Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever

@chubbyrain1 said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

The main approaches now are to accept that Vintage is the Lurrus format and diversity exists in the confines of Lurrus Combo vs Lurrus Value, or eliminate Lurrus as companion. People can play what they want and will play what they want, and indeed, the power of restricted cards can be pretty good at obscuring a decks flaws.

Vintage was in many ways already this type of format. Many decks were and still are heavily defined as if you have Force, Shops, Bazaar. It's all framing. No one ever looked at a shops deck and said oh your playing a non-bazaar deck huh? For all the nuance of specific card selections, many decks at there core were still doing the same things. Pitch Dredge and Sun Titan Dredge are still 2 separate builds, but at there core they are still basically the same.

Format diversity is worse in vintage more so than any other format pretty consistently since the dawn of the format. That is fundamental to the cards that are on the restricted list and the few that are surprisingly not. Most of the veteran players are not only ok with that, but actually strive to maintain it because they do not want radical shifts to the format. This is in large part why workshops has yet to catch a restriction but so many of it's pieces have.

@chubbyrain1 said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

However, Lurrus has been absurdly dominant immediately, taking 16/16 top 8 slots in both Vintage Challenges on MTGO, as well as winning both Paper Online events held in this weekend. As noted above, it doesn't appear from the data that other strategies are on par with Lurrus or that there is an emergence of viable countermeasures that exist outside of Lurrus decks.

Do we feel like this data is of a solid sample however. We really don't have a control for this type of analysis because we have never been playing under a pandemic with a set that is currently not available in paper. I also think that 1 month of results in the best of times is not enough to be sure, because new cards ALWAYS get used in high numbers at first.

@thewhitedragon69 said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

Interestingly enough, I've actually just started running Lurrus in any maindeck that can support him mana-wise, but not as a companion, and has a fair amount of < 3cmc drops already. That's in Modern and Vintage. And he's just great whenever he hits. He's just insane valuetown. I actually find his lifelink to be the most annoying trait as you can't come out ahead in any way - even surprise chumping with snapcaster as a 1-for-1 gives them a free healing salve. There's just no stopping this card from being awesome, whether he's companion or a main deck value-engine.

This is actually undermining to the argument in the first place. If Lurrus is better maindeck as a 4 of then it would go some length to show that companion is not the issue, it's the power level of the card. If the card is too powerful as a 4 of the first step would be to restrict it. What if the ideal build for Lurrus is actually some copies main deck with a different companion in the board?

@protoaddict

It is questionable in the extreme to suggest that the pandemic has structurally altered MTGO tournaments. More people are playing on the client, but the game is the same, card acquisition is the same, and there really isn't a tangible or credible difference. In addition, as stated above and apparently missed, two paper events have been held via online platforms using webcams, one advertised on here and which I did metagame analysis for, the other from Japan. Lurrus was more dominant in the one I have data for, winning the event with an unadjusted MWP of 63.9%. The two Lurrus Breach players went undefeated, one winning the event, the other losing to the winner in the quaterfinals. Lurrus Breach also won the Japanese event. The metagame percentage was smaller but paper normally lags behind MTGO play and this was no exception, so again, there is very little actual merit to your position here.

As for @Thewhitedragon69's testing, while he has his personal experience (which I am not criticizing), that is one person's anecdotal evidence and is absolutely incomparable to the 157 players that registered Lurrus as a companion in the MTGO challenges and put up a non-mirror win rate 61% in ~513 matches, winning 3 events (5 if you include the online paper events). I encourage you to consider a hierarchy of evidence in forming your opinions that weighs tournament results and data from competitive events over other forms of evidence.

Of note, Lurrus is indeed a card that is powerful in its own right. It's current power and dominance is certainly not from being a maindeck inclusion, though. It's the fact that they made it a companion on top of being a solid magic card that makes it a multi-format defining card. Veil of Summer was given the additional card draw spell, Once upon a Time was given the additional free clause, these are examples of adding relatively small effects to cards that would eventually result in them being too powerful for certain formats and ultimately being banned.

Edit: I will also add that while you can divide things by "Force of Will deck", "Workshops deck", "Bazaar deck", again, those cards are not literally in your "hand" every game and we cannot or have not done directly tied the introduction of those cards to such a huge discrepancy in success. As stated again, Bazaar and Workshop decks are struggling in the current metagame. Even among Shops decks, those with Lurrus are doing better than those without. Among Force of Will decks, those with Lurrus are doing better than those without. So yes, you can split formats into classifications, but it's pretty clear that you are arguing a false equivalence here. Lurrus is the main reason these decks are doing well relative to non-Lurrus decks and we have data both before and after the introduction of Ikoria that supports this. You can also argue that we have a limited amount of time to draw on but these are structural issues apparent in every Eternal format. It's clear that these issues are not going to be addressed outside of B&R or rules action. Like I said, you can say that Vintage should be a Lurrus format just like it is a Power 9 format or perhaps a Force of Will/Bazaar/Shops format (though I would argue those cards except for FoW maybe are less impactful), but if you are ignoring the data and game play patterns, you are just deluding yourself at this point.

last edited by chubbyrain1

@protoaddict said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

@thewhitedragon69 said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

Interestingly enough, I've actually just started running Lurrus in any maindeck that can support him mana-wise, but not as a companion, and has a fair amount of < 3cmc drops already. That's in Modern and Vintage. And he's just great whenever he hits. He's just insane valuetown. I actually find his lifelink to be the most annoying trait as you can't come out ahead in any way - even surprise chumping with snapcaster as a 1-for-1 gives them a free healing salve. There's just no stopping this card from being awesome, whether he's companion or a main deck value-engine.

