1.16.03 - An Answer to Abe,
I hope to be posting more of the promised decks soon. If you donít feel like reading a long article about the rules of PEZ look for those in the deck archives and catch up with me again next week. I would suggest you read this, however, because the people that will make the rules decisions do listen to your input, Rob did start the Yahoo Group for a reason. The PEZ community is a lot smaller than WotCís corporate office and your voice can be heard.
Also, my Dark Slide deck from last week was sub-optimal. The addition of even a single Skeletal Scrying makes the deck a whole lot better and allows you to refill and almost empty hand. I noticed the mistake this time but I do expect e-mails from you in the future to keep me leading in the right direction.
An Answer to Abe or Why Peasants Are Still Honest Laborers
Well, I had promised to write an article about beating Pros-Tides decks, and it is a topic I will touch on here, however a recently posted article has made quite a stir in the Peasant community and I felt the need to respond, without getting my 30 pieces of silver from Star City. Iím sure that since I became aware of Abe Sargentís article yesterday, and the voluminous responses on the Yahoo Group written before 8:30 this morning when my browser went down, that a great many individuals have weighed in with their own views. It may even be that by now, when Iím actually setting electronic pen to monitor, a community wide decision has been reached, but I doubt that, or that many more great ideas have been born, which I can guarantee. Use this article to educate yourself (and become indoctrinated to my viewpoint) and then let your own voice be heard, in PEZ you do have a voice.
While I suggest that you read Abeís article for yourself, he is a fan of PEZ and not a detractor, since it is well written and he articulates his points with skill (the title Abe had intended was less venomous but Star City decided to add a little punch) let me summarize the problem with Peasant magic.
The rules state that all cards use the least rarity level at which they were printed and that rarity is determined by the sheet they were printed on. The problem is that Arabian Nights, Antiquities, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Chronicles, and Homelands all used alternate rarity values and cards printed on the commons sheet could actually have a rarity value similar to a standard uncommon. The same is true for uncommons and exacerbated by the fact that these sets included no cards printed on rare sheets.
This means that cards like Ali from Cairo, Juzam Djinn, and Library of Alexandria (all of which sell for upwards of $100 a pop) are all playable in Peasant Magic. While only Library of Alexandria, of which 4 copies appeared in a PEZ deck this past Gen Con, has seen play these cards are all over powered and misrepresent the flavor of the format. More commonly, cards like Strip Mine and Maze of Ith are included in decks as commons while their rarity, cost, and effects would possibly call for a different classification.
For those who believe this is a problem, matters are only made worse by the fact that there is currently no banned or restricted list for the format.
Lastly, PEZ allows for all cards from sets with rarity levels to be played. This means that all Portal cards are legal as are Unglued cards. Some players feel that these cards skew the playing field, add an obscene element to tournament play (e.g.. squawking like a chicken or doing the Hokey Pokey), or cause unnecessary complications and misunderstandings.
All of these problems have been debated on the Yahoo Group but Abeís article set it all off again so I felt that I should use the space that Pojo graciously grants me to make a long winded response - since I canít ever seem to keep anything short.
Problem #1, Cards are considered as the most common version
The theory is that cards like River Boa and Crypt Rats were reprinted at a higher rarity level in latter sets because their relative power was beyond the threshold of what a common card should be. For cards like Mishraís Factory and Strip Mine the rarity level comes into play because alternate art was used for these cards and one picture for each just happened to be printed on the commons sheet. In either case, so the argument goes, this is unfair or unbalanced because these cards were intended to be and should be uncommons.
Okay, that is a valid point but is it unfair or unbalanced?
Obviously, fairness would only come into play if the differing rarities precluded some players from obtaining these cards. While it is true that the cost of these cards is out of line when compared to commons from the same sets, the difference is not great. While, I would certainly agree that a $100+ card, or even a $20+ card, would be out of line for the average pocket book, I donít think that cards costing less than $10 discriminate between collectors and college students, or even grade school students (who might have even more money than college students). The other part of the fairness question is that, while each of these cards is very good, not a single one is necessary or even an automatic addition to any deck. I can win without these cards and they donít automatically beat any single deck out there.
