Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever

This is far more fundamental than the introduction of planeswalkers, though. That new card type caused problems because all the old cards which were valued based on how they interacted with other card types now had to be totally re-evaluated. And Planeswalkers did not change a fundamental core rule of Magic, namely, the starting hand size and variance.

If we had enough competitive companions with enough diverse but competitive deck-building restrictions, maybe. This would be a very different game, though. All of Magic becomes Elder Dragon Tinyleaders Brawl or whatever. Is that fun? Maybe?

Let's be fair and think of the positives first. I'm assuming a world with dozens of competitive companions.

  1. Potentially more format diversity. Assuming the top tier companions don't overlap, you could have less decks starting with the same core of a dozen or so cards.

  2. Less variance. If you want Magic to play like chess, well, here's a pretty awesome way to cut out variance and ensure that the best player will win more often.

  3. More deck identity. Again, assuming the companions are diverse enough, your deck now has a mascot. It's like in EDH where your deck is this particular Legend, which is a fun way to play.

  4. Wizards has broken the mold for ways to avoid causing problems and avoid the Reserve List Policy while still printing cards allowing people to play in Vintage and Legacy. Specifically, you can now make cards mutually exclusive with existing Reserved cards as a mechanic. Let's say you have a Companion that allows your ETB lands to enter untapped but you cant play with OG duals. Stuff like that. Or even direct cards: New Mox Jet that isn't even a companion but can't be played in a deck with other copies of itself or the original Mox Jet.

There's some definite bad effects, too.

  1. Until you get a critical mass of good companions, format diversity is going to sink. Everyone will be playing with the best companion and decks will limit the cards they use. (Hey Lurrus)

  2. Variance is part of what keeps the game exciting. I know people don't like a coin flip, but the ability for a less-skilled player to occasionally win anyway is what keeps people interested and excited. Managing variance is part of what the skill of the game is about, too.

  3. Unlike most other cards, there's no real punishment for choosing to run a companion. If one is compatible with your deck list, it seems to me that you are compelled to run it. This gets worse if you print more. The more they print, the higher the chances you can jam one not because it actually makes sense in your deck but because having access to a 5/5 for 5 without any cost is just a good idea. One sideboard slot versus starting with a free card that can't be thoughtseized and just sits there in case you need it? Hmmmm...

On balance, I think these guys were a good idea executed poorly. The Companion deck building limitation is a cool idea. I like that. I don't like the fact that they start in the Command Zone (whoops Outside the Game (whoops Sideboard))).

@maximumcdawg said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

This is far more fundamental than the introduction of planeswalkers, though. That new card type caused problems because all the old cards which were valued based on how they interacted with other card types now had to be totally re-evaluated. And Planeswalkers did not change a fundamental core rule of Magic, namely, the starting hand size and variance.

I mean, having free spells that start in play (leylines, chancellor effects) also undermined core standing tenets of the game. Dredge is a deck that traditionally can win without spending mana, playing mana, or in some cases ever casing a spell. What is more fundamental to the game of Magic, the way you get your opening hand, or using mana to cast spells.

The fact that this effect is novel is not in and of itself grounds for banning.

@maximumcdawg said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

Unlike most other cards, there's no real punishment for choosing to run a companion. If one is compatible with your deck list, it seems to me that you are compelled to run it. This gets worse if you print more. The more they print, the higher the chances you can jam one not because it actually makes sense in your deck but because having access to a 5/5 for 5 without any cost is just a good idea. One sideboard slot versus starting with a free card that can't be thoughtseized and just sits there in case you need it? Hmmmm...

I mean the "punishment" is that you are limited in your deck building. That is a real cost for some decks, which is really the driver for the disparity right now. If there was a companion that could slide into every deck in the format we would be having a much different conversation.

This cost will only become more real as new cards get printed that cannot be used in a Lurrus shell. Over a period of time I suspect you will see new strategies pop up that will not run Lurrus in favor of some other cards, maybe without a companion, maybe with a different one.

