Commentary on the EDH/Commander ban list


The Tentacled One
Commander RC said:
First Printed: 1998-OCT
Banned: 2013-APR

Trade Secrets is a flag-bearer for the banning principle of “Cards which interact poorly with the multiplayer nature of the format”, as it’s a cheap spell that allows two players to collude; draw unlimited cards, and then box the other players out of the game.
I did a double-take. Yes, the RC mistakenly copied the "first printed" line from Tolarian Academy when they created the blurb for the next card on the list. Trade Secrets was actually first printed in October of 2002, not October of 1998. It's a minor editorial mistake. Other than that and the incorrect use of the phrase "unlimited cards" (Trade Secrets in this format would never, ever be able to draw more than 100 cards for any given player), I don't have any issues with this blurb.

Amusingly, Trade Secrets made it into a precon before it was banned. I think that Political Puppets is the only official Commander precon that is no longer legal in the format. Using this precedent, I say that we ban Sol Ring. :p

My response to this ban is kind of the opposite of my response to the Sway of the Stars ban after looking back at Tribal Game 5. With that card, I think that the RC are misguided. They've banned a super-niche fun multiplayer card on the basis that it's deceptively unfun, and they refuse to seriously reevaluate that position. With Trade Secrets, they seem to have banned a card that is seriously problematic for multiplayer, but in hindsight it's a wonder that anyone ever thought it would be OK. Before Trade Secrets was banned in EDH, I don't remember anyone in any multiplayer format suggesting, "Don't use this card" or "don't let groups play with this card." Somehow, Trade Secrets seemed like a reasonable card at the time. I even have a vague recollection of seeing it used in EDH prior to its 2013 ban. In hindsight, the card is obviously unacceptable. What were we thinking?

So yeah, good job RC. Except for getting the first printing year wrong. And saying "unlimited" about something that has a well-established limit. Oops on those. Good job on the rest.


The Tentacled One
Commander RC said:
First Printed: 2001-AUG

Games of Commander are expected to go long; it’s not uncommon to see players cast spells for 10+ mana. Upheaval is both an emergency reset which leaves the game right back at square one, and a way to get way ahead in the game by floating mana. Bouncing everything, then replaying your hand while leaving everyone else stuck at nothing, gives no real way to interact with it besides countermagic.
I mean, their description of how Upheaval works isn't wrong. Personally, I think it's highly debatable whether an effect like this actually constitutes a problem. Casual players might often become annoyed with blue decks, but in principle blue should be able to do something about egregious board states, especially in a format prone toward them. Because Upheaval isn't selective, in some ways it's actually far more cumbersome to exploit than stuff like Sunder, Evacuation, Crush of Tentacles, etc. Those cards are all perfectly legal. Frankly, I think that it would be difficult to craft a compelling argument that Upheaval is in some way more egregious than all other options for blue bounce spells.

I think this blurb is not necessarily the worst. And maybe back when Upheaval was originally banned, the number of other options available to do what it does was both smaller and required more intricate combos in order to do really broken stuff. It's a weird evaluation to try making, and my memories in this regard are a bit hazy. Either way, Upheaval now wouldn't be especially more broken. Also, there's something else I can't quite put my finger on. What was it? Oh, right.
Totally legal, and the RC have even rebuffed complaints from the community about it. Cyclonic Rift is easily more broken than Upheaval. The RC are being total clowns on this one.


The Tentacled One
Commander RC said:
First Printed: 1999-JUN
Banned: 2006-MAY

Yawgmoth’s Bargain abuses Commander’s higher life totals, making the life payment essentially trivial. It too easily allows for access to a large portion of one’s deck, without having to guess how far you need to go, and leaves the mana up for casting the cards drawn right away.
The blurb seems fine, but I'll offer two caveats. The phrase "without having to guess how far you need to go" only makes sense when Yawgmoth's Bargain is being compared to Necropotence. I mean, it could also apply to Necrologia, but I'm confident that the Rules Committee were thinking of Necropotence specifically. It's important to note, and I believe that the RC back in 2006 did realize this, that Necropotence and Yawgmoth's Bargain function very differently, despite superficial similarities. There are tradeoffs between the two cards, and it's quite possible to think that one is broken in EDH while the other isn't. But the 2006 version of EDH is so different from what we have now that it's a useless frame of reference. The second caveat is simply that tthe phrase "and leaves the mana up for casting the cards drawn right away" makes no sense here because Yawgmoth's Bargain doesn't actually do anything with mana or have any such stipulation. Nothing about Bargain helps you leave mana up. I am guessing that this was a very, very poorly worded attempt to note that Bargain can draw cards during your main phase. So it's another comparison to Necropotence. That's the only meaning I can squeeze out of the phrase, and it only occurs to me because I was prompted by the other Necropotence comparison. Yikes.