What about balance? While the above argument does speak tangentially to the issue of balance, the question is really whether or not these cards are unbalanced when compared to other commons. I would argue that, while very good for many decks, they are not any more powerful than many other common cards. Think of Congregate or Drain Life, cards that can generate massive life swings. What about Pestilence, a card that is in many ways better than Crypt Rats. Even commons like Giant Growth, Counterspell, Soul Warden, CoPís, Mogg Fanatic, and Impulse are as good or better given the right deck and the right situation.
In each case these cards arenít perfect for every deck or in every game and, with the exception of Strip Mine, can be effectively dealt with by other commons. Strip Mine, the poster child for this argument, is for all intents and purposes Raze, a card no one plays with although more deck should consider it. In addition, it is a single use effect and a sub-optimal card in match-ups versus fast aggressive mono-colored decks. In most games it is also a poor mid/late game drop. Sure itís a great card and amazing with multiples in your starting hand but is it truly broken?
Solutions for #1
Do nothing. If it ainít broke donít fix it. Obviously some people would disagree with this response since they do see a problem but it is also a solution that doesnít cause any new problems. Even better, doing nothing makes sure that a large pool of cards is still available for deck building while retaining the spirit of the format, even believers in this problem have to admit that Strip Mine abuse doesnít compare to Library of Alexandria or Ali from Cairo abuse. This also leaves open the option to deal with cards on an individual basis if PEZ does form a banned or restricted list, which is less intrusive to a gaming environment than mass banning.
Some have suggested that cards be counted at the highest rarity level at which they were printed. I have to strongly disagree with the solution. This immediately limits the pool and creates a number of odd situations. PEZ was created in order to let players use the majority of their card collection, including older cards. This solution would limit cards that everyone considers as common and which all players have stacks of sitting in shoeboxes under the bed. Do you think Counterspell should be treated as an uncommon? This solution would since Counterspell is an uncommon in 4th Edition and Portal.
Abe suggested another option. Cards are the rarity of the version of the card you play. This is even worse. To a great extent it suffers from the same problems as the previous solution. However, it also widens the elitist gap. Only those players who can find an older copy of a specific card, and pay the higher cost for it, or, in the case of Mishraís Factory and Strip Mine, have copies of the card with the right art can use them as commons. Not to mention the fact that you need a rarity list for older sets without color coded rarity and itís not just about determining the right border color but the artwork as well. Good luck enforcing it in tournaments.
Problem #2, Counting the sheep. . .err. . . sheet
Okay, so WotC caused no end of problems with some weird rarity notations for a year or two. What this means is that cards obviously meant to be one rarity arenít even though their power and the number of copies printed are consistent with another rarity value. Sure this causes problems, just look at Juzam Djinn or Library of Alexandria. I will be the first to admit that this is a problem. Just look at the end of the article to see an analysis I did when PEZ was a newly born format and I had my own proposed solution to the problem (which I donít necessarily continue to endorse). Solutions, however, are a sticky problem.
Solutions for #2
The most frequent solution, in fact the solution used most commonly elsewhere, is to count U1's as Rare and C1's as common. The only problem is that this breaks down for our purposes with PEZ. Sure it will fix Juzam Djinn but what about Library of Alexandria? Too bad Library of Alexandria was printed as a U3 in Arabian Nights. Other examples include Ivory Tower (U3 - Antiquities), Reflecting Mirror (U2 in The Dark), Erhnam Djinn (U3 in Chronicles), and others. On the other hand, why donít we look at Order of the Ebon Hand or Order of Leitbur, both of which are C1 cards. Indeed, most of the common cards with multiple images were printed as C1's because there were really 2 or more copies of the same card on the sheet, making them as common as C2's, C3's, or C4's. Other weird problems crop up as well. Maze of Ith is a C1 but it was, IIRC, the only C1 printed in the Dark. In fact, as many copies of Maze of Ith were printed as all of the U1's and U2's in the rest of the set! Obviously this unnecessarily limits cards that should be considered at the lower rarity value when it is intended to weed out cards meant for the higher rarity brackets. Talk about unintended consequences.
