Tag Archives: Game Theory

My Banned List

The Banned List. Never has a topic been so continuously debated on every forum dedicated to EDH. EDH uses the Legacy Banned list, but also adds its own cards. Ostensibly the three criteria for banning a card are:

  1. Its power level in multiplayer EDH is signficantly higher than both what’s expected for its mana cost AND it’s power level in other formats (due to different rules or game sizes).
  2. it’s dollar cost is prohibitive for most players and the card usually detracts from the playing experience of everyone in the game
  3. it belongs to a class of cards which can’t be consistantly interpreted by all players

(the above is from a very old post on

Also recently Sheldon Menery posted this:

1. We can’t ban every card someone finds offensive because the list would be too large.
1a. Banning Card B because Card A is already on the list isn’t a slippery slope, it’s an impending avalanche.
2. There is no 100% solution because card evaluation is subjective. Ergo, there will never be a player-base consensus list. In other words, no matter what the list looks like, there will be complainers.
3. “Power level” in and of itself is subjective, and not necessarily the only criteria for banning.
4. We will never publish an objective flowchart on how cards get banned because 1) it’s close to impossible and 2) a 0% win for us. We’ll endeavor to explain why a card gets banned based on which criteria we’ve used, to wit:
5. The two major things that will get a card banned are 1) it creates too much mana too early in the game (Tolarian Academy) and 2) it makes for bad games even when players aren’t trying to abuse it (Biorhythm).
5a. Individuals will interpret those two criteria differently.
6. Creating a “balanced” tournament environment is not a factor.
7. 1v1 play is not a factor.

Of particular interest to me is statement number 5 – especially part 2. Essentially it says “cards which ruin games will get banned.”

Now I’m not entirely convinced about the price argument. I know that the Rules Committee want EDH to be accessible – which is to say it would be tough to come up against a deck that goes “Land, Mox, Mox, Mana Crypt, General, go” – but that’s as much of a God Hand as you’re likely to get in Magical Christmas Land. In theory my Damia deck can go Land, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Signet, Signet, Signet and cast Damia next turn but that’s never happening either. If someone really wants to put their Mox Emerald in their EDH deck (a card which by itself is worth approximately any 5 of my decks), I say more power to them.

I mostly agree with the remainder of the reasons given. If I were on the Rules Committee (RC), I’d have criteria something similar – but not identical.

EDH is a format that is supposed to be broken – but equally importantly, if not more importantly, it’s supposed to be fun/casual/social. Doing broken entertaining stuff is fine; doing broken boring/unfun/antisocial stuff is not. It’s also supposed to be a format about variance; there is a 100-card, 1-of restriction for a VERY good reason. That’s not to say I’d ban tutors, but there are certain types of spells (notably buyback but others as well) which destroy this idea. My other main criteria for the banhammer is “cards that stop players from playing the game”. There’s a somewhat nebulous line in there somewhere, but what it boils down to is any card which bombs the game back to the stone age – most notably complete (and that word is important) boardwipes and total land destruction.

If I were on the Rules Committee (and several people are probably very glad that I’m not), this is what I’d do to the banned list.

Cards Currently on the Banned List That Would Stay There

  • Cards banned in Vintage (the complete list is here; they are the “Dexterity Cards”, Ante Cards, and Shahrazad)
  • Balance
  • Biorhythm (it’s not a social way to win; it requires virtually no setup)
  • Coalition Victory
  • Channel
  • Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
  • Fastbond
  • Karakas (has a pretty significant impact on the format)
  • Limited Resources
  • Metalworker
  • Recurring Nightmare (played properly, this is just Zombify with Buyback, except cheaper. See my comment about EDH being a 100 card, 1-of format)
  • Sway of the Stars
  • Time Vault (unlimited extra turns pretty much equals “not letting the other players play” in my book)
  • Tinker
  • Tolarian Academy
  • Upheaval
  • Yawgmoth’s Bargain

Now obviously there are a number of differences from the official banned list. I’ll discuss each of those in a second. But for now:

