Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Commander's Ban List in Magic
While Magic's standard format only accept cards from the past few sets, anything is fair game in commander, giving you the freedom to pair cards from any expansions. And since it utilizes singleton rules (no duplicates other than basic lands), you're guaranteed to see a wide variety of spells.
Commander's ban list is surprisingly (some would say blessedly) short considering its vast pool; which spells made the cut? Here are some of the strongest cards ever printed, worthy of a ban in commander format of Magic: The Gathering!
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 2
Balance provides an amazing comeback tool, forcing all players (including you) with excess lands and creatures to sacrifice so that each player controls the same amount. Players discard cards from their hands in a similar fashion.
When you're behind (at least in casual games), you can sit back and watch as opponents are forced to lose numerous permanents—all for just two mana.
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Iona's enormous mana cost somewhat balances her, but crafty players can quickly field her using free-creature effects (pairing with green can help). No matter how you cast her, Iona has fierce 7/7 stats, flying, angel synergy, and she lets you pick a color on arrival, completely preventing foes from playing spells of that color.
Since very few removals are colorless, this almost certainly means game over against mono-color decks, and it's still pretty horrific for multi-color. Iona was a common sight in "Kaalia of the Vast" decks (her effect lets you play angels, demons, and dragons for free), but now Kaalia fans will have to choose other angels.
Like Balance, Limited Resources punishes leaders; each player chooses five lands they control, then sacrifices the rest. Additionally, as long as there are at least ten total lands on the field, no one can play any more.
Again, this can stalls foes who steal a quick lead, and it can completely lock opponents out of their biggest spells, restricting them to units that cost five or less mana. That's a powerful threat for a single resource, more than deserving of a ban.
Shahrazad's one of the weirdest cards in Magic, and it's not even part of the wacky "Un" sets. You basically halt the main game, playing a new "subgame" from scratch using the remaining cards in your deck. Everyone who doesn't win loses half their life in the main game, rounded up.
Not only can this take out a big chunk of life in commander (half of 40 is 20, a huge blow), it's simply a cumbersome effect that drags matches, making Shahrazad's ban more for sanity's sake than for being overpowered.
This legendary land had the same power as a basic plains, able to tap for one white mana. Fair enough. But it can also tap to return a legendary creature back to its owner's hand.
Of course, since commander format gives each player constant access to legendaries, that's a powerful and reusable removal that indefinitely stalls foes. Or, if you're especially tricky, you can even bounce your own creatures to reactivate beneficial entrance effects. Luckily, you won't have to worry about it in official events.
Ancestral Recall is hands-down one of the best Magic cards ever made, earning a ban in nearly every format. It has any player (probably you) draw three cards at instant speed!
That's an enormous benefit for such low cost. For comparison, examine it against blue's more-recent "Divination", a three-cost spell that only draws two cards at sorcery speed.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant/Erayo's Essence
Erayo's stats are a puny 1/1 and her subtypes aren't especially useful, but she has a low cost and the flying trait. More than that, when the fourth spell is cast during a turn, you rotate her into the enchantment Erayo's Essence.
This amazing spell counters the first spell each opponent plays every turn—were it legal, you'd almost certainly win with this active. And remember, Erayo flips with the fourth overall spell during a turn; if you wait for a foe to cast two, you just need to add two inexpensive instants to trigger the transformation.
You can obtain a similar auto-counter using the emblem on planeswalker "Jace, Unraveler of Secrets", which requires more mana and time, but is perfectly legal.
Since commander decks are big (100 total cards) and follow singleton rules, anything that searches for specific cards is invaluable. Enter Gifts Ungiven, which chooses four different cards in your deck; an opponent places two into your graveyard and the rest into your hand.
You don't have full control since they get to pick what actually ends up in your hand, but you're still getting a fierce tutor while filling your graveyard. Throw in instant speed plus several colorless slots, and it's powerful enough to warrant a ban.
Sway of the Stars
Sway of the Stars costs a whopping amount of 10 mana, but with commander's deck-building freedom, players can quickly obtain infinite mana or free spells, mitigating the price. Stars makes each player's life seven and has everyone shuffle their graveyard, field, and hand into their library, then draw seven cards.
Stars essentially resets the game with a lower life total, a devastating equalizer when things aren't going your way. Even with its hefty price, it's just too big an effect.
