Should This Be Banned - Part 4
- Robert Giel
Welcome back to Should This Be Banned. Last time we looked at cards that win the game with little to no effort. This article is probably the most exciting piece; looking at potential additions to the banlist! Keep in mind that this is a highly opinionated article and that I encourage you to discuss these cards and others in the comments.
What Cards Are Currently Legal But Should Be Banned?
We have reached the conclusion of this series, but also, potentially, the start of a great debate. Banlists are always a difficult topic because one player's experience will differ wildly from another player's. People differ, decks differ, and playgroups differ. Cards in constructed formats like Modern, Legacy, and sometimes Standard are banned not only based on player feedback, but also tournament numbers. Commander is a different beast, however, as there are no massive tournament reports. The Committee has also stated that the Commander banlist is more a set of guidelines than an actual hard banlist. It gives an indication of what is generally not in line with the format's intentions and what the committee feels hurts the health of Commander overall.
A very important thing to keep in mind while reading my opinions on potential bans is that they are just that - opinions. While I will do my best to make a strong argument on each card and whether it should be banned, it is still very much an opinion. This works both ways. Keep in mind just because you think a card is unfun or unfair doesn't necessarily mean that it's inherently broken for the format. Your experiences in Commander aren't necessarily representative of the general Commander population.
The last thing to I'd like to mention is that as much as our personal experiences and emotions might scream for the banning of a card, banning cards is in general is more negative to a format than it is positive. Banning should be reserved solely and exclusively for cards that are simply too oppressive for nearly any and all playgroups at various levels of "competitiveness." Playgroups are very much free and even encouraged to incorporate their own personal banlists. If you don't like a card, nothing is stopping you from banning it in your local playgroup!
Anyways, without further ado; here's the cards that people are discussing to be banned and my opinion on it, in no particular order.
Personally, I'm always a bit surprised when I see people talking about banning Consecrated Sphinx. Sure, it's a good Magic card but that's where it ends. Let's first look at what might be wrong with this card. Drawing cards is one of the most important things in Magic and punishing your opponents for drawing cards seems like an unfun mechanic. In this case, the sphinx does a great job at very quickly paying for itself. Add to the fact that there's a big chance that the controller of this sphinx will be drawing into (more) counter spells and removal and yes, it can be a pain to get rid off without losing card advantage.
But is this card truly broken? Does it ruin the game in such a way that the other players don't get to play anymore? Does it instantly end the game once it hits the field? From my personal experience, all the sphinx does is put a huge target on its controller. People don't like this card and they have every reason to stop you from outpacing them with card advantage. At six mana, a creature without protection that needs the opponent to do something before it starts giving you value seems very fair, even if the value that it eventually gives you is very high. The issue is that Commander is all about big, flashy plays and haymakers, and this sphinx fits into that spot perfectly. Often enough this is just a 6 mana Mulldrifter. There are occasions where the controller of the sphinx has so much permission that it's impossible for the rest of the group to get rid of it, but in this scenario, you were likely losing the game anyways, and the sphinx was just one potential means to that end.
Verdict: keep it
Where Force of Will and Brainstorm are the iconic cards of Legacy, and Tarmogoyf or Karn Liberated once used to be the poster-children of Modern, Sol Ring is one of the most iconic cards in Commander. There has been a lot of discussion around Sol Ring for a very long time. It's obviously very powerful and allows you to pull yourself far ahead of players who don't have a turn one Sol Ring. It's even decent in the late game (by no means great though) because it's so damn efficient at producing mana. This is one of the many reasons why Sol Ring is often found in every single Commander deck. According to EDHREC, Sol Ring is in a whopping 80% of all Commander decks, far more than any other card. I personally think this is fine for one very important reason; accessibility.
Sol Ring has, as of writing, 21 printings, almost 10.000 offers on Cardmarket and can be acquired for as little as 75 cents! We like playing big stuff in Commander, and this card allows us all to do it, regardless of the deck, Commander, or colors we play. Sure, it has the occasional issue of people going T1 Sol Ring and pull themselves very far ahead of the rest but I would argue that this is just as much a part of the high variance in Commander, which is one of the big draws of the format. It is fine to ban this card in your playgroup, but I wouldn't get angry at people for playing it. This is Commander after all.