Cards Not On The Banned List That I Would Add

  • Sundering Titan. Possibly the most antisocial creature ever printed. Most arguments I’ve seen against it’s banning go something like “it keeps the ramp decks in check!” Bollocks. Most ramp decks are 1 or 2 colours, leaving the Titan to hit at least one other player. And it hits BASIC LANDS. This is not the kind of Land Destruction I would like to see in this format (thankfully no one in my playgroup plays this guy). Papa_funk, Rules Committee member, interestingly said recently that a card as “obviously antisocial” as Sundering Titan wouldn’t be banned because it is so obvious. The problem with that is, players are playing it; which would suggest it’s not so obvious to them. (To balance the karma here; he also said, in the same thread, “Doing broken things in the appropriate spirit is what attracts people to Commander and why it was created in the first place.” Of course his next sentence is “The banlist can only be used to steer people away from things that might unexpectedly wreck games played in the appropriate spirit, not stop people from doing antisocial things if they want to.” Which is interesting – they have banned Emrakul, and I don’t think that guy has ever unexpectedly wreck(ed) games. If Emmy deserves the Banhammer (and it does), so does this guy.
  • Iona, Shield of Emeria. Speaking of ruining games – yes, it’s hard for Iona to shut down an entire table. However, this gets the hammer from me for two reasons:
    1) She stops a player (or players) from playing the game. This is not a Good Thing(tm)
    2) I’m unbanning Painter’s Servant. If you can’t see the synergy there there’s no hope for you
  • Forbid and Spell Burst. These two break my reason for banning that applies to every other card on this list (see below) in that by themselves they’re pretty fair, and need help to be busted. However, this help is pretty easy to arrange and can result in an extremely unfun game for one player (at best) and the whole table (at worst)
  • Worldpurge. Up there with Sway of the Stars and Upheaval, except you can’t even float mana to take advantage of it yourself. I’ve played against guys who have Wildfired because they were behind, dragging everyone down to their level. I can see Worldpurge being used the same way.
  • Armageddon and Ravages of War. For exactly the same reason as above. “BUT!” I hear you cry “THE RAMP DECKS! They will be allowed to run rampant!!” (pun intended 😉 ). I have but one question for you: Who is most likely to recover from a land-wipe? The ramp deck.
  • Jokuhaups and Obliterate. More of the same.

There’s a bunch of similarities here; all of these cards drag down the game. Some cards (and I’ll get to this more in the “Cards I Would Unban” section, below) are completely and utterly broken in half – if you build your deck to abuse them that way. There are entire categories of cards that will win you the game on the spot if you resolve them and your deck is built “right” (Hermit Druid and Ad Nauseum, I’m looking at you) but they can be used for fun and profit too (if I had a Hermit Druid, he’d go STRAIGHT into my Savra deck as way to fill up the graveyard). None of the cards above (with the VERY SLIM possibility of Forbid and Spell Burst), can be used fairly and the simple fact is they are antisocial as printed.

There are also a fairly large number of spells which are similar (for example, but far from limited to Razia’s Purification, Cataclysm, Constant Mists) but just different enough that I don’t think they’re banworthy. That list is very long indeed, and I think it’s this that Sheldon alludes to as “the avalanche” in his quote up there near the top of this post.

Cards I Would Unban (and Why)

Welp, let’s get the bigs ones out of the way first:

