We’ve previously covered the Conquest format and what sets it apart from the Commander format. In today’s column, we’re looking at how the format’s ban list differs from Commanders, and the impact certain “unbanned” cards may have.
Part of the genesis of the conquest format, I have to imagine, is how idiosyncratic the banlist for commander really is. As I’ve alluded to in previous articles, one of the ways you can go about building decks is to look at cards that are banned in other formats. This strategy only works if you evaluate the card and format holistically, and in particular for singleton formats you have to consider whether a single iteration of a card is as dangerous as 4 of, particularly when the card has a really strong synergy with another card, that you also get to run 4 of. I’ll admit, I’m a dirty cat oven player, and I loved that death to pieces. The cat was banned though, so does that mean it’s broken in commander? Is cat oven something that can be brought to commander?Cauldron Familiar was seemingly printed to be a combo card with Witch’s Oven. Sac the cat to the oven, get a food. Sac the food to get the cat back. Lather rinse and repeat. Amazingly, mayhem devil was also sitting around. So on top of your opponent losing a life and you gaining a life, you got 2 pings off. You could also run bastion of remembrance to get even more power out of it, but frankly Cat + Oven + Devil was so broken it was hard to overcome. Mid range decks that didn’t die to the aggro frequently got a a taste of call of the death-dweller. So the short answer is, Cauldron Familiar wasn’t that strong on it’s own. It needed to be consistent, meaning 4 of, and you really needed to get your oven. But when you did, it was magical. Also it was super annoying, generating tons and tons of triggers.
So what are the top cards, banned in commander, but allowed in conquest, that are potentially broken or breakable?
There are sixteen cards that are banned in Commander, but allowed in Conquest, and for me they fall into 5 categories:
1. Cards that may well be broken or overly valuableProphet of Kruphix
Prophet of Kruphix does a lot, untapping all creatures and lands you control and giving your creatures flash. It’s a tremendous value engine, letting you end step drop creatures, end step drop creatures, end stop drop creatures, then try to go off. It also has enormous synergy with stax pieces that prevent untapping like Winter Orb or Stasis. There are other cards with simliar effects, so you can build a deck and rely on getting one of them, even if prophet is the best, there’s also Wilderness Reclamation, which is nowhere near as strong, but still good (also banned itself in standard) and Murkfend Liege (only creatures though, and only blue and green ones) Unwinding Clock, only artifacts, and Seedborne Muse, which does more untapping but doesn’t give Flash. That’s rather a lot of similar untapping value effects, definitely enough that in an 80 card deck you can more or less rely on getting one or more of them. U/G there’s quite a bit of paying mana to draw cards over and over, which really lets you snowball once you get one of these effects onto the board. Thankfully blue also has a wincon with decking yourself so, all in all I think Prophet of Kruphix is definitely a card that can be the linchpin of a deck, as part of it’s 79 cards. The real weakness of prophet, and all it’s near copies, is cost. In a format defined by cards with low mana values and decks that have average costs between 2-4 frequently, Prophet has mana value 5, wilderness rec 4, murkfiend liege 5, Seedborne muse 5, and Unwinding clock 4.Paradox Engine
This is a scary card, and I wouldn’t be that shocked to see it banned. Especially with magecraft running around, this is a potentially game breaking card. In combination with many cards this will let you run through your deck, ending the game. In some sense it’s so powerful that it’s going to attract obvious hate. At 4 colorless mana value though, there are quite a few ways to ramp it out rather fast, and then you can even do some tech stuff to untap it like counter your own spells.
2. Solid all-around value cardsLeovold Emissary of Trest
This is an extremely solid card and a viable commander, 3 for a creature with 3 toughness that limits card draw is great. Getting to draw cards when your opponents target your stuff is great. Great card, tremendous value and inhibitory value. Not particularly flashy, but just a solid solid card.Gifts Ungiven
Gifts costs 4 mana but is a very solid, Instant-speed card. It’s perfect for cheating cards out of your graveyard (like the primordial or titan). Especially in a format with limited tutors this is a strong card. I would actually expect this to eat a possible ban at some point in the future if the format gets more stax focused. Gifts’ main drawback is the cost, but being an instant means you can hold it to cast until your opponent’s end step.Lutri, the spellchaser
For whatever reason (okay we know the reason) the RC doesn’t do “banned as companion” so they straight up banned Lutri. Admittedly it would’ve by default turned every U/R deck into a 97 card deck (gitaxian probe exists) or even a partner U/R into 96. The trigger is so weird though, and the color identity so specific that I’m really only seeing it as beneficiary of when you really want to copy a spell with a creature. But in addition to copying a spell, it has to be a spell that you own, and you have to have cast Lutri – which rules out things like spark double.
