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Posted by on Feb 7, 2014

The Commander Ban List is a Joke

The Commander Ban List is a Joke

The Commander ban list is a joke. Everyone knows this. The people playing the format know it, and the people not playing the format definitely know it. The ban list is a joke, and its absurdity is made only more apparent and egregious with the latest ban of Sylvan Primordial.

But it’s a joke for a different reason than you might think. In regular constructed formats, ban lists are required to regulate the balance of power and encourage diversity. In Commander, the ban list is meant to be a universal guideline to strengthen and convey the social contract of the format: that every game should be fun for all players.

The social nature underlying the Commander ban list correlates to the social nature of Commander as a multiplayer format. While many players have their own tight-knit playgroups where house rules can be readily agreed upon, Commander has grown so much as a casual format that pickup games are likely more commonplace. For a multiplayer format with so many participants, a universal guideline such as the official ban list is necessary to keep games among random players from devolving into a filthy, hot, arguing mess about whether or not someone should be playing Sundering Titan or Painter’s Servant.

Despite its noble intentions, however, the official ban list is a joke because its porous, inconsistent nature hinders it from carrying out its purpose to any relevant extent. Yes, cards like Worldfire, Biorhythm, and Limited Resources are obviously format-breaking and should be unquestionably banned. Emrakul and Griselbrand are examples of creatures that warp a game merely by being played, and in my eyes were ban-worthy. The line begins to blur, however, when cards like Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial are banned.

Yes, Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial are game-breaking if recurred. The problem is that, in Commander, a LOT of cards become game-breaking when they’re recurred. Primeval and Sylvan can be game-breaking when they are ramped out. A LOT of cards break games when ramped out. If cards like these-abusive if copied, recurred or ramped-are bannable, why not ban Tooth and Nail? Consecrated Sphinx? Bribery? All of these cards can be played “fairly,” but most of the time they aren’t, yet they still exist in the format. A ban list should not revoke some cards while letting cards of similar power levels remain.

To take things one step further, why not increase interaction in the format by banning the enabler cards that make the above cards so abusable? Deadeye Navigator, Survival of the Fittest, and Mind Over Matter are Commander cards that are never played with fair intentions and generally act as centerpieces for game-winning combos. Given a scenario where you choose between two cards, one a potentially abusable but sometimes reasonable card, and the other an unquestionably powerful card that often functions as a combo enabler, which one would you ban? To use Legacy as an example, would you ban the Survival or the Vengevine? I know my answer.

Nothing meaningful is accomplished by banning cards piecemeal. The player who runs Deadeye Navigator will continue to use Deadeye Navigator. The player who runs Tooth and Nail will still run Tooth and Nail. Unless a stance is taken to entirely remove these strategies from the format, people will continue to wonder why Primeval Titan is on the same ban list as Channel and Painter’s Servant, while Iona and Survival are still fair game. This inconsistency is confusing to both new and experienced players, as well as to those outside the format. And for good reason-it expresses a lack of conviction. As in all other formats, a ban list should go all-out or not at all. The Commander ban list should be no different.

As I mentioned earlier, individual playgroups have the decadent luxury of being able to modify, ignore or recreate altogether their own errata and ban lists for their own games, and I feel this is an approach that has been sorely neglected. If you are lucky enough to play with a tight-knit group of players, discussing and arriving at a consensus for individual cards is the ideal solution for ensuring a fun experience for all players.

Many players already know this, but I want to stress: Don’t follow the ban list if you don’t want to. As long as your fellow players agree to it, play Commander the way you want to. The blessing and curse of this format is that you can do whatever you want. And until the official ban list conveys some semblance of consistency, you should always keep an ear open to new possibilities in how you regulate and play your games.

I don’t envy the Rules Committee. Attempting to regulate a casual format is almost an exercise in futility, and the social-gameplay dichotomy behind the ban list only serves as a microcosm for the global tension between “strong” and “fun” that exists in the format. But as Commander becomes even more mainstream and legitimized thanks to Wizards’ support, its ban list should make sense. For a proper format, casual or no, that in itself just makes sense.

