Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
The Ban List in Commander Format
Magic's commander format tasks players to build 100-card decks spearheaded by a legendary creature available throughout your match. You can only include one of each card (except basic lands), and your deck must only use colors found in your commander's color identity.
Commander's ban list remains a controversial subject, with some players enjoying its flexibility (few spells have warranted a ban), while others believe it could use an update. No matter which group you belong to, today we'll examine six formidable spells that walk the thin line between competitive and overpowered, leaving you to decide whether they deserve regulation.
6. Paradox Engine
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 5
Engine's an interesting case because it costs a hefty five mana and heavily depends on other cards. However, its colorless nature suits any deck, and it's one of the best ways to kick off infinite combos.
Whenever you cast a spell, Engine automatically untaps all non-lands you control. And since Engine itself doesn't need to tap for the effect, you can easily access it multiple times each turn. Combined with mana-tapping artifacts or creatures, you can obtain obscene amounts of resources, and it's also a great way to refresh your permanents alongside stasis-causing effects like "Winter Orb."
5. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Like other lands, Pendrell doesn't cost any mana to play, but unlike its peers, it can't tap for any resources. However, it offers an enchantment-like effect, forcing players to sacrifice every creature they control at the start of their upkeep unless they pay one mana for each.
Simply put, that's a brutal net that forces foes to continuously pick between losing units or having limited mana for the turn. Sure, you'll suffer the penalty as well, but you've presumably built a deck light on creatures to avoid the hindrance. And since lands can't be countered and their removals are rare, even competitive decks often struggle to find an answer in time.
4. Serra Ascendant
At base price, Ascendant offers a 1/1 with lifelink, a fair trade for a single resource. Problem is, he automatically gains +5/+5 and flying while you have at least 30 life. Alongside cards like "Felidar Sovereign," this exploits commander's higher starting life value of 40, meaning you can be swinging with an aerial and lifelinked 6/6 on turn two.
Sure, players should definitely include creature removals to counter such threats, but trading one (assuming it's drawn and afforded in time) against a one-cost creature isn't ideal anyway, leaving them one spell down when your big guns arrive.
3. Mana Drain
Mana Drain is basically a better "Counterspell," in itself a powerful card. Both spend two blue mana to negate a card, a handy and inexpensive counter for any spell type.
But then Mana Drain goes above and beyond by adding the countered spell's CMC to your pool as colorless mana in your next main phase, offering a lethal two-for-one that scales well in the late game. Many players consider blue the best commander color (containing other aces like "Cyclonic Rift" and "High Tide"), and you're almost guaranteed to see Mana Drain nestled somewhere within its ranks.
2. Gaea's Cradle
There's a reason this legendary land costs around $300—it taps for one green mana per creature you control. A single unit out, and you've got a basic forest. But when you're swarming elves, merfolk, or any other unit, you can amass insane amounts of resources each turn with no drawback.
And since commander format naturally offers at least one creature (more if you're using partners), you should have plenty of troops to empower the effect. Mass nukes like "Wrath of God" can help dampen an unchecked Cradle, but even then, it only takes a few fresh faces to reignite its threat.
1. Sol Ring
Mana Cost: 1
When a card's so good that you literally see it in every commander deck, there might be a problem. Like most artifacts, Sol Ring is colorless, fitting any theme, and it only needs one mana. It can simply tap for two colorless.
The turn you play it, you're up one, and on future rounds, you're up two (in addition to your land plays). That's a fierce speed boost, and by the time a removal may arise, you'll likely have cast spells that foes simply aren't prepared for. And again, forcing a trade on a one-cost spell is in itself a win. Compounding the issue, artifacts like "Mana Crypt" and "Mana Vault" share similar powers, meaning players lucky enough to draw them early gain a massive resource advantage.
Should Cards Be Banned in Commander?
While I recognize how threatening today's spells are, I understand that many groups actually want their powers to remain legal. Different bands have different preferences, with some believing cards like these too dangerous for such low price; others don't mind, stating competitive decks will have answers. It also depends on whether you're playing 1v1 or multiplayer, as larger player counts often see stragglers can gang up on leaders, which tends to counteract early advantages.
