We'll start with a full confession: I don't much like the word "should." I actually don't believe in the concept of should. There is what is and what is not. That doesn't mean that everything which happens is good, but wishing a different result isn't what should have happened, but what we want to have happened. But this isn't a philosophical discussion, except for where it is absolutely a philosophical discussion.
The first thing you're going to ask is why I would then put should in the title. The answer is simple: it's effective shorthand. It's also simply provocative. The object of a title is to get you to read the rest; at least for me, it's not to get you to click on the article, but to actually consume the entirety of it. I'd hate to disappoint you with a snappy title and no follow-up.
The next thing you're going to ask is why I wouldn't just ban the cards I'm going to list. There's a two part answer here.
First of all, I'm not the only person on the Commander Rules Committee (RC). Despite being the RC's public face, I don't get to decide unilaterally what gets banned and unbanned. There are three other highly-intelligent, deeply-experienced, zealously-committed people on the Committee; we decided stuff as a team. The second part is a little more involved.
A short, tight banned list is a good list. It's easily messaged and people can generally remember what's on it without having to look it up. We on the RC like to ban cards as exemplars as well. For a long time, our list suggested that you also not play with "other cards like them." We've streamlined the wording to take away any confusion that the banned list is merely a suggestion. If you want to play "official" Commander, the list is clear.
The second part of the second part is that the Commander banned list is crafted differently than the banned list for all other formats. Those formats want the best possible tournament experience-balance, playability, watchability, and so forth. Commander is created to create the best possible social experience, so while a play style might not resonate with me or the rest of the RC, it might be just what you like. We'd like to keep as many of those avenues open to you as is reasonable. It bears repeating that while we on the RC have a concept of what makes the best kind of games for the broadest possible audience, we also have the idea that if a group is all on the same page, whatever kind of game that resonates with them is best.
What follows will be a reinforcement of the first part of the previous sentence; they're cards that we choose to not play with and would invite you to consider the same. They're listed alphabetically. The obvious common thread is that these are cards which for the most part rob other players of the opportunity to play the game. The rest are cards which are so awkward that they deflate a game's energy pretty quickly.
Armageddon represents a whole class of mass land destruction spells like Obliterate, Jokulhaups, Decree of Annihilation, Impending Disaster, Myojin of Infinite Rage, and more. I suppose there's some wiggle room here for playing Armageddon and its cousins as a "win now" card, but that seems more like a strategy of making the game irritating so that everyone else will just scoop. Said it before, I'll say it again: we want to create games you'll always remember not ones you'd love to forget. I seriously doubt anyone has ever played Armageddon and gotten an "oh, that's so cool!" response.
This one's tricky, because I believe in playing enough basic lands to make sure that you don't get wrecked by things like Back to Basics and Ruination. I also believe that there should be some risk associated with the flexibility of playing a bunch of lands which produce multiple colors of mana. Having a sweet mana base is sweet, but it needs to come with a cost (other than the $$$ you laid out for it). This one comes to a line, because I'm also fine with playing cards like Price of Progress and Anathemancer to punish players for getting too greedy with their mana bases.
You might ask why Blood Moon isn't on the list as well. The thing about Blood Moon is that while it turns your dual lands into Mountains, it doesn't rob you of the mana. Unless you've been extremely greedy, then you're not out of the game, like with Back to Basics, you're just slowed down to some degree-which is equivalent with the risk you've taken.
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV reminds me a little of Leovold, Emissary of Trest. They put too many things together on one card. Had they just let well enough alone and not put that third line on there, the card would be fine. In fact, as an exemplar for the Azorius guild, it might be perfect. How about doing legendary creatures for each guild that make spells of the guild cost less? I might make them cost five instead of four, but then we could probably get away with them having three power. Grand Arbiter costing five would certainly not make it as bad, since the earlier it hits the table, the more it slows down everyone else while accelerating its controller. Grand Arbiter showing up on Turn 13 isn't anywhere near as bad as Turn 3. Taking away the early game from opponents is nearly like getting an extra turn each time.
