For those of you who haven’t tuned in before, I like to do an AMA (Ask Me Anything) three or four times per year. It’s an opportunity to find out what’s on the mind of the community, answer the questions that are always burning, and fill in the gaps of things I might not have covered since the last one. I try to avoid the same questions all the time, although if there’s an important recurring issue, I’ll obviously bring it up. I’ve done some editing on the questions for clarity and brevity without losing the initial point.
When I do these, I farm different communities for the questions. This time, the good folks at MTGNexus were happy to provide me with most of the things you’ll see asked here. I also pulled a question or two off Twitter, which will be easy to see from the user name. Let’s dive right in, because there are lots of great ones.
From Folding_music: What’s the coolest Commander variant you’ve heard of? How much do you indulge that sort of thing?
Not often, really. I’m kind of a purist, although I don’t mind the occasional drift. If Planechase is a variant, then that’s the answer. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Goldmeadow, aka “Goat Plane?” I know that fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) member Gavin Duggan is a huge variant fan, to the point that he’s been offering a variant of the month on the official website.
From Anonymous: I’m curious about the relationship between the RC and Wizards of the Coast. Is there any give and take on banning or unbanning discussions or rule changes?
There is constant discussion between the RC and our friends in R&D. If you didn’t know, RC member Scott Larabee has been working there for 21 years (and is like the fifth-longest-tenured person in the building). I just finished a contract doing Magic design. Toby has contributed numerous things previously. Ever since they started printing Commander product, we’ve had an increasing amount of input on sets and cards. As far as bannings go, folks in R&D express their opinions (with various degrees of vehemence), but leave us to our own devices when it comes to making decisions. Check out this Tweet from VP of Design for Magic, Aaron Forsythe.
From EvolvingWild: Do you think the Banned List philosophy appropriately serves LGS needs for Commander play? Flash and Thassa’s Oracle have ruined my Commander night at LGS, which was once a healthy meta of mixed competitiveness.
The philosophy is pretty clear about not trying to balance for competitive play. The question becomes how are LGSs running their events. If they’re running them as strictly competitive, then the answer is no, and intentionally so. If they’re running them with a flattened, more participation-oriented structure, then yes.
From Blairwitchgreen: Magic is such a deep game that it constantly surprises even for old dogs like us! What is a card interaction you’ve discovered or witnessed recently that surprised and delighted you?
From @tropicalsteve: Would you ever consider another “holiday rules change” like the silver-bordered thing or do you consider that a mistake?
We don’t consider it a mistake at all. From all reports, lots of folks had a grand time with it. The idea is something that we’ll continue to keep in our pocket; we certainly wouldn’t rule it out in the future.
From Proteus: Do you ever worry that WotC is using certain things to try and get more direct control over the Commander format by swaying popular opinion or using products to raise questions about why Commander is the way it is?
From toctheyounger: Everyone has a favorite commander/deck of their existing builds. Who’s your favorite lieutenant (the card that secretly runs things when landed from the 99)?
MTGNexus moderator Cryogen answered this one for me: If he doesn’t answer this with Coiling Oracle I’m going to be disappointed.
From CTNC: If you could cast, have, or summon any instant/sorcery, enchantment, artifact, or creature in real life, what would you chose for each?
- Spell: Equal Treatment
- Enchantment: Karmic Justice
- Artifact: Sword of Truth and Justice
- Creature: Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
I trust that you get the theme.
From EvtheMage: First how did you first feel starting out writing articles? Were you nervous people wouldn’t like them and when did you get to the point people started to acknowledge you as a content creator?
Well, being one of Magic’s early content creators (I started on this very site in the year 2000, so my content creation career is nearly old enough to drink), it was a different world. I don’t think the lessons that I learned or challenges I faced translate for new content creators today. I was already a well-established Level 3 Judge at the time, so I didn’t worry about people accepting the authority of what I wrote (even if I occasionally got something wrong). Like any author, I have the same hopes that folks would respond to the style and quality of my writing. Seems like we’ve found pretty comfortable ground.
From @losdrazis: How do you feel about Anthony Alongi “quadrant system” of matchmaking? I think it has legs and should have been considered for Reno but curious if your thoughts.
