Let's Discuss: Why is Emrakul banned in EDH but not in Modern?

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Posted on Nov. 7, 2018, 1:47 a.m. by TypicalTimmy

First thing's first: "Why is this in the Rules Q&A thread?"

  • I decided to place this question within the main thread for two reasons.

  • 1.) It will generate a bit more traffic to get a better answer since it's sort of an open-ended question as it embarks on both facts and opinions. By not putting it in the EDH or Modern thread, it allows players from both formats to enter the same thread and discuss the topic.

  • 2.) We are actually talking about the ruling as to why it is banned in one format over another, and the interaction it plays within the two formats in general. I felt this was relevant enough to warrant this thread. I encourage any Mod / Admin who feels differently to please move this thread to a more appropriate section as desired.


So the question is why is Emrakul, the Aeons Torn banned in EDH but not in Modern? Obviously, having Em as a Commander is highly violent in nature. You could ramp into her via the plethora of stones and have a neigh unstoppable wrecking force.

But, at the same time when you consider the abrupt and vicious tactic of Nahiri, the Harbinger or an equally devastating Samut, the Tested if you can manage Haste with a quick spell / artifact, the game suddenly feels just as one-sided.

I'd actually argue she should be banned in Modern, and not in EDH. In Modern, you have one opponent, a smaller life total, a smaller pool of cards to build from, and your opponent could have not just four copies of her in their deck but also four copies of each method to draw her out. You could Goryo's Vengeance her out of your graveyard, you could Genesis Wave her from your library, you could Spawnsire of Ulamog her from outside the game - thereby effectively negating even the possibility of a Surgical Extraction if your opponent doesn't know what's going on.

But in EDH? If you manage to kill her via chump blockers, she's immediately going to cost a staggering , if not far, far more.

She has protection from colored spells, yes. But that resides in the realm of being targeted. To my understanding, protection acts a lot like Hexproof - If you aren't the "target", you aren't "protected".

Yes, a 15/15 flyer with Annihilator 6 is just the worst. But it's not unstoppable. Your opponent is the one who decides what is sacrificed, not you. So they could just keep a flyer or a creature with reach to chump block. If she doesn't have vigilance, all other opponent's will likely team up and take her down.

Now obviously I skimmed over the titanic Loxodon in the room (God, did I really just make THAT pun? Ugh...), and that is her extra turn she gives you.

But this is where my point is just even more honed in.

In Modern, where you have 20 life and games are usually violently quick, that 2nd turn may not even come up. Even if it does, it's essentially a 100% guaranteed win. If you don't have some sort of immediate answer, such as AEtherize, you are 100% losing the game unless you have tons and tons of life and tokens. In fact, Selesnya Tokens with some sort of lifegain buffer might just be THE BEST against her because you can shrug off both the damage and the Annihilator.

But in EDH? Well... You can wreak havoc against one opponent, then against the same opponent or another.

You're dealing a max of 30 damage. Yes, as a Commander that's lethal amounts. But she restricts you to a purely Colorless deck.

Meanwhile, as just a card in your main 99, you have to actually get her out and if you can't win in those next few turns, you bet you'll be taken down ASAP.

Let's talk about that 30 Commander Damage, by the way. You'd have to spend both turns attacking the same opponent to win. Thereby leaving two opponent's open to assault you. And if you spread the Annihilator around to wreak as much havoc as you can, you haven't actually beaten anyone - just set them back. No different than a Wrath spell, in that regards.

I feel like she's honestly too powerful for Modern, as she makes the game truly one-sided and doesn't even really need the 2nd turn in most cases. She deals nearly lethal damage just in one swing and destroys the entire boardstate along with it. Once she hits, it's game.

But in Commander, even if you manage to get her out it becomes less about EDH and more about Archenemy where IF YOU'RE LUCKY you can take out a single opponent during your second turn. Otherwise you just payed for a Wrath of God and a 2nd turn. Brutal, but not necessarily game-winning.

So what are your opinions? Do you agree? Do you feel differently? How so and why?

Let's discuss.

Boza says... #2

Firstly, this thread should be moved. It has nothing to do with the rules of the game (or any rules for that matter), and generating traffic should not be a reason for misplacing a thread.

Secondly, emrakul is too powerful and should be banned in every format it is currently legal. It stifles choices for big baddie to be used when comboing off, as it is the biggest baddie with the most impact.

Thirdly, commander as a whole will benefit a lot from having a "commander" banlist and a "99" banlist like it used to. If that were the case, Emrakul would be fine to be banned in the 99, but not as a commander.

November 7, 2018 2:44 a.m.

Eledain says... #3

I think it shouldn´t be banned in modern because there are only a hand full of decks that could use it and even then, what else should you also ban that could take its place: for example Griselbrand or the other titans?

If it would wreck the format then we should talk again, but in the current modern it´s totally fine.

November 7, 2018 9:04 a.m.

cdkime says... #4

I moved the thread for the reasons Boza suggested. It seems you're trying to generate a conversation about why a rule exists--not determine what the correct application of the rules might be.


Back on topic:

I do not think Emrakul should be banned in Modern, and the reality of the metagame seems to support my stance.

Let's look at MTGTop8's lists for Tron - if, as TypicalTimmy and Boza suggest, Emrakul is the promised end all, be all of bombs, we'd expect her to have a heavy presence in these decks.

However, that's not the case--the win conditions in those decks are Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Walking Ballista, and Wurmcoil Engine. I think that alone shows Emrakul is not broken in Modern--if it were, we'd expect her to have a stronger share of the metagame.

Overall, once you've hit 15 mana, it doesn't really matter how you win the game--there are countless options available to you, of which Emrakul is only one.

To discuss some of your specific "problematic" cards:

  • It's not really worth looking at planeswalker ultimate abilities in Modern. Except in a dedicated control shell, you will not be able to reliably fire them off.

  • You can't really Goryo's Vengeance Emrakul into play--one of her abilities makes it incredibly tricky to get her into the graveyard.

  • Both Spawnsire of Ulamog and Genesis Wave require you to have 30 and 18 mana respectively--Emrakul's 15 is already difficult enough to cast. Further, if you were able to fire off either for that amount of mana, you'd be winning the game regardless of whether you field an Emrakul.


Moving onto commander, I think the ban makes sense. I think you've correctly stated why she would be a problematic commander; I think she also does not belong in the 99. Being colourless, she fits in every deck, and would be a powerful addition to any Green Ramp or hyper artifact ramp deck. She's not a card you build around to break--she's a card you shoehorn in any deck and hope she wins.

I also disagree with having a separate banlist for the commander and 99, as Boza suggested. I think the suggestion makes sense in theory, but it creates a barrier for entry for newer players. Having a single, simple banlist is efficient, effective, easy-to-understand, and easy to internalise and remember. This simplicity helps keep things moving, without constantly having to reference what type of ban any particular card might have.

November 7, 2018 9:04 a.m.

shadow63 says... #5

cdkime you nailed it

November 7, 2018 11:43 a.m.

greyninja says... #6

If Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was legal in edh I'd whirlwind slam her into Animar, Soul of Elements and cast her for free!

November 7, 2018 12:05 p.m.

Boza says... #7

Emrakul is never really cast for her full mana cost in Modern or Legacy - it is cheated out. Through the Breach, Show and Tell into Omniscience... even then, it does not win the game on its own.

November 7, 2018 12:42 p.m.

Dreamweav3r says... #8

In Commander it is also pertinent to consider there are more ways to make Emrakul easier to cast than in Modern, but more important I think is that in Commander, not only are you just taking an extra turn, but making 3 other human beings sit and watch you take two turns while playing a broken creature. At least in Modern you're probably just dead and can shuffle up and start the next game. In commander you just have to wait and see what happens at a severe disadvantage. TLDR its just not fun. Also I love how you nonchalant suggest that one could simply kill it by chump blocking lolz, I beseech you to run the statistics on how many decks even have a way of blocking 15 power in the air, and why would the person attacking with Emrakul attack a person who could do so in the first place?

End of the day it probably wouldn't be broken to unban from a cEDH standpoint, but for overall health of the format with casual in mind EmmyK is just fine being banned.

November 7, 2018 2:39 p.m.

alias42 says... #9

Edh is designed to be a fun, friendly format. Modern is designed to be a competitive format. Being forced to watch as your opponent 15/15 flyer that's incredibly hard to remove, can't be countered, and gives you an entire extra turn (going well above and beyond mere haste) is neither fun, nor friendly. Being forced to sacrifice 6 permanents each turn because you can't stop this creature is neither fun nor friendly. use her as a commander, fill the deck with nothing but rocks and lands, and you can realistically cast her on turn 2-3. That's DEFINITELY neither fun nor friendly. Sure, you could use her in the 99 meaning that outside of magical christmasland you won't see her that fast. But she never stops being too powerful or too hard to answer. Also, I'm similarly opposed to the banned as a commander list as others have mentioned. There are enough ways to tutor in edh that you could easily find her in the 99 making her effectively a commander, and then you have greens powerful ramp to get her out. Or the previously stated animar for free. So that's why she's banned in edh.

