Otter? I Hardly Knew Her!
Yesterday, April 2nd, we got our first previews of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and what a day of spoilers it was. We saw giant monsters straight from the big screen, new mechanics (one which looked like it came straight from silver border land), exciting new legendary creatures, and then there was this adorable otter:
Within minutes of this card being spoiled, while the air was still filled with the sound of a collective SQUEE, we got this message on the offical Commander website:
We've never banned a card before its street release date, but we feel strongly compelled to do so for Lutri, the Spellchaser. It is a card unlike any other in Magic's history. While we are firm believers in giving cards their opportunity in the format, it's clear that Lutri would be banned almost immediately. It doesn't have an opportunity cost; you don't have to sacrifice a spot in the 100 in order to play it—meaning if you have the card and are playing the right colors, you can simply include it. It becomes a thing we're not fans of, namely a "must play." A big part of this decision is that we don't want players to acquire the card thinking it might remain legal. There was consideration for letting it loose for a quarter with the likely plan to ban it later just in case it was as bad as we thought, because from where we sit, Lutri as a 101st card is intensely problematic. In the end, this is a special case, and we think that the conservative approach is the better option.
This is an unprecedented move from the Commander Rules Committee and one which probably doesn't have a right answer, only a subjectively least wrong answer. This statement also raises as many questions as it answers. What exactly is so problematic about this cute little critter? Is having one-time access to a slightly worse Dualcaster Mage going to ruin games? Is giving one color or color set access to an extra card, no matter how good or bad it is, really that much of a problem? If this card is a "must play" it will command a fairly high price tag, so is it something people will put in every blue-red deck just because they MIGHT do something with it? What are the most broken things you can do with this card that are worse than what's already legal? Let's also weigh the pros and cons of their decision, as well as explore other options they could have taken.
For the pro, there seems to be one good reason for making this announcement now, if we go under the assumption that this card is 100% getting banned simply because it gives certain decks an inherent advantage over other decks. The Rules Committee takes the feedback they receive into consideration, and there was a lot of feedback about the banning of Paradox Engine. One of the things players were most upset about was that many of them had invested a lot of money into the card, particularly foil and masterpiece versions of it - cards which tanked in price near instantly. If the Rules Committee's worst fear plays out as they expect, Lutri would be an expensive card (one which will have multiple versions and therefore a lot of monetary value), only to follow the same route that Paradox Engine did. You can bet that this would upset a great number of players who invested in the card, built the decks, and loved their little pet otter. So in the RC's mind, getting ahead of the players is preferable because it saves them (and the RC) from the disappointment and backlash that would follow three months from now when they ban Lutri.
Conversely, there are a number of reasons why the Rules Committee should have left Lutri remain legal and see how it plays out. Most importantly (to me) is that we simply have no way of determining whether this was the correct call to make. There is no doubt that Lutri is all upside, and also interacts poorly with the format by being a free 101st card in your deck if you're in the correct colors. And there's no doubt that it will be a pricy card (my estimate is that it would be a $20-30 card for the base version). But remember, ubiquity does not a banned card make. After all, there are plenty of "must play" cards that command expensive price tags that we don't blink an eye at. And certain colors will always have advantages that other colors don't have. So why not give the otter three months to see if it actually becomes a problem? Then there's also the matter of the precedence this sets. Historically we have seen Griselbrand and Worldfire being unleashed to the wild for one cycle while the Rules Committee quietly watched, knowing they would be banned shortly. This is an apples to oranges comparison because those cards did not generate the same level of excitement, nor were there premium chase versions of cards on the line as well, but I don't recall much backlash when either of these were banned (perhaps a little with Griselbrand). Was there a lesson learned from those bannings? But regardless, the Rules Committee has been emphatic about their stance that they wouldn't emergency ban cards. I'm not suggesting they aren't allowed to change their minds, and I'm certainly not going to attempt looking at a crystal ball to predict what could potentially result from this change, but it is a walk back or removing of a stance for sure, depending on how you view it.
But what other options were available to the Rules Committee? Obviously we don't know their internal conversations or conversations they had with Wizards of the Coast. Sheldon Menery has stated that he saw this card and the mechanic when he was working with Wizards back in October/November, so we know that the Rules Committee has had a few months to weigh their options and reach a conclusion. I've been mulling this over and came up with two alternatives:
- Stay consistent with wish cards like Karn, the Great Creator: Companion cards function just like normal, but since there is no "outside the game" zone, you can't run them as companions. This lets you play them as your general and in the 99, which is arguably what people want to do. There is the downside of going against Wizards of the Coast with a brand new mechanic, but by allowing the companion mechanic we can expect a whole new round of debate about the legality of wishes.
- Make a "Watch List" announcement after the card was spoiled effectively stating their concern with the card and that there is a strong likelihood of banning it if their fears are realized. This will hopefully temper the price, as well as ease the loss people may take financially. The downsides to this are that you will see people playing the market just before the announcement in expectation, and it relies on people seeing the announcement in the first place and passing along the information.
So where do I stand on this decision? I think I would err on the side of caution and let the otter eat clams and do other cute otter things for a few months before reaching a conclusion. After all, even if a card meets some banning criteria, that doesn't mean it needs to be banned. But on the other hand, I definitely respect the decision the Rules Committee took in trying to prevent players from making bad financial investments on a card inevitably getting banned, especially during these hard times when money can be tight for many. So if they were certain that they would ban the card out of sheer principle then this was the correct call to make.
And what about you? What are your thoughts? Are there other angles I didn't consider? Let me know in the comment section, but remember, please be respectful to the Rules Committee, the Commander Advisory Group, and other users.