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. So, let’s look at Library of Alexandria, one of the oldest cards on the list, and examine why it’s banned in Commander.
This card is one of the more controversial ones on the banned list, with discussions about its inclusion periodically flaring up on a variety of platforms, including the EDH subreddit. Many players seem to think the card simply isn’t powerful enough to be banned in the format. But does history back up that sentiment?
A Brief History of the Commander Banlist
As I have noted elsewhere, Wizards of the Coast did not formally recognize Commander until 2011 and did not manage a Banned List for the format before then. In the beginning, individual playgroups had their own lists. Sheldon Menery, one of the creators of the format, noted that, in the early days, there was a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that no one could play land hate.
The format slowly grew in popularity between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, which also happened to be when internet access increased drastically. This resulted in the Commander community having more discussions about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in the format. The first known Commander Banlist emerged online in 2002, and it was largely copied and pasted from the Vintage list.
In 2004, Sheldon Menery wrote an article for StarCityGames describing the format for the masses for the first time and the format exploded. This also led to the format’s Banned List dramatically expanding. In 2005, Library of Alexandria became one of the first cards banned in the format.
Why is Library of Alexandria Banned in Commander?
The Library can tap for colorless mana or it can tap to draw you a card (though you can only use the card draw effect if you have exactly seven cards in your hand). This is a powerful effect, and it’s why Library of Alexandria is considered one of Magic’s most powerful nonbasic lands.
Players can accrue significant card advantage over their opponent if they can just keep seven cards in their hand with regularity — especially if they get the Library in their opening hand. Plus, part of what makes nonbasic lands so powerful is the fact that they can produce mana for you, just like your other lands, in addition to their spell-like effect. The flexibility is enormous.
All of this has resulted in the Library being a serious problem in formats other than Commander. The Library was one of the first cards ever restricted in Magic after the formation of the Duelist’s Convocation (the precursor to the DCI) in 1994. Today, the Library is banned in Legacy and Restricted in Vintage. And while not every card banned in a 60-card format should be banned in Commander, there is a fairly clear connection between the two in this case.
Another part of the Library’s problem In Commander is its color identity. Because it is colorless, players could run it in every single Commander deck possible. This means everyone would always want to run Library of Alexandria.
After all, there’s virtually no downside to running the Library, since all it provides is some pretty real upside. If you get frustrated by someone playing Sol Ring on turn one, imagine how a turn one Library of Alexandria would feel. It grants players a difficult-to-beat advantage in the early game.
Now, you might be saying “Well, Sol Ring is legal in Commander, isn’t it?” And, of course, you’d be right! But Sol Ring is an easily accessible Magic card that gets constant reprints. Library of Alexandria is part of The Reserved List and is from Arabian Nights. This means the card hasn’t been reprinted at all since its original printing in 1993, and it likely never will be.
As a result, a “Good” quality Library costs $1,399! In short, very few players would be able to attain what would surely become a Commander staple, and that would create a pretty serious problem for the format.
Should it Remain Banned in Commander?
Yes, it should. There may be an alternate reality where The Reserved List was never created and the Library got as many reprints as Sol Ring. In that reality, I think it would be fine to unban the Library. Unfortunately, we don’t live there.
The Library is a great card, no doubt, and the card advantage it offers could be fun for players to experience. But there are lots of similar cards that are perfectly legal in Commander. For me, the real problem is the fact that most Magic players wouldn’t be able to get their hands on the Library if it was legal in the format.
That’s all for today. I’ll be back next week to discuss another card that is banned in Commander! You can hit me up on Twitter (@NizzahonMagic) for other cards you want to see in this series.
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.