All posts by Toby Elliott

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.


We have four preview cards for you today. When I first opened them, my immediate reaction was “I have to explain Trenzalore?” Yikes. The Matt Smith era was definitely high on the timey-wimey stuff. But more on that later. We’ll start with… relatively easier stuff and go “chronologically.”

The first card we have today is a phenomenon, which is a special kind of Planechase card that acts like a triggered ability. You walk to it, something happens, then you walk away.

We’re seeing a significant event late in the Tenth Doctor’s run. Donna Noble (his companion at the time) has, in desperation, touched the severed hand of the Doctor, which is at the time filled with regeneration energy (which is itself all a long story).

But as a result of that, Donna changes. She gains all the knowledge of a Time Lord (and, as we’ll learn later, gets her DNA rewritten some, too.) This is actually a gigantic problem as she can’t actually contain all that knowledge, but for a brief while she’s superpowered and saves the day.

The phenomenon essentially creates DoctorDonna, the merger of the two.

The second card is from a beloved episode of the series titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” written by Neil Gaiman himself. It’s a standalone in which the TARDIS’ consciousness (yeah, it’s sentient) is trapped in a mortal vessel. Yes, it’s so that another being can drain all the life from it, but while the Doctor has to figure out how to save it, it’s an opportunity for the Eleventh Doctor to have a heart to heart with his longtime travelling companion.

The card represents Idris, who had her mind wiped for the purpose, hosting the TARDIS for a brief period. Warning: it doesn’t end well for Idris.

Lake Silencio is the location that kicks off the main plot of the second season of the Eleventh Doctor’s run with a mystery that will last the season.

The Doctor meets with his companions (Rory, Amy and kind of River at that point) and an astronaut rises out of the lake. The Doctor orders them not to intervene and goes to talk to the astronaut who he seems to know and, a moment later, the astronaut shoots him. He’s dead, for real (and they even burn the body for good measure.)

But then the doctor steps out of a back room in a local diner and the mystery commences. And there’s time travel involved, of course. Learning the identity of the astronaut and why this is all happening occurs over the course of the season, and by the time we return to Lake Silencio with all the details… I won’t spoil it all here.

But, part of that mystery requires that Lake Silencio be a fixed point in time, which you can’t change with time travel. And the plane reflects that perfectly by giving everything split second. No putting things on the stack to retroactively alter events that have already happened!

And then there’s Trenzalore. I’m not even going to try to explain Trenzalore to you; it’s the culmination of the entire Eleventh Doctor run, tying together plot threads from the whole series. We’d be here all day.

But the design of this card is beautiful, so let’s try to give you enough context to understand why. The Doctor essentially retires to Trenzalore and lives there for 900 years, fighting off a series of alien invaders (the planet is the last link to Gallifrey, where Time Lords hail from) until he’s no longer capable of doing so.

But he’s out of regenerations. And old. And the final enemy, is, of course, the Daleks. So he goes to the top of the clock tower to do what he can to stave them off. But before he does, he is given a poem that, in part, reads:

Eleven’s hour is over now,
The clock is striking twelve’s.

In the final confrontation, he makes a connection to Gallifrey and the Time Lords grant him a new cycle of regenerations (and thus the strength to defeat the Daleks). And this card reflects that, giving you a new hand to help your Time Lord defeat their enemies as the clock ends the eleventh hour and strikes twelve.

Thus far, Doctor Who looks like a design slam dunk, and we’re excited to see the rest of the cards. If you haven’t had the chance to play Planechase with Commander, give it a try. It will certainly add to the chaos!


Sheldon passed away last night after a seven-year battle with cancer.

We all strive to leave behind a lasting legacy. It is a measure of Sheldon that he did it twice.

He first picked up the judge program and instilled a vision of fairness and proper behavior in competitive Magic that carries on to this day. Until his retirement from judging in 2011 he was the face of the program; the judge that all the other judges aspired to be.

