I know I’m a tad late with this article but I kept changing my views on the bans and how I wanted to structure this article. After driving myself crazy for a solid week a half I decided to simply toss my thoughts onto a piece of virtual paper and see if anyone cares.
For the first time in over two years, we have amendments to the EDH ban list, Iona, Shield of Emeria and Paradox Engine were both banned while the color-tastic scarecrow himself, Painter’s Servant reentered the fray. In addition to these changes to the banlist, we received an updated philosophy document on the Rules Committee’s views on the format moving forward.
I knew I had some issues with the bannings, some detail or implication simply didn’t feel right. As I considered the cards that were banned/unbanned I realized I don’t have much of an issue with the cards themselves. Iona wasn’t pleasant to play against and does not affect the entire table equally. Conversely, cards like Winter Orb effect everyone including the caster, even if the stax player has a way of breaking parity it forces everyone onto an even playing field. Additionally, there are ways of playing around most stax effects however, if Iona names the one color of a mono-colored deck that player has been rendered a glorified spectator. My point here is banning Iona in a vacuum makes sense. She never made a game of commander more interesting or compelling. The explanation for banning Paradox Engine was in my opinion similarly satisfying. It is too easily breakable, it fits into too many decks and it leads to long turns in which only one player is playing. Finally, unbanning Painter’s Servant should’ve happened a while ago, it is a unique effect with a diverse amount of applications and the most broken combos with it are not completely out of place with the degenerate interactions that are already present. In my opinion, there are no issues with the changes to the ban list themselves. The issue I find with the latest announcement lies in the philosophy document at the implications that this ban list update carries when reading between the lines of the philosophy document.
The philosophy document makes a few dangerous assumptions, the first being that most players have an established playgroup or meta in which they normally find themselves. The purpose of the ban list according to the document is “The goal of the ban list is similar; it does not seek to regulate competitive play or power level, which are decisions best left to individual playgroups.” This statement assumes that players have a regular playgroup and that those groups have good enough communication to work out issues with discussion and debate which sometimes is simply not the case. Additionally, if we sit down with random strangers at an LGS or GP we need an official standard that is generally agreed upon. Furthermore, the sentiment of “We encourage groups to use the rules and the ban list as a baseline to optimize their own experience” suggests that the ban list is little more than a suggestion and only works if we make the above assumptions which are oftentimes not the case. If the ban list is only suggestion why is it there to begin with? The sentiment is kind to the ears but creates dangerous implications and contradicts the stance of the Rules Committee that certain cards simply aren’t fine to play and thus are banned.
Which brings me to my next point, the issue I have had with Sheldon Menery and how the Rules Committee bans is along subjective lines. The philosophy document details that commander encourages “a variety of play styles”, what if my group enjoys playing stax and combo? Are we wrong for liking to play with and against what we like? EDH resonates differently for every player and what is articulated here is that we can do whatever we like as long as it doesn’t involve play styles that the Rules Committee finds unfavorable namely stax and combo. Iona is a stax card, Paradox Engine is a combo card, it sounds to me that the Rules Committee doesn’t like these archetypes despite emphasizing that EDH supports a diverse amount of play styles. Furthermore, banning along subjective lines opens many unsettling possibilities, sometimes Static Orb can feel more oppressive than Iona. Does that mean it will hit the ban list to because according to one playgroup it doesn’t promote “a positive communal atmosphere” It’s a slippery slope, I am aware that the Rules Committee is hands-off when it comes to changing the ban list and I’m grateful for that, however, the precedent that is being set is troubling nonetheless. The fact that Iona did not hold a strong presence in this format and that there are cards that are arguably more opressive that are legal causes the descion to look odd. Perhaps that was primarily due to Painter’s Servant being unbanned. Either way, a couple of the criteria that the philosophy document details for banning a card are relatively subjective. In particular, the line that details a card that helps a player “Win out of nowhere” can be interpreted differently depending on the person. How much setup details an “out of nowhere” win? The rest of them have less wiggle room but still enough that they don’t give enough detail.
I’m aware that Sheldon is not the only person on the Rules Committee but the fact that he is quite out of touch with the vast majority of the format is troubling. He has named cards such as Wound Reflection, as a card that shouldn’t be played. Wound Reflection is not a troublesome card by most metrics. Many of my criticisms come from the fact that I generally play combo, most of my decks have some sort of combo line in them to end games. That alone probably enough for me to not be welcome in Sheldon’s playgroup. The fact remains that when one insular group has this much sway over the formant with the diversity of commander is deeply concerning. When one set of perspectives is making the decisions and those perspectives do not reflect how a decent chunk of the player base plays that is a problem. I hope the Commander Advisory Group is assisting in providing more perspectives. However, a few members of the CAG including Josh Lee Kwai have said that they didn’t view Paradox Engine as a card that needed to be banned. Given this news, I’m unsure of how much difference their presence makes. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the announcement but when the official ban list of the format I enjoy is governed by one set of perspectives it is a tenuous place to reside.
My bottom line is that if the EDH ban list is going to use subjective standards to dictate what cards are going to be banned then a more diverse set of perspectives is needed. The additional perspectives would ideally be on the Rules Committee itself but at minimum, they need to be in the room. I understand that Commander is a different monster then other formats and shouldn’t be run as those formats. I think power should be a consideration and the opinions of all ends on the competitive/casual spectrum should be considered.
This is merely my two cents but for what it’s worth, thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment on the site itself preferably and we can debate any of the points I’ve made.
Here is the philosophy document for those who want to read it, the quotes are from the aforementioned document-http://mtgcommander.net/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19170
Card images from https://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Default.aspx
-Paul of Clan Nel Toth