ChannelFireball system seemed to work well for the Command Zone. Anthony has an excellent philosophical mind and I see his system as the next iteration. We can ask more questions (time being a really important one to me—not just what you do, but how soon do you do it?) and craft answers that make sense to us all.
From @DDM_gaming: How the RC/CAG view the Command Zone and the purpose of it at larger events? Is it just an area to play Commander or is it a competitive area?
A dedicated area to play Commander is now a necessity at large events, and organizers are well aware of the fact. It can certainly be both, though you know we’re going to lean heavily on the side of it being a meeting-up space for like-minded players. It functioned extremely well at MagicFest Reno as a place for players to find either pickup games or on-demand pods. We don’t need to be exclusionary about either side.
From CurefortheCommonGame: As you know I’m on a quest to build a commander deck using every legal legendary creature ever made; currently I’m sitting at 550 decks. It’s my belief that you (and the entire RC) are doing wonderfully with this format, but of late there has been a lot of talk about banning. So far I agree with every one made, but the calling for a Sol Ring ban frightens me. Is this a possibility at all? Granted, all my decks don’t have a copy, but I’d say a couple hundred do, just wondering about the future of this card.
This is a question I get every time, and this time printed out of respect for Mr. Canada’s herculean effort (or maybe Sisyphean, since the number to complete the task is ever-increasing).
From Hermes__: I noticed you recently celebrated an anniversary. What do you feel is the one thing that has kept your marriage going for so long?
Only being able to pick one thing to answer the question, it’s a deep and abiding respect for each other. We communicate constantly and never seek to limit the other person. We revel in each other’s successes and do whatever we can to foster them. There’s no transactional nature of the relationship (“she let me to this, so I had to do that”). We realize that there are three equally important elements to the relationship: the two people involved, plus the relationship itself, which is an entity unto itself.
From schweinfett: The number of cards being released for Commander and Commander-adjacent products has been really skyrocketing recently. Any opinions on whether or not it is not enough still, a good amount, or too much?
You know the half-full/half-empty glass thing? I’m on the “get a bigger glass” plan. The only folks that I think would call it too much are the completionists (like our own Toby Elliott, who at one point wanted to collect one of everything). I get their anxiety. Otherwise, having more and more choices seems better for the individual consumer.
From ghitu_spellbomb: Do you believe that Rule 0 can effectively apply to games of Commander among strangers? I have been trying to branch out of my regular playgroup into my LGS and have found that games always default to the Banned List/rules as written because players can’t come to a consensus. Do you see this as a concern? Is there any advice you have for players who are playing Commander without a playgroup?
Rule 0 is certainly more than just what cards you’re not going to play with; it’s also about the temporal axis I mentioned earlier. It’s about the style of game that’s going to follow. You don’t need to change any rules to mention that you’d rather not play in a game with certain deck archetypes, for example. Can Rule 0 solve every problem? Not by a long shot. Can it be effective in helping people find games that fit their style? Absolutely.
As far as advice, I’ll always say it’s better to not play at all than to play in game you’re going to hate. I get that sitting on the sidelines isn’t a palatable answer to some folks, but you’re not going to get a bad taste in your mouth from avoiding a dish you know you don’t like. Also, address what the deck does and what you don’t like. Don’t direct criticism at the person. You can still be pleasant while saying no.
From legendarycardboard: When you consider all of the Commander content that exists out there these days, can you think of any glaring holes in the creatorsphere?
Yes, and it’s a hole that I’m actively engaged in trying to fill: the relative lack of folks from traditionally marginalized groups. I’d like Commander content to reflect the spectrum of the Commander player base,which is incredibly diverse — which leads directly into a question from…
SpikeFeedersJim: I’ve seen you push quite a bit lately to promote content, especially advocate for content created by women and POC. Which of these have been your personal favorites to watch/listen to/read?
I’m a big fan of DeQuan Watson’s Color of Magic podcast. My friend SpikeFeedersJim (!) recently got me onto The Commander Sphere, which I’m binging to catch up on (and Dan is clearly the setup man for Rachel). My favorite Commander gameplay stream is CAG member Olivia Gobert-Hicks’ Affinity for Artifacts Twitch channel, and that’s not because I’m a regular guest, but because it’s all about the camaraderie of people who play and the people who show up in the chat (also, NSFW warning). There is still not enough content created by folks from those groups, but we’re working on changing that.
