There are many cards that will always be banned in Commander, and for good reason. But could any of the currently banned cards get a second chance at seeing play? I think so! After all, It wasn't too long ago that Kokusho, the Evening Star was banned in Commander. There's got to be a few other cards on the list that are safe to see play. Let's look at the methodology behind the ban list, and see if there's anything else safe enough to unban.
The Rules Comittee's Ban Philosophy
This quote from an old article by the Rules Committee (RC) from the Wizards website offers a good summary of what makes a card worthy of a ban:
"The primary focus of the list is on cards which are problematic because of their extreme consistency, ubiquity, and/or ability to restrict others' opportunities."
What specific attributes make a card fall into one of these categories? RC Co-Founder Sheldon Menery has a great article detailing what makes a card require a ban. In that article is this list of key features of banworthy cards:
- Cause severe resource imbalances
- Allow players to win out of nowhere
- Prevent players from contributing to the game in a meaningful way
- Cause other players to feel they must play certain cards, even though they are also problematic
- Are very difficult for other players to interact with, especially if doing so requires dedicated, narrow responses when deckbuilding
- Interact poorly with the multiplayer nature of the format or the specific rules of Commander
- Lead to repetitive gameplay
My Own Ban Methodology
Both of the articles I cited above express some of the same ideas, but I think the first article has the better, more succinct methodology for determining a ban. If a card is too consistent and is in every deck or makes the game unplayable and thus unfun, it needs to be looked at each time bans are being considered.
Based on those criteria alone, a tremendous number of "staple" cards should be banned from Commander. The existence of "staples," — cards so good that they crowd out other similar cards — is a prime example of something that hurts the format for all players. Staples restrict deckbuilding freedom, another one of the points, noted above, making a card ban-worthy.
The Conquest (format) of Commander
Now I know you're thinking "Show us the unbans already," and I will soon, I promise! But first, let's talk about Conquest. Conquest is an alternate ruleset for Commander. With a modified ban list and these additional rules:
- Commanders can be a legendary creature or planeswalker.
- Each player has 30 life in multiplayer. 1v1 players have 25 life.
- Commander damage is set to 12.
- Each player’s deck is at least 80 cards and is singleton.
What's interesting about Conquest is not the alternative rules, but the modified ban list. It's much longer than the current Commander ban list. That is because it hits so many truly problematic cards! However, It's what is not on this list that leads me to my unban proposals. There are a few cards on the Commander ban list that are NOT banned in Conquest. Much like Kokusho, these cards probably were either considered too powerful or unfair at the time they were banned but maybe were actually never the threats to Commander that we thought? Without further ado, let's look at the cards I think are safe to unban.
Mirror, Mirror On The Banlist
So let me get this straight. Five mana to do nothing the turn you cast it is a problem but the actual card being cast "for free" during your upkeep is fine and dandy? Don't we have a phrase to describe this situation? And it's not just five mana it's five mana plus the cost of the "free" spell to imprint it first? So for something like 11 mana or 12 mana, and a card in hand, I can Imprint one of the numerous extra turn cards. If I wait for an entire extra turn, AND no one has interacted with removal, I've effectively won the game? Gee, aren't there dozens of competitive combos that cost less total mana and end games on the spot? From a competitive standpoint call me unconcerned.
Is the two mana cost and Instant only restriction on Isochron Scepter really a balancing factor that makes Panoptic Mirror ban worthy but Scepter merely good? I'm not convinced. EDREC top 100 has 25 cards for Isochron and a total of 56 for Mirror. This, at first, makes it seem like Mirror is a great idea because it can let you cast those best of the best spells over and over again every turn. That sounds good, in theory. In practice, how often do you have five extra colorless mana to not do anything? How often do you have an extra nine mana and the time to *imprint* Blasphemous Act rather than just wipe the board right now for one?
CEDH decks these days are tuned for ultra-consistent wins as early as turn four with the potential to do so sooner with great draws. Adding Panoptic Mirror to those decks would not make them any faster. I am highly doubtful they would gain any more consistency either, seeing as how the Mirror takes an additional upkeep before any value is gained.
I think this card could be unbanned and it would not make cEDH any more competitive or faster. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many of the cards on the ban list like Flash or Tinker would definitely accelerate an already fast deck and make those decks more consistent. Panoptic Mirror? Not so much.
But what about casual games? Well if your table already frowns on infinite combos or frowns on taking extra turns then people won't play the *problem cards* in their decks so no ban on Mirror is needed. Yes, this card is powerful but there are multiple costs for that power. With the large amount of mana required to cast Mirror AND imprint a big spell what else could you have done? Would you have to wait until your next upkeep for that something else to happen? Further, if you Imprint something low cost you can get your spell on command with Isochron Scepter which also is part of multiple different infinite combos that cost a lot less mana than infinite combos with Mirror.
