Embracing The Chaos – December 20 Announcements

Wednesday, December 15th – Commander Banned List Update! Emrakul will no longer be tearing Aeons in EDH circles, so we can all sigh with relief. A rules change allows new Commanders like Memnarch to be played!

It’s time for the quarterly Banned List announcement, and although it’s short, it’s big, so let’s get right to it.


Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

This is one on which we listened heavily to what the community was saying, and nearly without exception, everyone hates Emrakul. It’s a card, much like Kokusho, that makes the game devolve into a war over a single card whenever it hits the table. We had already had our eye on it, and when the community wailed and gnashed its teeth, we listened.

Personally, I loved and hated Emrakul, both when playing him (fortunately I never had to sit down with anyone running him as a General, although I stared down his tentacles a few times). I mean, as a player, who wouldn’t want a nearly uncounterable, take-an-extra-turn, kind of impossible-to-deal-with “I win” card at their disposal? But that was also the real downside. You just drop him on the board and win (don’t get me started about Intet/Djinn of Wishes shenanigans), and while that might be fine in competitive formats, it’s not the EDH/Commander I want. While there might be a great, rare story of how a few ragtag heroes ganged up to defeat the evil creature of the elder days, for the most part, it’s “Emrakul—game’s over.”

I did find amusing the post that said something like “If you’re losing to too much Emrakul, you’re not playing enough Bribery,” but that very post illustrated the point. If not just individual games but entire environments (note the avoidance of the over- and misused term ‘metagame’) are devolving into the battle over Cthulhu, then we’ve made the right decision.

Congrats to stealthbadger in the SCG forums for being the first to figure out both the banning of Emrakul and the following from last week’s clues.

And, d0su, from the mtgcommander forums, said “But srsly, maybe Sheldon is taking Tajuru Preserver out of his deck because it’s just a bad card,” which is more QFT than anything. I had already realized a long time back that the Preserver was terrible, but it was an easy clue.


Color Identity

Rule #2 is amended as follows:

When building a Commander deck, the mana symbols in the text box are just as important as those in the cost of a card. The Commander’s
color identity

restricts what cards may appear in the deck.

  • The color identity of a card is the colors of all mana symbols on the card, along with any color defined by a characteristic-defining ability (CDA) in the card’s rules text.

  • Cards in your deck may not have any colors in their color identity not shared by your Commander.

  • Mana you produce of colors that are not in your Commander’s color identity is colorless instead.

  • Mana symbols in reminder text are not part of color identity.

The major impact here is that there are a few legendary creatures who no longer invalidate themselves as Commanders: Memnarch, Bosh, Iron Golem, Thelon of Havenwood, Daughter of Autumn, and Rhys, the Exiled. It means that you can have these creatures as Commanders, and you can generate mana of their color identity (so if you’re playing Memnarch, you can generate blue mana, or if you’re playing Thelon, you can generate black and green).

This also means that Kobolds can’t be in non-red decks, and Transguild Courier can only be in a five-color deck. As far as I know, these are the only non-legendary creatures that are affected by the change.

Color identity isn’t to be confused with color. A card’s color is still the colors in its mana cost (or CDA text). You can’t prevent damage from Memnarch with Circle of Protection: Blue, and Bosh can block Kor Firewalker.

As I’ve mentioned recently, we’re doing what we can to synch up the online and paper games, and this was a step in the direction toward how the game currently exists online, although that wasn’t a reason in and of itself. It’s one of the few steps in that direction; most of the modifications have been/will be from online toward paper.

Had we made this decision in bygone days, especially with Tolarian Academy still legal, we would have likely banned Memnarch when we made the change, but there’s no compelling evidence that he’s currently broken.

There are many of you who know I was personally resistant to this change. I’ll confess that I hung onto it rather doggedly for a long time for nothing more than flavor reasons and in the face of very good arguments to the contrary. The argument that I didn’t agree with (and probably still don’t) is that the new rule would be easier for players to understand. My argument is that color is an easily defined term in Magic, and until now, color identity wasn’t. Well, now it is, and that helps a great deal. The counterargument was that we were evaluating non-General cards differently from Generals, and it was causing confusion. I still don’t agree with that particular argument. Magic players are smart, and I’m pretty sure they’re capable of figuring out such things.

There were two main factors which when combined swung me on this one: a simple answer to a simple question I asked Aaron Forsythe, and (once again) the voice of the community.

