Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Netrunner, Hearthstone, My Little Pony CCG, Cardfight!! Vanguard, Legend of the Five Rings, Solforge, Dominion, World of Warcraft TCG...
Yeah, I get around.
And you know what really sucks in card games? When cards get banned. However, it is justifiable in some cases. Let me explain.
Before that, though, let's talk about the news. MLPCCG is using a banlist for the first time now. The banlist is currently:
- Fluttershy, Guidance Counselor
- Rainbowshine, Cloud Wrangler
- Globe Trotter, Sight Seer
- Magical Mailbox
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, kind of a mixed blessing. First, let's discuss banning a card. I will be discussing the banlist itself in detail in another post later (I promise to do this sometime within a week). For now, I want to talk about the act of banning cards. Just the act itself, because I think it is important that people understand that before I discuss this one instance in particular. There are two ways to do it: set rotation or individual bans. What MLP is doing right now is the latter, but I want to talk about both.
Set rotation is when cards only stay "legal" in Standard play for a short time. Say, you can only use cards that were printed within the past year. Or the past three years. Or whatever. This is a VERY good thing.
Most players, when hearing that concept, seem to think of it as a bad thing. "Oh, I have to keep buying more cards."
Well, yeah, but look at the alternative: power creep. To use an example, I'm going to look at the two most popular Trading Card Games in the world right now: Magic and Yugioh. Magic uses set rotation, and Yugioh does not. Let's see how each does.
When Magic first started, there were some pretty powerful cards in the original sets. The most notable of these are the Power Nine. Nine cards that fetch over a thousand dollars apiece on the market today, because they were super-powerful and super-rare (Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Timetwister, Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, Mox Jet, Mox Ruby, and Mox Emerald). Why were these cards printed? Because it was the first TCG set... ever. The game designers didn't know what they were doing.
Imagine, for a moment, that Magic did not use set rotation (incidentally, there are some Magic formats that do not, and they are ludicrously expensive to play without proxies). If you don't have a full set of Power Nine cards (along with other really expensive cards from the early days that were before the game developers decided to actually balance the game), then you will inevitably lose to someone who DOES have a full set. Thus, the only way to win is to pony up tens of thousands of dollars. Sound good?
No? Okay then, we've established that for the new player, set rotation is good. But what about for the veteran player?
Even so, set rotation is good. Without set rotation, you'd face one of two possibilities. If the game still kept its original state, then you'd just play with the same cards over and over. (The number of good Magic cards in a format without set rotation that were created after 2000 is shockingly small - Skullclamp, Jace the Mind Sculptor, end list.)
Playing with the same cards forever just gets boring. You'd never want to update your deck, and you'd eventually just grow sick of it. Set rotation brings you new options. The only way to avoid this problem is if the new cards are actually worth using over the old ones. And that brings us to Yu-Gi-Oh!
Power creep is rampant in any card game without set rotation, but nowhere is it more apparent than Yu-Gi-Oh!. Back in the day, when I played Yu-Gi-Oh, here were some of the best cards in the game:
There was the Blue-Eyes White Dragon, which had 3000 attack points, but you had to sacrifice two monsters to play it. There was Thunder Nyan Nyan, which has 1900 attack points and you can play it for free, but it automatically dies if one of your monsters isn't a certain type. There was Moisture Creature, which normally requires two sacrifices, but if you sacrificed three, then it would blow up all of your opponent's cards, except for their monsters. And there was Gilford the Lightning, which was the same thing, except it ONLY blew up their monsters.
Now, let's look at a card printed in 2011: Beast King Barbaros. Just like Blue-Eyes White Dragon, it has 3000 attack and requires two sacrifices. However, you can play it without sacrificing, but if you do, its attack is changed to 1900. You can also play it with three sacrifices, and then it will destroy all of the opponent's cards, both monsters and non-monsters.
One card is doing the job that it took FOUR cards to do back in the day, and they even eliminated the downside from Thunder Nyan Nyan.
In order to have you keep buying cards, they make the newer cards better and better. Now, if you want to win, you have to keep giving them your money. Go ahead and take a '90s deck into a tournament with you sometime. Watch yourself be totally screwed as your opponent summons over 10,000 attack points worth of monsters on the first turn. Yes, this is a normal occurrence now.
To be fair, Yu-Gi-Oh! does have a banlist, where they ban individual cards that are causing problems, but they just ban everything that's good in the newest set so that they can sell the next set instead. Yu-Gi-Oh! has a slew of problems right now beyond just this. For one, there's no concept of resource management anymore. Back in the day, you were limited to only one summon per turn. There were Special Summon cards that let you get more, but they required crazy combos, were restricted to one per deck, or were otherwise hard to work with.
But now? There are so many Special Summon cards that have been printed since the game was created that without set rotation, you can just use a whole bunch of them and get a million summons in one turn. And that's what people do.
The combos in this game are now so formulaic and dumb that the game really could be put on auto-pilot. You never really have to make any decisions. I honestly don't know why anyone still plays it, other than the little kids who just want to imitate what they see on television. It's awful.
Now, Yu-Gi-Oh! does have a banlist, fair enough. And without it, I could very well divide every deck ever into two categories: "Able to always win on the first turn" and "Has no chance of winning in a tournament ever". But banning individual cards is really bad for a game.
Why? Because it makes things complicated. "Your deck can contain 40 cards or more, and no more than 3 copies of a single card" is a lot easier to understand than "Your deck can contain only between 40 and 60 cards, with an extra deck of up to 15 cards for special cards, and no more than 3 copies of a single card, unless that card is on the Forbidden/Limited List, in which case, you are limited to 0 copies if it is Forbidden, 1 copy if is Limited, and 2 copies if it is Semi-Limited. By the way, there's about 70 cards of each category."
That's difficult for new players to understand. And it makes it hard for returning players to come back. It's also annoying for players who play the game, who are now forced to update their decks every six months when the new banlist comes out. Because if you were serious about playing in even the smallest way, I guarantee you, most of your cards are now banned. This is just set rotation in a stupider way.
The other thing is: When you open a booster pack of cards, you are doing so with money that you paid. You are doing so with the confidence that you are going to be able to use those cards in your deck. At the very least, for a short time, if set rotation is a thing in the game that you are playing. Now, imagine opening a pack, and inside is a banned card. Congrats, you wasted your money.
Now, to be fair, banning cards can be good for the game. But it needs to be done INCREDIBLY sparingly. Otherwise, people will stop playing your game for the reasons listed above. Banning cards is, for the most part, bad.
In fact, the only thing worse than banning cards from a card game is NOT banning cards from a card game. Yeah, I know, it seems paradoxical. But if a card game never had to ban any cards, I'd be extremely skeptical. That shows me that their designers are always playing it safe and never taking any risks in their card designs. One of the things that I love about Magic (and My Little Pony does it too) is that there are several new mechanics in every single set. Things that weren't possible before are possible now. That makes it fun to play. However, because the designers have never done it before, they don't fully understand it. And so, they occasionally slip up and have to ban a card. (Worth noting, by the way, there are more cards banned for power-level reasons in Yugioh now than there are cards that have ever been banned in Magic. And that includes all five official formats of Magic, as well as various casual formats. Yugioh is only one format.)
That's not to say that My Little Pony is going to become like Yu-Gi-Oh! anytime soon. In fact, looking at everything that they've done, it looks like they are looking to be a lot more like Magic. So I wouldn't be surprised if they announced set rotation eventually, but it's likely not going to be for years.