Since so many people have been opining recently, here are my full thoughts on the Vintage Banned & Restricted List at this moment.
While I do not agree with the premise that Vintage should be treated differently because it is a "more casual" format, the Vintage format is unique from other formats in a few ways that are relevant to Vintage Restricted List management.
First and foremost, a major part of the appeal of the format is the sense of continuity and stabilty within the format over it's multi-decade existence. Part of this is the simple fact that as an eternal format, Vintage doesn't rotate. But part of it is also the fact that players learn, master and develop expertise and acquire the card pool for certain strategies - a vision that is not altogether dissimilar from what Rob Hahn described so many years ago.
All of these features tend to mean that, whenever restrictions might be justified, but aren't strictly warranted, then the average Vintage player - myself included - prefers "no action." That is to say, when exercising Banned and Restricted List management, there will be times that restrictions are essentially warranted (as when Thirst dominated the format in 2009 or Treasure Cruise dominated in 2014). But there will also be times that restrictions are justifiable, but not necessarily strictly warranted. We might quibble over this distinction, but many restricted List policy decisions - like most major policy decisions in the real world (see the cover story in the Atlantic this month) are fraught with complexities and ambiguities.
More often than not, a policy decision can be justified, but isn't strictly necessary. In the case of such close calls, Vintage players prefer abstention rather than action.
Another major difference between Vintage and other formats is the fact that, with very few categorical exceptions, you are permitted to play all of your cards, regardless of power level (hence why we have restrictions instead of bannings). This defining feature of the format, along with the general preference for continuity and stability, reinforces a libertarian/anti-interventionist ethos in the format. Whereas professional players, I think, tend to prefer more active/aggressive management practices for other formats, I think Vintage players, in general, much prefer a more hands off approach.
I strongly believe that history and experience in the format - especially with incessant calls for restrictions through the years - ultimately supports the anti-interventionist wing of the format. Countless cards through the years have been demanded for restriction, with notable examples including Academy Rector, Goblin Welder, Dark Ritual, Illusionary Mask, Oath of Druids, Bazaar of Baghdad, among many others (see, for example, this chart: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/5980_You_CAN_Play_Type_I_108_The_State_Of_The_Metagame_Address_The_Charts.htm - you can see everyone in 2003 who voted for or against the restriction of any of those).
When the DCI has intervened aggressively, it's often led to massive backlash, with the wave of 5 restrictions in 2008 being the most recent example. In contrast, consider the fact that from September 2009 until Treasure Cruise, a 5 year period, there hadn't been a single restriction in Vintage.
I think everyone realizes that B&R list policy is designed to maximize fun, but one of the main ways that Vintage players define "fun" is strategic diversity. Vintage players are pretty well settled in that, if there is a tension between "interactivity" and "diversity," we prefer the latter. Workshop or Dredge, for example, may not be the most interactive at times, but Vintage players greatly value the unique dimensions of play that it brings to the format, and the enjoyment and excitement that strategic diversity brings.
The good news is that strategic diversity can be measured. We can look at tournament results, and see if a wide enough range of decks are appearing in top 8s. We can also measure dominance. Typically, if a strategy or a tactic gets above 35% of Top 8s, like Treasure Cruise was doing and Thirst for that, restrictions aren't merely justifiable, but usually warranted.
Some people object that tournament performance shouldn't be given that much weight in Vintage B&R policy, but I think that objection misses the mark entirely. Suppose a deck arose that some felt merited restrictions, yet never appeared in a Top 8. Would anyone seriously consider that deck needing a restriction? I would hope not.
In that light, I have made public a spreadsheet that Kevin and I co-created with tons of Q1 metagame data that I believe should inform this discussion: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1cj99OKyaTn7zLvyh3ONDmlBHkSNh0MIf0ZpEI22fsSM/edit?usp=sharing
Let me just say, though, as a final first principle, that I believe that the most important regular data point is the MTGO P9 Challenge, because of the quality and quantity of players involved. I would give that event more weight in this discussion than other events.
Now, let me turn to specific cards that have arisen recently in discussions:
- Lodestone Golem
I have long believed - and said in many fora (podcasts, internet posts, and multiple times on the VSL), that I thought Wizards should have restricted Golem instead of Chalice. I felt they hit the wrong card for many reasons which I think are increasingly obvious. In an ideal world, I would switch the positions of those cards, and see how things played out.
Chalice of the Void may well prove too broken even with Golem restricted, but aside from some grumblings when it was initially printed, Chalice was not seriously considered for restriction for over 11 years until the printing of Golem. Golem is and has been the problem.
Given the data in the spreadsheet I posted, with Shops about 30% of MTGO results, I think restricting Golem even with Chalice is a defensible decision. I'm not sure that I would do it, as the data doesn't suggest it's strictly necessary, but I wouldn't have serious objection if they were.
- Dark Petition
Look at the table matrix. Dark Petition only 7% of paper top 8s, and 3% of daily 3-1 or better decks in 2016, with exactly one 4-0. That's not only far from dominance, but the exact opposite. Dark Petition has made Storm a viable strategy and broadened the strategic diversity of the format.
I believe restricting Dark Petition would be a serious, and egregious, mistake. Restriction Dark Petition goes against every principle I believe in about this format's management in terms of data and diversity.
To those who say that Dark Petition should dominate in the hands of the right pilot, I say: that may be right, but if it's not dominating or creating problems in real Vintage tournaments, then that's merely a theoretical concern that can be addressed if that reality manifests.
Gush has been unrestricted since 2011, but has benefited greatly from a number of recent printings, including Mentor and the Delve spells.
As much as I hate to say it (and would lament to no end such a decision), re-restricting Gush again is not entirely indefensible (certainly not as egregious as restricting Dark Petition), but I do think it would be unwise.
First of all, Gush decks bring a strategic diversity to the format. COnsider what it does for not just token strategies, but also strategies like Doomsday.
To those who say that Gush has driven other blue decks out of the format, I would remind people to look at last year's Vintage Champs top 8, where you had multiple Mana Drain style decks in the top 8. Moreover, from 2011 when Gush was re-unrestricted, to roughly 2013, Gush decks were only a modest player in the format.
Relatedly, and like the Dark Petition decks, I think Gush is a highly skill intensive card that rewards format knowledge and quality play. I would only re-restrict Gush if strictly necessary.
I have serious concerns with ever restricting more than one card at a time in Vintage. Based upon what I've said so far, I tend to only support restrictions when strictly warranted, not just when justifiably taken. That tends to mean that a deck is really dominating.
Vintage players tend to prefer really tailored and targeted interventions when they do occur. In the history of the format, every single time from 2013 and earlier, with only one exception, that Wizards has restricted more than one card, it has later gone back to unrestrict at least one of those cards.
When restricting multiple cards to deal with the same strategy, it becomes impossible to know the impact of any given restriction on the power level of the archetype as a result. When restricting cards from different strategies, it's impossible to know exactly how the restriction will affect the relative positions of the remaining metagame players. Thus, as a policy lever, I strongly prefer spacing out restrictions to more carefully observe their individual effects.
At the end of the day, I think Vintage B&R list policy is best managed when targeted, tightly tailored, necessary, and not just when defensible or justified. That said, I have no serious quarrel with restrictions that are borderline or close cases.
I strongly and vehemently oppose the restriction of Dark Petition, oppose the restriction of Gush, and think Golem should have been restricted over Chalice. With Chalice restricted, I would probably not restrict Golem at this point - at least, not yet - but that is not an indefensible decision, imo.