Deep Analysis – Musings of a Ban


In today’s Deep Analysis, we are going to talk about cards banned throughout Magic’s long history and what constitutes the potential for a card to be banned.

The majority of cards that have banned throughout the history of the game falls into one of three categories: Card Advantage / Selection / Tutors, Putting One or More Cards Into Play or Casting Cards at Massively Reduced Rates, and Fast / Explosive Mana.

Let’s look at the first group, Card Advantage / Selection / Tutors.

The following cards that fall under this group have been banned in some format in Magic’s history:

Necropotence - Mark Tedin

Necropotence – Mark Tedin

Library of Alexandria
Time Spiral
Ancestral Recall
Wheel of Fortune
Ancestral Vision
Glimpse of Nature
Treasure Cruise
Stroke of Genius
Memory Jar
Frantic Search
Yawgmoth’s Bargain
Sensei’s Divining Top
Land Tax
Yawgmoth’s Will
Fact or Fiction
Dig Through Time
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Crop Rotation
Demonic Consultation
Demonic Tutor
Enlightened Tutor
Mystical Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Imperial Seal
Personal Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Burning Wish
Gifts Ungiven
Survival of the Fittest
Goblin Recruiter
Hermit Druid

Almost every card on this list is undercosted for the effect that it generates.  That is usually the first sign that a card is likely to be overpowered.  Control and Combo decks frequently become too powerful if there are too many of these legal in the same environment.

One of the many decks that used the Card Advantage / Selection / Tutors to major abusive levels was a deck known as Trix.  Magic decks had a propensity to be named after cereals in those days and there’s a tiny rabbit who thinks he’s a huge dragon in the image for Illusions of Grandeur which makes it very easy to say “. Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!”  The list below is from Scott McCord’s 3rd place finish at that Grand Prix:

Illusions of Grandeur - Quinton Hoover

Illusions of Grandeur – Quinton Hoover

// NAME : Trix
// CREATOR : Scott McCord – 3rd place – Grand Prix Philidelphia 2000
// FORMAT : Extended format

3 [UNH] Island
4 [TSP] Gemstone Mine
4 [10E] Underground River
4 [R] Underground Sea
6 [UNH] Swamp

4 [5E] Mana Vault
4 [IA] Illusions of Grandeur
4 [5E] Necropotence
1 [AL] Contagion

Donate - Jeff Miracola

Donate – Jeff Miracola

1 [MM] Hoodwink
2 [CNS] Brainstorm
3 [6E] Vampiric Tutor
4 [CST] Dark Ritual
4 [IA] Demonic Consultation
4 [AL] Force of Will
4 [UD] Donate
4 [M14] Duress

SB: 2 [MM] Unmask
SB: 4 [UD] Phyrexian Negator
SB: 3 [5E] Hydroblast
SB: 3 [THS] Annul
SB: 2 [AL] Contagion
SB: 1 [MM] Hoodwink

Note the number of Card Advantage / Selection / Tutors in this deck (13).  Those cards added consistency to the deck to find the 2 combo pieces (Illusions of GrandeurDonate).  Now add in the other cards that were also banned at one time and you get a deck with 21 banned cards in it.  Power level was amazing in those days.

The next set of cards we’ll talk about are ones that are cast for or they put one or more cards into play at massively reduced rates.

All of those cards were banned in some format in Magic’s history:

AEther Vial
Recurring Nightmare
Dream Halls
Goblin Lackey
Oath of Druids
Mind’s Desire
Dark Depths
Mental Misstep
Second Sunrise
Bloodbraid Elf
Blazing Shoal

All of the cards on this list are undercosted for the effect they produce.

The following list takes this a set further and actually hits the first two rules that we went over:

Stoneforge Mystic
Birthing Pod
Green Sun’s Zenith

Tinker and Stoneforge seem to be in a class by themselves here being able to cheat into play much higher casting cost cards after tutoring for them.

Many of you younger players have heard of the name Jon Finkel.  Johnny Magic was the best Magic player during his era (IMHO).  He liked to break cards and he did so frequently.  In 2000, Jon won the World Championship with a deck involving one of the best tutor cards ever, Tinker:

Tinker - Chris Rahn

Tinker – Chris Rahn

9 Island
4 Crystal Vein
4 Rishadan Port
4 Saprazzan Skerry

4 Masticore 
4 Metalworker
1 Phyrexian Colossus

4 Brainstorm
1 Crumbling Sanctuary
4 Grim Monolith
1 Mishra’s Helix
4 Phyrexian Processor

Phyrexian Processor - Dave Kendall

Phyrexian Processor – Dave Kendall

4 Tangle Wire
4 Thran Dynamo
4 Tinker
4 Voltaic Key


4 Annul
4 Chill
4 Miscalculation
1 Mishra’s Helix
2 Rising Waters

Jon exploited two of the three rules for breaking cards (Card Advantage / Selection / Tutors & Fast or Explosive Mana).

This last group is just a notorious as the first two groups and is the reason I have wrote this article today.

The list of Fast or Explosive Mana that has been banned during Magic’s history is as follows:

Fast Mana you say?

