.
First, they tend to be binary. Either they work, or they don’t. Sometimes this means they’re binary on a card-by-card sense. “Oh, you’re playing Affinity? Neat. Here’s Kataki. Enjoy.” It can also be a binary impact of piecemeal additions, such as when the amount of hate added in for a deck moves over some threshold such that the deck can no longer work.
This is frustrating for a couple reasons.
It constrains deck design, since you either need to put in the crushing mechanism or leave it out and hope others have it covered — I tend to call this the Vienna Dredge problem, after the positioning of Dredge circa GP Vienna 2008, which saw four Dredge decks in the top eight. If you weren’t playing Extended at the time, consider that a Dredge deck of that era was very similar to what we’d now consider a full-on Legacy Dredge deck. You either dedicated a big chunk of your sideboard to it, or gave up on it and hoped to dodge the issue.
It also narrows the number of interesting decision points in your games. Instead of a complex interplay, you may end up simply being forced to mulligan to your hate. If you make it, awesome – you win. If your cripple yourself as you mulligan to nothing, too bad.
Second, hosers don’t generate an interesting, even environment. Instead, they decapitate it. Once you clear out the top deck, you’re not automatically balancing everything else. You may be, but you might also be opening a position for another crushing deck. Even more obnoxiously, you generate the Vienna Dredge problem, since the metagame will shift back and forth in waves as people hate out the “best” deck, then shift to hate out the “next-best” deck, then have to shift back…
This won’t automatically be more fun than the original environment.
Instead, my preference is for efforts to bolster archetypes that may be faltering a little, as well as generating interesting new ones.
If we apply this to the current Standard, I think we’re actually in a very good place. Jund may be the dominant deck, for various definitions of dominant. It’s also not really just one deck, so much as one color combination. Regardless, there are a number of strong builds without having one of those annoying rock-scissors-paper metagames. No deck is a horrid loser or a crushing winner against any other deck.
I also like where Rise is going. We have the introduction of potential new archetypes, as well as tools to update extant archetypes. I explored both options in my CFB column this week. I think the most exciting new addition in terms of “doing interesting things to the environment without wrecking anything” is Wall of Omens:
WallofOmens.jpeg
This is obviously a good card for control, and will shift how those decks work, and how other decks have to work around them. One of the things I love about this and the “Defender” theme in general is how well it interacts with tools we received in Worldwake:
BasiliskCollar.jpeg
Yes, Basilisk Collar is the wall breaker. I love it. It’s not a hoser — it requires interactive play, it can be destroyed and countered, and you have to keep creatures on the board for it to be useful. Instead, it’s an option that means that while the Defender theme and good walls can be powerful and interesting, it isn’t going to completely disable aggro.
This kind of interaction keeps a format healthy. It expands our play options rather than trying to just stamp out the “best deck,” and it makes it much less likely that there will be a strict “best deck” that genuinely dominates the format.
(Thanks to Joey Pasco for catching my accidental absence-of-ending there)

3 thoughts on “Dragon tamers, not slayers

  1. That’s an awfully abrupt ending.
    “This kind of interaction keeps a format healthy. It expands our play options rather than trying to just stamp out the “best deck,” and it ”
    And it

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