Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Banned Cards in Commander
Magic's commander format tasks players to build 100-card decks led by a legendary creature using singleton rules (no duplicates besides basic lands). And players have numerous spells to select from since Wizards of the Coast adopts a surprisingly lenient ban list.
But sometimes freedom goes too far, as you'll encounter the same overpowered cards in just about every commander deck. True, the odds of drawing them aren't great, but when a player does, their chances of victory skyrocket.
Top 10 Overpowered Cards in EDH Format
So, which unrestricted aces could use some regulation? Here are ten cards WOTC should consider banning in EDH format of Magic: The Gathering!
- High Tide
- Gaea's Cradle
- Demonic Tutor/Mystical Tutor
- Cyclonic Rift
- The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- Serra Ascendant
- Mana Drain
- Sol Ring
- Mana Crypt
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 1 (and 1 more to equip)
As a colorless equipment, Skullclamp can fit it any deck, offering ridiculous hand advantage. When attached to a unit, the creature gets +1/-1 and lets you draw twice when it dies.
With creatures who only have one toughness, you can purposefully kill your own monsters (tokens are prime options) to draw twice, continuously maintaining card advantage and triggering death effects. Even for sturdier units, having Skullclamp attached punishes your opponent for removing them, making them think twice before annihilating your creatures.
9. High Tide
For a single turn, High Tide doubles the mana production of island lands, letting them tap for an additional blue mana. For mono-blue builds, that's simply an absurd amount of resources with no real drawbacks.
Admittedly, High Tide can buff other players' islands (which just means you need to wait for them to exhaust their units), and it's not as insanely expensive as many of today's spells (costing less than two dollars). Still, it's a formidable instant-speed resource-generator for a color that doesn't even specialize in ramping.
8. Gaea's Cradle
Green contains many impressive ramp tools, but none so fierce as this legendary land. Like other terrains, it's free to play, but it taps for one green mana per each creature you control!
With just two units, that's already twice as much mana as a regular land could produce, and once you start swarming elf or plant tokens, you'll quickly accumulate enough mana to cast Eldrazi or other giants while your opponents are lagging far behind. And since land removals (especially low-cost ones) are scarce, rivals are usually helpless against Cradle's assault until it's too late.
8. Demonic Tutor/Mystical Tutor
"Tutors" are generally-inexpensive spells that search cards from your deck, and they're especially useful considering the enormous deck sizes of commander. You can use them to pull today's other aces, ensuring you steal a resource lead even if luck doesn't favor your opening hand.
Perhaps the two biggest offenders are Demonic and Mystical Tutor. The former simply pulls any card from your deck for just two mana, while the latter sets it on top (great for rigging miracle effects) at instant speed for only one. And you can further strike your opponents black and blue with similar searches "Vampiric Tutor" and "Personal Tutor."
6. Cyclonic Rift
CMC: 2 (7 with overload)
The problem with Rift is its amazing versatility, offering either an early removal or a late-game mass nuke. At base cost, Rift simply bounces a non-land you don't control back to its owner's hand, a multi-use check that can impact creatures, planeswalkers, and other non-land permanents.
Stopped there, we'd already have a good card. But if you save for Rift's overload cost, you bounce every non-land you don't control back to its owner's hand. Sure, this takes seven mana, but it leaves your own field unscathed, activates at instant speed, and bypasses defenses like indestructible, hexproof, and protection from blue (since it doesn't target or destroy), eliminating even well-defended spells and excelling in multiplayer.
5. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
When playing EDH, you know your opponent will have at least one warrior available (their commander) throughout the match, making creature removals especially important. Enter legendary land Pendrell Vale, which simple forces players to pay one mana for each of their soldiers during their upkeep, sacrificing anyone left behind.
Sure, you suffer the same penalty, but in non-creature decks, you evade the price while opponents are stuck losing either their creatures or their mana supply, making them easy pickings. For a nasty combo, blend with commanders like "Oloro, Ageless Ascetic," whose effects activate from the command zone, letting you harness their powers without paying Vale's price.
4. Serra Ascendant
Cards like Ascendant here and "Felidar Sovereign" are simply designed for different formats. You see, Ascendant (who naturally possess lifelink) gains +5/+5 and flying while you have at least 30 health, rewarding you in standard for devoting to lifegain.
But with EDH's initial life of 40, you begin with enough to trigger the boost. This means you'll have a 6/6 flying with lifelink who can swing on your second turn, more than strong enough to kill early blockers.
