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Examining the Fundamental Turn

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Full title: Examining the Fundamental Turn: Why Vengevine Should Have Been Banned Instead of Survival

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of "Fundamental Turn," the idea was originated by Zvi Mowshowitz. Essentially, it refers to the time a deck wins the game. This applies far more to proactive decks (aggro and combo) than others, but it does have applications for mid-range decks as well.

So, what is the purpose of Fundamental Turn? The idea of Fundamental Turn is the core of interactive Magic. If you are slower than your opponent, you must be able to interact with him in some profitable way before his Fundamental Turn; otherwise, you will lose. In other words, if you can't interact with your opponent before his Fundamental Turn, you might as well be a goldfish.

This results in two different kinds of Fundamental Turns: Fundamental Turn for decks, and Fundamental Turn for formats. So, how do we go from Fundamental Turn for decks (explained above) to Fundamental Turn for formats? Simple. The Fundamental Turn of the format is the same as the Fundamental Turn of its dominant deck. If there is no dominant deck, the Fundamental Turn of the format is the most common Fundamental Turn among its fastest decks.

Example:

Standard is dominated by Caw-Blade at the moment. Caw-Blade can set up a position where it has essentially won the game by turn four (this is the fastest it can be swinging with a Sworded guy, or it can have a Jace in play). Thus, the fundamental turn of Standard is turn four. Note that this is also generally the turn when mono-Red and Boros kill you.

So, when you are designing a deck, it is important to know what the Fundamental Turn of the format is. If you can't interact profitably before this point, your deck is not worth playing. There also is a second aspect to this: The longer you wait to interact (i.e., the closer you allow your first interaction to be to the Fundamental Turn), the stronger your disruption needs to be. Thus, if the Fundamental Turn of the format is turn four and your first interaction is on turn three, you'd better have a doozy of a spell at turn three.

So, how does this apply to Legacy?

Legacy's Fundamental Turn has historically floated at turn three, and that's where it is right now. Having such a low Fundamental Turn makes for a powerful, interactive format, but it can also lead to problems. Recent developments in the format illustrate this. Legacy has undergone what I see as two Fundamental Turn–related bannings recently: Mystical Tutor and Survival of the Fittest. I feel that one of these was good and one of these was bad.

Let's start with the good first: Mystical Tutor.

If you played builds of ANT and Reanimator with Mystical Tutor, you would understand why WotC banned this card. Mystical Tutor accelerated the Fundamental Turn of those two decks to very close to turn two. That was unhealthy for the format, since it would place Legacy's Fundamental Turn at turn two. Since you have to interact before the Fundamental Turn, this means that the only places to interact were at turns zero and one.

Even in Legacy, interaction at these two mana costs is very restrictive. The list is extremely short—Force of Will, Daze, Duress, Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Cabal Therapy. That's basically it for commonly played spells that interact at zero and one. So, what happens if we push the Fundamental Turn back a bit?

A large number of spells open up—Null Rod, Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist, Meddling Mage, Diabolic Edict, Counterspell, Counterbalance, Hymn to Tourach, just to name a few. If you have a bit of acceleration, 3-mana hate such as Trinisphere, Choke, Arcane Laboratory/Rule of Law, and similar nonsense open up as well. These cards and more are all easily capable of interacting with decks on turns one or two. This extra expansion in interactivity helps to control the format quite a bit, forcing dominant decks to fight through the extremely strong hate cards (many of which are located at 2 or 3 mana).

The DCI as a whole doesn't like to ban a deck out of existence unless it is absolutely necessary, which I believe is a good policy. However, ANT and Reanimator were perceived to be a problem, and thus the DCI set out to solve the problem. They hit upon the best solution: the banning of Mystical Tutor. Banning this card slowed both of these decks down enough to where their Fundamental Turn became turn three. Sure, they could go off sooner, but those draws were inconsistent at best.

Thus, by banning Mystical Tutor, the DCI introduced sufficient variance in its two target decks to push the Fundamental Turn back to turn three, which is where it should be for a healthy Legacy format. But what happened with the banning of Survival?

The problem for Legacy a few months ago was not Survival of the Fittest, but the interaction between Survival of the Fittest and Vengevine. This interaction created a situation where a Survival that stuck was basically game. The Survival player could simply pitch a bunch of Vengevines, and then play two Basking Rootwallas off of Survival. Even if neither Rootwalla resolved, the Vengevines would still come back and maul the opponent. Thus, the opponent needed to be able to stop Survival itself.

This effectively made the Fundamental Turn of Legacy turn two again (because Survival costs 2 to cast). A Fundamental Turn of two is problematic for the format, so something had to be done about Vengevine/Survival. The correct target of this banning was Vengevine, since, like banning Mystical, banning Vengevine leaves existing Survival strategies intact without making them overly broken.

But Wizards says they considered this option! They justified their banning of Survival by saying that existing strategies were using Survival to do powerful things.

News flash: This is Legacy; people do powerful things all the time.

Let's take a look at what the "other" major interactions with Survival were:

Pitch Iona or Emrakul to Reanimate them with Loyal Retainers.

Pitch Phyrexian Devourer and Triskelion to win with Necrotic Ooze.

Neither of these pushes Legacy's Fundamental Turn to two. Why? Because they both require an additional spell after Survival of the Fittest. The first requires Loyal Retainers, the second requires Necrotic Ooze. The fastest Loyal Retainers can reliably "go off" is turn three, and the fastest Necrotic Ooze can reliably go off is turn four. Neither of these is too fast for Legacy (at least as a baseline). Considering the Fundamental Turn of these decks, it is even possible for Knight of the Reliquary into Bojuka Bog to be a solution!

The fact of the matter is that the existing strategies and uses for Survival without Vengevine were likely fine. The format very well could have adjusted to them. The problem was that Vengevine gave Survival a realistic plan that just involved them resolving Survival and activating it, which is simply too much for Legacy.

Wizard's justification that Survival would have been a powerful card and continued to be pushed is a complete piece of bull. There are many powerful cards in Legacy—Dark Confidant, Umezawa's Jitte, Time Spiral, Show and Tell, Natural Order, Entomb, Reanimate, Grim Monolith, Aluren, Argothian Enchantress, Gaea's Cradle, and more all coexist in Legacy. Survival of the Fittest as a baseline is no different from many of these cards.

It is possible that eventually Survival would have needed to be banned, but that time was not a few months ago. At that point in time, Survival had not demonstrated it was the problem. The demonstrated problem was Vengevine plus Survival, and the DCI should have left the more powerful card intact. If at some point they felt it necessary to ban Survival, Vengevine could then come off the B&R list in the same announcement, as at that point it would no longer be necessary to have Vengevine on there.

Chingsung Chang

Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO

Khan32k5 at gmail dot com