Pattern Recognition #124 - Flash and Untapping
19 September 2019
19 September 2019
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is TappedOut.net's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass , so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.
Let me up front about my end goal here, then backtrack into why I think this is something that should be worked toward.
I would like to ban Vedalken Orrery in Commander. In addition, I would like to see cards like Wilderness Reclamation or Bear Umbra and Dramatic Reversal or Seedborn Muse and Unwinding Clock and Prophet of Kruphix needs to get TURBO BANNED.
And at least Paradox Engine already got the boot.
Today, I'm going to be delving a little bit further into the economy of Magic. No, I'm not talking about how much you pay at your Friendly Local Game Store for cards. Rather, I want to talk a bit more today about the economy of Resources in the game, and why those cards I listed above are at the root of a very serious problem that only gets far worse in Commander than it first appears in any other format.
Let me start with Vedalken Orrery , and the issue of Timing.
When a Card can be played is something that has been a bit of an issue in the game since the beginning, as I talked a bit about when I examined the existence of the Stack back in Issue 23. So summarize, Wizards had, for the longest time, no proper mechanism to determine the order in which cards are played and resolved in relation to one another until the Stack was finalized. The difference between playing a card at Sorcery Speed, and Activating an Ability at Instant Speed, and when in the turn certain things happen could be confusing in some cases, so the existence of clearer language and a firm frame of rules for dealing with this only helped.
They give all your stuff Flash. No, not Flash , though that is slightly related.
You see, one of the fundamental assumptions about the game and the way it is built is that certain cards can only be played at certain times, and that the more restrictive the casting timing, the more powerful the effect can be.
The ultimate expression of this are Planeswalkers, given how they have the most restrictions placed on them in terms of when they can be cast and when they can be activated. I could also argue Lands, given that they have an inherent limit to the number you can play in a turn, but that's a different kind of resource that has ho bearing on this article today. At least, not directly.
Now, let me get something out of the way here first. I have no issues at all with Flash as a mechanic at all. From King Cheetah to Leyline of Anticipation .... Actually, no, let's toss that one into the BANNED submission list as well. Let's go with Spectral Sailor instead as an example of a card that can be cast at Instant speed despite not being an instant, and doesn't break the game over its knee.
No, what giving cards Flash does is break the timing of the game. There is a certain give-and-take with the basic priority of the game, and how on a given player's turn, they have the advantage of having more options in terms of what cards they can or cannot play. It's a fundamental part of the game's design that a player's turn is their turn.
Yes, other players can interact during that turn, with cards like Counterspell or Lightning Bolt , but the weight of action is on the active player. They are the ones who have drawn a card, have the two main phases and the combat step.
What Vedalken Orrery and Prophet of Kruphix do is that they allow players to play their turn at any time. What they allow is for the player who has one or the other in play is to let them take the totality of their turn over the course of the turns of everyone else in the game. They don't have to take their turn when they have their turn, as they can, with the exception of their Upkeep and Combat, take their turn whenever they want.
Which, thanks to being able to do things at Instant Speed, tends to be the end of the turn for the player before them.
This, I have a problem with in Commander more so than any other format thanks to the multiplayer aspect to it. When a player doesn't have to take their turn, except when they want to, what is the point of having a turn at all? Would that not be the final evolution of the statement "Draw, go"? that has heralded pain and agony for anyone who has played against a control deck in the past?
But this in of itself is simply an annoyance. It is a thing that I could live with, if it were not for the fact that despite playing whenever you want, you're still using mana.
Which is where the other half of my concerns and my current annoyance comes from. The other half of the cards I talked about above, or rather the majority of it when you count the cards.
I'm talking about unlimited untapping. I'm talking about cards that let you untap your lands, your creatures, your mana sources when it isn't your untap step. I'm talking about the idea of mana as a resource that needs to be checked and measured and doled out in strict allotment just gets thrown out the window because you no longer have a limit per cycle of players but rather a limit per turn.