Dave Lee
@derfington

  • Squirrelly

    Silly Derf. You’re asking them to ban blue cards. Don’t you know that green is much, much more powerful!

  • Brendan

    I agree with you derf! I play most of my Commander on MTGO so I have no choice but to follow the ban list. I wish MTGO gave more options so we could enforce house rules :(!

  • Shwan

    While cards like Deadeye Navigator and Consecrated Sphinx should certainly be considered for their oppressive nature, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Sylvan Primordial was one of the most (if not absolute most) powerful creatures in the format and had to go. I have to wonder whether or not you even play EDH/Commander on a regular basis, because if you did, I think you would have a different perspective on this issue.

    • Joz

      Having played with Sylvan Primordial and cutting it from my decks less then a month after its release – and having to continue to play against it; I agree. I’m fine with people having ConcSphinx; or even Tooth and Nail. Iona does need the boot though. But anyone that doesn’t understand why Sylvan Primordial needed to be banned shouldn’t be talking about how the Banlist for EDH is a “joke.” When a degenerate, unfun player such as myself willingly cuts Sylvan Primordial from my decks – that card is a problem for the format. Sylvan Primordial was just a mean love child of Prime Time and Sundering Titan. And those where both bad for the format in multiple ways.

  • David Schnayer

    I feel like you’ve touched on a large problem with Commander – differently players and play groups want to get very different things out of the format.
    The semi-official French Banned list and rules are much more geared towards 1v1, but make for a better competitive format as a whole anyway (even when you’re playing multiplayer).
    I believe the real problem isn’t the huge bombs, its the fact that you can draw Sol Ring and Mana Crypt (and all the other super mana stones), and hit the huge bombs long before the other guy who wasn’t lucky enough to have 6 mana on turn 2 can realistically do anything about them..

  • Tygue McKay

    I agree with Derfington on the fact that they really chose the wrong card to be banned. Deadeye Navigator is a serious problem and should have been banned. Although Sylvan Primordial is strong on it’s own, cards like Deadeye Navigator should have been the real choice.

    Then if sylvan primordial still seems ban worthy than by all means put it on the list, but frankly I never found it as powerful as they made it out to be.

    • Psithief

      Cheap blue cards are poweful because blue doesn’t ramp like green does. Deadeye Navigator is still 6 mana for a colour that relies on mana-rocks/artifact creatures to ramp. Sylvan Primordial was on a whole different level by comparison.

      • Subbak

        Yeah, efficient mana rocks are really hard to come by… oh wait, no, they still didn’t ban Sol Ring or Mana Crypt. It makes even less sens for the Moxen to be bad when Sol Ring is strictly better for every tun except the one where you play it.
        That’s what truly makes the banlist a joke. Degenerate colorless ramp completely warps the game even more than things like Emrakul, especially when you have a 4-cost commander that you can therefore reliably cast on turn 2.
        My personnal philosphy, which I encourage everyone I meet to adopt, is that any card that is banned in either the French 1v1 banlist or the multiplayer banlist is banned. That stops most stupid things.

      • Ermacofpain

        Blue may not have the ramp but you CAN run Blue and Green in the same deck so that you can pump out Deadeye Navigator just as fast as a Mono Green deck could pump out Primeval Titan

  • Andrew Donutboy

    Agreed all around, the banned list is almost more embarrassing than the modern one (almost).

  • Franky Richard

    I think there comes a point where you’ll need a long list for people who want to play fair and one for where you don’t. I agree that the fair list should ban the enablers rather than the big splashy cards like Primeval Titan or Sylvan Primordial.

  • Ben Ketel

    This was the path they went on when they banned Primeval Titan. I vehemently didn’t agree when that happened because I knew it was a slippery slope. Too bad ban lists are ban lists, even for casual, nonsanctionable formats. I wish I can find a group regular enough to have a house ban list. At least I have a Duel Commander scene near me.