I submit that using any blanket response to eliminate a small portion of problem cards is nearsighted and is akin to using a sledge hammer to pound in a thumb tack. A less negative response would be to make U1's Rare and leave C1's alone. This solves most of the multiple art issue and also recognizes that cards intended to be uncommon are, as a whole, less destabilizing than cards intended to be Rare. It still effects a number of trouble makers but is a less invasive measure. Alternately, adopt a modified version of my proposed rarity list where specific modifications are used on a set by set basis to help avoid unintended problems. This still doesnít provide a solution for cards like Library of Alexandria which are smart enough to slip under the rarity radar.
Another idea, which I believe holds merit, is to leave things as they are but create alternate formats. Have Type II PEZ tourneys (which would obviously avoid the problem sets). My personal choice, under this solution, would be to allow only sets with color coded rarity values on the card (Exodus-Current, +Unglued). Either way, this solution seems to be running away from the problem instead of dealing with it and limits the card pool to a very great extent. It also creates a disincentive for former players to start playing again with PEZ, a group that has begun to be a loyal following for the format.
Again, my response of choice would be to do nothing. This leaves the playing field wide open and also avoids the problems listed above. Cards could be dealt with on a card by card basis or we could trust the Peasant honor and market price would provide a sufficient deterrent. Remember, I can deal with Ali from Cairo with Terror or a Crypt Rat. Library of Alexandria just doesnít seem to like Stone Rain or Strip Mine. And Juzam Djinn hates multiple burn spells and Nightwind Gliders. Oh yeah, anyone who thinks Ball Lightning is a great card in the format has another thing coming.
Problem #3, No banned or restricted list
Yep, this is a problem but I donít think most of the vocal supporters are dealing with it the right way. New players are always saying how powerful the old cards are but if you talk to an old time player they frequently claim that they find the new cards to be beyond the pale. This isnít strictly a problem with the old cards. Also, many players stopped playing tournaments because they somehow felt betrayed when a favorite card was banned or they just didnít want to keep up with the changes. Does a young alternative format really need to alienate players it has attracted?
In addition choosing what cards to ban or restrict is problematic.
The often used, though much maligned, suspect here is Strip Mine. It is a powerful card that can be included in any deck with little trouble. It is also discouraging to play against since losing lands, especially early in the game, is disheartening. By banning, restricting, or considering Strip Mine as an uncommon, however, you further destabilize the environment. If Strip Mine is no longer easily playable, fewer decks will be able to deal with Coffer King (a powerful Control Black build) and decks will lose a critical first game ability to delay Pros-Tides. Furthermore, if Strip Mine is not common, Maze of Ith, Cabal Coffers, Library of Alexandria, and maybe even Desert become vastly more powerful and harder to deal with. If banning one card will lead additional cards to the list of outcasts it is probably a bad idea. If something really needs to be done, maybe limiting Crop Rotation and/or Demonic Tutor is a better solution. This forces people who want to abuse Strip Mine to include 3-4 copies but still allows the card to be a deterrent to the other cards and decks listed above.
Since I mentioned Demonic Tutor maybe I should also use it as an example. Heck, it is a great card and one of the few uncommons worthy of a slot for Black. It is also banned or restricted in other formats. In PEZ, however, you have to ask yourself what spells you are tutoring for. Maybe a Crypt Rat, a Duress, or a Terror. In other formats you may be tutoring for a key combo card or a powerful 1 of. In PEZ you tend to be tutoring for a common that provides a solution to a specific game situation. At Gen Con, my most tutored card was Swamp! It clearly is a powerful card, because it grants a deck flexibility, but not nearly as powerful as in Type I or Type 1.5. Iím not saying that it doesnít need to be banned or restricted, just that the argument is clear cut.