Black Lotus – Christopher Rush

Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Sol Ring
Mana Crypt
Lotus Petal
Mana Vault
Grim Monolith
Candelabra of Tawnos
Chrome Mox
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Voltaic Key
Rite of Flame
Seething Song
Dark Ritual
Summer Bloom
Squandered Resources
Mishra’s Workshop
Ancient Tomb
Tolarian Academy
Gaea’s Cradle
Serra’s Sanctum
Darksteel Citadel
Ancient Den
Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Vault of Whispers

Cards in this column either produced lots of mana either in a single use effect (Black Lotus, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual) or produced lots of mana with a repetitive source (Ancient Tomb, Cloudpost, Tolarian Acadamy, Mana Vault).  The use of these cards produced either quicker combo decks (Storm in Modern) or explosive aggro decks (Affinity).

One of the most powerful (if not the most powerful) deck in the history of Magic was Tommi Hovi’s Acadamy deck at Pro Tour Rome 1999:

Tolarian Academy - Stephen Daniele

Tolarian Academy – Stephen Daniele

4 Time Spiral
4 Windfall
3 Abeyance
3 Intuition
3 Power Sink
4 Stroke of Genius

4 Lotus Petal
4 Mana Vault
4 Mox Diamond
2 Scroll Rack
3 Voltaic Key
3 Mind Over Matter

Mana Vault - Christine Choi

Mana Vault – Christine Choi

4 Ancient Tomb
3 City of Brass
4 Tolarian Academy
4 Tundra
4 Volcanic Island


1 Arcane Denial
4 Chill
4 Gorilla Shaman
2 Red Elemental Blast
4 Wasteland

Including Stroke of Genius (which was banned at one time), 34 of the 60 card main deck was banned at some point in Magic’s history.  How is that for busted?  I played during this era known as Combo Winter.  It was bad.

So why do I bring up the topic of ban cards?

With the release of Oath of the Gatewatch, two lands that were legal for Vintage, Legacy, and Modern came to the forefront of the formats: Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple.  There has been 1 SCG Legacy Open where the Eldrazi flexed its muscles (which isn’t too much of a surprise) but the concerning part with Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and the 3 Modern Grand Prix that followed it.

So how did this domination come about?

Wizards R&D forgot about Dre.

Forgot about Dre

For reference, Kayure Patel’s Grand Prix Bologna Winning WU Eldrazi deck:

Eye of Ugin - James Paick

Eye of Ugin – James Paick

4 Eldrazi Mimic
3 Endless One
4 Eldrazi Skyspawner
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Eldrazi Displacer
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Reality Smasher
4 Drowner of Hope

4 Path to Exile
2 Dismember
1 Cyclonic Rif

4 Eye of Ugin
4 Eldrazi Temple
4 Adarkar Wastes
3 Flooded Strand
1 Island
1 Plains
1 Wastes
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Vésuva
1 Caves of Koilos
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Hallowed Fountain


1 Dismember
2 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Stony Silence
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Pithing Needle
1 All Is Dust
1 Gut Shot
2 Stubborn Denial
2 Spellskite

While they designed the Eldrazi to play well in the Standard format, they were undercosted for the Modern format with the Sol Lands (lands that produce 2 mana: Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple) that worked exclusively for their creatures.

Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin break fundamental laws of Magic.  When they were printed back in Rise of the Eldrazi and Worldwake, the cards were harmless in a small format with only a short list of cards to interact with.  When Wizards R&D decided to return to Zendikar and fight against the Eldrazi that were released from the Hedrons, the possibility grew that these two cards could be too powerful depending on what was printed in the sets.  Turns out that Oath of the Gatewatch, a set where the planeswalkers won the battle against the Eldrazi, the rest of us are trying to figure out how exactly they did so against such power.  Temple and Eye are both cheap acceleration that isn’t easy to interact with and Eye also doubles as a way to give the deck some late game staying power via its tutor effect.

Wizards R&D has stated that they will do something to slow the deck down but they don’t want to ax the deck completely.  They would like to still have the deck playable but not at its current level.

So what does that mean for Modern?  Banning at least one of the two cards is a foregone conclusion for Modern to survive.

Eldrazi Temple seems more detrimental to the format’s health than Eye of Ugin does.  You can have four copies of Temple in your deck and four copies in play at one time while Eye is Legendary meaning you only get 1 copy of it in play at any one time.  Eye can still lead to some fast draws (Eye into multiple Mimics) but you don’t get to immediately go up to 4 and 5 mana for Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher respectively.  This pushes the deck into a more midrange build rather than a deck that can be both aggro and have a long game plan as well.  With that information, my guess is that Eldrazi Temple will be the card banned when Shadows over Innistrad is released

So how do you spot a card that has the potential of being broken or banned?

  1. Does it fall into one or more of the groups I outlined above?
  2. Is the card much cheap than effects of a similar kind?
  3. Is the card a non-creature card? (This rule isn’t always perfect but it is very close)
  4. Are there other cards that are in the environment that you are working on that also fall into one or more of the groups I outlined above that could be used in this strategy to build something broken?
  5. If you have determined that the card could be broken and you have begun testing the deck, is the deck consistent in its win rates?

This is not a 100% full prove solution but it has been one that I have relied on for many years and it has served me well.

Until next time,

“Power is wasted on the weak. They never keep it for long.”
– Nicol Bolas

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