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Bouncing Around The Banned List

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Today I wanted to talk a little about the banned list in Commander. I started thinking about it some more after Worldgorger Dragon was unbanned.

Worldgorger Dragon is, basically, a combo piece. Anyone who tells you they've played Woldgorger Dragon as something other than a combo piece is a liar or a fool, and possibly both. There is absolutely no reason to unban it other than to signify that combo, and specifically infinite loop combo, is 100% back on the table as being "fair".

Personally, I have no problem with this. Games have to end, and infinite combos are certainly one way to do that. They also tend to be relatively easy to disrupt, whether it be with a removal spell, counter-spell, or other trick (Split second is your friend, people!).

With the unbanning, now would be an interesting time to look at the rest of the banned list to see if anything else could, or should, come off.

Firstly, a quick reminder of the guiding banning principles in Commander:

For a card to be considered for banning (or kept banned), it should be causing problems in EDH games due to one of three things:

  1. Its power level in multiplayer EDH is signficantly higher than both what's expected for its mana cost AND it's power level in other formats due to different rules or game sizes. (Examples include Panoptic Mirror and Biorythm)
  2. It's dollar cost is prohibitive for most players and the card usually detracts from the playing experience of everyone in the game (The Power 8).
  3. It belogs to a class of cards which can't be consistantly interpreted by all players (Silver bordered cards, dexterity cards).

One thing that's not referenced here is "fun". Even though...

"very irritating" or "ubiquitous" aren't expressly listed there... they can act as red flags or tipping points, but alone aren't sufficient for a card to be voted down.

That something is unfun, irritating, prevents others from playing, etc, is not a reason for banning unto itself.

Ancestral Recall

It's hard to argue against the Power 9 (10?) being on the perma-banned list, especially in a 'casual' format like Commander. Drawing three cards, at instant speed, in a format with infinite ways to recur things makes a card like this even worse. Given the power level, the ease of casting, and the cost, keeping Ancestral Recall on the banned list makes sense, as much as this blue-addict hates to admit it.

Final Verdict: Impossible

Balance

Balance has a very powerful effect in mulitplayer. Generally it doesn't win games by itself, but it can go a long way to doing so. However I've seen many a game of Commander where the Balance player has shot his load... and subsequently lost. Balance is an equally difficult to build around in Commander as it is to play well, and the power of most decks to recover is pretty high. Not to mention that it can be countered, grasped, or otherwise responded to. A Balance deck that never gets to Balance is often pretty cruddy and will be rolled over pretty quickly in response.

In addition, white weenie and other pressure decks are often overwhelmed by the mucho-mana, mucho-durdle decks that run around Commander. Kemba, Kha Regent would be a completely different General if Balance was legal. I think Balance should be given a trial unbanning, especially given the powerlevel of many of today's Commander decks.

Final Verdict: Overrated

Biorhythm

It's basically a 1-card combo, which is never a good thing. It can take out multiple opponents in a single play, and usually the remaining obstacle can then be trampled over. There really is no reason to allow it back into play.

Final Verdict: Obnoxious

Black Lotus

The very definition of a non-Casual card, Black Lotus deserves to stay religated to the sidelines, except... this a format unafraid to play Sol Ring, Mana Vault and Mana Crypt. That said, the price is so staggering prohibitive that unbanning it would just make the expensive, broken decks even more broken, and the rest worse. No need to unban the Lotus.

Final Verdict: Overpowered

Coalition Victory

It looks like it's a 1-Card combo but it's not. Firstly, it requires having a basic land of each land type in play, which requires a fair bit of work. Next it requires a creature of each colour, which is easy if you're running Guild Courier, but a fair bit more difficult otherwise. Then you actually have to cast and resolve the card itself while your fragile combo hangs together. For me, if Worldgorger Dragon can become unbanned, so can Coalition Victory. The prohibitive mana cost, the senstitivity of the combo, and the effort required to protect it, all suggest there would be no trouble in unbanning it. I can't see casting this as any worse than casting Genesis Wave for 40, which has been known to happen a time or two.

Final Verdict: Hilarious

Channel

Speaking of Genesis Wave, here's its best friend, Channel. Too powerful for Legacy and Vintage, you can only imagine what your Green opponent will do with 39 mana on Turn 2 of a Commander game. As much as I love to win a game, I imagine that could get pretty damn boring, fast. As such, it's unlikely to ever make it off the banned list.

Final Verdict: Blackballed

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

What a storm in a teacup it was when this guy was banned. Listen, the dude is good, especially in a format where 15 mana to hard-cast him isn't that much of an obstacle. However, should he be banned? There are so many answers to this guy, even with the Timewalk ability, that banning him seems a little over the top.