I can understand the perspective that Yawgmoth's Bargain is too broken for EDH while Necropotence is acceptable in the format. I once held exactly that view myself. In fact, I held that view until pretty recently. But a couple of furtive comparisons in a blurb like this don't really help make the case. Just pointing out that the cards are different isn't an explanation for why one is banned and the other isn't. What I'd have preferred to see was a simple blurb here explaining that Yawgmoth's Bargain has a broken interaction with the high starting life total in EDH and that its flexibility of being able to activate at any time for one life per card pushes it beyond other cards that use life payment. Save the Necropotence comparison for a longform article.

That's my overanalysis of the blurb. Now there's the matter of the card's continued presence on the ban list. For most of the time that Bargain was banned, it was also restricted in Vintage. It didn't come up much, and my experiences with the card and memories of the card were colored by its classic broken decks in Standard and Extended, as well as its niche use in Vintage. I've reviewed this topic, and the comparison of Yawgmoth's Bargain to Necropotence, at length in Magic Memories posts. Prior to a year or so ago, I'd have said that Yawgmoth's Bargain and Griselbrand both needed to stay banned and that Necropotence probably should be banned too, although I'd have admitted that I was personally glad Necropotence was legal because of my fondness for the card. What changed? Well, it's been an accumulation of a few things. I kind of captured them with the pictures in the Griselbrand post earlier in this thread.
  • I used Necropotence in cEDH and watched how it gets used in both casual and competitive decks.
  • I saw Ad Nauseam rise to become one of the most potent archetype-defining cards in cEDH.
  • I saw Peer into the Abyss take on its own role as a combo card.
  • I watched Bolas's Citadel do broken things that Yawgmoth's Bargain could never pull off, both in Vintage and in cEDH.
I can't endorse the position that Yawgmoth's Bargain is more egregious than all of these other cards. Also, its footprint would be smaller than Bolas's Citadel and probably even smaller than Ad Nauseam. A couple of years ago, I'd have told you that Yawgmoth's Bargain would be more broken in EDH than Griselbrand would be. Now, I think that if both cards were simultaneously unbanned, Bargain would effectively only be a footnote.


The Tentacled One
And there you have it. We've covered all of the official blurbs. I didn't expect a lot of depth or nuance for something that is, by its nature, so short. But I managed to be a bit disappointed anyway because of too many misleading or inaccurate statements in the blurbs. I'm still glad that the RC took the time to update the site in this way, and I think it's a nice format.

While I'm analyzing the ban list, I might as well give my own decisions on the cards themselves. I already offered my opinion in some of the posts here, but I know that I waffled on some cards. So I now present my unambiguous Official EDH Banned Cards Tier List.

Tier 1: Cards which, under the current rules and philosophy for the format, must be banned for logistical reasons.
Chaos Orb
Falling Star
Lutri, the Spellchaser
Trade Secrets

Tier 2: Totally broken cards that are far too overpowered and would warp the format. Easy bans.
Ancestral Recall
Black Lotus
Limited Resources
Time Vault
Time Walk
Tolarian Academy

Tier 3: Cards that present significant game-warping effects, albeit not quite as egregious as the cards in Tier 2. Preferred bans.
Iona, Shield of Emeria

Tier 4: Cards that would be very obnoxious in the format, but manageable. Arguably less broken than many currently legal cards. Preferred unbans.
Braids, Cabal Minion
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Yawgmoth’s Bargain

Tier 5: Powerful cards which, mechanically speaking, wouldn't create problems for the format. My stance is to unban them, but it's not very firm. Depending on the philosophy of the format, some of these could perhaps be kept out.
Library of Alexandria
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Panoptic Mirror
Prophet of Kruphix

Tier 6: Strong cards, but ones that I'd call easy unbans. They'd occupy some niche in the format, but they wouldn't dominate or cause serious issues.
Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn
Gifts Ungiven
Paradox Engine
Primeval Titan
Recurring Nightmare
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Sylvan Primordial

Tier 7: It's silly that these cards are still banned.
Coalition Victory
Sundering Titan
Sway of the Stars