Magic was never designed to be fair. Not all cards are created equal, which is clear from simply stacking up similar cards side-by-side and comparing them.
Yet, even in a world where we know and accept that there are varying degrees of powerful cards, there is a limit to how much the players and the game can bear:
“An Eternal staple with no legacy in Legacy…”
At some point there are good reasons that cards need to be banned (or, in the case of Vintage, Restricted) in order to ensure the game stays fun and fresh.
Why Do Cards Get Banned?
There are many reasons that a card can find itself banned in a format:
1. A card can be a “win the game” engine that facilitates entire decks:
These are the kinds of cards and interactions that decks get named after and their legality comes down to whether or not a format can sustain their existence. These tend to be cards that create combos that exceed the accepted baseline power level of the format. In Modern, Splinter Twin decks were the best deck and would have presumably continued to be the best deck indefinitely, and so it was banned.
2. A card can be broken in a more ubiquitous way. The card is so good and easy to play that it becomes played in an overwhelming percentage of the viable decks.
These cards are great, but also require very little cost to play across a wide array of strategies and therefore stifle diversity. When Mental Misstep was legal in Legacy, everyone started playing the card regardless of colors or inherent strategy because it is so good and free to cast.
3. A card can be banned to nerf or weaken a strategy that is destabilizing the format.
These are bannings and restrictions that aim to tone down an existing archetype to a more acceptable power level. For example, the DCI doesn’t want storm to be unplayable in Modern, but that archetype with Rite of Flame and Seething Song is simply too strong.
What Cards Could be Unbanned?
It’s fun to theorycraft about which cards could get unbanned in the future because that creates dynamic changes. Adding a potent card to any format is bound to have reverberating effects.
The big change is fun. The big change can also have serious consequences on a format. The fact that such moves have a huge impact is why the DCI is often hesitant to make them. It makes sense, why would they risk screwing up a format by making moves willy-nilly when there wasn’t a big problem in the first place?
Most of the time changes come in the form of bannings. It makes more sense—something is wrong and so they fix it. In the case of unbanning cards, there is nothing specifically wrong and they risk creating a new problem. With that being said, adding new and exciting cards may be risky but it also has a lot of upside: Change makes people excited to try out new cards and ideas.
A lot of people glaze over the fact that there are currently cards that are banned in Standard.
I don’t believe two-card infinite combos belong in Standard (especially between two cards that are inherently good on their own!). I also don’t think that energy needs any help right now, as it is the default best deck. Which leads me to Smuggler’s Copter…
I’m on the fence about the Smuggler’s Copter. I do believe it is the most “unbannable” card in Standard (in comparison to the other two banned cards), but I’m not convinced the move would do more harm than good.
I wouldn’t want to unban a card that simply makes the best deck (Energy) even better. The argument for Smuggler’s Copter is that it would make the “other decks” (presumably, Mardu and Ramunap) better and close the gap. But there is also a good chance that Temur might just play the Smuggler’s Copter itself!
The Modern banned list is pretty clean in the sense that there isn’t too much nonsense on there.
With that being said, the cards that feel the “safest” are:
Some nice, safe, cards that nobody would even notice if they were unbanned.
These are the only real options on the list that don’t immediately create a broken deck. Twin did create a broken deck, but I put it on my list of “potentially” unbannable cards because a lot of people consider the Twin era to be the best period of Modern.
These cards are all great, and unbanning any of them would have a profound effect on the format. You can’t just add another “wild card” to the deck and not expect the game to get a lot crazier…
Will the King come back? Elfish Presley.
I think there are some compelling reasons to consider Bloodbraid Elf for unbanning. The first is that it may have been banned by mistake!
Bloodbraid Elf may have been the Darth Vader actually slaying your Jedi but Deathrite Shaman was always the Emperor pulling the strings from the throne room on the Death Star. At the time Bloodbraid took the hit, people didn’t fully understand how broken Deathrite Shaman truly was (as it was relatively new).