  • The Power 8 (all of em) I don’t think being “the best at what I do” is reason for banning, neither do I think (for reasons stated above) dollar value should set a precedent for banning. I do think fast mana needs to be carefully watched and for that reason Black Lotus is AWFULLY close to staying banned, but the moxes can be favourably compared to Sol ring (makes one more mana than it costs). Yes, there are OBVIOUS differences, the two most obvious being zero-cost and taps for colour. Would these go into every deck that can run them? Sure. Will that lead to degenerate games? Occasionally yes. But most of the time, topdecking Mox Emerald on turn 10 is every bit as bad as topdecking Sol Ring on turn 10.
  • Gifts Ungiven. This card has the dubious honour of being the only card I’ve put into an EDH deck because I didn’t know it was banned. This (and the next entry, and to be honest most of the rest of this particular list) are easily breakable – if you set out to do so. I had no intention of doing so, and in fact had put my copy into a terrible U/B Szadek mill deck. It was fun, and I used it as such.
  • Protean Hulk. I love this guy. He just has value written all over him. Anything that makes your opponent really have to choose between killing it, or trying to deal with whatever he can come out with, is all good in my book. Again, you can break this if you try. I don’t believe you can accidentally break it – you have to set out to do so.
  • Painter’s Servant. With my ban of Iona, this becomes a much more interesting card. Yes, it creates a hostile environment for creatures in a Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck. EDH is already a creature-hostile format. A Wrath will kill Teysa, the Servant, and all the tokens. Likewise with Grindstone; if you’re putting Painter’s Servant and Grindstone together in a deck you already know you’re a douche… Leyline of the Void + Helm of Obedience is legal, and I don’t see those played either.
  • Staff of Domination. Infinite mana combo with any creature that taps for 5 mana (typically Rofellos). With infinite mana comes infinite life and infinite card draw. So I play this and then win the game? Well, no. First you have to have a creatures that taps for five mana in one go. Then you have to have the Staff. Then you have to “go off” (admittedly Krosan Grip is the only way to truly “interrupt” this process). Then you have to win, as the Staff doesn’t provide you with a win con of it’s own. I admit this is pretty close to the line as far as power goes, but infinite life isn’t the be all and end all of EDH games.
  • Panoptic Mirror. Listen, I know how good this is, especially with extra turn effects. Again, if you’re the one doing that, you’re not doing it accidentally. You could do a lot of fun things with this card.
  • Library of Alexandria. Yes, this goes into every deck that can conceivably run it. Chances are if it’s not in your opening seven, it’s a land that taps for colourless mana. People better at the Magics than me have tested this and declared it broken and ban-worthy; perhaps it is, but I just don’t see it.
  • Kokusho, the Evening Star. With Recurring Nightmare still on the list, I think this guy deserves to come off. This has been debated ENDLESSLY on the EDH forums and I don’t plan to debate it here again. However:

Cards I Would Ban As General

  • Kokusho, the Evening Star. No point making him too easy to get, now is there? 😛

Now, it’s late and I’m sure to have missed something; I reserve the right to edit this post at any time (although I promise to indicate when I have done so.) That’s my banlist. Comments?


Posted by on May 20, 2012 in EDH/Commander


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The Social Contract: Build well, or Play well?

There’s a member of our playgroup who’s philosophy when it comes to EDH is (or was, and I haven’t heard him say otherwise) “If you’re going to do a thing, do it as best as you can. If you’re going to make a Green ramp deck, make it the best ramp deck. If you’re building Mono-Black control, make the best Mono-Black control you can.” On the surface, this sounds like a pretty typical Spikey statement, and normally one I’d be against, as far as the “Spirit of EDH” goes (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). However, this same guy recently (Edit: Well, it was recently when I started this article…) disassembled his Azusa deck so he could make Seshiro – the best Seshiro deck he could make.

Which led me to a thought – is it better to build top-grade decks, and play them according to the level of your opposition, or build sub-optimal (or janky, or techy, or themed, or fun, depending on your definition) and play them as well as the deck allows?

I put this question to the fine gentleman above and his answer was play as best the deck allows you to – he said he hates it when a player has the opportunity to take out the game but doesn’t. I understand that opinion but I think there’s also a danger there – if you build the best <type x> deck possible, and play it to the best of the deck’s capabilty, you better watch out what <type x> is. If your deck is “BUG Goodstuff”, chances are you’ll be winning a lot of games; but again is EDH really about winning games? The Seshiro deck above doesn’t win very often, but it’s a fun deck to play against, and it certainly looks like a fun deck to play – and in this writer’s opinion (how many tenses and viewpoints can I cram into one blog post anyway??) fun is the ultimate objective of a game of EDH.

What side of the question do I come down on? I’m firmly on the “play as well as you can” side – but my decks, generally speaking, are on the far side of the Jank River, down by Weak Theme Bend, and some of them would struggle to fight their way out of a wet paper bag 🙂

I can, however, see the appeal to building a really good deck, and holding back on playing it, depending on board position, quality of players, quality of decks. It would be a pretty good ego boost, for one thing: I know I can take you out (even if you don’t), but I’m allowing you to live.

Most of the time though, I enjoy putting the off-beat, rarely seen cards into my decks, and simply seeing where they take me. So far I’m enjoying the ride, even if I’m not winning as many games as I “should”. However many that is.

Where do all y’all patient, faithful readers come? Do you build good decks? Not so good decks but play them well? Both? Neither?