And then, there’s Commander. Though he was always quick to credit Adam Staley as the creator, without his efforts we would not have Commander. He saw the potential of the format as a vessel for social play and tirelessly advocated for it as a way to make and spend time with friends. Along the way, he picked up many of them and unlocked a tidal wave of a community that had often been ignored. He championed that diversity, always looking for a way to raise up underserved voices in the community.

He faced down the challenges of his cancer with the relentless verve of one of his beloved Shakespearean characters, refusing to let it stop him living life to the fullest for as long as he could. Even a week ago, he refused to rule out getting to Las Vegas for MagicFest because he so wanted another chance to make his fans, friends, and everyone else happy as they celebrated the game together.

Sheldon always said a great leader planned for a future without them, and took the steps to ensure that the RC and CAG could continue after he was gone. We will deeply miss his wisdom, but look forward to honoring his mission.

Goodbye, friend. Safe travels.

May 2023 Quarterly Update

No changes.

We’re generally very happy with the state of Commander at the moment. We wanted to wait for the release of Aftermath to make sure there wasn’t anything of concern in it, but it looks good and we’re excited for all the new toys that March of the Machine has provided.

We’re particularly interested in seeing how Battles play out in Commander, where the multiplayer dynamics should have some interesting impact on their usage. Throw them in decks and let us know how it goes.

Poison was raised as a concern after all the new Toxic and Proliferate cards in All Will Be One, so we kept an eye on it for a bit, We don’t feel that it significantly altered the landscape for poison and don’t have plans to make any adjustments. It remains a mechanic that is sometimes good at taking out one person, but struggles to take down an entire table. 

We will have an announcement day with The Lord of the Rings. Traditionally we’ve made announcements the week before the release of Standard-legal sets, and LotR isn’t one, but it’s a significant set in the calendar cycle (with an accompanying MagicCon) which leads to an expectation that there’ll be one, so we’ll be back in mid-June with another update. Until then, enjoy March of the Machine!

January 2023 Quarterly Update


No Changes


No Changes

Lots of new toys, Phyrexian and otherwise, to play with, and we aren’t seeing anything that’s currently threatening our goals for the Commander experience.

Some folks have been asking about the number of poison counters in the wake of Phyrexia: All Will Be One. We’ll obviously keep an eye out, but at the moment we don’t see a need to raise it; the mechanic has not historically been all that strong due to the need to go it alone in killing people. Once everyone has had a chance to play with the new cards and mechanics and the immediate enthusiasm for the current set has faded a bit, we’ll see if action is needed.

While Sheldon’s article may have raised some eyebrows about Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, the RC has had no discussions about banning it. Some of us had concerns about the design: stapling a casual-popular mechanic onto a casual-dangerous mechanic comes with some risks that are unrelated to power level, but there’s absolutely no way that would lead to a zero-day ban, and we doubt any action will be needed in the future. 

We’ve publicly had our eye on Dockside Extortionist for a while now, and have ultimately concluded that, unless there’s a sudden surge into more casual spaces – where it hasn’t really thrived due to the lower density of cheap, fast mana – we don’t anticipate taking action on it. It’s a ridiculously powerful card, but scales with the rest of the table, and at the point it becomes broken, plenty of other broken stuff is already happening.

We’ll be back with our next update on April 10th, with March of the Machine. Until then, come hang out with all the great people in the discord to talk about the format!

Hybrid Mana, Revisited

Back in February of 2015, there was a big debate about hybrid mana on MTGSalvation. As a semi-regular poster back then, I eventually waded in because it was getting quite heated on both sides and I figured an RC perspective might calm folks down. Since then, I’ve found myself pointing folks back to that post quite often when the subject comes up and people ask about the RC stance. Seven plus years later, the points remain relevant, but the examples – and some secondary references (such as the old color production rule) – are pretty dated. I figured I should rewrite it to be more up to date and put it somewhere where I didn’t need to dig it out of ancient discussion-board postings.

People sometimes ask why we discourage discussions about hybrid mana on the Commander Discord server. It’s not that we refuse to tolerate dissenting opinions; it’s that there’s no new ground being tread and recycling the same arguments over and over doesn’t actually make for an interesting server for folks to be on. If someone came in with a brand new take on hybrid that wasn’t “designer intent” or “mechanics of Magic” it’d probably be an interesting and welcome conversation.