Now once again, like with Flash, I don't have a problem with untapping, as long as there is some sort of cost to it. Casting Twiddle for example, or activating Arbor Elf . This is the sort of thing that I accept as part of the game, being able to gain a temporary advantage in one thing by giving up something else for the same duration. And I should know, as I've used Seeker of Skybreak myself on many an occasion to get more use out of a creature.
No, my concern is that in a game of limited resources, where mana is a resource like time, removing these limitations causes more harm that good when encountered.
Let me break this down a little bit for you. I view Vedalken Orrery as a Linear advantage. You gain more chances to do things, and can do those things out of normal order, but you're still limited in how much you can do.
Cards like Prophet of Kruphix and Dramatic Reversal slapped onto an Isochron Scepter provide a Geometric Advantage. In that, the longer the player has between one of their turns and the next, the more advantage they get. Each refresh of their mana base is another Untap step for them, another point where they don't have to worry about the resources that they have spent in the past, because they only need to exist in a turn-by-turn state.
Players who only untap during their own untap step lose out when their opponent effectively doubles their mana in comparison to their own resources, and each land counts twice.
But I'm not talking about Modern or Standard here. Not about Wilderness Reclamation that untaps lands to power out a huge Expansion / Explosion which is going to be a thing in the back of people's minds until Standard 2021 rolls around in a year's time. I'm not worried about those formats as they tend to be the kind that can better handle the limitations of this unlimited resource boosting. Because they lack the one thing that Commander lacks.
More than two players.
Here is why these cards are worse in Commander than in any other format, and it starts with the idea that there are Four people at a table, each with their own turn in turn (hah!) rather than just two players going back and forth. With these sorts of cards in play, what starts as a 2:1 resource advantage becomes a 4:1 resource advantage.
When a player can play their cards at any time, during anyone else's turn, and when they always have the mana to do so, they essentially get as many extra turns as there are players in the game! And Free Turns is BAD.
Just taking one extra turn costs at the least, and that's for a single extra turn. What these cards give you in conjunction with each other are permanent extra turns. That is the crux of my argument here. These cards give an nigh-insurmountable advantage to those that use them.
And who uses them?
Well, go and look at the colours of every problematic card I just listed. They are, with the exception of artifact, and . And Prophet of Kruphix is just the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? "Dies to Removal" my ass. Any player that drops that card without a plan for protection deserves what comes next. This card does not exist in a Void , Wizards and the guys in charge of the EDH Banlist not withstanding.
and are the best colours are resource conservation, management and replenishment, and when they get together such as with these cards, the whole is far, far greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a problem for me because it just another tick-mark on my personal list of reasons why Commander is a Combo-Control format where you play if you want to get anywhere.
The problem isn't the Untapping. It isn't the Flash aspects. It's like any other Combo where the two interact to become something bigger than either could hope to be by themselves. It's something that gives far more that what is put into it, and that is something I'm not sure I can stomach when it's applied so ... globally.
Now for those of you thinking that I'm something of a hypocrate here, yes, this does mean that my boy, my favourite Planeswalker, and the guy who makes Jace look incompetent just by being in the same plane as him - Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is a card that is part of the problem. Only moreso because he can be your Commander instead of being an Artifact in the 99.
So that's that. I'm concerned that this intersection of two things can, and perhaps has gotten out of hand on some level. And this isn't limited to Commander either, as Standard can show. I'm not too in touch with Modern, but I get the feeling from there that simply waiting for your opponent's turns is something that's too slow. This seems to be a uniquely Commander issue, and one that I'm pretty sure many of you won't totally agree with. Some of you might, and I'm alright with not being in the majority here.
But that's enough of that. Join me next week when I do my second part of my Slow Grow League review, this time for week's 3 and 4! I already know how Week 3 went down, but Week 4? That's tomorrow!
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
From the article you seem to be under the impression prophet isn’t banned. Prophet is very banned in Commander. Just to clear up anyone else that might’ve been under that impression.
