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February 17, 2019

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The Difference Between Good Bans and Bad Bans

No matter the format, whether it’s competitive or casual, card legality is an important issue.

Banlists are an important part of any format. While cards may be banned for a variety of reasons the reasoning is usually the same: the card is too powerful. However, in other cases the reasons may seem confusing or even downright nonsensical. But what makes a good or bad ban? That is a topic of considerable discussion. Well, we can’t do an article like this right without providing some examples, so let’s get right to it.

Let’s start with an interesting card. Dark Depths can create one of the most threatening creatures in Magic. What makes it powerful isn’t the fact that it can remove its own counters, but the other ways to remove those counters from it. Or, in the case of Solemnity or Thespian’s Stage, play it without any counters at all. This makes Dark Depths a free cast creature with 20/20 and indestructible.

That right there? That’s a game winner.

While it may not be an absolutely broken card (since it does require certain interactions to become insane), it’s still way too good. Imagine playing a board wipe, then playing Dark Depths with Solemnity on the field. Or using Thespian’s Stage to create a copy of Dark Depths without any counters. You’d immediately have Marit Lage, and if you happen to have a spell that can give it haste… well, that’s game. Assuming that none of your spells are countered, of course.

I would say that banning a card like this in Modern is spot on. It’s just too easy to dominate with it.

Now for a card that I still don’t understand being banned. That’s even in a format well known for odd bans, Commander.

I find that Recurring Nightmare stands as an amazing example as to what makes a bad ban. It’s an Enchantment where if you sacrifice a creature, you return Recurring Nightmare to hand, and play a card from your graveyard, all at Sorcery speed. If you’re willing to do all that at sorcery speed for three mana, you’re just better off running the Entomb and Reanimate combo. It’s less mana, is two separate spells, and it has multiple other options like Buried Alive and Animate Dead

I mean, just in terms of graveyard shenanigans Recurring Nightmare is worse than a lot of the other options you could run in a deck like that. Sure, it could enable some kind of jank regarding sacrifice triggers but nothing that would overrun the game. At least, not any more than the literal plethora of better options that are completely legal in the format.

The thing about bans is that from format to format, the reasoning behind them is completely different and changes frequently – at least in the case of Standard. With Modern, Vintage, and Legacy, bans seem to be legitimate since they’re often focused on cards that enable powerful combos or are insanely overwhelming on their own. For Commander, like Standard, it varies. Some bans seem well thought out, while others feel like it’s simply something somebody was salty about losing to.

All of this has led to plenty of conversation surrounding each ban announcement. What should be banned? What should be unbanned? And what makes a righteous ban?

What do you think? What cards do you think should be banned? Let me know in the comments!