It’s been a while since I’ve done a Q&A, so I hope you can accept my Christmas gift of answers to the questions that you’ve been burning to ask. I crowdsourced the official forums, Facebook, and MTGSalvation for material.
From Tim Proctor: How do you find a good casual play group? I got on craigslist and under casual encounters (it’s a casual format after all) put that I’m looking for a casual group of people to play Commander, but I got really weird responses.
Buy toasters and old video games off of craigslist. Avoid anything involving personal encounters.
You fervently deny being a member of the Illuminati and state that the secretive nature of the RC is just a figment of our imaginations and we can read plenty of things written by RC members on their respective sites, but isn’t the transparency issues with articles just a ploy to hide the fact that you’re members of the Illuminati?
When we come into the New World Order, you will understand.
Who do we need to talk to in order to get more Sphinx tribal support?
I bet Rosewater really likes Sphynges. We’ll forward that to him.
From IGottaBigDeck: When the financial apocalypse comes, would you rather have your assets tied up in silver, gold, bitcoins, or Magic cards?
Food and water will be the new currencies. And I’ll make sure to have a fully stocked arsenal.
If a tsunami were imminent and you had only a few minutes to get the hell away, what would you grab first (after people/pets obv)? Second? Third? And if not Magic cards, WHY NOT?!
Depending on how much I could carry, my laptop, which has all my writing stuff on it—although I could just get the backup hard drive, which would be easier to carry and create a reason for getting a new laptop; my Commander decks (that’s 27 and counting); my wine collection (currently at 402 bottles).
Crack, smack, speed, Ecstasy, PCP, dope, heroin, acid, meth, shrooms, bath salts, or Magic cards?
Magic cards obv.
Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis, Scarlett Johanson, Jessica Alba, Kate Upton, or female Elvish Ranger?
This one is tougher. Scarlett Johanson is a dead ringer for my high school girlfriend so there’s an association, and she’s pretty smoldery. She went through a rough patch with crappy roles after being great in Match Point, hitting the nadir in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (or was that The Island?). She’s recently come back in the Marvel stuff to being better, but as far as the real women go, Jennifer Lawrence. Talent is beauty. She has outstanding chops. In addition to being beautiful and seemingly unfazed by success, I think she’s going to be the great actress of a generation. In the end, though, I can’t resist hot muscle women, so it’s that Elvish Ranger all the way.
From High_Hopes: What is your favorite card? It could be its art, effect, etc. (Top 3 works too if picking one is too hard).
My favorite card of all time is Living Death and has been for a long time.
From Jivanmukta: With the unbanning of Staff (and seeing how the format did not implode) is the RC more actively looking for cards that may be safe to remove from the banned list in order to keep it small/purposeful?
Actively might be too strong a word, but we’re always keeping our eyes open for possibilities to reduce the size of the banned list. "Is there anything we want to talk about taking off the list?" is a question that comes up every time we meet.
What are the current views on Painter’s Servant?
That it’s both dangerous and cool. Unfortunately, because of what it does with some current cards and the easy potential for it to interact poorly (for the format) with cards in the future, it’s more dangerous.
We agree often; have you ever considered that I may be your evil doppelganger, and if so how would you attempt to destroy me if we met?
You’re obviously not my evil doppelganger because if you were you know I’d never reveal that secret.
From Dechs Kaison: How do you feel about decks built not to win but to play Kingmaker?
They’re just as valid as any other. If that’s the way you have fun, more power to you. The only caveat here is if it’s built to make a specific player King—then that’s kind of colludey.
Which of the new Commander 2013 mechanics/cards do you like most?
Strangely enough, a common: Opal Palace. Mechanically, I like the things that pay attention to how much you paid for the commander. Cool design.
From silex: How many games of Commander do you think you play in an average week?
With school this past semester, fewer due to classes going until 1515 on Thursdays. I still got in about three to six a week. Next semester my Thursday class goes to 1645, so I’ll probably be down to two or three unless I make other arrangements.