It is possible that in a world without Deathrite Shaman to power it out a turn ahead of time that Bloodbraid might have been a little more fair.
It’s also worth noting that Grixis has displaced B/G/x as the midrange/control strategy of choice. BBE would certainly help reinvigorate that archetype.
It’s also interesting that Visions is legal in Modern now, and could team up with BBE for some abusive cascades!
Of the choices, I’d vote for Bloodbraid Elf. I feel like the format has become really combo driven, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a powerful midrange/controlling card added to the mix.
You can make a case for potential positive outcomes from unbanning all of the cards on the list, but Bloodbraid Elf would have the lowest risk and highest potential upside. I’d love to see some of the iconic and nostalgic cards from the Modern era legal in Modern: Umezawa’s Jitte, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and BBE, but these cards are just so individually powerful that it is really risky.
The Legacy banned list also feels pretty obvious. Not too many clunkers on there. With that being said, the few that stand out as unbannable are:
These were the three that felt the most safe compared to the rest. To be honest, I feel like this is a pretty easy, one clear choice situation. I personally wouldn’t want to see Imperial Seal or Windfall unbanned in Legacy.
I don’t even really understand why Mind Twist is banned in Legacy. I understand that Mind Twist is powerful. I played back in the day when Mind Twist was one of the most powerful cards in Vintage. But the card feels like more bark than bite these days.
Magic has changed a lot since the days Mind Twist was banned. Games are faster and more about what is going on on the board than about grinding card advantage. I understand that knocking out an opponent’s entire grip is devastating, but the kinds of games where that is likely to happen feel less and less.
It isn’t like players don’t have Force of Will, Flusterstorm, Spell Pierce, Daze, and nameless other cheap counterspells to interact with Mind Twist. Mind Twist has to be expensive in order to be good.
In order to be better than Hymn to Tourach, it needs to be cast for 3B. 4-mana discard three. 5-mana discard four. 6-mana discard five. None of these iterations are particularly “busted” Magic cards. It is flexible, which is something, but I don’t think this card needs to remain banned.
Restricted in Vintage is the equivalent of banned in other formats. I love my Vintage, so I thought I’d throw it in as a freebie.
Make it real!
My first and favorite option. Errata Chaos Orb and restrict it in Vintage.
1, Sacrifice Chaos Orb: destroy target permanent.
Make Chaos Orb back into the Power 9 caliber card it was designed to be.
It’s never going to happen, but it would be sweet to play with Chaos Orb in Vintage.
Among the actual Restricted Vintage cards that could be unrestricted:
Even when I build and play draw-seven-style decks like Steel City Vault, I don’t include Windfall because the card simply isn’t very good. The fear is that a deck with a bunch of draw-sevens and Windfall on the play will always have a draw-seven. Cool story, what if you’re on the draw against Workshops? Dead. What if they have a Force of Will? Dead. What if they go first and dump a bunch of Moxen? Dead. The deck is scary in theory, but stinks in reality.
This is the kind of unrestriction that makes zero impact on the format because the game and the times have changed so much since it needed to be restricted. The card is borderline unplayable, and having 4 copies doesn’t change that fact.
Just for fun. These stand out as being out of place on a banned list:
Just to be clear, these cards are legal:
I would describe the kind of Commander decks that I play to be semi-competitive and I would not care in the slightest if somebody was playing with the first three cards. Also, if I were playing an actual competitive Commander deck (many of my friends have decks like these) I would 100% not care if my opponent’s played these cards because they are 100% terrible.
As an aside, I strongly believe that taking extra turns should be banned in multiplayer formats.
It’s always fun to take a stroll through the banned lists and think about what could be. One thing I noticed is that the current banned lists are pretty tight, all things considered, and there are no longer a ton of obvious bad cards lingering around, which is good for Magic as a whole.
It’s pretty exciting to think about potentially BBE-ing in Modern or Mind Twisting in Legacy one day. What do you all think? What changes would most excite you?