What I'd like to see if Emrakul being tested as a commander-only card; that is, you can't run him unless he's your commander. This would make plopping him onto the battlefield early pretty damn difficult, and give pretty clear visibility to your opponents when he's going to come down the line. I think as commander the brown-mana requirements would be adequately restrictive to temper the power level of an Emrakul deck.

Final Verdict: Possible

Fastbond

Fastbond is a supreme combo enabler. The casual players immediately jump to the infinite-life combo of Crucible of Worlds + Zuran Orb. Those with harder heats immediately jump to Crucible of Worlds + Stripmine. With all the tutors in the world to go get those pieces and the terribly low cost to play it, there's no reason why it should be unbanned in a casual format.

Final Verdict: Odious

Gifts Ungiven

Banned due to the various impossible choices you can give your opponents, Gifts Ungiven is the ultimate combo enabler. If it were at sorcery speed I could see unbanning it, but being able to trap the board during an end-step makes this terribly insulting. With so many two card combos in Commander it's unlikely that this super-tutor can ever be unbanned.

Final Verdict: Delightful, broken.

Kokusho, the Evening Star

I'm going to come out and say it from the start: this card does not need to be banned. Sure, it's a card that gets better and better the more opponents you have. However, there are many things it doesn't do. Firstly, it doesn't work by itself, you generally need to get it going somehow, whether that be an opponent play a second Kokusho, or it's Cloned, or so other trick. Secondly, it needs to hit the graveyard; you can exile it, bounce it, Mind Control it, or phase it out in order to deal with it. Thirdly, it's not an instant kill. Yes, it puts one player way ahead on life, but so what? You can play an early Sorin Markov and drop an opponent straight to ten. You could play a quick Beacon of Immortality. a card that came off the banned list, and leap to an early 80 life. Or you could play False Cure and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Kokusho is annoying, yes, but I'd rather my opponent land Kokusho than Primeval Titan, most of the time.

Final Verdict: Exaggerated

Karakas

In a format so dependant on one key Legendary card, Karakas is completely overpowered, both as a griefer card (bouncing opponent's commanders) or as a combo card (allowing you to bounce your own commander for benefits). It can be hard to get rid of and easily recurred, and as such makes for a broken effect in the format.

Final Verdict: Understandable

Library of Alexandria

Yes, it's powerful, but the main mark against it is the cost. I agree that the card advantage that Library can provide is pretty damn good, probably better than I give it credit for, but as a 1-of in a 100 card deck, unless your specifically drawing into it Turn 1 it can be pretty underwhelming, especially against anyone playing discard or disruption. If it weren't for the cost I would argue that it's tempramental drawing ability isn't powerful enough; but the $250 paper pricetag means that it should be kept out of the casual format. However, on that basis - cost, not power - there are a number of other cards that should be pushed out of the format, including Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed (at $150) and Candelabra of Tawnos (at $200). These are certainly being kept around, largely due to the their lack of overpoweredness (it's pretty hard to combo-off the Candelabra). However the inconsitency remains; if you're going to ban cards due to cost (rule 2), then surely cards such as Xiahou Dun and Candelabra should be seen probitively as well.

Final Verdict: Misunderestimated

Limited Resources

Limited Resources should not be banned. No, it is not a fun card; but neither is Winter Orb, or Stasis, or Armageddon. There are so many fast-mana effects in the game, which incidentally make playing Limited Resources that much better. There are plenty of enchantment removal spells you can fire off for one or two mana. What Limited Resources (and Balance) do, however, is give white pressure decks (with a heavy control streak) a chance to shine amongst the big mana decks. Big mana decks, especially those based in green, are well out of control at the moment and could do with some nerfing. Bear in mind that Limited Resources doesn't prevent a GW deck from ramping through other means, such as Rampant Growth or Cultivate. Yes, the deck isn't much fun, but neither is playing Teferi and following up with Knowledge Pool. Or a Turn 2 flipped Erayo. Bring it on, I say (I'm gonna get a lot of heat on this one).

Final Verdict: Cromulent

Lion's Eye Diamond

Lion's Eye Diamond isn't oppressive, price-wise, but it's the closest thing you'll get to Black Lotus without being Black Lotus. The downside is rarely a downside in the right deck, and would allow for some incredibly broken starts in the Commander format. Can't be unbanned, better move on.

Final Verdict: Atrocious

Metalworker

Passes the price test, but is he too broken? It's the line "Add two colorless mana to your mana pool for each card revealed this way." that is the trouble. 1 mana would of been fine, but in a world of Artifact Lands, fast-mana artifacts and broken bombs, 2 mana might be too much. That said, Metalworker is a very, very fragile body that dies to just about everything. It doesn't have haste, so it's difficult to activate it on the turn it comes down without Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots, etc, and even those can be responded to. Overall I'd like to see Metalworker come off the banned list and see if it starts warping the metagame. Oh wait, Unwinding Clock is a thing? Scratch that. No don't.

