Alrund’s Epiphany | Kaldheim
31, May, 23

MTG Lead Designer Vows to Keep Creating Ban-Worthy Cards

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Throughout Magic: the Gathering’s almost 30-year history, it’s safe to say a lot of very powerful cards have been created. For better or worse, few of these can compare to the original Power Nine. That being said, however, Wizards still releases powerful, sometimes even overpowered cards, with almost every MTG set.

While these overpowered cards can be a lot of fun to play, typically, they’re not entirely believed by MTG fans. After all, by definition, these cards are a little too strong for their own good. Thanks to warping and dominating formats, MTG’s overpowered cards can be very un-fun to play against. This, in turn, can lead to a lot of resentment from players.

Given all the criticism against them, overpowered bombs in MTG may seem like a mistake on Wizards’ behalf. After all, some of these cards are so strong they have to be banned! Despite that detail, however, according to MTG’s Lead Designer, these almost-broken cards are actually a good thing! So much so, in fact, that Wizards are going to keep making these format-breaking bombs, whether players like it or not! 

A Bannable Offence

Reflection of Kiki-Jiki | Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Reflection of Kiki-Jiki | Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

Thanks to recent announcements from Wizards of the Coast, talk of bans has been all the rage recently. Smothering the hype for The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, everyone was wondering which cards would get banned. Thankfully, earlier this week, we finally got an answer to this burning question. While this relieved, and concerned, various MTG players, some were left wondering why bans were even needed. 

Considering their prevalence in Standard, it goes without saying that Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Reckoner Bankbuster, and Invoke Despair needed to be banned. There’s no question about that. Instead, the lingering questions stem from why these cards were even created in the first place. With 30 years of experience making MTG under their belts, surely Wizards knew these cards were overpowered. Right? 

Surprisingly, it seems the answer to this question might actually be yes, Wizards did know these MTG cards were near overpowered. That seems to be the case, judging by a recent statement from MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater. 

Pushing the Boundaries

Reckoner Bankbuster
Reckoner Bankbuster | Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

Speaking on Blogatog, Mark Rosewater stated that cards being banned aren’t “a sign that things went wrong.” Instead, it seems the opposite is true, as according to Rosewater, making banned cards is part of the job. More so than that, creating these cards that toe the line is fundamental to doing the job right. 

On the surface, this may seem like a very silly idea. However, Rosewater does have a compelling explanation: pushing boundaries makes MTG more fun. While this philosophy can create problems like Oko, Thief of Crowns, it can equally create awesome new mechanics and cards. Subsequently, in Rosewater’s eyes, this practice is well worth the risk of having to ban something.

“Cards being banned aren’t always a sign that things went wrong. We could make a world where cards never (or almost never) get banned by never pushing boundaries, but we don’t think that would be as fun of a game.

I truly believe if nothing ever gets banned, we aren’t doing our job properly. We’re supposed to come up to the line, which occasionally means we step over it, as where exactly the line is changes based on so many conditions.”

Mark Rosewater

Judging by this statement from Rosewater, it appears this design philosophy won’t be changing anytime soon. As a result, it may only be a matter of time before another format-warping bomb appears. If, or rather when it does, hopefully, this card will be banned as needed, rather than stagnating a format for almost two years. 

Dubious Design Decisions

Oko, Thief of Crowns
Oko, Thief of Crowns | Throne of Eldraine

Thanks to Rosewater’s explanation, pushing the boundaries of MTG may seem like a necessary evil to many players. As usual, however, not every player was convinced that this design philosophy was beneficial. After all, it sure sounds like an easy way to invite power creep into the game

Pointing out this problematic detail was u/sling_cr on Reddit, who noted that there are a lot of boundaries that Wizards can push. Rather than just being one homogenous format, MTG has at least five main formats constantly vying for attention. In order to efficiently sell packs, Wizards has to appease all these players.

“The problem is that the line they are coming up to now is the ‘modern playable’ line instead of the ‘standard playable’ line that used to be pushed. It’s ok if no new cards get put into modern from a set, it’s not ok if a new standard set can’t compete with the other standard sets.” 


Thankfully, even if Wizards was now just balancing around Pioneer, Modern, and Commander, all hope is not lost. As WotC has recently implanted a new ban schedule, which should keep problems in check. Unfortunately, however, while the yearly bans and post-set release windows should contain problems, they’re not perfect solutions. 

While technically playable for free on MTG Arena, on paper, Magic can cost quite a lot of money. This makes purposefully pushing boundaries rather problematic. Due to their strength, players may have to invest in these overpowered options to remain competitive. Mercifully, Standard demand typically does not control the secondary market, however, players may still take a financial hit post bans. As pointed out by u/Yatagarasu513, this can be incredibly hurtful to players.

“It’s great in a theoretical sense to try and experiment and find ‘the line’, but in reality stepping over it as frequently as has been occurring recently hurts player trust and willingness to purchase new, powerful cards”


Alongside the financial implications, several other players noted that the rising prevalence of bans is a far cry from the established norm. Previously, bans only used to be used in emergency situations, with often years going by between them. Now, however, it’s possible bans could happen up to five times a year. To Reddit users such as u/rveniss, this seems indicative of a lack of quality control. 

“Now with bans every year, sometimes multiple times a year, it just feels like quality control in terms of playtesting has dropped significantly, and they don’t bother balancing because they know powerful cards sell packs and they can always ban later.” 


It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

Tivash, Gloom Summoner
Tivash, Gloom Summoner | Commander 2021

Thankfully, while it is easy to pick holes in this statement from Rosewater, Wizards should know what they’re doing. Mistakes have been made in the past, of course, however, those should be learned from. Subsequently, going forwards, hopefully, we won’t have a repeat of Oko, Thief of Crowns, or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Whether or not this hope can actually be manifested into reality, however, remains to be seen.

At the end of the day, overpowered cards may also be needed to move the needle on stale formats. New overpowered cards are problematic as time proceeds, but having a format absent of change can be equally as problematic. Part of the issue with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, after all, was how long it was the best thing to do in Standard. When it did release, however, it presented a massive unforeseen change to a format, which is a good thing.

If worst comes to worst, disgruntled MTG players can at least switch over to Alchemy. In theory, this much-maligned format can rebalance cards rather than remove them entirely. In reality, however, Alchemy really needs to get its act together before it’s worth honestly recommending. 

Read More: Newly Spoiled LOTR Card Showcases Multi-Format Potential!

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