Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Should Self-Assembler Be Banned in Standard Pauper?

We’re only a few weeks into the format, but some players are already calling for a ban of the card that has proven to be one of the strongest from Kaladesh: Self-Assembler. In response to these requests, rremedio, one of the co-hosts from SPDC, created this post over on the Standard forums on pdcmagic.com to allow players to discuss this issue. I already responded briefly over there, but today I want to offer a bit more explanation.

First, though, an important caveat. Our Standard Pauper Player Run Events, and by extension the entire format, is bigger than me. It’s bigger than the three of us who hosts these events. It’s a format that belongs to the great community that has grown up around it. While I may write blog posts, publish articles and videos, and host events, that doesn’t mean that my word is the final say. Ultimately, the decision on whether or not to ban any card will always come down to a decision made by the community, for the community, doing what is best for the format – all other things being equal, of course.

So with that out of the way, here are my thoughts on Self-Assembler:

Why does Wizards of the Coast ban cards? Here’s their explanation:

One key to the continued health of Magic is diversity. It is vitally important to ensure that there are multiple competitive decks for the tournament player to choose from. Why? If there were only a single viable deck to play, tournaments would quickly stagnate as players were forced to either play that deck or a deck built specifically to beat it. In addition, different players enjoy playing different types of decks. If there are plenty of viable options to play, there will be more players at more tournaments. …

Cards are usually banned from play if they enable a deck or play style that heavily skews the play environment. What does that mean? If the card were legal, a competitive player either must be playing it, or must be specifically targeting it with his or her own strategies.

Some cards are banned because they have proven to simply be too powerful in their respective format. While hundreds of hours are spent rigorously playtesting sets before their release, the complexity of Magic makes it nearly impossible to accurately predict all the ways the new cards interact with older ones.

Essentially then, Wizards will consider banning a card if one or more of these factors are true:
  1. It leads to one deck being the clear best choice no matter what other people are playing. 
  2. It skews the metagame such that every deck is either playing it or is specifically designing their deck to counter that card.
  3. It is simply too powerful in comparison to other cards in the format.
So does Self-Assembler fit any of these three criteria?

For the first, taking a quick look at the winning decks from the past three weeks, it is clear that there is still plenty of diversity in the metagame. There is not a single deck that is consistently beating the rest of the field. It is NOT the case then that one deck has become the clear best choice due to Self-Assembler.

For the second, it is the case that almost every deck is now playing Self-Assembler. It isn’t unreasonable to say that whichever player gets the first copy of this card into play the earliest gains a significant advantage. At this point, however, this has not resulted in decks that are skewed towards only beating this card. Additionally, the fact that Self-Assembler is colorless means that there is very little cost to including it in just about any deck, so while this DOES meet the second criterion, it would be a mistake to give this too much weight.

For the third, Self-Assembler on its own merits is just a vanilla 4/4 for 5. By itself, this would be fringe playable at best. The only reason this card is so good is the fact that it lets you search out a copy of itself when it enters the battlefield until you’ve pulled every copy out of your Library. While this effect is very strong, I would not argue that its power level is vastly higher than other cards in the format. This isn’t clear cut, but in my opinion Self-Assembler is NOT too powerful in comparison to the rest of the Standard Pauper cardpool.

At the end of the day, the best argument for not banning Self-Assembler is the fact that it does not actually lead to less diversity in the format. This card fits into a wide variety of archetypes and colors. It probably is too slow and expensive for a very aggressive deck, but should comfortably fit into either midrange or control. It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of Treasure Cruise as far as powerful level, but doesn’t force you to play any particular archetype or even color to include it in your deck. In fact, I would argue that its worse than Treasure Cruise, simply because it doesn’t actually help you dig for specific answers in your deck, but only gives you more vanilla 4/4s, which, depending on the situation, may not be at all what you need to actually win the game.

As such, I do not support banning Self-Assembler, at least not at this time.

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