Tolarian Academy's Ban In Commander

Tolarian Academy’s Ban in Commander

Jacob LacknerCommander, Design

While Commander’s grassroots origins make it different from many other Magic formats, it still has a ban list like the rest of them. However, since Commander is not a format with tons of tournament data to back up banning certain cards, some players are unsure why certain offenders end up on the list. Today, I’m going to take a look at Tolarian Academy, explain why it’s banned in Commander and discuss whether or not it would be safe to unban it.

Tolarian Academy is definitely in the conversation for “Best Land of All Time.” It just isn’t that hard to get a bunch of cheap or free artifacts into play, allowing Academy to produce insane amounts of mana in the very early stages of the game. 

The only downside Academy has is that it can’t produce any mana if you have no artifacts in play, but it isn’t very difficult – in any format – to build a deck that can virtually always get artifacts into play in the early game, so the downside almost never comes up.

It was quickly very clear that Wizards of the Coast made a mistake when they printed Academy. Urza’s Saga was released in October of 1998, and before the end of the year, Tolarian Academy was banned in Standard, Extended, and Legacy, and restricted in Vintage. In 1999 it also got banned in Urza’s Block Constructed.

Not only was Academy capable of giving artifact decks absolutely insane fast mana, it was also easily abused if you combined it with effects that let you untap it. Before the bans and the restriction, Academy was dominating every single 60-card format. 

In Block and Standard it paired with cards like Voltaic Key to power out high mana value artifacts in the very early stages of the game.

In Standard, Extended, Legacy and Vintage, you could combine it with Mind Over Matter and Stroke of Genius for a combo win. You would just keep drawing cards and untapping the Academy with Mind Over Matter until you had enough mana to force your opponent to draw their entire deck. 

Why is Academy banned in Commander?

Tolarian Academy got banned in Commander in 2010 for the same reason it got banned or restricted in every single 60-card format. It is simply too powerful.

In fact, by the time Commander started to become popular, the Academy had even greater potential. Mirrodin Block introduced many more cheap artifacts, including artifact lands. 

Mirrodin block also had even more incentives for playing a ton of Artifacts, the most infamous of which are probably Arcbound Ravager and various cards with “Affinity for Artifacts.”

Should Academy be Unbanned?

No. It is too powerful for Commander just as it’s been too powerful for virtually any other Magic format. It would allow artifact decks to have absolutely insane starts and it would still have the absurd combo potential it had in 60-card formats.

It would be even more insane in today’s Commander, as virtually every set heavily features cards that create Artifact tokens like Treasure, Maps, and Clues. As a result, it is even easier today to put a ton of Artifacts into play in the early game to fuel the Academy.

There’s also no shortage of powerful Commanders who love artifacts. Urza, Lord High Artificer decks in particular would be capable of very easily comboing off once they found a way to untap the Academy. They could simply use all that mana to cast the entire deck using Urza’s ability. If you’ve played against Urza decks you already know they have plenty of combo potential. Academy being legal would really push those decks into the stratosphere.

It’s also important that there are some serious accessibility issues when it comes to Tolarian Academy. It’s on the Reserved List, meaning that Wizards of the Coast has promised never to reprint it. This means that all the Academies that will ever exist already do.

Right now, the price isn’t completely out of control, and that’s because the demand for the card is suppressed by the fact that the only format it is legal in is Vintage. And it’s restricted, so even Vintage players only need a single copy.

If Academy were unbanned in Commander demand would go through the roof and the limited supply of the card would lead to a massive price increase. We can look at Gaea’s Cradle as an example of what would happen to the price of Tolarian Academy if it ever got unbanned. After all, it is from the same set and also on the Reserved List, but it’s legal in Commander.

While accessibility wouldn’t be the main issue if the Academy got unbanned, I do think it should play at least some role in any discussion of whether it should be unbanned.

End Step 

What do you think? Should Tolarian Academy be unbanned? Should artifact decks get such a huge upgrade? Is it okay that only the players with the deepest of pockets would be able to afford it? Hit me up on X with your thoughts!