Also, cosplayers are also content creators. I support them as much as I can.
From Segrus: What do you normally use to carry cards to and fro? You travel a lot too, presumably by plane, so what measures do you take to protect your cards through airports?
I have an old UltraPro carrying case (no idea of the model number) that fits nine deck boxes, eight if I leave one of the front slots open for tokens and a dice bag. I never put my decks in checked luggage; they’re always in my carry on, which means I expect to get stopped at security nearly every time (which generally doesn’t happen with TSA Precheck). More than once, the TSA agent running the scanner has looked at me and asked “Magic cards?” and nodded appreciatively.
From braden: Have you read Moneyball? It’s my favorite book about baseball.
Absolutely, as well as having seen the movie—written by my favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin. My favorite book about baseball recently is called The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, interviews in the 1960s with players who had played at the turn of the century and just after.
From BounceBurnBuff: After looking a bit more into what some others have asked you about power creep in the commanders being printed, I noticed a pattern I would like to hear your thoughts on if you don’t mind?
We’ve moved from combat-based conditions such as Narset/Kaalia/Brago/Derevi into static abilities that require nothing outside of your spell or ability resolving to accumulate value. Commanders like Korvold, Yarok, and Muldrotha very much seem to be the new norm when it comes to power and payoff, even surpassing what can even be seen as the link between these designs in experience counter commanders (who had static effects that required work to achieve). Obviously, I’ve picked three of the more popular and recent examples, but others would include the likes of Chulane, Tatyova, Teysa Karlov, and K’rrik.
Given that you cannot divulge anything about your time spent with Wizards last year, I won’t ask about any specifics, but do you see this as a design trend that going forward could risk homogenizing the format and rendering combat increasingly less relevant?
I’m actually not worried about that at all. Combat will never be irrelevant in the format, even if certain demographics might eschew it. As far as power creep goes, it’s my opinion that designers have done a great job of lateral development. When you think about it, things could have gone way farther off the rails than from Ernham Djinn to Questing Beast than the intervening decades might indicate. Of course power creep will happen; the game only has one direction to grow. Designers can’t avoid it and still keep the game alive, but they can do their best to mitigate it. I have confidence in the people who design Magic cards.
From Shabbaman: Would your new computer be better or worse if it had more LED lights?
Better, obv. For those of you who don’t know, friend of the show and tech guru @seraph_six built a new gaming rig for me and one side is clear, showing the glittering insides. It’s quite cool.
From Eyecut: Any book recommendations?
I’m currently in Book 3 (of 4) of Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer. Even being already a fan of his writing, this one is amazeballs. I binged Octavia Butler during my travels to and from Seattle while working at WotC, to include the Xenogenesis Trilogy, then Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. I had an interesting discussion with Prof from Tolarian Community College, who used to teach Parable of the Sower and map it to the film Children of Men. The last non-baseball, non-scholarly nonfiction I read escapes memory.
From Toffmcsoft: When will Flash be banned? The cEDH community has been asking for this ban and it’s pretty much an outcry yet the RC hasn’t done anything about it. Does the RC take cEDH into consideration?
You knew we’d get to this one at some point. There are straightforward answers here that aren’t necessarily simple. Something tells me you knew that already when you asked the question, which looks more like trying to pick a fight than asking a question in good faith. But I’m here to educate, not alienate.
If Flash (or any other card) were to be banned, it would be because the RC considers its presence detrimental to the format, in line with our philosophy document. Your question about the RC taking cEDH into consideration is really asking if the RC gives cEDH a disproportionate amount of consideration, given the community’s comparatively small numbers (although we’ll concede to it being extremely vocal). The answer that you’re not going to like is no, we don’t offer you more consideration than your numbers would otherwise indicate.
I firmly reject the notion that we haven’t done anything about it. We have engaged with cEDH community leaders since late last year. They continue to advise us, and some of their advice may have changed over time. As I said, this is not a simple discussion, unless “just do what a micro-portion of the player base wants” is simple. There are solid arguments that banning Flash is good for everyone and there are solid arguments that it’s not a good idea at all. With this discussion in particular, there are more concerns than just the game play ones. One of the often-expressed anxieties is that of capitulation. If we ban a card that impacts only a small number of players, what will those players ask for next? Precedent can be a dangerous thing.