September 19, 2019 9:31 p.m.
I will agree that the ability to untap all permanents, or all lands, or all non-lands is a HUGE advantage. seedborn muse is at the top of the list of cards that go into most green decks I make. That said, not every deck can take full advantage of the benefits, just as not every deck can take full advantage of, say Hypersonic Dragon or Teferi, Time Raveler 's +1 ability. If everyone and their grandmother are building the deck around one card (as we saw with paradox engine), then it makes sense to ban it; behold, to paraphrase the the EDH rules committee: "That $#!t don't fly".
The ability to cast ANY spell at flash, however, is something that every deck can take advantage of. By waiting on specific triggers, certain combinations otherwise impossible become disgustingly good. At the end of opponent's turn? cast Phage the Untouchable , and respond to it with Supreme Verdict . Field wipes, phage resolves, untap & swing. Sure, it's an over-the-top example, but it does illastrate the point nicely. Hell, for ages I had a deck of "bad cards" just so I could run Barren Glory and respond to it with Kaervek's Spite . the ability to flash that at the end of an opponent's turn massivly reduces the chances an opponent can do something about it. I think (or possibly just hope, but who knows) that wizards has discovered that Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation aren't what people should have (it may be what they want, but that's another thing entirely). In war of the spark, we saw Vivien, Champion of the Wilds , Teferi, Time Raveler , and Emergence Zone , all good examples of what _should_ work as a flash mechanic - ones that have limitations built in - they have to remain in play, are on attackable, damageable permanents, or are a one-time, sac to activate effect. Quicken , Scout's Warning , and Savage Summoning are all other good examples of this mechanic being used. Now, Wilderness Reclamation is actually _waaaaaay_ lower on my threat-meter for one, simple reason - it only untaps once. Honestly, the Isochron Scepter + Dramatic Reversal combo is far more dangerous in my book, simply due to the ability to untap creatures as well as mana rocks. In a multi-player format, the difference between it and Seedborn Muse or Unwinding Clock is huge. Speaking of Unwinding Clock , this is one of the cards that also don't have as much of a problem with - to get the full effect of this card, you're typically going to have to build your deck as an artifact deck. and in a format with Vandalblast , Bane of Progress , Shatterstorm , Nevinyrral's Disk , Akroma's Vengeance ...well, the list goes on. And since most people run Sol Ring (I'll confess to a love/hate relationship with that card, but thats a story for another time), most decks will run at least _one_ artifact removal (or steal) effect on the assumption that their opponent's will also be running it.
anyway, just my two cents as a response.
September 20, 2019 8:38 a.m.
it sounds like you just want to punish good deckbuilding. you should be running artifact removal anyway, so just destroy the Vedalken Orrery when you see it.
September 21, 2019 2:35 p.m.
Liliana69X This isn't attacking "good deck building". It's pointing out that certain cards warp the deck building process to a point that only certain options can be considered "good".
September 21, 2019 3:14 p.m.
sanddeviljack: i would strongly disagree. Vedalken Orrery doesn't warp anything so that "only certain options can be considered good". it literally works in every color combination with any type of card. its 1 card in 99, and its an artifact in a format where literally every deck should have artifact removal.
September 21, 2019 3:57 p.m.
Liliana69X Your reply perfectly proves the position of the OP.
Playing at instant speed is powerful because a) you reduce other players' ability to respond, b) spells templated as instants tend to have higher or somewhat more restrictive casting costs, so you are effectively cheating on mana, and c) in the case of creatures, you are also tacking "Haste" onto everything, further increasing the benefit. So if playing at instant speed is more powerful, and VO allows me to play at instant speed, the "logical" thing to do (because it is "good deck building") is to play VO. Same logic applies to any of the other cards mentioned in the OP. That's not good deck building, that's forced deck building. It has nothing to do with whether the opponents are putting proper removal in their decks and everything to do with negating the restrictions of the basic rules of the game.