  • EdGuise88

    From personal experience, the problem is not that Primetime or Sylvan Primordial are inherently game-breaking. The issue is that once players get a chance, they will *only* tutor / ramp into / recur / copy / steal / etc these creatures. So whilst they aren’t broken, by taking up 95% of the focus of any game in which they are played, they result in a huge warping of the format in general.
    Conversely, enabler cards such as Deadeye Navigator are perfect for EDH, as they enable many interactions. Of course some of those interactions may be somewhat overpowered, at least in a vacuum. Iona, also, in the context of the format, is very unlikely to shut down all your opponents at once. In these cases the format can still function around those cards. Not so much with those on the list.

    • Psithief

      There’s that, and the fact that because it’s a recent card (recent sets having the biggest print runs in MtG history) there are Sylvan Primordials everywhere.
      Banning cards with real rarity is pointless, banning ubiquitous cards isn’t so much.

  • Sydri

    They want to promote INTERACTIVITY. Sylvan Primordial is a card that
    enters, and does it’s job every time. The only interactive part it is
    whether or not it gets countered. This is why Consecrated Sphinx isn’t
    banned. Sphinx doesn’t do anything until someone draws a card. There are
    tons of ways to deal with Consecrated Sphinx. That makes it an
    interactive card. There are very few ways to deal with Sylvan
    Primordial. That makes it an uninteractive card.

    • Brendon Freeman

      Wow you’re an idiot. By your logic, Sylvan Primordial is a highly interactive card because it doesn’t do anything unless your opponents have targets for it. It is the definition of interactivity. See why you’re a moron?

      • TTT

        You know why you’re a dick?

      • LOLWUT

        “unless your opponents have targets for it.”

        like lands?

      • Ragingpoo

        You actually seem like the one lacking a coherent viewpoint. Consecrated Sphinx’s ability can be very powerful in certain shells, but that is why it is usually answered quickly. If flickered or reanimated to negate removal, then it’s ability continues to happen and continues to put the opponent in the position of attempting to have an answer for it, which is the definition of interactivity. With Sylvan Primordial, if the same process occurs, then eventually all of your opponents will have no lands in play and that is the opposite of interactivity.

  • AveragePlayer

    “BANLIST SUCKS. BAN CARDS LIKE EMRAKUL THOU< THAT SHIT IS OP."
    – Dave Lee, ManaDeprived

    That is all i read.

    • Brendon Freeman

      Quite unfortunate you’re incapable of simple reading comprehension.

      • Psithief

        The structure of the blog post needed work. The criticism may have been childish, but your ad hominem response doesn’t negate the problem of the post jumping to unrelated points every paragraph.

        The author seems to be saying that the concept of the banlist is a terrible idea, yet all of the problems stated are already well-known and acknowledged by the rules committee already.

        Let the author fight his own battles.

        • zing

          zing

  • Richard Laurie

    EDH/Commander is a stupid format, stop playing dumb formats….

    • http://www.eastcoastcommander.com/ Christian Goldie

      Why do people take the time to make inane comments that do not forward the discussion?

      • Richard Laurie

        It’s my opinion, it has nothing to do with moving forward any conversation. I really is a dumb format. don’t get so butthurt about someone not loving EDH

        • Josh

          You must be a standard player, dropping all sorts of cash on a new deck every month. And butthurt? Grow up.

          • Richard Laurie

            Guess again

        • Alexander Furby Mangravita

          It’s not even about not loving it, it’s about the fact that you’re being rude about it

  • Gegete

    So why can’t you just make a rule that those two cards cannot be bounced for positive gain?

  • Christopher Schiber

    Agreed, honestly after this ban it feels like they consequences for EDH Bans are “welp blue is abusing this too much lets ban it,” which is really hurting green as green traditionally has some of the stronger cip abilities.

    Yes titan and primordial are insane value but are very fair if played fairly, banning them because UG or BG likes abusing them is just putting a band aid over a larger problem. If such shenanigans are broken to the extent to being bannable then ban the enablers.