Now why is she legal in modern? Because modern doesn't have to worry about being fun or friendly. It has to worry about being balanced and competitive. No deck in modern casts her. She does get cheated out with through the breach, but cheating her out doesn't get you the extra turn so paying that lower cost comes with drawbacks. She's also about the only creature that deck viable. Next biggest creature is the other emrakul, and through the breach, hit for 13, lose your creature, have no board for the next turn doesn't win games. Even breaching in gearhulk then recasting breach to bring in emmy doesn't win you the game. Hurts your opponent alot, but does not kill them. And since through the breach doesn't do much until it brings in emrakul, there's a good chance you'll be dead if you don't get the kill when you can. In short, she's essential to modern as it currently stands, and counterintuitive to edh.

November 7, 2018 4:51 p.m.

kanokarob says... #10

The solution is even simpler than all of this.

In EDH she's oppressive and not fun.

In Modern she ends the game.

Its been stated and made obvious many times that Wizards is fine with cards that have lasting dramatic effect to the board and gamestate if they end the game, one way or another. Its why that new Boros card that makes all your creatures indestructible indefinitely is ok--either you win the game next turn or you lose.

Since you only have one opponent in Modern, Emrakul effectively ends the game by next turn in almost all circumstances. And even playing her early, she doesn't break the turn-4 format.

In EDH, as you have multiple opponents with twice as much life, its quite unlikely the game will end when she is played. What will happen is that no one will have fun for six turns while the Emrakul player desolate everyone's boards and life totals until they very slowly lose. Its oppressive and not fun.

November 7, 2018 5:45 p.m.

The EDH banlist is managed quite frankly buy a few people who mostly take their own playgroup and preferences into consideration.

Despite popular belief, EDH is a CASUAL format. Make your own rules and banlist, find what works for your playgroup and just have fun. You wont get into trouble nor will it affect anyone other than yourself. So please just have fun in EDH because the banlist is irrelevant .

In modern, like many people mentioned, she is a combo piece and its mostly a one-two punch with Through the Breach or something similar. Its like any other combo in modern, stop it or die.

Keep in mind I have very strong opinions about EDH and the "banlist". Magic is about having fun, so have fun.

November 7, 2018 11:25 p.m.

I wish Emrakul wasn't banned so I could run her in my Azusa deck. And if Channel wasn't banned I could cast her as early as turn 1 with an Elvish spirit guide :) Okay, maybe that would be asking a little too much... But I still don't think Emrakul should be banned. Lots of things kill her, especially in more casual metas. Royal assassin? Done. Intrepid Hero? Done. Seal of Doom? O-ring and friends? Done. Fifteen flying squirrels? She's outta here! She's not even good from A cEDH perspective and casual players have plenty of ways to nuke her within one or two rotations.

November 8, 2018 3:32 a.m.

Winterblast says... #13

I have to disagree on Emrakul being too strong as a commander. In fact, Emrakul and the other Eldrazi titans are rather bad commanders because they force you to go colorless and that comes along with multiple downsides: less consistency because colorless tutor effects are a lot rarer and more expensive than coloured ones, almost no instants and interaction, commanders that rely on combat to win (because searching for combos is incredibly clunky in colourless decks). That's not a secret and if you check on competitive decks you see that there is not a single colourless deck among the best ones.

Ramping into Emrakul...getting to 15 mana would win the game immediately with any reasonably good EDH deck. What happens when you cast Emrakul? An extra turn + fucking up ONE oponent with annihilator. Until you actually win you would have to attack 3 times at least (to make everyone sac to annihilator and hopefully remove their whole board - which isn't a sure thing though) and to actually kill everyone you need to attack 6 times. Compared to what commander decks can possibly do, this is rather weak and slow.

We do know though, that the EDH banlist doesn't care at all about objective strength of cards in the format (which is actually cool because the format lives off powerful and broken interactions) but only considers cards that ultra casual players have complained about too often and also cards that Sheldon personally dislikes it seems. It has nothing to do with how problematic the cards would be in the format. You just need to look at banned cards like Primeval Titan or Coalition Victory to see that...

November 8, 2018 4:37 a.m.

i think the reason she is banned is cause of her extra turn. all cards that give an extra turn is banned in EDH.

November 8, 2018 4:55 a.m.

Boza says... #15

"all cards that give an extra turn is banned in EDH." while the extraordinate price tag on Temporal Manipulation and most Narset, Enlightened Master will disagree with that, there is no denying that the Emrakul is annoying. Others have mentioned that Emrakul is like a badly timed Armageddon - casting it means the game is basically over, but you are going through the motions to finish it, which is rarely fun.

And that is one of the chief reasons a lot of cards are on the banlist. While it is incredibly important for Commander to have a single ruleset, part of them specifically details that house rules are completely OK. So, if you feel the banlist is wrong or any part of the rules is stupid and Sheldon doesn't know any better, feel free to change it by doing a trial run of an unbanned Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

November 8, 2018 7:05 a.m.

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