Yes, designer intent was to make hybrid cards easier to play than traditional multicolor spells. Designer intent is a deep rabbit hole. Phyrexian mana was designed to make some cards easier to play in exchange for life. Force of Will was designed to be played without blue mana. In the early days of Magic, many large creatures were designed with no goal of casting them; they were reanimation targets and the actual cost of the card did not matter. There’s lots of designer intent in the game.

Yes, hybrid cards are unquestionably multicolored cards at all times. Mechanically, they function in-game exactly as they do in the rest of Magic. If you gain control of a creature with a hybrid activation, you can activate it, even if the cost contains a symbol not in your color identity. With the elimination of the color-production rule several years ago, you can even activate it using a color of mana not in your color identity! It’s always true that a Blade Historian can be Hydroblasted, whether you cast it with WWWW, RRRR or something in between.

Neither of these points are all that relevant in our calculus, because they are based around gameplay, but rule 3 (the color identity rule) is not a game play rule. Rule 3 is a deckbuilding rule. It matters when you are putting your deck together, not when you sit down to play. A deckbuilding rule is a restriction, designed to keep you from just throwing whatever you want in your decks. All formats have them – what sets are legal, how many you can put in your deck, etc, etc. They are used to shape a format. Many of them are mechanical. In Commander some are also aesthetic, which is something that helps distinguish Commander from other formats.

Commander cares about color, and always has. Yes, the rules have evolved over time, but that’s largely in parallel with the rules getting written down and slowly becoming more formalized in the first place. Trying to go originalist isn’t terribly useful – the rules were a somewhat contradictory hodge-podge when we started. But, from the very beginning deckbuilding has been based around restrictions that care about color, and “you can’t have mana symbols in your deck that aren’t on your commander” is elegant, easy to explain and aesthetically pleasing to us. (Yes, that only covers 99.9% of cases, so there’s another rule for color indicator because that obviously applies and yes, Extort is a little unfortunate. But, reminder text just can’t matter.) Given that rule, it’s very easy to see where hybrid falls. “Fixing” hybrid requires messing with that fundamental rule and the alternatives are more complex and less aesthetically pleasing (folks are welcome to disagree on that last one, obviously).

Making a change would require a compelling reason to violate that aesthetic restriction. Making cards available to more decks isn’t a good reason. Any change to the deckbuilding criteria would make more or fewer cards available, and making more cards available to decks in a format with so many cards already available is certainly not something we’re seeking to do. We think the format is better if mono-U decks and U/R decks might have to find different answers to problems. In general we like to be more restrictive in deckbuilding and more open in game play and that’s the philosophy that underlies how we handle hybrid mana.

Unfinity UPDATE

We promised an update on Unfinity, because of all the crazy new things that have been introduced in the set.

In short: There are no rules changes. What this means is:

  • Cards from Unfinity without acorn stamps are legal to play by default in Commander. Cards with acorn stamps are not.
  • Stickers can be played; if you don’t have any, our understanding is that there will be an online tool to let you generate some sheets. A reminder that you can only sticker your own cards (or sleeves, in most cases).
  • Attractions are legal. This caused the most internal debate, as attractions really play in some spaces we are wary of in Commander. However, attractions are not defined as traditional cards, and don’t live outside the game, so they do work within the rules framework we have. Making them illegal would have required changing the rules quite substantially (or banning the entire class of cards), and we don’t think they are problematic enough to justify a change.
  • Squirrels still rule.

Enjoy Unfinity!


Our friends at Wizards of the Coast have provided us with a couple of free preview cards for the Unfinity set. When they asked us what kind of card we would like to preview, we said “Well, we’re big fans of Clones.” Somehow the email seems to have gotten garbled, because they sent us

We wrote them back that there had been some confusion and we were talking about copies. They apologized and sent us another card.

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Clown Extruder, art by Marco Bucci

Buncha jokers over there in Renton, I tell you.

