The Rules Committee came out yesterday and made a fundamental rule change about Commander. Here’s the important part:
If your commander would go into the library or your hand, you may choose to put it into the command zone. It’s as simple as that. Just like with the graveyard, if you want it to go into the library/hand, you’re more than welcome to let it. Note that this is a replacement effect, but it can apply multiple times to the same event.
Sheldon then presented four reasons why this rule changed. General Damage Control wrote a nice piece breaking down the four reasons why they’re against it so I’ll just direct you to them instead of rehashing it.
I am not in favor of this rule change. But, to be fair, I haven’t played with it yet and that’s usually the best way to get to know something (playtesting is king). Daryl Bockett (@the_casual_guy) has:
And he’s right, the social contract is a much better fix for this sort of situation than saying the Rules Committee needs to be disbanded. But let’s get down to why I think this is a bad rule change and why the social contract is key here.
One of the things that I’ve learned about studying Magic Design, and game design theory in general, is that everything needs a safety valve. If something gets too powerful, there has to be a way to shut it down. Also called “hosers”, these gameplay effects need to stop powerful events from happening.
There was a time in Standard where Planeswalkers couldn’t be stopped, most notably when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was still legal. I believe one of the biggest reasons for this is the fact there was nothing really printed to stop Jace from activating his abilities in the zendikar format. It was also the first time in the history of Planeswalkers that Oblivion Ring wasn’t printed in the format. Am I blaming the run of one of the most dominant Standard decks of all time on a 3 mana common enchantment? Kinda, but also what it represented.
See, Oblivion Ring is that safety valve that a format needs to make sure things don’t get rampant with one thing. You don’t need huge effects like Shatterstorm to have these type of effects. The threat of it and actually having it helps create a diverse metagame. Cards like Pithing Needle and Gaea’s Blessing are perfect to stop certain strategies. Even staples like Wrath of God are safety valve cards that prevent too many creatures from seeing the battlefield.
It’s times like that I see other players get to poke fun at Commander and the type of effects that people want to play in it. They say things like “The format where you complain that someone countered your spell stopping your ten card infinite combo.” I believe that the ultimate goal of Commander is that everyone should be there to have fun. Fun, being subjective, means different things to different players. For some, it’s about putting together that ten card infinite combo; for others, it’s about trying to prevent them from doing anything.
And this is the heart of the problem. If used moderately, then these tuck effects can be seen as safety valves to stop another player from winning. If abused and done all of the time, then you’re creating an unfun environment where you get into a situation of wanting to alter said rules. After all, most of these tuck spells are used on Commanders, the heart of the Commander format.
Heart of the problem, second chamber: A person’s deck should involve its Commander. Yes, there’s some combo or 5-color decks that ignore the format’s name sake, but you should be able to play your Commander especially if your deck revolves around it. That’s the whole appeal of the format, right? But what happens when you come up against a powerful Commander that’s hard to get rid of? Especially ones with Hexproof, or Indestructible, or abusive enters the battlefield abilities, or ways to skirt the card onto the battlefield. People love to play with powerful cards but there needs to be a way to stop them and one of the easiest ways to do that was to make their Commander unavailable to them by hiding it in their library (and I haven’t even touched on the putting it into their hand).
The flip side of this is that now they have to pay the Commander Tax of 2 extra mana if they want to cast it again. In a format of large mana, I know plenty of decks that don’t mind it if they get access to their game breaking Commander again. It’s much better for Zur the Enchanter to pay 2 extra mana than unable to play most of its deck because it attacked into a Condemn.
The social contract of this format, and of this decision, is where we find the divide of ideas on this debate. I think a healthy discussion of this topic with your friends will decide how you ultimately feel about this. If you play this as a “gentleman’s/woman’s” format, then most likely you were tucking Commanders when they needed to and didn’t find this to be a problem that needed to be addressed. If your playgroup is more cutthroat, then this change could mean that your decks have a potential to get more nasty (since you’re now removing those tutors for other possible effects). Suddenly now having to worry about your Commander “going away” means that you can alter your deck to just be “better” (twisting something that the Rules Committee said they want anyway). If there was that player that just liked being a griefer, then this is just really good news for you then.
