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By: hamtastic, Erik Friborg
Sep 18 2008 10:12am
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But seriously....Prismatic.

I feel like a villager looking upon the abomination of the creature Frakenstein.  Somewhere, some mad scientist created you.  And for a while, he loved you.  But then you became harder to control.  What was once a shining marvelous achievement is now a shameful display of neglect and purposelessness.  I feel we cannot truly appreciate where we are now without knowing where we came from.  So let's take a little retro-flashback trip and glimpse at what brought us to our present sad state of affairs.

In the beginning...
January 3rd, 2003: Prismatic mentioned by Alan Comer.

Interesting detail for MTGO.  They increased the requirements of the colored cards from 18 to 20.  Also mentioned here is that the Prismatic format was prone to causing lag due to the server checking the legality of the deck.

January 14th, 2003: Prismatic Announced.

The following cards are banned in the Prismatic Format:
Battle of Wits
Buried Alive
Burning Wish
Cunning Wish
Diabolic Tutor
Eladamri's Call
Insidious Dreams
Living Wish
Quiet Speculation
Sterling Grove
Sundering Titan
Tooth and Nail
Wild Research

We had Prismatic, and it was good.

September 2004:
The original banned list was retained, and they state that they will continue to be proactive with banning tutors to retain the feel of the format.

"Prismatic: We spent a lot of time talking about Prismatic and debating what we want it to be. (We'd also like to thank all of you who chimed in on the message board thread that Matt Place started – we were happy to have your opinions and they were quite helpful.)  In the end, we believe the whole point of Prismatic is that it's kind of random and fun. When you're playing with 250 cards, you should get a lot of different draws and lots of diversity of game-play. For this reason, you should expect us to be very aggressive in banning any card that lets you go get specific other cards. All so-called "tutors" got a lot of scrutiny and we'll be announcing quite a few bannings on September 1st. (Note the paper-based "5-color" format that Prismatic is based on also restricts just about every tutor that gets printed.)"

November 2004:
First Prismatic tournament is announced!

December 2004:
Skullclamp is banned)
Bringer of the Black Dawn is banned
Gifts Ungiven is banned

"Online, Prismatic was the only format to change. The dreaded Skullclamp gets added to yet another banned list, as every good deck was running four plus four Trinket Mages to go find them, and getting one in play often meant you'd win the game. Joining the Clamp are two powerful tutoring effects, Bringer of the Black Dawn and Gifts Ungiven. Both cards are at a power level for library manipulation that is too high for the format."

September 2005:
Upheaval is banned
Rude Awakening is banned

"After we made the last batch of bannings in Prismatic, I was bombarded online about two cards—Rude Awakening and Upheaval. “Why didn't we ban those?” players asked. So I did my own brand of “research” and started playing the heck out of the format and talking to other players.They were right. Those two cards were game-wreckers along the lines of Sundering Titan. You could do nothing but draw cards and fix your mana for the first few turns, and then—POW!—cast either of these spells for an almost guaranteed win. The cards were way more offensive than most of the stuff that is already banned, and if they were keeping people from playing the format, they certainly needed to go."

December 2005:
Enduring Ideal is banned

June 2006:
Congregation at Dawn is banned
Enlightened Tutor is banned
Merchant Scroll is banned
Mystical Tutor is banned
Vampiric Tutor is banned
Worldly Tutor is banned

"Prismatic was due for a set of bannings. We let people play around with the Mirage tutors for a while, but they have more than proven how good they are and now need to be retired. Joining them on the bench are Congregation at Dawn and Merchant Scroll, two more tutors that have been seeing increased play as of late. We will continue to exercise judgment with tutors in the format as more and more are released."

March 2007:
Supply/Demand is banned
Demonic Collusion is banned
Mystical Teachings is banned

"In general, we have been banning all the decent tutors in that format, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future."

June 2007:
Glittering Wish is banned
Summoner's Pact is banned
Detritivore is banned

"The only non-Eternal format in which anything was done was Online Prismatic, wherein Glittering Wish and Summoner's Pact were banned for being powerful tutors, and Detritivore was banned as well, as it falls into the same category as Sundering Titan: a crushingly overpowered card that preys on the nature of the format."