Posted by on April 29, 2012 in EDH/Commander


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Prison Rules, EDH, and having a good time (ooh err)

There’s been a bit of discussion lately in our playgroup, and in the wider community about how Commander “should” be played, and whether certain lines of play are appropriate to the format. In particular, whether it’s socially acceptable to take another player out early, or to focus on one player to the exclusion of the other players in the game. This came up partly, but I should point out not only, because of the game I reported on last week, in which one player was taken out very early (turn 6 or so) but the rest of the game took around an hour. In our group we call this “Prison Rules” for reasons which I hope are reasonably clear to the audience…

The question is, is this an OK way to play? I’ve since been told that my Omnath deck isn’t fun to play against, purely because it focuses on one player until they die, then moves on to the next, instead of spreading the damage around, like most of my other decks do. I can understand that; if you’re the first one to be chosen* then you definitely run the risk of sitting on the sidelines for a long time watching the others, and of course that’s not fun.

(*for whatever reason – I’d like to point out that I usually attack the strongest player, while in last week’s game the Omnath player, who wasn’t me, chose the weakest player simply because Omnath killed him off immediately. At that point the other two remaining players tried – unsuccessfully, in the end – to take Omnath down.)

Thinking some more about the way Omnath plays led me to the conclusion that all General Damage based decks must play that way; if I hit all 3 players at the table with my General, and they’re all another hit away from dying to it, of course they’re all going to come after me! In that case, it simply makes sense to take out as many players as quickly as you can, in order to give them the least chance to retaliate. This is how I built Omnath – when it’s running good it kills one player per turn until the game ends (this is almost how it worked last week – it killed all three players in a single hit, and the last two in consecutive turns, but there was a big gap between the first kill and the second).

EDH is, first and foremost, a casual format. “Graveborn Muse” over on, opined that casual means:

Casual Magic means you care about how much fun your opponents are having.

Now that is a definition I agree with 100%, and the comment that my Omnath deck isn’t fun to play against has got me thinking that maybe I need to take it apart and rebuild something else – although personally I did have fun playing against it, as I desperately tried (and almost succeeded) to stop a 400+ power monster from running me over.

So the question for the day (500 words in!) is this:

Does focussing on one player mean that you are not playing socially?

Like virtually everything in life, I would say “it depends”. There are times where it’s obviously the correct thing to be doing; you have a board full of dragons, and That Guy Over There has a Pernicious Deed in play, with 5 mana currently available. You’re going to lose your team unless you take him out (or down) before he untaps; I believe you should attack him while the attacking’s good (and then make a deal with him to not blow the Deed while you attack other people, a point on which I’ve already discovered I differ from the most of the rest of my group; they’d rather force the Deed and rebuild on their own turn).

However, if you’re attacking the same guy again and again simply because he’s open, while it may be the smart thing to do from a winning-the-game perspective, it is almost certainly affecting his enjoyment of the game, and maybe you should hold off and let them play for a while. Yes, that drags the games out. But (and I’m sure I’ve said this before) aren’t we here to play the game? The best play in a sanctioned Magic tournament is not always the right play in an EDH game. (Notice the difference between “best” and “right” here). Having said that, if two players in the game are enjoying beating on each other as hard as they can (say for example, Terastodonning 12 lands from the same player…..) then go for it!

Now I’m not saying “don’t take out the threat” or “well, maybe I’ll just sit back and watch everyone else play then” either – you have to be enjoying yourself as much as the others around the table – but what I am saying is that we’re playing a non-sanctioned format, around a kitchen table (or equivalent), for fun and kicks.

Is there a place for so-called tight play in EDH? Yeah, I think so – but only if the rest of the table agrees. In the future I’ll be taking a look around the table and seeing who I’m playing against (both players and decks), and then select a deck accordingly – if I’m up against Kiku, Sisay, and Progenitus, then I’ll bust out a “good” deck. If I’m playing against Cat-Lady Sisay, 5-colour Angels, and Hazezon Tamar, then maybe I’ll shoot for Mayael, or Garza Zol, or Tolsimir, decks which are entirely capable of taking out a game, but in a much less focussed way.

At the end of the day (and, thank goodness, approaching the end of this article!) EDH is about having fun. Nobody should be stressing about should I be making this play or that play – we’re here to have fun (I hope!) and if you’re spending too much time worrying about the meta-meta-game (which is what this has been all about!) you’re probably thinking too hard 😀 EDH is (in theory) about haymakers and crazy plays, and focussing on one player, or more precisely the type of play that leads to focussing on one player, almost inevitably leads to the opposite kind of game. Think Big! Do Dumb Things! Enjoy Yourself!


Posted by on January 9, 2012 in EDH/Commander


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