Should This Be Banned - Part 1
We all know the hype and speculation about ban list announcements made by WotC for Modern and Legacy. But what about the commander ban list? Who takes care of it, and why are certain cards on there? Today, Robert wants to explore beyond our kitchen tables and into the broken, degenerate, format that Commander can be.
Commander, or Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) is a format created not by Wizards of the Coast, but rather by Magic players. Sheldon Menery and Adam Staley are often seen as the founding fathers of our beloved format. Staley had the idea by reading the Duelist magazine in 1995. Back then, only the 5 original Elder Dragons from Legends were allowed.
Fast forward 9 years to 2004, in a ten-player game at the Magic World Championships, one player resolved a Balance after flooding the board with Moxen and left all players without any lands or cards in their hands. In response to this, Menery created a banlist to keep the format in check. Menery worked together with Gavin Duggan, a Level 3 judge at that time to create an official committee and website.
http://mtgcommander.net/ still exists today and is the official source for the ban list of Commander. Even WotC's own website refers to mtgcommander.net
The Ban List
The ban list as of today has, 89 cards on it. If we remove the obvious cards like the 9 "Ante" cards and the 25 "Conspiracy cards," we are left with 55 cards. Ignore the banned "Un" cards like Mox Lotus and we are left with 41 cards. This might seem like a large ban list but keep in mind that the card pool of commander is the same as that of Vintage. Let's look at why these cards are on the ban list. To do so, I made three categories to group these cards as they often have a similar impact on the game:
Cards That Provide an Unfair Advantage
- Ancestral Recall
- Black Lotus
- Library of Alexandria
- Primeval Titan
- Prophet of Kruphix
- Recurring Nightmare
- Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- Sylvan Primordial
- Time Walk
- Tolarian Academy
- Trade Secrets
- Yawgmoth's Bargain
Cards Too Oppressive for the Format
- Braids, Cabal Minion
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
- Gifts Ungiven
- Leovold, Emissary of Trest
- Limited Resources
- Sundering Titan
Cards That Win the Game with Little to No Effort
- Coalition Victory
- Painter's Servant
- Panoptic Mirror
- Sway of the Stars
- Time Vault
Cards That Provide an Unfair Advantage
The first category we will be looking at is cards that provide an unfair advantage. Some cards create such an advantage over the other players that the game transforms into a situation where all the other players must work together as a team to take them down. While this can be said for a lot of cards that are not on the ban list, these cards are not subtle or fair, nor do they contribute to a healthy format.
Let's start with an easy one. There's nothing I can say about Ancestral Recall that hasn't been said before. The sheer power level of this card made it banned in any other format except Vintage, where it's restricted to one. The card does everything; it's easy to splash, can be played at instant speed, and provides unquestionable card advantage without any effort. This card would be an auto-include in any blue-based deck, were it not for its incredibly high paper price. Still not convinced? Think of all the ways to keep abusing this card repeatedly with for example cards like Isochron Scepter and/or Mind Over Matter. We should all be glad that this card is banned in Commander, and you can be guaranteed that it will stay this way.
Hey look, another Power 9 member. Basically, anything that I said about Ancestral Recall applies to this very special flower as well. Add the fact that artifact strategies are generally very strong because of all the support they have, especially in commander. And then ignore that fact, stop reading, and think for a couple of minutes what your decks could do if you had a Black Lotus on turn one.
Imagine you and your friends coming together for a night of commander, it wasn't that easy to plan, since you all have busy lives, but it finally happened. You sit down with your new deck, excited to play. One of your friends wins the die roll. You shuffle your deck and decide to keep your hand. You friend goes first and plays Forest + Elvish Spirit Guide + Channel into Blightsteel Colossus + Lightning Greaves, and swings at you for 11 infect damage. You shake hands, thank each other for the fun and inspiring game, and decide to never invite him again.
