New Mechanics Of BNG (Background Vocals By The Banned List)

Sheldon talks about the three mechanics in Born of the Gods that will have a significant impact on Commander and the recent banned list update.

The new mechanics introduced in Born of the Gods are so slick that they’re worth discussing in some detail—not just the cards, but the mechanics themselves. Inspired, tribute, and archetypes will all have a significant impact on Commander.


Inspired comes in two flavors: triggered abilities that you have to pay for and triggered abilities that just do stuff. Both are delicious. Triggering on the creature with inspired becoming untapped, it’s important to know that that’s any time that it becomes untapped, like with the trigger from Derevi, Empyrial Tactician or an activation of Umbral Mantle. Getting them tapped is as easy as attacking with them or using them to activate cards like Opposition and Kyren Negotiations. Born of the Gods gives you a card to use with Springleaf Drum, generating mana in order to have more creatures to tap.

The wildest use of inspired might be combining one of those tappers with Intruder Alarm. Since Intruder Alarm is blue, Opposition is the obvious choice. Earthcraft seems like the card with the most explosive potential since the tapping effectively generates mana. With Earthcraft, Intruder Alarm, and Aerie Worshippers in play, resolving a creature (whether that’s from casting a spell or activating an ability, like with Trading Post) will trigger Intruder Alarm. When it resolves, Intruder Alarm’s trigger will trigger Aerie Worshippers in addition to untapping all of your other creatures. You can then tap them to pay the 2U for Aerie Worshippers’ trigger, generating a creature, which will start the process all over again. It’s not the original crazy use for Earthcraft and Intruder Alarm, but it’s a new weapon in your arsenal.

Four-card combos aside, the inspired cards that will have the greatest impact on Commander are Arbiter of the Ideal and Felhide Spellbinder because you don’t need the gyrations of wild combos in order to get great value out of them. Arbiter of the Ideal flies, so you know it’ll be attacking. When it untaps, you will get to spin the top of the library wheel to see if you get something cool.

You can make it like Christmas and just see what you get, but sometimes it’s going to be an ugly sweater. With a little top of the library manipulation, you’ll stand a better chance of getting what you asked for. Sensei’s Divining Top or Scroll Rack should be able to help you put exactly what you want on top. The same trick used with Lurking Predators is now coming to a blue deck near you. Those blue decks contain clones, so it’s not unreasonable to think you could have multiple Arbiter of the Ideals getting you piles of free stuff.

While I prefer inspired triggers that don’t cost anything, Felhide Spellbinder will generate huge value for very little mana. You can even use the aforementioned Springleaf Drum to have it help pay for its own ability and thereby ensure it’s tapped for next turn. In Commander, there will always be something great to copy, whether it’s a giant Eldrazi to attack with or a great utility creature like Yavimaya Elder or Eternal Witness.

Inspired also resonates flavor-wise. The more the creatures do (all that activating and attacking), the more the gods favor them with the ability to do even more. Kudos to the team for the extremely clever design.


Tribute is a two-step process. First, as the creature comes onto the battlefield, an opponent of your choice decides whether or not to pay. This happens during the resolution of the spell or ability that puts it onto the battlefield (this is the same time for example that you choose what creature to copy with Clone), whether that’s casting the creature as normal or reanimating it with Sheoldred, Whispering One. Second is the triggered ability. When it resolves if the tribute wasn’t paid, things happen. The trigger condition is the creature entering the battlefield, so even if the opponent has said that they’re not going to pay the trigger will still happen with all its stack implications. If the ability is targeted, you choose that when you put the ability on the stack.

Tribute is one of the most interesting multiplayer mechanics to come along in a while. While in 1v1 your opponent has their own best interests in mind when making the choice of whether or not to pay the tribute, in multiplayer games you can make political deals to get the effect that you want or the table might need without the affected player having any say so in the matter. You’ll probably have to be quite upfront and honest before getting an ally in your plan. Nessian Demolok is the most obvious example. "Hey, I want to blow up that Intruder Alarm since I read about some insane combo with Earthcraft. If I choose you, will you not pay?" Warning: Do not choose the Intruder Alarm player.

