Last updated on November 20, 2023
Splinter Twin | Illustration by Goran Josic
After the unbanning of Preordain in Modern and Mind's Desire in Legacy, the MTG community is awash with lists of good candidates to unban in various formats. It seems like everyone has a favorite card that they’d like to see unbanned in one format or another.
Here I'm going to contribute to that discourse head-on and see what’s possibly up next to be unbanned. I’ll be considering unbans across formats, in Legacy, Modern, Pioneer and Commander. Ready for some hot takes?
Let’s get started!
What Types of Cards Should Be Unbanned?
Bridge from Below | Illustration by Tim Hildebrandt & Greg Hildebrandt
Our principle: Unbannings are meta-makers as much as bannings.
I’m not sure everyone really understands why so much of Magic Twitter, Reddit, blogs and podcasts tended to critically latch on to Michael Majors’s statement in the announcement that the Preordain unbanning “is also part of a goal to give something back to Blue-Red Murktide,” as if B&R should never be about meta-making.
I get it. What has Murktide Regent done to deserve such care and feeding? But what I love about the announcement was its honesty about what unbannings are. Search out any unban discussion and the usual trigger for someone suggesting an unban is to list a new set of answers to the card/combo/deck printed since the card hit the list. But the implication of that is that each unban buffs at least two classes of decks, the ones that run the card and the ones that run the answer. That can have a hefty swing on the meta. That might be exciting, but we’re also engineering that meta with every unban, as we know exactly what the decks are ahead of time.
For example, Orcish Bowmasters mutes the power of, say, Ponder, if we were to consider that in Modern, but that means decks with black and blue both get more powerful on one hand, and more inevitable on the other.
None of that’s necessarily bad, but our principle here is to explore the implications of that in each case.
First a few caveats, one for Legacy and one for Commander.
Legacy is tough, because three reasonably common suggestions for unbans here run straight into the Reserved List: Library of Alexandria, Survival of the Fittest and Earthcraft. Whether or not these unbans are a good idea is kind of irrelevant as long as they remain expensive and hard to come by. Game pieces need some reasonable degree of access.
One of the more common refrains in Commander is to change the structure of bans so that cards could once again be “banned as a commander” as was possible before 2014, which would allow the return of Braids, Cabal Minion and others. A possible “banned as companion” ruling could be added so that adorable Lutri, the Spellchaser could find a home. The Rules Committee’s concern was that having multiple banlists is confusing, but that seems a bit loose these days. I can’t have a wishboard for Wish but I can run an attractions deck. Some cards have partner and some only partner with. Plus there’s backgrounds. And the Strixhaven Deans. RC, we got this!
This one’s risky, for sure.
Yes, Prophet of Kruphix warped the game around itself when it is dropped onto an EDH table. Yes it extends the game by quite a lot. And yes it has a lot on its text box which makes it more impactful than similar cards like Wilderness Reclamation and Unwinding Clock.
Reading the thoughts on this card in Commander on the internet feels a bit like listening to old fishing stories. “You weren’t there kid. Lemme tell ya, that old shaaak got on my line and we were in it!”
Since this card’s banning, cEDH became a thing. F.I.R.E. design became a thing. They printed Tergrid, God of Fright. The game can be, thus, much faster, much more powerful, and sometimes much, much slower than it was.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think Prophet wouldn’t still be busted. It means that we’re so much more used to busted things. So much more so that I think we’re all wayyyy better at Commander table politics than we needed to be back in 2016. And that’s what would keep Prophet contained.
Banned in Modern for the sins of The Gaak, Bridge from Below kind of does nothing unless powerful enough dredge-like cards enter the format to break it. Even then, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis decks were getting light on their Bridge copies toward the end of the Hogaak-Bridge run anyway. Just imagine slotting this into, say Yawgmoth, Thran Physician. Doesn’t work. Let the folks play with their creepy toy!
Let’s unban Mind Twist in Legacy. Sure, fast mana can make for a brutally unfun Mind Twist on turn two, but lots of decks, for example the Painter's Servant deck, can win before that. Hymn to Tourach is legal and barely played. I don’t think most decks with access to black would even want this outside of Pox, and this isn’t going to move that deck’s tier level. That deck, which uses Dark Ritual to speed out resource depletion spells like Smallpox, is perhaps unfun for the opponent. But so are a lot of Legacy decks!
On the other side of the coin, if this did improve Pox, that would be good for opposing decks like Delver, with cheap creatures, some burn spells, and Murktide Regent, which can utilize that swollen graveyard. But this is mostly all a wash.
When Pioneer becomes too full of bloated over-the-top decks like mono green Devotion, the world wants, as Arnold says in Predator, to get to the choppa. Banned after mono black aggro did some tournament cleanup, Smuggler's Copter was grounded, in part to create “a clearer role in the metagame for reactive and controlling decks.”
We certainly don’t see that kind of environment in the Pioneer meta, unless you count Rakdos Midrange as reactive/control. Sure, the Copter’s ability to smash the turn after a board wipe really puts the nail in the old-style control coffin, but the coffin of old-fashioned big board wipe control has been long buried by Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Feign Death.
Banned since the earliest days of Commander, when the Biorhythm wincon seemed really obnoxious, it stands on the banlist as an emblem for the dislike of alternate wincons that invalidate the previous game state.
But isn’t that how every single game of cEDH ends?
