The Collectible Card Game Thread – Nerfs and Bans in the Balance

Welcome to the *CG thread, where we talk all manner of Card Games – Collectible, Trading, Living, and otherwise! Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the card games you’re playing or anything card game-related that strikes your fancy.

Despite designers’ best intentions, CCGs aren’t always as balanced as one might hope. When metagames get warped and problem cards emerge, designers have a few tools to deal with them. Chief among them: Nerfs and bans.

“Nerfs,” or “errata” involve changing a card’s stats or text, forever. For obvious reasons, this can be problematic in physical, paper card games – since the cards already exist in reality, communication is key to ensuring that players who own the cards actually know that the card has been changed under their noses. For that reason, games like Magic generally avoid so-called “power-level errata” except when absolutely necessary (the only cases that come to mind in recent history were due to clear mistakes and were announced at time-of-print). In digital games, where the cards can be changed under peoples’ noses, nerfs are more standard.

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Bans, on the other hand, are the nuclear option. They take a problem card and remove it from the equation entirely by making the card illegal to play. In a game with different formats and/or rotation, there may be different ban-lists for each format. Just as physical games have trouble with nerfs, digital games have trouble with bans: since digital games are generally centralized, banning a card essentially makes it cease to exist, which can be very frustrating. In paper though, a card getting banned doesn’t mean that you don’t have the card any more – you can still play it in friendly, “unsanctioned” matches, an option which doesn’t usually exist in digital games.

Nerfs and bans each have their plusses and minuses. With bans, it’s obvious what the “feel-bad” aspect is: when a card is banned, it’s dramatic and (hopefully) far-reaching enough to shift the metagame. On the other hand, nerfs tend to be more subtle in their effect. They can be too subtle though, they’re not as guaranteed of a change as bans are, and sometimes they aren’t enough. And even in digital where changing things is easy, they carry a degree of complexity: they are easy to miss, and they can confuse players who expect cards to stay the same. Plus, nerfs can’t be targeted at formats – they hit the card everywhere for better or worse. This can have implications for long-lived formats, which tend to be more resilient to strong cards. Indeed, some of the appeal of long-lived formats can be the chance to play all the strong cards of a game together, and nerfs tend to act directly against this.

This week’s prompt: How do you feel about nerfs and bans? Is there one that you prefer?

Or, as always, feel free to talk about anything going on with you in the world of *CGs.