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, we’re going to look at Recurring Nightmare and examine whether or not it would be safe to unban.
Recurring Nightmare is a three-mana enchantment that can reanimate a creature from your graveyard at sorcery speed. To do this, you have to sacrifice a creature and return Recurring Nightmare to your hand.
Today, we all know that reanimation effects are incredibly powerful, provided you are good at filling your graveyard with frightening creatures. But Recurring Nightmare was actually the first card to really prove how powerful these strategies can be.
In the Standard of 1998, Recurring Survival dominated the format. This deck used Nightmare alongside Survival of the Fittest, resulting in the game’s first, true reanimator and toolbox deck. Survival could load the graveyard and search up the deck’s premiere reanimation target: Spirit of the Night. These decks were enough of a problem that Recurring Nightmare eventually got banned out of Standard.
(If you want a deeper dive on this deck, I have actually covered it over on my YouTube channel.)
Why is Recurring Nightmare Banned in Commander?
Ten years after being banned in Standard, Recurring Nightmare also got the ax in Commander. While Spirit of the Night was really scary back in 1998, there were several, scarier creatures that decks could bring back by 2008, making Nightmare even better.
These days, Recurring Nightmare is the only reanimation effect that is banned in the format. Why is Recurring Nightmare illegal but it is perfectly fine to play Unburial Rites, Karmic Guide or Reanimate?
Recurring Nightmare does require a little bit more work than any of these cards. After all, you must be able to sacrifice a creature to get something back. So, when it comes to that first creature you reanimate, it doesn’t feel better than any of these effects. However, there are two things about Recurring NIghtmare that make it a more problematic card overall.
First, it gives you a cheap, repeatable way to reanimate creatures. You can use it every single turn without very much effort. As long as you have a few creatures lying around and a few scary targets in the graveyard, it will quickly snowball advantage in your favor.
Second, it is much harder to interact with this spell than typical reanimation effects. Returning the Nightmare to your hand is part of the cost of its activated ability, meaning the bounce effect never touches the stack.
As a result, even Instants aren’t able to destroy the Nightmare if you’re playing it correctly. This is because you can simply play it in your main phase and use its ability. Your opponent doesn’t have an opportunity to interact until you activate the ability, and by then it is already too late.
Should Recurring Nightmare be Unbanned?
No. It is a cheap, repeatable way to bring back absurdly powerful creatures. There are enough great reanimator cards out there that are much more fair and easier to interact with, so it isn’t really a card that desperately needs to be legal in order to enable certain strategies. This makes it even easier to say that it should remain banned.
What do you think? Should Recurring Nightmare remain banned, or should we be able to play it in Commander? Hit me up on Twitter with your take, and any cards you want me to look at 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.