Maybe it’s good I’m not on the Commander RC, because I love cards like Triskaidekaphile, and I pack Shaman of Forgotten Ways into my green stompy decks to get that Biorhythm high. It’s never worked yet. But some day….
I know, cheeky.
I think Modern needs affinity to be better. There were lots of problems with affinity back in the day, but as long as Krark-Clan Ironworks stays banned I think the free stuff affinity gives is not quite up to the rate of the free stuff in Rakdos scam/evoke. Banned since the outset of Modern, Ancient Den, Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, and Tree of Tales can join Treasure Vault and Darksteel Citadel on the Modern list.
My modest proposal is to just start with Tree of Tales as a test balloon, since it’s in the wrong color to really go ham with the affinity structures. Then unban another every cycle until you catch ‘em all or you break something. Rebanning one is better than rebanning five.
When the game gets down to 1v1, Iona is a 9-mana wincon that can get cheated in. But let’s say I cheat it out on turn three while there are still four players. Unless they’re all playing the same mono colored deck, they gang up on me so I don’t start blinking Iona. This is another card that feels like it’s solved by better political play.
How much worse is this for mono color decks than Blood Moon or even Spreading Plague? All color hosers are probably against the spirit of Commander… 15 years ago. But the game’s now filled with salty cards and salty players, and at least Iona lets me know it’s time to pack up my stuff, unlike Dockside Extortionist or Esper Sentinel, which tell me I’m going to lose… in two hours, too late to join that draft pod over there.
Banned from the start in Legacy, is a Frantic Search unban enough to make High Tide decks good again? I dunno. That seems like the real home for unbanned Mind's Desire to do its thing, which it really hasn’t thus far. In terms of other decks, I’m not sure Delver even has anything to cut for this. But we could see another storm build from these pieces. But is that a good enough storm build to compete? It’s hard to think of the decks with the answers that benefit from this because it doesn’t quite seem good enough.
Banned in Modern from the beginning because the card is just stupid, Umezawa's Jitte was, in part, banned because it would hose aggro decks. You know, that part of the card that dishes out -1/-1 to creatures.
After it’s equipped.
To a creature.
Orcish Bowmasters has a few thoughts on that subject.
This card is now almost a boutique build-around given Modern’s power level. So let’s play with it!
Without the protection of Teferi, Time Raveler, Kethis, the Hidden Hand is a deck with a powerful combo finish that can still be disrupted. In a Pioneer that has Greasefang, Okiba Boss and even Indomitable Creativity, Kethis combo can join the fray.
If you actually read how Recurring Nightmare works, it's easy to see why it was banned in Commander. It’s repeatable and sort of indestructible as long as you have a creature to sacrifice to bounce it and start all over again. It’s powerful. And obnoxious. But so are a lot of recent cards.
But it’s just cardboard without a graveyard.
Two things are happening. First, decks like Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver induce even newish players into playing more and more graveyard decks. Second, WotC is printing more and better graveyard answers each set. Thus more people are playing the hate. That’s a recipe for a meta that’s ready for this card. It’ll be powerful, but it’ll be okay.
It seems like the world of Magic internet wants this unbanned, so I’ll hop on board the “free the Splinter Twin” train. Sure, the deck was oppressive, warped the meta around it, and required you to run answers.
So nothing like The One Ring, then?
The answers are easier and cheaper now. The Twin deck requires running otherwise bad cards like Pestermite. Most damning, it’s maybe a turn or two too slow for today’s Modern?
If we’re all wrong and someone breaks it anew, well, I kinda want to see the face-off between it and the big decks in the meta. Don’t you?
Before we wrap this up and I prepare for the comments, let’s deal with a few frequently asked questions about unbannings.
Sometimes. Most recently we’ve had Preordain unbanned in Modern and Mind's Desire unbanned in Legacy. The most recent Commander unban was Worldfire in 2021. The very first MTG unban in an official format was Juggernaut, of all things, unbanned in Extended back in 1997.
Yes, which is why Wizards is perhaps slower on unbans than players might like. The key example is dredge superstar Golgari Grave-Troll, unbanned in 2015 and banned again in 2017.
There’s no clear schedule, of course. Ideally, WotC would like to not be shaking up formats with bans and unbans, but across formats ranging from Alchemy to Vintage, there have often been a couple a year for a while.
An unbanned card is playable in the typical way in whatever format it’s now freed in. Restricted is only a thing in Vintage, and means you can only play one copy in the main deck and sideboard combined. This is for cards that were overpowered from the beginning, like Black Lotus, as well as relative newcomers like Narset, Parter of Veils. Few cards are outright banned in Vintage, and those are special cases like “dexterity” cards such as Chaos Orb, cards that don’t work in the format like conspiracy or ante cards, or a set of cards that are racially and/or culturally insensitive.
Nexus of Fate | Illustration by Mike Bierek
I know many of you want more. Faithless Looting in Modern, Nexus of Fate in Pioneer. I’ve even read people trying to make the case for Karakas in Commander! Unbans are a delicate balance, just like bans, and one person’s oppressive deck is another person’s favorite.
And some will read this list and do a spit take at something I want off the list!
For my money, cards should be banned when the cost of interrupting their oppression becomes too onerous on a format, if it’s even possible. And cards should be unbanned when that picture diminishes. And I think this list hits that mark.
I’m sort of afraid to ask what you think, but I can be tough! Give us your thoughts in the comments below or over on Discord.Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: