Tinker's Ban in Commander

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

Tinker is a three-mana sorcery that lets you sacrifice an artifact to search your library for any artifact and put it directly on the battlefield. From the moment this powerful tutor was printed in Urza’s Legacy, it had an outsized impact on Magic’s 60-card formats. Tinker’s power was augmented by its context, too, as Urza’s Block was loaded up with very powerful artifacts. 

The idea behind the design is you have to 2-for-1 yourself up front. That was supposed to be enough of a cost to balance the fact that this card can easily cheat powerful artifacts into play very early in the game. Of course, it didn’t play out that way. Tinker is too cheap and too easy to use.

Upon release, a deck simply called “Tinker” took over Standard.  Its most powerful play was cheating Phyrexian Colossus or Masticore into play early. 

By today’s standards, these big artifact creatures may not look like much, but creatures were pretty bad in the late 90s. These two creatures were very difficult to beat if they came down ahead of schedule.

In addition to allowing decks to cheat scary creatures into play, Tinker was also used to put other powerful artifacts into play early. In Extended, it was used to put the busted Memory Jar into play early. 

The Jar has an insane effect on the face of it. After all, it draws you seven cards.  But it was particularly powerful when combined with Megrim. Not only did Memory Jar give you a ton of cards, it did 14 to your opponent every time you activated it. 

Ultimately, Tinker was one of the most powerful cards in Urza’s block. And that’s saying something, because there were 31 cards from the block that got the ax.

Most of those bans sought to end “Combo Winter” a period from December 1998 to March 1999 where all of Magic’s formats were dominated by combo decks powered by cards from the block. At one time or another, Tinker was banned in Legacy and Extended and restricted in Vintage. 

Today, the only 60-card format it is legal in is Vintage, where it remains restricted. The one copy of Tinker allowed in the format is almost always played in blue decks. Today, the most common Tinker targets are Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Time Vault

Vintage has enough fast mana that it isn’t unheard of for the Sphinx to come down on turn one. It happens to be immune from much of the most played removal in the set, and its slew of keywords make it incredibly difficult for your opponent to beat in a race.

Time Vault can give you infinite extra turns if you combine it with an untap effect like Voltaic Key — which just so happens to also be a tutorable artifact. In short, casting Tinker in Vintage is often enough to determine the outcome of the game.

Why is Tinker Banned in Commander?

So far we’ve seen that Tinker is barely legal in 60-card formats because it can search up powerful artifact creatures and combo pieces and put them directly into play. 

Tinker was banned in Commander back in 2009, and it ended up on the chopping block for the same reason it got banned in 60-card formats. In a singleton format, Tinker has even more potential to warp games around it.

Tinker has gotten even better since 2009, too. First, there are a plethora of artifact tokens that have been introduced in the years since, so Tinker’s set-up cost has only become even more trivial. 

Back then, the only artifact tokens were creature tokens, and they weren’t exactly commonplace. Today, you can sacrifice a Clue, Food, Map, Blood, Treasure, Powerstone or Incubator to Tinker. If you sacrifice one of those, you aren’t even giving up a full card to search for what is probably the most powerful card in your entire deck.

The power level of artifacts has also gone up overall since 2009. While searching up cards like the Sphinx would be a big play in Commander, there are also many more powerful artifacts you can grab that are well-suited to a multiplayer format. 

The first creature that comes to mind is Blightsteel Colossus. There are only a few cards that can effectively answer Blightsteel in the early game, and it’s likely to take out one or two of your opponents before they ever have a chance. 

There are also many frightening non-creature artifacts that would be great Tinker targets. You can grab a combo piece like Aetherflux Reservoir. You can also grab expensive artifacts that are absolutely insane engines, like The Great Henge or Bolas’s Citadel. If your opponent can get those into play as early as turn one, you’re going to have a hard time beating them. 

Should Tinker Be Unbanned?

No. Never. Tinker has only gotten more powerful over the years as there are more powerful artifacts you can cheat into play and better artifact sacrifice fodder to give up. Casting Tinker would often be a game-winning play in Commander, just like it is in the Eternal formats. One-card combos really shouldn’t be part of the Commander experience.

End Step

What do you think? Should Tinker be unbanned? Should you be able to search up the most powerful card in your deck for only three mana? Do you want Commander to become all about who draws Tinker first? Hit me up on X with your thoughts!