With Unstable being officially legal in Commander until January 15, I've heard several people state that they are encouraging their groups to unofficially ban the set anyway. They feel like the silver-bordered cards aren't in the spirit of the format, or they simply don't want to deal with the craziness.
While I don't agree with that sentiment, it matched up with something I had been thinking about a while ago: unofficially banned cards. Many groups have seen particular cards rage through their games, particularly the commanders. I can recall plenty of decks that proved to be a little more powerful than the rest of the decks in the group! When this happens, the attention level these commanders get goes way up, often well beyond the attention necessary to keep the deck under control.
This level of attention, or "hate," for a commander can make it pointless to build a new deck around them, since only the strongest decks could possibly handle the attention these decks are going to get. This turns these legends into commanders that are virtually banned in the group. Why would I try to build a fun deck around Atraxa, Praetor's Voice if I'm just going to get run over before I can even get Atraxa on the battlefield to show off my level up creature deck?
I was curious what cards other players feel are "banned" in their group. I put up this tweet and sat back to see how players would respond.
What #cmdrs are unofficially banned for you? The legends that draw so much hate it just isn't worth it to build, even a fun deck, w/ them? pic.twitter.com/bq6MvIpqzz— Bruce Richard (@manaburned) October 27, 2017
My expectation was to see a select group of legends sitting atop the pile. The powerhouse commanders that should inspire fear whenever they are played. These are cards that seem to be a nightmare for some of metas I play in or don't see play in others at all. With those top cards, I figured a few hangers-on, specific to individual metagames. What I got was something very different.
Normally I would count down the top five and build up the tension to the end of the article, but I don't think the names here would shock anyone who plays with more than one group of people or who plays most of their games at conventions or events with people they don't necessarily know. I have them listed from five to one, but you should consider them interchangeable; the numbers were practically identical.
The original Commander deck that she led was criminally underpowered. It didn't include nearly enough Angels, Demons or Dragons to really let Kaalia shine, and the ones it did include often had abilities that you could only get by casting the card, not cheating it into play with Kaalia. Once it got into the hands of players trying to optimize it, Kaalia decks became finely tuned killing machines that were miserable to play against. Given the cost of the card, I'm a little surprised it made the list, but she deserves to be here.
If you have ever questioned the purpose of the Commander tax, you only need to play against a Derevi deck to put those thoughts out of your mind. Derevi is virtually impossible to kill and not having to pay the Commander tax means that Derevi is never on the sidelines for long. Taking down a Derevi player involves a Concerted Effort from everyone else in the game. Derevi definitely belongs in the top five.
I built a fun deck that used Zur to dig out a series of subpar enchantments that each did something stupid that eventually led to a win. In every game the deck played, either Zur was viciously put down again and again until someone else earned the victory, or I unintentionally found cards that allowed Zur to cruise in to an easy victory that didn't involve the enchantments I was initially trying to get. Zur is so good that even someone with a subpar deck can get unintentional wins.
I built a deck with Rafiq when he first came on the scene. I had a series of cards that gave me a benefit when they did combat damage, so the idea of giving them double strike was appealing. The deck was fun and survived for a while, but once players started to realize that without even trying, Rafiq can do eight damage in a single swing during combat, it just became too good. Between Voltron builds and decks that would go the infect route, it didn't take long until Rafiq decks were just kill on sight.
Early decks loved using Oloro and worked hard to gain life, just to try winning with the card draw and life drain Oloro was offering. Then people started to realize the best way to abuse Oloro was to just never cast him at all! The decks use the best cards blue, white and black have to offer that abuse the extra two life the Oloro player gets on each upkeep. Oloro has the extra bit of hate added on that players really hate to see someone get a benefit from a card they can't interact with. Getting a benefit from the command zone just rubs a lot of players the wrong way, encouraging even more hate towards the Oloro player, even if they are trying to win with some crazy jank deck.
There are a number of cards that just missed out on the list to the point that if you included them I wouldn't be shocked. Arcum Dagsson is a well-known commander for powerful artifact decks. Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Narset, Enlightened Master and Sharuum the Hegemon were all cards that were close to the top that would surprise no one.
There were two commanders that surprised me by not being close to the top of the voting. Azami, Lady of Scrolls regularly dominates games and carries an earned reputation, but apparently not enough to be seen as a kill-on-sight commander. I'm hoping this means that enough players have used her as a head of a fun Wizard-themed list that the reputation that I know is fading.
The true shock is Atraxa, Praetor's Voice. I thought this commander was a given. Virtually every game I've ever played against anyone using Atraxa has been a four-color planeswalker friends deck that uses evitable ramp to earn win after win. I've only seen this deck lose games when all the opponents understand immediately that they game is a three-on-one right from the start.
It is disappointing to only see this deck. When the commander first came out there was talk of a Voltron build, and a creature build that would abuse Atraxa's proliferate. I refused to build the deck since I knew I would have to face down three opponents. Or at least I thought I would have to face down three opponents. I'm not sure if the reason Atraxa doesn't inspire the fear I thought it did is due to the newness of the card? Perhaps it is that everyone hopes to build an Atraxa deck of their own and don't want to inspire the hate I expected?
So what am I left to make of these, rather unscientific, results? While the top cards were definitely at the top, the curve was less a bell curve and more a blip on the radar. Over 50 options were mentioned and roughly half of them had more than one vote. This suggests that there really isn't the hate for specific commanders that I thought there was. It looks like every meta has a hate for some commanders, but every meta seems to have problems with different cards!
While the top five garnered the most votes, Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, Purphoros, God of the Forge and The Gitrog Monster are all hated in various metas, but not across the board. It is great to see that various people can make what proves to be benign legends in one meta into hated monsters in another.
I do hate to see cards eliminated as an option for deckbuilding just because it is too powerful. I also don't like to see specific builds for a commander become the only way to build for that commander simply because it is the "best" option. I would love to see Atraxa as the head of an Angel deck or Derevi used in a deck whose sole purpose is to repeatedly untap another creature.
Finally, these results suggest a reason why the Rules Committee bans so few cards: the variety of different metas! With different groups having such different metas, finding a card that warrants a ban across all metas is going to be difficult. The next time the Rules Committee announces an update to the banned list and doesn't include Gaddock Teeg, keep in mind that perhaps Gaddock Teeg is only a nightmare for you, and everyone else has worked out their differences with the Kithkin Advisor!