Before we begin today’s article, I just want to address a few things. Firstly, I am well known for my love of Red aggro decks like Burn, playing the archetype in multiple formats. Second, I understand the need to ban cards, especially in eternal formats in order to keep them healthy and fun to play. Lastly, I am usually quite a positive person and always do my best to look on the bright side of life, giving people the benefit of the doubt where possible. Indeed, I’m generally fair positive when it comes to my opinions on Magic the Gathering and Wizards of the Coast. I state these points, so you know the biases I my have as we go through this topic. With all that been said, Wizards I have one question for you.
Why do you hate Lightning Bolt?
Seriously, it is one of the most iconic cards in Magic, tracing its origins all the way back to Alpha. It has been played in some of the most memorable matches through-out the long history of this great game, and yet Wizards of the Coast seem to hate it.
Ok, before I go off on too much of a rant, some context.
As I stated above, Lightning Bolt is an iconic card with a very long history, been one of the original cycles of cards in the game. As one of the five ‘boons’, it has shaped Magic and its design for many years. It has been reprinted 19 times to date (not including GP promos and the like) and is a popular card for any deck that runs Red. It has been seen in control decks as removal, in mid-range decks for value, and aggro decks for reasons that should be obvious. All this, and yet it is arguable one of the fairest cards in all of Magic.
Aside from any flavour text, it has some of the simplest wording on a Magic card. “Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to any target”. One red mana. At instant speed. Three damage. No graveyard recursion, no unfair combos. Just simple, honest damage. Beautiful in its simplicity, it is no surprise it has been, and continues to be one of the most favoured cards of players worldwide seeing play in all formats in which it inhabits the available card pool.
That is of course, with one VERY notable exception. And that is the banning of Lightning Bolt in Historic.
Now on the face of it, a card been banned is nothing special. Indeed, it is quite normal for cards to be banned in eternal formats (those formats that don’t rotate like Standard) as they become too omni-present in the format or lead to broken combos. But the banning of Lightning Bolt is noticeable different, as it was pre-emptively banned before anyone could try it out not once, but twice.
Firstly, when Jumpstart was released on Arena, Lightning Bolt (along with a host of other cards) were replaced with toned down versions of the effect like Lightning Strike (which was already Legal in Historic). Ok you might say, they didn’t want to program the card into the client. What’s the big deal. Except, they then release Strixhaven and the Mystical Archives, which contained a ton of the most iconic Instants and Sorceries from Magics history, including Lightning Bolt. Then, before we can get excited about playing with it, Wizards go ahead and ban 7 cards because they “are clearly so powerful that we knew they would warp the format around them”. And guess what, Lightning Bolt was on that list.
So that is twice that Wizards of the Coast have printed, and then pre-emptively banned cards for Historic. And at about this point you might be saying to yourself ‘James, I can see why that is frustrating for you. But is it really that much of a problem?’ Normally, no. The banning of a card in a format would not bother me so much. That is of course, if it wasn’t for 2 key issues.
A) That the cards being banned are being smacked down without any clear evidence.
B) Wizards are being inconsistent with their logic.
Ok. Let’s unpack that.
Firstly, as I have stated before, banning cards is sometimes necessary for the health of any format. However, most of the time this is undertaken with the understanding that the card has already proven to be an issue, either due to its high win rate, or because it prevents other decks from being viable. However, Wizards have taken the step to ban Lightning Bolt because of their preconceived ideas of how the card will be used.
No evidence. No data. Just a feeling that it might be TOO good. Just imagine if they decided to do that with any card from a Standard legal set before its release. Let’s say they banned the 5 new Dragon Legendary creatures before the set hit the shelves. Players would be opening cards in packs and been rightful annoyed that some of the cards they are opening can’t be played because Wizards were afraid of what it COULD do.
It would be like buying a burger, fries and milkshake when you are out with your friends, only for the restaurant to take away your drinking straw because you ‘might’ decide to play spit ball with it. Sure, there is a chance that could happen. But you have no proof it will happen, you are making assumptions about my intent, and you are making me feel like a child that can’t be trusted. Sure, if I was then to take that straw and spit a paper ball out of it, you would absolutely be justified in taking it away from me. But let me have a chance to prove I can be trusted first.
Secondly. It is clear that Wizards are pushing Historic as their preferred eternal format. With older sets been added to Arena for the expressed intent to expand Historic catalogue of cards, and Anthology sets bringing more and more spells into the mix, Historic has seen more love than any other format outside of Standard and Commander.
It is not hard to see why. Historic is on Arena, a client that is only growing in popularity, and it is fair to say a huge profit-making engine for Wizards of the Coast. Having more cards enter the format pushes the wildcard economy, and in turn drives pack sales. So, you can see why they want to make sure the format is health. Keeping players happy by pre-emptively removing cards is a good thing. Right?
But if that is the case, why do we see cards like Thoughtseize, Grapeshot, Burning-Tree Emissary and Death’s Shadow? Cards that, like Lightning Bolt, have a proven track record in older formats and are arguably very powerful. Are you really saying that Lightning Bolt is too good in a format that can turn two cheat out an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and blow up your opponent’s mana base? Suddenly 3 damage at instant speed doesn’t seem so powerful right!
Now I know a few people who will make the argument that I would never want Counterspell in the format. After all, I have made it no secret that I dislike counter magic and surely, I’m happy Wizards banned that also. But here’s the thing. I’m not. The same argument I have made for Lightning Bolt could easily be made for any of the other cards on that list. Sure, Channel is probably broken an does need to be banned, and Dark Ritual alongside any Storm cards is a bad idea. But shouldn’t we have the chance to prove that?
Yes, players will find ways to break the format, its what we do. But to deny people the chance to see what these cards can do in Wizards fastest growing client is a mistake. We should break the format before Wizards decide it needs fixing, otherwise Historic (or any format for that matter) becomes less of a playground of creativity, with the Arena team deciding what kind of Magic we should all be playing.
Again, I will state that I’m generally fair positive when it comes to my opinions on Magic the Gathering and Wizards of the Coast. Additionally, Wizards can do what they want with their client. If they don’t want Lightning Bolt in the format, then that’s their choice. But if that’s the case, stop teasing players with the possibility. Never underestimate the fact that a large number of players don’t sit at home refreshing the MTG home page for the latest news on your game. Many players (including those that are coming to the game via Arena) happily play Magic at the most casual of levels.
These people just want to crack packs and play the game, and then rightful feel annoyed after playing a card in Sealed or Draft only to discover that it’s not useable outside of that instants. At least with cards like Oko, players had a chance to see why it was too good before it was taken out of the game. If you don’t want the card in the game, don’t dangle the carrot in front of us.
That will about do it for today’s article. Sorry if it was a bit ranty, I promise that next week we will be back to janky brews and random tribal shenanigans. But please do tell me what you think. Should Wizards pre-emptively ban cards? Or should we base those decisions on data and evidence. Please let me know in the comments below, and while you’re there you could like and subscribe to keep up to date with all we do here at Master of Magics.
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