    I can’t play commander with that banlist anymore, my fair RGW deck has lost far too much power losing primeval and sylvan and I attended to play them mostly fairly. (Okay I do run ramp, sue me every deck in edh has ramp.)

  • Noah

    I don’t see banning Sylvan Primordial and Primeval Titan as being about making the format fair; It’s mostly a matter of perception. As a member of a play group where these cards and strategies were commonplace, I can attest that the response to these bannings was incredibly positive. They’re not trying to make a PT-playable format(There will never be a time where EDH is unbreakable), they’re just making decisions that maximize enjoyment of the format. At the end of the day, people will have more fun playing EDH if their opponents(or even themselves) are not casting Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial.

  • experttexpert

    I like your point about the purpose of the EDH banlist being fundamentally different from that of other formats. The EDH banlist is more about the game than the metagame. This makes its growing degree of inconsistency that much more egregious. Banning a card here and there is a poor method for defining the intentions of the format. To accomplish its goal, the banlist should be either much bigger or (my preference) much smaller.

  • pudgimelon

    Most of the problem stems from the fact that some people refuse to acknowledge the edh is actually a very fast and consistent format. As in LEGACY fast. I have edh decks that can win on turn ONE often and turn two to five regularly. So if you’re not building a deck to deal with EARLY game-ending threats, then that is your own damn fault. People want to play with all those old cards, but they still tap out every turn like they are playing sealed. Then they blame their own bad deck-building and poor game-play on other people’s “unfun” choices.
    Some cards are legit format breakers in edh, other ones are just strong. If you want to use Sol Ring to power out a big Wood Elemental, that is your choice, but don’t expect to win against people who are using seven mana on turn two PROPERLY.
    Instead of crying for a card to be banned, these people should be going back to take a long hard look at their decks. A “casual” deck doesn’t necessarily have to be a BAD deck. It is quite possible to build a solid goat-themed deck (for example) that still adheres to solid deck-building strategies like curve, tempo, interaction, etc…
    Maybe those casual cards will still be below the level of a SyPri or Primetime, but at least you’d have some way to interact with those decks (other that bitching and whining)

    • Ragingpoo

      *Slow clap*

  • BrentMFC

    Oh wow, this article! I honestly thought this was a more respectable page and now that I have been proven wrong I cant help but laugh! Just because you are butt hurt over one card being banned so you cannot abuse it yourself ( which clearly you show enough knowledge about it that you clearly are one who did abuse ). I think its time you put your cards down and walk away from magic. Theres no excuse for an article like this

  • Noah Long

    this article is all well and dandy, I’m still shocked people haven’t noticed Worldgorger Dragon is still unbanned in the format :/

  • BanMe

    I honestly don’t have strong opinions either way. I don’t play green so I’ve maybe resolved this guy maybe 5 times, so I’m no expert. One thing I will say though is that getting your mana fixing blown up just because someone wants to ramp, or even worse cause some black player is abusing necropotence gets kind of annoying.

  • Kainoa Pestana

    The test for whether a card gets banned by the RC in EDH seems to be “is it negated by a removal spell”. Consecrated Sphinx, Vorinclex, Winter Orb, Stasis, Iona and Deadeye Navigator are all “turned off” or basically negated as soon as they are taken off the battlefield with instant speed removal. Flickering and reanimating a Consecrated Sphinx or Iona over and over and having it killed each time doesn’t have a cumulative effect on the game. With Prime Titan and Primordial on the other hand, even if it you kill them instantly each time they come into play, you aren’t undoing the their effects on the game. That’s the difference, and that’s what people seem to be ignoring.

    I would also like to point out that the RC ban list is designed for and EDH that is not meant to ever be played in tournaments or for actual stakes. EDH wasn’t created to be a balanced format, it was created to be a format where crazy (oftentimes unfair) things happen that usually never happen in 60 card constructed. If you are a spike or want to play with a general in a tournament, the French list is what you are looking for.

    • Silvsilvsilv

      You’re exactly right. This is a point I don’t see many people bring up, and that’s a shame.