Occasionally you might get someone to agree to not pay for Oracle of Bones, but you’ll have to lay out some heavy promises. "Sure, as long as it’s not Insurrection" is probably going to be the most common response. If you have Avacyn, Angel of Hope in play, I don’t think you’re going to trick too many people into letting you cast that Wildfire off of Oracle of Bones. Then again, you’re playing white and red. You’re not being tricky anyway.

Another mechanic that’s dripping with flavor, I’d love to see more exploration of it in future sets. Evil gods could certainly demand tribute, but the price for not paying would be even more severe. Tribute itself is likely to be restricted to creatures, but the idea could eventually be ported over to cards that are like Choice of Damnations, which would basically be modal spells that the affected opponent chooses the mode for.


Simply put, when can and can’t battle in Magic, can’t always wins. The archetypes are ways of getting can’t to win for you. The strength of the mechanic is the duality. Each of the first abilities, granting a keyword ability to all your creatures, is already worth playing (although Archetype of Endurance might be way too expensive to do only one thing). Combined with the second abilities, the cards become very strong.

Another way that can’t wins is when two players have the same archetype on the battlefield. Most other abilities granting or taking away keyword abilities operate on time stamps. Not so with the archetypes. They’re worded so that if there are two (or more) of them controlled by different players no creatures get the ability. I’m fairly certain that archetypes will be cloned and copied in order to restore some parity to the board state.

It’s amusing that playing Archetype of Aggression might be the most defensive of all. We’re all well aware of the value of our creatures having trample, but taking it away from everyone else is more likely to have impact on the game. Think about not having to worry (as much) about Craterhoof Behemoth coming down or Kessig Wolf Run being able to one-shot you with commander damage. Your survivability rate just went way up.

Similarly, Archetype of Imagination will bring many battles out of the skies. In blue, you’re probably playing a fair number of creatures with flying already, so the ability it grants is redundant. Making everyone else’s creatures earthbound subjects them all to things like Earthquake and Hammerfist Giant. Adding Gravitational Shift or Serra Aviary to Archetype of Imagination ensures that all your creatures are stronger than everyone else’s. Moat becomes even stronger than it already is.

There isn’t much room for growth with this mechanic. Because they have to have keyword abilities to work and there are a limited number of keyword abilities, they’ve already hit some kind of critical mass. Protection and lifelink are the two other abilities that jump to mind. Playing a Boros deck in which all my creatures have protection from red and no one else’s do would be sweeter than tea at Cracker Barrel.

Banned List Update

The official announcement is relatively short, so I’ll quote it:

It’s been almost a year since the banned list for Commander was altered, as we feel the format continues to grow, games are reasonably diverse where their players want them to be, and we want to keep the banned list as short as practical.

That said, there is one card that has drawn an increasing amount of ire over the past year. We feel Sylvan Primordial is causing far more problems than its contributions justify and that the format will be better off without it. It meets many of the heuristic markers for a banned card insofar as it invalidates many other creatures as search targets and causes arguments about whether its use is degenerate or reasonable. It can be easily accelerated into on turn 4 or 5 (before players are expected to have extensive defenses or threats online), at which point it turns a reasonable ramp deck into uninteresting games.

If the card were just big ramp, or just utility destruction, or just spot land destruction, it would likely be fine, but by combining both factors it becomes ubiquitous, frequently overwhelming, and repetitive. After some debate in previous seasons, the committee members all voted in favor of removing it from the format.

There are two important points here. First is that the entire committee voted to ban it. Second is the reason for the ban isn’t what many forum posters seem to think it is.

Last year I described the Rule Committee process in some detail. Briefly, once we’ve decided to vote on a card, we each cast a vote ranging from -2 (ban) to +2 (don’t ban/unban). Then, in the case of banning or unbanning, if the vote meets a particular threshold, the action carries. We trust each other to not metagame the process (I imagine that it’s possible) and vote exactly how we feel about a particular card. On this vote, every Committee member voted in the negative. We had a clear agreement that the card was unhealthy for the format.

