Drannith Magistrate did not need to be banned in Brawl two weeks ago. And the fact that it was says a lot about how Magic R&D expects players to build and play Brawl decks.
Prioritizing Pleasure Over Counterplay …
Before we go any further, I’ll let Magic Designer Ian Duke explain why Magic R&D decided to ban Drannith Magistrate in Brawl (this quote is taken from the May 18, 2020 Banned and Restricted announcement):
Part of our philosophy for Brawl is that it shouldn’t be easy for a single card to completely shut down a wide class of commanders. An example of us acting on this philosophy in the past was banning Sorcerous Spyglass. We feel Drannith Magistrate falls into this category and generally takes away from the fun and self-expression that come from building around a commander in Brawl, so we are banning it.
Now, this is a reasonable explanation for banning Drannith Magistrate. Magic R&D wants players to be able to play their Brawl commanders; Drannith Magistrates prevents players from being able to do that thing.
But in reality, Drannith Magistrate should rarely stop any reasonable Brawler from being able to play their commander for very long. Magistrate dies to nearly every creature removal spell. Most Brawl decks play removal spells. So getting rid of Magistrate and unlocking your commander should never have been a problem for most players.
However, there existed a chance that players would be locked out of playing their commander, and that they’d feel bad about it. R&D decided the possibility of that situation existing should be removed from Brawl – whereas I’d argue that allowing players to overcome this unique situation would allow them to experience at least as many highs as lows (counterplay is part of what makes Magic fun) and teach them something about Brawl deck construction (decks should be able to function without their commander).
Basically, I think playing around Magistrate’s restriction is not hard and can make a player feel like they’ve done something notable – they beat this card that affects the very rules of Brawl. But R&D thinks players should never have to contend with a card that could alter their intended game plan so significantly – and that’s where our play design philosophies differ.
… Risks Turning Magic Into Solitaire
I enjoy formats, cards, and in-game scenarios that encourage meaningful counterplay, whereas lately, Magic R&D seems incredibly focused on allowing players to do their deck’s thing. By which I mean, if a player has built their deck to do something, R&D does not want that player’s opponent to be able to stop them from doing that thing in any meaningful way.
(I rewrote the paragraph above about three times, trying to express exactly what I meant and include a list of suitable examples and counterexamples. Ultimately, I decided simpler was better. You may or may not agree.)
By design, Brawl decks are built around playing their commander. That is the thing Brawl decks do. So R&D banned a card that could sometimes prevent players from doing that thing, rather than ask players to build decks that could interact with the banned card (which again, most every deck should have been able to do).
Is it egregious that Magic R&D banned Drannith Magistrate in Brawl? No; the ban’s actually quite defensible. But it was not needed, and the fact that Magic R&D thinks it was speaks to their priorities: Encouraging players’ individual feelings of pleasure over meaningful in-game interaction.