Ok, ok... before I go any further into this article, I realize that I said Bottle was "banned." The term Wizards of the Coast actually used is "retired," but for the sake of the title, I felt the term "banned" was appropriate so we're all on the same page. The effect is the same: [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] is no longer legal for use in sanctioned constructed Kaijudo events.
Players of other, older trading card games are well accustomed to ban lists, limit lists, and even rotating formats, but the classification of [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] as "retired" is the first time something of that sort has been seen in Kaijudo. Opinions have always been strong one way or another about this card, and its retiring has stirred up a multitude of discussions ranging from whether or not Bottle was retirement-worthy to whether or not WotC should have created this classification so early. What are the implications of this decision in regards to the future of how WotC intends to handle this game, and what could this change mean for tournaments in the near future? In this article, I'll be giving my two cents on these issues.
Bottle of Variance
Wizards of the Coast has stated they aren't a fan of banning/retiring cards. Therefore, a card would have to bring something extraordinary to the table to even be considered for retirement. We have to look at the core of Bottle of Wishes and figure out what they intended when they made the card in the first place.
"Variance is good," has been sarcastically uttered by Kaijudo players casting Bottles ever since WotC used the idea of variance to defend the card's existence. The fact of the matter is that variance is good. Without the element of randomness in Kaijudo, we'd all just be playing chess. Don't get me wrong, chess can be fun and there's no denying that it's skill-rewarding, but we play trading card games because battling the odds is fun. Playing with a completely randomized deck and unknown shields against an unknown opponent allows for a ton of different game states and a new experience every match.
Bottle is, without a doubt, the most variant card in the game. Its results and effect on the game state are as numerous as the cards in your deck. Randomized effects like Bottle are definitely fun, and people often forget that they have a legitimate place in the game. Look at Spire Puppet with its random discard, or cards like [ccProd]Orion, Radiant Fury[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Borran, the Reality Shaper[/ccProd]. No one is complaining that a win got "stolen" from them with those cards or begging WotC to do something about them. What makes Bottle such an extreme case of variance?
The main problem with Bottle is the card pool. WotC has made it very clear that above all else, they want big creatures to be playable in this game (which makes sense - it's called Kaijudo, after all). The natural effect of this is that we get more and more high-level creatures with insane effects every set. [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] lets you draw five cards and lock down the battle zone and [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] is a giant, hexproof blocker that draws cards and summons other creatures for free. The list goes on; add the numerous top-tier dragons onto that with everything else we've been given, and it might look on the surface like nothing without those types of creatures can win. The thing that's holding them back and allowing decks like Rush and Tempo to compete is their level.
Bottle takes the one thing that balances all of these otherwise insane cards and gets rid of it. All of a sudden, [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] can be played off a Shield Blast as early as turn two. [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] can come down on turn five... "WAIT! You can already do that last one with [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd]," interjects the nameless Kaijudo player in my head. Well, that's true, and there are indeed other ways to cheat creatures into the battle zone, but [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] is the one that requires the least amount of forethought and planning. Cards like [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] require some amount of planning in the deck-building stage if you even want to trigger their effects. Bottle can be disappointing when it whiffs and hits a useless spell, but its potential to end the game via a ridiculous finisher is huge, and coupled with the very small amount of thought required to "correctly" play the card, it becomes a problem.
Bottle of Controversy
So, we probably already knew that most competitive players of the game didn't like the card. It could win a game as easily as it could be a waste of five mana. The one way to play around it was to assess every possible card in your opponent's deck and be ready for any of them to be played as a Shield Blast or for five mana. Rush players always had the risk of hitting a blast Bottle into [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd]. One could argue that they knew they were taking that risk when they picked up the Rush deck. That's fair, but is it even a fair risk to impose in a competitive environment?
The benefits of Bottle are the same as the benefits of the inherent variance already at work in Kaijudo (randomized decks, shields, etc.), just more extreme. Bottle decreases the skill gap in a way that is supposed to appeal to new players. Decreasing the skill gap isn't always a bad thing; the whole idea of trading card games does this already, and while shields allow for very strategic plays, a new player can very easily get lucky and have a shield zone full of [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]s.