Verdict: keep it
Okay let's talk about the elephant in the room. Cyclonic Rift is probably one of the most debated candidates for a potential banning. Let's look at the reasons to ban it; it's a very efficient asymmetrical board wipe/reset the game card that can be played at instant speed, it's in one of the stronger colors of Commander and can be backed up by counter spells, meaning it's pretty likely to resolve. I feel like a lot of people don't like this card because it is a feel bad card. Generally, players are unhappy when this card resolves and must rebuild their board. Now let's talk about what the card Cyclonic Rift means for the format. Cyclonic Rift doesn't win you the game by itself – rather it's an effect that brings you closer to winning the game. I'd even go as far as saying that Cyclonic Rift wins the games almost as much as it stops a player from winning the game, so in that case, it's a great card to keep other players in check.
It's very difficult to properly assess this card, as the power level is clearly very high, and the card is generally perceived as unfun. But the card isn't nearly as broken as a lot of people feel about it. It of course is an auto include in every blue deck, which arguably makes for a less diverse format. But it's also one of blue's only efficient ways of board wiping.
For now, I'm going to make a probably very unpopular opinion and say that Cyclonic Rift is fine in Commander. It's a very strong card and often sets up wins, but this is Commander. Here we are all about making big plays. Maybe if we get a fixed version of Cyclonic Rift, we can ban the real one (I know River's Rebuke is a card, but I'm talking about instant speed here.)
Verdict: keep it
Tooth and Nail
From one hot-debated card to another. Contrary to Cyclonic Rift, Tooth and Nail often does win the game instantly. It's a nine-mana spell but getting there is rarely a problem for green. It doesn't matter what other players are doing or playing and it often gets the same two-card game-ending combo. So, we can conclude that it's powerful, can be considered unfun, and doesn't necessarily contribute to the health of the format.
Still, I think Tooth and Nail is a card that's fine in Commander. I cannot say this often enough but Commander is about playing big spells, and this is just green's version of Rise of the Dark Realms or Insurrection. It might require less setup, but it's still very much in the spirit of Commander. If people use this card to find two combo pieces like Deadeye Navigator + Palinchron or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Restoration Angel, Tooth and Nail is nothing more than a means to an end. If a player has the intention of comboing off they were going to do it one way or another, Tooth and Nail is just one of many ways to enable this combo.
Tooth and Nail is excellent for cleaning up clogged board states and games that are stuck. It has a lot of room for interaction but is powerful enough to win the game on its own. If you feel like you are constantly losing to this card, try to run more answers. Tooth and Nail also teaches us very well how to build our decks, you can't just run 100 "goodstuff" cards. Either make the decision in your deck to run answers to certain things, or just get overrun yourself. With this said, you have every right to not like this card and decide to ban it in your playgroup.
Verdict: keep it
Phew, now that we've gotten some of the big ones out there, let's look at smaller card (both in mana cost and discussion). Serra Ascendant is a card that was clearly not designed with the Commander format in mind. The threshold is instantly achieved and provides you with a 6/6 flying lifelinker for one mana. While this is by no means a bad card, it's not problematic enough to ban. The chances of drawing this in an opening hand are relatively low, and even then, it takes seven turns to kill one player with this card. While doing this, the other 3 players are very likely not going to be happy about you having a Serra Ascendant and while you might be ahead on life total, you can expect them to gang up on you at least until Serra Ascendant is gone.
How many times have you been killed on turn eight by a turn one Serra Ascendant (provided it's summon sick the first turn)? If the answer to that question is one or more more, then why the hell are you not running more removal?
Verdict: keep it
Demonic Tutor & Friends
Commander is a singleton format. This means that the deck is supposed to have a higher variance and games tend to be more unique than regular constructed formats, where decks are more built to do the same thing every time (more or less). Demonic Tutor, and cards like Mystical Tutor, Enlightened Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, allow players to bypass this high-variance and more consistently find the cards they need in a specific situation. One could argue that the legality of these cards is highly against the spirit of Commander and therefore should be banned.
Once again, I think these people are wrong. While I can see the argument of these cards not being in-line with the spirit of the format, they are not by any means broken or bad for the format. You and your playgroup are completely free to ban these cards, and the more power to you. But these cards are important for some more spikey and/or cEDH decks that people like to play and we shouldn't ban key enablers to this kind of play.
Judging other people for the way they play and enjoy the game is what creates a toxic community. Taking things away from people simply because you do not like them is not enough reason for a card to be banned - banning should be solely reserved for cards that directly break the format at most or all levels of play. The tutor might make formats less fun but this is highly subjective.