September 2007:
Flash is banned

"1a. Goodbye, Flash in Prismatic

File this one away under the Sundering Titan / Rude Awakening precedent—Flash wins too many games of Prismatic too quickly, so we banned it."

December 2007:
Brainspoil is banned
Clutch of the Undercity is banned
Diabolic Intent is banned
Dimir House Guard is banned
Dimir Infiltrator is banned
Dimir Machinations is banned
Dizzy Spell is banned
Drift of Phantasms is banned
Ethereal Usher is banned
Grozoth is banned
Muddle the Mixture is banned
Netherborn Phalanx is banned
Perplex is banned
Shred Memory is banned
Tolaria West is banned


"Diabolic Intent was banned for being a powerful tutor.

The other fourteen cards banned have one thing in common. They all have the Transmute mechanic. Transmute turns all fourteen of these cards into powerful tutor effects. The fourteen cards all have different other abilities but the common link of being Transmute cards means they are being removed from the format.  Before this announcement twenty-seven cards on the Prismatic banned list are tutor effects. We have consistently removed tutors from the Prismatic format. We don't want a 250-card format to be about finding particular cards consistently and that is why we have banned fifteen more tutor cards."

So I think that gets us pretty well up to speed with how we got to where we are.  But just for fun, here's a chart showing how many cards were banned during each round of bannings.

What have we learned so far from the bannings up to this point?  That cards that 'win the game' were banned.  Also, that cards that 'search for other cards' were banned.  They want the format to be about randomness.  They want the format to be about big decks and crazy draws.  But here's the problem with that utopian vision: it's contradictory.  For Magic to be balanced there need to be problems and answers.  If you remove one side of the equation you lose that balance and a format will stagnate.  This is what has happened to Classic.  Towards the end of Prismatic's tournament run, it was aggro deck vs aggro deck because the only tutoring that's allowed is land tutoring which kills combo.  Combo is meant to race aggro decks and usually win while control is aiming to stop combo which allows aggro to sneak in enough damage to win.  That's supposed to be the balance.  But what happened is that the lack of tutoring killed combo and weakened control to the point that aggro was the only real choice... once that happened the format became a new type of 'unfun'.

So what?
Why is this such a big deal, hammy?  I'm glad you asked.  The thing that makes the format great is the same thing that makes these sporadic actions so bad for the format: the intracicies of building a large deck.  The amount of time it takes to tweak, test, test, test, tweak is far greater than a normal 60 card deck.  Then you start getting into sideboard perumutations... and the amount of testing really starts to take off.  Now, imagine doing all this testing with the
Sword of Damocles hanging above the major function of your deck.  Who wants to waste that much time building, testing and tweaking just to have it rendered moot.

So what do I propose to do about it?  That really depends on what WotC decides that they want Prismatic to be, and what they want for a large deck tournament format.  Assuming that WotC wants Prismatic to become a balanced archtype driven tournament format, they need to revist how it is balanced.  My previous solution was to create a ban and restrict list that would allow the narrow tutors to exist as restricted copies but ban the big 'get anything' tutors as well as the hugely game ending spells.

It is probably possible to make Prismatic 'balanced' through a ban/restricted list.  However, it's going to take a lot of work due to the size of the decks and the time it takes to playtest/verify/etc each possible change.

My (personal) recommendation would be the following:


"I win" cards -

Battle of Wits
A fairly obvious "I win" card.  One of the few worth banning in the format.

Sundering Titan
Resolving this early is backbreaking.  Even mid to late game this essentially shuts out one of the players from the game.

Tooth and Nail
The permutations of what can be done with this card to win the game are rather amazing.  

Like Sundering Titan this shuts the game off for one side and reduces the game to a 'look at me play' state.

Carte Blanche tutoring -

It's not so much the loss of the creature from my deck that's the problem, it's the fact that it grabs ANYTHING directly into play.  Since my opponent is obviously playing some big powerful creature somewhere in his deck this becomes a direct to play tutor of a very high calibre.