But Wait, There’s More

We have a special bonus card today!

Command Performance, art by Kirsten Zirngier

I think they kind of missed an opportunity to make the Scryfall folks cry (well, another opportunity) by not naming this Very Cryptic Command. Looking forward to the textless version in a few years!

Unfinity brings some crazy new cards to the Commander table, some of which you’ll need to have pregame discussions about. Remember that cards with the acorn holostamp are not legal by default, but the rest (including the ones above)… go crazy. It’s clear that the folks at Wizards did.

Announcing New RC Members – OLIVIA GOBERT-HICKS and JIM LAPAGE

Please join us in welcoming Olivia Gobert-Hicks and Jim Lapage to the Rules Committee!

After multiple rounds of interviews with some fantastic candidates, Olivia and Jim demonstrated a deep understanding of the Commander Philosophy, the right outlook for successfully managing a format, and a bunch of great ideas that we’re looking forward to exploring further. We’re excited to have them onboard and helping to shape the future of Commander.

Olivia was on the leading edge of webcam streaming of Commander, nearly a year before the pandemic and well before it caught on across the community, providing a positive blueprint for the practice.  This is just one example of the kind of foresight and insight into the format that she brings to bear.  Infused with the spirit of the format, her passion and power make her a significant representative for Commander to the groups that she will interface with as an RC member, from the wider community to design teams in Studio X. She is a leader in the truest sense.

Jim possesses one of the keenest minds in Magic.  His ability to understand, dissect, and articulate difficult ideas, thoughts, and processes is unparalleled, uniquely qualifying him as one of the format’s primary architects. His work demonstrates a belief in the power of Commander as a social format and force for positive change. He is equally at home interacting and communicating with diverse groups, offering the opportunity to distill input from across the broad Commander player base. He is the type of thinker who will help chart a smooth course for steering Commander into the future.  

We could spend a whole lot more time going on about Olivia’s passion for the format or Jim’s ability to break down a problem in great detail, but let’s have them say a few words about themselves.


I played my first game of Magic in an eight player two-headed giant Commander pod in 2014 and have never looked back. My enthusiasm for the format and love of creating cool things has led to me cosplaying Magic characters at events, streaming on my Twitch channel, co-hosting my own Commander show, and serving on the CAG since 2019. 

I want to use my time on the RC to help assist players in having the best possible experience, provide resources and ideas to players to keep things fresh and engaging. My hope is that I can help others find the same sense of community, discovery, and most simply, fun, that the format has given me over the years. 

Outside of Magic, I’m trained as a master jeweler – which may explain my love for artifacts! I have also worked on numerous political campaigns, and facilitated fundraisers for charities and causes close to my heart. In my free time, I enjoy playing Path of Exile, lifting weights, and making too many cool props for LARP.


I started playing Commander in original Innistrad when I discovered that Shield Sphere wasn’t legal in Modern, and that pretty well sums up my deck-building style. I value the freedom of exploration that Commander provides in Magic, specifically when building extremely unusual and sometimes powerful decks. In 2018 I started a Youtube channel showcasing a mix of casual and competitive social gameplay, combo explanations, and analysis of the strategic and social aspects of the format.

In the past I’ve used my platform to help destigmatize high-powered play and to showcase the unique experiences available in underexplored corners of the format. This often involved communicating my own motivations for playing the game. I’d like to continue this work by creating concrete tools and methods that event organizers can use to communicate realistic expectations about the play environment they’re creating. I want to use my role in format leadership to help others explore and appreciate the full breadth of experiences available in Commander. 

In my spare time, I enjoy cooking and baking; crossword puzzles; escape rooms and logic puzzles; and camping and hiking. When not playing Magic I’m playing Slay the Spire, Diablo III, or any game from the Legend of Zelda series.

If you want to hear more of their thoughts – and you should! –  they’ll be in the channel #rc-expansion-welcome on the RC Discord server starting at 11:30 AM Eastern for an hour or so.  You’ll be able to find them, along with the rest of us, regularly in other channels on the server, always happy to talk about Magic’s Greatest Format.