A Case For Banning Drannith Magistrate

Ryan Street • December 12, 2022

Drannith Magistrate by Kieran Yanner

Drannith Magistrate goes against the entire spirit of the format and it deserves a ban.

Hi, there, I'm Ryan from Playing With Power, a cEDH gameplay channel on YouTube. Last week while recording a game, fellow member Noah suggested Displacer Kitten was broken enough to warrant a ban. Before he could finish his thought, I'd interjected with "the card that really needs a ban in Commander is Drannith Magistrate!" and I was so sure of it that I tweeted it out in a fit of passion. Turns out I opened Pandora's box. 

Hundreds of likes, retweets, and comments. Not for the first time, MTG Twitter latched onto Drannith Magistrate, and the dreaded discourse began. But there's only so much you can get across in a tweet, so I'm here to go deeper, to explore the arguments for and against banning the card and to justify why I feel so strongly about it.

What is Drannith Magistrate?

If you don't know what Drannith Magistrate is, I envy you. It's been a boogeyman since 2020, and it looks like this:

Yep, it's just a 1/3 for 2 without any protection. Kind of unassuming, I know. But it's the card's one and only ability that makes it such a nuisance though: "Your opponents can't cast spells from anywhere other than their hands."

Designed in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Drannith Magistrate was clearly designed as a solution to the Companion cycle. Given that Companions ended up needing functional errata, safe to say Drannith Magistrate wasn't fit for purpose. But it was fit for Commander thanks to how many things it effectively said "no" to. Obviously it stops:

Maybe just stopping those casts would be okay. But what I'm focused on is the biggest point, the fact that it:

  • Stops all commanders from being cast from the command zone.

This last point is the reason why Drannith Magistrate should be banned.

Arguments Against Banning Drannith Magistrate

The arguments came in thick and fast, defending, arguing, insulting and insisting that I needed to leave Drannith alone. The complaints ranged from simple subjective experience, bargaining, accusations that I don't run interaction, ad hominem attacks, and claims that a deck built around a commander was a bad Commander deck. What?

Personal attacks can be ignored. Subjective experience is just that... subjective. Bargaining and "quid pro quo" arguments are saying that they would rather have other cards banned, which is more of a deflection than anything else. Yes, some other comments spoke about "letting white have good cards". I didn't disagree; white might be a strong support color, but we all know it's weak as a standalone color. Wizards has been making efforts to give white stronger cards to hold their own at the Commander table, but do they need to be this frustrating?

I won't be diving into the issues with mono-white in this article, but I will note that white getting a strong card doesn't mean that only mono-white decks are playing them. People seem to forget that every deck that runs white in its color identity gets access to these cards. Drannith Magistrate isn't only for your mono-white deck. It's available to every deck running white.

But what about removal? Why aren't I running removal? Before I get to that, we need to understand what it takes for a card to get banned in Commander in the first place. Contrary to surprisingly popular belief, it has nothing to do with power level. So, let's dive into the Commander Rules and Commander Philosophy to see Drannith Magistrate fits the criteria for a ban.

Commander Rules 

Check out this link for the rules on Commander

Under "Deck Construction" Rules, the very first rule says that in order to play Commander, you must pick a legendary creature as your commander. Under "Play Rules", Rule 6 states that games begin with commanders in the Command Zone. It sounds obvious, but what this means is that your commander is the defining feature of your deck. All 99 cards in some way revolve around that central commander, even if only in color identity. This is the entire basis for deck construction. 

Drannith Magistrate shuts off your opponents from playing a card that is central to their deck design, approach, and strategy. Should a card that stops the fundamental pillar of the format, the commander, really be allowed to roam free?

Commander Philosophy

Check out this link for the Philosophy of Commander

There's no need to recap the entire philosophy document, but take these excerpts into account. 

  • "As is fitting for a format in which you choose an avatar to lead your forces into battle, Commander focuses on a resonant experience..."
  • "The addition of a commander, larger life total, and deck building restrictions emphasize the format's flavor..."
  • "The primary focus of the [ban] list is on cards which are problematic because of their extreme consistency, ubiquity, and/or ability to restrict others' opportunities."

Whenever discussing the banning of Drannith Magistrate, I often point to these parts. Essentially, anything that prohibits a player from participating in the flavor of the format by restricting its key card/s is a problem. This is emphasized in the Philosophy document with some of the criteria for consideration of a ban:

  • "...Prevent players from contributing to the game in a meaningful way..."
  • "...Interact poorly with the multiplayer nature of the format or the specific rules of Commander..."

