Should Orcish Bowmasters Be Banned In Commander?

Orcish Bowmasters just dodged a ban in Commander. But was it the right call? Chase Carroll, self-admitted Hullbreacher fan, gives their take.

Orcish Bowmasters, illustrated by Maxim Kostin


Happy brewing, deckbuilders.

Orcish Bowmasters

Okay, but for real, let’s talk about the card that’s on every Magic player’s mind. When Orcish Bowmasters was first previewed, the Magic community was set ablaze. People were immediately comparing it to my favorite banned card, Hullbreacher. There were cries for it to be banned, and in fact, we are still hearing those cries. But are the fears of the community warranted? 

Criteria for a Commander Banning

As someone who is very much ingrained in the online Magic community and creator space, I often find myself getting stuck in the echo chamber of opinions. Every preview season, there’s always that one card that makes Magic players think that the sky is falling. Kaldheim had Tergrid, God of Fright. For Streets of New Capenna, it was a combination of Bootlegger’s Stash and Lord Xander, the Collector. In Phyrexia: All Will Be One, it was Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. Jeweled Lotus. Sol Ring. Opposition Agent. Nyxbloom Ancient. How many of these cards are banned in Commander?

What I’m trying to say is that, just because social media continues to focus on one card possibly being unhealthy, that doesn’t actually mean it is unhealthy. So what makes a card unhealthy? Well, I love to refer to Sheldon Menery’s article about what makes a card bannable. 

Sheldon Says

Having a single attribute might get a card banned if it does that thing to an extreme degree.  A card that does multiple things on the list is an even greater candidate.  Remember, these are cards that can easily or excessively do the following:

  • Cause severe resource imbalances
  • Allow players to win out of nowhere
  • Prevent players from contributing to the game in a meaningful way
  • Cause other players to feel they must play certain cards, even though they are also problematic
  • Are very difficult for other players to interact with, especially if doing so requires dedicated, narrow responses when deckbuilding
  • Interact poorly with the multiplayer nature of the format or the specific rules of Commander
  • Lead to repetitive gameplay

Doing too much for one player:

  • Doing too much to an opponent
  • Overcentralizing the game
  • Creating what we and many players believe lead to poor quality experiences for the broadest part of the player base

I consider this list to be my gold standard when analyzing cards. There are dozens of Magic cards that create scary situations that just don’t necessarily meet these criteria. While it is important to listen to the community, it’s also important to not lose sight of what makes a card truly ban-worthy. 

The Hullbreacher Comparison

With these criteria firmly in mind, let’s take Orcish Bowmasters and directly compare it to…well, a card that it is heavily compared to, Hullbreacher. Hullbreacher just so happens to be a banned card in Commander, which makes this little exercise incredibly fun and powerful. Like the Bowmasters, Hullbreacher has flash, meaning it can be cast at instant speed. Both cards can be cast in response to a big card draw spell like a Wheel of Fortune or something as small as an Opt. The mana value difference is one, though in games of Commander, the difference between two and three mana can be negligible. 


So with all these similarities, what are the differences between these two cards? Well, Hullbreacher is all about the denial or theft of resources. It denies your opponent’s draws and instead gives you Treasure tokens based on the amount they would have drawn (minus the first one they draw in their draw steps). It is a gluttonous card, taking everything and giving you everything. Further, it meets quite a few of the criteria above. It caused severe resource imbalances, led to repetitive gameplay, prevented people from contributing to the game, and often allowed people to win out of nowhere.

(It’s me, I’m people. I abused the hell out of Hullbreacher in my The Locust God deck. It broke my heart to see it banned, even though it was justified.)

Bowmasters, by Contrast

Orcish Bowmasters lives in a different realm. Rather than denying people resources, Bowmasters makes people weigh their need for those resources. When you flash the Bowmasters in, people are still able to draw their cards. However, you create a rather large Orc Army and ping incrementally. The damage can definitely stack up, but there is an opportunity for an opponent to respond to each Bowmasters trigger. Someone can still come up with an answer.

Notion Thief

When you have pieces like Hullbreacher and the slightly less annoying Notion Thief out, it can be harder to come up with a response. Hullbreacher was almost impossible to deal with (another criterion), whereas Bowmasters is a lot easier to interact with, as it doesn’t prevent you from drawing a possible answer. 

Why the Buzz?

So why has Orcish Bowmasters created such a buzz? Well, despite the fact that it’s preview season, I can understand why people are being so vocal about the Bowmasters. Draw effects are prevalent in Commander. Pieces like Rhystic Study, Mystic Remora, Esper Sentinel, and Wheel effects are commonplace. In the right pod, Bowmasters can do some ridiculous amounts of damage one at a time. I’ve seen some worry even come from the cEDH community about how this card will impact the format.

Over the weekend at SCG CON Baltimore, one of my friends asked to borrow two of the three Bowmasters I pulled to slot into his Legacy deck. The flexibility of this card is what makes it so scary, so buzzworthy. It can be powerful in any format.

So what now? Well, a few days ago, the Commander Rules Committee (RC) released their quarterly update, notifying the community that they will be observing Bowmasters and the community’s discussions about the card as it is played and integrated into the format.

We find ourselves lucky to have a committee that listens to the community. The card has only been out in the wild for a total of five days. It hasn’t really had a chance to breathe and intermingle with the meta. It needs time to either validate or prove our fears wrong. Could this be another Opposition Agent situation or a Hullbreacher? Only time will tell.

Bowmasters and Time

So do I think Orcish Bowmasters should be banned? I don’t think so, but then again, I used to be in denial about Hullbreacher. It’s important to be critical of cards, and to voice our opinions as a community. How else can the format get healthy? How else can the designers at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) learn? Regardless of whether a card is banned in Commander or not, we have learned and even gained something.

Let me know if you’ve come across Orcish Bowmasters in any of your games and what your thoughts are about it. Happy Bowmastering, deckbuilders!