So you think you’re a real powerful wizard, huh…?
Recently some friends and I have put some serious testing into the format and have come to the conclusion that the format really needed a centralized set of rules, a ban list, and just…structure. When we first got interested in it, there wasn’t much to read about it other than Mike Flores’ articles about it on the mothership, which are now well over a decade outdated. While a lot of what he said there is still pretty relevant, the landscape has changed a lot, and power creep has certainly made it so that a lot of the cards in his original ban list aren’t that much of an issue.
Before I get into any of that, let’s break down the format for those uninitiated thusfar.
What is Mental Magic and how do I play it?
Mental Magic is a Magic variant that allows you to access the entire library of Magic cards. To put it simply, both players play the game as though they had [mtg_card]Richard Garfield, Ph.D[/mtg_card] in play at all times. Due to the degenerate nature of tutor-effects in a format like Mental Magic, you also play the game with an invisible [mtg_card]Mindlock Orb[/mtg_card] in play as well. You may not cast cards as the actual card that you are holding, it must be a different card with a matching converted mana cost.
Instead of having basic land cards in your deck, you may play any card face-down as a land card each turn. These lands are considered “Utopia” and produce mana of any color. According to our rule set, they are also considered to be every basic land type. The deck may also contain actual land cards, which are named as non-basic lands in much the same way as your spells. If you can think of the card, you can play it!
Cards both in your hand and in the graveyard are considered to be their “face” cards. So if your opponent casts [mtg_card]Duress[/mtg_card] against you, they may only take cards that are actually noncreatures out of your hand. [mtg_card]Tarmogoyf[/mtg_card] also only sees cards in the graveyard as their face card. Flashback also works in the graveyard, as long as the printed card is of the appropriate converted mana cost, but you MUST know the Flashback cost in order to be able to use the ability.
Additionally, all of the rules that apply to Miracles still apply, however you MUST know the Miracle cost of the card you’re trying to cast as well as it’s actual converted mana cost in order to be able to play it.
What do I need to play Mental Magic?
Not much. Although I have a 120-card cube for Mental Magic, we’ve also played it by getting 4-5 booster packs, shuffling them together and playing. You could even play with draft spoils that you find on tables, with fat packs, anything. The beauty of the format is that the deckbuilding is not the most important part of the format, but instead your ability to tap into a vast knowledge of cards.
The format can be played either with individual decks, or from a shared library. For our intents and purposes, we will assume that players are playing from a shared deck because that is how we do the majority of our testing.
There are a lot of cards, but only a few of them are broken.
The “original” banned list for Mental Magic was a little weird. The idea was to just ban power and everything that was banned in Extended. In the spirit of updating things, we decided to ixnay that line of thinking. One of the big appeals of Mental Magic is playing with power cards, and if everyone has access to them, they’re fine for the most part. Our concerns were things that “broke” the rules of the format or just flat-out take the fun out of the game.
Our banned list is pretty short, and we are more than happy to consider adding to the list given a compelling argument or sufficient evidence. Everything on this list assumes players are playing from a shared library.
Unglued and Unhinged Cards.
[mtg_card]Library of Alexandria[/mtg_card].
[mtg_card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/mtg_card].
Cards we feel are “maybe bannable.”
Cards with banned keywords may still be cast, however they lose the keyword ability.
Potentially bannable keywords
Rationale behind bannings?
Ante Cards: These are obviously not playable in a format that plays from a shared library.
Unglued and Unhinged: The mechanics are just too far out there. This is up to your play group, though. Might be fine for a fun game.
Fastbond: Each time this card was cast, that player won. It was a 100% win rate card, which is reason enough to remove it.
Exploration: Not as broken as Fastbond, but in a format where land destruction is easy to come by, this put one player way too far ahead of the other.
Library of Alexandria: This card, while not being too powerful for the format on its own, lends itself to a very boring first turn. One of the things we observed is that a very large portion of our games played out in this order – Player 1: Library of Alexandria, go. Player 2: Stripe Mine your Library, go. It was boring, and when a player did manage to get his Library going, the win rate was alarmingly high.
Sylvan Library: Sylvan Library allows you to soft lock your opponent out of good cards when playing from a shared library, which is not very much fun. We like fun.
Sundering Titan: Sundering Titan is banned on our list simply because we count Utopias as basic lands.
Sensei’s Divining Top: Top, much like Sylvan Library, is anti-fun for the person on the receiving end. It also makes turns take FOREVER. If you think people take a long time tanking on Top in constructed formats, imagine how long they’ll take in Mental Magic.
Volrath’s Stronghold: When playing from a shared library this card can make the game unplayable for your opponent. Thanks to Emma Handy for the heads up on this card, it had gone under the radar.
Ancestral Recall: We haven’t banned this card yet, but we’re keeping an eye on it. From the games we’ve played it hasn’t been overtly oppressive, but rather we’ve seen it as a way for players who are behind to dig themselves out of a deficit. That’s probably healthy.
