There Ought To Be A Law: Some Cards Are No Good For Commander

On the topic of Commander, Mark Nestico quietly and humbly submits that certain cards are detrimental to the format. Well, perhaps not humbly. And on second thought, certainly not quietly…

So we’re told Competitive Commander isn’t the kind of format that warrants support. It’s a battlecruiser format or something along those lines. Long matches. Lots of flashy spells. Bizarre interactions. They’re not in the business of creating memories and instead are trying to encourage forgettable games.

If that’s true, then why does every Commander precon come complete with Sol Ring?

Checkmate, Commander Atheists.

With all the talk of Modern bannings and unbannings (aka the curious case of why Jace, the Mind Sculptor should never be unbanned and Bloodbraid Elf cascading into Kolaghan’s Command sounds like a ton of fun until it happens to you), I decided I wanted to talk about some cards that are on the cEDH radar for potentially being stripped of…you know…their ability to exist.

This isn’t so much a plea to Sheldon Menery, because Sheldon and the rules committee cabal that he oversees – likely while wearing some hooded robe while chanting in a dimly lit room filled with candles and blood sacrifices – have made it quite clear that Commander played from a competitive standpoint isn’t really their bag. Imagine my feelings when I’m just a boy trying to have fun without being too competitive, but also without playing the equivalent of the two-hour-long game of Sock’em Boppers that inevitably ends with a player casting Warp World for 32 and me openly weeping about how few creatures I’m playing. He discusses a multitude of cards in his latest article, but I don’t think there’s enough gravity in talking about some of them, and others are ignored entirely.

The following cards I want to bring to the forefront, I believe, affect both casual and competitive Commander players in such a way that giving them more scrutiny could be beneficial to our respective camps. They are cards in particular that cannot be played, most of the time, without having a negative impact on experiences or game states, and regardless of malicious or benevolent intentions, it’s nigh-impossible to play these cards in a kind fashion.

Sol Ring and Mana Crypt: Why Freedom Ain’t Free

I want you to think about a game of Commander that you and your friends were playing. Everyone shuffles up. Everyone cuts the person’s deck across from them. Your pal on the left opens up with Sol Ring into Dimir Signet. The table groans. That person is now the archenemy, and if they don’t go off way too early and kill the group around Turn 4, the match is instead warped into a grotesque circumstance of “everyone turn your attention to them, please” or you’ll all die horrible deaths. So there are now three people scurrying to pool enough resources to stop the egregious offender who Cast a Turn 1 Sol Ring or Mana Crypt, and one player who is simply playing the cards they put in their deck and feels like they’re being targeted. Everyone is a victim. After all, we’re millennials and that’s kind of our thing.

But seriously, Sol Ring and Mana Crypt are cards that have already been banned in 1v1 Commander, or French Rules as they are commonly referred to, and with good reason. Many, many games of Commander devolve into mana-based arms races to see who can ramp the fastest.

These cards seem to find themselves in decks as automatic inclusions, given their nonexistent cost coupled with the percentage points of victory you gain when they are cast on-curve. Commander is a format where spell power is volatile and very high, and your odds of winning increase exponentially the sooner you are capable of casting big spells or irrevocably damaging creatures to the battlefield.

My greatest issue with artifacts like Sol Ring or Mana Crypt is they detract from the slots you could be dedicating to more interesting cards. Sure, you could just build your deck without them, but how much good is that going to do you in a world where 99.9% of your competition are packing these accelerators? How much fun are you going to have knowing they can outrun you before you get your best cards online?

In any scenario, I worry more for their automatic addition to nearly any deck without consequence as a reason to bench them. Sometimes shaking up a format by exiling iconic cards helps breed creativity in deckbuilding and gives those who watch over it time to see if the format is healthier without them.

Paradox Engine: The Worst Artifact Ever Printed for Commander

I kept a hand today with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca that had absolutely no land in it. Instead, I cast a Turn 1 Mana Crypt into a Simic Signet, a Turn 2 Birds of Paradise followed by Dramatic Reversal which let me cast a Llanowar Elves, and then on Turn 3 I cast Paradox Engine.

From there I won extremely easily, because each spell generated mana. I was able to play out my hand and my commander, draw a ton of cards, and add even more mana. On my Turn 5 I had an unnecessary amount of creatures on the battlefield and cards in my hand, and that was all she wrote.

None of that is possible without Paradox Engine.

When I first came back to Magic about seven months ago, I checked the forums to get some inspiration for a deck or two to get the creative juices flowing. What I didn’t expect to find was “Paradox Sisay,” “Paradox Arcum Dagsson,” “Paradox Ephara,” “Paradox Kruphix,” “Paradox Breya,” and “Paradox YouGetTheIdea.”

I clicked on Paradox Engine to get the gist of it, and did not, for the life of me, understand how this card was not already banned. Prebanned. This card should never, ever have seen the light of day when it comes to Commander.

Paradox Engine does nothing positive for a game. Period.

