Me: *shows Benalish Infantry* "Now this is a real magic card"
9yr old: "That was a real Magic Card" (Everyone laughs)
"So what does it do"
Me: "It bands"
9yr old: "Awesome"
Tilly: "Yeah it was awesome" (Does his turn)
9 yr old: "It bands a card from the entire game!"
Banding, one of the most maligned and misunderstood mechanics in the game. Some of that is understandable, some not so much. This exchange above is one of my favorite memories involving the mechanic, but there are many, most of which is someone asking me 'how does banding work?' or 'what is banding?' or some other variant of that. The other ones include using teams of banders to kill off creatures (including an Emerakul) or arguing that it is a good mechanic. With its ranking of 10 on the Storm Scale, its doubtful we will see it return (even though half of phasing has returned, and is now considered an evergreen mechanic).
Originally designed by Garfield as a means to break creature stalemates, it honestly survived until 5th edition. Making it through the entire 'Old school' era of the game, and into the 'Golden Age'. It also makes the mechanic pre-modern legal! It's also my favorite combat mechanic in the game, but I see few (if any) people even bother with it.
As any long time reader of mine knows, I'm a huge fan of the mechanic, and even wrote its removal from the game as the 'Second Deadly Sin of WotC'.
"Banding has no business being as complicated as it is"--a friend
It is a complicated mechanic, but I don't think its anymore complicated then protection, it certainly has less corner cases then abstract mechanics like Morph or Regeneration (which never worked right with the stack anyway). We will ignore some of weird mechanics and rulings in the last decade that make some of the weird cases around banding seems rather innocent in comparison (the metaphysical third side of a card anyone?).
How banding works: Banding allows your creatures to fight in teams. Well its a bit more complicated then that, but that's the basic concept. In reality, banding has two modes, and offensive, and a defensive mode:
The offensive mode, one creature without banding, and multiple creatures with banding may was attack in a "band". While in the band, they share no abilities, so unless all your banders have flying, you can be blocked with a non flying creature. This holds true to all evasive abilities, including shadow. This has been a problem with the mechanic since its inception, and is one of the classic criticisms of the mechanic.
The defensive mode doesn't form a bands, but allows all your creatures to block in as if in a bands, and allows you to divide up damage as you choose. Some pretty insane block situations can happen through this if allowed.
Interesting combo's/tech with banding:
Maze of Ith
You can use the damage prevention of Protection to support damage prevention with banding, which surprisingly isn't as obvious as you would think.
Valor Made Real/Entangler/Blaze of Glory
When defending, if you have one creature in the blocking band with the ability to block multiple creatures, you can block multiple creatures with the band. This could in theory allow you to block with your whole team, to a considerable favorable position. Combines especially well with the likes of Siren's Call. Sure Valor Made Real isn't legal in any other formats that people who read my blog play, but Blaze of Glory and Entangler are.
Trample and banding
When attacking with multiple creatures in a band, trample damage will go over any blocking creatures, as it normally would. In theory, you can assign your non-trampler to deal damage to the blocking creatures, potentially allow your trample damage to cross over to the player. Note, this also does apply for first strike, so if you have a creature with first strike and trample, it will have to do its damage first, which may prevent you from trampling over.
Five best creatures with banding
Errand of Duty
An instant speed creature is a great asset in on itself. Giving it banding though can turn an unfavorable conflict into a favorable one. In this sense, Errand of Duty is an abstract combat trick that might hang around.
So while not a creature, it comes close.
Ah one of the first cards that ever got me to think. Shield Bearer's greatest asset isn't its P/T, but its color. Being white adds to its versatility, as it benefits from Crusade and its other various effects.
While being a soldier doesn't benefit it to much, it does have synergy with Soldiers in Onslaught block, as well as Icatian Lieutenant in Oldschool 95. If only it was immune to bolt on its own.