True, a 6/6 isn't invincible (though it'll easily endure a red "Lightning Bolt" and can bounce back from a blue "Unsummon"), but if you're pressured to spend a black or white insta-kill on such an early unit, you're now lacking a removal when an actually costly troop arrives.
3. Mana Drain
If you're not yet convinced of blue's dominance, try getting hit with one of these suckers. Like "Counterspell" (in itself a great card), Mana Drain negates any spell for just two mana, a great way to thwart an opposing play.
But then it also gives you that spell's CMC as colorless mana during your next main phase, accessing high-cost cards several turns ahead of schedule. Combining a great counterspell with a great ramp, this juggernaut makes you constantly worry what your blue-using rivals have in hand.
2. Sol Ring
Expect to see this one in every deck. Sol Ring's colorless nature and low-cost make it available on your first turn, and it can tap for two colorless mana. On the round it arrives, that's a net increase of one mana, and on future moves, it's an extra two. Even without other ramps, this means you can afford four-cost spells on just your second turn (factoring in your regular land plays).
Sure, it's important to include artifact removals in your deck, but just like with Ascendant, you're not guaranteed to have one available in time. Plus, using it on such an inexpensive card means your opponent's stronger relics will often slip through unchecked.
1. Mana Crypt
Sol Ring not bad enough for you? Try Mana Crypt, which similarly taps for two colorless, but now requires absolutely no mana. The only downside is that you flip a coin during your upkeep and lose three life if you call it wrong.
Still, that means you're only losing an average 1½ health each turn (and this doesn't even start until your next round), giving more than enough time for your extra resources to ravage foes. Once you've seized one or two Crypt uses, you're possibly so far ahead that it doesn't matter if an opponent destroys it (they'll just be wasting a removal and saving you life).
Plus, with similar life-draining mana-tapping offenders like "Ancient Tomb," "Mana Vault," and the Monolith cards, your odds of facing one in an opening hand (at least against players who can afford to purchase them) really aren't so bad.
Does Multiplayer Balance Overpowered Magic Cards?
To be fair to WOTC, they've forbidden many of today's cards in their 1v1 duel commander format, which uses a separate ban list. In multiplayer, top-tier cards aren't quite as bad since stragglers can theoretically gang up on leaders, but some believe that's a flimsy defense for spells so monstrous every deck list has to have one.
Not only are games less exciting when you see the same plays in different themes, not every player can afford the $30+ price tag many of today's entries carry, making it hard for budget-conscious players to keep up. That said, many players enjoy commander's freedom, and drawing the line between competitive and overpowered remains a controversial topic. We'll see how the ban list does or doesn't evolve in future years, but for now, don't be afraid to house rule a ban (or even free up a currently banned card) if your group agrees.
© 2019 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on May 16, 2019:
Not necessarily. Remember that Sol Ring taps for an immediate two; similar green spells that only cost one mana (like "Llanowar Elves") tap for just one and have to wait a turn before usage. Cards that search lands, like "Sakura-Tribe Elder", require more mana.
Sol Ring isn't so insane because it ramps, but because of how quickly and easily it does.
proplay on May 14, 2019:
If Sol Ring needs to be banned, shouldn't any green spell that fetches land or ramps? Wouldn't green become the dominant mana powerhouse with it gone?
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on May 12, 2019:
It's certainly a controversial issue. Many players enjoy the added speed from cards like Sol Ring and Mana Crypt; others consider them not just competitive, but overpowered--is there a commander deck out there without a Sol Ring? Should a format really have the same spell in every single deck?
It also depends on how you're playing, as large games can have stragglers team up on leaders, but in 1v1, you're on your own if your rival draws into Ring/Crypt faster than you.
I welcome comments from both sides of the debate, but please be respectful to others.
Starlord on March 19, 2019:
I think the biggest thing for me (regarding bans) is variance. I do think that a lot of the things people want banned can be answered by changing ones approach to deck building, but I have a serious problem with cards that go in every single deck no matter what.
For example, my top 3 "needs immediate banning" cards are:
1. Sol Ring
2. Mana Crypt
3. Cyclonic Rift
Sol ring and Mana crypt should go in literally every single deck ever, and that just feels wrong. One the main things that attracts people to commander is the variance (being 100 different cards in every deck) and these cards directly hinder that. Never mind the power levels, I'm just bothered by the fact that I have to include them in my decks or I'm just wrong.
Cyclonic rift is kind of the same thing, just that it's only used in blue decks (though that's still the most played, and arguably most powerful color in magic).
There are a few other cards I would consider (demonic tutor is up there, no doubt), but these 3 are actively hurting the format, and are far more deserving of a ban then half of the cards on the actual banned list.