Arguing With Myself: To Ban or Not to Ban

Written by iPhrank on July 17, 2018

Arguing With Myself: To Ban or Not To Ban

The printing of Deathrite Shaman can be viewed in one of two ways: A useful tool for non-blue decks to use to fight against the most dominant strategy in Legacy at the time, or an egregious mistake on the behalf of Wizards of the Coast. Gitaxian Probe is in a unique situation where that card is ubiquitously hated in it’s poor design and overwhelming power. It’s quite interesting to look at these cards and wonder why they got banned and look at how, maybe, it was correct or incorrect for WotC to do so. However, I’m far more interested in starting the conversation than anything else, so today we’ll be analyzing the power level of each card and letting you draw conclusions.

A large amount of the questions surrounding this ban have been about how it will effect Legacy. Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe being integral parts in many decks, and sometimes together! Let’s not Sneak Attack the elephant in the room: Grixis Delver used to be the most important, most powerful, and most consistent deck in the room. Now however, I believe things have begun to shake up for the better, however, there’s been a lot of shaking, and I don’t know if it’s for the better yet. Though, that is neither here nor there(yet..).


One of the most powerful effects in Magic is drawing a card. Conversely, another of Magic's most powerful effects is “hand destruction”. Thoughtseize and Reach Through Mists are excellent examples of cards that do very different things for similar costs that are trying to accomplish the exact opposite of the other. I don’t need to explain why Reach Through Mists is bad, however, I will explain why Thoughtseize is good which may help you see why Gitaxian Probe took the axe, because as weird as it sounds, Probe is both..


Dead memes aside, knowledge is the single most important thing to have not only in all of Magic, but more specifically, Eternal formats such as Legacy. This is because knowing what your opponent is playing and being able to play around or play through them, as well as knowing when the “shields are down” is highly important when it comes to decision making. Thoughtseize mitigates this issue by allowing you to view your opponent's hand and come to a reasonable conclusion as to what they’re playing on Turn 1, rather than spending the remainder of turns 2-X to find out what your opponent is actually playing. On top of the free information, the disruption this card allows is through the roof. For B and 2 life you may look at your opponent's hand, take their best card at the time and place it in the graveyard. This allows you to play cards that are otherwise sub-optimal or force your opponent to have to waste MORE of their cards and resources attempting to recoup the loss of their card. Now that we’ve gone over the surface of Knowledge, let’s see why Gitaxian Probe is one of the most egregious designs of a card ever put into Magic.

Gitaxian Probe

Proven time, and time again, blue cards floors can only be so low as blue cards when considering all the support they garner when playing eternal formats. Gitaxian Probe, at surface level, is not a very powerful card. It’s 2 Life/U and Peak. This seems innocuous, because Peak was and is not a very powerful card at 1 mana and having the advantage of instant speed. Probe does offer something that Force of Will and Show and Tell have proven is very good: Circumventing mana costs is good. At 0 mana(2 life), Gitaxian Probe allows for you to play a 56 card deck while also allowing cards to pitch to Force of Will, and being similar toThoughtseize+Reach Through Mists. You see, once you know every card in your opponent's hand, and, if you’re knowledgeable enough, their deck, it’s hard to take a line that loses you the game.

“The bigger the skill gap in players, the more Gitaxian Probe looks like Thoughtseize”. ~Jinete_Del_Viento

People often misunderstand Probe as simply a card that JUST replaces itself, or is just to “‘make sure my combo is good”, and while it indeed does do that, it is so much more.

Deathrite Shaman

There is not much to say about Deathrite, as most of the community and most of Magic players understand why it’s good and why it needed a ban, so I’ll keep this short. A planeswalker printed at 1 mana with it’s abilities at instant speed… Hmmm… I have a feeling this is going to be a good card. However, it was not just the specifics of this card, it was the entirety of its makeup. It’s a 1/2 with hybrid mana PLUS all those effects! On top of this, it’s a relevant creature typing in elf. It’s an extremely “pushed” card. Seeing play across Modern for a brief period before its ban and Legacy for a long time, Deathrite Shaman has always been problematic.its design was clearly intended to be to fight spell based strategies, but instead, all it did was fuel them while supplementing the non-blue decks. However, it wasn’t until we got to two points that it became a serious issue: 1) This Monstrosity, and 2) Homogeneity.

Thoughts from the Peanut Gallery:

It’s at this time, before the conclusion, that I would like to show one of the most common arguments to the banning(s), before I offer the conclusion.


So, as of July 2nd, Legacy has received a massive shakeup in the form of two bannings: Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe both banned. For the most part, what I’ve seen of the communities response to the update has been positive. Most everyone seems very happy with the shake up the format’s getting and very few people seem sorry to see these cards go. However, I’m not convinced that these updates are what the format needs, at least not both of them. I suppose the most sensible way to format this is take each card by itself and explain my thoughts that way, so I guess I’ll do that.

Deathrite Shaman:

Deathrite is the banning I have very little issue with, so it makes most sense to start here, and that’s for a couple of reasons.

