On a forum somewhere, someone recently asked about (well, insisted on) banning Stonehorn Dignitary. I glibly responded that I could easily come up with 500 cards that I’d ban before that was the case.
The end of Magic as we know it.
Obviously, that number was hyperbolic, but then I wondered after the fact if I could indeed come up with a list that large off the top of my head. I’ll issue my standard disclaimer that any kind of supposition engaged herein is not a prelude to anything that the Commander Rules Committee (RC) is thinking about. A Banned List of 500+ cards would be one of the worst things to ever happen to the format. Thought exercises, however, are quite healthy, both for those of us on the RC and folks who like to think about the format.
First, we’ll examine the card in question. Stonehorn Dignitary is a 1/4 Rhino Solider which costs 3W. When it enters the battlefield, target opponent skips his or her next combat phase. It’s pretty straightforward and only gets crazy if it’s repeatedly blinked or endlessly copied. I got a great deal of mileage out of it in my deck in our first iteration of the Commander Rotisserie Draft by using it with blink effects such as Eldrazi Displacer and Restoration Angel. The card combo certainly kept me alive several times, especially once a few Clones were involved.
In a format that loves getting into the Red Zone, Stonehorn Dignitary does some work, and is effectively a Fog against one player. It’s less repeatable than Blinding Angel, although the other player has better choices at stopping you (like big blockers). Sure, if you have arbitrarily large mana or an arbitrarily usable blink engine, it will keep everyone from attacking always, but at that point, Stonehorn Dignitary isn’t the problem. This idea isn’t to specifically pick on Stonehorn Dignitary; it could easily be any of a plethora of other middle-of-the-pack cards which might cause the occasional heartburn. The card is clearly not anywhere close to being ban-worthy, hence my outlandish claim, but let’s see if can reasonably get there.
A 500-card Banned List would of course not be consistent with our banning philosophy. There aren’t enough cards which do bad things to the format to justify a list that large, which would be unmanageable at best. This whole thought exercise is about coming up with 500 cards which are less good for the format than Stonehorn Dignitary. So where do we go with the idea?
To come up with such numbers, we’ll definitely have to set up categories and fill them in. We’ll also have to set up comparatives with Stonehorn Dignitary, simply based on the nature of the supposition. In fact, we might even be able to distill our criteria down to a simple “is stronger than Stonehorn Dignitary” and let the rest be damned. We don’t normally do comparative bans (“if you ban this, you have to ban that”) because the cascade would lead in a terrible direction—but in this case, we’ve set ourselves up to do it.
We’ll start with reasons we currently ban cards—but I’ll remind you that the reasons aren’t hard and fast objective measures. Often, cards span categories or are extreme examples of one of them and it’s a confluence of factors which will get a card banned. In addition to sculpting the vision of the format, we like to use banned cards as examples of things that local groups might consider when extending their own lists, so we can take that idea to additional lengths as we wander down this path. Even in categories in which I list plenty of cards, I’ll probably miss a few that apply but you think should go in; add them to the list as well.
Interacts Poorly with the Structure of Commander
The RC has tackled the cards in this category, so we’d have to extend the idea quite a bit. Cards which violate the basic structure of Commander as a multiplayer format would go here, as well as those which make uncomfortable use of the Command Zone.
“You win” cards are easy targets here:
Obviously, some of those win conditions are far easier than others. I’m surprised people haven’t tried slipping Mortal Combat into more decks; I know that we’ll see Revel in Riches put into a few decks here in the near future. I suppose the one that many folks consider the biggest “I win” card, Tooth and Nail, goes here as well. Expropriate, which is pretty much a game-ender, even if everyone else votes money, piles on.
There are a few command zone cards which could easily go on the list. Derevi, Empyrial Tactician simply violates the commander tax at an extremely low cost. If the activated ability cost 2GWU or GGWWUU, it wouldn’t likely be in the conversation. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic has been on a number of people’s radars for a while due to the passive nature of its advantage. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher makes easy, instant-kill combos (although it wouldn’t without its second ability) and caused a great deal of pain until folks got tired of playing it.
Because part of the structure of Commander is that it’s a multiplayer format, we’ll have to think about cards which take the “each opponent” idea a bit too far. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is the standard bearer here, but Exsanguinate; Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; Psychosis Crawler; Sorin, Grim Nemesis; and Wound Reflection all apply. I’m sure there are more.
Creates Undesirable Game States
This is a category that might get pretty large, since it includes all the cards which take away a significant part of the game from the other players. While in general, we like to leave strategies open, in the “worse than Stonehorn Dignitary” world, anything which significantly inhibits other players from being involved in the game would have to go.
