Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
I love Commander, you love Commander. Enough to where I'm writing a dumb article about it and you're reading said article; that's how much we enjoy the 100-card, one-copy-per-deck EDH format of Magic: The Gathering.
But you know what we don't love? Not taxes, not death, not our exes.. no, I speak of cards that just make you groan when your opponent plays them. And look, we get it, sometimes you get a nice combo going, pull ahead, and win. Any player worth their Black Lotus can take a loss. But we can't take overpowered combos, 2-3 turn moves that ruin the fun of Commander. Which cards act as a plague upon EDH? Let's review six more delightfully despicable cards that Wizards of the Coast should ban in Commander format!
6. Mana Vault
Mana Cost: 1
Here's a potent spell that stacks excellently with artifact-untappers (we'll get to those). Mana Vault taps for a whopping 3 colorless mana; however, it won't untap at the untap step, and deals 1 damage to you each turn while tapped.
On it's own, it's still a lethal way to nab an extra 3 mana, letting you play a spell way ahead of your land output; but when combined with abilities that untap artifacts, you'll be receiving an unholy amount of mana far too early in the game.
Yes, I know players should include artifact/enchantment removals for such cases, but it's unlikely they'll have both drawn the removal and have the mana to use it this early in the game. Even if they do, they're now down a removal for actual big guns.
How To Make It Fair: Increase base cost.
5. Brago, King Eternal
Mana Cost: 4
Brago requires 4 mana and always induces terror when players see they're facing him as a commander. Four mana isn't super cheap, but use a Sol Ring, Ancient Tomb, or Mana Vault and you're basically there. Brago enters with these traits:
- A respectable 2 Power and 4 Toughness
- The Flying attribute
- Whenever he inflicts combat damage, you may exile as many of your non-land permanents as you like, and then return them to the field
Think about what his last ability means. Any of your tapped permanents (like Mana Vault and Brago himself) score a free untap. Any permanents that have a trigger for when they enter the field will re-trigger. All your opponent has to do is stock their library with trigger effects and artifacts that tap for mana, and they have a super-powered arsenal of high-mana spells on turn 4 or 5.
Brago's flying makes it hard to block him, and your opponent can utilize cheap Blue spells to either make Brago unblockable (Aqueous Form) or counter removals (Mana Drain, Counterspell, etc.). For these reasons, Brago crosses the line between powerful and broken, and just isn't fun to play against.
How To Make It Fair: Limit the cards he can use his effect on to two.
4. Paradox Engine
Mana Cost: 5
Red has the most spells to remove artifacts like the mighty Paradox Engine; unfortunately, Red's probably the least viable color in EDH, making removing the Engine tricky. This card, accepting any 5 mana, simply untaps all your non-land permanents whenever you cast a spell.
Yea, think Brago but in artifact form, with these added benefits:
- Able to fit inside any Commander deck because it's colorless
- Can activate multiple times per turn as long as you have spells to cast
- Less vulnerable to removals
At least Brago can only inflict combat damage once per turn; Engine can reactivate as long as you have enough cards to keep casting spells. So slap in some cards that let you play the top card of your deck (Future Sight works nicely) and walk away laughing maniacally as your opponents realize you can cast dozens of spells without having to worry about mana.
For comparison, the Blue Enchantment Omniscience costs double the mana, at ten, to let you play cards from your hand without spending mana. And even that won't untap your tapped creatures or artifacts.
How To Make It Fair: Allow it to work only once per turn (via a tap ability that won't untap itself)
Update: Looks like Wizards of the Coast agreed on this one, it's now banned.
Mana Cost: 1
Skullclamp, an artifact/equipment card that's banned in most other formats, takes a mere one colorless mana to play and another whenever you equip it to a creature. Its effect gives that creature one extra power but one less toughness, and lets you draw two cards whenever the creature dies.
If you're not grasping how overpowered this is, let's break it down. Skullclamp can:
- Strengthen your creature
- Draw two cards whenever the creature dies; then reequip to a new creature and repeat
- Purposefully be equipped to a creature with toughness 1, reducing it to zero for an immediate two cards
Drawing cards that rapidly is just not something that should be done for such low mana costs. Compare to just about every blue draw spell: they only work once, draw two or three cards, and cost 3 or 4 mana. Skullclamp can be played your first turn, and barely costs a thing to equip to a creature for its lethal drawing potential.
How To Make It Fair: Raise the equip cost to two.
2. Demonic Tutor
Mana Cost: 2
Tutor's effect? Search your library for any card and get it. That's it. To non-players, this might not sound amazing, but in Commander, where every non-basic land card is different, the ability to search through dozens of different options for such a low cost is invaluable.
Compare to other black cards that can search:
- Diabolic Tutor (Sorcery, 4 mana) does literally the same thing but requires double the mana
- Dark Petition (Sorcery, 5 mana) also searches for a card, and potentially adds 3 mana to your pool if there are two or more instants/sorcerys in it, but costs 5
- Rune-Scarred Demon (Creature, 7 mana) is a strong creature that also searches for a card, but requires over three times the mana of Demonic Tutor
These cards are far from weak; in fact, they're quite playable, but can't compare to the 2 cost (with only one colored mana required) guarantee of Demonic Tutor.
How To Make it Fair: Just raise the mana cost to match the others, or introduce a downside, like losing life or discarding a card.
1. Cyclonic Rift
Mana Cost: 2 (7 for Overload)
Good deck-building involves finding that perfect harmony between offense, defense, and mana production. Players have to make sacrifices with each card they bring. Do you go for the one extra land, or do you need another removal? Do you play it safe with several low-cost cards or risk having a full hand of unplayable gargantuans?
Point is, almost no card can do everything for you, they all have their purpose. Or at least, that's how it should be; enter the myriad benefits of the instant card Cyclonic Rift:
- Returns all opposing nonland permanents to hand (artifacts, enchantments, creatures, and even planeswalkers); doesn't hamper your own forces
- Works at instant speed
- Doesn't target or destroy cards when overloaded, meaning hexproof, indestructible, and protection from Blue won't save you
- Only requires one colored mana
- Can utilize a cheaper, less powerful effect is mana is low
No matter what the boardstate is, when an overloaded Rift is cast, the game is likely over. You really can't protect yourself from it since it bypasses traits like indestructible, hexproof, and protection; your only real hope is to counter it, and if you're not playing Blue, good luck with that. If you have a mind for losing friends, Cyclonic Rift is rather cheap compared to many top-tier spells, costing well under $20.
How To Make It Fair: Change to sorcery-speed or have it only affect one opponent.
Future of Commander
Though some players will cry foul upon their use, for now, these astonishingly legal options will guide players to a swift and cheap victory.
Nevertheless, Commander is an awesome way to experience Magic, and don't let a few juiced up cards keep you away if you're interested. Feel free to vote for your most-detested spell, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2017 Jeremy Gill
SideOfGoatCheese on August 16, 2019:
Wizards screwed up when they printed cyclonic rift. I don’t even mind the card all that much but the one thing about it that irritates me is that the overload cost still requires only one blue mana, This one detail is why it gets played in every deck that has even the slightest bit of blue in it. I mean, It’s already borderline overpowered the least they could have done is make the overload cost three (or even 4) blue mana and 3 colorless. I think that would have made all the difference since it would suddenly become much harder to rely on in multi coloured decks and such a strong effect should require more commitment to blue.