A 1/3 for three looks bad on paper, and it is, but this card shows banding untapped potential. This is a card that performs better then it looks on paper. The three toughness adds a surprising amount to combat math, and the additional point of power isn't so bad either.
Not to mention it being white, and a soldier, as mentioned above.
The ability to pump mana into his toughness is where he shines. While the pump knight ability for pumping his power is respectable as well, this article is about how well it works as banding. I wish it was like the other pump knights, and was a 2/1 instead however. They probably felt Banding was strong enough for a 1/1 for 2.
Admittedly a bit bias, this card was one of the first cards I wrote about.
Another overcosted underpowered bander, but a decent utility creature none the less. As the other above examples, he benefits to being a soldier, and white. It's first strike can force a pump knight to pay into one, or command an arrow head.
Five best creatures without banding to compliment the mechanic:
The only non-premodern/old school legal card in the article. Bushi Tenderfoot is a surprisingly hard card to flip, but Bushi Tenderfoot can get a really good deal when in a bands. Its probably the easiest way to flip Tenderfoot.
Though the classical technique to keep him alive is to pair him with Maze of Ith, a bander can be used to help keep him alive as well. This has an additional benefit of pumping the bander (as well as any additional creatures you have involved in combat), resulting in favorable blocks on your end.
The ability to prevent damage is where half of this guys greatness with the mechanic comes in. His real power is his relatively unique ability to force defending creatures to block in the bands. Making him a pseudo removal. This has a number of crazy stories around me abusing this, my favorite one having my entire team (thanks to Baton of Morale) swinging and killing an Emrakul (to my old school readers, that's a 15/15) without losing a single creature in the process.
In reality this applies to any creature that has an effect of when they deal damage or block/blocking, but this one was the first that came to mind. Take a walk on the darkside by trading a lousy bander, and stealing something much bigger then himself. Others include Krovikan Vampire, Seraph, Vampires (and Spirit Monger I guess), and of course, Charisma.
If you ever REALLY want to fuck with combat math, use the General with two different banding teams on the attack, and switch how some of them are blocked. Just make sure you have a judge on hand. Not the most effective, but a whole lot of fun.
Honorable Mention: Mother of Runes
The only combat trick that grants banding. It's probably the best of the bunch, making for a surprise block formation (or even attack), and cantrip during the next upkeep. It's a surprisingly versatile card, and I recommend everyone trying it at least once.
The only enchantment that gives the ability to multiple creatures at the same time. It's actually pretty good in a wall deck along side the Glyph's and Rolling Stones, if you're into that kind of thing.
Helm of Chatzuk
I've heard of this card actually doing really well in A40. This honestly is a fair cost for the mechanic, and while being a once per turn effect, is a fine card in its own right. Now if we could only find out who Chatzuk was.
Probably the most steeply costed on the batch. This one is interesting, because it is one of a handful of cards in the game that will grant a keyword ability permanently. Though at times, you might be better off with just the +1/+1 counter.
Soraya the Falconer
One for the EDH players everywhere. It should be mention she currently says Birds, not Falcons, so your Aven's, your mana birds, and Storm Crow can all get pumped up from her. The ability to add banding is honest just an icing, and yes, I forgot she existed when I started this.
So there you have it, my musings on my favorite mechanic. Now theres more ways to use this for sure, such as Gaseous Form and Sandskin, but damage prevention is damage prevention. I honestly feel banding was a mechanic that was killed off before its time to prosper, however, it's legacy can be felt even today. The 'kor' mechanic (in all it's broken delight) was inspired by banding, and according to urban legend, all the Tempest ones originally had it (along with the infamous banding sliver). Soul Bond and Partner, are two mechanics that was introduced much later in the game that attempted to reinvent the concept as fighting as a team. Even a card in Urza Saga had half of the banding ability. Alas, some things are to good to last I guess.
So what's your favorite interaction with the mechanic? Do you enjoy it? Did I get a ruling up here wrong? If so, please let me know. Until next time, I hope I've inspired you with something to build.