Opening The Mailbag

A Dinosaur-riding courier just dropped off a bunch of messages with Sheldon Menery! That can only mean one thing: it’s mailbag time with the Godfather of Commander!

Opening the mailbag is always one of my favorite things to do. Players who have been around for a while as well as folks new to the format always have insightful and fun questions. No reason to not jump right in.

First things first: I hope you’re healthy and recovering. I’m sure a lot of people want to know, but I understand if you want to keep things private.

Thanks for saying so. I’ve been forthcoming about the whole episode, and there’s no reason to stop now.

For those of you who aren’t aware, last November I was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer. It’s now been seven months since my last radiation treatment and I’m four months cancer free—so I feel pretty damn good, thanks (and imagine what kind of language I might have thrown in there for a less family-friendly website). Most of the effects of radiation have diminished, so it’s fair to say I have a good portion of my groove back. Something might nettle in the back of my mind the rest of my life every time I get a sore throat, but the data suggests my prognosis is very good. I just had a CT scan and physical exam last week, both of which showed nothing. For a cancer patient, seeing nothing is everything. [Keep strong, brother.–Ed.]

*Obligatory* When is Recurring Nightmare going to be unbanned?

When everyone out there promises to use it responsibly. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I could make such a promise, so there we are.

Any recent discussions of changing your (royal ‘your’) stance on hybrid mana? It is this color or that color. It makes logical sense that the color identity would therefore be one color or the other.

No, we haven’t had any further discussion. We on the Commander Rules Committee (RC) are in strong agreement that cards with hybrid mana symbols on them are both colors, despite what designers such as Mark Rosewater have mentioned as the intention of hybrid mana. We take our interpretation directly from Magic’s Comprehensive Rules. By those rules, Giant Solifuge, for example, is both red and green. You can’t say that’s “not red” just because you want to put it into a mono-green (or green-without-red) deck. Imagine someone blocking Giant Solifuge with a protection from red creature and claiming it doesn’t apply because you only have green in your deck. Color identity takes into account all the mana symbols on a card that aren’t reminder text, and there are clearly both on our example card.

What are your thoughts on how to approach playing in a new metagame that you are unfamiliar with? How would you go about choosing what deck to play first and why?

I’d gather as much information as possible about the people and their play style. If I were going in completely blind, I’d take a spread of decks with me, from the roughest to the most durdly. I could then decide which deck along the spectrum fits with the folks with whom I’m playing. Having a conversation before opening a deck box is a great idea here. Going into an unknown environment, I’ll almost always take You Did This to Yourself because it scales to nearly anything and creates some epic games.

Have there been any discussions about Banned as Commander becoming a thing again? I feel that is the largest single change that hasn’t quite made sense to me in recent memory.

The RC has not had any new discussions of any depth on bringing back Banned as a Commander. Long-time fans of the format know that each meeting we do a thought exercise involving bringing a card off of the Banned List. One of the BaaC cards was discussed, but only in light of bringing it completely off. Stayed tuned for our announcement at the end of the month to see if it made it (spoiler alert: I wouldn’t hold my breath).

What are your hot takes on the Reserved List?

I accept that the Reserved List is a reality and me not being a fan of it isn’t going to change anything, but my distaste for it goes way deeper than anything in Magic. The short version argument for not doing away with the RL is “lawsuits.” My hot take is that lawyers have a great deal of incentive to make every element of our society as legally arcane and convoluted as possible. While that occasionally provides for better things for us, in most cases it doesn’t. If you can just bind up something in legal red tape and never get to a reasonable decision, then the system is broken.

Who are you following on Twitter these days?

Recent adds (over the last few months, anyway) include, Erin Campbell (@OriginalOestrus), Emma Handy (@Em_TeeGee), MJ Scott (@moxymtg), Josh Lee Kwai (@JoshLeeKwai), Maria Bartholdi (@MissMariapants), Sam Tang (@ktmpodcast), and, weirdly enough, my wife. She maintains quite a low social media profile. I didn’t even know she had an account until she replied to something I tweeted. Her total number of tweets since 2013: six.