Drannith Magistrate fits these criteria just as well. After all, Drannith Magistrate prevents you from casting your commander, which (and I know I'm repeating myself here) is usually the main gameplan, the main focus, the central pillar of any deck. 

Anatomy of Banned Cards

Beyond the above criteria, Sheldon Menery of the Rules Committe wrote an article about just what it takes for a card to be banned in Commander. You can read that here, but the major points worth highlighting are twofold:

  • What a card does to a game
  • What a card does to the format

When going into what a card does to a game, Sheldon notes "...Doing too much to an opponent..." and "...Creating what we and many players believe lead to poor quality experiences for the broadest part of the player base..." as two reasons a card might be worthy of the banhammer. Sound familiar? I believe Drannith Magistrate easily fits both. 

What's Commander without commanders?

For the majority of decks, not being able to cast your commander is tantamount to not being able to play the game, a point made by Sheldon in his article: "the best Commander games are ones in which everyone has a chance to play their cards". Whether you're using a generic draw engine, like Kraum or Tymna the Weaver, or a specific buildaround, like Atraxa or Zedruu, chances are whatever you have in your command zone is crucial to your gameplan, and crucial to your sense of fun. The asymmetry of Drannith Magistrate only amplifies this, as one player is left to pursue their own gameplan while simultaneously stopping opponents from executing their own. 

The second point goes into player experience. I believe Drannith fits this criteria as well. When Drannith is on the battlefield, three opponents now have only one goal in mind: get Drannith off the battlefield so we can start playing Commander again. This point leads into what a card does to the format. Sheldon talks about how cards can "create situations where players feel they have to be ready to see the card in any game they sit down to and they need to have answers for it."

Drannith Magistrate Dies To Removal

"Dies to Removal" is a Nirvana Fallacy. The Nirvana Fallacy is an informal fallacy of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. It also has the tendency to assume there is a perfect solution to a particular problem. Now, I'm a firm believer of interaction. As a cEDH player, we generally run anywhere between 25-40% interaction in every deck. That's 25-40 cards in every deck we play. That's a lot more than non-cEDH decks. So believe me when I say that interaction is super important.

The problem is: I might not have the type of interaction necessary for removing this particular card. Nature's Claim is nice and all, but it doesn't stop a Drannith Magistrate. Toxic Deluge does, but at a much higher cost, like my own board state. And I'm sorry, I'm only allowed one copy of Lightning Bolt in my deck. A player arguing "dies to removal" is saying that Drannith Magistrate is not a problem because you should always have the right answer in your hand at all times. That is what makes it fall into the Nirvana Fallacy.

I'm not always going to have the right removal at all times in the game. Why should I have to? If I have to sculpt many things around my deck and strategy to ensure that if a Drannith Magistrate hits the board that I can answer it, what we're talking about is a format-warping card.

Drannith Magistrate and Rule Zero

Commander means many things to many people. Once you say that you should start designing your deck around a particular card because it hoses your strategy, that probably falls more into a Rule Zero conversation. I agree with this statement. If you are running Elephant Grass against my mono-black Zombies deck, that's a local playgroup problem and not so much a format problem. But once you start saying that everyone should start designing their deck against a particular card because it hoses the main strategy of most Commander players (casting or using their commander in the Command Zone), we are no longer talking about the same thing.

A powerhouse in the right meta.

Also, Rule Zero only goes so far. Some topics are too specific. Rule 0 ensures a smooth and fun play experience for everyone at the table. Rule 0 has trouble resolving deckbuilding choices, card types, quantity of removal, and the fundamental rules of commander. When I have Rule 0 conversations, they are about play experience and power levels. They don't usually go into minutiae of "well just how many pieces of removal are you running?".

The Generic Silver Bullet

Drannith Magistrate is the perfect generic silver bullet. It is generic enough to go into any deck running white in its color identity, but has an overwhelmingly negative effect on nearly every other deck at the table, regardless of strategy. Is that not too much? 

We've seen that Drannith fits multiple criteria for banning. It does not create a resonate experience for the table. I'd argue most people don't like playing against it, even if they'll tolerate it. Would we see such fervent discourse online if it wasn't causing strife? It would've floated away without a whisper. 

Let me know what you think below, but to me it's very simple. The moment a card stops you from playing Commander, it's time to evaluate whether or not that card belongs in Commander.

Ryan founded the largest CEDH YouTube channel, Playing With Power MTG. He’s been playing MTG since 1998. He loves cEDH and the Commander format.