From cryogen: What is your favorite deck; more specifically, if you had to sell off your collection for some reason, what one deck would you keep?
While there’d be a strong argument to keep Animar, Soul of Elements because it creates the most hilarious moments, I think Karador, Ghost Chieftain is the one I simply enjoy playing the most. It’s certainly not what I’d call the best (that would be Intent, the Dreamer).
Who among the RC is the most competitive? Do you feel that the RC (and by default the banned list) could benefit from having someone there to give the competitive players more of a voice?
There’s no one that’s super over-the-top competitive (but I’m the best at being non-competitive!). To the real heart of the question, we’re not catering to the competitive players, so putting one on the RC doesn’t make a great deal of sense. The RC is built to craft a certain style to the format. Add to that that I’m pretty sure that we’re experienced enough in competitive play (I think Toby and I have Head Judged eight and nine Pro Tours respectively) to understand the nature of it. I’d argue that there aren’t that many people who understand it better.
From ParadoxGate: What are your feelings on mass land destruction (assuming the user can either win quickly afterward or lock the game down)?
Mixed. In theory, I’m fine with both the MLD-as-win cards or lock as valid strategies, although I’m not really excited to play in the lock scenario. They can be pretty tedious.
From bighaben: Is green still too good at ramping? If more people played mass land destruction, would green be reined in a bit, and how should the Rules Committee address this issue since a ton of people hate MLD?
First, let me disagree with the premise of your question. MLD will not rein in ramp. The ramp player will likely have out more stuff already, making it a suboptimal play to let them press their advantage with everyone having less opportunity to respond. We’ve already addressed the issue; local groups should decide how they want to do things. For example, it’s strongly discouraged but not disallowed in the Armada Games EDH League (although it’s tough to win in the points system if you’ve done it). There are groups that embrace it. The community is divided enough on its viability that there’s no current reason for us to address it in any other way.
Back to the first part, one of my concerns for the format is that it’s become a resource acquisition game instead of a resource management game. If there’s a problem to be solved, it’s there, but I haven’t thought up anything worthwhile yet.
From bobthefunny: What kind of commander do you think the format is missing? If you could design a commander to fill a current hole in available options, whether it’s colors, support for a play style, etc., what is the general (hah! pun!) idea you’d want filled?
I’d like a Tyrant of the Red Zone that forces attacking and blocking every combat with bonuses for doing both and penalties (like Angel’s Trumpet) for not.
What’s your favorite cheesecake?
Monday Night Gamer Keith Bogart makes a pumpkin cheesecake that I’m pretty fond of, so that’s the sweet cheesecake winner. My wife and I make a savory breakfast version of a vegetable/gouda cheesecake with sausage and spinach. It rules.
What actually happened on December 2nd, 2010? (I feel I should know this.)
The world changed.
From womp: What’s your favorite Skid Row song? Mine’s "Monkey Business".
"18 and Life." Performed it with my band in Korea. Rough song.
From k4z00p4: What is your opinion of the new commanders and cards that actually mention command zones and such? Do you think it’s a good thing?
I think it’s one of the best things to hit the format in a while. Love the idea and hope our friends in R&D run with it some more.
From Variable: In recent months I’ve managed to wheedle my wife to play Commander with me and our group. Have you been lucky enough to be able to share this hobby with your significant other, and if so how’d you sell the idea?
I haven’t. Despite being an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist and nerd-culture fan, my wife doesn’t enjoy games all that much. She’ll occasionally Catch Phrase or Cards Against Humanity with us, but that’s about it.
From kahboom0225: Where do you see the Commander format evolving in the next couple of years?
I see a slow and steady evolution. I don’t envision any radical changes. I think as more sets get printed there are going to be the occasional cards that don’t interact well with the format, meaning the Banned List will probably grow a little, but that’s to be expected in an Eternal format.