Like Ancestral Recall, this is another of the so-called "Power Nine" spells that you'll find banned in most formats. Time Walk lets you take an extra turn for just two mana; most extra-turns (like "Time Warp" and "Temporal Manipulation") require five, making this ridiculously competitive for such an inexpensive fee.
At first glance, Tinker might not seem overpowered, sacrificing an artifact you control to place one from your deck onto the field. But remember you can forfeit easily-attained thopters or treasure tokens to summon artifact-creatures like "Blightsteel Colossus" and "Darksteel Colossus" (who normally require over ten mana), revealing just how devastating this inexpensive sorcery is.
Here's a weird blue spell that usually isn't an issue in 1v1, but grants two people an unfair advantage in multiplayer games. A target opponent draws two cards, then you draw anywhere from 0-4 (your choice). That opponencan this repeat this process as many times as they like.
What ends up happening is two players gain enormous hand sizes while everyone else falls behind. And you can even use the draws as a bargaining tool, saying something like "Billy Bob, if you agree not to attack me until we're the only ones left, I'll give you the draws instead of Sarah".
Plenty of legal blue cards bounce multiple non-lands (like "Cyclonic Rift" and "River's Rebuke"), but Upheaval returns all permanents to hand, lands included.
Sure, your cards get bounced too, but this drastically equalizes the field, and you'll have less active permanents anyway if you've built an instant/sorcery-oriented deck. Bonus points if you have cards suspended in exile (which avoid the blast), quickly gaining the advantage when they arrive.
In commander, blue is often considered the strongest color, and artifacts the strongest card type. This powerful land that caters to both, tapping for one blue per artifact you control.
With the prominence of relics like "Sol Ring" and "Grim Monolith", you'd likely be ramping even faster than green could, especially when swarming artifact tokens. While Tolarian Academy is banned, you can find a similar (and legal) green variant: "Gaea's Cradle", which taps for one green per creature you control.
Braids, Cabal Minion
Here's another deceptively-strong card, one that would be a popular commander were she allowed. But why; Braids is only a 2/2 and requires a moderate fee of four mana, so what's her harm?
Well, she's just too powerful and ongoing a removal, forcing all players to sacrifice an artifact, land, or creature during their upkeep. This includes you, but you'll have built around her effect with easily-swarmed or revived spells (like "Reassembling Skeleton"), letting you relax while opponents struggle just to maintain a field.
In commander, extra draws are especially important since games are longer, and lifeloss isn't so bad since you start with extra health. This makes Griselbrand a lethal tool; not only is he a 7/7 with flying, he can pay seven life at any time to draw seven cards.
In most EDH situations, you'll be more than happy to forfeit life for a new hand, especially at instant speed and attached to an aerial beatstick. You can also avoid Griselbrand's mana needs by gimmicking him into play with cards like "Kaalia of the Vast".
Here's a cheap and reusable graveyard revival. For three mana, you field Nightmare, which lets you sacrifice a creature at any time to place a creature from your graveyard into play.
Unlike many revivals, it's nice that you can set this ahead of time, and it forms easy infinites with supports like "Priest of Gix" and "Blood Artist", quickly warranting a ban.
Bargain requires a hefty fee of six mana, but spells like "Dark Ritual" help it arrive early. More than that, it offers a similar effect to Griselbrand, letting you pay one life to draw a card, and you can do this multiple times each turn.
The downside is that you skip your draw phase, but it's forgivable considering you should already have anything you need. Want five more cards? They're yours. 20? Go for it, especially when using black's lifelink tools to supplement your health.
Here's another of the craziest effects you'll see outside the Un cards. Falling Star requires you to physically drop it into play from a foot (or higher) up, and it must completely flip over at least once to have any effect. Any creature it touches upon landing takes three damage and becomes tapped.
Normally, this effect isn't too overpowered, but by banning it, players don't have to worry about punishment for grouping creatures together (a common way to save space with tokens). It also prevents players from physically tearing Star into multiple pieces to increase its range. Sounds silly, but this actually became an issue with "Chaos Orb"—more on that soon.
Worldfire is red's version of Sway of the Stars, edging players even closer to death. It sets everyone's life to one while exiling all permanents, cards in hand, and cards in the graveyard.
This puts everyone in a dangerous spot, but it's still a great escape route; better to have everyone on the brink of death than just you. With the right setup (like "Oblivion Ring" used on "Barren Glory"), you can also turn it into an insta-win.
Yet again, we see that Wizards of the Coast recognizes the hazards of life-controlling effects in commander. Biorhythm sets everyone's health to the amount of creatures they control.
