Should This Be Banned - Part 3
Welcome back to Should this be banned? Last time we looked at cards that are too oppressive. Today I would like to take a closer look at cards that win the game with little to no effort.
In the first article of this series, I divided the Commander ban list into three categories. So, what does it mean to win the game with little to no effort? I can already see you thinking, "But Robert, if these cards are on the list and cards like Felidar Sovereign are free to roam the casual playgroups, what's even the point of having this list?" I'd like to play the devil's advocate here and say that cards like Felidar Sovereign are totally fine in Commander. There is some further explanation required for these cards, so let's take a small detour to find out.
Commander games tend to take very long, and while nobody likes losing, the game must end eventually, one way or another. Cards that instantly win the game generally leave the other players feeling unsatisfied or "cheated," but they in my opinion are in no way less "fun" than Avenger of Zendikar + Craterhoof Behemoth, Blightsteel Colossus, or a Zurgo Helmsmasher equipped with 15 swords. All these things are part of the game, and especially part of Commander. Players like to win. Players don't like to lose. This brings us back to the example of Felidar Sovereign; yes, it's a creature that was clearly not designed with Commander in mind and yes, it wins the game easily. Why shouldn't this be banned then? In a vacuum, Felidar Sovereign is a 6 mana 4/6 with Vigiliance and Lifelink, not too shabby, but far from very impressive, especially by today's standards, so you will have to use one of your "6-mana slots" to add him in your list. Sure, you can play him as early as turn 3 or 4, and provided that you haven't taken any damage, you will win the next upkeep. But all other players have a chance to respond and can either deal damage or get rid of the Sovereign. If they can't, it brings me to my second point, the Sovereign player wins here. Did it really feel like a win? Was it a fun game? This is completely subjective to the playgroup and the experience that the players felt they have.
Coming back to the cards that we are discussing today, most of them win the game in a way that is generally accepted as unfun and/or unfair. Once again, this is entirely subjective, but this is also why the committee sees the ban list more as guidelines than an actual hard ban list, it's up to you and your playgroup to decide what should be "fun" enough to play.
Cards That Win The Game With Little to no Effort.
- Coalition Victory
- Painter's Servant
- Panoptic Mirror
- Sway of the Stars
- Time Vault
What a card to start with. This bad boy was originally printed in Onslaught back in 2002. I was first introduced to this card while playing Magic 2013: Duels of the Planeswalkers on steam, which was actually how I learned to play Magic before owning any paper cards. One of the starting decks in that game was Garruk's mono green stompy deck (what else?) and as the game progressed you unlocked more cards for that deck. So here I was, new to the game, looking for big, splashy creatures, unlocking an 8 mana card that just seemed awful. "Why would you ever pay 8 mana for such a bad effect?" I thought to myself.
Little did I know. Biorhythm is one of the most unfair, unfun (remember: this is subjective) ways to win a game of Commander. It doesn't just simply win the game, it punishes people from playing a certain strategy. The controller of this card can use it as a "kill switch", unlike cards like Felidar Sovereign. Wait for one or more players to have zero creatures on board and play Biorhythm. I've seen certain Commander control decks or Superfriends decks running zero creatures (besides their Commander, but even that can be a planeswalker). This card would just be an instant win condition against them. While this isn't necessarily the main reason to have Biorhythm banned, it's always bad to punish players for specific playstyles.
While on the surface, this card might look very similar to our example Felidar Sovereign, it is very much different. First, it's a five-colored card, so it should be hard to splash right? Wrong! If you want to play Coalition Victory, you will need to play a five-colored Commander. This means that if you have your Commander in play, it will already cover the entire "creature" clause of Coalition Victory, since it counts as a creature of each color. Second, the five basic land types aren't that hard to reach with the likes of shock lands and dual lands. You would only need to have a total of 3 of these in play to acquire all five basic land types. These two points make Coalition Victory pretty easy to achieve, but not necessarily more broken than most of the other cards we talked about in this series. The third point is very relevant however, Coalition Victory is a sorcery, which means it will come out of nowhere, and can only be interacted with by blue players. These three factors combined make sure Coalition Victory is not allowed in Commander.