This is actually undermining to the argument in the first place. If Lurrus is better maindeck as a 4 of then it would go some length to show that companion is not the issue, it's the power level of the card. If the card is too powerful as a 4 of the first step would be to restrict it. What if the ideal build for Lurrus is actually some copies main deck with a different companion in the board?

I think you're misunderstanding me entirely. He is INFINITELY better as a companion. What I'm saying is that he is also a very strong 3-drop maindeck for decks that can't conform to his companion-mandated deck-building requirements. Like in a modern deck I run that is an elementals deck; it hinges on Lightning Skelemental and Spark Trooper, so I can't make it's restraints work for Lurrus as companion. However, Lurrus buys back Thunderkin Awakener and Flamekin Harbinger all day, as well as being a lifelinker, so he's just a solid include. That deck runs the Orphanguard as its companion - and Lurrus meets that requirement just fine. Lurrus is a very solid card maindeck in any quantity. He's extremely strong (far more than main deck) as a companion.

A couple other notes:

When you say "Most veteran players," I think you are speaking for yourself and a handful of people you know. Myself and many others I know are just fine with changes and realize they are inevitable in a continually-growing format. If bazaar or workshop got restricted, we'd embrace the shift, not bemoan it.

I also think you miss the point @chubbyrain1 was making. It's not that Vintage is defined as Lurrus combo or Lurrus value to compare variations of a build as you would say pitch dredge or sun titan dredge. Sun Titan Dredge and Pitch Dredge are two variants of a similar build in a meta where Jeskai xerox, PO, humans, shops, hollowvine, etc. are all viable options. What chubby's post suggest is that Vintage is now Lurrus combo/lurrus value as tier 1 and all else are piles of non-viable 60 cards in comparison (as far as the numbers and results thus far have shown).

I agree the cat is just the new flavor everyone wants to try and it's overplayed...but how strong it is over time we'll find out soon. What if the trend continues and Lurrus builds still have a 60% winrate vs ANYTHING non-mirror in perpetuity? What if it is refined over time and gets to 70%+? Are you still okay with WotC doing nothing to the mechanic so that Vintage stays "pure" even though there would only be one deck type vs chaff left as a format?

@protoaddict

I get (got) all of my data from MTGGoldfish. It has some of the best data because it draws from the largest pool of played games of Vintage. Vintage, like Pauper, is a MODO format that sees niche paper play. Your analysis and @Thewhitedragon69's analysis come from a position of no online play. This speaks to me that you are passionate about talking about Vintage but not passionate about actually playing Vintage, which can skew your anecdotes.

I was referred to @chubbyrain1's data and the Vintage Discord by @Brass-Man in a different thread and can surmise that, while you're attempting to bury him under an avalanche of words, the curated analysis that he provides for the community will always speak much louder. You'd be best to prove your analysis on the battlefield.

@80percentbuffoon How is my position from a perspective of no online play? My point has been that 1) the card is bonkers, 2) it's stronger as a companion than main deck, but is still amazing even main deck, 3)there's a clean way to remove companions from Vintage without B&R, and 4) That chubby's analysis points to ALL of Vintage distilling down to Lurrus variants and "fringe-playable other".

Where do you have me making any of the same arguments as protoaddict?

@thewhitedragon69 said in Vintage 101: Cat Scratch Fever:

@80percentbuffoon How is my position from a perspective of no online play? My point has been that 1) the card is bonkers, 2) it's stronger as a companion than main deck, but is still amazing even main deck, 3)there's a clean way to remove companions from Vintage without B&R, and 4) That chubby's analysis points to ALL of Vintage distilling down to Lurrus variants and "fringe-playable other".
Where do you have me making any of the same arguments as protoaddict?

Because it is a broadly sweeping attack on character and validity meant to undermine my arguments, you just happened to get swept up in it. For the record @Thewhitedragon69 I understand your arguments and feel they are well reasoned and consistent, I just disagree with them for the reasons I have stated above. I do not see that the other poster has actually offered a line of reasoning other than to agree with @chubbyrain1 (whom also makes a well reasoned argument with backing logic) and try to impugn my reasoning through assumptions of my personality.

Wizards will never remove companion as a mechanic. The argument that other card types are banned like that is nonsensical since the card types banned are clearly not meant for constructed play. This is way different and there is no way they'll remove that as a mechanic. Suggesting this is similar to suggesting they'd ban all Delve or Phyrexian mana cards instead of Dig/Cruise and Probe/Misstep. It won't happen.