So, use a field wipe on opponents, and you can force an immediate loss no matter their current life. Heck, even if your own field was also wiped, you can still wriggle out of a loss by forcing a tie. And while eight mana seems like a lot, green's numerous ramps help attain it. Speaking of which..
For a single turn, Channel lets you pay one life whenever you activate a mana ability to add a colorless mana to your pool.
Activating a mana ability means doing something that creates mana, like tapping lands (or certain creatures and artifacts). Since EDH provides a boosted health reservoir, you've got plenty of life to spare, letting you easily afford high-cost spells (or pump those with variable X costs) long before opponents are prepared.
Fastbond only needs one mana and lets you play any number of lands during your turn! That means you can have all lands in hand out on your very first move, possible before opponents have done anything! And with cards that access lands on top of your deck (like "Oracle of Mul Daya"), you can rapidly work through your entire library.
The only downside is that each land beyond your first costs one life, but again, that's a minuscule penalty in EDH. For similarly-cheap (yet legal) extra-land enchantments, try green's "Exploration" or "Burgeoning".
Primeval Titan's stats alone make him a strong contendor, arriving as a fierce 6/6 with trample. But more than that, whenever he enters the field or attacks, you can place any two lands from your deck onto the field tapped!
Not only can this repeatedly trigger, it's one of few searches that lets you choose any terrain (not just basic lands) too powerful a bundle in a format that adores tutors.
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
While he specifically needs two green mana, Rofellos's price shouldn't be a problem since he belongs in mono-green builds. He taps for one green per forest you control—often attaining three or more resources with each exhaust. That's a frightening amount of mana that scales as the game progresses. Added to respectable 2/1 stats and the useful elf subtype, this ban is easily understood.
Similar to Primeval Titan, Sylvan Primordial requires several mana but arrives as a sturdy 6/8 with reach. For each opponent, he lets you destroy one of their non-creature permanents upon entry, and for each card removed this way, you can place a forest from your deck onto the field tapped.
This time, you're limited to basic forests, but it's still a fierce smorgasbord of effects, blending a beatstick with a widespread removal and ramp. Primordial is often manageable in 1v1, but his efficiency in multiplayer earned him the ban.
Many insta-win effects wait until your next upkeep after meeting a condition, giving foes a final turn to stop your victory. But not this rainbow-needing sorcery; Coalition Victory grants an immediate win if you control a basic land of each type and at least one creature from all five colors.
Thing is, cards can count for multiple colors—a single rainbow monster fulfills all your creature needs, and many lands (like "Savannah" and "Volcanic Island") contain two basic types. In other words, by the time you can afford it, you've often already met Coalition's requirements, making it too cheap to allow.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Leovold requires three specific mana colors, sure, but he wields solid 3/3 stats plus the handy elf subtype. Yet what really earns his ban are his powerful effects, simultaneously restricting opponents to one draw per turn and letting you draw whenever an opponent targets you or one of your permanents with a spell or effect.
Either one of these traits might have been okay, but together they form a fierce combo, letting you rapidly amass cards while your opponents can't draw extras. You could also exploit their restriction with spells that replenish each player's hand (like "Timetwister"), which now only grant your rivals a single card.
Despite Leovold's ban, you can still legally restrict opposing draws with the blue planeswalker "Narset, Parter of Veils".
Prophet of Kruphix
Green and blue are both strong EDH colors, and they carry one of the would-be strongest supports. Prophet's stats are a disappointing 2/3, but she has the useful wizard subtype and untaps all lands and creatures you control (including herself) during opposing untap steps! With this constant refresh, you can attack while still maintaining blockers and easily afford instants and activated abilities.
Or, use your extra supply for soldiers; Prophet gives your creatures flash, letting you play them at any time. With just a few too many abilities, Prophet's ban still rubs some players the wrong way, but doesn't leave you completely empty-handed; you can still employ similar five-cost untappers like "Seedborn Muse" and "Murkfiend Liege".
Probably the most famous Magic card of all time, Black Lotus is another Power Nine member, offering an insane ramp. It costs zero mana, and you can tap-sacrifice it to gain three mana of any color.
Added to your land-per-turn, this lets you afford four-cost spells on your first move, a ridiculous advantage. Honestly, even if it were legal, not many players could afford Lotus anyway, but I'm glad I don't have to be Bill Gates to win Magic games.
Like Falling Star, Chaos Orb tests your dexterity, letting you spend one mana to drop it into play from one foot up. Again, it needs to flip over at least once, and now destroys any card it touches upon landing!