How much pull do you have when making the Commander decks? Like for example if someone were to want a W/R/B Minotaur deck, could you make that happen?

None unless Scott (or anyone else, ahem) gets back on a design team. We have some input along the way sometimes and the nice folks from R&D bounce ideas off us, but that’s about it. And I’d go for anything that makes Didgeridoo playable.

As the format evolves and becomes progressively more “solved” at all levels of play, will your approach to the ban list change? For example, even in metas that deliberately outlaw infinite combos or STAX, people are more frequently optimizing their decks under those conditions.

I’m not sure I agree with the premise of your question. If groups are shaping the format to suit their local needs, then they’re doing exactly what we encourage. If by “optimized” you mean to build a deck to eliminate other players on turn 2 or turn 3 as frequently as possible, no reasonably manageable banned list is going to help. That’s not a card issue; that’s a mindset issue which we can only take two directions. One, try to help that player see a different path—which is part of the goal of the existing banned list. Two, respect that what resonates with this particular player isn’t what the broader Commander demographic likes. We’ll wish that player well, but we won’t be crafting the banned list toward that style of play.

If I recall correctly, you’re generally somewhat of a proponent of “Build casually, play competitively.” Would you say that still applies for people who have a less rigorous local environment, such as someone without a playgroup who travels a lot?

You do recall correctly. I said it a long time ago and keep repeating it (most recently in print here, if I’m correct). It absolutely still applies, because I think there are still more fans of the format as we’ve sculpted it than the hyper-competitive folks. When you travel to a different shop or a Grand Prix or SCG Tour event, so long as you’re not entering into the pods for prizes (at which point you should know what you’re in for), you’re still more likely to find the kind of game which resonates with the “build casually” crowd.

Which is better, Beast Within or Krosan Grip?

K-Grip, hands down, because of split second.

Does edhrec.com showing hard stats on what people are playing have any impact on the ban list discussions?

I don’t recall a specific conversation between us about the site, but it’s one of many data points that we might use to determine if a card is ubiquitous. What I want to make sure that we do is put any data we look at (from anywhere) in appropriate context—so “100% of all STAX decks have Tangle Wire in them” is very different from “100% of all U/G/(x) decks have Prophet of Kruphix in them.” Your broader question might be “What scientific methods are you using?” and the answer—as it’s been for a long time—is “None, really.”

Is there a commander you have really wanted to build around, but just can’t find the cards or enough cards to do it?

My card collection is pretty robust, so it’s more a case of having ideas and not having the time or inclination to actually build them. I’ve wanted to put together that Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons deck for quite a while, but other things keep getting in the way—like one of our Leagues or simply newer cards, which spawn new ideas. I’m in a place right now where I have a decent amount of spare time and I still don’t have all the time for Commander that I want.

Are there any Magic-related video series/blogs you’d recommend?

This very website is full of them! I’m obviously fond of Commander VS. It always seems like the gang is having loads of fun. I watch nearly every episode of Split Second as well. Off SCG, I occasionally tune into Game Knights and my friend Tom Delia’s @mtgradio cast on Twitch. Personally, I’m still more of a fan of reading than watching, but I’m coming around to video more and more.

What are your favorite color, strategy, and Commander?

Green, “get into the Red Zone,” and (today, answer could be different tomorrow) Yasova Dragonclaw.

What is your favorite color combination and why?

My instinctive answer is Jund, but with more thought it’s Abzan. The combination of green, white, and black hits all the elements I love—great creatures, graveyard shenanigans, and spells that do cool things when people try to hurt you.

If you could resurrect one discontinued keyword from Magic’s history, what would it be?

Banding! Helm of Chatzuk for everyone!

What do Sol Ring and Iona, Shield of Emeria contribute to the Rules Committee’s vision of the format?

Cards are legal until they aren’t, not the other way around.

Arguing for what every legal card contributes to the format isn’t the path we take, instead focusing that energy on banning the cards which detract from it. Sure, no one has to figure out why Grizzly Bears is legal, but that’s still not our mindset. The burden isn’t on proving why a card should be legal, but why we’ve chosen to make it illegal.