First is all the mass land destruction:
Even mass destroyers of land types apply:
Contamination and Infernal Darkness probably sit in here somewhere, as do Reality Twist and Hall of Gemstone
Cards which make it more difficult for players to cast all their spells certainly go here as well. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV carries the flag for this section, which also includes some (but not all) color hosers:
Some cards which straight-up deny players the ability to cast spells or interact with the game at certain times are worse than taking away a combat step. We’d be rid of…
A number of STAX components keep lands locked down and are more toxic to the format than Stonehorn Dignitary, so cards like Rising Waters; Hokori, Dust Drinker; Static Orb; and Winter Orb fit the bill.
I’m not sure they quite fit into this category, but cards which by their very nature hurt only one player very badly are worse to have around than Stonehorn Dignitary. Identity Crisis is what led me here, but Overwhelming Splendor certainly also applies. Dovescape probably goes here as well.
A little bit of chaos is fine, but too much is irritating. Possibility Storm can be loads of fun; Grip of Chaos on a full battlefield makes nothing but giant headaches. If you’re rolling a die to determine which die to roll, things have gone too far off the rails. While the strategy and tactics of Thieves’ Auction might be enjoyable in the right context, the raw time consumption to resolve it makes many people want to just stab themselves with a fork.
Just to keep you on track with where we are, our current card count is approaching 100.
Problematic Casual Omnipresence
I don’t think there are too many cards that touch this category which haven’t or won’t get mentioned elsewhere. If I had to, I might put into it cards which are by themselves inoffensive but we’re all tired of seeing (who doesn’t roll their eyes when someone casts Eternal Witness?), but for the moment (even though it probably upsets my argument), we won’t invoke them or they’ll fit into other categories. I imagine some list of format staples gets us another 50-100 cards, although “staple” doesn’t necessarily equal “problematic.”
Produces Too Much Mana Too Quickly
Because we’re intentionally creating a larger list in this exercise, we can end the debate on whether or not some cards should be in this category. Instead of erring on the side of caution, we just throw out everything.
Sol Ring and Mana Crypt go, as well as other artifacts which produce more mana than they cost to cast, such as Mana Vault and Grim Monolith. Lands which circumstantially produce large amounts of mana are out as well: Cabal Coffers; Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; Serra’s Sanctum; Gaea’s Cradle; and Growing Rites of Itlimoc would leave us.
It’s not just land, though. The creatures which untap multiple lands provide too much opportunity to go crazy since they’re so easily re-used, so Palinchron, Peregrine Drake, and Great Whale are right out. Because the big mana-producers are gone, we might not need to worry about Cloud of Faeries and friends. I’ve previously mentioned that Selvala, Heart of the Wilds gets easily out of hand, so she goes too.
Creates High Barrier to Entry
We’ve mentioned more than once in the past that we’re not likely to ever again invoke this category, because the barrier to entry is not just cost, but availability. Regardless of how expensive a recently produced card might get, it’s difficult (if not impossible) for one to achieve the kind of iconic status that Time Walk or Black Lotus might hold. Getting involved with tracking secondary markets is an additional layer of administration which would provide diminishing returns for us and create nightmares when it comes to messaging. Any price barrier would be artificial (not to mention there are multiple sites which disagree on a card’s value), and if a card dipped below and jumped above, people would get confused.
Can’t Get Mad List
I’ve previously published pieces which mention perfectly legal cards (at least at the time) which are strong—but you can’t get upset when people blow them up. From those articles, one in 2010, one in 2011, one in 2012, and one in 2013, we can cull a list of just about 100 cards which haven’t already been mentioned or already banned (Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was on an early version). I’d miss many of them (others not so much), but each of them is more ban-worthy than Stonehorn Dignitary.
The Can’t Get Mad List contains controversial cards which some folks think should be banned already, such as Survival of the Fittest, Sensei’s Divining Top, Consecrated Sphinx, Seedborn Muse, and probably the most-hated still-legal card, Deadeye Navigator. It also contains powerful yet fair cards like Greater Good, Mirari’s Wake, and Vicious Shadows.
To be fair, there are also some cards that were strong seven years ago to which time hasn’t been all that kind. Debtors’ Knell in particular is a card that was quite heavily played back in the day, almost always represented a significant threat, and caused a great deal of panic, leading to players using significant resources to get rid of it. If left on the battlefield for several turns these days, it can still be quite strong—especially since creatures are routinely better than they once were. Lurking Predators is on the Can’t Get Mad list, but its newer cousin Mind’s Dilation isn’t, so we’ll nuke it too.