Final Verdict: Eager

Mox Sapphire, Ruby, Pearl, Emerald and Jet

I guess if you're determined to eliminate the power 9 (or 8 or 10, whatever, off my back pedants!) you better do it right. I'd argue that in the format these are less powerful than Sol Ring, and Sol Ring is perfectly legal, but the cost-purists would jump down my throat. I'd rather have the Moxes see more play outside of Vintage and fringe casual formats, but it's unlikely to happen. I mean, this is a format where you can go Mana Crypt into Sol Ring into Grim Monolith into Voltaic Key into ... some kind of draw spell? Whatever. Moxes break the casual-cost rules, and so they're out.

Final Verdict: Unfortunate

Painter's Servant

Here's the problem with Painter's Servant: he's colorless, and he cost just two mana. If he cost five most people probably wouldn't have a problem with him. But the fact you can just "get" people with Grindstone on turn 2 (or turn 1 with a great draw) means he's just too good as a combo enabler. His interaction with [card Iona, Shield of Emeria]Iona[/card], for me, is bye-the-bye; any format that allows you to Tooth and Nail for any number of combo enablers (Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Pestermite, Eldrazi/Urabrask the Hidden, Iona, Shielf of Emeria/Llawan, Cephalid Empress, etc) means his, as a combo piece, he's no more or less offensive than, say, Worldgorger Dragon. If it weren't for the ease of his casting.

Final Verdict: Pesky

Panoptic Mirror

Panoptic Mirror is broken for one reason: infinite turns that are just too easy to pull off. But then again, is this any worse than dropping an end of turn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and following it up with Knowledge Pool? Again, the problem is with mana-cost: You set up the combo for five effective mana, and then recur it for 5 mana forever more. And that's ignoring all the other, terrible, broken things you can do with this, such as putting Armageddon, or Sunder, or Pox, or any other terrible card under it. Yet... is this really any more offensive than any other two-card combo in Commander? You can spend more mana to endlessly search up Beacon of Tomorrows with Planar Portal for a few more mana, and both are perfectly legal. The imprint also seems terribly fragile in a format with plenty of good removal, counterspells, etc. I guess it's the ease of combo-establishment that will keep Panoptic Mirror from ever getting to shine again.

Final Verdict: Querulous

Protean Hulk

You know, if you're going to unban Worldgorger Dragon, you have no reason not to unban Protean Hulk. They are effectively the same creature: a high-mana cost creature with double-color committments that only serve to enable a game-winning combo. Both can be cheated out for effect, both can have their ability stifled or disrupted, both can be stolen for amusement, both can have a deck built around them. Is Protean Hulk that much worse because you have to go through so many interactions to set up the combo? On MTGO, maybe, but playing live I'm pretty sure everyone can just concede and move on with their lives. The Hulk is the prime example of the capricious and fickle nature of the Commander banlist. Where Worldgorger Dragon goes, there so should go The Hulk. Unban the beast!

Final Verdict: Incongruent

Recurring Nightmare

And then you get a monster of a card like Recurring Nightmare. There is simply no better recursion engine/combo enabler than Recurring Nightmare. Believe me when I say it is terribly, terribly broken. Ok, don't believe me. Play test it in my Death & Gitaxias list. It's bust-ed. *snaps fingers*

Final Verdict: Horror

Staff of Domination

Oh look, another combo piece that's on the ban-list because one of the rules committee lost to it once. Is that too harsh? I guess it is a bit of a one-stop shop of comboliciousness, comboing with tap-creatures, card-draw engines, untap creatures, infinite lifegain. It is, to be fair, the poster-child of mulitple combo-based strategies. Did it have to go? As much as I hate to admit it, yes. It's just stupid-good when built around, and having access to it means building around it.

Final Verdict: Greedy

Sway of the Stars

Apparently no one likes having to restart the game, so no Sway of the Stars. However in a nice Red/Blue pressure deck (they do exist!) this could be awesome as a finisher. Everyone on 7, and you're the guy with the burn? Who doesn't want to be in that position? Oh wait, you're facing down the guy with Skullbriar, the Walking Grave? Ha! Now it sucks to be you. To be frank, I just don't have a problem with this card. Reset everything! It's a casual format. Let as many strategies as possible blossom. If you really think you can reset the game and still win, go for it.