Of course, you asked about two particular cards, not about our thought process. I’ll concede that both of these cards come with some downside and are two of the most frequently discussed on the various Commander websites. More directly to your question, not banning them contributes to our vision of the smallest banned list possible.

I get the arguments against Sol Ring. We think it fuels some of the epic plays that have become hallmarks of the format and that the multiplayer nature of the format mitigates the early advantage of a turn 1 Sol Ring.

When it comes to Iona, I’ll quote Jed Bartlet from the West Wing episode 20 Hours in LA: “Is there an epidemic of flag-burning going on that I’m not aware of?” The RC doesn’t see Iona with the kind of actual presence that we would want it to have before it hits the banned list. We haven’t seen and heard enough evidence that the card is problematic. It even came up in our most recent meeting, leading to the question, “When was the last time you saw someone play it?” The answer was, “It’s been a while.”

Any good new wines?

My sense of taste is back to about 85% of what it was, so I’m finally at the point I can try new things again. That said, because the taste is back, I’m hitting old favorites with a vengeance since I’ve missed them all these months. Recently had a nice bargain Pinot Noir (right around $20) called Take Me Home. It was a little light-bodied for my taste, but certainly approachable and a reasonable introduction to the grape.

What is your general experience with mill in Commander?

It can be extremely strong, but you have to realize that you can always get wrecked by a random Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. You also have to watch out for the fact that some players love to have their graveyards full. At first, the mill angle in my Mimeoplasm deck was just to get juicy targets into the graveyard. After playing it for a while, I saw that cards like Mesmeric Orb and Mindcrank started doing a great deal of work, so I went for the mill strategy as its primary kill method.

What has the journey been like getting EDH/Commander to the popularity it’s at today?

Just like the format—wild and wacky. I certainly thought it would be a niche format that a few of us running around the Pro Tour would mess around with. The explosion in popularity caught us all by surprise—but that, of course, reinforced that we were on to something special.

Is there anything you’d have changed foundationally about Commander if you could have gone back in time to when it started?

Intellectual property rights. I’m sure we missed out on something somewhere.

Which tribe other than Slivers would you say has the biggest power spike when converted from a normal Legacy and/or Vintage deck into a Commander deck?

When you say “power spike,” I assume you mean going from not being great in those formats to being awesome in Commander. It’s Cats. Definitely Cats.

Any examples of cards that you personally hate but would never ban? Has any card ever come up that the RC would have liked to ban but did not as it did not meet any criteria?

“Hate” is kind of a strong word, but in this format I’m not a fan of cards which take away the game from other players, such as Winter Orb and friends. There are certainly a bunch of cards like that which all of us would like for players to not include in their decks, but we also want to keep the door open for diverse play styles. For all I know, there are a bunch of people who love the challenge of getting out from under a STAX lock.

What’s the most unique/interesting deck theme you have made? That you have played against?

I’m quite proud of You Did This to Yourself. It started as an idea that if other players weren’t trying to be abusive, the deck couldn’t really hurt them. Generate a zillion mana for Exsanguinate, however, and Parallectric Feedback is going to get you. I’ve played against many fun decks over the years.

The one that keeps coming to mind—and I swear to you I’m actually shaking my head as I’m typing—is Pro Tour Scorekeeper Nicholas Fang’s chaos deck. In general, I’m not a great fan of chaos (although I love me some Possibility Storm), but there’s a joyfulness to his deck that’s infectious. And, of course, it creates absurd battlefield states.

How much mana is “too much mana, too fast?” You’ve said Sol Ring does not meet the condition, so it’s more than untapping with four mana on turn 2. You’ve also said recently that Selvala, Heart of the Wilds might meet the condition. Can you be more precise? For example, if Sol Ring tapped for three, would that be “too much, too fast”?

Sol Ring tapping for three would likely push it over the edge. It’s a tricky situation, since there’s probably no completely objective way to measure how much is too much; we have to feel our way around. Sol Ring nets you one mana; doubling that net would be pretty silly.

