Why Dreadhorde Arcanist Had to Go

February 21, 2021

4 minute read

Max Gilmore

I've listened to a ton of podcasts this past week, and the sentiment echoed by very good Magic players who haven't played Legacy in some time is a confusion as to why got banned, as it's a 2-mana creature that needs to untap to do anything, and it dies to every removal spell under the sun.

In my opinion, this ban was the 100% correct decision. is closer to than it is to .

When your opponent plays , you need that removal spell ready to go, and you need your opponent to not have countermagic for that removal spell (or at least, have your own countermagic to push the removal through). If you successfully remove it before it attacks, great! You're at card parity, and probably up 1 mana in the exchange. Let's hope your opponent doesn't have a backup in their hand.

In every case where you didn't successfully remove the in that one turn window, your opponent is now able to cast a free or every turn and ensure that when you do find a removal spell, it isn't going to resolve. In fact, nothing you do is going to matter much, as your opponent has now successfully run away with the game in card advantage, card selection, and mana advantage. Repeatedly Forcing removal spells (made possible by to complement ) isn't card disadvantage since recuperates the pitched card every turn.

Saying draws you an extra card every turn is an understatement. The difference between drawing an extra card every turn and what does is the difference between and a hypothetical 1UU flash 2/1 that says "ETB: Draw a card."

also provides a subtle mana advantage that either isn't noticed or is glossed over for some reason. is a card rightfully on the Legacy banlist, and that is a creature that also dies to everything under the sun. Much like , the mana advantage is only a part of why the card is so busted, but it's an important factor. In a format where mana is so optimized that is a defining card, an otherwise powerful card that incidentally puts you up on mana can cross the line into "busted."

has the "limited bomb" effect of when you play it, the game now instantly revolves around it. While Legacy has a fair amount of cards like that, there is usually a cost for playing them. requires you to put a pile of uncastable cards in your deck, for instance. only requires you to play cards that you should be playing anyway. Going back to my initial analogy of being close to (where if you untap with it, you essentially win the game) might have been unfair. requires you to fill your deck with stuff like , , and some random win condition (probably ), while doesn't.

Moving away from the "fair deck vs. fair deck" dynamic, also had a warping effect on deck viability. If a combo deck couldn't win before the untapped, then it essentially couldn't win anymore. This meant that combo decks all had to be constructed in their most all-in and least interactive builds. An exception to this, that "proves the rule," was the grindy version of that I top 8'd a Legacy Showcase Qualifier with. How did I pull off building a grindy combo deck? I played my own s! Belgian Infect master Fenruscloud (Sam Dams) did the same thing with Infect, splashing red solely for .

Even if wasn't actually winning a banworthy amount of games, nothing I just outlined is generally considered good gameplay. Classically, good gameplay comes down to interesting back-and-forths where players are motivated to pick the most opportune spots to attempt to stick their high-impact threats. removed that. When jamming your 2 mana creature has the upside of winning the game if you untap, and the downside of your 2 mana creature getting answered, the scales are tipped so far into the "jam" side of the cost-benefit analysis that it's foolish to wait. Javier Dominguez wrote a great article in the middle of 2020 about how cantripping in Legacy changed. A Turn 1 used to be the sign of someone who didn't understand how to properly maximize the value of the card. In 2020, it just meant that the caster understood that the upside of finding Turn 2 with backup was more important than "maximizing" the itself.

With out of the format, hopefully play patterns shift back to a place where the decision of whether or not to jam a spell becomes meaningful, and the right answer might sometimes be to wait. While we're only a week into the format, so far, it looks like it has.