Not too long ago, as this debate was ramping up in the forums (although ‘ramping up’ might be inaccurate—the original thread, entitled “Generals with color cost text (e.g., Memnarch)” was started in April 2009), I asked Aaron “If Memnarch were made today, would he have blue in his mana cost?” He answered simply “probably.” We didn’t delve into “design vs. development” or “open design space” or any deep conversations—just a brief answer to a brief question. I also asked the question of Ken Nagle, and let’s just say there wasn’t a similar brevity to the answer.

The community voice was generally pretty clear in “we want to be able to play these guys,” and although there were some high-quality, reasoned arguments why, most of it was simply “we wants it.” To some extent, this is a compelling enough argument but not always enough to change or amend a rules set. There’s a sizable community cry of “We can haz Academy?” but we’re not pulling back on that one. Speaking of Academy, there was a discussion in the forums about Gaea’s Cradle being just as bad, and poster Fugu captured the difference quite clearly:

“I see Cradles tapped for twenty or more all the time mid- to late-game, but I rarely see them used for fast mana, which was why Tolarian Academy was banned. The sorts of cards that make Cradle broken on turns 3 and 4 are pretty weak and narrow.”

Back to the point, an interesting question from the community was “what can it hurt?” If the answer is “flavor,” then we have to look at whether it’s actually hurting the flavor. I personally tried to take a broader view of things, and when it comes down to it, Memnarch is pretty much blue flavor. That, I simply cannot argue, nor can I argue that the ability to fling artifacts at stuff is pretty much red. I might be digging my heels in a little more deeply if Scepter of Fugue and friends had never been printed, but with the idea that artifacts can have colors, it seems a little unreasonable to hold older cards to a flavor standard that no longer exists.

With the December 2 thing and this, I think we’re done with big, splashy announcements for a while. If he gets the list to me in time, fellow RC member Gavin Duggan has a Thelon of Havenwood deck that I’d like to feature next week. Until then, I’ll respond to some forum questions and comments:

Tinker, Gifts, and Academy aren’t coming off the Banned List any time soon. I know there was discussion, and this is also evidence of us listening to the community—but listening doesn’t mean ‘doing what a few people want.’ There are some very passionate voices making a case for wanting them back, but we sincerely believe that they’re simply bad for the format.

Despite a great deal of discussion, mostly I believe attributed to the idea that it will be available online, Library of Alexandria isn’t getting unbanned any time soon, either. Its combined power level (which is extreme) and cost (48 auctions this week average $165.11; SCG $174.99 for SP) make it bad for the format.

ChuckFinley (who doesn’t love Bruce Campbell???) mentions that Savannah is the setting of
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

(which, in Savannah, is simply referred to as “the book”). I understand that the book is very good. I’ve seen the Kevin Spacey movie, and it’s definitely worth a watch, and Spacey is his normal genius (while John Cusak remains the tofu of acting—saying so might get me in trouble at home, because there’s a certain Rocket Scientist that really likes him). I hear tell that when researching the role, he would hang around some of the local pubs and scared people with how accurate his portrayal of Jim Williams was. We stayed in an awesome B&B (The Amethyst Inn—highly recommended) just a few blocks from Mercer House. I’ll say the—colorfulness—of people in downtown Savannah is not to be underestimated.

BeelzuBob asks, “
I just wondered if we’d ever get an unbanning of Chaos Orb

.” I’ll honestly have to say it’s not a card that we’ve ever discussed as a group. I think not because of the whole manual dexterity requirement. When it comes to unbanning a card, the primary argument has to be proactive—meaning there has to be a good reason to unban it, not the absence of a bad reason. Would unbanning Chaos Orb wreck the format? Probably not. That in and of itself, however, isn’t a reason to unban it.

Ysi inquires,
“…since the RC ban list is now ‘official,’ will Commander format legality show up on Gatherer one fine day?”

I’m definitely hoping that this will happen sooner rather than later. Since we made it into the rule book a while back, this update is long overdue.

Finally, Barachem wonders,
“Will Commander be a DCI-sanctioned format and if so, will a multiplayer format be sanctioned as well?”

First, I won’t comment on any DCI plans for other formats, but I can tell you that Commander will not be a sanctioned format, as sanctioning is currently defined. I think we’ve been pretty clear about that. If it ever were to become sanctioned, it would become so in the ‘unrated’ sense—which your local game shop can already do, by the way. Encourage them to register your play as “Casual, Non-Rated,” and it could mean good things for your (and their) ability to Embrace the Chaos down the road.