Embracing The Chaos – Answering The Mail

Wednesday, December 8th – Sheldon answers your questions about the new Commander format, including the role of the Banned List, thoughts on unbanning cards, and thoughts on sanctioning the format.

Happily, the
MTG: Commander announcement

has created a great deal of excitement in the community. The prospect of precons and especially new, never-before-seen cards developed specifically for the format has energized the player base beyond even my greatest hopes. It’s also generated a few questions and comments about the state and health of the format which I’d like to answer.

Beforehand, although I think it’s pretty unlikely that you’re reading this column and haven’t heard or seen the announcement, here’s the link:

Gratz to friend of the show Scott Larabee for designing the card.

First, from

right here on the SCG forums:

Seeing as how the format got a massive endorsement from WOTC and will most likely grow further in popularity, have you considered the implications that absorbing MORE players into the player base will have on the current social banned list?

Yes, in fact we have. One of the things we’re doing for the December 20 update is firming up the language on the banned list to make it clear that there’s a single, official banned list. Although I really am happy with local groups doing whatever they want to enjoy their own play, strong and clear centralized management will be even more important as the format grows. We’d prefer that there’s no confusion about the list, which list is the ‘real’ one, and for most play, it’s more than just a suggestion. Again, a local group deciding that they also want to ban Magister Sphinx is fine, but I’d rather avoid situations, especially at large-scale events (like PTs and SCG Opens and so forth), where someone shows up sporting Tinker and forces an uncomfortable decision on everyone else, making them choose between being a ‘good guy’ and playing the format they came prepared to play. After all, a difference in the one guy’s deck isn’t the only factor. One of the things you do in the format is to prepare answers for what cards you might reasonably expect to see. It would be unreasonable to expect players to come to events packing answers for cards that are on the Banned List, just so you can play that Tinker.

Side note: “I only use it in a fair way” is most often a lie, or in the best case, self-delusion.

I’d also like to reiterate our stance that the format is a multiplayer format. Any decisions we make about it, like the Banned List, do not take into account 1v1. Yes, I get that in 1v1, the first Sol Ring usually wins, or that Vendilion Clique is horribly broken. Those things are simply not part of our decision matrix.

Side note #2: I’m sure I’m not the only person who has thought of Death by Dragons and Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. Sweet, sweet Karrthus.

Speaking of the December 20 update, I made a few hints last week on Facebook about it. Without giving away the store, I noted that the new product puts some stuff in the Comp Rules that may allow us to make some changes, and I’m putting Brooding Saurian back in all my green decks. Added Exclusive StarCityGames.com Bonus: I may also be taking out Tajuru Preserver.

There was a whole discussion in the forums generated by

(who does identify himself as a ‘habitual d-bag,’ complete with smiley) suggestion that we should unban Tinker, Tolarian Academy, and Gifts Ungiven (I think somebody likes blue!), a discussion definitely worth reading for both sides of it. In short, we’re really sure that we’ve done the right thing by banning all three of those, and they’re not anywhere on the radar to come off.

That thread also suggests we could unban Kokusho, the Evening Star, which we’ve actually looked into. We specifically asked a few groups to test and see if KoKo Puffs is the same card relative to the format that it was back when it got banned. Some results suggested that it might not be; others suggested that it was every bit as bad, and that as soon as the card hit the table, the entire game devolved into a battle over that single card. We like cards that are really, really good, but we’re less happy with game states that always become about a single card. We’ve seen no compelling reason to bring Kokusho off the list. In fact, we’ve seen some evidence that Kokusho as a Commander would be even more degenerate than as one of the 99. 

My favorite comment from the whole discussion comes from

Your appreciation for reasoned discussion is unnerving. This is the internet. Get impatient, intolerant, and foul-mouthed already! Logic and good grammar is so outdated.

Good sarcasm is more awesome with my coffee than a good

Interlude: My current playlist

I have a playlist called “Life’s Pain” that without thinking much, I chose to put on for the writing of this article.

U2, “Where the Streets Have No Name”

Queen, “Death on Two Legs”

Dream Theater, “Take Away My Pain”

Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike”

Evanescence, “Tourniquet”

Megadeth, “A Tout Le Monde”

Iron Maiden, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”

Pink, “Just Like a Pill”

Aerosmith, “You See Me Crying”

Frozen Ghost, “Soldiers Cry”

Alice Cooper, “I Never Cry”

Nilsson, “Without You”

Kansas, “Can’t Cry Any More”

Evanescence, “My Immortal” (Full Band Version)

10,000 Maniacs, “Verdi Cries”

I’m not feeling particularly anguished about anything, so it seemed like a notable choice. And how often do you see Iron Maiden followed by Pink?