That's an all-around improvement on Star, requiring less mana, no specific color, and eliminating all kinds of permanents. This is also the card that was once allowed to be torn up in a sanctioned game, dramatically increasing its radius. Plus, the official rules state any sleeve on Orb counts, further increasing its reach.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
He was good while he lasted. Formerly legal, Emrakul is somewhat balanced by his enormous fee; he's easily one of the most mana-demanding Magic cards. But again, there's just too many ways to cheat him into play, presenting foes with a spell they're often not equipped to beat.
Emrakul can't be countered, and if he's legally cast, you score an extra turn. But even if gimmicked into play, you've got an absurd 15/15 with flying, trample, protection from colored spells, and a whopping annihilator six, forcing the defending player to sacrifice six permanents whenever Emrakul swings!
Library of Alexandria
Remember, in EDH, card advantage is key. And that's exactly what Library helps you maintain; it can either tap for a colorless mana, or to have you draw a card. You can only use the draw if your hand has exactly seven cards, but it's still an excellent replenisher, especially since it enters untapped and ready to use.
The "Mox" Cards
Yep, all five of the standard Mox artifacts are banned. Like basic lands, they're free and tap for a colored mana. But since they aren't actually lands, you can cast one the same turn you play a land, essentially giving an extra mana. That speed goes a long way, letting you set your field before opponents can counter.
For casual players, here's a quick list matching each jewel to its corresponding color:
- Mox Pearl: White
- Mox Sapphire: Blue
- Mox Jet: Black
- Mox Ruby: Red
- Mox Emerald: Green
Servant seems innocent enough, carrying manageable 1/3 stats. But his effect makes all cards and spells (fielded or not) a color of your choice in addition to their usual hues.
This has so many potential combos, the possibilities are almost endless. As a quick sample, you can entirely shut down a deck with "Iona, Shield of Emeria", make enemies a color you have protection from, and much, much more.
Update: Servant is currently unbanned!
Mirror needs a healthy dose of five mana. Once fielded, you can tap it and spend X mana (a value of your choice) to exile an instant or sorcery with CMC X from your hand. Then, during your upkeep, you can cast a copy of the imprinted spell for free.
In the extended games of commander, this quickly adds up to a whopping amount of free spells, and if you exile one of the several extra-turn cards (like "Temporal Mastery"), you've basically won; giving you unlimited back-to-back turns.
Engine requires a hefty investment of five mana, but once out, it untaps all your non-lands whenever you cast a spell! That's just an insane effect that can easily go infinite, especially with mana-tappers and effects that play spells from your deck. Engine won't trigger off itself (since its untap effect isn't active until it hits the field), but its arrival can very easily mean game over.
In the right builds, Titan will ravage opposing lands without harming your own. He needs several mana, but his dual artifact/creature types grant several ways to cheat him into play.
Not only is Titan a strong 7/10, whenever he enters or leaves the field, you choose one land of each basic type (excluding ones that aren't present), then destroy them! Remember, many multi-color decks have lands that count for multiple types, meaning you'll often be able to eliminate five lands at once. To ensure you won't accidentally raze your own, simply use cards without the standard land types, like gates.
That's a brutal removal, especially since it reactivates when Titan leaves the field, And remember this triggers from any exit (not just death), so adversaries can't dodge it with exile or bounce effects..
As of this writing, Time Vault's official rating in the Magic database is a near-perfect 4.95/5, something very few cards ever approach. For just two mana, Vault enters tapped, and it doesn't auto-refresh during your untap step. You can skip a turn to untap Vault, letting you later tap it to take an extra turn.
But forget that; just untap Vault with other means (like blue's "Dramatic Reversal") to gain an extra turn without forfeiting one. Rinse and repeat for easy wins in casual matches.
Ante and Conspiracy Cards in Commander
In addition to today's list, any spells with the "conspiracy" card type are banned, as are those that reference "playing for ante" (which require players to wager cards). We'll also later tackle the alternative "duel commander" ban list, which forbids a few extra spells that prove troublesome in 1v1 games.
But for now, as we await future updates to commander's ban list, vote for your favorite EDH color and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
Questions & Answers
Question: Is "Gaea's Cradle" banned in commander?
Answer: Nope, although I believe it's banned in the alternate "duel commander" ban list. It's also very expensive, so you'll rarely see it unless proxies are allowed.
© 2019 Jeremy Gill