Paradox Engine makes a single turn take upwards of five to ten minutes, and you can easily find yourself losing interest in a game the minute someone starts “going off” with it on the battlefield. It generates mana, helps you draw cards, and extract as much value as you possibly can when you cast anything. In Commander, this card is so cartoonishly simple to exploit that no matter what style you are playing, it’s not going to be fun. I once played against a fun Elf-based Commander deck that used Wirewood Channeler in conjunction with Paradox Engine to generate nearly infinite mana and then cast Genesis Wave for almost their entire library. This was a fun deck. This was “watch me win with Wirewood Hivemaster and all my buggies.” This was “oops, I put my whole library onto the battlefield, hey, thanks, Paradox Engine.”

There are certain cards like Paradox Engine that don’t care about what kind of game you want to have. It is an artifact incapable of differentiating between fun games between friends and cutthroat pods with huge prizes on the line. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re casting this, you’re going to accidentally do increasingly broken things as your turn progresses. Your mana rocks or mana creatures turn into infinity stones and power out insane finishes that will either win you the game or put the match so far out of reach of your opponents that they might scoop. I’ve seen more tables pack it up to this card in five months than I ever saw playing Commander in five years. Remember when Kokusho, the Evening Star was banned? Ha! We’ve come so far.

Erayo, Soratami Ascendant was once banned because, even though it was very problematic in competitive play (which they admitted they don’t consider), it was “miserable to play against at all levels.” If that isn’t a damning reason to get rid of Paradox Engine, I don’t know what is.

Cyclonic Rift: Overloading the Table with Sadness and Anger

When I was twelve years old, the day before my birthday I busted my right wrist. It was awful and super-painful, and I can still remember the crack it made with clarity. What’s worse is that I had a huge party planned for the weekend with all of my friends coming over. We were going to play Twisted Metal 3, which you can’t do with a broken wrist on your dominant hand. We were going to play Wall-Ball, which you can’t do with a broken wrist on your throwing arm.

The story gets worse.

On my actual birthday, a Friday – the day I ventured into the teens – a friend of mine who didn’t see that I had a busted wrist went to toss me a book that I couldn’t possibly catch. It hit my wrapped-up hand and broke three of my fingers. The school nurse thought I was messing with her. My mother had to come pick me up and take me back to the hospital, where they also thought I was messing with them.

I wasn’t.

They had to give me a new cast that covered my forearm, wrist, and fingers. It would be weeks before I was free, and I would have to shower with a trash bag covering my cast. I felt like the most unlucky kid on the planet. The party still happened, by the way. There was cake and pizza and Mountain Dew. About ten or eleven kids piled into my house and had the time of their lives. Good for them. I just kind of watched.

If it came down to having to relive that terrible, no-good weekend over and over again like some sort of hellscape of Sisyphean torment or having my opponents cast an overloaded Cyclonic Rift against me, I would choose the broken wrist every time.

Without a doubt, there is no fun way to play Cyclonic Rift. The most common argument I hear for this card is “just don’t put it in your deck.” Sure, mate. No problem. I won’t. But that won’t stop the other people from putting it in theirs, and guess what – they will.

A quick EDHrec search will show you that across casual, competitive, budget, expensive, or any Commander format, Cyclonic Rift holds the largest share of slots, clocking in at 52% representation in around 120,000 registered decks. Two of the most iconic, if not the most iconic blue spells in history, Counterspell and Brainstorm, are numbers two and three at 40% and 28%. That means Cyclonic Rift is played in more decks than two of the most powerful Magic cards ever printed in their respective color.

A couple of weeks ago I ran a Twitter and Facebook poll about Commander questions to ask, and the overwhelming response wasn’t about barrier of entry, card costs, or to review decklists or talk about card choices. Instead it was people asking why Cyclonic Rift hasn’t been removed from Commander. Even Emma Handy weighed in as to how unfun Rift is.

Much like Paradox Engine, Cyclonic Rift is a near auto-inclusion of a card in any deck playing blue, as is evidenced from the previously provided statistic. Once cast with Overload, Cyclonic Rift sends your opponents back to the Stone Age with nothing but lands to work with. This clears the way for whoever cast it to attack for lethal with their creatures or essentially impose their will on the pod as they see fit. There is nothing fun about having 100% of your nonland permanents returned to your hand and watching someone play Magic while you attempt to undo the turns’ worth of damage a single Cyclonic Rift can do. This is all assuming your opponent won’t bring it back with something like Eternal Witness.

At this point, Cyclonic Rift feels like an arms race that makes Commander less fun. I could exclude it from my blue lists, but I keep it as a deterrent in case they cast it first and I need to achieve parity. Should Commander break down into essentially the Cuban Missile Crisis with us pointing devastating weapons at each other while daring the other to blink?

Embrace Change: Tell Me That You Hate Me in the Comments

I’m no stranger to the next part. Some of you will no doubt be chomping at the bit to flex on me in the comment section:

  • “Why do people want to ban my favorite card?”
  • “Get a new playgroup, scrub.”
  • “If you don’t like it, don’t play it.”
  • “Extremely long-winded explanation of why I’m wrong and these cards are fine.”
  • “Idiot writer trying to ruin my favorite format.”
  • “Can’t we just leave things alone?”

…or some iteration of one of the above statements. I expect all of it, some of it, or worse.

No matter how you feel, sound off. If I’m wrong, tell me why. If you agree, tell me why. I only want to see my favorite format get better and become less homogenized.

Oh, and Demonic Tutor. Get rid of that thing, too.