The charge leveled in some of the commentary is that we banned it because people were complaining about it. That’s simply not the case. When people in sufficient numbers have something to say about a card, we’ll take a look. It would be pretty irresponsible not to. From there, however, our decision is driven by internal discussion and evaluation. The opinion of fans of the format matter to us a great deal, but the banning was in no way reactive. We discussed it because other people were discussing it. We banned it because it had become bad for Commander. The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. People complaining may be indirectly responsible (after all, it’s one of the ways we know that a card is becoming unhealthy) but is not directly responsible.

There also seems to be some misinterpretation about bannings being about the fleeting concept called "power level." There are no objective and quantitative methods for measuring a card’s power level. Even if there were, I doubt we would use them. With most cards, it’s not what they can do but what they actually do (Worldfire is an example of a card banned for what it can do since that can is "interact poorly with the format’s rules").

If no one played Sylvan Primordial, it wouldn’t have gotten banned. Cards get banned when they demonstrate to our satisfaction (or would that be lack of satisfaction?) their ability to repeatedly create undesirable game states. Sylvan Primordial without any doubt created that. Did it do it in every case? Of course not. Did it do it with undesirable frequency? We believe that it did.

As the announcement says, a combination of factors led to the ban. The two abilities together impacted how the card was played. If it simply destroyed things, players would have less incentive to play it early, instead saving it for when there are scarier things on the board. Because of the ramp ability, players had no reason to not play it. Ramp is always quite attractive, so if you have to do it at the expense of other players’ development so be it. If it were only ramp, it would be a niche card, like Seedguide Ash. It would get played but not in overwhelming numbers, and while resource acquisition and "too much mana too fast" is something we always keep an eye on, it simply wouldn’t create the same kind of oppressiveness that the dual effect did.

I’ll also address the idea that what happens in RC members’ local environments is what drives bans. While it’d be silly to ignore what we experience locally, it’s not the only factor. Cards don’t get banned because RC members lose to them. In fact, my personal experience with Sylvan Primordial hasn’t been particularly negative. We simply didn’t have players focusing on ramping into it on turn 4 or 5.

I think that my local players made a decision to play the card in a fashion that created a more positive experience for everyone. Sure, there were a few times that I saw it be oppressive early, but the majority of times I saw the card the use was a little more judicious. Nonetheless, I recognized what the card was doing elsewhere and listened to what the other members had to say, so it was easy to cast a negative vote for it.

I was surprised when I looked up which decks I had to take it out of. Thirteen of my 28 decks have green in them. I only had Sylvan Primordial in three. Removing it created an opportunity to put some Born of the Gods cards in those decks. Schoolwork (especially a crushingly difficult but rewarding Shakespeare course) has kept me from messing around with my decks as much as I like, so I haven’t done a complete BNG update for all of them, just the ones I took SP out of.

In Animar, I replaced Sylvan Primordial with Archetype of Endurance. Animar has a fair chance of casting it for less than 6GG, and gaining hexproof is quite useful (the deck has run Asceticism in the past for that very reason). I find that spot removal can easily upset some of the shenanigans the deck performs, and getting Animar stolen by the blue player is just frowns all around. It was the right spot.

When I took Sylvan Primordial out of Intet, the Dreamer (the full list below, continuing the trend of adding updated deck lists so that the latest version is in the database), I was tempted to put in Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. First, the deck is mana hungry. Second, it’s become my "play rough" deck. In the end, I decided I didn’t want to be that guy. I’d much rather win games where the other folks I’m playing with are operating full throttle. If it just so happens that I don’t win as many, that’s a fine tradeoff. I put in Courser of Kruphix since the deck has some top of the library control and I should be able to turn those lands into effectively card draw.

The only other deck I had it in was the newly rebuilt Adun Oakenshield. Because most of the creatures in the deck are there for utility instead of battle worthiness, I thought deathtouch might be an interesting ability to make them a little more dangerous, so I went with Archetype of Finality. We’ll see how it goes.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the topic before the ban and offered up well thought-out opinions afterward. Continued intelligent discourse and paying attention to what Commander’s core fan base has to say (even the dissenting opinions) are what will keep the format healthy well into the future.

(Hearing and) Embracing the Chaos,


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Dreaming of Intet
Sheldon Menery
0th Place at Test deck on 02-13-2014