The Social Contract

It’s a crucial element of a harmonious society, and Sheldon Menery can only naturally reference it in relationship to Commander. Check out his thoughts on the role of good behavior and good communication in the crown jewel of casual formats!

I’ve spent a good deal of time over the last two weeks talking about what we, the Commander Rules Committee (RC), are trying to do with the format. I’ll
talk about it a little more with you today and offer you some deeper thoughts on one of the most difficult to grasp and define concepts: the social
contract (as it relates to the format; this isn’t philosophy class).

Philosophy drives organizations. You not only have to decide what you want to do, but how you want to do it-and maybe even in a bigger picture, why. You
don’t put together a military “because you have guns,” you do it to inflict your political will on your adversaries. And you don’t randomly bomb people
without purpose. It’s the same with us. The reason we formed the RC in the first place was to be able to share this thing with a broader player base. How
we’ve shaped it has been driven by the general philosophy that we wanted the format to be something very different than other Magic formats, both in play
and in spirit. In the beginning, that’s kind of all we knew. Over the years, we’ve used our experience and exposure to be able to more finely craft that
philosophy. Adding someone like Toby, who is adept at writing such things (since he’s done a good deal of it for the Magic you’re currently playing),
helped a great deal. You can check out the (newly cleaned up) Official Rules page and click on the first tab for philosophy, but I’ve also included it
below because I’d like to break it down even more.

Commander is designed to promote social games of magic.

It is played in a variety of ways, depending on player preference, but a common vision ties together the global community to help them enjoy a different
kind of magic. That vision is predicated on a social contract: a gentleman’s agreement which goes beyond these rules to include a degree of interactivity
between players. Players should aim to interact both during the game and before it begins, discussing with other players what they expect/want from the

I’ll start with the basic caveats. First is that all styles are equally valid. Whether it’s a race to the fastest kill or the 30-turn durdle, it’s all good
so long as everyone’s on the same page or close to it. Most importantly, our philosophy assumes from the start-and this is something ingrained in both our
vision and presentation since the earliest days-that it’s not for everyone. That doesn’t mean we hold people for whom this doesn’t resonate in some kind of
disdain (although I’ll confess in years long past personally falling short of doing a good job of this), it just means that it’s not for everyone, just
like Shakespeare or clog dancing are not for everyone. Sure we want to do things that will make the format more accessible to people (like doing
Shakespeare plays starring Claire Danes set in modern Los Angeles), but we balance that to make sure we’re not diluting the original idea. We’re not
telling you that you must do something. We’re telling you what we’re doing; if you like what that is, you’ll do it, too. We are all-welcoming, which is
different than all-inclusive. The format simply can’t be everything to everyone, and we have no intention of trying to make it that way. It’s not like we
hate competitive Magic. Two-thirds of the RC (which was an even greater percentage when now-Level 5 Judge Kevin Desprez was part of the team) has
significant competitive Magic experience-altogether more than 50 years (and that’s not counting Kevin). We love competitive Magic, we support competitive
Magic, we help competitive Magic (okay, not me so much anymore) be as good as it can be. But this is not that. This is intentionally something different.
It’s a message that I can’t insist enough on. It’s different and we have no intention of making it an alt-version of other formats.

Our philosophy is, at its heart, radically different than any other Magic format because it insists on players looking at the game with additional criteria
in mind-namely, the other players. In competitive formats, it’s okay to not give a damn about the other players. While it’s not okay to be a jerk about it
(it’s generally never okay to be a jerk about anything), creating miserable gamestates for your opponent is par for the course. There, the goal is to win,
not to let the other players into the game. For our format (and here, I’m using “our” to mean not just the RC, but the core fans of the format), it’s the
exact opposite. We want players to think about not only their own enjoyment, but the enjoyment of the people they’ll be playing with. I get that some folks
simply can’t wrap their heads around that when it comes to a game of any kind. That’s fine. Fortunately, there are many other Magic outlets in which you
don’t have to take the other players into consideration. We’ve specifically developed this format so that there is.

Balance is a term that comes up pretty frequently when discussing the format and the banned list. Honestly, we’re not seeking the kind of balance that
competitive formats do. And if you think that balance is necessarily a good thing, remember that the Jedi-the good guys-dominated, but for some reason,
wanted to bring balance to the Force. You see where that got them. We don’t want balance, we want games skewed toward those where everyone has a good time.
Sure, only one person can win via the objective means of being the last person in the game, but the meta-win condition of the game being epic and memorable
is more the target that we’re trying to hit. Winning is about something awesome happening.

For us, there is balance in that we don’t see the format troublingly overrepresented in particular strategies and card choices. With careful consideration
of what cards to ban and unban, we’re reasonably happy where we sit. In fact, we believe it to be the most open format that exists. This is the format that
lets people explore the silliest, jankiest, most innovative decks possible. Most of the time, a competitive format punishes you for going outside box.
Commander instead celebrates you.