Let's go back to chess for a minute. It's pretty obvious that if I, having never played a serious game of chess before, decided to play a game against even a slightly above-average player who had been playing and learning for a while, I would get creamed. It would probably be pretty savage and I'd look like I had no idea what I was doing, which would be true in that case. There would also be an almost zero percent chance of me winning that game unless my opponent suffered a lapse of judgment on a crucial turn or something. I can't get lucky, I can't out-draw my opponent, I can't get a Shield Blast, and something on the level of a turn two [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] applied to the world of chess would be about as absurd as me flipping the table.
Kaijudo can't be like that - it has to remain appealing to new players. Even I, with all my competitive spirit, am rather turned off by the idea of picking up a new game and having no chance of winning a game against someone who had played longer than I had. Should the better players win more than the new players in a competitive environment? Sure, and no one's arguing against that when they argue to keep Bottle around. They're just arguing that variance is needed to attract new players and keep the game fun and interesting. Those of us who are proponents of Bottle's retirement still want variance to exist. We just believe it can be introduced into Kaijudo in a way that doesn't needlessly create degenerate plays in matches between two competent players.
Bottle of Repercussions
I think some people have the fear that with Bottle retired, new players have no chance at winning. I don't really know how they came to that conclusion, but as long as Rush decks exist, so then do cheap, competitive options that cater to players who picked up the game as recently as thirty minutes ago. Variance will always exist in the game, and it will always be introduced in exciting ways that will keep new, casual, and competitive players alike satisfied. If anything, a lot of new players running Rush are probably relieved that they don't have to worry about Bottle. So no, Bottle of Wishes being retired doesn't make it so the better player always wins; that would be boring!
The other concern I've been seeing is that this change will somehow drastically affect the metagame. Some people think Rush and Tempo strategies could just run over everything, and decks like Dragons could actually disappear. Allow me to be the first to dispel those fears.
Dragons' matchup against rush has always been difficult. Shield Blasts are powerful, but while [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] into an insane dragon might have been the easiest way for the deck to defeat rush, it definitely wasn't the most consistent, and therefore couldn't have been the deck's "primary defense." One might make a good case for [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] taking that title. It's kind of relatable to people using [ccProd]Crimson Wyvern[/ccProd] to combat [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd] decks. Summoning Wyvern is going to be the easiest answer against a battle zone consisting of multiple [ccProd]Eternal Haven[/ccProd]s, but the card is narrow in its use and shouldn't be the primary way your deck beats Haven. The best defense against Haven, as well as the best defense against Rush and all other conceivable strategies, will always be consistent deck-building, developing a strong game plan against as many matchups as possible, and making the right meta calls.
That's where I think we stand right now. Aggro strategies didn't get some sort of insane boost; they're still very playable and the fear of current LWD tempo lists running [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Screeching Scaradorable[/ccProd] keeps them in check more than a random [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd]. Control and dragons didn't lose their potency against anything, and will just have to focus on making sure their decks have solid lines of play against aggression - something they should have been doing from the start anyway.
"Wait. If good players were already doing consistently well at events, and [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] being retired doesn't change anything in the meta, what was the point of retiring it?"
I don't think a card has to completely define a meta for it to be unbalanced. WotC has noted that we had a very balanced and diverse meta with Bottle around. It's also not retirement-worthy simply because it sees a lot of play; cards like [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] are seen in the vast majority of decks using their respective civilizations, and they're two of the most balanced cards available. The point of retiring Bottle isn't to fix a broken meta or make people be more creative, it's just to reduce the number of potentially degenerate game states. It's not going to completely shake up the meta, it's not going to make it impossible for new players to win, and it's not going to suck all the variance out of the game - we have future sets for healthier variance, anyway. What it's going to do is just make this already enjoyable game a little more enjoyable in the competitive arena, and I'm completely on board with that. Besides, Bottle will always be around in casual play and booster/cube drafts for those who like tapping five mana, making a wish, and hoping for the best.
Hopefully you all enjoyed this article and have some things to think about regarding this important development for Kaijudo. If you have an opinion either way about Bottle's retirement, be sure to leave a comment down below. Until next week, Play Hard or Go Home!