Should FOW bring the EU bans to the United States? (J-ruler.net Guest Article)
Should Force of Will bring the EU bans to the United States (and the rest of the world)? The short answer is “yes.” While I’m certain that you’ve either nodded your head in agreement with that statement or thrown me the middle finger through your screen, the fact remains that banning Pricia, True Beastmaster, Griphon Racing Across Darkness, and Captain Hook, the Pirate is vital. Issues such as game balance, uniformity, and other secondary concerns could unhinge the game if not properly cared for. It is imperative that Force of Will Co., Ltd. quickly implement these card bans across the world for the reasons I will now enumerate. With each of these arguments I will address popular counter arguments and rebut them. Let’s dive in.
The single most salient factor in this card banning disucssion is that of game balance. Ideally, the designers of a trading card game aim for a play environment that is not lopsided toward any one strategy. While a handful of strategies are likely to emerge as dominant, it is undesirable from the point of view of a balanced game to have just one or two “top decks” that cannot be consistently beaten by other strategies. (This, of course, assumes an equal skill level on part of the participants and issue we shall address shortly.) If a trading card is to be balanced, every single card printed (or in the current format, at least) must be equilibrated in terms of resource cost and effect. This means that if even one card breaks this cost:blanace ratio, it contributes to a possibly dominant and unbeatable strategy.
The Nine-Tailed Fox, an Object Lesson
To illustrate the compounding problems of unbalanced cards, let’s consider the ruler everyone loves to hate: The Nine-Tailed Fox. The ruler itself is plenty powerful. Pulling resonators from your side deck is a useful ability in anyone’s book. And certainly so if the resonators you can reach for are some of the beefiest in the format. Sure, you have to make sacrifices to use The Nine-Tailed Fox’s effect. But is the cost really balanced with the effect. It certainly is not in terms of Griphon, Racing Accross Darkness. Look at this way: you sacrifice two “ingredient” resonators and a killing stone for a 1200/1200 flying resonator that nets you two magic stones. In this equation, you trade two resonators and a magic stone for another resonator and two magic stones. This puts you one turn ahead in terms of resource production. (And possibly two turns ahead, because if you’re smart, you already spent the will from the Killing Stone you sacrifice to Fox’s effect.) Enter Demonic Dead. With this resonator in your graveyard, you essentially halve the resonator cost of Fox’s effect (since you can bring Demonic Dead into your field again and again to use as one of your “ingredients”.) So now, the equation looks like this: sacrifice one resonator and one Killing Stone for a resonator and two magic stones. Start to see a problem? Add to this that this deck has the attributes to access cards like Severing Winds and Faerur’s Spell with 100% consistency in terms of will production and you have yourself a statistically unbeatable deck. That’s a problem.
Should It Have Been Griphon or Demonic Dead?
With the scenario that I’ve just illustrated, an argument could be made for either Griphon, Racing Across Darkness or Demonic Dead as being the major problem in the Fox equation. Which one should have received the ban? While many will disagree with me, I think it would have worked just as well either way. With Griphon gone, the player cannot out-ramp the opponent to victory. If Demonic Dead were banned, the player could not so easily access Griphon (or the other Chimeras.) Either way, Griphon is the card that gets stopped or slowed down.
What About Pricia and Captain Hook?
Pricia, True Beastmaster is just plain broken. No one, no one, in their right mind would say that a 1000/1000 body that recycles fresh magic stones when it enters the field or attacks for a total cost of two will is balanced. No one in their right mind would say that a card that could OTK for four will is balanced. Pricia had to go. She was the most poorly designed card in all of Lapis Cluster, and we’re not sorry to see her hit the bricks. Captain Hook, the Pirate was banned because in the absence of The Nine-Tailed Fox and Pricia, True Beastmaster, Lumia, the Fated Rebirth becomes the dominant, unbeatable deck. The Lumia player can re-trigger Captain Hook’s effect over and over again, wiping the opponent’s magic stones and locking them out of the game. While this is true in theory, it can be difficult in practice. I’m not convinced that banning Captain Hook was necessary. While we lost some counters to this card when Alice Cluster rotated out of New Frontiers (I’m looking at you Prison in the Lunar Lake), we’ve gained access to several more. Consider Dawn of the Earth, Keez’s Call, and the infamous Abdul Alhazred, Poet of Madness. I think they could have held off on the Captain Hook ban until it could be conclusively proven to be a major problem. But overall, it’s not a move that I think will upset the balance of the game, cripple Lumia in any meaningful way, or turn players off.
