30, Aug, 23

It's Time to Unban Some Cards in Commander

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Article at a Glance
Thassa’s Oracle is the best win-con in Commander period. At only two mana it’s extremely efficient and let’s you keep up mana to stop interaction from your opponents. A more fair card like Laboratory Maniac has a higher mana cost and can be stopped with a much greater variety of interaction showing it’s a fair card unlike Thoracle. Then, why has Thassa’s Oracle not been banned by the Commander RC? It’s a great question and one that does not have a particularly satisfying answer. Sure, there are banned cards like Tinker that can never, ever, be safely unbanned. There are also some strong but not overpowered cards that have been banned for far too long. So we ask the question, if demonstrably powerful cards are not getting banned, why should other strong cards remain banned in the face of that?

Here are five cards that are currently banned in Commander that could be unbanned with virtually zero impact to cEDH. A question that remains is if their unbanning would cause more problems in non-competitive games than their inclusion would be worth? To that I answer: “Thoracle,” meaning with this card not banned, more casual games are ruined than its inclusion is worth. The card is also essentially too good for competitive as well so why isn’t it banned already?

Judging from the most recent RC ban announcement, there’s isn’t current interest in unbanning cards that have been power crept out of relevancy. Consider the following unbans for the Commander format.

Ten Mana do Nothing

At first it looks like it would be a major mistake to unban this Mirror. When combined with a card like Timewarp it would become ten mana, take infinite turns! This is faulty logic for many reasons, however. As far as cEDH goes, this is slow. Five mana is a lot and assuming you resolve anything at a competitive level that costs five is asking quite a bit. Furthermore, now you have to pay even more mana to Imprint something, so the total cost of your combo will almost certainly be more than, are you ready for this, two mana for Thoracle and one mana for Demonic Consultation. At three mana win the game the Mirror is not even close.

Then, you have to go around the table to your Upkeep step. All of this has to happen with Mirror staying in play only for you to end up getting two for one’d if someone kills your Mirror in response to you Imprinting. So yes, this is a powerful effect, make no mistake about that! But is this effect powerful enough for current day cEDH? I strongly suggest it is not. Playing a five mana Artifact that does nothing as it enters play is a huge liability. Then, opening yourself up to a two for one is bad. On top of it all, you must pay an activation cost which is close enough to be prohibitively expensive. This only goes off on your Upkeep step so there are three other player turns to deal with this before it nets you any value. Isochron Scepter threatens a variety of game ending effects, infinite potential combos, and just value plays that go off anytime you want for four total mana instead of five plus more. Sure it has a spell cost restriction but it comes out and greatly impacts the table way earlier.

Now, there is a second aspect to all of this. Would Mirror impact casual play extremely negatively? Well, yes and no. Yes in the fact that it would lead to more games ending on the spot if you have an extra turn spell in hand to Imprint while the table also does not have interaction. Casual tables are far more likely to have limited or not enough interaction and therefore they would run into this situation a lot more. This is not a Commander problem, or even a deck building problem. It’s a rule 0 problem and a power level problem.

There are tons of ways to get infinite turns and infinite combos that are not banned. A table not liking infinite combos and/or extra turns has nothing to do with Panoptic Mirror. The Mirror is probably too strong for low powered tables but not nearly powerful enough for high powered tables. It’s just another really powerful card that requires an answer at five plus mana. Back when this card was originally banned, there was plenty of Artifact removal but not a lot of other cards that beat it for far less mana. Now, there are cards like Collector Ouphe, Drannith Magistrate, Boromir, Warden of the Tower and Teferi, Time Raveler that make the Mirror useless for less mana. Red has a virtually unlimited number of “destroy target Artifact” effects and they all work here. Only mono-black is sort of defenseless against this card. Even then you can tutor up a colorless answer, of which there are now many, or force them to discard the best instant or sorcery in their hand so you’re still not entirely beaten.

Is this a fair card? Yes. Is it unbeatable at its mana cost? No. Does it lose to lots of different kinds of interaction? Yes. Is this card too good for casual tables? Low powered tables with no interaction, yes, mid or high powered tables? Not at all. There’s not enough reason to keep this card banned in Commander compared to new, powerful cards like The One Ring.

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Another Five Mana Card

Prophet of Kruphix is a strong card. You get a huge amount of utility and potential for five mana. However, much like the Mirror above, it is five mana to effectively do nothing right then. While it does set you up to cast instants and creatures on any opponents turn, it does not immediately win the game or threaten to give you infinite mana like Paradox Engine does and that is the ban-worthy difference. But let’s try another two comparisons on two completely different angles.

What does a cEDH creature look like? Let’s talk about Slicer, Hired Muscle. A More Than Meets the Eye Slicer commander can easily come down on the first turn of the game. Virtually, any fast mana cards makes this happen, take your pick: Jewelled Lotus, Ancient Tomb, Lotus Petal, Rite of Flame and so on. Slicer plays them all. After you turn one your commander, you’re putting one of the players at the table on a potential two turn clock. That’s right, you attack for three commander damage and if the other two players attack that same player they add another 12. That’s 15 commander damage potential and that one player has not taken a turn. This is what a three mana competitive card looks like. It greatly impacts the board state, immediately. It does not rely on anything else, doesn’t need more lands, doesn’t need more creatures with abilities.

