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 competitive format with tournament data to back up banning certain cards, some players are unsure why certain offenders end up on the list. Today, we’re going to take a look at Biorhythm and examine its history, why it’s banned in Commander and whether it would be safe to take it off the list.
Biorhythm is an eight mana Sorcery from Onslaught that changes every player’s life total to the number of creatures they control. When I first looked at the Commander banlist, this was the card I was the most surprised to see there — and I think others have had a similar experience.
Why Is Biorhythm Banned in Commander?
At first glance, Biorhythm doesn’t seem especially impressive. After all, it costs a ton of mana and has a very situational effect. Furthermore, the vast majority of the cards banned in Commander have found significant success in Magic’s 60-card formats, but that just isn’t true of Biorhythm.
Despite that, Biorhythm was one of the first cards ever banned in Commander. In fact, according to Sheldon Menery, the format’s main progenitor, Biorhythm was the first card he ever considered banning in his playgroup.
This was very early on in the format’s history, around the time when he first suggested allowing multiple copies of basic lands and expanding Commanders to include any Legendary Creature, and not just the five Legends Elder Dragons. In other words, when the format was in its infancy, Biorhythm was a significant concern. In 2013, Sheldon recalled his feelings about Biorhythm as follows:
“It was clear that at worst, it was always an auto-draw. Indestructible wasn’t really a thing, so there weren’t too many ways to win that way, but games were devolving into Biorhythm battles…This was a time when the creatures weren’t so great that there weren’t really too many creature strategies. The idea was to get just one or two more creatures into play than anyone else, cast Biorhythm, and attack for lethal whomever you hadn’t already killed.”
When the card did get banned in April 2005, it was banned alongside the Power Nine, Balance and Library of Alexandria. Those are some of the best cards in Magic, cards that are banned in every format and restricted in Vintage. Biorhythm certainly feels out of place there today, but in 2005, Biorhythm was just as problematic in Commander as these all-time great cards.
Should Biorhythm be Unbanned?
Yes, it should. The game has significantly changed since 2005. Creatures are far better today than they were then. As a result, creature-based strategies are far more common in Commander.
Biorhythm is no longer a card that will frequently result in an auto-draw scenario, nor can it frequently cause several players to lose the game at once without a whole lot of effort. If the card was legal in Commander today, games would no longer become all about Biorhythm battles as they were in the early days.
I understand that the card causes some problems, like creating an instant-win scenario in the aftermath of a board wipe. However, there are so many creatures today that survive sweepers that making sure no one else has anything left afterward is a lot harder.
Today, Biorhythm is an expensive and highly situational card that doesn’t end games in many situations. Given those massive downsides, I don’t have a problem with the fact that it can sometimes win the game for a player out of nowhere.
What do you think? Should Biorhythm remain on the banned list? You can hit me up on Twitter with your take on Biorhythm, along with suggestions for cards you’d like to see me address in the future.
Jacob has been playing Magic for the better part of 24 years, and he especially loves playing Magic’s Limited formats. He also holds a PhD in history from the University of Oklahoma. In 2015, he started his YouTube channel, “Nizzahon Magic,” where he combines his interests with many videos covering Magic’s competitive history. When he’s not playing Magic or making Magic content, he can be found teaching college-level history courses or caring for a menagerie of pets with his wife.