The most pressing reason for me personally was covered in Wizards’ announcement, with the key point being made here:

“Over time, we’ve seen a reduction in diversity of blue-based non-combo decks, with what were once more differentiated aggressive, midrange, and controlling archetypes condensing into a similar core of the strong cards”

This has always been my biggest issue with Deathrite. To me, Legacy is fantastic because of its variety, both at a combo/control/midrange/aggro level and within those archetypes. A card like Deathrite Shaman does large amounts of work to reduce this variety. The “core” of a fair blue deck moves from 12 cards (Force of Will, Brainstorm and Ponder) to 16 cards with Deathrite, as it’s very difficult to justify not running Deathrite unless you have a very good reason not to, with Miracles being the only deck that fits this criteria. This stagnation of what’s viable as a fair deck is bad for format health and leads to gameplay being stagnant with “Deathrite mirrors” being entirely too normalised. Archetypes like UWR Delver and Esper Stoneblade almost disappeared entirely, because there wasn’t a reason to run them over their Deathrite-based cousins.

The second reason for Deathrite, which links very much into the prior point, is how efficiently it removed more fringe archetypes from being viable competitively. Decks such as Canadian Thresh and Goblins both suffered massively under the boot of a mighty 1/2 that blocks Goblin Lackey while at the same time cutting down Nimble Mongoose’s size and decreases the efficiency of the mana denial plan of both decks.

Finally, and possibly the most easily seen reason, the format’s best decks ran the card. At time of writing, Grixis Delver sits at a little over 12% of the metagame, and Czech pile is just below it at a hair over 11%. Combined, these 4-colour Deathrite shells make up almost a quarter of the meta game, even without adding in the Deathblade or BUG variants of the “fair Deathrite deck”.

To me, this sort of dominance for archetypes without any viable predator decks is a clear sign something needed to be changed.

Gitaxian Probe:

And here is where I’m gonna lose a lot of people, I assume. I wholeheartedly disagree with the banning of Probe, and that mainly comes down to the fact I disagree with the reason they banned the card. In the words of the B&R update article:

“While Gitaxian Probe’s impact on the Legacy environment hasn’t necessarily reached a boiling point, it is a strong contributor to the success of many of the most popular decks. Because of the negative influence Gitaxian Probe has on gameplay…”

My issue with this is that they’re not banning Probe based on it’s impact on the format, they’re banning Probe because they dislike the design of the card, they dislike the way it plays in game, and that to me sets a very dangerous precedent. I’ve never agreed with the “Ban on principle” ideology, especially in Legacy, because what people find fun is so wildly different from person to person. It’s very easy to justify a card like Probe, but cards such as Counterbalance, Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon and Wasteland could easily be justified as bans because of their “negative influence on gameplay”. This banning just feels too little to do with the health of the format and too much with Wizards’ personal preference on how games should play, and with the severe lack of archetypes like Prison and Combo(I’d count Marvel & Saheeli Cat if they weren’t horribly balanced and super banned)in Standard, this sort of format cultivation should be extremely worrying for anyone invested in Legacy.


Both of these cards are egregious errors on the behalf of Wizards, but only one needed to be banned. Legacy is a format dominated by blue cards. Non-creature based spells and strategies that don’t require creatures to win or finish the games. Deathrite Shaman is meant to be an answer against these strategies and fight and/or punish these top tier decks for being constructed the way they are. However, it was such an efficient tool at doing this that the blue decks simply adopted him since he was easy to splash AND made any color of mana anyway. On the other end of the spectrum, Gitaxian Probe was never an acceptable design(along with all the other Phyrexian Mana cards). It allowed for Combo decks to play around all possible interaction at no extra cost to them while being a net-zero in total cards. Allowing these already consistent/cantrip-heavy decks to play at 56 cards at 0 deck building costs. Besides, how bad can a blue spell be with Force of Will and Brainstorm around?

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by SubZeroEffs on 2018-07-18 12:38 CET

Yugioh banned Upstart Goblin becuase it allowed a consistent 37 card deck so I can see that line of thought on the ban. I never understood banning Probe because of the information it gives because in the matchups where that information matters the most a skilled player should be respecting the hand of the opponent anyway, hance why Vines and Blossoming are ran in Infect. Probe being basically free was a problem in the arena of tempo though and a bit unfair. Street Wraith also lets you draw a card for 2 life but it does not let you see the hand. The information is only fair in this respect if it costs you tempo in the form of having to pay 1 mana. Probe for U would be incredibly fair as we saw with the Peek example. I honestly believe that the real argument for banning Probe falls in the arena of unfair tempo advantages and not in the information it gives. Nice article.

by Jinete_dV on 2018-07-22 15:19 CET

by Jinete_dV on 2018-07-22 15:21 CET

Probe doesn't give tempo on it's own, unless you also include delve cards. But it's the combination of being free (doesn't cost a card or mana) and giving perfect information that makes it a little too good...

SubZeroEffs you completely undersold the importance of free info when you said "in the matchups where that information matters the most a skilled player should be respecting the hand of the opponent anyway".

by Jinete_dV on 2018-07-22 15:25 CET

by GreenBear on 2018-07-31 21:19 CET

So the bigger the skill gap between players the more gixtian probe looks like a card that is not banned in any format or ever been talked about being banned in any format. So the more skilled a player is the worse gixtain probe is for him... as it functions as a less powerful card...

And please do explain why reach through mists is bad because i bet you cant.

The difference between reach and opt is scry 1 tiny difference, thoughtscour putting 3 cards in bin, its not the best option out there, but its far from bad.

In what context is it bad? Kami block? Modern? Because in the time of kami block it was actually pretty good. It was even played in modern ur breach, as you could splice through the breach onto it. I dont't think you actually understand the power of efficient card draw.

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