Hey Commander players! Today, a whole whack-load of cards were banned across multiple formats. Here’s the official post from Wizards, as well as a great summation and response from TCGPlayer. I want to look at those cards and how they figure into Commander, because some of them are running out of other formats to play in. Looking at you, Oko and Uro. Let’s check out the main offenders!
OMNATH, LOCUS OF CREATION
First up is Omnath, Locus of Creation, banned in Historic. Omnath is already banned in Standard. In Commander, Omnath is a powerful Commander option, but not exactly broken. While it does stretch the landfall ability into white, picking up a few gems like Emeria Shepherd and Felidar Retreat, it also stretches the mana base. Even with those cards and staples like Path to Exile and Austere Command, the deck is more suited to be the big fish in a casual pond than a cEDH tablewrecker. You can certainly do all the landfall or all the Omnaths as a less lethal pile, but you might get some hate from Standard players.
One issue for Omnath is that the deck would ideally like all the fetch-lands and the corresponding shocks, triomes or even OG duals. The triomes aren’t that cheap, and the rest only rocket upwards from there. Expensive cards that need to be shuffled frequently aren’t for everyone. I opened an Omnath in the fall and still haven’t done anything with it, mainly for that reason.
Ultimately, Omnath, Locus of Creation is unlikely to be any kind of problem for Commander. It’s awkward, expensive and has a reputation for toxicity in other formats. It’s not as vicious as Omnath, Locus of Mana or Omnath, Locus of Rage, and since it wants to fetch and play lands as its primary strategy, might be too linear to be much fun. It’s still quite strong, as is access to 4 colours, but the format is up to it.
URO, TITAN OF NATURE’S WRATH
Next up is one of the biggest villains in Magic since Nicol Bolas. While the dragon owns the lore, he wishes he had this much actual game impact. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, is now banned in Pioneer, Modern, Standard and Historic, and is starting to creep up hard in Legacy. How about Commander? Like Omnath, Uro is a midrange powerhouse that’s chock-full of card advantage. The card draw and ability to play a land for 3 mana will always be welcome, and there are lots of sneaky ways in the format to copy Uro and double up on triggers with something Minion Reflector or Reflections of Littjara. From the Command Zone, Uro is strong but not exciting, and will either enable a midrange pile of Simic goodstuff, or a quickie combo into Laboratory Maniac and friends. Simic giants would be a fun way to build Uro, however, especially with Kaldheim now here.
Escaping Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is easy in Commander, and gives you a great payoff, but the main difference between it and the other formats is very clear when it comes to what Uro’s able to do on return. In a 60-card constructed format with 1 opponent and 20 life points, Uro is a 3 turn clock. Less if that opponent plays fetchlands or stuff like Street Wraith. In Commander, a 6/6 non-flyer is good, but has a long steep hill to climb to finish off 3 opponents at a combined life total of 120 (or 63 Commander Lethal). You can load Uro up with Voltron-style equipment and such, but there are faster, more efficient Commanders doing that, many with a way to protect themselves.
Still, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is a great card, and will be in Commander. It’s in great colours, and enables gameplay in the best ways those colours do. It does everything well, and while Commander often thrives on unbalanced cards that feed a specific strategy, sometimes you just need some ramp and card draw and big body to mop up a game.
I’d like to mention the Secret Lair drop featuring Uro and the infamous disclaimer of a banning-to-be. Uro is legal in Legacy and Vintage now, as well as Commander. The first two are not exactly known for their extensive presence in paper, and are both oppressed by the Reserved List. Commander is Uro’s main destination. But… Primeval Titan, aka ‘Prime Time,’ one of the other two cards in the drop, is one of the few cards banned in Commander. Frost Titan, the final member of the trio, is bulk. Who then buys this Secret Lair? Ideally a Commander/Modern player, or a pairing of those types. Does that make this drop a dud, or a hot spec target in a year when Prime Time is dominating somewhere and copies are scarce because the drop was underbought? Maybe the answer all along was Metal. Of course it was.
As a duo, Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer are gone from Pioneer as a result of their ability to flip your entire deck into your graveyard, now fully enabled by the Modal-Double-Faced-Landspells. The pair have been played in Commander for ages, and while they are both decent inclusions in dedicated mill decks, playing a deck with all MDF lands to completely self-mill results in a very small and very vulnerable manabase. One can load up on tutors and mulligan to make things happen, but every part of the machine is fragile. While a card like Dread Return is legal as a payoff, as in Legacy (into Thassa’s Oracle etc.), you only get a single copy of cards like Narcomoeba to make it happen on the spot for free. If one wants to tutor and ritual aggressively into a deck-thinning combo win, one can play K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth as a Commander and power out Doomsday or Bolas’s Citadel with Sensei’s Divining Top on turn one or whatever it is people do in cEDH. No worries from these cards until there’s a lot more MDF lands.