Some might argue that a card such as Solemn Simulacrum is overrepresented. I won’t disagree. The key here, however, is that it’s not troublingly
overrepresented. It’s pretty innocuous. It gives you a nice little ramp, and when it goes away, it replaces itself. No games are about the sad
robot. Contrast that with Primeval Titan or Sylvan Primordial. The games that they were in became all about them. Of course, the format develops and
circumstances become that the valuation of cards in that regard changes, Kokusho, the Evening Star being the prime example. The available card pool in
which Kokusho was banned was radically different from the pool in which it was unbanned. The circumstances changed sufficiently so that we felt safe
unbanning her. I feel strongly that that particular choice has worked out reasonably well. Don’t think that this is some veiled way of me telling you to go
out and stock up on Primeval Titan or Sylvan Primordial; the circumstances would have to change pretty radically before we felt safe with them back around.
I certainly don’t see those circumstances developing any time soon.

Simply put, the social contract is about talking to each other, about figuring out how you want to approach the format (and not lying about it. Saying “I’m
super-casual” and then “Ha, ha, Turn 3 Hermit Druid/kill you” is a clear violation of the spirit). A broad swath of the player base has picked up on the
ideas and ideals we’ve laid down, so that when you show up at a place outside your local playgroup, you’ll know generally what to expect. Even then, it’s
in your best interest to discuss things with people before you play a pickup game with them, to get a sense of how they feel. I’m not suggesting trying to
shoehorn them into your vision so much as finding out whether or not they’re kindred spirits. It’s like playing a pick-up basketball game at the local YMCA
and finding out that the game is a little more genteel (like fouls actually get called) than the game you’re used to playing in your neighborhood (where
“no blood, no foul” is the rule). Both styles are fine, you just want to know beforehand what kind of game you’re getting into.

The primary argument is that you don’t get to decide who you sit down with at tournaments. This is 100% true. If you’re going to play in a tournament, you
have to know what you’re getting yourself into, and it’s highly unlikely to be consistent with our vision. We’re not saying that tournaments shouldn’t
exist, we’re simply saying that we’re not going to take them into consideration since that’s not what we do or want to do. If there are prizes for
tournaments, you can expect people to value those prizes higher than your enjoyment. That’s all there is to it. I’m not saying that you deserve to
have a miserable time taking your cool pirate-themed deck to a tournament, I’m saying that you should be aware that you’re going to have a
miserable time. Going in fully cognizant of what’s likely to happen, you have the choice. If you want to play your Skeleton Ship deck, your best bet is to
find a pickup game. Better yet, leverage social media. Post about the fact that you’re going to the upcoming Grand Prix or PPTQ and you’re looking for new
folks to play with. I’ve seen folks carry around or set up signs at events looking for games. With a little effort, it’s reasonably simple to find the
style of game that you want.

One of the charges I’ve heard levied against the social contract is that it’s exclusionary. It’s not. It’s selective. Imagine your neighbor showing up at
your door asking to watch some TV with you. Your neighbor is a fine person, so you say sure. If your neighbor then demands that you watch Dancing with the Stars, and you want to watch Justified, you have a problem. You might be able to find something both want to watch; if
not, watching TV together isn’t going to work out. Even if you found a mutually-acceptable show, if your neighbor settles in and lights a cigar, it’s not
exclusionary to tell him that watching TV in a room full of cigar smoke isn’t the viewing experience you want. So it is with play styles; you just have to
find out before you start who is smoking cigars and who isn’t. To stretch the analogy a little further, going to a sports bar is like going to a
tournament. You know exactly what you’re getting into. You can’t sit down at the bar and complain about the smoke since you knew it was going to be there
in the first place (not that I support smoking in enclosed public places; it’s nasty for the rest of us).

One of the other criticisms of the social contract is that it’s not possible to choose who you play with online. This is not quite the case. Yes, if you go
into a random game, you don’t have any choice. But the possibility exists to create your own online communities. If you find folks with whom you enjoy
playing, make an agreement to get together with them again. I know a bunch of people who have their own extended online groups, and they play mostly within
them. Occasionally, they’ll range outside their groups looking for new folks to join, and when they find people that resonate with their own style, they
invite them in. If you’re looking for an online group, I once again advocate using social media. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It will take some
legwork and it might take some time, but I’m pretty sure the search will end up worth it. With the number of players out there, I’m sure that there are
enough whose styles mesh with yours to find a good group.

There is a global, centralized vision for the format. It’s up to you to figure out how your personal vision meshes with that or doesn’t-but our vision
includes the idea of yours not perfectly lining up with ours. You might argue that as the format gets more popular, the less tenable our vision becomes.
I’ll respectfully disagree. The vision is what has driven the popularity. The vision is what will continue to make Commander something different from every
other Magic format. We’re not telling you how to drive your car. We’re asking you to look at this nice highway we’ve paved and hope you’ll go down it with
us. You’re still welcome to do all the off-roading you want.

This week’s Deck Without Comment is the updated version of the Yasova deck I built a few weeks back. Sometimes, we design decks but then don’t have the
cards, so this is the deck which I actually assembled.

The Threat of Yasova
Sheldon Menery
Test deck on 01-29-2015

Here are the links to the latest versions of all my decks:


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