Shahrazad's Ban in Commander

Why is Shahrazad Banned in Commander?

Jacob LacknerCommander

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 Shahrazad, explain why it’s banned in Commander and discuss whether or not it would be safe to unban it.

Shahrazad was printed in Arabian Nights, Magic’s very first expansion — so it comes from a period when Wizards of the Coast was still experimenting with card design. Shahrazad is definitely evidence of this fact. 

The card’s text box is a complete mess, and given its place on the reserved list, it has never been reprinted with new templating. So since it can be hard to decipher, let’s summarize the effect. 

This Sorcery costs two white, and it makes everyone play a subgame using what’s left in their libraries as their decks. Then, each player who didn’t win that subgame loses half of their life, rounded up. In other words, Shahrazad makes you play an entirely separate game of Magic that has an impact on your life total in the original game.

This card fascinates me because the design is absolutely wild in most ways. Generally, when you design a Magic card, you want it to be fun to play with and intuitive. Shahrazad gets an F in both respects. 

The card is very confusing and its effect makes playing Magic significantly less fun. Playing an entire subgame isn’t really what I want to do with my time, and I think that’s true of virtually all Magic players.

However, when it comes to flavor, Shahrazad has a design that I really respect. Shahrazad is an example of bottom-up design, which means Wizards started with a flavor concept and designed a card around that idea. 

In this case, Shahrazad is modeled after a literary character named Scheherazade. She’s the narrator of One Thousand and One Nights, a medieval collection of Arabic stories. This collection of tales was the main inspiration for the set Arabian Nights.

The premise behind this collection of tales is that Scheherazade has just married a king who marries a new woman every day. The following morning, he has her executed. In other words, she finds herself in a very bad situation. 

She resolves to keep herself alive, and she does this by telling her husband a new story every single night — and she often ends them on cliffhangers so he will have to come back the next night to hear the rest of the story. 

In other words, Scheherazade is stalling. And that’s exactly what Shahrazad does! It definitely isn’t fun to play with, but in the end I really like the design because of how well it reflects the source material. 

Why is Shahrazad Banned in Commander?

Shahrazad was banned in the first Banned & Restricted announcement in the game’s history. In fact, it was the only non-Ante card to get banned in that January 1994 announcement. Even the Power 9 and some other cards got restricted, but not entirely banned like Shahrazad. 

This tells us that Wizards of the Coast realized Shahrazad was miserable to play with almost from the very beginning. This was especially true once competitive Magic was born, because making tournaments last longer just so people could cast this silly card was a really bad plan. It remains banned in Legacy and Vintage today.

When the Commander banlist was born in 2005, Shahrazad was also one of the first cards to be banned there. While Shahrazad is absolutely miserable to play against in two-player formats, it gets even more painful when you’re playing a multiplayer game. 

Everyone at the table has to play the subgame, and that creates a logistical nightmare. You would have to have another table set up for your entire pod or things would get even more confusing. Players have to keep all of their cards separate, since you leave the original game behind in its current state and play an entire game somewhere else.

In short, Shahrazad isn’t banned in Commander (or any other formats) because it is powerful. It’s banned because it makes games of Magic significantly longer and significantly less fun. 

Should Shahrazad be Unbanned?

Never. It is one of the most miserable cards to play against in all of Magic. No one wants their games to be twice as long, and things can get even more painful in a world where more than one Shahrazad gets cast.

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What do you think? Should Shahrazad be unbanned? Do you hate fun? Hit me up on X with your take.