Look at it this way: something like 12,000 cards available in the format. 100 card decks: 36-38 lands; 10 ramp spells; 10 draw spells; 10 removal cards; all the tutors in your color(s); sufficient recursion. The remaining--what? 20 cards?--have to a) synergize with your commander, b) protect your board, or c) win the game outright. Start including a category called "Cards that Skew the Fundamental Rules of the Game" and you're really down to like 5-10 cards that are truly "choices". The fewer choices made by the deck builder, and the more choices dictated by the meta, the less deck building skill is involved. Take this small number of cards out of the format, and four things happen: the power dynamics shift tectonically, the viability of the various archetypes is reset to a much more level playing field, some few cards lose their "auto-include" status, and many other cards become worthy contenders for a slot. More deck building freedom, which now requires more deck building skill.
Now, I get it. These are great cards--fun to use, powerful--and I even play some myself. But if I never see VO or Seedborn Muse (or even things like Craterhoof or Cyclonic Rift) ever again, I won't cry about it either. Maybe some metas don't care, and that's fine if everyone playing there is on board. But for more casual and more open settings (say an LGS or a gaming club at a high school or university) there can and probably should be some throttling down on the max power level--and that's the real point of a official ban list. OP's point stands.
September 22, 2019 10:46 p.m.
September 23, 2019 12:13 a.m.
sanddeviljack: i didnt even read anything beyond your first sentence, because it is simply objectively false. play artifact removal or play your own Vedalken Orrery . period. the OP is just trying to whine about something they lose to.
September 23, 2019 3:20 a.m.
Like all things i feel if a card has no answers other then counter spell i feel it should be banned with that said i hate orrery too but it shouldn't be banned simply cause it's good in commander theres always answers to flash if you can't figure them out its on you. But there is cards that consitantly win games like doomsday combo turn 2 or counterspell tribal draw out win or krenko with untap it gets gross but if you can't stand these win combos simply don't play against those decks i even made antidecks for just those situations.
September 23, 2019 5:03 p.m.
berryjon: I really like the section in the article where you talk about the 2:1 resource advantage becoming 4:1 in EDH. I play a lot of EDH, and in my experience it has to do with the fact that cards aren't balanced around a four player pod, rather they are balanced on the standard 1v1. For most practical purposes, Seedborn Muse is basically a Nirkana Revenant in terms of mana acceleration; however, when you add more players to the game you see that geometric growth you were talking about.
I don't think it is something you can fix with anything short of a ban (which I'm not really a fan of in general), but going forward perhaps R&D can put some form of limiting clause on cards like this to avoid this kind of unintended power creep. e.g. When Neo-Seedborn Muse enters the battlefield, choose an opponent. Untap all permanents you control during that player's untap step.
September 23, 2019 5:10 p.m.
I really do not see an issue with resolving your spells when your opponent is vulnerable, it is every players choice to decide whether or not to play the game and at what time, as an example a person who runs counterspells in a deck will Be forced, in many occasions, to choose not to play the cards they need to resolve to win and hold removal for certain situations. Long before this issue becomes an concern please pay attention to the no-fun styles such as stax which is the "you cant do anything" style of gameplay while the person who is doing the stax deck can do everything because their deck is built around not caring for those abilities or the deck that is mainly there to destroy lands. My main point is i do not consider the ban of flash as an option its just another style of play.
September 23, 2019 6:53 p.m.
LordBlackblade An interesting suggestion, and while I could get behind that, I would have to point out that it would be adding conditional clauses that only have an effect in a minority of formats. It might show up on something printed straight into Commander, but in a regular set, I doubt it.