Channel is a broken card, no questions asked. Starting at 40 life makes this card even better. Besides early game Eldrazi and other big colorless dudes, Channel allows you to do ridiculous stuff with X cards like Mind Twist, Blue Sun's Zenith, Genesis Wave, and Banefire. While you might argue that these are niche scenarios, and only work every 1 in 10 games, considering the high variety of Commander decks, the power of this card is simply too high and outweigh the benefits of it being legal.
It might be that on the first glimpse you think, "This card is powerful but is it THAT strong?" Yes, it is. Putting no limit on the amount of lands a player can put into play is ridiculous and allows for an almost assured turn 0 kill in a deck build around it. You would play lands, generate mana to play cards like Wheel of Fortune to draw more lands and wheel-effects to do it all over again. Considering that you play something around 32-40 lands in your deck, and you start at 40 life, this card can allow you to put all lands from your library on the battlefield on your first turn. Fastbond and the "iconic duo" Strip Mine + Crucible of Worlds also create some nasty scenarios. We can be glad that this card is and will always be banned in commander.
Avacyn's Demon nemesis is often the go-to creature for unfair strategies to "cheat" into play. Large, powerful creatures are at home in commander, even if they seem unfair. Consecrated Sphinx, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Craterhoof Behemoth are all incredibly powerful. But these cards don't even come close to the power level of Griselbrand. The 7/7 flyer with lifelink allows you to draw ANY number of cards the moment he resolves, completely nullifying any investment you made to put this card on the battlefield. Having access to 40 life in Commander obviously makes this card even more powerful than the 20 life in Modern and Legacy. Playing Griselbrand as a commander would simply be too easy. Just run all fast mana effects and rituals to bring him out as early as turn three, redraw your entire hand, and take over the game for there. Although the card does require some build-around and is in my opinion not on the same power level as Fastbond or Channel, I'm still very glad it is banned.
Library of Alexandria
Besides this card being inaccessible to almost all players, Library of Alexandria requires literally nothing to work (well okay, you need 7 cards in your hand). There are no color restrictions. There are no deckbuilding restrictions. There are no mana restrictions. It taps for a colorless mana, something other powerful lands like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Bazaar of Baghdad, Maze of Ith, Eye of Ugin and even Cabal Coffers fail to manage. Meaning that you could count the library as one of your actual mana-producing lands. If the card was ever be unbanned, it would be an auto-include in every deck. This is not what the format is about, and I'm glad for that. (Did somebody say Sol Ring?)
Cabal Coffers + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Dark Depths + Thespian's Stage. Not convinced? Fine, I'll write my opinion on this green bad boy. As the committee themselves stated, commander is the battlecruiser format of Magic and ramping is a very common strategy in commander. Primeval Titan does this just a little bit too well. It's not on the same power level as the cards mentioned above, but it is far too effective at what it does. The triggers are easy to achieve and abuse, and there is no restriction on what lands can be found by it. This card would be an auto include in any ramp-based deck with green in it, and thus warping the format around it.
Prophet of Kruphix
I remember playing when this card was legal, and while it created some interesting games, it was rarely actually fun. The issue with Prophet of Kruphix is that it does everything that U/G/x commander decks want to do. You can safely invest your mana in a big spell without having to worry about protecting it, since you will untap everything anyways. While this is also true for the card Seedborn Muse, the addition of giving everything flash is where this card truly shines. Prophet of Kruphix does it all. I could not have said it better myself than the committee already did:
"Casual groups haven't been able to work around it and problematic play has not dropped off in hoped-for ways. Instead, the primary approach has been to steal it, clone it, run it yourself, or get run over."
While doing some research about this card, a lot of people where wondering why this card is still banned. It's powerful, yes, but also requires some deckbuilding around it and doesn't instantly win the game. The issue with Recurring Nightmare is that it's simply too effective of a reanimation engine. Because of the huge card pool, reanimation strategies are very powerful in commander. Having a reanimation spell that you can just stick to the battlefield and activate while providing a sac-outlet is simply too much power for a 3 mana spell, even in Commander.