Another hypothetical. WOTC prints a Mox with companion. It's restriction is something that excludes you from using the other moxen. If I'm looking to pilot a monored bloodmoon deck, I am suddenly VERY interested in this card and would never even consider Lurrus.

@protoaddict said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

Another hypothetical. WOTC prints a Mox with companion. It's restriction is something that excludes you from using the other moxen. If I'm looking to pilot a monored bloodmoon deck, I am suddenly VERY interested in this card and would never even consider Lurrus.

that's an interesting example. let's say the companion requirement was "no zero mana artifacts in your deck". it would also see play in dredge, because being able to pay for spheres when you're on the play for a single sideboard slot. also crazy in hatebears decks; you can play your two drop turn one without ever drawing dead mana after your null rod.

Let's take it a step further. We're saying that making more and better companions can displace Lurrus. So something that people are complaining is OP would be okay if there were even MORE OP companions to compete for that slot. What if there was a companion 5 mana black lotus that said you can't have enchantments in your deck. Sure, that's never going to happen, but it's for the thought experiment. Are we okay with that existing in the format? Open with 5 mana of any one color every opening hand? Restriction does nothing there. Are we going to just live with that in the format because of some "I must have access to EVERY card" ethos? There's a point where that stance just becomes "I'd rather play a horrible format of coin flipping with every card than an enjoyable format with even a single card banned for power-level reasons."

"I'd rather play a horrible format of coin flipping with every card than an enjoyable format with even a single card banned for power-level reasons."

God, this sums exactly my thoughts on the strong opposition to banning. People are so hung up on this that they would rather adhere to this ethos than try to address the issue in the simplest way and preserve the health of the format. If it came down to if the format needed to be corrected via a ban to keep it healthy (something that has been on my mind a long time before this set) I'd absolutely want them to put the health of the format first.

@Protoaddict I think you missed my point. If you print lots of Companions, then you will have lots of different possible deck building restrictions. The more possibilities there are, the greater the chance that you can find some companion that requires no or very little change in how you build your deck. Look at what we see today: Lurrus and Zidra in particular are practically free to run. They require very little change to existing good decks.

The upshot is that the more Companions you print, the lower the opportunity cost becomes to run some companion. It gets more and more like your choice is a 15 card sideboard or an 8 card hand, and the hand is going to win out every time.

@volrathxp This is exactly the tension, isn't it? Too much variance and the game is coin-flippy. Not enough variance and we're playing Chess. There is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle where skill does matter in the long run, but in the short term exciting and unexpected things can happen. Where is that balance?

last edited by MaximumCDawg

I loath to advocate the middle road, but for the moment I think that there is merit to waiting. People are still building and playing with new toys, even if they may be sub-optimal. Lists and archetypes are changing often enough that power is more important than tuning.

Many of us have played in iteration of the Vintage format where the margin is how many copies of Pyroblast you registered, wether you played Spell Pierce or Flusterstorm as your 9th piece of countermagic. I think that we are coming into the release of IKA after a period where tuning was the premium skill and moving into a place where people are building new things with new cards and those skills we were honing are less important.

I feel like we have yet to reach the point where the meta will not adapt and open up without direct action being taking. I, from a place of no particular authority, believe we can already see the seeds of this happening; BUG lists running a Reanimate to rebuy a spent Lurrus or yoink one from their opponent. People like Iamactuallylvl1 reminding us that Tinker for Citadel beats a 3/2 lifelinker in PO. An uptick in bolts and people leveraging Sprite Dragon in more classic Xerox shells. To me all of these things look like the first steps in preying upon the assumption that it's Lurrus or nothing.

Perhaps I am wrong, and in a few weeks the biggest topics of discussion will be the correct number of Baubles and Remoras to pair with your new cat friend, and if that is the case then I will defer to those who have the tenure with Vintage as a whole to address companions both efficiently and in the right spirit. My only argument is that I don't believe we are there yet and in the oldest eternal format we can afford to take the time to get it right.