Bringer of the Black Dawn
Repeatable tutor effects attached to a (usually) efficient beater body.  Fetch anything and beat for five.

Demonic Consultation
Oh noes, cards RFG'd!  But oh well, I'll be <clearing the board/burning you out/comboing off> now, so I guess that's okay.

Gifts Ungiven
Graveyard recursion is getting constantly stronger.  The 'drawback' of this card is getting to be less and less of a hindrance.  In fact, many decks want card in their graveyards.  This should remain banned.

Imperial Seal
Straight up tutor effect.  Pretty easy.

Insidious Dreams

Liliana Vess
See Bringer of the Black Dawn.

Mystical Tutor
While not as amazing as Imperial Seal/Vampirc tutor, it's pretty much as powerful in most applications.  The majority of the time you're going to want to grab an instant/sorcery anyway and this just fills in for the other two.

Vampiric Tutor
See Imperial Seal

Beseech the Queen
Yes, this grabs 'anything', but I still think that it's really well balanced.  You can't grab 'anything' until later in the game.  You can't pop it onto the stack without paying BBB or more.

Life From the Loam
This card is simply amazing in many formats.  Prismatic is one of them.  It fuels combos, improves control decks and just basically solves a lot of problems and creates quite a few more.  It's a subtly powerful card.

Not as strong as Sundering Titan, but a very powerful effect none the less.  Allowing him to be used seems like an okay idea, so long as he doesn't get to be too problematic in the format.  Or possibly unrestricted if he proves to be too slow to help against combo or aggro decks.

Enduring Ideal
A very strong combo style card.  However, the rest of your deck needs to be changed up to run it effectively.  As such, allowing the combo piece as a singelton should help some alternate winning strategies.

I'm going to summarize a lot of cards as 'combo pieces', and what I mean by that is that allowing those cards gives players the ability to win vs aggro with a combo deck.  To make a typical balanced Magic metagame there really needs to be a deck that can race aggro but has a poor match-up against control.  When I find a card that fits this (mostly) I will label it a combo piece and move on.

Mana Crypt

Rude Awakening
This is a strong control finisher.  Again, there needs to be a card that allows control to seal the deal against a temporarily disabled opponent.  This card does that.

For now, restricted.  Eventually this may prove to be more ridiculous than can be handled.  If so, I have no qualms in banning it.

Buried Alive
Combo piece.

Burning Wish
Combo Piece.

Congregation at Dawn
Control + Combo Piece

Cunning Wish
Combo Piece

Diabolic Intent
Combo piece.  I rallied to get this banned before, and I still think that, given the current 'spirit' of bannings that it should be banned.  However, if we can move towards bans and restrictions, I'm all for restricting this Combo Piece.

Diabolic Tutor
Combo Piece.

Demonic Collusion
Combo Piece

Combo Piece.  Eventually this will probably have to be banned as it sets up 'I win' scenarios.  However our card pool doesn't have the relative strength that is needed to make this a huge threat yet.

Eladamri's Call
Combo Piece.

Enlightened Tutor
Combo Piece.

Combo Piece.

Combo Piece.

Glittering Wish
Combo Piece.

Grindstone (preemptive restriction)
Combo Piece.

Idyllic Tutor
Combo Piece.

Living Wish
Combo Piece.

Merchant Scroll
Combo Piece.

Mystical Teachings
Combo Piece.

Personal Tutor
Combo Piece.

Protean Hulk
Combo Piece.

Planar Portal
Combo Piece.  Mostly a 'restrict because it fits' though.  I would have no problems with this being unrestricted though.

Primal Command
Combo Piece.

Quiet Speculation
Combo Piece.

Sterling Grove
Combo Piece.

Summoner's Pact
Combo Piece.

Combo Piece.

Tolaria West
Combo Piece.

Worldly Tutor
Combo Piece.

Worldgorger Dragon
Combo Piece.

Wild Research
Combo Piece.