It never made it to a Can’t Get Angry list because it was already banned, but Protean Hulk gets banned once again in this scenario. Staff of Domination, too. Add some newer cards which would get tossed on Version 5 of the list:
There could be more.
Other Problematic Commanders
There are a few potential commanders which create some heartache. In a world in which our tolerance level is Stonehorn Dignitary, Arcum Dagsson and Zur the Enchanter head up the list. The aforementioned Derevi, Empyrial Tactician and Prossh, Skyraider of Kher are others, along with Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. Our monk-named pair Narset, Enlightened Master and Oloro, Ageless Ascetic can get shipped. Azami, Lady of Scrolls likely goes also, along with Maelstrom Wanderer. I’m sure you have your own poster child(ren) for this category.
After those, and a few more commanders that either you or other folks on the RC think might be problematic, we’re somewhere north of 200 cards. I say that because, as I mentioned earlier, the Stonehorn Dignitary scenario is one in which, if we think a card might be an issue, we axe it instead of thinking too much about it.
I’m sure I can find 250 or so more cards better than Stonehorn Dignitary, but I’m willing to concede defeat at this point because I don’t want you to have to sit through the entire rundown, which I imagine could get quite tedious. I’m scooping this argument because I don’t think I can easily come up with those 250 additional cards, and easily was part of the statement. I’m willing to bet that a more dedicated and time-consuming effort could get there; we’re at the point of diminishing returns because the point has been made.
In addition to highlighting the fact that Stonehorn Dignitary isn’t close to being a bannable card, the main point of this argument is to demonstrate that cascading bans truly are a path to madness. Cards not only must be evaluated on their own merits, but we have to think about the format holistically. What a card does is not nearly as important as what a card does in the format. Plus, we want a format that’s still playable, and getting rid of a bunch of cards which players enjoy is the wrong choice. The short version is that both the good cards that you currently enjoy playing and your Rhino tribal deck are perfectly safe.
This week’s Deck Without Comment is Trostani and Her Angels.
- 1 Exalted Angel
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Blinding Angel
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Adarkar Valkyrie
- 1 Dauntless Escort
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Angelic Arbiter
- 1 Sunblast Angel
- 1 Suture Priest
- 1 Aegis Angel
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
- 1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
- 1 Angel of Jubilation
- 1 Herald of War
- 1 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 1 Soul of the Harvest
- 1 Rhox Faithmender
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 1 Angelic Skirmisher
- 1 Archangel of Thune
- 1 Avacyn, Guardian Angel
- 1 Angelic Field Marshal
- 1 Angel of the Dire Hour
- 1 Archangel of Tithes
- 1 Emeria Shepherd
- 1 Dawnbreak Reclaimer
- 1 Bruna, the Fading Light
- 1 Gisela, the Broken Blade
- 1 Subjugator Angel
- 1 Angel of Condemnation
- 7 Forest
- 12 Plains
- 1 Savannah
- 1 Temple of the False God
- 1 Yavimaya Hollow
- 1 Secluded Steppe
- 1 Krosan Verge
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Selesnya Sanctuary
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Windbrisk Heights
- 1 Wooded Bastion
- 1 Reliquary Tower
- 1 Sunpetal Grove
- 1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
- 1 Graypelt Refuge
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Gavony Township
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Wrath of God
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Rampant Growth
- 1 Mirari's Wake
- 1 Well of Lost Dreams
- 1 Crackdown
- 1 Greater Good
- 1 Aura Shards
- 1 Storm Herd
- 1 Austere Command
- 1 Fracturing Gust
- 1 Mana Reflection
- 1 Minion Reflector
- 1 Martial Coup
- 1 Lurking Predators
- 1 Planar Cleansing
- 1 Cultivate
- 1 Entreat the Angels
- 1 Terminus
- 1 Ranger's Path
- 1 Boundless Realms
- 1 Faith's Reward
- 1 Gift of Immortality
- 1 Elemental Bond
- 1 Alhammarret's Archive
- 1 Arachnogenesis
- 1 Thaumatic Compass
Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself.
THE CHROMATIC PROJECT
Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn Evil No. 9.
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.
Shards and Wedges
Adun’s Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar’s Swarm; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.
Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free; Saskia Unyielding; Breya Reshaped.
Tana and Kydele; Kynaios and Tiro; Ikra and Kydele.
THE DO-OVER PROJECT
Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”