Verdict: keep them
While I am personally not a combo player, I do see why people enjoy it. There's a very high ceiling, and the lines of play and possibilities to reach your win condition sometimes require complex thinking and insight. It might not be fun for the rest of the table to watch, but combo is very much a part of Magic whether you like it or not. Then there is Paradox Engine, a card so ridiculous and broken that it goes against everything I just said. Forget complex lines of play and strategic insight when you can just slam this bad boy and go off.
Paradox Engine literally combos with nearly anything on the table – mana rocks, cantrips, the bottle of soda that's on the table, and much more. Combo (namely storm) requires you to efficiently count and use your mana while you go off, and it might even lead to you not winning the game. I tried Paradox Engine in multiple decks and found myself cutting it every time. It's simply impossible to lose whenever this card resolves. Ask yourself this: Did it really feel good winning with Paradox Engine? Did it feel like you skillfully piloted your combo deck to victory?
It's a card that completely dominates the game regardless of how competitive the playgroup or decks are and thus is, in my opinion, worthy of a ban.
Verdict: ban it
I find it very hard to properly write about Deadeye Navigator. On one hand it's a six-drop that doesn't do anything by itself, requiring both a mana-investment and another creature for it to work. It's very strong, but also one of those cards that gives blue-based combo decks another way to win the game. It's also, of course, a prime inclusion in blink decks. So, it looks fine, at least in a vacuum.
On the other hand, it suffers from the same issue as Paradox Engine. While it doesn't do anything by itself, it requires little else to immediately win the game. It's one of the prime targets for Tooth and Nail and synergizes extremely well with the game plan of U/G/x decks. It can also be a pain to get rid of thanks to the ability to literally remove itself (and any combo-counterpart) from the game.
With this said, the card has some hard counters. Playing a removal spell when the Soulbond trigger is on the stack or having more Torpor Orb like effects completely nullifies this card. While this isn't necessarily a valid reason to keep Deadeye Navigator, it does mean that there are answers out there.
Verdict: 50% keep it / 50% ban it
A Special Note on Infect
Infect as a mechanic has also been a popular discussion in the Commander community. Why do people still die with only 10 poison counters while all life totals are increased to 40 and Commanders need to deal 21 damage? While Infect might be a solid strategy in Modern or Legacy, it quickly drops in power level when you have more than one opponent. Dealing ten Infect damage to a single player might be possible, but it is very likely that the other players aren't necessarily a fan of what you are doing and might try to take you out before you can even touch them. You're all on your own with infect as well - other players are constantly dealing damage to each other and benefitting from this incidental damage. You, on the other hand, must deal your own form of damage to each opponent with no real way to get a "discount" kill.
If you look at all the creatures that currently have Infect, only two creatures and one spell are viable in Commander; Blightsteel Colossus, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and Triumph of the Hordes. All the other creatures that have Infect are very sub-par when compared to the general power-level of Commander.
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon is a strong card, but is in one of the weaker colors to play a Voltron style Commander. I would argue that a non-Infect Voltron Commander in other colors might even be more effective than running this obsidian dragon.
Blightsteel Colossus is a very strong card and almost got its own section in this article. It's a card that wins the game out of nowhere and has a lot of synergy because it's also an artifact. However, it still must connect with someone to win, it's still easy to remove and has a clause that prevents it from being reanimated (in most cases). If you find yourself losing to this card repeatedly, I advise trying to run more answers to it. I once even lost a game where someone played Slave of Bolas on my Blightsteel, slapped me in the face, and continued the game without me afterwards…
Triumph of the Hordes is considered by many to be a very nasty card. While it is strong for sure, it is just one of many Overrun effects that you can run in Commander. The card provides plenty of room for interaction, and the controller still has to go through combat, AND connect with enough creatures to win. I think this is a powerful, but still acceptable card.
With the currently existing cards, Infect is a very narrow mechanic that is barely viable in Commander. Most of the creatures are underwhelming, and while the mechanic itself might be strong, it is hard to kill an entire table with Infect.
Bringing It Home
This conclude my article series on the banlist of Commander. I had a blast writing them. Doing research for these articles and reading your comments helped me understand the format better, and I very much hope that my articles on this topic did the same for you.
Commander is a beautiful format that can be played in endless ways, and it is our task as a community to safeguard its existence and diversity, so that it my flourish.
Are there any cards you found on my list that you didn't agree with? Do you think Cyclonic Rift is too toxic? Did you lose to Tooth and Nail too many times without having a chance to interact? Have you found a way to make Paradox Engine less broken and more fun? Do let me know in the comments.
Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.