My suggestion today is simple. Instead of Commander adhering to the Vintage banned list plus others, it should adhere to the Legacy banned list plus others. Now, both the Commander rules committee and WotC clearly disagree with me, so this isn’t happening soon. If your playgroup is starting to embrace the new format, however, I’d suggest adopting the Legacy+Commander banned list for the following reasons/opinions.
I did not sign up for a casual format so I could play a tournament one. Yet the cards considered too good for the most-played Eternal format are running around Commander as staples! Commander decklists start with Vintage-level fast mana in the same way that Vintage decklists start with the Power 9, and those cards bring similar consistency in their respective formats.
It’s easy to say that having 100 cards and a multiplayer format effectively limits the power of any one card. I have yet to see it happen personally, and while that’s not controlling, there are plenty of 2- and 3-player Commander games that don’t have the traditional balance of multiplayer for having too few players (in the former’s case definitionally so). At that point you’re playing close to 100-card Vintage singleton which, given Vintage’s restricted list, is like playing Vintage with a few extra Timmy cards. (And yes, Commander has its own banned list, but those cards are primarily because they’re unfair in multiplayer, which rules out what I’m talking about here.)
Vintage, Legacy, and Commander all ban the same 12 cards, the ante/dexterity/subgame group. Those aside, by my count Vintage restricts 43 cards, Legacy bans 49…and Commander bans or de-commanders 34. Take that in for a moment. Vintage is concerned about the power level of more cards than Commander is. You want to know why pros and other Spikes embraced/engulfed a casual format? It isn’t because of Muse Vessel readers adapting WotC preconstructs. It’s because they get to play all these broken cards that the other formats frown on! I am aware I’m painting broadly and rantingly and that ultimately I can’t speak for them. But time and again, in every format, Spikes are drawn primarily to power, and the power considered too heinous for Legacy flows freely in Commander because it’s a slower and supposedly clunkier format.
If aggro didn’t exist in Legacy, it wouldn’t matter if Legacy slowed down. Since the aggro of Legacy can’t exist in Commander, the extra turns for everyone to develop slow the game down literally but not practically. If everyone gets 3-5 turns and then all manner of broken and disgusting things happen, that’s a Legacy game with multiple players, 40 life, and suspend. That’s not a casual format; they shouldn’t even sniff each other in terms of gameplay, and adding the Legacy banned list would be a great start to fixing that.
Why not the Vintage restricted list? Two primary reasons: 1) Legacy is a sufficiently thriving format to where WotC actively monitors the banned list, as opposed to Vintage which few are even playing competitively; and 2) the non-artifact Power 9 residing in blue means a large portion of the Vintage restricted list penalizes blue, a problem that doesn’t exist in Commander.
So with my heated opinions out of the way, what would adding the Legacy banned list change? Not as much as you’d think, but its changes would be significant. Read-walk with me through the 61 pariahs of Legacy to see the changes. Of those 61, what’s the same on the Legacy and Commander lists?
12 ante/dexterity/subgame cards and the Power 9 – I.e. the 21 cards you’d expect to be here.
Balance – I don’t think anyone opposes this being on the list.
Channel – King of fast green mana made even better in a 40-life format.
Fastbond – Queen of fast green mana made even better in a 40-life format (though not as strikingly as with Channel).
Library of Alexandria – Perfectly defensible.
Time Vault – Not only can you do ridiculous things with it, its Oracle wording has changed so often that the card ought not get played for confusion’s sake.
Tinker – I shouldn’t have to explain.
Tolarian Academy – See Tinker, both for explanation and reason it’s banned.
Yawgmoth’s Bargain – Made even better in a 40-life format.
So Legacy’s 49 Vintage-legal banned cards have 17 in common with Commander already. We’re adding 32 cards to a theoretical Commander banned list. What I want to show through this list is that its cards aren’t banned by and large for being problems specifically in multiples. Multiples increase the odds you find them, but so do tutors, and the decreased speed of Commander means you have enough turns to “waste” on tutoring, where Legacy doesn’t. It comes out in the wash more times than it would seem in the abstract.
Here are Legacy’s unholy 32:
Bazaar of Baghdad – I haven’t seen this played in Commander, but that’s probably more about availability than anything. A land that gives you two new cards, regardless of what else you do with it, is all kinds of ridiculous.
Black Vise – It’s oppressive in duels but not in Commander since it involves only one opponent. It’s probably nonthreatening.
Demonic Consultation – Are there U/B decks trying to win with Laboratory Maniac? If so, maybe this is a problem. I’m just unfamiliar with the play in this card’s joints.
Demonic Tutor – Kick it to the curb. Yes, you only have 1 in Commander. Also yes, the expanded size of your deck gives you a much bigger toolbox to play with, and it’s not like Demonic Tutor is ever your only tutor in the first place.