They also won't errata how companions work. This is also something they haven't done in a long time and would open a lot of phylosophical questions about the game. You wouldn't even want that because that would mean they're willing to errata cards for power level reasons instead of banning them, an approach only online-centered card games take (nerfing), which would be terrible for Magic.

I also don't see any problem whatsoever with banning the card. It has been discussed before (I clearly remember this being the case for Yawg Will circa 2006, with Menendian advocating for it constantly) and this would be clearly an exception to the rule since a restriction wouldn't solve the problem. It's bad, I agree, but it's the only solution possible. They'll probably wait a while before doing this, to see if the meta adapts. I'm just sad that there's a high chance Narset got restricted for no reason. 😛

last edited by fsecco

@fsecco Except the entire reason we're discussing the rule change to make companion not a tourney viable mechanic is because some want to take banning off the table completely. If banning were an option, sure, ban Lurrus!, Zirda?, and Gyuru? (not that I think any need to be banned or handled in any way - for the umpteenth time). But some on here were saying that vintage is where you can play ALL cards and the only acceptable bannings are kitchen table cards (Arenas, Vanguards, Commanders, etc.), ante cards, time-restrictive cards (Sharazad), or manual dexterity cards (chaos orb, falling star). Some don't even want THOSE banned.
So if banning is off the table, we're left with A) find an elegant fix that doesn't require power-level errata, or B) let the game devolve into Lurrus.format. I doubt it'll come to option B, but this was the thought experiment if B is inevitable. If B will happen, then what do we do with option A if power-level errata and bannings are not allowed?

I think the most elegant solution I've heard of to the Lurrus issue is to ban it as a companion, but not as a card in your deck. It keeps the supposed spirit of the format alive (a place where you can play "any" card), while solving the issue of Lurrus being the companion for literally every deck.

last edited by revengeanceful

@fsecco They have done this before less than two years ago by removing the Partner functionality from Online 1v1 Commander:

The following changes take effect on Magic Online on July 25:

Rules change: You may only have one commander. Creatures with a partner ability function as if they did not have that ability.

This was a banned list that Wizards themselves maintained. Paper 1v1 Commander addressed the problem of Partners and Commanders through a different mechanism, which is also practical and hasn't negatively effected those communities. I'm sure people are happier being able to play their Barals in some fashion even though they can't play them as a Commander. (And naturally, kitchen table and player-run events can adopt whatever rules sets they want).

Arguing that Wizards needs to abide by some set principle seems detrimental to the growth of the game. If Wizards is going to be innovative with these types of effects, tournament rules (i.e. banned/restricted lists) should be adaptable as well.

Counter arguments that one instance of "power-level" errata will lead to a never-ending sequence power-level errata is close to a slippery slope fallacy. For one, the inability to deal with a card by power-level banning is unique to Vintage (obviously, cards are supposed to be restricted for power-level reasons which is impractical in this case). Every other format has that ability. Two, even Lurrus isn't dominant in every format. Standard is, I believe, dominated by Yorion decks, which generate obscene value in Fires control shells, blinking Teferi, Narset, and all the absurd planeswalkers, not to mention Fires of Invention, which unlocks your mana and lets you cast more than two spells in a turn. Lurrus is still very good, but not as dominant as it is in Vintage, Legacy, and possibly Modern. Pure power-errata as a response to one or several formats can have unintended consequences in other formats and doesn't work as well in a complex game such as Magic. Online games are simpler. I imagine Wizards would be quite hesitant to implement power-errata as most people envision it, again. The game has simply grown too much.

Bear with me here for just a moment, but what if companion was meant to be a new game space that WOTC is exploring. They have been making efforts in the past year or so to cushion the mulligan phase and this does go a long way to make mulligans even less painful. This could just be the first wave of companions mind you, what if there are companions, or something competing directly with the game space they occupy in the next few sets? Spells with companions, Mono colored companions, Mox companion, etc.

Purely theoretical mind you, but my question becomes what if Lurrus is knocked out of being dominant by virtue of there being enough other cards in that space, or likewise something gets printed that would preclude you from using Lurrus but is powerful enough to want to play instead. What if Lurrus is dominant by sheer virtue of him being the best cards in that space that is only occupied by 10 cards right now?

WOTC certainly would not ban the mechanic if it is something they have been planning and building around already in future sets, and banning him would seem stupid if suddenly there are 2 or 3 other companions of comparable playability and power level.

To my point. What if companion mechanics were just a given from here on out. Basically regular tourney magic became a format where everyone had basically a vanguard card of sorts. Sideboard was not always a factor in Magic, neither were pregame effects, but now we just take them all as part of the game. If we knew that was the future of the game, would we still be having this conversation?

Yeah, that’d exactly the kind of conversation we had when Planeswalkers were first printed.

What gives me pause is that WotC over the last couple of years has a track record of shooting from the hip rather than making carefully thought-out, long term decisions. I’d bet anything companions were thrown in the set as a gimmick with zero eternal format testing, and quite possibly zero testing in Standard either. “Commander sells a lot of packs. Let’s try for one set to make Standard play more like commander?”

last edited by evouga

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.

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