Channel: Ricochetty thinks Channel is fine. The rest of us think he’s wrong, but we’re going to leave it unbanned until we get to play with it more. (We don’t have GG in our cube at the moment.)
Sol Ring: We have quite a few 1 mana artifacts in our deck, and thus far we haven’t seen Sol Ring do anything outwardly degenerate, but it is certainly on our radar. If something arises we may consider banning this card in the future.
Trade Routes: Trade Routes is interesting because it allows you to abuse your Utopias in a very unique way. You can use Trade Routes to dodge hand disruption, which is really neat, but potentially abusable. We haven’t seen it break the format yet, but Mike Flores seemed pretty convinced that the card was just stone-cold nuts because it basically extends your hand size to your mana base. It’s certainly very powerful. Obviously there are other mechanics that allow you to return lands to your hand, but not many of them do it for this cheap.
Dredge: Dredge is a mechanic that caused a lot of early Mental Magic players to simply forbid the graveyard from being used. We figured it was better for the format to simply remove the keyword rather than remove an entire zone from the game, especially a zone as beloved as the graveyard. There are a lot of really neat graveyard interactions, and it would be a shame to miss out on those because of one broken mechanic.
Morph: Unfortunately this mechanic just has too many things working against it. In order to play Morph cards in Mental Magic, you would need to reveal the card before you place it face-down when declaring which card you’re casting it as, which ultimately defeats the point of Morph. We just made the executive decision to axe it, despite it being a very recent mechanic that people are familiar with.
Imprint: We’re thinking about banning Imprint for similar reasons to Morph. While Imprint is a cool ability, it isn’t seen on that many cards and it has very odd interactions with the basic rules of Mental Magic. Since cards can never be cast as their “face” card, Imprinting a card on something such as [mtg_card]Isochron Scepter[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Mimic Vat[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Panoptic Mirror[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Prototype Portal[/mtg_card] would allow you to circumvent this rule because Imprint specifies that it casts the exact card that is exiled. It would also allow you to cast them more than once, another fundamental rule in Mental Magic that is shattered by these cards. Rather than banning all of those cards individually, we just decided to ban the mechanic since it’s less bookkeeping and doesn’t really hurt any other overly playable cards with the exception of maybe [mtg_card]Chrome Mox[/mtg_card].
What about (insert here) mechanic?
Great question, Jimmy! Obviously we don’t have the exact answer to every single mechanic, however our hope is to define as many of them as possible.
Hybrid mana: (Example: [mtg_card]Orzhov Guildmage[/mtg_card]) In the case of hybrid mana costs, we have decided to play them as interchangeable mana symbols. What this means is that if you were to draw Orzhov Guildmage, you could play it as WW, BB or WB if you choose to. This opens up more design space when constructing a Mental Magic cube without really hurting the random element of booster-built libraries.
Miracles: Miracles were tricky because I wasn’t sure how to handle them. After a little discussion we decided that Miracles were perfectly balanced since we don’t allow Sensei’s Divining Top. The one thing about a Miracle card is that you MUST know both the converted mana cost as well as the Miracle cost of the card in order to be able to cast it for it’s Miracle cost.
Flashback: Flashback cards simply care about the converted mana cost of the printed card. To use an example, if you have an [mtg_card]Accumulated Knowledge[/mtg_card] in your graveyard, you may “flashback” that card as [mtg_card]Think Twice[/mtg_card]. You are still required to pay the appropriate Flashback cost and exile the card.
Retrace: Retrace is allowed, however it does require you to discard actual basic lands as per printed on the cards. This makes the mechanic unplayable in decks without lands, but the potential upside for decks with lands in them is there so we felt it was fine.
Manifest: Manifest, unlike Morph, is a perfectly viable face-down strategy. Manifest cards can simply be declared when they are being turned face-up. You do, of course, still need to declare an actual creature as per Manifest’s rules text.
Split cards: Split cards can still be cast the same way that they normally would. You may choose to cast either side, or you may fuse two effects together as long as you can name two cards to fuse.
Phyrexian Mana: Phyrexian symbols are still printed as mana symbols on their face cards, and we don’t intent to change that. If you’re holding a face card that is 1BB, maybe [mtg_card]Agent of Fates[/mtg_card] as an example, you may cast that as [mtg_card]Liliana of the Veil[/mtg_card] OR [mtg_card]Dismember[/mtg_card] if you choose. Likewise, if your face card is [mtg_card]Dismember[/mtg_card], it can be [mtg_card]Agent of Fates[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Liliana of the Veil[/mtg_card]. Treat Phyrexian mana as you normally would when casting spells.
1.0 Completed on September 24th, 2015.
1.1 Updated to discuss potential banning of the Imprint mechanic.
1.2 Updated for rules clarifications.
1.3 Banned [mtg_card]Volrath’s Stronghold[/mtg_card].