It’s hard coming into a new group and finding out what everyone likes and dislikes and the power of their decks. They can talk to you about it, but until you see how their decks operate, and how the players themselves operate, then all the discussion in the world before you start may not help. Do I think Sundering Titan is that good of a card it need to be banned? No, since I think there are enough nonbasic lands that it can neuter this card’s ability. However, if Sundering Titan is abused (and when is someone going to abuse a powerful card in a format where anything goes?) then of course it needs to be banned. If I went in to a playgroup where they allowed Sundering Titan, but I didn’t see it paired with Deadeye Navigator, or the destroy effects were doled out fairly, that’s a different mentality and one where I could be happy playing with them.
It’s because of this cutthroat idea that I don’t like competitive Commander. Sure, I can optimize my deck to kill people in a few turns, but that’s not why I play Commander. That is not my idea of fun; but I don’t expect Commander to bend to my will of what I think the format should be. I like to play powerful effects, but I know the need for counterspells, and *gasp* sometimes even land destruction. That’s all part of playing Magic. With Tiny Leaders becoming popular, I’m encouraging players who want to be competitive to go there since it’s designed to be more aggressive and letting more “casual” players enjoy Commander.
I know that there are going to be challenges that my opponents are going to do that will prevent me from winning, that’s called playing a game. Even though a Commander is the backbone of a Commander deck, I fully believe that you should have a backup plan if you don’t have your Commander. In fact, it was my first article I wrote for GatheringMagic.com (actually, I wrote a “Andy Rooney” guest piece on the old GM). If you Commander gets stolen, or Nevermored, that’s all part of the game and why I like it: things happen. I feel that tucking a Commander falls into this same camp: you need a backup plan.
To quote Wu-Tang Financial: “You need to diversify your bonds.”
Commander can be an unfun format if you don’t have the right people that don’t share your values. I know that not everyone has this option, but I have different Commander decks for different styles of play and playgroups; I think that’s the best way to go. You should adapt to a situation with the people you’re around. Maybe that Mono-Blue Azumi Draw-Go deck isn’t a good choice to play when players want to play Dragons and Angels; that’s how these problems start of something being abusive. It’s because of this diversity of player’s interests that make this format fun and especially challenging to play.
Get your playgroup together and play with the change for the next three months until Magic Origins (which should be the next rules update for Commander. I know that there’s stuff going on for regular Magic at that time too). Give it a chance. Try new decks with new Commanders that you should have an easier time getting or staying on the battlefield. If you don’t like the new rule, you don’t have to play with it as these rules are more of a “guideline” and the Rules Committee has said that each playgroup is encouraged to play with their own house rules. Make your opinion known whether it is positive or negative. Each playgroup is different, and that’s what makes this rule change so difficult as it will affect different people in a wide variety of ways.
Through all of this, I want to say: I get it. I understand why the change was made. I know that there are a great number of people (I don’t know if it’s a majority at this point) who love this rule change. I don’t think that the people who agree with this rule change are idiots who don’t know anything about Magic (nor believe that the rules committee needs to be disbanded). I just don’t agree with it because I personally think it could create more problems than it is trying to solve. Now, if this change was because of an upcoming mechanic: fine, I can get on board with the change quicker. If this change leads to the more difficult Commanders to deal with being banned: ok, that might solve people’s tucking issue in the first place.
I will start to play with this changes and see what happens. At the time of this writing, I don’t like this rule change but maybe I’ll grow to like it. When “damage on the stack” was removed with M10 rules, the design of the game changed and people got used to the new paradigm shift. You weren’t seeing Mogg Fanatic any more. Has the game gotten better? Yes. Did I like the change at first? No. Did I just spent 1900 words hating on something I may come to enjoy? Yes. I am open to the idea of change but this one sticks out to me as a weird one as there would be other things I would fix before I even looked at tucking: getting Bojuka Bog legal in all decks, having the Fifth Dawn Bringers legal in mono-colored decks, Thelon’s Curse legal in Mono-Green decks and other cases like that.
Explanation of the title for those non-football savvy.