From Cornebus: Who’s your favorite planeswalker?
I play Garruk Wildspeaker the most. I can’t really say as backstory characters that I have a favorite.
From: Hallucigenia: Who’s your favorite artist?
I have two because they’re both fantastic artists and great human beings: Terese Nielsen and Rob Alexander. I love Rob’s land- and city-scapes. I hope that I can one day write women the way Terese paints them—and her work keeps getting more amazing (check out Bassandra, Battle Seraph and Sydri, Galvanic Genius).
From artaud: With Wizards’ new tendency to "reprint" worlds (Mirrodin, Ravnica), what do you feel will emerge next? Kamigawa? Lorwyn? Eldrazi? Which of the old worlds would you like to see next?
I don’t have any insight into R&D’s plans for future revisits. I wouldn’t mind seeing them go back to Kamigawa again. Like I said last week, I’d love for them to explore a fan-created setting.
From IBSPathfinder: Commander is becoming ever more popular to Magic players around the world. Do you feel that the perceived target audience is or has changed at all due to the increase in popularity?
No, I think the popularity is due to the people who were already out there hungering for a format that they really love. I don’t think we changed anyone; I think we gave them what they were looking for.
Do you feel that how the RC handles the official rules would ever change due to a changing target audience for Commander?
We’re always listening to the players and fans, but I don’t think there’s a changing target audience. I feel like we’re in a pretty sweet spot right now (accepting that nothing is perfect).
From Juwdah: What would you do if Wizards made a banned list of their own? Are you scared of this and what it could do to the format?
I’m not scared of anything, and they’ve pretty much said they are going to leave it to us. They understand that the success of the format is in its community roots. If that someday changes for some reason, we’ll adapt.
From DivineEdge: Have you thought about removing the banned list?
Not even for a nanosecond.
What’s your least favorite card?
I don’t know if there is a single least favorite card. Perhaps Identity Crisis. There are certainly several that I roll my eyes when I see because I know that I’m in for the type of game I don’t enjoy. When I see Arcum Dagsson as a commander, I know that it’s going to be miserable. For the most part, I don’t hate cards, but I get tired of seeing the same ones—which will happen eventually when you play lots of games.
Your request has been forward to the appropriate files.
From Phil: If I sent you a case of Beaux Freres Pinot Noir 2011, would you unban Balance?
I think you should try and see where it goes. Can’t hurt, right?
I’m open to people trying to bribe me with tasty juice no matter which cards are involved. It probably won’t change my mind, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. The worst-case scenario here is that my wine cellar grows and you have my thanks.
From SirGrizz: If you had to choose a wedge to play from now on, what would it be?
BWG/Karador wedge. It does all the things I want to do.
Right before Balance is.
From Elvish_Sniper: Can we have Shahrazad back? Part of the fun of Commander is being able to play cards that aren’t legal in other formats. I used to really enjoy playing this card.
From d0su: I’m still waiting for that Commander Invitational, yes?
Yes, the only thing that we need is funding.
From CExplosion: What do you think about stores running multiplayer tourneys with prizes using a points system? What do you think about points systems in general?
I think that once you introduce prizes you change the story of the game even if it’s with a points system. You can sculpt the system to discourage certain types of play styles, but it becomes difficult. Since I came up with the idea of the points system (at least for the format), I think they’re great as long as they’re not too complex or obtuse.
From Ophidian Eye: If you could go back and change anything about the way Commander as a format has developed thus far to either better the game or avoid player backlash, what would it be?
I would make those four-man collusion-fest pods (like at Gen Con) to never have existed. They corrupted the spirit of what we’ve built. I don’t mind competitive Commander existing, but the Spikes feeding on the unsuspecting Timmys isn’t where I want us to be.
From aDubiousNotion: Do you feel that an individual card can be inherently casual/competitive or is it entirely up to how it is used? For example, do you think a card like Armageddon can ever be played casually?