TEFERI, TIME RAVELER
One of War of the Spark’s most infamous mistakes is Teferi, Time Raveler, now banned in Pioneer. Little Teferi held Standard’s instant-speed interaction hostage for far too long, and is widely considered unfun. Since the effect it provides scales nicely to Commander, and is much stronger for a mere 3 CMC than it should be, the card can definitely be played in the format. However… you better win with it, or have the entire table turn on it, and then you. It’s no secret how much gameplay this card shuts off, and since it can either be attacked or blown up with the sort of all-purpose removal Commander players love, like Beast Within, it’s debatable if it’s worth the include.
I often rate Planeswalkers in Commander by how much they are able to accomplish on their first turn out, because that’s how long most of them get. If they don’t get hate, they may not be worth it anyway. Teferi will not only get hate, he’ll be a constant reminder of why you should make him a primary target. His destiny will be to help protect combos in broken strategies, which he’ll do well, but overall his impact is unlikely to be too problematic. If a deck can keep 3 determined opponents from taking out their Teferi, those opponents have some much bigger problems.
Magic cards are ultimately an expression of math, even the ones with Emily Dickenson’s poetry on them. While math torments schoolkids of all ages, it makes for great gaming. Some aspects of math have proven to be problematic in Magic’s past. Paying 0 for a spell is a frequent issue, and while Wizards has already started buying real estate into tripling effects, doubling effects are causing enough problems as well. Wilderness Reclamation doesn’t say double on it, but it doubles your mana if you use it properly. That was too much for Pioneer, as it was for Standard before it. The card went hand-in-hand with Teferi, Time Raveler, too, and was poised to take over if Teferi alone was banned.
For a mere 4 CMC, doubling one’s mana is a very powerful effect. Wilderness Reclamation has already been reprinted in Ikoria Commander, and will do almost as much work in Commander as it did in Standard. It’s not as outrageously powerful as Seedborn Muse, but it’s less vulnerable and can help pay for the spell that protects it a little sooner. It’s a bit premature to call this a future staple, but it could totally get there. As an uncommon, with frequent printings, it would be a very budget-friendly option. The only thing holding it back is how good green cards are in general. With early ramp, some decks just blister past this into a 6-8 CMC game winner. But as long as there are lands like Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and even Cabal Coffers, and as long as there are counterspells, activated abilities and instant speed anything, Wilderness Reclamation will see plenty of play.
FIELD OF THE DEAD
In Modern, another repeat offender in Field of the Dead is now banned. In Commander, The Field is in a weird place. It’s a terrific card that could be a endgame plan for almost any deck. It has one of the all-time highest ceilings vs. the lowest opportunity cost for any card, period. It only gets better in token or zombie strategies, but it doesn’t need any help to be great. It plays really well with fetches and cards like Evolving Wilds that can provide an instant speed trigger for a chump blocker or sacrifice. It’s a staple for sure, at least on paper.
In practice, Field of the Dead is an argument for playing more cards like Strip Mine. A player packing land destruction can easily remove Field of the Dead in the early game before it can generate any zombies. The Field is unlikely to generate more than 3 zoms in a turn unless you’re really pushing Landfall, so simply taking it out at the first opportunity is wise, even if there’s a few tokens already. Not everybody wants to pack land destruction, but keeping a piece or two around in case of Field of the Dead can be smart. Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter even help take some of the sting of land destruction out of things, and can be played in any deck. There are few other lands that need zapping as much as the Field, so the presence of these cards can keep it in check.
The other weird thing about Field of the Dead is that it is a clear mistake. It’s questionable as to where or even if it could be printed again. It has a fairly high value, which is unlikely to go down because of how playable it is, but it’s not essential to any strategy. If you want to absolutely optimize your deck, or you have zombies, landfall or just plain tokens, it’s a great include but a cost consideration. A reprint some day would be good for cost, but there’s probably enough copies of this card out there. This doesn’t need to be in almost every Commander deck, but it could be. While I don’t think it’s a threat to format diversity, considering how there’s tens of thousands of cards out there, it’s something to keep an eye on in case of a reprint.
