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These past few years, there've been several ridiculously powerful cards printed in Standard that eventually got banned in Modern or even Legacy (!). Oko, Thief of Crowns and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath are the biggest offenders. The two cards being in the same colors led to a Pro Tour where most players maindecked four copies of Noxious Grasp. Field of the Dead and Once Upon a Time are also in the same league.

Has R&D ever explained how these cards made it through the testing process? I know they did for Skullclamp (mentioned in this answer) and also Felidar Guardian (mentioned in this MTG Goldfish article; the link there is dead but can be found at the Wayback Machine), and I'm looking for something similar for these or other Standard-banned cards.

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  • Have a look at the rarity of the cards in question. That's why. Jun 15, 2023 at 23:36
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    @ComicSansStrikephim Oko and Uro were so far beyond the power of even any other Mythic Rares. Getting banned in Legacy is quite a feat. Jun 16, 2023 at 7:12

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Mark Rosewater, the lead designer on Magic: the Gathering recently answered a related question on his Tumblr blog about the overall design philosophy that results in overpowered cards:

Question:

Banning cards is necessary but it's always a sign that something went wrong. I'd like to suggest a post/article about lessons learned from bannings. For instance, what was the goal/story of Fable of the mirror break design, what/why it went wrong and what's the lesson learned.

Answer:

Cards being banned aren’t always a sign that things went wrong. We could make a world where cards never (or almost never) get banned by never pushing boundaries, but we don’t think that would be as fun of a game.

I truly believe if nothing ever gets banned, we aren’t doing or job properly. We’re supposed to come up to the line, which occasionally means we step over it, as where exactly the line is changes based on so many conditions.


There is a play design article that addresses what happened with Oko in particular:

Alongside power level, we were working on different structures for the Food deck, moving planeswalkers around on the mana curve to react to shifting costs elsewhere in the file, and churning through a variety of designs to try and find something that had any hope of being a fun Constructed card. Earlier versions of Oko had most of their power tied up in (a much broader) stealing ability, which was even less fun for the opponent than turning them into Elk.

Ultimately, we did not properly respect his ability to invalidate essentially all relevant permanent types, and over the course of a slew of late redesigns, we lost sight of the sheer, raw power of the card, and overshot it by no small margin.

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  • This is a very nice collection of statements. Judging by these snippets alone, it would allow for the assumption that cards are being designed with a margin for overpoweredness in mind, which would then possibly be fixed by banning cards in focus formats such as Standard or Modern. If that were the case, this means that other formats such as Commander (which isn't very trigger-happy at all as far as bans are concerned) will still have to deal with those cards. I'm not sure how great such a strategy is, especially considering that someone really should have caught Oko's general utility... Jun 15, 2023 at 10:37
  • @TheThirdMan At least years back (when I was still actively playing MtG) the official WotC stance was always that they design and test cards primarily for Standard. How defensible that policy is given that Standard has long stopped being the "standard" way how most players interact with the game is a different question - but so is whether it's even possible to continuously print interesting cards without them ever breaking one of n formats. I believe that's also what Rosewater alludes to.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:57
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    @TheThirdMan Also, there is the historical perspective that WotC has learned the hard way that underpowered sets are financially substantially worse for them than overpowered ones. I believe this line of thinking is what ultimately led us to the Age of Oko.
    – xLeitix
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:58
  • @xLeitix I'm sure that Standard is more of a measure than Commander or other formats. However, since Commander sets are produced by WotC by the many, they shouldn't completely disregard its existance either. My point wasn't and isn't to tell them what to do though, and I do see your points of course - but when they are banning cards, they confirm there's a limit to how powerful a card should get - and while I can understand missing Saheeli - but only recognizing Oko's power level after the fact (even just looking at Standard) isn't very reassuring of their dedication to balancing in my opinion Jun 15, 2023 at 12:40
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    @TheThirdMan Sure, and they said they messed up. I have been following MtG since the early days, this isn't the first nor will it be the last massive balance cockup (Skullclamp was a fun and similar one, where it simply never crossed their mind that giving a creature -1 actually made it an engine by itself).
    – xLeitix
    Jun 15, 2023 at 13:55

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