For the remain cards  I've lumped them under one reason: transmute.  The reason is pretty simple.  Each of them are about as restrictive as the other tutors that are currently being proposed for restriction.  For each of them, they can get cards that answer pretty much any current problem as well as search up a finisher that's applicable to the current board position.  

Clutch of the Undercity

Dimir House Guard

Dimir Machinations

Dizzy Spell

Drift of Phantasms

Ethereal Usher


Netherborn Phalanx


Something I'd like to see is a much larger sideboard.  60 card formats give us 15 cards in the sideboard.  On the MTGO Forums iceage4life recommended it go to 25 or 0.  I think that 25 might even be too small yet.  If we want to be able to actually change a decks matchups we probably need to get closer to that 25% number.  Something like 50 cards that can be swapped in or out to change some fundamental aspects of the deck would probably be more appropriate.  Of course, the only time you need a sideboard that much is when there are other archtypes to sideboard against.  To make that an issue we need combo and control to have the ability to fight aggro.

There's also the possibility of incorporating the Banned and Restricted list from the '5 Color' format and they could just ignore the cards we don't have yet.  While I know that this isn't ideal as there are probably cards they have had to deal with that we don't have on our radar, I think that this would be better than the current autoban setup that has been sorely lacking lately.

The last option I'd like to see for keeping Prismatic as a tournament format is to just keep banning all tutors as they are released.  This will leave the format in the same state as it was when the events stopped firing: aggro.dek vs aggro.dek.  I personally would like to avoid this outcome as I think that a stale metagame doesn't really help bolster tournament attendance.

But that's all assuming that WotC wants Prismatic to return to its place as a competitive format.  What if WotC just wants Prismatic to be a casual format?  Then they need to cut their losses with Prismatic.  Take it off the list of DCI supported formats.  Unban all the cards (except Battle of Wits) in it and refrain from attempting any more tournaments with it.  From here the players can create their own restrictions and banned lists.  If after that they want a big deck, multi-colored format that can be maintained with ease, I would suggest making Prismatic Singleton into a format.  Autoban Battle of Wits, Upheaval, Sundering Titan and Rude Awakening and start running tournaments to see what happens.  There might need to be more bannings after that, but I think that a minimalistic approach to a format is perfectly acceptable during its inception.

And there you have it!  The history and current situation of MTGO's Prismatic format.  I wish I could just say 'do x, y, and z and then you're set!' to fix the format.  But it's no longer that simple.  Prismatic is being torn apart by going in different directions as a format.  Where WotC takes it is up to them.  I really think that there is still a need for a big deck, multicolored format on MTGO.  But I'm not sure which one anymore...


by iceage4life at Mon, 09/22/2008 - 13:51
iceage4life's picture

WOTC doesn't put cards in a format to make it more budget friendly, or in this case screw people with better decks.

If your plan is non basic hate you have tons of good options, foremost the Moons which are quicker than 'vore.

by hamtastic at Thu, 09/18/2008 - 19:27
hamtastic's picture

I agree that the 5Color list isn't great, and probably isn't even very applicable to Prismatic right now.

But I'll take a non-applicable attempt at balance over the negligence that we've had so far.


I really like the idea of Prismatic Singleton becoming the large deck format of competitive stuff.  It's far easier to balance and mostly takes care of itself.

by one million words at Thu, 09/18/2008 - 18:55
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As a former member of the 5color ruling council, I recommend against importing the B&R list from 5color.   5color has had some very interesting debates, but the online and paper formats are very different.  The paper format has only just gotten past the endless ante debate, and they are still undecided on how combo-tastic that format should be.

 My recommendation would be to try to sanction prismatic singleton.  It's far more interesting.


Detrivore by Rob Rogers at Thu, 09/18/2008 - 11:11
Rob Rogers's picture

Man, I hated to see Detrivore banned from Prismatic, and I think it was a real blow to low-budget players. All those expensive nonbasic lands really give those Prismatic players who have them a huge advantage. Detrivore helps even the balance in a low-budget way, rewarding players who stick to basic lands. I'd really like to see him unbanned (and not restricted, either).