Attempting to not put any value judgment on either side, I don’t think that resource denial/lockdown can ever be considered casual. That’s the dividing line for me. Lifebane Zombie can be casual. Myojin of Night’s Reach can’t.
From Zombie Shakespeare: Are there any cards you would like to see reprinted so Commander players have easier access to them?
From Krevok: What is your favorite way to durdle in Commander?
My Karador deck, which seems to be getting a great deal of attention today, is pretty durdly. It’s toolboxy and does some stuff. It rarely dominates a game.
From CrazyPierre: Any chance for another Commander’s Arsenal, perhaps with a somewhat larger print run? The last one was cool, but there were at most a dozen sold around here.
I’m not privy to what the good folks in Brand are going to do, but you can certainly add my voice to those who would like to see more Commander bling.
From kinematik: Has there been any serious consideration of reducing starting life totals to 30 for multiplayer games like it is for Duel Commander?
From moxnix: What is your absolute worst Commander experience in a game?
I’ve been part of a few miserable Mycosynth Lattice / March of the Machines games, but my worst experience was when Rofellos was legal. Rofellos / Umbral Mantle for infinite damage on turn 3—and the player rolled a die to see who he was going to kill. He then mealy mouthed about it not being his fault since it wasn’t his deck. If you’re going to be degenerate, own it. The whole die-roll thing grinds my gears more than anything because I don’t like cowards.
From Narvuntien: Top 5 cards you’re sick of seeing? Top 5 cards that should be played more?
What’s funny is that I’m not sick of seeing everyone’s favorite card Solemn Simulacrum. I’m not going too far out on the limb by thinking it’s the most popular card in the format, but I never groan when someone plays one. There aren’t too many cards that I see in such volume that I’m sick of them—I’m thankful for that because we have a pretty diverse contingent of decks getting played at my LGS. The five cards that should get played more are in no order Tangle, Spore Cloud, Mirror Strike, Spore Frog, and Reflect Damage.
From Tantarus: What has your personal experience with Sylvan Primordial been like?
Not as bad as some folks apparently. There have been three or four games that it’s gotten oppressive, but there are other cards that have been more so and more often. If your plan is to ramp into it on turn 4, you’re most likely going to create an awful game where you have resources and no one else does. If you use it even close to responsibly, it’ll be strong—maybe even one of the strongest cards in the format—but not broken.
From BthePanda: What color or color combinations do you feel are underrepresented and do you think that that color or color combination is underplayed because a lack of good or inspiring commander or the limitation of the colors themselves?
None actually. There can always be more options, but I think that every color combination is represented by several very good choices.
Jareth obv. He’s a Titan.
From homstar99: Once Waste Not is released, will you play it in decks not specifically tuned to force discard?
Since I try to not play a card in too many decks, probably not. I’m not a fan of mass discard, so it’s only going to be in one or two decks (at least that’s what I have planned for now). If Survival of the Fittest starts taking over our League, I might change my mind.
If you had one day with no banned list, what deck would you play?
Do you think color identity rules are too strict?
I think they’re perfect.
From Ryujin: I don’t really have a question, but I think you guys are doing great.
We all appreciate you saying so.
From GreenLexLuther: What is your opinion on cards that are never played "fairly" like Palinchron and Mind Over Matter and how they can be very "unfun" to play against yet have evaded the banhammer all this time.
They’re not played enough to warrant banning, and we can’t ban every card that someone thinks is unfun. Trust me, you really don’t want the 100-card banned list. It’s what killed Five-Color, and it’s a mistake we won’t repeat.
Any chance of Sundering Titan ever getting off the banned list?
That’s highly unlikely. The card is miserable.
From Büge: What are some examples of cards that you really want to find room for but always end up on the chopping block?
From VelociraptorAHH: How do you feel about something that (probably) started out as a cool idea amongst friends to a widely played and officially endorsed format?