Should any Other Cards Have Been Banned?
Severing Winds should have also seen the ax. While the effect is a good and possibly even necessary one at it’s core, the card is too lopsided on the effect side of the cost:effect ratio. If Severing Winds only reduced its cost by  instead of WW if your opponent had played two or more spells, or perhaps gave your opponent 1,000 life points or some such, it would have been well designed. But this card has proved a menace and a game-stopper. No card should be so pervasive as to totally alter the structure of play for fear of its presence. I recall having stated in a previous article/video that I thought that Severing Winds was balanced. But let me admit here to all of you that I’ve come to change my mind on this card.
Another major issue with the EU card bans is uniformity. It’s improper to have a trading card game that has different rules for different regions. All regions of the world, under the banner of a single game, should follow the same rules. Period. All regions of the world play in local and regional events to work their way toward a single objective in terms of competitive play: the World Grand Prix. That WGP will play by a single set of rules that should also be consistent with the rules used and implemented by the various regions. What sense does it make to have some cards banned in the EU and not elsewhere? Force of Will Co., Ltd. has done something like this before with the Wanderer format. The cards that are now banned (worldwide, mind you) in Wanderer were once only banned in that format in Europe. The company used Europe as a sort of testing ground, and when satisfied with the results, implemented the bans elsewhere. This desire to take a careful and deliberate approach to card bans in commendable. But that’s what your R&D team is for. Keep the testing in house, take your time, carefully consider and debate the issues, and when the time comes, announce a worldwide ban, errata, un-ban, or rules change. This makes the company look more professional and capable. The last thing this game needs is a slap-happy, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to something as major as card bans.
The Real Customers of Force of Will
The most frequent counter argument to banning any card goes a little something like this: “Get gud scrub!” “lol you just mad cuz you suck” “Build a better deck, n00b” etc. etc. These statements are bullshit. If the cards being banned are so mathematically superior to other cards in print, or their interactions with certain other cards are so intrinsically powerful that other cards or card interactions cannot counter them, then where is no conceivable way that you can “get gud” or not “suck.” Think of it this way: I get a semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun and you get a baseball bat. We’re expected to fight to the death. If you complain that my armaments are “superior” and “unbeatable” in our current meta, my reply is to “get gud” and stop complaining. If you can’t win, it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough. Could you beat me? Sure. It is likely. Not at all. What these “arguments” tend to forget (or fail to mention) is that the typical trading card game player is not a competitive player. The typical Force of Will player has never been to a Grand Prix. And probably will never go to one. The typical player doesn’t spend six hours a day (or even six hours a week) playing the game. And while you might label these people (including perhaps your dear author) a “n00b” and a “scrub,” they as a group spend the most money on the game. For every Top-8 GP contender there are tens of thousands of average players. These are the real audience for the game. While card bans might piss off a few people at the top of the pecking order, they aim to ameliorate the concerns of the masses. If a few top players end up quitting over a round of bans, so be it. Others will take their place and the game will be healthier overall for it. The company knows this (or has learned this over time) and is no longer catering to the top-level while ignoring the true economic powerhouse behind the game: the casuals.
Bring the EU Bans to the US
Should the company bring the EU bans to the US? Yes. Yes. And YES. For the reasons I’ve given hear and for those many that I’m sure to have overlooked. Let me close by again saying that in a perfect world, there would be no reason for card bans. Each and every card would be designed in such a way as to make their cost:effect ratio perfectly balanced. Not only perfectly balanced in and of themselves, but in relation to every other card in print. (A feat that by definition becomes geometrically more difficult to more cards are printed.) We don’t live in that perfect world. And we never will. Card bans are a necessary part of trading card games. Mistakes happen. I look forward to seeing the recent round of card bans implemented very soon worldwide and the attendance numbers at the local stores in my area increase.