Another part of the problem is how to deal with degenerate decks through banning. Pros-Tides is clearly the most degenerate deck in PEZ. Had my article been available to you this week you may not have felt as strongly about it as most players do now (because people arenít thinking about beating it the best way). Every color has a chance to beat it without devoting 4+ sideboard slots to the problem. Be that as it may, most people feel something should be done to stop the deck. For those who donít know it, the deck uses High Tides and Cloud Fairies/Frantic Search/Snap to generate massive mana then play a huge Prosperity to gain enough cards to continue the combo until they deck the opponent. Most people want to ban either High Tides, Merchant Scroll, or the Cloud Fairies/Frantic Search/Snap. Banning those cards hurts a lot of other creative deck builds, especially in the case of Merchant Scroll. Furthermore, it would destroy not just the degenerate version of the deck but the less nasty, though still effective, versions like Magma Tides (because this deck need Peregrine Drake it takes longer to play out and is easier to beat when it does go off). Why not ban or restrict Prosperity? It kills the degenerate deck and affects an uncommon, which is easier on other deck builds, than banning a common. Feldonís Cane is another good target for the ban to solve this deck.
My point isnít that banning or restricting is a bad thing, just that it takes more thought than most people think.
Solutions to #3
Again, this is a problem spot. The advantage that PEZ enjoys when it comes to banning or restricting cards, however, is very nice. While most formats can only ban or restrict a card, PEZ has another option. If the card is a common they can simply say that it now counts as an uncommon. I know that if Strip Mine was an uncommon it would almost never make one of the critical 5 uncommon picks in any deck.
Some people have suggested that we simply adopt the Type I list. The problem here is that these cards were banned or restricted because they were abusive in a specific format. The perfect example is Crop Rotation which can be a decent card but is only truly broken when played with Tolarian Academy or similar cards. Also take a look at Dark Ritual which is a strong PEZ card but certainly not abusive when it canít fuel a quick combo or a Phyrexian Negator. PEZ is a unique format and shouldnít sink so low as to adopt the standards of others. This is clearly not a one size fits all problem.
Others have suggested that we proceed on a card by card basis, a solution with which I happen to agree. Still, how does one choose. I had liked the idea of letting the PEZ community vote on Yahoo when a card was causing problems. But then I thought about how this system could be abused or overused. People wouldnít have to come up with creative solutions to beat a deck, they would only have to tell others how powerful it was and get a few key cards banned. I now believe that a better solution would be to form a group of PEZ players to make a banned and restricted list for PEZ. I donít know how it would be set up or who would be a part of it, other than Rob but even though I think this is the solution I certainly donít envy their position or the weight of their decisions!
Once again, we have the option of doing nothing. This is a possible solution especially if other methods are decided to be necessary to alter the format. I have to agree with Abe, however, without other solutions to the problems I do think that PEZ could degenerate as there are bigger tournaments and the fan base grows.
Problem #4, Unglued and Portal
While most people have no problem allowing the Portal cards in PEZ, a large number do have issues with Unglued. Perhaps they just donít like their opponentís clucking, dancing, or throwing cards in the air. Maybe they are just partial to wearing denim (donít forget that Denim Walk was a creature ability in Unglued). Most, however, feel that a small number of Unglued cards are overpowered.
Abe correctly points out most of the degenerate Unglued cards in his article: the Rock/Paper/Sicissors creatures, Knight of the Hokey Pokey and Chaos Confetti. He does leave out the super CoP, Charm School, and one of the most mana efficient flyers, Mesa Chicken. Clam Session also isnít a bad card. While Iím sure there may be a few good cards I forgot to mention that seems to be about the complete list. Chaos Confetti hasnít seen much play since the first Gen Con tournament. The card is actually semi-expensive for a non-tournament common (perhaps due to a future of scarcity). Also, for most tournaments you will have to have a number of Chaos Confetti cards equal to the number in your deck times the number of rounds. Nothing like losing 26 cards from your collection to win a tournament. Charm School is great because it is like a CoP you never have to pay for, the ultimate protection in a mono environment. The others are just very efficient creatures, something that is definitely not unbalanced (just think of other efficient cards like Wretched Anurid or Blastoderm).