Some of the biggest questions about current Magic design can be summed up in the vast difference between Mystic Sanctuary and Idyllic Grange, two cards in the same cycle. But not on the same planet as far as power level is concerned. The Sanctuary combines too well with Cryptic Command for late-game inevitability in Modern control decks for it to be legal in that format any more. It has already seen the hammer in Pauper, and punches so far above the weight of most commons that it’s a shock it was ever printed. Having Island-type puts it even farther ahead, and makes it very fetchable. Yikes.
It’s hardly a stretch to call Mystic Sanctuary a Commander staple. It’s in a great colour, has an exceptional ETB effect in a blink colour, does everything in the previous paragraph, and is extremely cheap. It’s a common that’s banned in most formats that would play multiple copies. Foils will probably always be insane, but it’s unlikely this card will ever be too hard to get.
While it is certainly powerful, the biggest case against Mystic Sanctuary is enabling already broken strategies, like looping Time Stretch or something. The Cryptic Command loop probably fizzles against 3 opponents, however. While it pushes stuff like that a little farther, permission and taking-turns strategies are already strong enough. In most other decks, the card is a nice little piece of value that requires a little bit of setup. That’s pretty much right on for Commander.
SIMIAN SPIRIT GUIDE
You might not think a single mana can make all the difference, but it was enough to cut Simian Spirit Guide from Modern after a long career making spells come down just a bit ahead of schedule. The mana monkey helps push all-in strategies, and that’s really why it got the hammer. Single cards like Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn are so powerful that getting them into play in any way possible is a likely win. A few spells accomplish that pretty early, and many are red. The Simian Guide allows for them to be cast 1 turn earlier. Banning the big gaming-winning goons just allows the next best thing to step up in their place, but the Guide was pretty unique. It also enabled any other strategy that needed a burst of mana turn 1 or 2 to do something normally reserved for turns 5-6 or later. Banning makes sense to me.
In Commander, a burst of early mana is easy enough to accomplish, but the main 2 Modern payoffs are both banned. Going all-in on a huge singular threat in the early turns is an invitation to be blown out by Swords to Plowshares anyway. Combo decks that just win outright are a better option for those that want to play that style. Even in a 100 card, singleton format, there are still plenty of people who play storm-style decks, which play a huge flurry of spells in one big turn and then leverage that into a finisher. Big black mana decks can cast a huge Torment of Hailfire, and red ones can still turn a Grapeshot into a lethal play if they can copy it a few times at the end of a big spell chain. Cards like the new Birgi, God of Storytelling and Thousand-Year Storm grease those wheels nicely.
But Simian Spirit Guide doesn’t really fit Commander so well. It doesn’t add storm count, and can’t be used with cards like Light Up the Stage or Outpost Siege, or even Birgi’s other side. There are enough 0-cost artifacts these days to cover most of what all-in combo decks want, and playing them as a critical mass allows for better synergy than a mix of fast mana sources. There may still be a few homes for Simian Spirit Guide, including ape tribal, but the impact has been very low.
It’s tough to evaluate a card like Tibalt’s Trickery. R&D seems to have missed some of its potential. Kaldheim has only been legal for a couple of weeks, but decks packing Tibalt’s Trickery, Violent Outburst and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn were eating up the format. Because they only played those cards and 50-something lands. Here’s a sample deck. It wins on turn 3.5 unless you stop it. It casts Emrakul, not just putting her into play like other decks do. That means you get the extra turn regardless. It can be disrupted, but requires dedicated disruption from every opponent, which warps deckbuilding around it format-wide. Not worth it. Seeya.
In Commander, the card is reminiscent of Chaos Warp, and is definitely held back by the extremely high variance of the format. One place where it could get out of hand is with Krark, the Thumbless, where it’s cast on the Krark player’s own spells. In that case, however, the payoff is still questionable and relies on some other card to finish the job no matter what. As a hard counterspell in red, this has some appeal for jank enthusiasts, and may help protect a nasty combo or two as a last resort, but it’s unlikely to ever be a problem for Commander.
The strategies that capitalized most on Arcum’s Astrolabe in Legacy are those that wanted the most powerful spell on curve, regardless of colour. They were also leveraging the snow-basics against Blood Moon and/or Back to Basics. They might also have wanted to blink the Astrolabe with Yorion, Sky Nomad or turn it into an Elk threat with Oko, Thief of Crowns, which was also banned. Like a great film director, or point guard in basketball, the Astrolabe made all of the cards around it better, and was there for them when they needed to Elk. Too good, even for Legacy.
