Rich, an excellent post, as always. Very well constructed, and considered.
Before addressing things, I'd like to just point out that I believe there was a fundamental change in philosophy back in January 2015, when we saw the restriction of Treasure Cruise. Treasure Cruise was exceptionally powerful as a four-of, but this was the first major domino to fall in this chain that continues on today. First Treasure Cruise, then Dig Through Time, then Chalice of the Void, then Lodestone Golem, then Gush and Probe were restricted, and I don't think any of us think we're done.
From the June 2009 restriction of Thirst for Knowledge through the January 2015 restriction of Treasure Cruise, we had a format that was defined by new printings and unrestrictions, not restrictions. It is my personal opinion that the metagame probably reached its apex around 2012, when Martello Shops, Grixis Control, Oath of Druids, Dredge, Delver, and several other decks were all serious players capable of adjusting for, and winning, any given event. I know that this was probably around the last time that I had a lot of fun playing the format.
Was Treasure Cruise too good? It was clearly very powerful, but this is a format of powerful cards. I was not one of the voices campaigning for restriction, because I was concerned for two reasons:
The axe that cut down Treasure Cruise could certainly come back to hit my pillar.
While the stated desire was clear, it was impossible to know the actual effect of the restriction.
I am a peacenik in general, and this bleeds into other areas of my life. What I define as fun is not necessarily something that others may enjoy, and I both respect that and understand that they should not be coerced to live in a world where they must conform to my standards of fun. I thoroughly hated Blightsteel Colossus, I didn't enjoy being Vault/Key'd, I loathed how little I could do against Dredge (while operating within Mishra's confines), and I had a deep-seated loathing specifically for Oath of Druids.
I had difficult problems thrown at me, and I adjusted. I worked with Forino a lot, and we worked together in building decks that addressed those problems as best we could. Having something new thrown at you, reacting, and throwing something back at them was much of the fun in playing the game.
The philosophy change, in believing that restrictions are the path towards a healthier metagame, has robbed me of much of this enjoyment. I did not celebrate when Cruise, or Dig, got hit because I knew that my time would come. As we reflect on the metagame now, I believe that we're coming back to that point again. Will Mentor be restricted? Will Misstep? Will Thorn? Will Workshop? Who knows?
The point is, before we start thinking about what's going to happen next, shouldn't we be asking ourselves if we're even using the right tools to get us to the balance that we claim to be looking for? Is the metagame better now for having had all the restrictions we've had in the last two and a half years? To reiterate, I don't think any of us think we're done here. I think we all think that more restrictions are coming.
There are many things that factor into attendance at an event. I have more than 15 years worth of experience as a tournament organizer for this format to know that.
I swear I'm not puffing my chest here, but the N.Y.S.E. Open is a lot of work, and a lot of risk. There were several salient issues with N.Y.S.E. Open IV, most notably the interminable heat at the venue. I know that I lost some number of players for the event this year because of that issue last year. The number of players who travel long distances to the event is considerable. I know that many of the attendees leave very early in the morning, play all day, have dinner with friends afterward, and then have a long drive home ahead of them. Sometimes it's a bridge too far for those who would otherwise have been interested. The entry fee for the event is considerable, even if the prize support, giveaways, staffing, and venue all warranted it (and, sadly, should have warranted more) this year.
I sincerely believe that a major factor in us having lost 27 players, going from 157 to 130 (all while having eight players make the trip from Spain - which effectively means we lost 35 players from last year before we start accounting for other first timers who make up for those who decided not to play this year) players from one year to the next is the state of the format. I'd rather not speak of my own personal disenchantment with the state of things. It should be noted that the state of the format has very real effects on tournament organizers, vendors, judges, staff, et al in addition to showing distorted top eights. This is how you drive players away from the format, and how you hurt the format in deeper ways.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that "my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins". My definition of joy in this format is not yours, as yours is not mine. But weren't we supposed to live and let live? Are we in a better place now than we were just a few years ago? When does this end?
If we're operating under the paradigm that we fully know what restrictions are going to do to the format (which is foolish, because none of us can say with authority that we do; we can watch, and wait, and see), then yes, Monastery Mentor and Mental Misstep should be restricted. But what happens then? If Workshops continue doing what they're doing, they will be hit again. Then what? Thorn? Sphere? Shop itself? And what does the format look like when a combo deck like Paradoxical Outcome has seen its most serious enemies nerf'd? Will we have hit the point where we took a balanced metagame, and turned it into the coin flip format that we should never want to see?
I'd much rather see us start peeling back some of the restrictions, and seeing what could be done to get us back to where we were. Maybe Gush never should have come off the restricted list. In a world where Chalice of the Void and Lodestone Golem are restricted, using the paradigm that restrictions can be used with foreknowledge as to what will happen, I see no reason why Gush should be unrestricted.
Some iteration of this fight has been going on for a long, long, long time. I know the world I live in, I think I have a pretty good handle on the landscape ahead. I don't like what I see. I believe that a misguided, albeit well-meaning, few are taking us down a path we would have done best to never trod.
With work being what it is for me, and everything else in my life up in the air right now, I have no idea when I'll play again, or if I've played my final match. Vroman was a hero from afar for me, and I remember how he just kind of disappeared. I top eight'd the last event I played in, back in April, and, like every event I've played in of recent memory, I remember wanting to go home nearly the entire time. This was an uncommon rejoinder from me back in 2012.
I sold my Moxen a few weeks ago, I sold my Lotus last weekend, I'm selling my Shops soon. I'll keep the core of my collection, so that I can power up again and play when I want to, but when is that going to be? I feel like others have been pushed away from the format because of the decisions that have been made regarding the B&R list. While work constraints certainly preclude me from playing as often as I could, I've had the option to buy into MODO and play more often, and I haven't felt like it. I would like to think that I'm going to come back to playing at some point in the next few years, perhaps in some limited fashion, and that I'll feel the draw to compete at a high level, and not just show up at events and occasionally embarrass myself with bad plays. If I'm going to come back and play like I did at Champs last year, or Waterbury this year, there's really no reason to come back and play at all.
To try and get back on point, and wrap this up, I'd just ask that people really think deeply about when Vintage really was balanced in the last few years. Maybe we could start taking steps back towards a metagame where players could play with more of their cards, and we weren't looking to just hit everything that ran well for a while, but looked to develop new strategies to combat new problems. Everything in life isn't a nail, and we have more tools at our disposal than a hammer. Terra Nova was built as a rebuke to a comment that no new innovations were possible in Shops until new cards were printed, or new restrictions/unrestrictions took place. Maybe before we take away someone's right to play their cards we can go to the drawing board and work towards addressing the problems at hand in new, unseen ways. This current philosophy is exhausting, and awful for the long-term health of the format.