Since I'm an Eternal player (Legacy and sometimes Modern) that has played just few times EDH/Commander I found difficult to understand why often players use a more strict banned list in their matches; I agree that Sorin Markov, Felidar Sovereign and Serra Ascendant are really good cards but if the authorities of French and Multiplayer Commander didn't think it was too good to be banned, why would a single group of friends ban it?

It's like I decide to play my Legacy games with my friends banning Show and Tell because it's a very strong card..

  • 4
    How are you going to get an objective answer to this question?
    – user1873
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 23:46
  • 3
    I don't think this is really as subjective as you guys are making it out to be; he's asking why people do a thing, not whether or not they should do it. Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 5:55
  • And besides, not all subjective questions are bad. If you ask why, in a constructive, fair way (that's a little iffy here), encouraging people to explain, not just give personal opinions, it can be a great question. Mangusto, you might want to make this a little less ranty, but I think it's totally legitimate to ask why small play groups might be more ban-happy than tournament organizers.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 8:19
  • Whether or not subjective questions are bad is subjective. On any other Stack sub-area, this would have been put on hold within minutes.
    – Rainbolt
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 14:02
  • @Jefromi I'm convinced. Retracting my vote.
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 14:33

5 Answers 5


Generally speaking, in any game community the casual players are going to have a different attitude toward banning than the tournament players. In the case of M:tG, the tournament formats are very fine-tuned and the most hardcore players tend to play in sanctioned tournaments, so if anyone's going to be banning cards that aren't officially banned, it's going to be casuals who don't like losing to certain stuff.

EDH is and has always been a very casual format. It's an open secret even among the people who designed and govern it that the format would be broken in a lot of ways if anyone tried to "solve" it. Drew Levin said that "Commander is a format where everyone puts Sol Ring in their deck and then apologizes if they get to cast it". Even "serious" Commander strategy articles will often trail into digressions about not breaking the format too hard.

All of this is to say that if casual groups are banning a card, the thought process is probably something like "ok, we get it, you can beat us with that card. We'd like to actually play a game this time." If that bothers you, play a "real" format. I had to play Commander all of twice to decide it wasn't for me.

EDIT: I originally attributed the Drew Levin quote to Aaron Forsythe. I did find another article about an EDH deck created by Forsythe; the comments thread is pretty pertinent here.

  • 2
    Only thing I would add is 'official' banlists rarely take into consideration the $$$ value/general scarcity of cards that are the good 'answers' to certain ban-worthy strategies, where house rules often will.
    – Affe
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 17:02
  • @Affe EDH's ban list kinda tries to but it sets the bar at, like, Library of Alexandria levels.
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 17:18
  • @Affe, To be fair, there aren't that many "answers" in MtG which are hard to get a hold of. It's the threats that are usually the pricey cards (and the card advantage engines, which are used to obtain both threats and answers during a game). The answers that are harder to get have perfectly viable alternatives in most formats, and EDH has one of the deepest card pools around.
    – Brian S
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 19:09
  • This disparity between the cost of threats and answers is often why people get upset by their opponent using Cancel on $flavor_of_the_week -- a $0.15 card halting a $51.00 card is "unfair" and "unfun". That then leads to Wizards hating on strategies such as control in general.
    – Brian S
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 19:16
  • Right, but we're talking about kitchen table banlists. People who started playing magic in the xBox-M10 boom don't even have Wrath of God in their collection, have never even heard of Swords to Plowshares or Vindicate. They have a comparatively poor ratio of removal and sweepers to creature-based threats compared to the full depth of the EDH card pool.
    – Affe
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:06

One of the biggest reasons why house rules run rampant in the format is that the Rules Committee encourages it.

House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.

(http://mtgcommander.net, "Philosophy" section)

Many house rules are the result of people who, for one reason or another, refuse to (or cannot) update their decks in response to changes in their metagame. You don't see this in the competitive scene, because adapting to the meta is how competitive decks stay competitive. However, when you've got people who aren't updating their decks, the group creates rules to keep everyone in check and let the do-nots (and/or have-nots) stay on roughly the same level as their peers.

To use your three examples:

  • Sorin Markov sets a player's life total to 10. In other formats, that's -10 life (assuming starting life totals, which is uncommon for a 6-cost permanent) for 6 mana. In EDH, that's -30 life. Seems broken? Well, that's debatable. What else is Sorin going to do to you? 2 damage? That's a 6-turn (total) clock, equivalent to a 4-power general attacking to kill you with general damage. Are you afraid of losing to general damage from a 4-power general?

Magister Sphinx provides a similar effect, but as a creature it's easier to cheat into play (reanimation) an re-use (blink/reanimation). With 5 power, it also becomes a 3-turn clock (or 2 turns with haste) -- much more impressive! The sphinx is also a blocker, can be sacrificed to other effects, etc. In other words, Sorin doesn't do much to affect the board state, while Sphinx does. As a meta develops, people eventually realize that Sorin isn't that impressive in the format (in fact, planeswalkers as a card type are generally less impressive in multiplayer), and don't mind seeing him... but he stops getting played in most decks, anyway, because his actual power level is lower than his initial perceived power level.

  • Felidar Sovereign is a win-condition which, on paper, sounds broken. Win at 40 life, and you start at 40 life? Wow! Unfortunately, it's uncommon to still be at 40 life by the time you can play it. As a creature, it's also the most easily-handled type of card in the game. As a meta develops, people start using more spot removal, and the trip around the table required to win with Sovereign becomes difficult to achieve.
  • Serra Ascendant comes out fast and swings hard... if it comes out early. Turn 1 Serra is a nasty beater; turn 6 Serra is... less impressive. To actually win with Ascendant, you need 7 turns of attacking (8 turns total unless you can give it haste, assuming your life total is high enough in the first place), which is worse than Sorin, and Ascendant suffers the same problem as Sovereign in that it's the easiest type of card to get rid of.