September 23, 2019 7:33 p.m.
berryjon: thats an absurd request. you never mentioned mono black (or mono colored anything for that matter) until now. if you want to play a mono colored deck while full well knowing its weaknesses, thats your own fault. there ARE black cards that can get rid of artifacts. i'm not looking them up for you. the "no dipping into other artifacts themselves" is just ridiculous. even mono black decks can use Universal Solvent .
there are also colorless nonartifact cards that can remove artifacts. Scour from Existence is artifact removal that meets your requirements of "no dipping into other colors or artifacts themselves". or you could use discard spells to pluck the Vedalken Orrery before it gets played.
by asking someone to show you black artifact removal, you're basically saying "if a mono color deck can't answer a thing, we should ban the thing". thats insane.
September 24, 2019 1:04 a.m.
Sarkhan9000X You too are missing the point. My point is that people like Liliana69X are taking the position that the only viable response to a problematic card should be to use that card itself, or dedicate disproportionate resources to removing it. That there is no alternative.
My counterpoint to that was that there are decks that can't run removal to certain problems because their colours don't have them. Or there's no room to dedicate to removing them. Cards that require an equal or greater response aren't good cards. They're cards that can warp the format, or at least the metagame around them. I picked black in this case partly because it was the best choice in this case, and because the commenter in question was using the Face'walker as their handle to help drive the point home.
September 24, 2019 10:55 a.m.
berryjon: that is blatantly false. im not missing the point, nor am i saying use a "disproportionate amount of resources" to remove it. almost EVERY commander deck uses artifacts, so EVERY commander deck should have artifact removal ANYWAY. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. don't care what your deck does or who your commander is. you should already know this. its not hard. if your colors don't have needed removal, add colors. you should not be running mono colored decks that cant answer a permanent type that EVERY commander deck has.
and no, "liliana69" did NOT choose their username for the sole purpose of "driving a point home".
if the card is so uber powerful, put it in your own deck and start winning games. its ONE card in 99, you're not copying a whole deck. or do what you should have been doing this entire time, and run artifact removal.
September 24, 2019 11:10 a.m.
I do not think Vedalken Orrery is that scary of a card, and certainty do not think that it is worthy of a ban. First and foremost, not every deck wants to run Vedalken Orrery . Orrery's main value comes from allowing you to leave mana open during your opponents' turns for counterspells or other instant-speed interactions, then, if you do not need to use instant-speed interaction, still having the opportunity to play permanents on the end step before your turn begins.
For that to really shine, you need a critical mass of instant-speed interaction. While Orrery still has some utility in decks that don't hit that critical mass--such as surprising someone with a blocker or sorcery removal--the added value it brings does not necessarily justify spending four mana, which is a high enough mana cost that you are quite possibly unable to play any other cards alongside Orrery.
Ultimately, Orrery is a powerful card, but it is not all that gamebreaking on its own right.
Seedborn Muse and Wilderness Reclamation are also powerful cards, yes, but I do not think they are banworthy either. For them to be effective, you need to either run an extremely large volume of instant-speed cards to take advantage of their benefits, or you need to run another enabler, such as Orrery, so you can play things at instant-speed. Unwinding Clock has the same issues as Seedborn Muse and Wilderness Reclamation , but also requires you to have fielded a whole host of artifacts, thus requiring additional build constraints. These are cards that are powerful if built-around, but they do require fairly significant build-arounds to make shine. As such, they are not worthy of bannings either.
Bear Umbra and Sword of Feast and Famine (which you did not mention) also require significant build-around to get to work. Sure, they go infinite with Aggravated Assault and some other cards--but that's not dangerous in their own right. Both cards require you to have a creature you can safely attack with, and, on their own, only get you one additional main phase worth of casting. That's strong, but it's not something that an opponent can't recover from.
For all of the above, I think it is reasonable for the Rules Committee to keep them in the game--they're powerful, but most require your deck to be built in a specific way or for you to dedicate slots to other cards. The RC has made it very clear that they don't want to limit players' options too much with bannings--they don't want to ban cards that require significant deck-building investments, but rather cards that, exclusively on their own with no other deckbuilding constraints, warp the format.