Are there deck archetypes you’d challenge people to make more of?

It’s all about the themes. Make a deck only using cards which start with one of your initials. Try out a tribe that hasn’t been overdone. Make a deck with one and only one card from each set ever. Stuff like that.

What are your favorite and least favorite commander from the Commander products and why?

I love Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder because it creates possibilities. Even though I switched over to play that partners Thrasios, Triton Hero and Vial Smasher the Fierce in our Commander 2016 League after a bunch of games just for something new, Yidris is always on my mind.

Prossh, Skyraider of Kher is probably my least favorite because it’s stupid and linear. I love the idea of tinkering with the command zone and commander tax, but I think they broke the envelope with Prossh. Derevi, Empyrial Tactician is also kind of dumb.

Do you think Eminence is “Command Zone interaction done right” as opposed to Oloro and Derevi, which are generally considered command zone interaction done wrong?

Philosophically, I’m okay with the effort that went into “command zone done wrong,” as you put it. The game stays great because designers push the envelope. Unfortunately, sometimes said envelope breaks. I’d rather have to deal with a Derevi than never have Arabho. In general, Eminence seems strong without being broken, so I suppose the short answer to your question is yes.

If you could get a single set based on a book, film, or other media; what would you ask to see?

Dune. It’s a cool world with a great story as well as being philosophically foundational for me personally.

What’s it like being one of the people in charge of this crazily popular format?

Mostly quite rewarding. We set out to do a thing, and we’ve had some success doing it. We adapted the vision along the way. Being the visible face of the format can occasionally have its downsides, but leadership of any kind comes with its costs. The reward of knowing that I’ve helped loads of people have a great deal of fun outweighs any of the less-than-kind stuff (which is fortunately pretty limited).

Do you have any hopes for the Commander format? Things you would like to see it become in the future?

I would prefer Commander to continue to be a respite from tournament formats. Its mission isn’t to do away with competitive Magic, but to provide a safe haven in which the non- or less-competitive players have a fun space as well. I understand that there will be people who want competitive Commander, both multiplayer and 1v1. I truly wish them well, but we’re not turning this into that. If competitive Commander develops on its own, great.

How would you go about gaining experience quickly in deckbuilding? I have a couple of people in my group that are very good deckbuilders ,and while I think I am adequate, I have a hard time matching them correctly. I either make decks that players have a hard time interacting with, or decks that fall short in terms of being able to play my deck as intended.

The biggest thing is to look out instead of in. Build with an eye toward not just your own fun but the whole table’s. Find people whose play styles resonate with you and whom you consider to be good deckbuilders. Ask them for advice. Trade lists and look at the direction they’d take that you might not have considered.

If the Rules Committee was disbanded and you were given full autocratic power over the rules of the format, what is the first change you would make to it?

Go find three or four diverse people whose intellect I respect and who don’t necessarily agree with me on all things. Add them to the new RC.

If I were forced to go it alone, I’d do something crazy like unbanning Recurring Nightmare—but only for players aged 55 and older. You know, like playing from the senior tees on the golf course. We need all the help we can get.


Thanks to everyone for the questions and well-wishes. I have as good a time answering questions as you all do coming up with them.

This Week’s Idiotic Combo

HarveyIrmaJose. Really.

This week’s Deck Without Comment is You Did This to Yourself.

Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database for lists of all my decks:


Purple Hippos and Maro Sorcerers; Kresh Into the Red Zone; Halloween with Karador; Dreaming of Intet; You Did This to Yourself



Heliod, God of Enchantments; Thassa, God of Merfolk; Erebos and the Halls Of The Dead; Forge of Purphoros; Nylea of the Woodland Realm; Karn Evil No. 9


Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever

Shards and Wedges

Adun’s Toolbox; Animar’s Swarm; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke’s Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Rith’s Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; You Take the Crown, I’ll Take Leovold; Zombies of Tresserhorn


Yidris: Money for Nothing, Cards for Free; Saskia Unyielding; Breya Reshaped


Children of a Greater God


Tana and Kydele; Kynaios and Tiro; Ikra and Kydele


Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over

If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”