I think it’s awesome and inspiring that we could bring something that we love so much to so many people and have them enjoy it as well.
Is there anything that you’d change about the fundamental rules?
I’m quite happy where the format rules are right now. We have enough additional things to make us a distinct format with interestingly different strategic choices without being too onerous. I wouldn’t add too much more, like format-level errata for cards that we used to have (generals had protection from Karakas and there was a "Bringer exception").
And on a completely different note, why is infect damage ten? Why not fifteen?
Because there hasn’t been enough evidence to demonstrate that we need to change (same with changing life total things on Felidar Sovereign and friends).
Thank you for your time and keep up the excellent work.
It is truly my distinct pleasure.
From Jar of Eyeballs: Does Wizards ever communicate with the RC about their Commander products? Do you guys have any influence?
We get input from time to time and are the occasional sanity check for something that they want to try, but we don’t really have any direct influence.
From Goldnight’s Blade: What is your opinion on cards made "for Commander"? When does it begin to cross the line in your opinion?
I’m not sure what line you’re talking about. I want them to make even more cards specifically for us as long as they don’t damage the integrity of other formats. I wouldn’t want them to make Born of the Gods undraftable just so we can have a few extra toys.
Also, huge fan. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your weekly articles on SCG.
I look forward to making them worth reading.
From MiffedMoogle: Has the RC considered expanding to be more representative than just dominantly the North American community?
Nationality has not been a factor in either choosing or not choosing someone for the RC and won’t ever be in the future. If the right person is from Berlin, Pennsylvania, then we add him or her. Same goes if they’re from Berlin, Germany. The right person is the right person, and no one is additionally qualified or unqualified based on where they live. Toby is British. Kevin, who just stepped down, is French. I think as long as we maintain a global attitude we’ll stay healthy.
From scatteredsun: C13. Better than C11?
For being playable straight out of the box against other decks, yes. For giving people a template to get into the format and be able to craft it to their own tastes, I think the original was better. They’re both good in different ways.
From Wrecked: How do you feel about Warp World and why is it (seemingly) never in your decks?
A few years back someone built a Hive Mind / Warp World deck, and it just got time consuming and annoying to play with, especially since it was built to be an ever-shrinking loop so that he’d get more and more stuff while you got less and less. The dust settled long enough ago that I can probably play it again—I’m just not sure what deck I’d put it in. If you have ideas out of my current decks, suggest away.
From Joz: What cards are on your list of cards to talk about at the next banned list discussion meeting?
You’re trying to get me to say there’s a watch list. No dice.
What do you think is the weakest new legendary from C13 and the strongest?
None of them is weak, although I suppose that Oloro is the least strong. Prossh is the one that will kill people the fastest.
Can we get copies of the RC meeting minutes?
Sure. Send me $10,000 for production costs and we’ll ship them out.
From JJackson: How do you feel about Derevi, Empyrial Tactician explicitly referencing the command zone? How about how she bypasses the commander tax?
I like cards that interact with the command zone. I think that Derevi enters dangerous ground in basically eliminating the command tax. I haven’t seen it broken yet, but its ability suggests that it could be pretty comborific.
From Wayne Viktorius: What’s your honest opinion of Sylvan Primordial?
I don’t have any dishonest opinions, but if you’ve read this far, you’ve already seen my thoughts on it.
From TheEvilCliff: Whose writings on Commander do you read? Would you recommend them?
Sean McKeown and Bennie Smith are who I read regularly, and if I wouldn’t recommend them, I probably wouldn’t read them.
With Commander becoming a supported format, does it feel like Wizards is trying too hard? The last couple of years have seen some ridiculous cards printed, like Omniscience and Rise of the Dark Realms. I never thought power creep would be a thing.
No, I think they’re trying just the right amount. The format is about ridiculous high-cost cards. Those two are ten and nine mana respectively. They’re right in our wheelhouse.
