Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Second Sin: Banding

"The most popular question was 'how does banding work?" 
--Mark Rosewater, The Baby and the Bathwater, Dec 1, 2003

"It lets you ban an entire card?!"--An 8 year old, in response to Benalish Hero

"How does banding work?"
 --Common banter among Magic players.

Banding, one of the original mechanics in the game, and one of the few designed by Garfield himself, is an often confused, underutilized, and even misunderstood mechanic. In the six years it was part of the game, it caused poor rulings, funny interactions, broken combat math, and it was a fan favorite of the general at heart. You see, banding was a complex, but rewarding combat mechanic that allowed your creatures to fight in teams (and in the case of Bands with Others, form D&D parties, but that is a story for another time).

Banding simply put existed until Mirage block, as an 'evergreen' mechanic, which meant it belonged to the base set and could be reprinted at any time, as with so many other odd ball mechanics, including Poison Counters (not Infect), Enchant Worlds, and Rampage. Mark Rosewater, as well as a number of other designers openly despise banding, and removed it from the game, sometime during the design of Tempest, since the initial Tempest print sheet not only has banding creatures, but also has poison counters and Enchant Worlds. In fact, currently banding on the Storm Scale sits at 10, while it's younger brother Bands with Other's sits alone at 11.
Notice both 'cooperation sliver' and a Time Walk enchant world.

So why? Why did the mechanic 'need to go'. While it's true it wasn't the most understood mechanic, and by 1996 it's appearance in tournament play was unlikely, but it still had (and has) a dedicated fan base. In reality, it was too complicated to fit on the text of a card (Phasing got a similar reason, but at least that got a recent card printed), and it wasn't marketable enough. The sad thing is, despite them trying to make mechanics that make creatures 'a team' (Soulbond, Partner, Partner with X, Battalion). All these, from both a flavor and mechanical stand point don't come close to the same thing as banding.

"Er, I think there's a word for this. It's called "Banding".

But when WotC shifted their target market from experienced adult gamers to Pokemon kids, I guess they were scared of their clientelle not understanding how banding works. So they made an inferior, simplified version of banding that only works in defense.

2 out of 5 stars for functionality,
0 out of 5 stars for defiling the spirit of the game."
--DrJack, Gatherer comments

However, it's removal, while tragic, is understandable (while being officially removed in Classic 6th, it did get a power upgrade, and still uses the old pre-M10 combat rules). After all, some simplicity to rules is understandable, especially in the uncertainty of the mid-90's.

This however, set up a terrible precedent, one that would only come into full fruition in the most recent of times. It meant essentially, there was no sacred cows. Sure the removal of mechanics in the game, only happened fairly recently, but remember Bury? Yeah, this would leave to that efficent keyword being phased out entirely. Numerous other mechanics have been removed, not just from the coreset, but from future sets all together. These include landwalk, Fear (and it's bastard younger sibling Intimidate), Regeneration, Protection, and Shroud. Some of these were removed due to 'drawbacks being bad', others due to complexity. However, designers who feel shuffling is the equivalent of 'load times', landwalk being unfair (but unconditional unblockability is fine), and protection to be to risky, might not be people worth taking design advice from.

"When I see this card, I see Banding at it's core, it's heart, it's soul. A mechanic that was broken from the start."--Evilcleavage, gatherer comments 5/19/2010

Maybe banding being removed wasn't a sin in on itself, so much as it was the harbinger of the sin of 'over-simplification' that has been creeping it's way into the game, since Classic 6th edition. Which is most definitely a sin, but we will get to more of that in later entries.

"Landwalk has many of the same issues as intimidate…but even more severe. What do you do against a landwalk creature if you're playing the appropriate land? Not play your basic lands? Magic games are best when there is some interaction, and landwalk was not clearing the bar."--Mark Rosewater

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