As with many things, the issue is well more complicated than anyone who engages in polemics might assert. The entirety of the issue is front and center in the minds of everyone on the RC and CAG. It likely will be at least until the next update.
From InkEyes22: If you could design a Secret Lair: Commander what three to five cards would you put in it?
It would be Secret Lair: Stuff That’s Not Yet Foil (and the lawyers said it would be okay). It would include Gilded Drake, Fault Line, Retribution of the Meek, Breathstealer’s Crypt, and Lotus Vale. Or maybe all ten original duals.
From rujasu: What’s your favorite movie?
The Godfather, which I also believe to be the greatest film of all time. According to flickchart.com, the rest of my top ten is Godfather Part 2, LA Confidential, The Shawshank Redemption, A Clockwork Orange, American Beauty, The Graduate, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Amadeus, and The Usual Suspects.
From Cheshireplaysgames: Why don’t we see RC members retweet or share smaller content creators’ articles, videos and streams? We see a lot of medium//big content creators get shared out there, but I don’t think we’ve seen anyone else. Also, how can we submit articles and videos we’ve made on our home sites to the new RC site?
What you’re pointing to is an inherent weakness in the way social media works. We can’t know what we don’t know about, and what gets shared is by definition popular. I’m on a constant search for smaller content creators and share when I find good ones, so by all means, feel free to make suggestions. Tweet them at me or link in Facebook and I’ll take a look.
As far as submitting content to the new website, you can email me directly (firstDOTlastATgmail). There’s already a Community Content page, which is mostly an RSS feed, but I’ve recently (like in the last week and a half) added a section called Cultivated Content, which are things I’ve found that an RSS feed might not pick up. We’re about to add an additional page or section called New Voices, which will be for publishing people who’ve never been published in any forum before. Again, email me directly and stay tuned for more details.
From RxPhantom: Some members of the CAG seem to be speaking directly on the behalf of the RC when they do interviews. Is this supposed to be the case?
No member of the CAG speaks for the RC. They’re the advisors and we’re the decision-makers, which is no diminishment of their input — which we take very seriously. We certainly encourage them to express their opinions freely, even if they diverge from dogma. If you’ve heard a CAG member imply otherwise, maybe they’ve used “we” in a broadly-encompassing way. The RC and CAG do work together, and perhaps you’ve heard some use a “we” that wraps their arms around all eleven of us.
Also from RxPhantom: Would any of the RC members be open to appearing on something like Game Knights or another content creator’s gameplay video?
In this, I am confident that I speak for everyone on the RC (and maybe even most of the CAG). Yes, we’d be happy to. Just invite us.
From Treamayne: What’s the status of the official forums?
We’re going to replace the forums from the old site with something. We’re just still working out what that might be. I’m personally a fan of that type of forum, although I find them increasingly less in use these days. Whether it’s that style or a Discord-style remains to be worked out. I’ll definitely keep you posted.
From Jay13x: Is there anyone on the CAG or RC who is planeswalker-positive? It feels like every member I follow dislikes planeswalkers in general, which makes it hard to seem like planeswalker commanders get a fair shake.
I think most of us like or at least neutral on planeswalkers (I can imagine a crusty old soul like Ron shaking his fist at them), but if you mean planeswalkers as commanders, yeah, there’s like an 11-0 majority. We (the RC) have discussed in multiple locations why we think planeswalkers as commanders are a bad idea.
From Ulka, who hit it out of the park with a spread of interesting questions:
What is your personal stance on bring back “banned as commander?” Do you think it would help the format?
I think it wouldn’t break anything. It doesn’t make sense from a messaging standpoint to use it for three or four cards that would be different right now. I’m not sure where the exact tipping point would be, but if we were into the twenties or thirties, I might give it more serious thought.
Is there any card you’d personally like banned due to bad personal experiences but know it’s not deserving of a ban for the overall community?
In the last four major events I’ve been to, including MagicFest Reno this past weekend, the only miserable games I’ve had have involved Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.