From GrimJack: Where is the financial line drawn in regards to the card’s dollar cost being prohibitive for most players? There are many other high-dollar cards legal in Commander that are not widely available that have also game-breaking effects: Mishra’s Workshop, Imperial Seal, Grim Tutor, Gaea’s Cradle. While I don’t support banning more cards, why does there appear to be no consistency?
There is no objective line, but you have to realize that no cards have been added to that part of the list since its inception. There’s no good reason to bring them off, but that’s not the same as needing to add cards to it if their price on the secondary market creeps up. The cards you list are niche enough that they’re not problematic for the format.
True-Name Nemesis is printed in a Commander-specific product, and I believe its power level is held in balance by multiplayer game dynamics. However, its effectiveness is greater in other formats (Legacy) because those games are only played in 1v1 duels and twenty starting life. As such, the cost of this specific card and its preconstructed deck on the secondary market has skyrocketed. Is this healthy for the format? What would you suggest WotC do to mitigate this problem in the future?
I disagree with the notion that this is a problem for the format or unhealthy. I’m a fan of free market economies (although I don’t pretend they don’t have their own problems).
From Maluko: What is the thing you hate the most about the current state of the Commander format (rules related or not) and what would you do to change it if given the chance?
Like I said last week, I’d like the bickering between the different sides of the format to cease. All I can do is continue to repeat the message that it’s not helping anyone.
From SWmystery: Fun question: you are captured by Evil Mark Rosewater and forced to fight the other members of the Rules Committee in an epic free for all to the death. Out of your current decks, which do you choose and why?
Intet, the Dreamer. It’s become my "Your Tears Sustain Me" deck.
Serious question: If WotC’s efforts at producing cards obviously designed for Commander were to threaten the health of the format—by whatever you take this to mean—would you ask them to stop? Would they be likely to listen to you?
I would not ask them to stop because I know that they’re designing cards for multiple formats at once and not everything is for us. Even in targeted Commander product sometimes things don’t work out the way you hoped. Great game design must push the envelope. Sometimes that envelope breaks. You take what you’ve learned and continue on.
From American Kid: What was the best Christmas (Holiday) gift you ever received? Best given?
I got a typewriter the Christmas after I turned ten. It set a tone for my future. I think the best gifts my wife and I have given are the donations to the battered women shelters, food drives, and other charities that we make instead of exchanging gifts with each other. Life’s been really good to us, so we like to pay it back.
From Shabbaman: Sheldon, I like your articles. I like the articles on deck construction the most as long as they don’t involve freshly printed generals everybody and their mothers are already writing about. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the occasional detour; on contrary, it’s good that someone gets a spot to write something like your tolerance piece. Set reviews are aplenty though.
New sets appear about every other thirteen weeks, and you write two articles on new sets (a set review plus deck changes), so 15% of your articles are, to put it bluntly, exactly the same as every other Magic article by every other writer ever. I’m sure a lot of people appreciate them, but it makes me wonder. You are "marketing" yourself through your articles, so how do you protect the "Sheldon" brand? What are its defining qualities?
This is an astute observation. You’re correct that I’m reinforcing my personal brand. One of the defining qualities is that there is no manufactured persona here. While like everyone I’m learning and growing all the time, what you read in the course of these articles and what you’d hear coming out of my mouth are the same (although the language might get cleaned up a little in print). It’s why I don’t have two different (one public, one private) Facebook pages.
I think when you live your life in the public eye regardless of how small that eye is you don’t change who you are. Sure, I’m not going to share all the details of my private life with everyone (oversharing is ugh), but I simply won’t be a different person. I like to think I’ve built a long-standing reputation of honesty, integrity, insight, and expertise and that most importantly it’s all actually useful to someone besides me.
Thanks to everyone for the great questions. Next time I see you I’ll also be saying "Merry Christmas!"
Embracing the Chaos,
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