Should Hullbreacher Have Been Banned!?

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

This is an older article that didn’t find it’s way here quite on time…so here it is now.

Hullbreacher is banned in Commander. If you haven’t read the official announcement yet, then here it is below:

Hullbreacher is BANNED.

Hullbreacher

Hullbreacher has been a problem card since its release. Its ostensible defensive use against extra card draw has been dwarfed by offensively combining it with mass-draw effects to easily strip players hands while accelerating the controller. That play pattern isn’t something we want prevalent in casual play (see the Leovold ban), and we have seen a lot of evidence that it is too tempting even there, as it combines with wheels and other popular casual staples. The case against the card was overwhelming. 

There remain a few similar cards that are still permitted, notably Notion Thief and Narset, Parter of Veils. The additional hoops required (an additional color pip for Notion Thief, and sorcery speed for Narset) appear to be keeping them to the appropriate level of play, though we’ll continue to keep an eye on them.

Now, is this something we all should have seen coming? Perhaps. If you have ever played this card in a Commander game, then perhaps you know what I’m about to mention. It can be a devastating card in the right builds. The most brutally effective use of it that I had the pleasure of experiencing was having someone cast it in response to his own Windfall. I don’t think Windfall can really be quite the definitive windfall for the caster as when it has been used in tandem with Hullbreacher. That is just brutal. The game is effectively over at this point. The windfall of mana and cards you reap while your opponent’s resources have been drained is pretty much a guarantee that the game is over. There’s a few reason why people might say it didn’t need to be banned, but those are wrong. Let’s explore the faulty thinking behind this, and embrace a world where we all get equal access to treasure and resources (well, some decks are more equal than others).

It dies to removal. Yes, it does die to removal. It is cast at instant speed, so you had better have an instant removal spell at the exact moment it is cast. If you don’t, then it’s already doing what it needs to do. Hullbreacher is the type of card that could be sacrificed at end of turn, even the end of the phase really, and it would still be ban worthy. The effect is just overwhelmingly powerful when combined with the right cards. Putting the entire table at the burden of having instant removal available as early as turn 4 or 5 is brutal. Basically, if an opponent doesn’t answer it immediately, then the game is effectively over. The caster draws 7 cards, makes 21-28 extra mana (on average), and then can cast all the rest of those 7 cards that were just drawn. That’s pretty gross. What’s worse is that no one else has any answers for those fresh 7 cards. It’s very similar to casting Omniscience with a City of Solitude out. It is usually just GGs at this point. What hoops do you need to do this, why just play one color and it all works just fine. Seems too simple to let it run rampant.

Wait, what about casting it in response to other people’s unfair card draw? Isn’t this card meant as a reaction to people’s aggressive card drawing strategies? Oh, alas, if only it were so with all cards designed with such good intentions. If you only played it in decks that used it defensively, then perhaps this ban would never happen. However, it’s really the combination of this with spells like Windfall, Wheel of Fortune, Magus of the Wheel, Wheel of Fate, Wheel of Misfortune, Dark Deal, Incendiary Command, Jace’s Archivist, Khorvath’s Fury, Memory Jar, Memory Jar, Magus of the Jar, Reforge the Soul, and Whispering Madness. Phew, that’s quite a few of them, but not nearly everything that works grossly well with it. The truth is that people are inherently evil, and the temptation to wheel with Hullbreacher is irresistible. Seriously, why wouldn’t you just crush everyone at the table with one fell swoop, er wheel? You could also just cast another card like Prosperity with all your mana you just acquired, post wheel, and proceed to draw even more cards and create even more mana. Seems like a surefire way to crush everyone. It really is very similar to Skull Clamp. It was “fixed” last minute in design to give the creature +1/-1. The -1 was the tweak that would make it fairer. The thought was this would make the equipment less powerful. However, making it so you can kill off your own creatures for profit is really what Skull Clamp became known for. It enabled affinity decks to run wild. Of course it was more than just that card that kept affinity at the top for so long, but Skull Clamp was and still is an amazingly powerful draw engine because of the -1 clause. Of course if your opponent plays Hullbreacher, then your Skull Clamp is just garbage.

It isn’t that bad losing to Hullbreacher. Hey, I get this argument, as it was basically my perspective. I don’t mind losing to an over-powered card every now and then. I’ve lost plenty of games to Craterhoof Behemoth, Goblin Trenches, Smokestack, and I’ve won plenty of games off the back of nasty cards like Portcullis. These cards are rough. Playing games where you lose to them over and over is exhausting. When you go to a local game store and each pod has a Hullbreacher in it, then it starts getting old really quickly. The idea that is was banned while Notion Thief was not seems pretty clear to me. Notion Thief requires two different mana types, an additional mana, and most importantly doesn’t enable you to cast more spells. Sure, Notion Thief gives you more cards, but Hullbreacher allows you to cast the cards in your hand with ease. This comes back to how having lots of mana in Commander is sometimes better than having lots of cards in hand. Oftentimes, playing just three or four cards in a single turn is enough to break a game open or simply win outright. Having enough mana to do that is the hardest part, but Hullbreacher gives us that. It gives people this while denying them the resources they need to catch up to that. This resource trading is actually stronger than the strict trade of cards for no cards. It might seem close, but once you realize that you only need to draw 5 extra cards to really be in a position of absolute power, then you realize that extra mana is far more valuable.

Ultimately, the rules committee got his one right. It’s pretty clear that Hullbreacher needs to go. Now, if you are upset that it got banned, then start running Narset and Notion Theif in those decks. They’re not nearly as good as Hullbreacher, but that’s why they’re still around. However, I’d suggest that you completely substitute out your Hullbreacher with a much more fun merfolk named Rootwater Thief. You’re still stealing from people, but it just feels a bit more fair and lot more fun. Happy games my friends, and may the cards be ever in your favor!

Hey, if you made it this far, then thank you. I thought I had this scheduled to post in a timely fashion, but apparently not? Anyway, as a bonus, I have recently tried to incorporate this card into my EDH Cube, but it just lacks in overall power and effect when it isn’t being used in more powerful environment. I guess it really is a matter of all cards and the card pool combined. Ultimately, because the rest of the cards that interact so poorly, or perfectly depending how you see it, with Hullbreacher bring more happiness than Hullbreacher on its own–it’s still a solid ban choice.

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