Achievement Unlocked - Are Cards Banned in Other Formats Underrated in EDH?
(Expressive Iteration | Art by Anastasia Ovchinnikova)
This Deck is NOT Banned and Restricted
Have you ever made a Commander bucket list? Welcome to Achievement Unlocked, where we take a look at the cool and unique things you can do in this format other than just winning.
There is nothing I hate more than having to take cards out of my decks and stick them somewhere in a box to collect dust because they were just banned in a format, so today I set out to build a deck with a unique restriction. In this deck, every single nonland card has been banned or restricted in another format either previously or it currently still is. However, this deck will be 100% Commander legal, so my apologies to Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, as it will not be making an appearance in this deck. I want to see if it is even possible to build a functional deck with this restriction and if there are any hidden gems we should fish out of a bulk box somewhere because they should be seeing more play in Commander.
Our Deck's Fearless Leader
We are limited on options to lead our deck. but luckily there's a great one that gives us access to four colors to fit in as many cards as we can. Omnath, Locus of Creation was once the bane of Standard and is the perfect option for a value commander. Omnath isn't exactly an unknown quantity in Commander, as it's climbed all the way up to the 13th most popular commander, with over 11,000 decks.
What cards are Omnath's best friend? Fetchlands. Unfortunately, it's basically impossible to design a functional mana base made entirely of banned or restricted lands, but there are a few that fit in well. First, the fetchland cycle, of which Arid Mesa is a member, was banned out the gate in Pioneer. Not only are these a cornerstone in Landfall decks, they synergize well with our commander. They also work well with a card banned in both Pauper and Modern, Mystic Sanctuary.
Mystic Sanctuary can be found with any of the blue fetchlands and can buy us back any of our other broken spells we have already cast. Strip Mine is banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage, but in Commander it can be a great answer against anyone lucky enough to have a Gaea's Cradle. Field of the Dead terrorized Modern to the point of being banned, but it remains one of the most powerful lands in Commander. Coupled with a diverse land base, this card can start spitting out Zombies quickly.
The Building Blocks of Any "Functional" Commander Deck
No deck can function well without at least including the necessary pieces of any Commander deck. No matter how powerful your cards are, you still need ramp, card draw, and interaction. To decide if this idea can even produce a viable deck, we need to see if we can find pieces to fill out all the essential sections of any Commander deck.
The best ramp in Commander is, of course, restricted in Vintage, where otherwise you could have four of them. Sol Ring, and Mana Crypt, if you can afford it, are the two best mana rocks in the format. However, you don't just have to turn to Vinatge to fill out our ramp package. Bonder's Ornament was banned in Pauper, but it's still a great fit for Commander, and considering it's played in less than 1% of eligible decks, you're likely to be the only one to draw cards with it.
Growth Spiral was good enough during its time in Standard to get banned, and it's an instant-speed Explore that works great with our commander. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath ruined almost every format it has seen play in, but it's only seeing play in 6% of eligible decks. This card is an insane value engine for any Simic deck and can ramp multiple times as well as draw us some cards.
Broken card draw spells can be a lightning rod for the ban hammer, and there are plenty of options for this portion of our deck. First, and I know it is card selection rather than card draw, but Ponder, Preordain, and Brainstorm have all seen either the ban hammer or are restricted in Vintage. Every one of these cards smooth out our deck, and Brainstorm is insane when paired with fetchlands or either of these other card selection spells.
Expressive Iteration was actually the inspiration for this deck when I saw it was banned in Legacy, and I think this card might be underrated in Commander. Seeing play in only 6% of eligible decks means that this card sees significantly less play than either of the three aforementioned card selection spells. Sure, this costs twice as much, but it also gives you access to twice as many cards when played well.
Wheels are dangerous, as they draw us cards but they can also fill our opponents' hands. Luckily, Narset, Parter of Veils was deemed too powerful as a four-of for Vintage, and thus this deck can pair it with Wheel of Fortune and Windfall to lock out our opponents.