With another infusion of snow lands from Kaldheim, including snow duals with basic types, the Astrolabe gets a little better in Commander. It’s still probably not so playable, as there are so many artifacts/ramp spells that generate additional mana for a similar or lower cost that a super-fixer isn’t really needed. As much as it cantrips and is a cheap cast or artifact ETB trigger, the overall impact is pretty low. Even 5-colour decks have tons of fixing available without needing to play the Astrolabe.
Even though the only 1-drop in all of Magic that can’t be played in Commander is Ancestral Recall, it’s simply not realistic for Dreadhorde Arcanist to be anything like the threat it was in Legacy. Commander decks play plenty of 1 drop spells, but plenty is still a tiny fraction of your typical 100 card pile. Not that the Arcanist is restricted to playing 1-drops, but those are the spells it did the most damage with in Legacy. In Commander it’s much more buffable, and can play a much wider variety of spells, but it still has to attack to make that happen, and only cast in that window. That means plenty of spells won’t be worth recurring based on timing alone.
The Arcanist also isn’t a big enough body to survive attacking too much. And the biggest interaction it had was with Lightning Bolt, which acted as both removal and reach. Yes, also Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares, both fine choices in Commander, but your Commander might not let you play those cards. Still, this is a great red zombie, something that’s seldom said, and only needs to recur one key spell to be worth playing. A niche player for the format, but one I’m glad is available. As a wizard also, this card could benefit significantly from the wizard-centric sets coming this year.
OKO, THIEF OF CROWNS
What’s left for Oko, Thief of Crowns? Commander is just about the last place outside of Vintage for the most powerful Planeswalker of all time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oko banned in Vintage. Would anyone? Just make a clean sweep. What’s left to say?
Could Oko be banned in Commander? Unlikely. Is it too powerful for the format? Doubtful. Does it still compare pretty favourably to Beast Within, one of the more popular cards in the format? Yeah, it does. Oko passes the Planeswalker one-turn test if all it does is Elk the biggest threat at the table. If it lives a few turns, it’s Beast Within with upside. Pretty good. Like many of the other cards on this list, and perhaps most of all, you risk the residual anger against Oko from players of almost every other format. Expect it to be attacked with gusto, relish and other satisfying metaphorical condiments. We might have to revisit Oko once Wizards drops Eldraine 2, with all the OP Legendary Elk synergy cards, but that’s a few years away.
LURRUS OF THE DREAM-DEN
Finally, there’s Lurrus of the Dream-Den, up until today the holder of perhaps Magic’s greatest accolade. Lurrus was the only card banned in Vintage because of power level. All others were because of weird card-throwing mechanics like Chaos Orb, weird game-disruption mechanics like with Shahrazad, or unused mechanics like Ante on Demonic Attorney. Lurrus was unbanned, and now we wait and see if it was okay to let the cat out of the bag.
Until we do, we can play Lurrus in Commander, as the leader, companion or in the 99. The Companion aspect is too restrictive for Commander, and the synergy with low-cost cards is the opposite of what most decks want to do, but Lurrus is too strong not to see play somewhere. There are few blink-loop applications, and Jeweled Lotus is a thing. And it’s a cat. Domesticated sure, but still with some scratch in it.
NEW CASCADE RULES!
But bannings weren’t enough!! There needed to be a rule change too! Cascade now functions more like you’d expect it to, if you were just being introduced to it for the first time. But the way the rules were allowed for Valki, God of Lies‘ Tibalt side to come into play on turn 1-3, depending on format. Not cool.
These new rules affect Commander, but more in the sense that they clear things up. There are plenty of ways beyond Cascade to play a spell from your library that drastically changes the game, and plenty of those are more efficient, more synergistic, or even better at hitting a specific target. Cascade is a fun mechanic that was just featured in Commander Legends. It wasn’t ever doing anything too broken. Not more than many tutors. Now it simply works the way it should have all along, and pretty much did. Thanks Valki for clearing that up. Too bad Tibalt is back to being a punchline.
Well that’s it for another big round of bannings and rule changes! It might be as many as a few months before there’s another one. Maybe the next set won’t even overstress a niche rule until it breaks a format or two. We can only hope. At least most of these egregious cardboard malefactors are a non-problem in Commander, and we always have Rule 0 for the ones that slip through the cracks. Thanks for reading! Your life matters! Black Lives Matter!