I'm on record saying that one Mindslaver activation is probably okay, but the people who are playing it are going to find a way to recur it, whether that's Academy Ruins or Sharuum the Hegemon. Mindslaver is that moderately funny joke that gets a little less funny every time you tell it until everyone starts rolling their eyes as soon as you start. Mindslaver is a very Richard Garfield-esque card (I'll cite both Word of Command in Alpha and having known him for a long time), and it's not on a terrible path, it's just that the repeatability becomes problematic. If it exiled itself, it probably wouldn't be on this list. Cost is a different story; it'd probably have to cost around 8 to cast and 8 to activate before it might be safe enough. Obviously, it would have never gotten printed that way.
Any time I see lands untapping on a card, I get a squicky feeling in the pit of my stomach, because it seems like infinite combos aren't far behind. Because Palinchron provides a way to get it back into your hand and the mana to cast it again, you don't need that much to make it generate all the mana you could ever want or need. The good news is we don't see the card accidentally wrecking games. You need your seventh land to produce eleven mana to get started. It's not all that difficult, with lands like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Gaea's Cradle, and Cabal Coffers available in the format, but there's a level of intent that goes into building with Palinchron that makes it reasonably safe.
Paradox Engine is the card on this list which stands the best chance of coming up in an RC meeting. We've talked about it before and we'll talk about it again. We're honestly a little divided on it at this point, with the primary argument for not banning it being that it's not broken until you build around it; otherwise, it's just value. The argument continues that the only people who are going to break it aren't the ones we're targeting with the format, which is why you continue to see cards that only the competitive players abuse, such as Ad Nauseum or Hermit Druid, not on the banned list. The counter argument is that it just leads to brokenness because of the untapping. You don't really need to build around it much besides a few mana rocks, and you can go infinite pretty easily, which we find not really good for the format. Having to assemble some seven piece Rube Goldberg device to go infinite is fine, since it's not going to happen too early in a game and not too often in any case; too fast and easy becomes problematic. I'm not going to say specifically who on the RC is on which side of the debate, but just be aware it'd getting discussed.
It's not quite as bad as Prophet of Kruphix was because it doesn't give you the ability to cast creatures as though they had flash, but it's still pretty strong-and it gets stronger the more players there are in the game. I'll confess that I still play Seedborn Muse in one deck, Dreaming of Intet, which is the deck I play when the gloves come off (although it's nowhere near what anyone could call competitive). It's a card that I definitely wouldn't advise playing in a friendly game. It might not seem all that bad while it's getting played, but the incremental advantage it provides is significant, and at some point you just dominate the game-if not tactically, then in eating up all the play time.
People will argue that Sorin Markov is protection against rampant life gain, but that's not how we see it used. It's about setting someone from 40-10 on Turn 5 or 6. The format already has protection against lifegain in the guise of commander damage. If you're not playing commanders which can do 21, there are ways to still get around it. Axis of Mortality, Magus of the Mirror, and Soul Conduit will get you there. Repay in Kind can be a real beating if someone is extremely high and you're extremely low.
Nobody shows up at a Commander game running Stasis so that everyone has a great time. In fact, it seems like a card that people play solely for the purpose of intentionally irritating everyone else at the table. Most people take losing as part of playing games; no one wants to sit down for their limited amount of leisure time to be actively annoyed. Plus, it's like the most hideous art in the history of Magic.
Much like Stasis, it also has the awkward conditional clause "if Static Orb is untapped," meaning you can tap it at the end of turn of the player to your right and be the only person who gets full untaps. Is this an effect way to win the game? Absolutely. Is this an effective way in creating memorable experiences? Absolutely not.
