My Take on Why We Don’t Have Banned-As-Commander

I get asked a periodically why Commander doesn’t just have a second banlist for cards that can’t be your Commander. On the surface, it seems like an obvious thing. You just add another rule, put a bunch of Commanders on it, and call it a day. But it’s not as simple as that, and I don’t think it would actually have the effect that most people who are asking for it think it would.

The first thing to note is that more rules is not a thing to aspire to. That’s not due to a belief that people aren’t smart enough to handle them, but that there’s already a lot of rules, and each one introduces an additional burden. We spend a lot of time trying to keep the rules as simple as possible and prefer not to stray too far from normal Magic; the default stance is to have some friction in the process.

Secondly, the banlist, which is part of the rules, is incredibly small in proportion to the size of the cardpool. Shrinking the banlist is not a goal and there’s space to grow if necessary. There’s no shortage of cards to explore and more coming every few months.

With those two points in mind, consider all ~27K Magic cards on a scale from -10 to 10, where the number is that card’s overall positive/negative impact on the Commander experience. If you plotted it all out, you’d have a bell curve with a very high peak; most cards are pretty neutral or mildly negative/positive. Let’s say, hypothetically, that we ban every card with a rating of -8 or lower. That’s way out on the end of the bell curve, and that’s OK! Getting less-negative cards out of the format doesn’t have enough positive impact to justify lengthening the rules.

If we examine the cards that are banned because they are problematic in the Command Zone, they all – with one possible exception – fall on the negative side of the bell curve outside of it as well. They might hypothetically be only a -4 or -5 there, but they aren’t cards we’re eager to reintroduce.

Cards currently banned might not be banned if they couldn’t be your Commander, but that overlooks an important caveat: getting them off the main list and onto a second list doesn’t make the rules shorter and it doesn’t make the format better as a whole.

A banned-as-commander list will get created when there’s sufficient cards that are problematic in the Command Zone that we actively want in the format. I don’t have an exact number, but it’s probably a half-dozen or so. Could that happen? It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely. As I mentioned above, I think there’s currently one card that meets the criteria and that’s Golos. If we find ourselves in this situation a few more times in the coming years, it’ll become a topic of conversation.