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary is one of those cards that you look at and just go like; "Wait.. what?". Sure, the Timmy inside all of us secretly dreams of playing this card at the helm of some mono-green stompy, value, big creature deck where we can play our all Timmiest cards. While this card does a very, very, good job at that, it goes even further. Having this much mana generation for such an efficiently costed creature is just absolute nonsense. Because it's exactly that, a creature. Think of the card Staff of Domination and how easily this card sets up an infinite combo with it. Or think of the card Plow Under on turn 2 or 3 while you are still setting up. Yeah, this card is the definition of broken, and should never come off this list.
Another interesting card. I generally feel like a lot of people will ask themselves why this card is on the ban list. This is an example of another card that completely warps the game around it. Imagine playing this in a four player Commander game. Let's say you play it on turn 4 or 5, which is very possible if you play a ramp deck. You destroy three lands of your opponents and find yourself three basic lands. This effectively puts all other players one turn behind, and yourself three turns ahead. This is a very strong effect indeed, but, for 7 mana in a "ramp" style deck, it seems like you could make an argument that it's not a completely unfair play. Now read the card again and see that this is not a cast trigger, but an "enters the battlefield" trigger. This means that this effect is very unlikely to happen just once. Clone-effects, blink-effects, reanimation-effects. This card is the simple best target for those spells. It doesn't affect just ONE opponent, it affects ALL opponents AND pulls yourself very far ahead. Whenever this card hits the field, you are no longer playing a game of commander, you are playing a game to see who can abuse Sylvan Primordial in the most disgusting way.
I don't think this card needs a lot of explanation, so I won't spend too much time on it. Extra turns are already questionable in commander. I've seen a lot of playgroups just agreeing that they don't play extra turn spells. Let's be honest, while they are very legal, they are also very much against the spirit of a casual multiplayer format. Time Walk of course being the most (in)famous extra turn spell. The fact that it only costs 2 mana, doesn't exile itself, and has no other conditions to it makes this card perhaps even one of the single strongest card in the entire history of Magic: The Gathering.
Another card that doesn't require a lot of explanation. Artifacts are one of the most popular strategies in Commander, and rightfully so. The power level of the artifacts legal in commander is outmatched only by vintage, the most broken format. Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, artifact lands and many more allow you to generate ridiculous amount of mana and adding Tolarian Academy in this mix makes it just plain stupid, since the mana will even be colored. This card will forever stay banned.
It's ironic that one of the first ever pre-constructed commander decks back in 2011 included a copy of Trade Secrets. Personally, I think this is a very strange card in design, especially the fact that there is no limit to the potential number of cards a player will draw. The primary reason for this card being banned as stated by the committee is that it causes some trouble in multiplayer games. If both players decide to draw 50+ cards, it leaves the other two players completely in the dust. The cost on this card also is way too effective for it too allow a potential game win. As the committee said, "It doesn't add enough to the format to justify the games it single-handedly ruins." And for this, I am glad that this card is banned.
Yawgmoth's Bargain, in a lot of ways, is very similar to Griselbrand. Drawing cards in Magic is great, Commander is no exception. Drawing cards without even having to pay mana for it, now that's another level of power. Just ramp into Yawgmoth's Bargain using all your resources like Dark Ritual and Bubbling Muck, pay 39 life, draw your combo and win from there. I've seen people make an argument that Necropotence should also be banned as long as Bargain remains banned. While Necropotence is an insanely powerful card, it's not close to the power level of Bargain. Necropotence gives you the cards at the end of your turn, Yawgmoth's Bargain gives you the cards instantly. Necropotence requires you to exile any cards that you have to discard, making it difficult to abuse it in graveyard centered strategies. Bargain has no such restrictions. The card is the definition of gaining an unfair advantage.
Now the Real Work Begins
So now that you've read my thoughts on the ban list, what are your thoughts? If you could unban one card on this list, what would you choose? Thanks for reading and until next time, when we will look at the next category.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.