Updated: Apr 5
By now many of you have seen the news of Lutri, The Spellchaser from the new Magic The Gathering set Ikoria: Lair Of Behemoths, and the news that he was instantly banned in commander. For the first time in Magic's history a card was banned before release. The reason makes absolute sense.
Wizards new mechanic is called Companion. To loosely quote Wizards Of The Coast "You can have up to one chosen companion for each game. That chosen Companion doesn't start in your main deck. Rather, it's a card in your sideboard." They go on to explain that "Casting your chosen companion brings it onto the game for good. The spell will go on the stack. If it resolves, it will enter the battlefield under your control (yay!). If it's countered, it will go to your graveyard (boo!). Once it's in the game, it can be exiled, go back to your hand, be shuffled into your library, etc." These Companions have a unique take on deck building, only functioning if your deck building meets a certain requirement. This was Wizards Of The Coast's attempt to bring some of the Commander flair and popularity to other formats such as standard. The issue with Lutri, The Spellchaser seems glaringly obvious from the start, his deck requirements are that you have all singleton cards in your starting deck. This makes him an otter-matic *automatic* inclusion in any deck that can run those colors in commander as there is no downside to playing it. You aren't sacrificing a spell slot for it, you get considerably more consistency in your decks by having it available at all times and of course have a copy ability available at all times. There are many arguments being circulated that Sol ring is an automatic inclusion so why should Lutri be targeted for it? I do not think anyone would have an issue with him being played inside the 99 or as a Commander. When you allow the Companion mechanic however he goes from an average cute otter to one of the greatest Izzet Commander cards ever printed. Flash on a creature that doesn't count towards deck limit, costs only 3 to copy a spell, act as a blocker with a 3/2 body and doesn't require any special deck building constraints. Simply put, running Lutri has no downside whatsoever. I personally think Lutri is the sign of an unseen rift. One of the issues at hand is the Companion mechanic overall. Let's address the issue of Companion first.
Many of us would love to be able to play cards such as Burning Wish, to slot in that Gaea's Blessing when someone pulls out their mill deck and I personally run many decks that use Masterminds Acquisition in place of a cheap tutor. Commander doesn't allow a sideboard currently. There is no ability to deck edit in between play at this time, you play what you play and your deck is built how it is built. Companion is a sideboard-esque card and therefore should simply not function in Commander. The rule is so much easier to just say the Companion mechanic does not work. I believe its extremely interesting and it makes you build your deck a certain way. No doubt that it is neat. The issue is that all of us already build our deck a certain way. We look at what is format legal, balance the risk and reward of running more or less lands, follow color restrictions, ignore split cards if they have one symbol we can't use and are sadly barred from using hybrid mana symbol cards unless both are in our deck. We are all prisoners to a Commanders color identity in decks. We all build decks specifically already. My CEDH Gitrog deck is built very specifically around getting Dakmoor Salvage. I built the entire deck to fetch and function on that combo. Giving the deck the ability to start with it or any other combo piece is insane. Putting that card in a side zone that exists for no other card and that my opponents can't interact with is obviously broken. Many of us build decks specifically around having to work out how to get our cards into play. How to dig to the card that you need in for the situation, while simultaneously protecting yourself long enough to play it is our great challenge. All of these are already deck building requirements. Adding a secondary version of it that brings flawless consistency to games and makes them too repetitive is unwanted. That is not what most players like. It is arguably the biggest difference between a casual and competitive deck. In both shooting and archery consistency is a great metric of ability and Commander deck building is no different. If your deck can reliably do what you want it to do, then you simply have to change where you're aiming for fine tuning to reliably produce exact results. Many arguments have been presented that Flash was a more worthy candidate for an emergency ban, but Lutri makes sense knowing that he was giving a disproportionate advantage to individual players if they just chose certain colors.
