The Brainstorm apologist

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Discussions regarding Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are running rampant on the Internet, and especially the former seems doomed in at least Modern (along with Jeskai Ascendancy), and maybe even in Legacy. Some, however, seems to come back to the fact that blue is the best colour in Legacy, and blue has the best card in Legacy, which is Brainstorm. Thus, Brainstorm should be the one that really gets the axe, not Treasure Cruise.

brainstorm.hqI disagree, and I’ll try and explain why. This is from a subjective standpoint, obviously, but I won’t throw down the old “if Wizards bans Brainstorm, I’ll quit the game”, because even if that was true, it’s not even a half-decent argument. Subjective as this post may be (as all posts are), it’ll be a cold day in hell before I resort to only looking from a personal perspective. Opponents to anecdotal evidence might beware as well.

To begin with, what does Brainstorm actually do for a deck that plays it? Well, I wrote on it in “On Brainstorm, and variance“. To reiterate parts of what I said back then, and to try and boil it down somewhat:

1) It draws three cards and forces you to put back two cards on the top of your library. Really. This has great interaction with fetchlands etc., but I think we don’t need to go over that here and now.

2) It replaces itself, meaning the card costs only mana and not cards.

3) It helps smoothing out draws at any point in the game and is almost as valuable on a turn 7 topdeck as it was in the opening hand.

4) It creates consistency.

forceofwill.hqI want to stay at number four for a bit. To me, Legacy is a very broken format. It is a format where it’s very possible to kill your opponent on the first turn of the game. There are decks specifically designed to prey on decks that lack meaningful interaction on the first couple of turns in the game – two notable examples are Belcher and Oops, All Spells. These decks are balls-to-the-walls combo decks with a very all-in game plan, they want to win around turn two or three, and they both tend to lose if the opponent opens up with Force of Will and another blue card in hand. The particular Oops, All Spells list above has a few Pact of Negations to… negate this, but that will in turn make the deck slower and less consistent, which means the fair match-ups gets worse.

So what are these decks banking on? Well, if you run 20-something blue cards including 4 Force of Will, your chances of drawing one and another blue card in your opener is just under 40%. That’s a pretty good chance, but in the majority of the cases, you won’t have access to it on the first turn. Belcher and Oops, All Spells want to either face mostly fair decks with few interactions on the stack, or they root for the opponent to not have the Force of Will. Sometimes, these decks have to play straight into the Force of Will, and in a minority of the games that they do this, they will lose. In a majority of these games, however, they will win.

This begs the question: why isn’t everyone playing these decks just to go off at turn 1? The answer is that Legacy is full of decks that preys on these decks. Tempo and control builds (Delver decks, Miracles etc.) not only plays a fair amount of countermagic, they also play the cantrips needed to have even more shots at getting that crucial early Force of Will.

Imagine you took away parts of that consistency for these tempo decks. What would happen? The decks in question would obviously get a lot worse, which in turn will open up for these broken, extremely fast combo decks that are results of Legacy’s wide card-pool. Tempo and control keeps these things in check, largely due to Brainstorm, because Brainstorm allows the decks to be consistent enough to beat the all-in combo.

In a way, the Brainstorm decks are overrunning the format, but Brainstorm tends to go into all kinds of different archetypes, from tempo (BUG Delver, RUG Delver), aggro (UR Delver) and control (Miracles, Deathblade), to midrange (classic Team America), to combo (Sneak and Show, TES, ANT). Parts of these decks keep the format fair, and that benefits all kinds of decks, not just the ones Brainstorm itself is played in.

duress.hqI suspect that if Brainstorm is banned, it’s obviously not the end of the world. Vintage lives on, even if it’s not very popular, though Brainstorm is obviously even more powerful in that format. However, I don’t think it’d be good for the format. A deck like Belcher would run rampant in a format with inconsistent control decks, and Preordain and Ponder aren’t anywhere near as good at providing consistency. I imagine the Belcher lists, for example, would shift to a lower gear and slow down a bit and add a bit more disruption. My friend played a successful Belcher list for quite some time and to some success, most notably a T8 and the GP: Stockholm side-event a few years back. It had main deck Duress, among other more disruptive elements, and I could see a list like that be successful in a metagame where decks have worse consistency.

This is all rather far-fetched, I know, but this is my honest prediction of what would happen if Brainstorm decks were neutered. The card is certainly ubiquitous enough and powerful enough to actually get banned, but then again – metagames are complex things, and a ban like that would have a much more widespread and unpredictable effect, compared to other bannings like Mystical Tutor, Survival of the Fittest or Mental Misstep.

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section!

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1 Comment

  1. Wannabepurgatog

     /  December 2, 2014

    I don’t think you are wrong at all. The all in combodecks would go on a rampage if brainstorm and fow disapeared. Brainstorm does not only keep all in decks in check, it also opens up the format and gives the blue decks an answer to decks like elves and other nonblue decks. Even that I don’t play blue myself I think that both brainstorm and its sistercards(ponder, preordain, TC, sensei’s divining top) needs to be in legacy for the health of the format. Otherwise it would just be a modern with stronger manabase and some all in combodecks.

    Thanks for a great blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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