EDH Update - Banned List Changes

(Iona, Shield of Emeria | Art by Jason Chan)

The Ban Hammer Has Fallen

Yesterday we got a whopper of an announcement from the EDH Rules Committee. Before we even begin, please feel free to check out the full announcement here, because there is a great deal to process. Today I’ll try to break it down for you and what it could mean for your playgroups.

Here’s the quick summary provided from the announcement:

Commander Banned List Update, 8 July 2019



Philosophy Document Update



Paradox Engine is banned

Iona, Shield of Emeria is banned

Painter’s Servant is unbanned



No changes.

Philosophy Document Updates

Let's start in order. The Philosophy Document is a very detailed document, and not something that will be covered here in its entirety. In the announcement, the Rules Committee does clarify the goals and purpose of the Philosophy Document, which is worth reading even for those already familiar with it.

Worth noting in the updated document is the emphasis put on two main ideas: the separation from tournament play and the shared experiences between players. The Rules Committee have often cited Commander as a 'social' format as opposed to a 'casual' format, putting the emphasis on the gameplay and communication between players. Understanding the goal of the Philosophy Document helps to provide some clarity on the bannings, rule updates, and any other changes in the format. Per the updated Philosophy Document:

Commander is for fun. It’s a socially interactive, multiplayer Magic: the Gathering format full of wild interactions and epic plays, specifically designed as an alternative to tournament Magic.... Each game is a journey the players share, relying on a social contract in which each player is considerate of the experiences of everyone involved--this promotes player interaction, inter-game variance, a variety of play styles, and a positive communal atmosphere.

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 play groups. The ban list seeks to demonstrate which cards threaten the positive player experience at the core of the format or prevent players from reasonable self-expression. The primary focus of the list is on cards which are problematic because of their extreme consistency, ubiquity, and/or ability to restrict others’ opportunities.

The full document clarifies the emphasis on the atmosphere and experiences that all players in the game share, and provides insight on what players can expect moving forward. The social contract, interaction and separation from a competitive tournament atmosphere will be what the format is guided from. When examining the ban updates, this can be useful to help contextualize changes.

Speaking of which, let's get to the changes themselves.

Banned List Update

The banned list update revolves around three impressively powerful cards, with two bannings and one unbanning. Paradox Engine and Iona, Shield of Emeria are leaving the format, and Painter’s Servant is being re-introduced. This is sure to have decks in nearly every playgroup shaken up to some degree.

Paradox Engine's banning is almost assuredly tied to Urza, Lord High Artificer's release in Modern Horizons. While Paradox Engine has been a powerful card on its own since it was first printed, the new legendary Artificer may have pushed the card over the edge. Paradox Engine was seeing play in an incredibly high 68% of Urza, Lord High Artificer decks in the short time the two have been legal together. Ultimately, Paradox Engine is one of the single most powerful enablers in the format regardless of who the commander is.

To hear the Rules Committee tell it:

Paradox Engine is a card that has proven to be intensely problematic. Not only does it provide easy wins seemingly out of nowhere, it has demonstrated the potential to unintentionally wreck games. Easily inserted into any deck, it combines with cards which players already have heavy incentives to play, generating a great deal of mana with virtually no deck building cost. While we don’t ban cards which are only problematic if you build around them, Paradox Engine has clearly demonstrated that it doesn’t need to be built around to be broken.

The problem with Paradox Engine was the ease in which players were able to end the game. The obvious synergy with Isochron Scepter and efficient mana rocks made for almost accidental infinite combos, ending games without warning or much setup. As the announcement points out, Paradox Engine does not require building around for a deck to be able to exploit its obvious power; people already run efficient mana rocks, from Signets and Sol Rings to Thran Dynamos and Worn Powerstones, all of which are untapped over and over by the Engine. The potential powerful interactions with Paradox Engine only grow with every set, leading to its removal from the format.

The next two banned list changes can be linked together. Per the announcement:

Iona, Shield of Emeria creates a negative experience for many players without the benefit of a positive application. We had previously considered its high mana cost sufficient to keep it from getting played, but deeper investigation demonstrated many ways of getting it onto the battlefield without paying that cost. Iona, Shield of Emeria is also an exemplar as the type of card which creates an experience we wish to discourage, namely shutting players out of games.

Painter’s Servant is a card that’s been discussed for a long time and it’s time to take off the shackles. We feel as though there are now more weird and fun uses for the card than there are dangerous ones. The card will provide deck builders with some additional paths to explore in expressing their creativity.

These two cards exchanging status in legality is a form of give-and-take from the Rules Committee. As the announcement points out, Iona, Shield of Emeria could often be put onto the battlefield with no regard for its mana cost, sometimes even as early as turn three. Played in about 4,400 decks, Iona’s ability to shut down entire decks - especially those playing a single color - can create very lopsided games. The Rules Committee has made it clear that part of their mission is to encourage more interaction within the format, so it is understandable why they'd elect to ban a card that discourages that interaction. 

In an inverse action, Painter’s Servant has become unbanned after sitting in exile from the format for many years. The relationship between Painter’s Servant and Iona, Shield of Emeria is particularly interesting, since decks that would play Iona, Shield of Emeria would almost certainly play Painter’s Servant as well, considering the color hate that Painter’s Servant can enable. Since the announcement has gone live, Sheldon has clarified that the cards were evaluated as separate entities and not lumped together.

The obvious combination of the newly-unbanned Scarecrow and its favorite friend Grindstone is of course famous for knocking players out of the game one at a time.

The argument, though, is that this combo is not all that different from other two-card auto-victory combinations (Mike & Trike comes to mind, for instance). That, along with the artifact hate nearly every deck has access to, still provides some defenses against a ubiquitous pair of tutor-able cards. As mentioned in the announcement, Painter's Servant has apparently been discussed as a candidate for unbanning for some time, which should reassure players that the Rules Committee does not foresee too many problems with the doors the card opens in the format. Thus, it is available to players once again.

I Own a Pair o' Docks in Gin

The release of the updated Philosophy Document at the time of the ban announcement should help give guidance and illustrate what we may be able to expect from the format's direction moving forward. Iona was not necessarily a prolific card - only in 4,400 decks to the Engine's 13,572 - but some bans, such as Paradox Engine, can be chosen because of their power level, ubiquity, or the ease with which they can become oppressive, and some, like Iona, Shield of Emeria, are chosen for the interactivity they restrict. The more transparency we get behind big decisions, the better!

As with every banning, we can expect the changes to take some time to be felt in any playgroup. Players may now search and find some replacements for some cards, or can brew new decks entirely around the newly-legal Painter’s Servant, fixing up Grindstone combos, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails decks, or wacky Rith, the Awakener craziness. Some doors closed, and some others opened.

Many members of the Commander Advisory Group and the Rules Committee have also been active in responding to questions since the announcement went live, helping to provide additional feedback and clarity to yesterday's update. We would love to hear from you as well in the comments - what do you think about the banned list update? What do the Philosophy Document changes mean to you and your playgroup?

Happy brewing!

Matt is a member of the EDHRECast, representing the 60-card formats and the Timmy's alike. He appreciates bad wordplay as much as a good alpha strike. A diverse nerd, you might also see him maining Lux support in League of Legends as well or on the deadlift platform at the gym.

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