I have a normal article that I’ve been wrangling with the ending of since last Friday (that will come out some time this week ), but the Banned and Restricted news was too interesting to pass up and the other piece isn’t time-sensitive, so here we are. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can check out the official LSS announcement. We’re going to look at this from a couple angles, but I’ll front load the financial stuff so we can spend the bulk of the piece on broader implications for the game.
DON’T BUY BANNED CARDS
Okay, maybe that’s a little strong, but seriously, when Drone of Brutality was banned, I thought I couldn’t be more on the nose than writing a piece called “Drone of Brutality is Banned. Stop Buying Drone of Brutality”. In that piece I said, buying these is a bad choice; I’m selling mine now. Then people bought like $1500 of foil alpha Drones from me which I’d be surprised if you could get $200 out of today. So, once more, I will say, don’t buy up a card because it is banned. I think CF Duskblade has some value by virtue of being a cold foil and by being a card that is legal in Blitz (for now), but it should be evaluated as having significantly less utility than other CF Majestics from the set and I expect prices to head that way after people finish vainly attempting to prop it up. In short, anyone telling you to buy a banned card because it’s now banned has some cards they’re trying to offload.
There are both positive and negative aspects to this decision, and I think it’s worth considering both. First Chane has been oppressive for some time now. Even if he didn’t win the Las Vegas Calling, he was heavily represented in the field and the Prism deck that won seems to have been designed with a mind towards making his life difficult. So, while he demonstrably wasn’t unbeatable, he was warping the format. LSS continues to tinker around with the retirement system for heroes, but I think it was pretty clear that most people thought Chane was going to continue to have an outsized influence on the meta long before a potential rotation addressed this problem, so a Chane-focused ban in Seeds feels like a recognition of a problem and an attempt to fix it. While not creating a problem in the first place is the ideal, I’ve never actually seen a popular CCG go for any real stretch of time without creating problem cards or decks. This is sort of an inevitability of any sufficiently complex CCG because your internal testing is never going to produce remotely as many games as the public will once they get ahold of a new set. So my primary interest is in how frequently issues crop up, followed by how proactive the game-maker is in attempting to fix them once they emerge. On that second element, this feels like a good response from LSS.
There is also a bit of a question of media narrative. With Tales of Aria releasing at the end of the week, this move could be seen as sort of clearing the table a bit so that we don’t see a new set drop while the competitive news remains centered squarely on Chane and the TOA heroes take a back seat. Magic has been dealing with that for much of the past year with the older powerhouse sets in Standard reducing interest in the newer cards. Doing your best to make sure that a new set has a meaningful impact on the meta is good for keeping things fresh for your players and driving interest in the game. Although, from the competitive players I’ve talked to, there is some belief that Oldhim could have a pretty strong anti-Chane built; that’s honestly not very exciting. It’s sort of a different form of Chane dictating the meta. And, ultimately, metas that funnel into a binary of “play X” or “play a deck that beats X” aren’t that interesting in my experience.
Since the day it was spoiled, I’ve seen near unanimous agreement that Duskblade was looking like a monster and the rich (in this case: Chane) were about to get richer. I assume that LSS has, at this point, ground out enough internal games to make the call that this is probably the case, and I think it’s better to admit the development mistake and axe Duskblade as opposed to watching the card’s price get driven up and then crash after a ban in another month or two. While I’m sure some people still got burnt on Duskblade right now, pretty much anyone who bought anything TOA since Las Vegas has overpaid, so I have a bit less sympathy, especially since it was exceedingly obvious that singles prices were going to come down across the board. The proactive ban protects people who realistically wouldn’t have a choice to but to buy a powerhouse card for the top Hero, if they wanted to play him in competitive constructed.
And Now For the Negatives
One sentence, more than anything else, stands out in this announcement to me “Unfortunately Duskblade was not subjected to the Classic Constructed testing process it should have been, particularly being a weapon that starts in play and influences every turn of the game.” My response to reading this was along the lines of “excuse me, what the fuck?” It is baffling to me that you could both make a conscious decision that you want Chane, coming out of Monarch, to be a Tier 1 deck, then add a powerful card for him in the following set and not test it thoroughly. That it is a weapon makes the choice doubly inexcusable as any card you are guaranteed to get access to from the start of the game should be a top focus for testing. As a long-time Magic player, who focused primarily on old formats with big card pools and minimal design support, I have experienced (quite a few times) new cards coming out and messing up established metas by skewing things hard; however, at least for Magic, at the time it was pretty commonly accepted that Wizards didn’t really care that much about Legacy and Vintage, whereas Classic Constructed is Flesh and Blood’s primary competitive format. So focusing on the TOA limited experience at the expense of the main ongoing format is odd.
The justification for the decision is also quite weird to me because LSS claims the card was added to the set for “for its flavour,” which, what? If flavor is that much of a priority, LSS has done a poor job of conveying it to the audience. I would bet you that fewer than 1 in 10 FAB players could tell you anything meaningful about Chane’s backstory. This is sort of a separate issue that I’ve discussed before, but the story of the game occurs largely off of the table via the short stories on the website and the unobtainable lore book. In one of my articles about Monarch’s use of flavor text , I posed the following challenge: “Without describing his physical appearance, what is Chane’s deal? What are his goals? What is he like as a person? How does he talk? What is he up to in the narrative? Why is Eclipse his Legendary? Realistically, you’ve probably got nothing here because the cards gave you nothing to work with beyond his character card. If you’re not doing supplemental reading, you really don’t have a clue about most of the heroes.” I still believe that only a small fraction of players could pass that challenge, and I do not blame them in the least for failing. If flavor is so important that a flavor inclusion can trump game balance, it is even more bizarre that Chane didn’t get a single line of flavor text in Monarch.
So, in summary, proactively admitting to and subsequently addressing mistakes is a thing I support. I would much rather see something like this than a company doing a “wait and see” while stale meta lingers for far too long (looking at you, Wizards of the Coast). However, the factors that apparently led to the Duskblade mistake are puzzling. Story is centered here as a justification, but I think the game has been fairly middling to bad so far at conveying its story on the actual cards, and I’m not sure simply naming a card Duskblade really does very much significant work advancing the story. Again, what can the average player tell you about Dawnblade beyond it being Dorinthea’s sword? I will happily acknowledge that even for games with more robust story-telling on the actual cards, a big portion of the player base doesn’t know the fine details of what’s going on in the narrative, and that’s fine, but FAB’s choices have historically felt extremely “gameplay first” (the inclusion of extensive reminder text at all rarities vs making space for more flavor text being a prime example), so I’m really just blindsided by the idea that a card like this could slide into a set late in development for story purposes.