Regarding the name change, “Commander” became the best possible solution. Sure, I know people are still going to call the format EDH, which is fine. The legal wrangling made it simpler to change the name and be done with it. Believe it or not, even the name “Commander” went through a significant vetting process around the world. Sometimes things aren’t as simple as we’d hope them to be.

Most of you know that, a few weeks ago, I spent some time out at WotC at a high-level judge seminar. One of the side meetings I had was with Aaron Forsythe, Scott Larabee, and Dave Guskin about syncing up the online and paper games and rules. I’m happy to report that barring programming concerns—some of these things just take time—the online game is going to end up as close to the paper game as possible. Dave had done a great job of finding all the differences, and then we went down them one by one, agreed on solutions, and prioritized them. Hopefully you’ll see the fixes in the near future, the most significant of which for now (IMO) is the removal of the Superlegendary rule for Commanders online.

On one of the mtgcommander.com forums, someone asked about the Watch List. While we did away with it a while ago, that doesn’t mean the Rules Committee (RC) has stopped keeping an eye on certain cards. We certainly pay attention to what the community discusses frequently and passionately. Although we have a vision for the format, that doesn’t mean we’re sitting in an ivory tower handing out edicts. Great arguments from the community spawn great discussions in the RC.

The aforementioned Kokusho was one of the cards we watched. We also asked a few local groups to do some testing on Panoptic Mirror, with some interesting results: mostly, it’s
even worse

than we thought it was. Even folks generally interested in the more social style of game were unable to resist the siren’s call of imprinting horrible things on it. Panoptic Mirror has been watched and judged still broken.

There has been a fair amount of discussion about unbanning Library of Alexandria, and I can tell you that it’s one that we only had the briefest discussions about. We really want the format to both

accessible and

accessible, and LoA is a poster child for what we don’t want. Imperial Seal isn’t banned because there are a bunch of other cards that do almost exactly what it does, and they don’t cost $300. That’s not true for Library of Alexandria.

I’ll also tell you that we glanced at Genesis Wave for a nanosecond, and when we did, we realized it’s

the kind of card that we want in the format. Big, splashy, and often, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting!

Primeval Titan is the other card that many people have asked about. There’s a subtle but important distinction between Prime Time and Koko. Yes, when the Titan hits the board, everyone wants a piece of him, but unlike Kokusho, getting/using him doesn’t directly win games. It’s nice to get to use it (go ahead and steal mine—Mystifying Maze seems a reasonable response), but in the end, it’s just some mana ramp and nothing else. You still need to do stuff with the mana.

I’ll also have a word about the optional sideboard rule. The intention of the rule was to give some players flexibility in playing answers to problematic Generals and strategies, not to let you play Wishes and effectively a 110-card deck. I’d encourage you to avoid showing up for a game with Wishes and sideboard in tow and trying to convince everyone to use the optional rule. That’s for discussion of a group that routinely plays together and isn’t a part of what you’re going to see in games at large-scale events. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the rule, and it’s something that we’re discussing (and yes, Virginia, even groups that work well together don’t agree 100% on everything—sorry to dash your visions of perfection, especially so close to Christmas). This is another topic I’d be happy to hear your opinions on.

Side note #3: If you’re playing Shahrazad and Hive Mind and think its funny, you’re probably the only one at the table who thinks so.

The bottom line is that the RC listens. We listen to individuals, we listen to local groups, we listen to the broader community. We don’t play the format in a vacuum, and we certainly don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Quite often, your (well-expressed) opinion matters. Obviously, that opinion has to take the form of a quality argument, not just protectionism of favorite cards. “I like playing with Tolarian Academy” isn’t actually an argument.

A final thing we’ll cover this week is sanctioning. I saw that while there were some voices that had hoped we would become a sanctioned format, the majority opinion, and one that I share, is that sanctioning would ruin things. There would be no wild-and-wackiness at an MTG: Commander Pro Tour, just really good Magic players exposing the brokenness of the format. I think it’s impossible to be both casual and sanctioned, at least sanctioned in the way we currently use it (for ratings and larger prizes). I encourage to you sanction (or suggest sanctioning) the action at your local shop “Casual-Non-Rated,” since it gives us a delivery vehicle for potential future rewards programs and a view into how many folks are actually playing the format, which can only be good for EDH lovers everywhere. I also encourage you, for ‘tournaments’ and Leagues, to suggest and support as-flat-as-possible prize structures, which tends to keep the power level friendlier.

We’re taking our annual pre-Christmas vacation to Disney this coming week (with two more bonus days in Savannah, Georgia—location of the great Kevin Spacey movie
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

), so I’ll be Embracing the Chaos with Mickey instead of the gang at Armada, but by next week, I’ll have some more on exactly what the December 20 announcement will entail. Until then, thanks for all the positive responses to the announcement. The future of our format looks to be very, very exciting.