Which brings me to Prophet of Kruphix , which is "turbo banned." As I said above, Seedborn Muse only becomes really scary when you have Vedalken Orrery also in play. That's what makes Prophet worthy of a ban--it takes two different cards, each fine on their own, but devastating together, and mashes them into a single card. It can be slotted into almost any Green/Blue deck and automatically makes that deck better, without any consideration to other deckbuilding constraints.
TL;DR - Most of the cards listed as needing to be banned are powerful, but still need additional support before they are devastating. The only one on your list that should be banned is Prophet, and that's because it is both "power" and "additional support" all rolled into one card--which is precisely why it already is banned.
Still, while I disagree with your conclusions, as always I enjoyed reading your thoughts!
September 24, 2019 12:03 p.m.
Do me a favor. Grab one of your Commander decks at random, and tell me how much Artifact and Enchantment hate is in it. Then count how many artifacts are in it.
On my side, for my Thelon of Havenwood deck, I have Casualties of War , Status / Statue , Putrefy and Abrupt Decay . Yes, they can take out those cards, but that's not their primary use. Each of those also takes out Creatures, which is their primary use. In colours that are really good at taking out Creatures, Artifacts and Enchantment. As for my artifacts, Golgari Signet , Golgari Locket , Lifecrafter's Bestiary and Coat of Arms . None of which even come close to being cards that require dedicated removal. Not even a Sol Ring because it doesn't do what I need.
Well, I take that back with Coat of Arms . That can get overboard. Especially in a dedicated Tribal deck like that one.
My point stands. Cards that require a response are, by definition, format warping. Paradox Engine required a response because it was too powerful, and warping. So did the Prophet. And with those out, Vedalken Orrery is the next best thing, as you so cheerfully point out.
And as for my comment about mono-? You have it backward. I chose my example, not that person.
September 24, 2019 12:20 p.m.
Gate to Phyrexia and Phyrexian tribute are 2 black artifact removal cards, though both require sacrifices. Also withering boon is a black remove soul. Infernal reckoning might be useful against artifact creatures that are not colored, also otherwise black has a weakness to artifact and enchantment but not to players so the best removal of an artifact is to remove the player.
September 25, 2019 12:02 p.m.
While I appreciate the information, I have to wonder if two cards that show up so little as to be rendered as a rounding error can really support the point being made.
September 25, 2019 8:05 p.m.
berryjon: its none of your F'ing business how much artifact removal or artifacts i use. all my decks have plenty of both. your point does not remotely stand. have you even noticed that NOBODY here agrees with you? Vedalken Orrery is NOT format warping, as others have already pointed out. and i NEVER said it was the "next best thing". clearly, you need to work on your reading comprehension.
September 26, 2019 1:32 a.m.
Liliana9000x And that's all I needed. Welcome back. How was your latest ban?
On a different note, there will be no PR this week as Work has prevented me from getting the time to do more than about 1/3 of the article done by this time. It will be done for next week, as I have the weekend off.
September 26, 2019 8:44 a.m.
all you needed? so you're finally convinced you are WRONG? bout damn time you stupid fucktard. the dumbass admins are wasting their fucking time banning me and you're wasting your fucking time with your fucking articles. you type a lot without actually saying anything, and what little you do say is stupid as shit. for fucks sake you didnt even know that Prophet of Kruphix was ALREADY BANNED!! thats all the proof anyone needs you're a damn fool that should never be listened to.
September 26, 2019 11:42 a.m.
To me flash is not ever the issue as a mechanic, the card Flash is but that is for another time. The untap all lands mana advantage is almost always the problem, but once again it is not a problem that I would want any bannings to fix. True, flash can let people do some very powerful and wonky things but that is why we play interaction. In a group with 4 players who are worth their salt there will be 2-3 players holding something to try and stop an opponent from doing broken things, be it counterspells, instant speed removal, or on board hate pieces. This is not a 1v1 format and you should be able to reasonably assume that someone has something in hand if you don't.