All of that said, the fundamental problem of the 8th card, no matter how many restrictions you attach to it is one that I don't have an answer for. If companions become as ubiquitous and varied as walkers have perhaps we will be looking at a game that is almost unrecognizable from the one we know now.

Karakas has arrived.

How long would be appropriate to wait?

Challenge attendance has declined this week and barely hit 7 rounds (66), which is a rarity for the Saturday challenge. Last week, we had over 81. Preliminaries are apparently not firing as much as they used to. Win-trading has picked up again and typically thrives when league queue time is low (win-traders need an empty queue to math into their accounts). I try not read too much into fluctuations in tournament attendance, but the pattern is concerning.

As for adapting, Lurrus was played in 50/66 (76%) of decks this week. The adaption is typically playing Lurrus. While some players are trying different things, the shear monotony of the format makes the experience unbelievably repetitive.

@maximumcdawg said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

@Protoaddict I think you missed my point. If you print lots of Companions, then you will have lots of different possible deck building restrictions. The more possibilities there are, the greater the chance that you can find some companion that requires no or very little change in how you build your deck. Look at what we see today: Lurrus and Zidra in particular are practically free to run. They require very little change to existing good decks.

This is precisely my point. What if it's not a matter of "if" but "which". Companions become ubiquitous and there are enough of them that powerlevel is fairly flat and there is a variety in selections to consider.

No one has issues with every deck having 15 sideboard cards, and that has no deck building costs. It just is part of the game. What if this just becomes part of the standard, base level game?

last edited by Protoaddict

My question at this point is if Lurrus is problematic or is the cat just showing up because there is little to no drawback running him as a companion?
Kind of like yawgwill if you’re running black, FoW if you run blue etc, etc.
Maybe it’s just the flavor of this season?

Great dialogue in here. I personally never understood the aversion to banning a card people have only had a few weeks to play with.

Are your emotional ties to that card so strong in such a short time? Is one card (that was not designed with vintage in mind) being banned really that devastating? I’m guessing it’s more of a fundamental/principals argument, which I really don’t agree with. Up until a few years ago we hadn’t had a creature restricted in vintage since the beginning of vintage. Now we have a few. B&R rules have to change to avoid critical mass.

Regardless, I’m enjoying the dialogue and theory-crafting on the potential for a format with tons of companions. This could harken back to the days of each deck having some personality. It could also be the first time Wizards actually is able to introduce metadeck design and hate, without it backfiring.

That said, 25yrs of light vintage experience tells me that no matter how many companions there are, Vintage will likely quickly settle on the top 2-3 quickly.

Hope we’re all wrong!

last edited by joshuabrooks

New companions can be printed to mitigate Lurrus domination without introducing power creep. To see this, imagine they print a companion that is a Relic of Progenitus or Nihil Spellbomb on a beating stick. Now running Lurrus and all those baubles (instead of Mentor or Tinker) might become a bit of a glass cannon gambit.

Or the companion could be a bear with an ETB “gain control of target legendary permanent” effect, or a “moon” bear with a static effect like “all legendary permanents are Mountains”.

With enough hatebear companions, I could envision an interesting meta where a highly defensive deck with multiple companions in the sideboard (anti-blue companion, anti-graveyard companion, anti-workshops companion) becomes viable. This could open up the deck building design space, and increase the pool of vintage viable cards (just like Lurrus brought back previously unused cards like baubles and Dead Weight).

@dshin make for a healthy format, it does not.
Making narrow hatebear companions would be worse than just banning Lurrus as a companion. Dont forget, Companions are pretty much an extra card in hand from the start and you dont lose it in mulligans; OP.

I've never seen a deck be this dominant in any format and then later had the format stabilise on its own. Maybe someone else with a better memory for constructed magic has an example of that?

These early Lurrus numbers seem to be around 75% of the meta, which considering the number of people who won't have the dime to drop on a Lurrus compatible deck is a terrifying percentage. If Lurrus has a 60% winrate against non Lurrus and also composes three quarters of the meta then taking anything but Lurrus into competition would be like flushing money down the drain.