What is your favorite hidden gem for Commander that you use but have rarely seem in others’ decks?
Equal Treatment, hands down. Or up, as it were.
What is your favorite wine you’ve had since that last AMA?
It’s a toss-up between two wines that we had on the same night, when some wine nerds came over. One was 1998 Château Smith Haut Lafitte, from Bordeaux’s Graves sub-region. The other was a 2009 Bressler Vineyards Cab, which is a California Cab in name only. It’s really a Bordeaux made with American fruit. Both were frighteningly good, although I’m glad we drank the Smith Haut Lafitte when we did, because I think it was actually starting a downhill slide.
What is the song you haven’t been able to stop listening to recently?
Dream Theater’s 23-minute epic A Change of Seasons, title cut from the album of the same name. In addition to just being amazing musically, the song is an exploration of one’s life’s work when faced with the specter of our own mortality. You can see how that might resonate with me.
From SquirrelToken: Do you think that Jeter deserved to be a unanimous election to the HOF?
No. I think that Mariano Rivera didn’t deserve unanimous selection. If Babe Ruth didn’t, then no player does. Jeter wasn’t even the best shortstop on his own team for a while. I find him, while deserving of a Hall of Fame spot, supremely overrated.
From dana.roach: What commander that you regularly see in games is the most frustrating to play against?
While I don’t see it all that regularly, my answer Grand Arbiter Augustin IV from above stands.
From guokamoli: Any chance we get my boy Primeval Titan back? Seems kind of lackluster compared to many things currently seeing play in the format.
Highly unlikely. It still hits all the angles that we don’t like to see — ubiquity and centralization.
From Airi: Are there any upcoming games (of any medium) coming out this year that you’re particularly excited for?
Most of my non-Commander gaming time is spent playing Out of the Park Baseball. OotP 21 comes out soon, but I wait to buy it — not until the price goes down, but as a reward for getting the taxes done.
From Outcryqq: Success in my career often relies upon the relationships I build with other attorneys, and referrals from them when it comes to getting new clients. Have you ever been in a situation (or spoken to people who have been in a situation) where you did not want to admit, or did not want to offer up, that you play Magic: The Gathering when the topic of hobbies come up, for fear of being considered too “nerdy” or alienating a particular audience? Along those lines, social media can be a double-edged sword. While it’s great for reaching a larger audience in terms of potential clients, I then feel barred from sharing interesting MTG-related content for fear of alienating potential clients or other attorneys. Any advice on these topics?
My advice is to own it. Nerd culture it pretty mainstream now, so I have a tough time seeing many professions where it would be a detractor. Being careful about what you say on social media is a good idea, but I hardly think in the 21st century that “admitting” that you play Magic is, well, an admission of anything.
From Higher: How would a person join the RC or CAG?
There’s no application process. Neither is something you join; both are things you’re invited to join. The answer you might be looking for is how to become qualified. Become a well-known or well-regarded figure in the Commander community. Make us realize that one group or the other would be better if you joined, and get the recommendation of someone in that group. The current CAG were chosen for their broad community outreach, meaning that if we were to expand, that wouldn’t necessarily be a deciding factor (but certainly isn’t going to hurt). Being on the CAG isn’t necessarily a stepping stone to being on the RC (as mentioned, the groups serve different functions), but given that CAG members are among the most highly regarded people in Commander, we’d be foolish to not look there as well.
A suite of questions from wildfire393:
I’ve heard in the past that you have over 50 decks, and that you foil out basically every deck to the fullest extent possible, which indicates a great degree of permanence. I have some questions related to that:
1) How often do you update your decks, on average? With new cards coming out seemingly every month these days, and at the very least every quarter, are you modifying every single one of these 50+ decks every release? Every year? Every time you play that specific deck?
With every new set, I evaluate the entire suite and see which cards will fit into any of the decks. My only rule is only one copy of a new card into the existing decks. You can even read about it on these very pages.
2) Since you obviously aren’t going to play every single one of your decks every time you sit down to play Commander, how do you decide which decks to bring to the table? How do you rotate between the decks you brought to make sure each one gets a “fair shake”? Are there any decks that are always or almost always on the docket?