Weird effects that are powerful but probably too slowBraids, Cabal Minion
Braids isn’t a bad card, by any means, but it’s a slow effect, and to really leverage you will need something like a Mayhem Devil or Tergrid, God of Fright, but two are mono-black, and Tergrid is mana value 5, Braids mana value 4, just really probably too slow. Stil lmaybe in some kind of rakdos deck, particularly backed up with treasures (both as your sac outlet and to generate sac triggers).Iona, Shield of Emeria
So yeah, your opponent’s cant cast spells of the chosen color is pretty crazy. But it costs 9. And blue isn’t in every deck in conquest, so the format is a bit different. But it’s mana value 9. Even so if you can cheat it out, I could see playing this, particularly if you drop it right before you go off. Or with Kaalia of the Vast, just because.Panoptic Mirror
Yeah, um, right, so this is banned but Isochron Scepter isnt? I don’t even know what to say. I mean, yes, I suppose the real goal with panoptic is a taking turns deck that just locks the game out with one of the 5 cost “take an extra turn” cards. Other than that I don’t really see it. The nice thing about that though would be that it’s all colorless mana. OIher than that it’s apparently a long-term value engine. You can also exile multiple cards on it, and you can exile a card in response to it’s trigger. If there were more good artifact tutors this would probably be a fairly dangerous win-con card.
Big overly expensive fatties that only matter in battlecruiserPrimeval Titan
I think this is the card that is most often mocked for being on the banlist. Okay go get two lands, put them into play tapped. Well that’s strongish, but it’s not an Isochron Scepter or an Ad Nauseum or Bola’s Citadel. Prime time isn’t a value engine that will soar through your deck, it just gets you a ton of land. Land is good, and you can get Valakut Molten Pinnacle or Field of the Dead, and that’s strong. But to be perfectly honest, for a card banned for being too powerful, Primeval Titan isn’t even playable in competitive edh. There might be a deck or two that would run it, either to cheat it out or just for nostalgia sake but really, it’s a battlecruiser card. In a battlecruiser format it’s broken, an may well dominate games, but it has mana value six. SIX. For Six mana you can cast spells off the top of your deck and lose life equal to their CMC whenever you want, and also look at the top of your library whenever you want.
The way I can see this card being used is basically as part of an Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait or Tatyova, Benthic Druid deck, or possibly as an Omnath, locus of creation aka Omnath the IVth piece. Basically in decks that lands really matter. But even there, it just costs so much. Also I don’t think those decks are actually good, I’m just obsessed with making one work. Have I mentioned my gate deck has a 90%+ winrate in EDH?Sylvan Primordial
So we’re back in the land of 7-mana value creatures which are really only going to affect battlecruiser games for the most part. The one thing about Sylvan Primordial that’s a bit unusual is it will let you do mass land destruction. That’s actually fairly scary and unusual. Having it ramp you in response is pretty nice. It’s also looking for “forest cards” as opposed to basic forests when you search, so that will let you grab some shock lands if you prefer (though that’s a hefty dose of life loss to absorb). Again I could theoretically see this card being used if it’s cheated out some way or in a “lands matter” deck.Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
This is sort of the exception to the big fatties rule, because this thing is so big, and so fat, and what it does is so big, and also it’s a deck reshuffler, which is occasionally quite useful. Emrakul can’t be countered, has an extra turn cast trigger, and it has protection from colored spells so like, once it’s on the board there’s not much usually anyone can do about it. Also, annihilator 6 is brutal, and while it doesn’t have haste it gives you another turn to get that attack off. There are plenty of ways to cheat-cast spells, and so this is sort of the exception that proves the rule.
Dumb win cons or cards that ruin the board stateCoalition Victory
Okay so there are ways to make your lands be of each type and there are creatures that are each color so, this is theoretically a doable wincon; it just costs 8, and there’s really no synergy in assembling it, and you can only run one copy of it and there aren’t a lot of tutors and it costs WBURG in addition to costing 8, so it’s a hard 8 to cast (so to speak) and all someone has to do in response is cast Swords to Plowshares or something and if you don’t win you don’t get anything so… I think we can ignore this card.Worldfire
Yeah this is just a chaos card and will hand the game to someone. Someone at random, that is, and probably not you. And it costs 9. And the Conquest format is really designed around competitive play, so the banlist doesn’t cater to stopping dumb chaos cards.Sway of the Stars
Same deal – this is a chaos card that upends the game and costs a ton, sets everyone’s life low and is just generally dumb.Biorhythym
This one is borderline playable – I could see, particularly in some kind of speed run gruul deck, dumping out creatures, casting biorhythym and then casting earthquake or something like that. It’s maybe doable, but at a whopping 8 mana value and not much else quite like it – and again, not enough tutors – it’s probably not nearly a consistent enough wincon card. And again it can backfire, be countered, etc.
So which cards can you expect to see?
Of the cards that are unbanned for conquest, I think Paradox Engine, Prophet of Kruphix, Leovold Emissary of Trest, and Gifts Ungiven are likely to be seen all over the place. The rest, not so much, though I imagine that Emrakul shows up occasionally (maybe less since Yuriko, Tiger’s Claw was banned) as well as Iona.
That wraps up our look at the extra unbanned cards – stay tuned for our regular Commander Focus later this week where we look at building around Krark and Shakashima.
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