Loyal Apprentice and Agent of the Shadow Thieves are now banned in Two-Player Pauper Commander, effective February 1, 2023. (This does not affect multiplayer PDH.)

Loyal Apprentice

High on the target list in every sense, Loyal Apprentice has been close to the ban hammer more than once in the past. The cheeky apprentice unto itself managed to narrowly escape this fate during the committee’s last format review – saved mostly by a shortage of data – but this time around the vote was almost unanimous.

The committee came up with a lot of points against the apprentice and few in its defence. The criticism included:

  1. The Golos effect: it’s so much stronger than anything else in mono-red that it has a punishing effect on deck diversity
  2. Its power level is a step above other top Commanders
  3. It’s against the “spirit” of the lieutenant mechanic to be its own Commander
  4. It warps the meta: pushing sweepers and cheaper removal (mostly red/black) in order to deal with the threat immediately.

None of these points are new, so why now? The decision was based primarily on the data. When PDC was unified, the recorded data for tournament games was reset (when starting life changed from 30 to 25, it affected many deck’s win-rate). After that, Loyal Apprentice’s performance was initially mixed. But as we held more events and gathered more data, the statistics began to align with what most players had been thinking all along: the apprentice is overpowered. As of now, Loyal Apprentice has won 64 of 97 recorded games (about 66%). To put that figure into perspective, if you played a tournament and won every match 2-to-1, that’s 66%.

We realize that Loyal Apprentice is a card beloved by many, and it’s not easy to make any decision to ban. However, with no other options but to ban the card itself (no nerfs, no “key strategic combo” cards), sorry old friend – your time is up! We will continue to monitor how the meta evolves, but we hope that, in the absence of the apprentice, decks will be under less pressure to run niche interaction and diversity at the top of the leaderboard will increase.

Agent of the Shadow Thieves

This was the most hotly debated decision of the review. After much back and forth, it was finally agreed that this mostly innocuous background had to go.

It was a difficult decision because the card in isolation is not at all problematic – the problem is with a specific partner: Wilson, Refined Grizzly. For those not in the know, Wilson and Agent of the Shadow Thieves (call it Wilson+AST for short) is an inherently voltron deck with the baffling ability to make 2-mana kill-spells somehow “too expensive.” It combines Wilson’s trample with the background’s deathtouch and indestructible to make him essentially unblockable – all the while growing as a threat and defender. If that was all, we wouldn’t have a problem, but Wilson’s “keyword soup” doesn’t stop there.

Ward {2}

Arguably the biggest issue on Wilson’s side, a tax of {2} means that even by turn
three the opponent still cannot afford a 2-mana removal spell against the bear. This
allows the Wilson player to untap and hold up mana for green’s ample protection
spells (e.g. Vines of Vastwood and Snakeskin Veil). As a deck with a consistently fast
win-condition, this (plus Loyal Apprentice) warps the meta towards an over-emphasis
on 1-mana removal spells. To worsen the situation, even 1-mana removal is
ineffective when most of them cap-out at 3 damage (which the bear can survive with
free tricks like Seal of Strength and Gather Courage). “But just run edicts,” we hear
you saying. While decks like Plaguecrafter are a weakness for the deck, even that is
not a fool-proof counter. A well-rounded Wilson+AST has numerous low-cost
creatures to support the voltron plan and defend against edicts (most notably Nested
Shambler). This deck, for example, has access to 16 possible creatures that can be
out on turn one.

Vigilance and Reach

For many aggro decks, once Wilson has grown to the point where bolting him is no
longer an option, their only chance at victory is to outrace him. But the bear has
vigilance and reach; he does not need to slow his attack in order to defend, and
there’s no sneaking fliers over his head. Factor in the potent combination of lifelink
spells for Wilson (e.g. Blessing of Belzenlok), and the prospects for aggro decks
become bleak.

Can’t Be Countered

Counterspells were blue’s greatest hope in the classic case of Slippery Bogle: get it
off the board, then keep it off. Why Wizards of the Coast felt the need to make an
uncounterable grizzly bear is one of life’s great mysteries, but it has the effect of
turning solid interaction like Essence Scatter into dead draws. Combined with
everything else, Wilson+AST became a deck with far too few weaknesses.

Sounds Like the Problem is Wilson; Why Ban the Background?