Sure, that 6/6 is giving you a bunch of life every turn, but in a format riddled with infinite combos and the presence of general damage, a few dozen life doesn't mean that much in a competitive metagame.

  • Thanks for the great answer to my three examples! Many of the things you said were very obscure to me as a non EDH player
    – Mangusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 18:00
  • @Mangusto, What did you find unclear? I'll happily edit to make the answer better if I know what's missing!
    – Brian S
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 19:47

Your Legacy analogy is really pretty close to one of the main answers here: people playing casual Magic place a pretty high premium on fun and diversity, and single really strong cards aren't good for that. Commander is primarily a casual format, and indeed, you're asking about casual play.

If you're not playing many games, maybe one or two a week (not tons of playtesting or tournaments), you want those games to be good.

You don't want one person to keep coming back with a deck based around one really good card that keeps the games from being fun for everyone else. You may also want to avoid people having one card in their deck that, when it does happen to come up, keeps the game from being fun for everyone else. Since even casual players want to win, just banning a few cards can be the easiest way to avoid those situations.

A side note: casual players also are more likely to have limited time and money, and that does lower the threshold for banning. At some point, it's easier and better for the group to tell one player to stop playing one card that's become un-fun than to make everyone else modify their decks (and buy cards) to deal with it.

In terms of diversity, a Legacy metagame with a dozen different archetypes seeing a lot of play might feel pretty diverse to you. But people playing EDH might want to allow way more - there are a lot of commanders! And if a few cards are stopping that from happening, well, just get rid of those cards. You want to be able to play the kind of deck you want, and for your friends to be able to play cool things too.

Just remember, it's about fun, not a perfectly balanced metagame, and definitely not just about winning.

  • While other answers analyze EDH from many points of view, in my opinion this is the answer with the most important thoughts about my question.
    – Mangusto
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 17:58

#People don't necessarily want to play the Rules Committee's game

The basic idea of Commander/EDH has appeal beyond just the particular card pool. Some players want to play 100-card singleton with generals but don't share the Rules Committee's appreciation of old cards, or expensive former tournament staples, or crazy combo decks.

Of course, the Rules Committee does try to take the needs of the community as a whole into account, but they're basing their judgements on convention games, online discussions, and their own experience.

So, play groups start to come out with their own rules and restrictions — sometimes unspoken (even the RC seems to assume some level of "gentlemen's agreements") — to create the Magic-with-legends format that they most want to play.

#Multiplayer EDH isn't a very "balanced" format, really

EDH lets you play Sol Ring, man. Sol Ring!

And Hermit Druid Combo — have you seen that deck?

The EDH ban list is generally very forgiving of powerful cards, especially enablers, as long as they don't win the game outright or cause "unfun" board states (e.g. repeatedly blowing up lands). The logic is that the other players will "balance" the game by teaming up against you until they've whittled away your advantage. This is why Duel Commander has its own separate ban list.

Even in multiplayer, though, some people don't really like the "gank the guy with the cheaty card" experience (I don't). One way to fix that is to change up the banned list.

The "casual" metagame isn't like a competitive metagame

In tournament Magic, or hardcore Magic using near-tournament-quality decks, players approach deckbuilding with a competitive mindset: they build decks to take on the overall metagame. In casual Magic, it's often the other way around: players want the local "metagame" to support their favored decks.

All Magic players have their own styles and their own tastes. But "Spike-y" players tend to appreciate self-expression within the bounds of what's powerful and viable, whereas other folks don't enjoy having to choose between playing what's good and playing whatever it is they love to play.

So, let's say your casual play group really likes "tribal" creature decks. All of you want to play games of Magic where those decks can do their thing and clash against each other. The mainstream EDH rules are only designed to support that up to a point. If you start to have problems with other strategies that naturally waste the kinds of decks you actually want to play, maybe you'll start adding "house rules" to limit those.

You could see this as a reactionary flip-out by players who don't want to challenge themselves, but that's rather uncharitable. Oftentimes it's more like formalizing unspoken assumptions that have always been there, to get the group back onto the same page.

  • I'm a semi-competitive player. I kinda like Angels -- not as much as some other players, but, you know, I like 'em. The most Angels I've ever stuck in a deck? Seven. That's a playset of Restos in the main, plus a sideboard with 2x Angel of Serenity (for the loop) and a single Sigarda (great against Jund and control decks). Compare to how a more pure-casual player might build a deck with Angels.
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 17:16
  • Big +1 for not all playing the same game. I think if anything you understated that. There are just so many different things people want to get out of Magic, and it's crazy to think that you can stuff them all into one format without eventually needing to tweak it one way or another.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:13

To give you a succinct answer, EDH is a format the encourages fun and socialization, cards that make the game not fun to play in certain groups get banned.

If a group is sick of a player constantly winning because he has an infinite turn combo, I can see why they would ban certain cards because as a group they don't see that as fun.

Winning EDH is a secondary goal for a lot of people, I play EDH to make themed decks that do stupid stuff, and "Group Hug" type decks would not exist if people were playing to win.

  • To be fair, I've seen plenty of "group hug" decks designed to turtle up, give everyone resources, and wait until the game becomes 1v1, then unleash an efficient win condition on their single opponent.
    – Brian S
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 19:02

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