I'm sorry for everyone who wanted to make a Reaper King 5-color Scarecrow tribal deck, one of the very few actual good scarecrows is on the banlist. It's not Reaper King's power level that makes this card too powerful though, not by any means. The reason why Painter's Servant is banned is because of the card Grindstone. Having a two-card combo that wins the game isn't very uncommon in Commander. A huge problem for this scarecrow and his grindy stone is that they can be put in literally any deck. Add this to the fact that they are both artifacts (easy to tutor and abuse) and have a low cost means you have an easy, splashy insta-win condition. One could argue that the committee should ban Grindstone and not Painter's Servant, and this was actually the case for a while. Looking at both cards in isolation, Grindstone is an annoying but balanced card for the three people out there who enjoy playing mill strategies. Painter's Servant is, besides its combo potential, a very weird card in general. Its rulings can cause some confusion for newer and casual players, and frankly is not in line with the whole "color-identity" rule of Commander. Additional tip from the writer: play Painter's Servant with Iona, Shield of Emeria and you achieve a state in which your opponents literally can't play Magic.
Panoptic Mirror is another interesting subject. At first, it doesn't look that broken and it might actually be fine in the format – this is Commander after all. If I'm being honest, doing research on this card, I found that there's a large debate going on that this card should be unbanned. It was banned a long time ago and Commander has shifted in such a way that the banning of this card might seem a bit dated. Sure, it's a very strong card, but arguably not any stronger than cards like Paradox Engine, Tooth and Nail, or similar cards in Commander.
Still, I'm going to do my best and explain why this card is on this list. The main reason I can see is that it creates undesirable game states. Setting the card up and paying the mana (imprint) cost for the card you'd like to use seems not too bad. Add the fact that you have to wait a turn cycle for it to actually do something and it still seems somewhat okay. What I think the problem of this card is that it has no restriction on what to imprint. It will most likely win the game, but not DIRECTLY, hence the undesirable game states. Cards like Felidar Sovereign at least win the game directly, so nobody has to sit there for an undefined period. Ideally, you imprint an extra turn card like Time Warp or a land destruction card like Armageddon with Panoptic Mirror. This creates a game state where the mirror player will most likely win, but not directly. This means all other players just have to sit there and twiddle their thumbs until the mirror player finally ends their suffering. That being said, you could argue that there are plenty of other cards that are not on the ban list that achieve the same effect.
Sway of the Stars
You might be surprised that Worldpurge is legal in Commander, while Sway of the Stars is not. The huge difference here isn't necessarily the life change, but the fact that Worldpurge empties all mana pools. Both of these cards essentially "reset" the game, but since you get to keep any excess mana with Sway of the Stars, it doesn't hurt you nearly as much as it does your opponents. The fact that Sway of the Stars sets all players to seven life doesn't help its argument either, as it's another way to circumvent the whole idea that people have higher life totals in Commander.
Not quite Power 9, but oh my is it close. Time Vault might be one of the single most broken Magic cards ever printed, and the fact that there is a vintage deck build around it confirms this. Forget Painter's Servant + Grindstone, Time Vault + Voltaic Key is the real combo. Taking infinite turns with two cheap artifacts that are both easy to cast, splash, and tutor is not just too broken for Commander, but for the entire game of Magic: The Gathering. A less important but still somewhat relevant for this fact is that the current cheapest, tournament legal Time Vault is available on Cardmarket for a whopping 634 €, so even if this card would ever come off the banlist (which it won't), it would be exclusively for the very wealthy, by Magic standards at least.
Another insanely powerful vintage card. The problem with Tinker isn't necessarily what it does, but more how efficient it does that. Paying a mere 3 mana to cheat a win-condition into play can be achieved as early as turn 1 with Mana Crypt and is just way too powerful for the format. WOTC has created numerous iterations of Tinker in the form of Transmute Artifact, Reshape, and Whir of Invention, all of which are all legal in the format and still very powerful. Like I mentioned in one of my other articles, Artifacts are amongst one of the strongest and most popular strategies in Commander and having Tinker legal in this format would do more harm than good.
In many ways, Worldfire can be considered the red Sway of the Stars. Sure, all players discard their hands, so floating mana would be considered less powerful right? Well, not entirely, you could potentially still cast your Commander after resolving Worldfire. The fact that it sets every player to 1 life rather than 7 is also a huge factor here. For the "mere" cost of ten mana, you could exile everything, put all players to 1 life, and then cast your Zurgo Bellstriker and start picking off your opponents. And even though there is a small chance that they could recover from the bellstriker, this is just one example of how this card can be problematic. The reason why it's banned in my opinion is the same as many other cards in this series; It's not too overpowered, the benefits of it being legal just don't justify the potential undesirable games or problems it creates.
The End of the Road?
This concludes our third and final look at the current Commander ban list. Do you agree with all the cards on this list? Do you think it's fine to unban certain cards? Let me know in the comments below!
Next time, we will dive into what cards are not on the ban list and should potentially be on there. Thanks for reading and until then!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.