The second issue is that there is clearly a rift between two factions at the moment. Wizards Of The Coast's design team is not the Rules Committee and vice versa. The Rules Committee is the respected authority on deck building but it is Wizards themselves who sanction events and put out products. When mechanics like this emerge, there is always going to be the potential question "who do you listen to?" Commander is currently a casual format and the ban list for most people is a suggestion. I personally *spoiler alert* am going to run a Lutri in a deck because I am excited for the card. It, on its face, is not broken as either a Commander or in the 99. If anyone I play with has an issue then I'll politely take it out, apologize for the misunderstanding and play something different. The Commander Advisory Group's decision to ban the card, even with the great art and with such a nice showcase extended art version of the card, makes sense. It's the right play, to at least allow the test of the Companion mechanic. It could even be seen as righteous. Two colors should not get such an overwhelming advantage. However, this ban absolutely wrecks some player excitement. Cracking packs and seeing one of these cards now just becomes a bust rare that is unusable if you listen to the rules committee. It tanks the cards value before it has even been held by players. These premium border-less cards are in demand for basically Commander only. It cripples potential income from the artist on this work and from playmat sales. People are far less likely to buy beautiful prints of a card they never get to see and play. There is no connection to it there, it's just nice art. *A link to the artist's work can be found here* -https://www.artstation.com/liesetiawan
Simply put, boxes lose value due to these cards being in them and banned in the format that would actually run them. Wizards loses money with less boxes requested, local game stores lose money, collectors lose money on an unplayable card and players everywhere feel bad getting one. These problems pale in comparison to the deeper one that most aren't anticipating.
The final and biggest issue is that Lutri, The Spellchaser, heralds the end of what we have and exposes one of the largest issues facing our format. The Rules Committee isn't Wizards. Wizards isn't the Rules Committee. Wizards is a business whose incentive is to get us to spend money. They have realized that Commander players are their proverbial "cash cows" and they are not going to stop printing cards that have exceptional power levels. The Commander Rules Commitee and Commander Advisory Group is going to continue to push the format to the play style that suits them. CEDH is a perfect example of how they do not listen to the player base and do not care about ways to play outside of their vision of the game. Flash-Hulk has been left to dominate the format because it isn't an issue for good old friendly tabletop EDH. These groups are at odds with each other, make no mistake about it. Both want different things with Wizards wanting Brawl to become its new standard flagship. The premium cards and foils targeted at Commander and even the Companion cards are a warning Wizards is not going to leave this format alone. They have no reason to. It is wildly popular. Its players spend tons on cards, especially foils of hard to get cards for that extra in deck bling. EDH is a fan created format, managed by those creators, but it can't survive that way. The balance of the game is precarious. Which side will end up winning? One has the power to print any format breaking card they want and still allow them at their events, which is the only real place and official way to play. They publish official ban lists that WPN stores offering tournaments or Commander events will follow. The Commander Rules Committee has the current loyalty of its players. Its decisions are often respected and even when they aren't, its a casual format that relies on a social contract. You basically can play, for the most part, whatever your friends let you. I believe that Lutri signals the beginning of the end of this delicate balance. There will be more of an outcry to ban cards that are simply not liked, a demand to reintroduce sideboards and wish mechanics, a demand to allow cards on the ban list to re-enter the format legally and also for cards to be taken out of the format. Banning cards is often not good. It should only be done rarely in situations that cause an unfair advantage or wreck the game. Lutri very obviously provides this advantage. So much so, it was instantly banned in two formats, Commander and Brawl. This was a show of force by the Rules Committee flexing their authority of what they will not allow. I think it was the right move but it opens the bigger question of "where does that authority stop?" If they start removing things such as Sol Ring from the format as Mark Rosewater mused about, will people respect it? Wizards has the incentive to ban it for sure, especially with the new Arcane Signet. The "Sorry it's banned but don't worry! We are including signets in the new packs coming up to try make them more accessible to people. This means you can replace all of the Sol Rings!" announcement will surely happen one day. Many people in the Commander Advisory Group have a large dislike of fast mana. At a certain point, will players as a whole continue to respect the ban list presented by the group or will Wizards seize control of the most popular format? Will they continue to print whatever they want to drive sales and the constant consumption of new sets by players to satisfy our ever burning addiction to create more and more decks? Will this new ban hammer system enforced by one faction and not the other become the norm?
I personally will play Lutri as a Commander and use him in my decks. I personally will be excited about the card. I will, personally at least, be unhappy about people attempting to play a 101st card from outside the game. I don't make the games rules, but I do make decks and Lutri will be in them until my playgroup hates him and asks me to stop. His companion mechanic aside, he's a neat card and an adorable legend. I wonder will he be played or will Lutri drown in obscurity ? Either way I think this little otter has made big waves.