Due to the very nature of the card and the format I find it hard to see how to build to beat it. You have to compromise deck composition a truly absurd amount to compete with a card they have 100% of the time. In other less streamlined lower power level formats like Modern Lurrus is just a strong 3 drop they always have access to. In vintage Lurrus's power level is much higher and he costs much less.

I do however think there might be another option than banning, and one I personally would prefer. As an aside though I think Companions are a huge mistake and fun only in limited formats. Why not try unrestricting an number of cards? Shops pieces in particular, but also maybe other cards that won't fit into a Lurrus shell like Flash, Dredge pieces, Ironworks, Mentor, Narset (lol), Necro, Karn? Seems a lot more fun than the banhammer and to some maybe more in the "spirit of vintage."

What's wrong with hatebear companions? If they wanted to reign in Lurrus they could print a "default" companion that hates the others, e.g.

Tabo the Interdictor - 1W
Companion -- No other cards in your starting deck or sideboard have the Companion ability.
Flash
When Tabo the Interdictor enters the battlefield, you may choose another target creature with Companion. If you do, exile Tabo and the chosen creature.
1/2

@gako I like the idea of unrestricting Necro, as even setting aside Lurrus it's not clear to me why its power level is all that much higher than Bargain or Citadel.

@evouga Well let's look at the possible cases. Either a) the hatebear companions suck compared to the actual do stuff companions, b) the hatebear companions end up far more powerful than the do stuff companions or c) the hatebears end up perfectly balanced with the do stuff companions.

In case a) and b) clearly the problem is not solved. Case c) seems to be what you're focusing on but I'm afraid wizards' record of printing cards to deal with problem cards is very poor. They either push way too hard or not hard enough, so I think case c) is incredibly unlikely. Combine that with the fact that vintage would just be lurrus dominated until wizards got around to printing more companions, I think the idea is kind of fun to theory craft about, but practically speaking a total nightmare for vintage.

@ten-ten I don’t think this is necessarily so. Imagine hatebears that strongly counter Lurrus are printed, but come with deck building restrictions like no blue cards, or no artifacts, or no spells with odd CMC, or color with maximum devotion is red. You could have a wide palette of available hatebears, perhaps one against every major archetype of the format in your sideboard, but doing so might require thinking outside the box of existing archetypes. This could lead to format diversity.

last edited by dshin

Hatebear companions would be more effective if they were the original companions. As it is, it will almost always be better to play the busted companion and just focus on destroying the Hatebear if your opponent actually decides to run it.

An unrestricted Necro is much more powerful than an unrestricted Bargain by virtue of being a consistent turn 1 play. The comparison to Citadel is wrong - the actual comparison is to Tinker. I hope Tinker isn't being considered for unrestriction. Those who want an unrestricted Necro haven't played Vintage recently. Or want to burn the entire format to the ground. The current version of Doomsday runs Necro and has replaced DPS as the go to ritual strategy. An unrestriced Necro would slot into most, if not all of the doomsday slots, and would create pretty abysmal gameplay in which a turn 1 Necro is supported by Daze, Force of Will, and other counterspells and discard. The deck draws back up to 7 cards, uses countermagic to untap, and either wins the game or does it again the next turn with multiple Tendrils to recoup the life. The london mulligan would provide further consistency.

Most of the cards restricted are due to interactivity reasons and unless you have a compelling reason why Flash et al. won't lead to lopsided games in which one players is a passive observer, I don't think these suggestions are really helping anything.

There are probably only 2 cards on the restricted list that are

  • "Potentially" safe to unrestrict
  • do anything to make you not want to use Lurrus

Monastery Mentor and Narset. Even if unrestricted, I'm not sure that a deck with 4 mentors and 4 Narsets will be the format we want to live in.

There are other unrestrictions that I think could happen, but I think it is mostly a separate discussion.

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