Pointing Fingers at Gavin Verhey

I’ve been trying to play some Brawl on Arena recently, but the format is just horrible. Than the format was also mentioned on Goldfish’s podcast and that reminded me that Gavin Verhey seems to have been the person behind the format. At least he was the one strongly advocating it publicly.

But the thing is that most of the time the format is just shit. It is supposed to be a surrogate for Commander and the idea behind the format is quite interesting, because it does allow for playing Standard cards that are fun, but wouldn’t otherwise be played.

However, there’s two problems:

1) Commander in general is horribly managed. The reason that it remains playable is social pressure and ganging up on whoever brings the most degenerate deck. However, these two don’t work when there are only two players. While they claim to pair people based on powerlevel of the decks in some form, it doesn’t actually matter what I play. I am going to face a lot of Teferis, Muldrothas and similar extremely powerful commanders, which means that the whole thing loses the whole point of being able to do something different.

2) Having planeswalkers available as commanders is just stupid. Yes, stupid. I get why they decided to do it. They wanted to have their flagship characters available. The problem is that while they would probably be okay in Commander due to the multiplayer aspect, which in general keeps planeswalkers in line, being able to replay planeswalkers over and over again leads to very frustrating and unfun play-patterns. For example, Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset is probably the most played Commander in Standard Brawl (maybe the Historic Brawl as well). When it enters the battlefield, it’s usually minused immediately for card advantage (and selection on top of it). Now, if you see this on the other side of the battlefield, do you really want to kill it? Because if you do, it will just come down again and do the same. If you don’t it will just keep on giving value. So, what are you supposed to do? Kaito Shizuki is similarly problematic.

Now, obviously Verhey couldn’t foresee these planeswalkers, but on the other hand, he seems to be largely responsible for Commander, so he should be at least aware of what’s going on in Brawl as well. At least one would hope.

On the other hand, I also remembered that he mentioned at some point that he is very fond of playing Fog decks in Future Future League. While this alone should be enough information to just dismiss him (I mean, why are they using valuable resources to test a deck which just shouldn’t exist?), I decided to take a look at his resume around Standard sets. Here are the ones he was named on his MtG Wiki page to have worked on:

In design:

  • Fate Reforged
  • Shadows over Innistrad
  • Aether Revolt
  • Ixalan
  • Dominaria

Okay, that seems to be fine. Fate Reforged was a horrible draft set, as was Ixalan (apparently, I didn’t get to play it very much), while Dominaria is widely regarded as one of the best if not the best set in recent memory.

In development:

  • Gatecrash
  • Oath of the Gatewatch
  • Kaladesh
  • Ixalan
  • War of the Spark
  • Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths

Oh, wow, that’s just… bad.

And yes, I am fully aware that he did not develop these alone. There is always a team around. Actually, so many people that it can’t even function as a team anymore based on most leadership theories. Still, if someone would give me this list of sets as their resume, it’s just not good.

So, obviously I’m not fully aware of what’s going on inside Wizards, but the job of development is to make the set fun. This includes balancing among other things. Are the set listed above fun? They could have been, except that there were huge developmental mistakes.

I guess Gatecrash was kind of okay. Boring to draft, because of the emphasis on extremaly aggressive decks, but otherwise completely forgettable.

Oath of the Gatewatch wasn’t very fun to draft. The mechanics were awkward. They were all way too inconsistent to play with and pushing the two-headed giant theme just didn’t work out. The bigger problem was that the cards in this set completely devastated Modern. The Eldrazi just crushed everything in their path bringing what is now known as the Eldrazi Winter.

Kaladesh, on the other hand, had another kind of huge development mistake: Energy. It’s one of those things they haven’t dared to bring back yet, because it was just so bad. Giving a very flexible alternative resource just took over all of Standard. The Kaladesh page’s Notable Cards section on MtG Wiki just lists bans from this set.

Ixalan was basically another Gatecrash from limited point of view. It was just pure aggression, except that the draft experience was pretty horrible, becasue you basically just had to choose a lane early and force it. This is also notable for having a card, which needed to be erratad, because they just didn’t think Hostage Taker through. The whole thing felt like they just assumed people would buy a set with pirates and dinosaurs and didn’t put much more though into it.

I hate what they did to the game with War of the Spark so much. This set has so many cards that just shouldn’t exist. A whole team of people said yes to the Teferi, Narset, Karn, Ugin and Nissa from this set. They are all just horrible to play against and three of them have been banned in various formats. On top of this, Dreadhorde Arcanist was also banned in Legacy.

… and finally, the worst of them all: Ikoria: Lair of Two Huge Development mistakes. Is there any question that Companion was a huge mistake? I don’t get how people can think anyone, who was part of making this mistake was even slightly competent. It did take them almost two years to finally ban Lurrus in Modern, which is weird, since the rest of the world took around two minutes to realize that this card is just way too broken to be even slightly okay to exist in older formats. And that’s before the rules regarding companions were changed. On top of that, they still hadn’t learned from their mistakes and had Winota in the set as well, which was banned in both Brawl and Historic, as well as being at least partly responsible for the banning of Agent of Treachery in Standard.

Plus, there’s the cycling, which has been defended by Mark Rosewater, but is still clearly a mistake. One of the things they clearly have no grasp on is the nature of draft on Arena, which caused it’s own problems, but at the same time, the payoffs were way too powerful, most of them were put on wrong rarities and letting everything be cycled with colorless mana meant that there was little to no cost in forcing the deck, because you would always have enough cycling cards, while the other decks would have a smaller pool of cards to use, because so many cards were there for the cycling decks.

That is not a history of sets one would bring up. These are just not defensible. So, obviously they have just given him extra responsibilities. Sure, he is personable, but that doesn’t mean that you should let him anywhere near your designs. Let him cosplay Jace around the world, if that’s somehow valuable to you, but based on this track record, letting him anywhere near the sets is just not a good idea. And well, he hasn’t had a credit on Standard set since Ikoria, so… make of that what you will.

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