Thieves' Auction is a card that seems like it'll be loads of fun; in some situations it actually might be, but that's not my experience with the card. You'll do it with several dozen permanents on the battlefield and you realize what drudgery the whole process will turn into, especially when you have someone like me who's going to take way too much time to decide what to pick because I'm trying to think through the possibilities, getting confused, and starting over again. Then, of course, there's the mess at the end of the game making sure everyone gets the correct cards back. Addendum: Thieves' Auction is probably a cool card to play in Commander Cube.
Like Static Orb, it was the condition that you can tap it and be the only one unfrozen. When you're playing a social game, everyone would like to participate instead of watching one person be the only one who can do anything. Then that person also plays Kismet, Loxodon Gatekeeper, or Root Maze, and the pace of the game becomes glacial. Again, we have an effective way of winning a game which is also a terrible way to create a good game.
Wound Reflection is just one of those cards that creates bad feels. I could argue that it ends up doing an amount of damage (well, life loss) disproportional to its mana cost and that it affecting all opponents is way too strong, but the part and parcel of this argument is that it just makes other players feel bad. I get that we're playing a game and that someone has to win, but in Commander, the way you win is nearly as important as the winning itself. You might say "well, not for me," which is a fine and valid stance, but you're not the only person in the game, either. We want to continue to reinforce the message that we've been projecting all along-a Commander game is about everyone in it. Wound Reflection is a card that takes players out of the game emotionally.
Of all the legal commanders, Derevi is the one with too much stuff stapled onto it. As we've already discussed, untapping things, especially land, can get out of hand very quickly. Adding the "or a creature you control deals combat damage to a player" was simply taking the design too far. Derevi's ability to circumvent the commander tax takes it way over the top. I understand that it's a quite serious competitive commander, which will make anyone pause when they sit down across from you. I suspect no one is playing Derevi just for the Bant colors; it's more like Bant just makes the card way more dangerous.
None of the cards listed above are going to by themselves ruin the format. They are, however, representative of various classes of cards which create games which are quite different from those we're trying to encourage-ones with plenty of multiple-player interaction in which the kinds of things that happen make the whole table appreciate the game, whether they're on the winning end of it or not. In the end, everyone's experience with the format is their own; here's hoping that when making some card choices, you consider the experience of other people as well.
Question of the Week
From multiple sources: How's your health?
I'm always humbled by the number of inquiries I get about how I'm doing. This is an important week. As you're reading this piece, I'll be recovering from surgery to remove a mass from my liver. It will be the toughest part of the recovery. There's 3-5 days in the hospital, then a long recovery at home. The great news is that the surgeon is some sort of liver rock star, so I have that going for me. I'm done with radiation treatments on my throat already. While I'm starting to feel some of the aftereffects of the treatments, the worst part of it will probably hit me while I'm in the hospital for the other thing-which I suppose is better than having to recover from one, then the other.
The short version is that I'm not feeling as bad as I did during my last treatment, and I'm looking forward to coming out the other side in good shape. Hopefully, I won't miss any time discussing with all you fine folks the greatest format in all of Magic.
Lavinia Blinks ; Obzedat, Ghost Killer ; Aurelia Goes to War ; Trostani and Her Angels ; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind ; Zegana and a Dice Bag ; Rakdos Reimagined ; Glissa, Glissa ; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club ; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever .
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox ; Angry, Angry Dinos ; Animar's Swarm ; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point ; Ikra and Kydele ; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky ; Demons of Kaalia ; Merieke's Esper Dragons ; Nath of the Value Leaf ; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign ; Queen Marchesa's Knights ; Rith's Tokens ; The Mill-Meoplasm ; The Altar of Thraximundar ; The Threat of Yasova ; Zombies of Tresserhorn .
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over ; Animar Do-Over ; Glissa Do-Over ; Karador Do-Over ; Karador Version 3 ; Karrthus Do-Over ; Kresh Do-Over ; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over ; Mimeoplasm Do-Over ; Phelddagrif Do-Over ; Rith Do-Over ; Ruhan Do-Over .
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."