Final Verdict: Allowable

Time Vault

Time Vault hits all the negative points: in cost, in power level, in ease of use, in effect, and in 'fun'. If the Staff of Domination is the swiss-army-knife of combo strategies, Time Vault is like the hollow-pointed uranium-depleted bullet of combo, getting right to the point for next to nothing. With Time Vault in the format, the game warps into who can tutor for it first. That's not a lot of fun. I'll supress the screaming of my inner Johnny and declare it too good to be unbanned.

Final Verdict: Heinous

Time Walk

If drawing three cards for 1 mana is broken, then I guess taking an extra turn for 1U is also broken. In fact I don't need to guess, it is actually broken. Great card, totally overpowered. There's a reason why so many of the cards on this list lead down the path of cheap, infinite turns. I'm sorry your desire to stick Time Walk under a Panoptic Mirror is not to come to pass.

Final Verdict: Infinite(ly bad)

Tinker

Tinker is a supreme tutor that's banned because it allows you to do this: T1, Seat of the Synod, Mana Crypt, Tinker (sacrifing either of your first plays)... whatever. At this point it's hardly relevant. You're going to win that game. Now, in the perfect world, you'd be tutoring for Time Vault with a Voltaic Key in hand. Or maybe Panoptic Mirror with Time Walk in hand.

Final Verdict: Abominable

Tolarian Academy

Tolarian Academy gets booted due to it's power level - it's cost at $40 is hardly prohibitive. It's problem is that it produces the most powerful of all the coloured mana - blue. And that is a sin worse than death. Personally, I believe that if you're going to ban Tolarian Academy, you ought to be banning Cabal Coffers and the far more expensive (at $70) Gaea's Cradle. They're all on a relatively even keel and used to do the same thing. Unfortunately the Commander banned list isn't about consistency.

Final Verdict: Offensive, but no more so than others

Upheaval

I have a hard time getting my head around the banning of Upheaval. [card]Sunder, to my mind, is far more offensive when played properly: I'd much rather have Upheaval suspended by Jhoira of the Ghitu against me than Sunder, although either way I know I'm getting boned. It's that same consistency problem as Protean Hulk and [card]Tolarian Academy. Upheaval is a powerful effect, but sure, whatever, that's what Commander is all about. Other powerful six-mana soceries float around without too much problem. I'd rather have to start from scratch than never play another spell thanks to Knowledge Pool. The similar cards aren't banned, and Upheaval deserves a trial off the ban list.

Final Verdict: Overvalued

Yawgmoth's Bargain

It's Necropotence without the Leyline of the Void effect, making it far more combolicious than Necropotence - draw 39, discard the appropriate cards, combo off. If it's being used to combo-off then it's pretty much just another 6-mana combo piece and that's no bigger deal than the many others I've already discussed, banner and unbanned. If it's being used as a draw engine, then surely Necropotence is the better card, and Necropotence is not banned. So Yawgmoth's Bargain is probably un-bannable. Or Necropotence is bannable. Not sure. My preference, however, is to unban over ban, and so I'd suggest we give Yawgmoth's Bargain back in the format.

Final Verdict: Grandiloquent

So there you have it. Let's admit the banned list is midly inconsistent, fix those inconsistencies, and let the social contract keep the depravity under control, rather than the banned list.

What do you think?

33 thoughts on “Bouncing Around The Banned List

  1. Limited resources will stay banned, as it can be argued that it is far too powerful in multiplayer (I’ve played against it. It can be worked around) but mainly because some members of the RC (coughsheldoncough) don’t like mass ld spells. Similar for upheaval and sway of the stars, though there are still tons of resets that aren’t banned, so why these two confuses me.

    I agree on protean hulk, plus he has non combo uses as well and is just a fun card to toy around with when you have no combo in sight.

    Yawgs bargain gives you the cards immediately. Necro makes you wait. Ergo, yawgs should be far easier to abuse.

    Kokusho has been discussed to death. He is really good in Multiplayer, but no better than exsanguinate. Sure, he’s a recurrable dude, but exsanguinate deals far more damage. Unban him, at least for a trial.

    Great article, and happy to see someone cover the ban list in such detail.

  2. I'm confused about how you argue that Lotus would be fine except for the cost…then don't want to unban LED. Anyway, I agree with most of these, but you're missing a major piece of Upheaval's power: you float a ton of mana and replay all of your artifact ramp. It's not a reset, it simply says "You win the game." Also, ditto lordfrezon's point about Bargain.

    Also, Academy isn't completely different than Coffers/Cradle, but it's much faster than Coffers and much more reliable than Cradle, so it's possible that only it should be banned. Finally, for a non-combo application of Worldgorger, check out my article next week. #spoileralert

  3. I agree…Maybe changing the prohibitive cost criteria needs to be changed. You brought up a good point with Library of Alexandria (it's draw isn't as great). If we can have tawnos or xiahou dun then we should allow other overpriced cards–as long as their not overpowered.

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