As for the effects on play, it can be distracting to have your opponent doing crazy things at the table in the middle of the game and it also may make the format look more casual and less serious. Still, I am of the opinion that if you canít take a joke. . .well I will let you finish the sentence. All I will say is that a lot of people bought unglued because it looked fun and we didnít realize that WotC would never really allow us to use those cards. Itís about time they were set free. Seriously, with a handful of unbalanced cards (which could be banned or restricted independently), and only a slightly longer list of playable cards, should we take up the sledgehammer and exclude a whole set? Maybe, if something has to go this would be the least harmful to the format but is it really all that important?
What is interesting is that no one takes Portal seriously. Try playing against a deck with Temple Acolyte. Itís a 2 drop 1/3 creature that gives you 3 life when it comes into play. It has an amazing stall effect on most games. There are other Portal cards that make the cut in decks when needed, since many provide something just a little different than cards in the regular sets. Alaborn Grenadier is an example, a 2/2 Soldier that doesnít tap to attack creature for 2, or Omen a Sorcery version of Brainstorm that lets you shuffle your deck.
The most interesting, though currently unabused, Portal cards are from the Three Kingdoms expansion. These are hard to get since the majority of the cards are printed for the Asian market. By the way the book is great, you will probably need it in translation but make sure you buy it, there are many translations but the original is attributed to Luo Guanzhong. Anyway, instead of flying, the set used an identical ability called Horsemanship. Bringing these cards to a tourney you have unblockable creatures for a reasonable amount of mana. The set also has commons with all 5 types of land walk abilities, including Plainswalk.
The main problem with Portal, however, is that all Instants in the basic sets are Sorceries in Portal. This can cause confusion as can the fact that not all Portal creatures have assigned Creature Types. You can find the correct type in the Oracle text but nowhere on the card.
While there are clearly issues with all of these sets, I must say that the advantages outweigh the costs. It is a way for people who learned the game with Portal cards to make use of a collection that would otherwise be gathering dust. It also opens up new cards that many Magic players havenít used before. Similar things can be said for Unglued and I donít think anyone has seen these cards cause the format to degenerate yet. Since neither set was intended for aggressive tournament play, I think the possibility for problems in the future is limited.
Solution to #4
My solution here would clearly not be to do nothing. I would encourage people to explore these cards and to use them! Individual cards like Chaos Confetti could be banned or restricted while still allowing just a hint of these setís special flavors to seep into the format without souring the whole thing.
If you feel that something must be done the clear option is to ban one or both sets. As I said before, this type of response seems like a sledgehammer approach.
A final option would be to only alter Horsemanship to make it identical to the Flying keyword. The downside is that all those Cavalry cards would seem kind of odd and so would the art work but there would be no chance for abuse. Maybe some other mechanics could be similarly singled out if there are problems (Maybe creatures count as no type).
Problem #5, There is no price threshold
As we mentioned in the discussion of card rarity, some cards in PEZ cost more than entire peoples decks. It is clear that this is a violation of the formatís spirit. I think that players who feel the need to play with these cards should be reminded that you donít need money to build a tournament worthy deck and that if they canít control themselves maybe they can find another format. Why play a $500 PEZ deck instead of entering a pro-tour qualifier with an equally costly deck? The pride you feel by designing a slick, sleek, and powerful deck from leftovers is certainly lost as is the advantage of being able to pay rent AND play Magic.
I think everyone recognizes the potential for this problem to increase as more people play PEZ and there are tournaments with larger prizes. Some people take the argument further and wonder why PEZ will allow a $100+ uncommon it wonít allow a stupid $2 rare. The reason is that rares are not part of Peasant Magic. There is no point in applying any rarity restrictions at all in a format where available card choices are affected by price. Adding both restrictions becomes both redundant and a burden. PEZ already forces deck builders to examine card choices more carefully by constantly referring to a rarity list. If a format were to add the burden of checking a price list as well, many people wouldnít bother to put in the extra time. Knowing card prices, and keeping decks current as prices fluctuate, would create an undue burden on both players and judges as well. The beauty of PEZ as opposed to the many other Ďcheapí formats is that the card restrictions are easily understood and implemented. Rarity doesnít change and the rules donít change.
