Whenever the subject of bans come up in the Pauper Discourse, Blue Monday enters the conversation. On May 20, 2019 Daze, Gitaxian Probe, and Gush were all banned in Pauper. At the time I had long advocated for a Gush ban as the card fostered a format imbalance that heavily favored blue decks. At the time I was fond of saying that if you wanted to compete you could play any Gush deck you wanted. Some players believe that these bans hit the wrong targets and that some or all of these cards should still be legal.
Clearly I disagree.
Before its ban Gush was powering up several decks – Izzet Blitz (a Kiln Fiend combo deck), Tribe Combo (Tireless Tribe and Inside Out combo), various Spellstutter Sprite decks (Delver, Izzet Delver/Faeries), and Dimir Delver (similar to Legacy Death’s Shadow); the combo decks and Dimir Delver also ran Daze and Gitaxian Probe, while Delver also ran Daze.
Gush is a powerful card draw spell and an engine all rolled into one. While nominally an instant, Gush was best leveraged on your own turn by floating two mana, returning the islands, and then potentially replaying a land to not only get a land drop but to also advance your board state. In Dimir Delver this made it rather easy to leverage an early Gurmag Angler but in Tribe Combo it meant a single Gush was lethal – especially when backed up with Circular Logic – and in Izzet Blitz a Gush could very easily translate to a victory. In the fair decks, Gush was just a fantastic way to accrue card advantage after Ninja of the Deep Hours went to work.
In all instances, Daze would protect investments at minimal cost while Gitaxian Probe allowed these decks to run fewer lands with reduced risk and increase their spell count for interactions where that mattered (Delver of Secrets, Augur of Bolas, Gurmag Angler).
While there were very real costs to running these spells they were far outweighed by the advantages garnered by including them in your deck. Blue is already at a significant advantage in non-rotating formats and these cards compounded that issue in that if you weren’t already playing blue you were already playing from behind. These cards were absolutely problems at the time even if people would like to point to different culprits.
A lot of folks want to place the blame on Augur of Bolas as a reason these cards got banned. Augur is a body that brick walls most aggressive creatures in Pauper while also digging for powerful spells. But Augur’s strength is bolstered by the spells it can dig up and these three, if found off of Augur, could almost always be cashed in immediately. An aside on Snuff Out: Snuff Out does not need to be banned. In an ideal world the cost of casting Snuff Out for four life would be real. As it stands today the life cost does not matter as the “clocks” of the format do not care about four life chunks. In a balanced format, the four life would represent a full turn of the game, not a fraction of one. Augur’s strength is a symptom of blue’s overall power but not the cause.
And then there’s Foil, the other free counterspell. Lots of people love to point to the fact that Gush only really took off once Foil was downshifted in Ultimate Masters. But Foil without Gush is a card that rarely sees play as the alternate cost is rather steep as it costs an Island and another card – some cards in Pauper are worth two cards for sure, but asking to trade three cards for a spell is a bridge too far. Gush was already a powerful card before Foil showed up and if Foil were banned, Gush would still be busted; without Gush providing you with extra cards at no cost, Foil sees almost no play.
There were casualties as a result of these bans. Tribe Combo has become a shell of its former self and only crops up occasionally from dedicated rogues. Izzet Blitz is a deck that has yet to reassert itself as a contender (although Festival Crasher is helping it back up the ranks). But these decks, as novel as they were, were not more important than Gush leaving the format. In both instances other cards could help them return to the metagame (again, as we are seeing with Izzet Blitz), but the number of worlds where the continued inclusion of Gush lead to a balanced and healthy format is infinitesimally smaller than ones without Gush.
So why am I bringing this up two and a half years after the fact? Because the way the Pauper community talks about Blue Monday has forever influenced the ways we approach ban discourse. There are people who want to keep powerful cards in a format because they are fun to cast and to pilot, even if they cause problems with meta health. And so individuals look at ways to navigate around the card causing issues in an effort to keep the potential offender legal. We saw an example of this not too long ago when Expedition Map was banned in an effort to curb Tron. Instead of hitting the actual problem, an ancillary card was axed and we all know how that turned out.
Oh? In case you did not know, Tron got better after Map was banned and pilots turned to Crop Rotation.
I am of the mindset that no one card is more important than the format as a whole. That helps guide my philosophy when it comes to bans. At the same point I understand that what draws some people to Pauper is the opportunity to play with some cards that are banned in other places. There is no easy answer to this conundrum, but I’d rather have a vibrant format with multiple viable options than one where my choice is which variant of the best deck I decide to pilot today.
I may be wrong. You may disagree with me and that’s okay. But Pauper is way past the point where we can ban around problem cards for the sake of preserving the opportunity to cast them.