Zur the Enchanter has been one of the mainstays of the format for quite a while. After a first burst of domination at the end of 2012, we decided to ban Vanishing to give many decks a chance of coming back after Zur had attacked once. But several innovations brought Zur back to the top. First of all, Nevermore was included as a way to shore up many of Zur’s weaker matchups. Then, more controllish builds of the deck emerged, where the pilot could choose to delay playing the Commander as much as needed in order to protect it, but would still be able to punish the opponent if they ever tapped out. Finally, Helm of Obedience combined with the tutorable Rest in Peace made for an instant kill that permitted comfortable play of the Commander in timed rounds. All this made it into arguably the best deck of the format, with players choosing to learn the deck performing quite consistently, much more than would be explained by simple knowledge of the deck’s intricacies. Rather than try to weaken Zur further, we decided to stop the problem at the source and ban the Commander.
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician is one of the more innovative Commanders to come out of the Commander 2013 set. It started out rather slow, placing only three copies in the top 8s of the three biggest tournaments this season, but then quickly rose to the top of statistics, taking multiple spots in the top 8s of later tournaments.
This led us to scrutinize quite deeply how Derevi decks function and what could explain their sudden rise to dominance. On the surface the Commander looks rather harmless, its triggered ability comparing quite unfavorably to Edric, Spymaster of Trest‘s. Its reduced cost didn’t seem much of a problem as the body is weak and it’s a good strategy to leave Derevi on the battlefield and concentrate your removal on the other threats.
However, a closer analysis revealed that Derevi combines with many cards to create an enormous advantage very quickly. Combined with Hokori, Dust Drinker, you can lock your opponent while not suffering the effects yourself. Combined with Bloom Tender, you can create 6 mana on turn three, for exampling letting you cast Frost Titan and completely lock your opponent out of the game. Combined with Birthing Pod you can tutor multiple creatures into play every turn, crushing the opponent under value. And these are only a few examples.
As a result, when playing against Derevi, you’re torn apart between trying to stop various threats which are quite good on their own, and trying to deal with a Commander that can come back very cheaply again and again. Not many decks are able to do that and still remain competitive against the rest of the field. Some specialized answers exist (Lignify, Darksteel Mutation, Gilded Drake) however we don’t want to turn matchups against Derevi into a lottery of whether you can find and resolve one of those scarce answers. So rather than try and ban any number of those otherwise interesting cards, we prefer banning the engine.
After these two Commanders are gone, the format is expected to shift towards ramp, a style of deck that had a hard time against these two. That’s why we think it’s a good moment to remove some of its weapons as well in order to give creature-based and counterless strategies a better chance, while avoiding games that are decided by turn 3.
Grim Monolith is one of the last sources of fast mana available. You can cast 6-drops on turn 3 with nothing else but Grim Monolith, creating some hard-to-recover from board states. Griselbrand and Maelstrom Wanderer are much more dangerous when they can cast their Commander on turn 4, usually before the opponent has a decent chance of creating a strong enough board. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher landing on turn 3 will often threaten to end the game on the very next turn.
Natural Order has a similar issue: it’s very easy to cast on turn 3. It’s usually not the right play to use removal on an Elf on turn 2, making the play hard to anticipate. And there is a choice of green creatures that are just too strong on turn 3. Primeval Titan can create an insurmountable incremental advantage, while Terastodon can lock certain opponents out entirely.
Finally, Oath of Druids has been a long-standing boogeyman against anything creature-centric. While not played much, any game where one deck relied on creatures could see its plan crumble as early as turn 2. The fact that one needs to have only a small amount of creatures to play Oath of Druids in their deck is easily circumvented. It fits naturally into Maelstrom Wanderer whose plan is to reach 8 mana unscathed.
All this leads us to banning Grim Monolith, Natural Order, and Oath of Druids.
And last, Vanishing’s only reason to be banned was in order to weaken Zur the Enchanter. With Zur gone, no reason to leave it banned.