Is Panoptic Mirror huge value? Yes. Does it offer a powerful advantage every single turn? Yes. Is it extremely low mana? No. Is it at Instant speed? No. Does it have any special kind of interaction required to stop it? No. I think there is a compelling argument for the fact that this is a *powerful* but not completely out of bounds card for Commander and I don't think the format as a whole would take a hit by unbanning this.
Is This Just Primeval Titan?
Primeval Titan can threaten the game in a variety of ways and it's only six mana so it is very possible to play it turn three. Sylvan Primordial at one extra mana only gets Forests. This difference is massive in my opinion. While Primordial is straight value, a minimum of three Stone Rain or three Disenchant effects, it is only one of these per opponent. I think this is a very large factor in considering an unban. Compare this to any of the numerous effects in black that force each opponent to sacrifice something. Is the three Forest upside so powerful that it deserves a ban? Unlike so many of the cards on the ban list that I do agree with, I don't see the game-ending nature of Sylvan Primordial. In multi-player, this card should unite the entire table against you. In that situation, it seems like more of a liability than a reward. Also, you do not have a choice to destroy, so Primordial can have unintended negative consequences or lead to better interaction with cards like Darksteel Citadel or Flagstones of Trokair. Punishing a card for how crazy interactive it can be in multiplayer is the opposite of what I think is supposed to happen.
Then Why Is It Banned?
Now, just because I think this card can be unbanned, should it be unbanned? Green is, of course, the fast mana color. It's possible to turn three the Primordial. But. What exactly is powering out a turn three Primordial? Let's see, turn one Bird or Elf. Turn two…two more Birds or Elves or one ramp spell is fair. Turn three…hmm wait a second. You could have four, five, or even six mana for turn three in Green. Seven? An absolute god draw with multiple Birds and Elves and Gaea's Cradle, sure, but not often unless…Sol Ring. Mana Crypt. Mana Vault. The real "problem cards" have emerged. So yes, Primeval Titan is way easier to power out on turn three, can threaten the game much faster due to picking any two lands, and can continue to trigger just by attacking. And yes, grabbing lands that give you two mana each is more ramp than three Forests or any of a slew of other high power lands like Gaea's Cradle. Sylvan Primordial, in my opinion, is a victim of fast Artifact mana. Yes, it's devastating to destroy a land early in a game and also ramp yourself up tremendously at the same time. With more card support, you could Clone or otherwise continue to get even further ahead. I see the potential problem especially if we are talking about turn three.
However, is a turn five or turn six Primordial back-breaking? I don't think so. Is it really good? Definitely! Is it in the realm of competitive power of other cards that are threatening to end the game for less mana turns earlier? I don't think it's even close. To address the specific points brought up by the Rules Committee, the only one of the seven bullet points that the Primordial is guilty of is the first one, severe resource imbalance. However, the amount of cards that can create a severe resource imbalance at seven mana is, well, a huge amount of them in 2022. Primordial was banned eight years ago and I think it's time it came out of the box!
Without fast Artifact mana I think this card is a lot less unfair and the advantage it gives you should be offset by how much table hatred it should draw. It's possible that in Commander's current form Sylvan Primordial would still be too good and see too much play. But if it's not broken enough to be banned in Conquest, I think that is telling. Additionally, this card came out before Clues, Food, Treasure, or Blood were incorporated into the game. Nowadays you can diplomatically kill someone's Food or Treasure token and they won't be as behind as if you killed their land.
Finally, I had the chance to play the Primordial before it was banned. While personal, anecdotal experience is not worth much, I never got to bully the board. However, I also never got it out on turn three or copied it multiple times, or recurred it multiple times. I can see how it *could* get out of hand. But again I ask, what modern Magic card doesn't go absolutely out of control under those circumstances? I suggest that a card like, say, Dockside Extortionist is ending the game before Primordial hits the table let alone gets copied in most games.
Surely Other Cards Can Be Unbanned
No, I don't think so. The Rules Committee is pretty good when it comes to the overall state of the game and generally is cautious when announcing bans. Almost the entire ban list right now looks extremely solid. However, it's obvious that there are many cards that, if not potentially ban-worthy, are extremely overplayed *cough* Dockside Extortionist *cough*. I hope the RC is keeping a lookout not just for raw power and consistency but also for overwhelming ubiquity. While they are looking for new cards to ban, I think it's just as important to consider what might be the next Kokusho.
Final Thoughts, Including One Ban Suggestion
Why is Aetherflux Reservoir not banned? In my opinion, it is diet Biorhythm. Gaining 11 life is not a steep "cost" and can happen rather incidentally. Four generic mana kill target player, then likely die yourself, just seems extremely unfun and that's the bottom end of the card. On the high end, it can wipe an entire table in multiple different ways. Again, four generic mana. Can go in virtually *any* deck. Just seems like something that should not exist in the format.
What do you think about these unban ideas? About my ban suggestion? Let me know in the comments!