  • Daniel Gallagher

    Can we all just accept that EDH is an atrociously stupid and pointless format and just move on already? It’s just vintage for whine hards and welfares.

    • http://www.eastcoastcommander.com/ Christian Goldie

      No we can’t agree on this.

    • Josh

      Pointless!? Calm your twitchy competitive fingers, and let people enjoy what they love.

  • http://www.eastcoastcommander.com/ Christian Goldie

    Very good article, but in my opinion calling the ban list a “joke,” but then agreeing in part that cards like Worldfire & Bioryhthm should be on it is a little harsh. I also take a little exception to the statement that Survival of the Fittest is always played to be unfair. I use Survival as a tool to get creatures that can be answers for the current board state – for example to fetch up Brutalizer Exarch to answer Purphoros, God of the Forge. I am aware that a lot of people use cards like Deadeye & Survival to break the game, but we ALL don’t.

    But it is great to see Commander content on Mana Deprived & well written articles discussing hot topics like the ban list are very welcome indeed.

    • snapplecoffee

      Couldn’t agree more. The RC needs to decide if they want to ban the power or the enabler. If Sylvan Primordial is to be banned then Iona needs to get the axe, not Painter’s Servant (a fun card with some cool applications!). I can’t say that banning Prime Time and Primordial was the WORST decision for the health of the format, but we do need some consistency with the ban decisions.

      • http://www.eastcoastcommander.com/ Christian Goldie

        IMO Iona & Linvala are probably the only two cards in the format that you can 100% say they are played for unfun/unfair reasons all the time. No one building an EDH deck has ever thought; “You know, if I throw in Linvala this deck will really improve the quality of my meta/playgroup/community.”

        • Ragingpoo

          Iona is obvious, or should be to absolutely anyone unless they are just an asshole, but Linvala?! That is the very definition of fair. It’s legendary, which means that in other formats it adds an amount restriction to be used at maximum value. Also the mana is priced fairly for the size and utility of the creature. All she does is stop other oppressive strategies, which is exactly the kind of cards that the format needs to check and balance the strategies.

    • Josh

      I feel that the more people that are breaking into Commander, coming from playing Standard, feel the need to play competitively, which I feel is not the main focus of a CASUAL centered game. When it comes down to certain cards, like you mentioned, people will definitely be playing certain ones purely for the fact that they’re unfair, and give huge advantages/lock-outs.

  • TopAndGoProductions

    Thanks for boldly stepping forward into the discussion, Dave. This is definitely something that concerns Commander players everywhere and I think you made a lot of great points.

    When Sylvan Primordial was banned, though I did understand why, my first thought was, “What about Tooth and Nail? What about Deadeye Navigator?” While I also appreciate what the Rules Committee does, I think their decisions can, at times, be short sighted.

    I love how you focused on playgroups, and that is something that I preach to Commander players as well… “If you don’t like it, then play the way you want. It is a casual format after all.” By acknowledging that all groups play differently, you also know that not all groups play cards like Survival of the Fittest or Mind Over Matter with unfair intentions, while others not only play those cards with unfair intentions, their groups welcome it. So I think generalizing those players may have been a little unfair.

    I also feel that this article was written with a great deal of frustration behind it, with which I totally empathize. Commander is a format I am passionate about, and hearing guys at FNM joke about the Commander banned list does get under my skin. People who criticize your writing because of the passion and emotion behind it probably don’t understand where you are coming from completely.

    As I said, thanks again for writing the article. Our playgroup plays all kinds of unfair cards, and we just adapt and play answers to them, and so we have fun. If other groups choose to take that route, I think they’ll have fun as well.

  • Aaron Kloppel

    I mostly agree. However I don’t feel that repeating “the ban list is a joke” makes it one and I fail to see how people who don’t play the format should have the best idea as to whether or not it is a joke. Also I call your attention to the line that says that card on the ban list AND others like them should not played. Self regulation of play groups is, I think, the only reasonable answer to the quandry the list provides. At least with the current rules committee.

