In what seems to me like a strange turn of events both Stephen Menendian and Magnus de Laval suggest to restrict the card in the Swedish format to fix its imbalance (The Deck dominating it). [EDIT:] Menendian only suggests it as an option in case people want to nerf The Deck, as of today he’s not convinced it’s a dominant deck in the Swedish version of 93/94. [/EDIT] That seems strange to me since, as I delineated in my former article just a few days ago I find card-drawing engines generally weak, unless they’re undercosted of course, but Jaymedae Tome is anything but an undercosted card, 4 per turn is a lot to live through. I do know that sometimes small adjustments can suffice to balance a format and it’s not unthinkable to do so, nor would it be a first, but that seemed like requiring a second look.
It’s a fact that the historic The Deck didn’t play much of the card, searching for it you find lists with one Tome only, and two Disrupting Scepters. Stephen Menendian’s great series of article about the early history of Magic shows a more complex history, one that’s rooted in an older era, where The (real) Deck was a much more broken war machine : the one when Mind Twist wasn’t restricted.
When it finally got restricted, Brian must have looked for a replacement, and found Disrupting Scepter.. As Brian Weissman himself explained, the format was very different in 1994 since Mana Drain wasn’t restricted. Can you imagine that ? Well, if you were playing Old School in Sweden a few years ago you probably can, cause the card wasn’t restricted, and The Deck, surprise, dominated outrageously the land. The card is bonkers. We should rename it : would Counterspell Lotus do ? “Lotus Counter” ? “I like Mirror Universe” ? Nevermind, The Deck functioned with those expensive card-advantage engine cards because mana was flowing with the drains. But from a particular historical standpoint it’s not particularly anachronistic to force The Deck’s players to play only no more than one Jayemdae Tome.
A Case for Today
But if I’m right, the difference in mana availability make those expensive cards a bit of a burden today, and you wouldn’t play more than one in your maindeck anyways in a balanced format, as described here. Now this J.T. case is of no concern for the balance of the mirror, since there’s nothing you can do there save playing, tuning better to alter the hypothetical fifty-fifty matchup. If it would help midrange a bit to face a maximum of one JT, then that would look like a positive so I’m sort of fine with that.. as long as it’s not sold as something of big importance, susceptible to fix the format. I’m not sure people would want to use any sideboard slots in their control deck for Midrange though, by which I mean they wouldn’t. This could be the opportunity for people to realize how well can the deck function without multiple J.Tome, although they already can do that in fixed 94 formats, since I think that’s what they should do there anyways.
The Swedish format see people play 3 or 4 Tomes not because the card is that good, but because it’s crucial in the mirror, and while terrible versus aggro, Mishra’s Factories are too powerful as 3/3 defenders and correctly played will be too good versus aggro decks, giving control the time to use or wait for the tomes. It’s good against all other macro-archetypes but the fastest, but really you play multiple Tomes for the Mirror. In Swedish, when people really try to win, they play The Deck and they do as much as they can to beat the mirror, which apparently means playing a shitload of expensive card Jayemdae Tome. I think such a restriction wouldn’t change much metagame-wise.
Most misunderstandings I have with people regarding card evaluation is that they often don’t evaluate cards from a metagame standpoint. Let’s do that and compare with a case where a tome is substituted with a Sylvan Library.
- case 1 : vs control
Mirror case. Next.
- case 2 : vs Midrange
Well first, do we really need to talk about such a matchup ? There’s not much to midrange in 93/94, competitively speaking. Anyways, ample card-drawing is the way for control. But since midrange is so humble in this format, replacing a JT by a Transmute Artifact and another by a Sylvan Library wouldn’t leave you empty handed, not one bit. In the case where we’d draw the Sylvan Library : we most likely can pay 4 life to draw an additional card the turn after we play it, but contrary to what would happen with JT, we can choose the worst of the three cards to put back. As in the case study done in the former article about card-drawing engines, we see that three turn after playing the SL, even if we had only drawn another card with the Sylvan Library, we still look as far as a JT could leas us to (1 extra card drawn + 2 down = 3 cards drawn in terms of card selection). It could still be that it would help midrange a bit to restrict the tomes since “toming” can feel so comfortable against such decks, but really the matchup is generally hopeless, it’s not only in the order of things for control to beat midrange, it’s also a bit of a lost cause to try to save midrange in this format.
- case 3 : combo
Power Monolith is the closest we have to a competitive combo deck in 94. Mirrorball is not to be dismissed, but we’re generally not under much pressure : both decks play fireballs, and have ways to make them big (Basalt Monoliths and Mana Vaults respectively), so we shouldn’t go crazy with the SL. The situation is similar to the midrange case, all in all.
- case 4 : aggro
This is the easiest of all : Jayemdae Tome is terrible versus aggro. If they’re unlucky, you win whatever happens, but if their deck is functioning, it’s greatly helped by you spending four mana to play a tome (a “do-nothing” as Mike Flores would call it), then another 4 to have it “replace” itself since they’re pummeling you to death during those turns. Or hopefully it’s just a dead card in hand cause you have something better to do. Saying that the best outcome for a card is to be dead in hand is just another way of saying that the card is bad.
The tome being a weak card, and in fact, the only weak card played in the typical The Deck list it could seem like a subtle way to address the problem to restrict that one, the other cards in The Deck being too iconic and too useful to other players and strategies. But to fix a power imbalance nerfing a side isn’t the only way, and since it’s not helping in this case, the nerf affecting the mirror mostly, an other solution is to be considered, which is to boost the opposition. I’ve already talked many times of the two non-exclusive ways to do that : unrestricting Strip Mine and reinstate the “tapped blockers” rule. Actually the rule change, or an errata on Mishra’s Factories, could count as a nerf, but apparently it’s not something that’s doable in Swedish 94. Unrestricting instead of restricting, using the chronicled rule to put Mishra’s Factories in their rightful place (that is, mostly a great beater, which, though, can still be used defensively to force the opponents to overextend creatures). Let people have fun drawing cards too ! Some people just love that, I know a few..
By restricting the Tome, you help The Deck, since it’s only pushed to play them in high numbers for the mirror, and it’s bad versus the only other natural opposition. If it were restricted in Swedish, and assuming the Mishra’s Factories problem still wouldn’t be fixed, the matchup with aggro would be even better than it is now. And the imbalance in the Swedish 94 format not improved, but worsened. I imagine people would replace two or three Tomes by cards that are good in the mirror, like Sylvan Library, Transmute Artifact, Spell Blast, Power Sink ? Whatever. They would have a hard time being worse against aggro than the Tome.