Next on our list are two of the most powerful mechanics in the game's history. The power of Delve was too strong for Modern, but Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are still two great card draw spells for Commander. The mechanic power scale is literally named after Storm, and Modern Horizons 2 pushed Storm a bit too hard for Pauper with the card Galvanic Relay, which can give us access to a bunch of cards, especially when paired with cards that are basically free, such as Gitaxian Probe, Gush, and Frantic Search.
Removal is perhaps the most difficult section of our deck to fill out. Removal often acts as a balancing force against the broken cards in a format. Luckily, there are still a few cards that were pushed too far. We are rather limited when it comes to straight-up removal, but we do have Swords to Plowshares and Fall from Favor, the latter of which also introduces the Monarch to the game.
Counterspells are a lot easier to come by. Tibalt's Trickery was too strong at doing broken things in Modern, but it's perfectly serviceable as a pseudo-counterspell in any nonblue Commander deck. Veil of Summer effectively functions as a counterspell against some of the best removal and counterspells in the format, and it cantrips. Mana Drain, Counterspell, and Daze all give us options to stop our opponents, and although Daze is limited, it works exceptionally well with the previously mentioned Mystic Sanctuary.
It takes a lot for creatures to be banned, but many of the best are value engines for our deck or are on their face incredibly powerful. Drannith Magistrate was deemed too powerful a hate piece for the Brawl format, which feels true in Commander as well, but it's perfectly legal.
Stoneforge Mystic was once upon a time too powerful for Modern, but it only sees play in about 3% of eligible decks, mostly in Equipment lists. However, in Commander it can be used to find cards that generate value over time rather than a beater such as Batterskull. Skullclamp and Umezawa's Jitte both make great use of our small disposable creatures.
The Initiative mechanic has ironically seen a higher percentage of play in other formats than Commander, and some of the cards were good enough to get creatures banned in Pauper and even Legacy. White Plume Adventurer, Stirring Bard, and Aarakocra Sneak are both great value creatures that can introduce the Initiative into the game and start generating advantage. They partner very well with evasive creatures and creatures that can blink them and re-trigger their abilities, such as Felidar Guardian or Yorion, Sky Nomad.
Some creatures are just efficient enough and powerful enough that they don't require much synergy to include in the deck. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer has warped just about every format it's legal in, but it's underrated in Commander, seeing play in just 6% of eligible decks. If you can land this on turn one, it can provide an insane amount of card advantage and ramp while other players are still setting up. Similarly, an early-game Serra Ascendant was once too good for Commander, but it's still crazy broken and can give you a huge leg up in the game.
Finally, one that requires minor building around, but lucky for us this deck is naturally balanced enough to support it. Winota, Joiner of Forces has been to strong for multiple formats, including Pioneer, but it's also a solid way to cheat cards into play in any deck with a balance of Humans and non-Humans.
Winning the Game
This deck has a lot of value pieces but not a clear endgame. How do we make sure we win? Luckily, banned cards give us access to multiple broken combos. Thassa's Oracle is the best win condition in the format, and with a well-built mana base, we can combo the Merfolk with Hermit Druid to win a game on the spot. Additionally, we can combine the Oracle with Lion's Eye Diamond, Underworld Breach, and Wheel of Fortune to win the game or just mill out our opponents.
Finding these pieces may sound like Magical Christmas Land, but the Banned and Restricted list gives us access to plenty of tutors to find the various pieces. If you need a creature you can use Green Sun's Zenith and Mystical Tutor, Merchant Scroll, and Enlightened Tutor can be used to find various noncreature combo pieces.
There's no shortage of other combos; near-infinite mana from Lion's Eye Diamond can be dumped into Walking Ballista, and Karn, the Great Creator and Mycosynth Lattice can lock out a game and win on their own. Remember, games need to end somehow, and combos are a perfectly acceptable win condition. If you are worried, just check with your playgroup ahead of time.
There are plenty of cards that were too powerful for other formats but do not see enough play in Commander. This deck was a ton of fun to build and actually seems borderline playable. Let me know what you think in the comments below and which cards (if any) do you think should also be banned in Commander?
Check out the full deck below!
Banned and Restricted
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