  • John Butt

    I found that in the year that my local gaming store playing with sylvan primordial there were games that he help to win it for someone but he never took over the formate like i have seen or read on the internet. In my meta people will often play with cards to stop things from ruining the game like using Torpor Orb to stop Iona and the likes of other strong come into play creatures. As well as people started to play with more counterspells for the same reason, heck i have seen a mana tithe stop a sylvan primordial. so with so many cards in the game i guess my meta just figred it was eisier to try and find a way to stop what was killing them other then to stop playing the game or by banning something that would make it less fun for other. I am sorry if these cards have bothered you in the past but there are what 18k in cards in this game and your going to tell me you can find some of them to protect you, heck even black has Withering Boon and that stops a sylvan primordial. dont get me wrong i see what can happen with a deadeye and sylvan but there were two chances to stop that by at least 3 other players and your going to tell me that no one had the answer? I did enjoy the article i agree with most of what you said.

  • Granithor

    I get the feeling the author never sat down to a table where someone resolved a turn 2 Sylvan. As I’ve mentioned in other places, Sylvan is a legitimate ban. Here’s why:
    Your
    average player turn, you get to play 1 land. You’re at a table with 5
    other players. You resolve Sylvan, and blow up one of each players’
    lands, and you get to grab 5 lands. This puts your opponents a turn
    behind and you effectively 6 turns ahead of everyone else in terms
    useable mana. The reason it’s overly oppressive isn’t because it blows
    up one each of your opponent’s land, it’s because when it does, it
    fetches you up one land for everything it blew up… And honestly, I can
    think of maybe 3-4 instances where this card DIDN’T target solely the
    other players’ land base in games I’ve played or watched.

  • Furby

    I do like some of the points that he makes but at the sametime I feel that by banning cards like “Deadeye Navi”, you would also have to ban any other card that lets you flicker out your creature in the name of fairness.

  • potatomasher

    An issue I have with there being an official Commander banlist is that sometimes, the committee that handles these banlists are less than scrupulous.

    I work at a shop that sells singles online. Maybe three or four days before the announcement that Staff of Domination would be unbanned, not only were our Staff of Domination bought out, many other shops were as well. Sure, we can say it’s the same as what’s currently going on with Bitterblossom but there’s a huge difference. The official banlist for sanctionable formats are handled internally at Wizards of the Coast. The commander banlist is curated by a private group. If they decide to unban something, they can make whatever decision prior to the information being let out to the public. That is something I completely disagree with. Especially seeing that at the time, Staff of Domination went from a $4 dollar card, to upwards of $20 on the initial spike.

    I’m not sure if the person who bought us out is someone on the Commander rules committee but I’m pretty sure they had access to the banlist prior to the actual unbanning of Staff of Domination.

  • notanotherEDHplayer

    The one thing I see missing from this argument is the fact that the Ban list is a community ban list. Yes there is a committee that finalizes the decision, but they base it on what the EDH community is saying on the forum. People saying games are becoming over bearing from the abuse of such and such card. It is a community and a strong one, the ban list serves a purpose and like every one says, you can have special rules for your own playgroup. Wizards is making OP cards because they feel they have a need to support this growing community, but the truth is they are just making a lot of cards that are gonna be banned faster then your average cards.

  • jack

    I think the wizards should allow all these cards they keep banning and “duel commander” or “french commander” should work to ban them (mind over matter should be banned in duel commander, as well as basalt monolith) but the wizards’ format should remain open for players to do whatever they want. I should be able to play braids or griselbrand if my opponent is going to be playing mind over matter or hermit druid…

  • youtube.gimpzilla

    i dont understand the ban.. in my play group the Black Primordial dominates our EDH 10,000% more than Sylvan… the Black Primordial pulls a creature from each opponets GY to the battlefield.. a lot of my commander games come down to 3 Black Primordials cycling each other as one player gets 4 creatures from 1 reanimate spell and we all sit there until someone board wipes and reanimates the black primordial again…… EDH is a huge broken format by nature banning specific cards (when others are obviously just as broken) only frustrates players away from the format

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