Consider Smothering Tithe as well. It’s very likely you have the Tithe in play before the Prophet and it’s likely it’s generated some Treasure value already. Prophet will only generate value as long as you can immediately use the mana on something before the next untap step comes around. Smothering Tithe can generate continuous value without the need to spend it immediately.

Meanwhile a 2/3 that threatens to give one player a potential advantage is five mana and banned? The simple fact is that removal is important, interaction is important. Slicer is probably not fair at a very casual table running no fast mana and no interaction. Tithe will generate a ton of advantage if it’s allowed to just sit there, but it does not need other creatures in play to be effective. Likewise, a Prophet that sits in play for multiple turns will certainly give its controller advantage. In each case, though, removal is the solution and killing a 2/3 is relatively easy. This is yet another card that would be fine in cEDH and high powered tables but might be too powerful for low powered tables.

In many situations, Unwinding Clock is at least as powerful as Prophet but only costs four instead of five and that card is not banned, overpowered, or exceptionally played in every cEDH deck. It also has no color restriction whereas Prophet has two. The fact is Prophet is a very powerful card but one that no longer needs a ban.

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Ten Mana, Reset the Game

Now, unlike both Prophet and Panoptic which are both powerful, Sway of the Stars is not really a powerful card when you consider its whopping cost of ten mana! For ten mana, you can easily win the game with various combos or shut down the rest of the table for only seven with Cyclonic Rift. The original intention of the Sway ban was to avoid “feel bad” moments, where everyone had established board states and then a single card undid the entire game. However, there are far more salt-inducing cards like mass land destruction and Stasis that are not banned, and they don’t see play at most casual tables for that reason. So Sway, in exactly the same way, is fine for most tables, but sometimes you may get an objection to the card. Note it and don’t play it in that kind of environment, but it’s not a necessary ban and certainly would not go into every blue deck if it became unbanned.

On the other hand Upheaval is basically most of what Sway is but it only costs six mana. This allows you to float mana and replay all your mana rocks and one land such that you have four or five things in play and everyone else will likely have to discard most of their stuff. The huge mana difference between the two cards is what allows this to be the case and Upheaval should remain banned as it is very clearly much better. Finally, Worldfire was banned in Commander for it’s Sway-like ability but then was unbanned because it turns out that nine mana spells don’t really matter. At ten, Sway is in the same category and could easily be unbanned, would see zero competitive play, and also not ruin that many casual games. If anything, this card could help casual games as it re-balances the game state in a less unfair way than most other cards.

This Still Counts as one

There’s nothing wrong with Lutri, the Spellchaser as one of the 99 cards in your Commander deck. The reason behind the banning is, in my opinion, a silly one; they don’t want to go back to having specific ban rules for specific cards. Hate to break it to the RC and Wizards, but you already do. Yorion, Sky Nomad is banned in Commander *as a Companion* but legal in your Commander deck. So, therefore, why can’t Lutri get the same treatment? It’s beyond obvious that it would not be too good as another card in the deck and was Day Zero banned for the Companion component. Remember when Wizards banned Yorion in Modern in-part because it was too hard for players to shuffle 80 card decks multiple times? But it’s fine in 100 card Commander decks? This is a silly ban and could use a specific exemption that sort of already exists. I’m not full on advocating for a return to “Banned as Commander, Banned as Companion, Banned in 1v1” style multi-format ban lists but come on, let people play with their Otter, just not as a companion.

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Green Win Condition only 8 mana!

This may be a slightly controversial card to advocate for an unban. The primary reason this card was banned was because in certain games and/or after a board wipe playing Biorhythm makes the game a draw. Well, let’s talk about that.

There are tons of cards that kill all players at the same time. Earthquake or Hurricane or Prosperity as just some examples. The fact that cards can end the game in a draw does not make them ban worthy. Meanwhile, the Commander format gives you access to a creature you should always be able to cast – your actual commander!

Of course, much like most of the cards on this list, there are so many more new cards that are so much better than an eight mana sorcery that to have Biorhythm take up a slot in a deck seems extremely sub-optimal. Going back to the original “strategy” of board wiping and then making the game end a draw, that does not seem very likely with so many more Indestructible creatures than ever, so many more protection effects than ever, and even free spells like Flawless Maneuver that could turn your “troll” Biorhythm into a win condition for your opponent. I put this card in the same category as mass land destruction, extra turns, Sway the Stars and so on. It could be a salt inducing card at some tables, and it could be a nothing burger at others. Divine Intervention exists and sees no play. That card has no purpose other than to end the game in a draw and it is only seven mana not eight and it’s not banned. Much like other cards, Biorhythm can be a win-con and sometimes it could also be a card that could draw the game. Unless we ban all cards that *could* draw the game, this seems like a safe unban.

What About Unbanning…

Most of the cards on the Commander Banned List make a huge amount of sense to stay banned. Cards like Flash and Griselbrand are always going to produce a massive effect on a game and are turn one possible. There are several significantly powerful cards that are not banned like Dockside Extortionist, Mana Crypt and Demonic Tutor which are simply too good for their mana cost but seem immune to banning. Those cards are certainly better than these still banned cards. In light of the recent unbannings of Preordain and Mind’s Desire maybe we could see the Commander banned list have a large revision to account for the continued power creep and velocity of newer cards.

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