To Ban or not to Ban?
Posted March 2nd 2019 by Rahvin
The following article has been cross-posted from Information Highway.

The subject of banning cards has always stirred passions in the VTES community. One of the reasons is probably because this game has such a short ban list, and, well even a relatively short list of major erratas.

[caption id="attachment_4722" align="alignright" width="163"] This is what a ban list can look like in other games…[/caption]

Another factor might be the relatively small and passionnate community, which has held the game alive for such a long time. Whatever the reasons, the subject always raises heated debates, and it is coming back at the forefront now that Black Chantry has begun to reprint some core cards and is making new ones.

So, here come my thoughts on the subject. They will reflect my personal opinions, but I will do my best to give objective arguments. It’s up to you to make what you wish of it all.

First, I’ll say that bans should always be a last resort. Now that the game is in print again, we (well the game designers…) can issue erratas, create counter cards etc. Some cards like Anthelios were banned when there were no reprints, nowadays they would probably just be changed.

So I’ll speak of the cards that are in my opinion currently problematic for the game, and why. I will divide them in two categories.

I) Major Issues

The cards that really poses big problems and stirs up the playerbase…

N°1: Pentex (TM) Subversion

[caption id="attachment_4723" align="alignright" width="215"] Hello, I can ruin your game![/caption]

If you don’t think this card divides the community, just check the forums. Any VTES forum or Facebook page, really! I’ll give my arguments here once and for all, it will gain me time in the end.

For me this card is problematic because:

– It’s very badly balanced
There’s no requisite for playing it. It doesn’t require an action. It prevents from both blocking and acting. The target minion can’t remove it, so he’s basically lost for the cause as long as another minion doesn’t do the job. And the card stays in play. Seriously? Some cards like Blind Spot have the same type of effects but are much better balanced. Without Pentex they would be played and other cards could be created, each for a given situation, instead of doing everything plus your morning coffee.

– It has a huge swing on games
There’s a saying: a Pentex (well) played is a VP won. You can’t say that about many cards, including the dreaded Parity Shift. Once a Pentex is put on a minion, there is nothing that minion can do to block or act until is is removed. And even when it doesn’t get you killed, it’s a “you lose” card. All this in one generic Master Card.

– It is auto-include
99% of serious decks include Pentex, because you HAVE to. It is too good to pass, and at the same time it is the best counter to itself. Even people like me, who hate this card, have to play it. That is THE biggest sign of a very badly conceived card, and that is never good for a game, ever. Especially not such a balanced game as ours.

– It adds to randomness
One of the bad arguments I hear in favor of Pentex is “You still have to get it at the right time”. Another is “If you have yours you can contest it”. Both go to say that the luck of the draw might change the issue of the game. How could that possibly not be bad ?!?

– Its effect doesn’t restrict to its supposed goal
The defenders of Pentex often say “We need it against star vampires”. Then I ask: “What is a star vampire?”
Why would a player be punished for playing one big vampire rather than lots of small ones? Are all Star Vampires so dreadful they must be contained? What are we talking about exactly? Multi-acting vampires above 8-Cap, Reacting 10-Cap Vampires, any True Brujah, something else?
The problem, if any, has to be identified correctly in order to be remedied. If it is big blocking vamps, then let’s have a card specifically against them. If it’s Una and co, there are other ways to nerf them if need be (see below).
Pentex isn’t directed at problematic vampires, it’s directed at any vampire, and can screw up your game no matter what you play.

So in substance what we have here is a card that has a supposedly useful effect, and that also has lots of bad side effects. Like an aspirin that would make you vomit, make your nose bleed and get zits all over your body. Great. I’ll keep my headache, thanks a lot.

As a side note: it’s not a surprise at all to me that this card is so badly designed, as it was designed during the Wizards of the Coast period. Those designers didn’t understand our game at all, and obviously didn’t care about its balance. Dark Sovereigns and Ancient Hearts gave us the biggest load of wallpaper (the Giovanni say thanks…) on one side, and the biggest load of broken or badly worded cards on the other. Among those I shall name: Return to Innocence, Madness of the Bard, Memories of Mortality, Protect Thine Own, Seeds of Corruption, Thoughts Betrayed, Mind Rape, Tomb of Rameses III…

Pentex should join that list. The sooner, the better!

N°2: Ashur Tablets

[caption id="attachment_4724" align="alignright" width="215"] I’m an undercover Harbinger card[/caption]

Recursion is the most powerful mechanism in any card game, and VTES is no exception. The subject in itself deserves an article. So here we have a non-clan Master Card which does what only Necromancy and Temporis (relatively rare disciplines) and some Giovanni cards used to do. And of course, add that to vampires who give Multiple Master Phase Actions, and you have a lethal combo. MMPAs are among issues that probably need to be addressed by the way, and maybe that would be a way to indirectly nerf Ashurs. But still playing 2 per turn is enough to be problematic in my opinion.

Part of the reasons for banning Anthelios was Ashur Tablets. But it’s still way too strong.

Thematically I used to say it should be Harbingers of Skulls only, but now that clan is already quite competitive so… Maybe not!

And on both counts : NO, the existence of Sudden Reversal and Wash doesn’t solve the problems with broken Master cards, no more than Direct Intervention solves all Minion card problems. This is an absolute non-argument.

II) Minor issues

Those 2 are the only cards that I feel deserve imperative and drastic changes. All the rest below are more a bother because they restrict either the deckbuilding possibilities or the space available to design other good-yet-no-broken cards.

  • Carlton Van Wyk is powerful and in many decks, but the only thing that really bothers me with him is his ability to burn a diablerist even if he wasn’t on the table yet. So, as with Pentex, if your plan is to diablerize you need to play him and / or DI. I can’t say I’m a fan of Tariq / Muaziz decks, but it would be way more logical to restrict his burning effect to the unlock phase, to give a playing chance to some decktypes.

  • Govern / Conditionning: maybe those two shouldn’t be cumulative? A simple change to the text of Govern could do that, and we could see again some Scouting Missing and / or Threats.

  • Deflection… Maybe it could be nerfed a bit, but I think that could be done indirectly, by creating new cards with other effects and a side effect against it.

And the honorable mention is…

  • Freak Drive: some players suggested that it should be changed to “cost 0; pay one blood to unlock”, to nerf turbo decks. Not because turbo decks are prevalent in the current meta, but because seeing Una play with herself for half an hour isn’t as sexy as one could imagine. I can get that, but I don’t believe it warrants a change. Some other decks like Reversal of Madness or even just weenie Kaymakli Nightmares / Pentex (mmm…) / Brainwash can be just as bothersome, that’s also part of the game. In most cases players have possibilities to unite against such decks and make their unlife really hard with well-placed DI, intercept, votes… Not the best bets in the long run.

In any case, I could live without any change to those, and certainly wouldn’t want to see them banned. For Pentex and Ashur I think that something should be done.

End of report, the rant can begin !