Earthcraft – It takes very little support to make this absurdly powerful. At least it says basic land…
Flash – Does this get played in Commander? Protean Hulk is banned, so the biggest worry here is gone.
Frantic Search – Probably takes a specialized deck in Commander, but I can certainly see worrisome power levels. I think it’s normally eclipsed in the format, but that’s more preference and love of The Big Play than anything else.
Goblin Recruiter – Is it because Goblins aren’t considered a problem in Commander that an effect this powerful isn’t banned? You can abuse this card 17 ways to Sunday.
Gush – Not a problem in Commander.
Hermit Druid – It’s been on the Commander chopping block occasionally, and many a player would agree with banning it. You could do an odd combo with it and Goblin Recruiter, I guess…
Imperial Seal – Obviously powerful, but too scarce and pricey for me to be concerned.
Land Tax – I think this one’s borderline, but I’d prefer a format where this wasn’t around. It always feels quite cheaty when it’s out.
Mana Crypt – It’s banned in a 20-life format. It ought to be banned in a 40-life format.
Mana Drain – Price/scarcity make this one probably a moot point.
Mana Vault – See Mana Crypt.
Memory Jar – As an artifact with an immediate and powerful sacrifice effect (therefore dodging a lot of hate), the potential ubiquity makes me suspicious of it.
Mental Misstep – This would be odd to ban.
Mind Twist – So would this.
Mind’s Desire – I’ve faced a deck with consistent turn-6 storm kills thanks to this card. It was pointless facing it. It’s not pointless banning it.
Mishra’s Workshop – It taps for 3 mana that you can spend only on…well, basically more ridiculous mana acceleration. Certainly banworthy, though its costing over $300 makes this less of a point in non-proxy groups.
Mystical Tutor – The card type restriction makes it probably fine v. Demonic Tutor, but I have no problem banning it.
Necropotence – Why isn’t this one banned in Commander? Is it the lack of discardability that supposedly balances this one out? I genuinely don’t understand why this has been allowed to stay.
Oath of Druids – Another one that surprises me.
Skullclamp – How many decks make 1/1s easily? A lot of them, more than Legacy anyway. This card is ridiculous, it’s always been ridiculous, and it ought to be flung to the far reaches of space. And, unlike the other cards on this list, I’ve enjoyed making Skullclamp decks in the past. I sympathize with the appeal. But it’s ridiculous.
Sol Ring – You know what I think.
Strip Mine – This one probably does more good than harm in Commander, although recursion engines make it close.
Survival of the Fittest – Yep. Ban. Easy. Next!
Vampiric Tutor – Black shouldn’t be a color to play in Commander simply because it has awesome tutors. It’s a running theme on the Legacy banned list, and Commander should get the hint.
Wheel of Fortune – Probably fine; certainly balances red for Commander better than the other cards on this list balance their colors. (The tutors unbalance their colors the opposite direction.)
Windfall – In a Commander preconstruct, it’s about the same power level as Wheel of Fortune and is also probably fine.
Worldgorger Dragon – Recently unbanned in Commander. Although I don’t think anyone’s worried about it, it’s not like anyone’s investment is shattered by having it rebanned after a few months of playtime.
Yawgmoth’s Will – This is another I simply don’t have experience with. The exiling might balance it in Commander, but I can’t say for sure.
The majority of these cards are the ones that annoy me the most about playing Commander, and I don’t think it should paint me as a complainer to say that cards already banned in an Eternal format should be banned in another Eternal format. You’d lose a couple fine cards by observing the Legacy banned list, but few of them are esssential to any deck’s functioning, whereas the bad seeds on this list are often considered essential to every deck’s functioning thanks to them being mana artifacts or tutors. Besides, using the Legacy list as opposed to house rules takes the weight and power of research out of the hands of personal views or “well I saw this one game”itis that makes good evaluation difficult as it is.
Maybe it was the way in which I wrote this article, but I’m now strongly on the side of using the Legacy banned list as the base of Commander bannings instead of the Vintage one. I think it’s the cleanest way to get the format closer to a casual one – just take out the things you couldn’t play in tournaments and voila! If I wanted to play Vintage or Legacy, I’d spend the money there and at least maybe win some prizes instead of making sure my casual decks are as sleek as tournament decks but with more broken cards. As mentioned, the powers that be disagree with me, but they at this point would have a hard time telling the pros who helped promote the format that they were promoting a game intended to be more casual than they’re playing it.
But from this inveterate casual player’s perspective, banning these 32 cards would improve the health of the format not only from de-stapling it but also from giving newer players better access to it. Looking back, I think the cards on this list have been my principal problem with playing Commander outside my playgroup (which is fairly healthy in its metagame). The format isn’t about me, but I’m also not picking cards out of thin air to ban; I’m picking banned cards to ban. Why not ban the banned cards?