An additional answer to the above argument is that even if the rarity restrictions seem, or were, arbitrary they work well. By eliminating rares, the format spotlights a metagame that is significantly different from standard formats. Games are won by the deck and not individual cards. Also, players are forced to form strategy around cards that are not part of the typical net deck arsenal. In addition the rule of 5 is significant. 5 slots allows you to include 4 copies of a card or mix and match with a 2:3 ratio. While you have a good chance of drawing one of the cards from those valuable slots, the limit of 5 also partially insures that those cards will not be the focus of the game even if they are the focus of the deck. If you allow only 1 or 2 rares, you will never draw them in most games (unless you abuse Tutors which would guarantee the need to ban cards). More and you come closer and closer to congruity with the standard environment.
Lastly, I believe that issuing price guidelines for deck building encourages a mind set that the format is a poor manís version of the full game. Just as I argue against those who claim PEZ is Ďjustí a casual format, I argue against the label that it is a cheap format. A side effect of the formatís rules is that decks are cheap and easy to build. It is a bonus, something extra. The value of the format itself is intrinsic. It is part of the fact that the PEZ rules encourage a balanced and exciting game environment that encourages players to make creative and innovative card choices.
Solutions to #5
There are two variant groups who offer a solution to this problem. The first group takes a card based approach. Instead of limiting the total cost of a deck, they suggest that each individual card cost no more than X amount. Numbers that I have seen range from $0.50 to $10. Obviously a great deal of thought must be given to where the bar should be set. In addition, if an argument is made for this type of restriction that person better recognize that cards are printed in multiple sets with different costs. If you thing multiple rarities in different printings was a problem just think about this mess.
The other group contends that total deck cost should be the issue. The deck as a whole should cost less than X amount. Usually between $10 and $100. There are some problems here. If I want to build a 500 card deck and play it in a tournament should I be kicked out (I grant that if I did this someone should sit down and teach me just a bit about probability)? At least if I address cost on a card by card basis I donít have to look up how much Giant Growth costs since I know it would be under the per-card limit. However, with this solution every card would count. Maybe just restricting the total cost of uncommons would be a good compromise here. Once again, this would be darn hard to enforce in a tournament. One suggestion I did think was elegant before my browser at work (shh. . .donít tell my boss) died was that a deck cost be set at X amount and at the end of a tournament any player could offer you two times $X and you would have to give that player your deck. It would certainly stop me from playing expensive cards while solving enforcement issues. Too bad most players, myself included, would be unwilling to give up a deck with cheap hard to find cards just to prove they didnít cheat.
As has often been the case in this article, I contend that the PEZ community do nothing. Just because a card costs money doesnít make it better than any other card. I can Terror, Twister, Bolt, Disenchant, or Counterspell your card no matter how much it costs. If there are specific cards that are a problem, and I agree that something like Juzam Djinn being legal is a bit troublesome, then ban that card and list the reason as ďnot conductive to the proper Peasant environmentĒ. Do it on a case by case basis but only for the cards that are both costly and powerful. No need to ban some expensive card that isnít playable just because of its cost. There should also be no need to set a specific price and lock the format into maintaining a position that will prove difficult to change in the future.
I am glad that Abe was able to get his article on the web. It presents questions that have faced PEZ since the beginning and as the format gains wider notoriety and attracts more players it is important that these questions be answered. At the same time it is important not to have a knee-jerk reaction when someone says a format has serious flaws. All formats have flaws, but PEZ has found an elegant and effective way to provide a great gaming environment. The flaws have yet to see major abuse. Part of that may be the spirit of the PEZ player and part is certainly the fact that the problems arenít as critical as people claim. Regardless, it is clear that PEZ is becoming a format popular enough to warrant reexamination of the rules in order to remain vibrant and become more enjoyable for all players in the future. It is quickly moving from a small subclass to a mainstream phenomena. Be excited about the format and help lead us into Magicís future! Get on the message board, e-mail the PEZ authors (and read their articles), use your voice and be a part of the movement!
Jason Chapman, firstname.lastname@example.org
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