While it was clear to the RC that something had to be done about this deck, opinion
was mixed as to which card (or both) should take the hit. We discussed alternative
options, like banning the specific combination or even removing commander damage
as a nerf to the deck, but these options would be to boldly go where no RC has gone
before (and for good reason). The argument over which card to ban was decided on
which would be the least damaging to other decks. Wilson is an ideal partner to
some of the more difficult build-around backgrounds (e.g. Far Traveler, Inspiring
Leader or even Dragon Cultist). Notably, it is one of very few green “partners” to
grace the top of the competitive leaderboards. Banning Wilson would be a practical
ban on many more decks than just Wilson+AST. (For the first time since Satyr
Enchanter, green+white looks competitive!) Similar arguments were put forward for
AST, yet the majority of the RC agreed that black can tolerate losing a background
more than green can afford to lose one of its few top-tier partners. This decision also
allows a similar, more balanced version of Wilson+AST (Wilson with Criminal Past),
demonstrating that while AST is easily replaced, Wilson is not.

We recognise that Wilson remains a powerful commander, and rest assured we’ve
not taken our eye off him yet! The problems mentioned above don’t go away with the
banning of AST, but we’ve not yet seen evidence of another problematic pairing. We
hope that with the most problematic partnership off the table, the meta should reach
a point where Wilson is powerful but fair overall. Naturally, we’ll be monitoring the
meta as it evolves. We do not rule out reversing this decision if it emerges that
Wilson is still a problem with some other background!

Other Topics Discussed

Throughout 2022, the RC heard calls from global communities to legalise
planeswalkers and commons in the command zone. The idea of playing Kiora,
Behemoth Beckoner or Dega Disciple as your commander is not new (frankly, it
comes up all the time), and we hear you! Opinions in the RC are as split as the
community, so, without going into too much detail, here are some of the reasons we
voted for the status quo.

Planeswalkers – Our Mandate is Rarity, Not Card Type

As the Pauper Commander formats (both PDC and PDH), we are the variant of
Commander that says “it’s still Commander, but we have special rules about rarity.”
Many of us believe that planeswalkers should be legal in Commander as a whole
(yes, even Commander with rares), but until that day comes, splitting from the
Commander RC would be to reposition ourselves on the founding principles of our
format. We’re the variant of Commander that warps rarity; it’s not in our mandate to
mess about with card type. (We don’t all agree on this point, but it’s the best I can do
to summarise!) The RC recognises that there is a fun and fair pool of commanders
that we’re excluding by blocking the call for planeswalkers, but stepping away from
core rules of Commander is not something we are prepared to do at this time. Of
course, we fully embrace house-rules for anyone wanting to planeswalk among

Commons – Uncommon is Our Legendary

The “common commanders” debate is as old as the format itself, and boils down to
how players perceive the spirit of the format. The mechanical debates are weak on
both sides: there’s nothing so good or so bad about commons that [re]legalising
them would have much impact on the metagame. The strongest arguments are
ideological. On the one hand, Pauper Commander is a hybrid of Commander and
Pauper – all cards must be common, including the commander. If you’re on this side
of the fence, you probably imagine that uncommons were legalised because
commons alone were so dull that the decks needed a power-up. On the other hand,
Pauper Commander is Pauper plus Commander: your Commander must still be
legendary. All cards must still be common, but since legendary commons are so
hilariously bad, “uncommon” became a substitute for “legendary.” There’s no wrong
interpretation here – Pauper Commander was formed by unifying distinct playgroups
around the world: it legitimately has multiple origins. But with the divide in opinion still
leaning towards the status quo, neither RC (PDC and PDH) have been able to justify
letting our humble common friends take command (sorry, Gruul Storm).

There’s More?

The one other thing worth a mention is the initiative. Following the Pauper Format
Panel’s banning of four initiative cards in September ‘22, the PDC RC thought it was
prudent to have a discussion in the same vein. We concluded that the reasons cited
by the Pauper Format Panel did not apply to PDC (mostly due to card density in
60-card formats vs. 100-card singleton), and the mechanic was sufficiently balanced
that no action was needed at this time.


The bans on Loyal Apprentice and Agent of the Shadow Thieves is effective as of
February 1st 2023. The PDC RC will continue to monitor the impact on the meta and
will convene to review the state of the format again in June 2023.
Thanks for reading and happy duelling!

– Danny (the Dinosaur)