If you find these spells overpowered, consider implementing the alternative "duel commander" rules, which add several spells to the general ban list. Either way, I hope we Magic players can debate the issue with respect, and take it all in stride—remember the point of any game is to have fun. But for now, as we await our next batch of controversial spells, vote for your biggest concern and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
Questions & Answers
Question: Why no Sensei's Divining Top on the list?
Answer: A good suggestion, but I'd rather face Top than most if not all of these. Also, since it's colorless, at least I could fight fire with fire no matter which deck I ran.
Question: Should Felidar Sovereign be banned in MTG Commander?
Answer: Tough call, but I've grown not to mind him. Sure, Sovereign's insta-win by having 40 life is an easy way to exploit your higher starting life, and his lifelink can bring you back up if you fall below the threshold. That said, he costs a hefty sum of six mana and doesn't have any built-in defenses (like shroud or protection), so he's a threat, but ones rivals often have an answer for.
© 2017 Jeremy Gill
TheDudeAbides on May 05, 2019:
Definitely agree with the Paradox Engine. Back when it was first printed, I thought for sure it’s lifespan in EDH was going to be cut very very short. In all my years of playing (just over 22; since 1997) I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better combo enabler. For the EDH format I mean.
It’s a destroy on sight kind of card if I’ve ever seen one. Five mana really isn’t much to an artifact based combo deck.
Take my own Fblthp deck for example. In fact I’ll give you a n example from a legitimate game that happened just last night:
Land, sol ring, into voltaic key, use the one floating to untap sol ring, into a grim monolith.
No land drop (risky keep on my part)
Draw into a Mox Opal, play a mana vault, then play a paradox engine.
I now effectively have both infinite mana and draw.
Tap top to draw a card; ability on the stack, untap top with voltaic key, tap top again.
The first ability resolves: I draw a card and place top onto the top of my library.
Second ability resolves: I place nothing on top of my library and draw sensei’s top.
Float the remaining rocks and cast top. Untap all the things.
Rinse and repeat until I draw my deck.
Play Jace wielder of mysteries.
Tap top to draw and win.
And again this was TURN TWO. That’s fast my dude. Too fast.
Now to be fair this only happened once and it revolves around probably the most epic first hand I could’ve asked for with this deck. Not to mention the sheer number of pieces involved. So this is certainly not a situation I anticipate happening over and over again. But still, it’s possible.
The culprit here’s wasn’t sol ring. It wasn’t monolith or mana vault or even top.
Did those things help with the above degeneracy? Absolutely, and I would not attempt to argue otherwise.
However, that said, the ONLY reason I won that game was because of paradox engine.
Had someone removed it with a disenchant, naturalize, or even a krosan grip (obviously only via help with 0 drop rocks) this may have very well been a different story. But it was turn two so the risk on my end was fairly minimal. Even in a very developed and competitive meta like mine.
In my opinion that’s how one determines banworthiness. If it’s an enabler to a ridiculously easy combo win; something of THIS MAGNITUDE of madness, it probably needs to go.
I don’t know that I can agree with much else on this list though. But then again I play in a VERY removal heavy meta. So my fear of a Gaea’s Cradle, a tabernacle, Ascendant, etc is minimal at best.
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on May 05, 2019:
Here's a quick list of other spells I've seen banned in various groups:
Infect strategies (a good way to circumvent higher life totals)
Extra turn cards (especially the "Temporal Mastery" + "Mystic Tutor" combo)
I'd be curious to hear any other cards you guys have seen outlawed in house rules, and what you thought about the informal ban.
Artificer on September 17, 2018:
To be honest cyclonic rift is more back breaking than the cards listed here (besides sol ring). It says before I start my turn everyone start over and the ending player's turn discard to hand size (assuming no reliquary tower). With all the rocks and ramp available if someone is mana skewed it pretty much says you lose the game.
Nathan on August 21, 2018:
I would like to see mana vault and mana crypt banned. Maybe linvala too.
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on August 08, 2018:
Agreed--in fact, Cyclonic Rift, made the follow-up countdown. Check it out for more cards that should be banned!
Newtpippington on August 07, 2018:
Cyclonic Rift should have made this list