Some obviously get played more than others. I keep an eye on how often I’m playing any one of them, and make sure I don’t overdo it. Some fit my personal style better than others, some are more of a stretch, so it’s entirely mood-dependent. At MagicFest Reno, I intentionally took seven (of the eight that came with me) that hadn’t seen much recent play at the bigger events. At CommandFest, MagicFest, or SCG CON, you’ll always see me carry at least one signature deck, most often You Did This to Yourself, which is arguably my most infamous (and epic) deck ever.
3) How often do you find yourself making new decks? With so many new legendary creatures releasing every year, how many of those jump out at you as something you need to build around? Are you more likely to build an entirely new deck, or modify an existing deck, replacing the commander with a newly-printed legend that plays in the same space?
My new goal is to pick three legendary creatures from the newest set and build each of them. I modify individual decks, but don’t intentionally overhaul them (although time has turned some into things that don’t resemble the original).
4) How often, if ever, do you permanently retire decks?
Sounds like giving up, wildfire. Never give up, never surrender.
If you could snap your fingers and erase all historical traces of a card from MTG and ensure that it would never be recreated, would you? If so, which card(s)?
The beatings on Grand Arbiter Augustin IV in this article will not cease.
How much of your average day is consumed by MTG-related communication and activities?
It’s become a full-time endeavor now that I’m not also in grad school. I thought I was getting away from spending all my time on Magic when I retired from being a Level 5 Judge, but that was just a pipe dream. The good news is that it’s a labor of love. I don’t have to otherwise work, so I hardly consider it a problem. I wish everyone could have such difficulties.
Have any of the RC or CAG members ever hit you with an opinion you weren’t expecting? Can you share?
For the RC, no, but we’ve all known each other so long that the unexpected would have to be a radical departure from their personality. From the CAG, I’ll say not yet, since I haven’t known some of them all that long.
Do you or any of the RC or CAG ever make predictions for how the community will react and respond to your actions or communications? If so, how accurate do you think those predictions have been in the past?
Of course. The RC has long evaluated how the response to certain things will be. We may have over- or under-estimated them, but we never went into anything blind. Even understanding and managing expectations, we were taken a little off-guard by the vehemence in the wake of the Paradox Engine ban. It wasn’t about numbers (the majority was clearly on board with the decision), but the raw passion (ahem) with which people who disagreed expressed themselves.
I hear a lot of content creators and Commander personalities say that we’re living in the golden age of Commander, and the format is the best it’s ever been. Do you think that’s accurate?
I’m not particularly nostalgic, so yes, I’d say that’s accurate. We have more choices of both cards and people to play those cards with than we ever have. How can that not be great?
Is anything actively damaging or impeding the format from being better than it can be right now?
The format is made up of people, and we could all be better to each other. I want to foster a sense of focusing on the positives instead of the negatives. We can start by not vilifying the styles of play each other like. There is no hobgoblin looming otherwise.
From toctheyounger: There’s been some vitriol from the outliers of the community here and there for both yourself and other RC/CAG members of late. I want to reassure you that the vast majority of us commend the job you all do mediating a particularly obtuse and varied group of gamers. I’m sure it’s not an easy task, and I want to make sure it’s not thankless – so thank you all for the job you do. That said, what do you all make of these incidents and how do you address them as a group? Do these sorts of issues get any attention whatsoever and if so, do the format concerns any such individual raises actually get discussed, or are these cases of the messenger shooting themselves in the foot?
I can also speak on behalf of everyone else on this, and I/we appreciate you taking the time to say so. The way to get your voice heard is by not being a raving lunatic. No, we’re not going to listen to people who are intentionally inflammatory and oppositional. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who understand how to act like adults, and those are the one we’re going to listen to, even if we disagree. If you come to us in the spirit of cooperation, we’re going to listen to even the most dissenting of opinions. I don’t get the calculus of people who think that name-calling and derision are going to get them what they want. The big upshot is that the message is still the most important, and that’s fortunate for the people who deliver it poorly, since there are also people who know how to deliver the same message well.
We’ve covered a great deal of territory. Thanks to everyone who asked great questions that demanded answers. You can check out that thread on MTGNexus for those that didn’t get answered here; I’ll be poking my head around there later this week to cover them as well.
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