Defending the Commander Social Contract

Author: Cassidy (Page 2 of 33)

A Time And A Place – Examining EDH Card Design

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on December 18, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. Erik specifically have been on a tear about the shortcomings apparent in Wizards’ ability to design for EDH. Cassidy aggreed, back in 2012 no less!


Let’s start with a statement:

Wizards of the Coast can design great EDH cards when they try.

Let’s follow that statement with another statement:

They don’t seem to try all that often.

And following that, the benchmark example of a card designed for EDH:

I know…low-hanging fruit.  I get that.  There’s a point, though.

Let me ask this question:

Why is Command Tower a successful EDH card?

There are several levels that you can access this question at.  It’s printed at common, which puts it into the hands of even the most cash-strapped players.  It specifically only matters to EDH, as it doesn’t function at all outside of the format.  It goes in every deck.  (Well, unless your general is colorless.   And there isn’t much point to running it in a mono-colored deck, but it technically does work.

Is it the easy and cheap no-strings-attached mana fixing?  That’d probably be the most logical choice.  However, I personally think it succeeds primarily for one reason:

It came to be while WotC was specifically designing for EDH.

Let me put it another way for better perspective:

Wizards of the Coast can’t seem to design an EDH card unless they’re specifically catering to the format.

The Commander Pre-Cons that came out two years ago did a ton of stuff for the format.  It brought attention, and attention brought new players.  This is generally good.

The new players brought a general increase in singles prices due to raised demand.  This is generally bad, unless you’re in the business of selling cards.

The best thing they did, though, was show EDH players that Wizards of the Coast cared enough to make us nice things.  We saw the (rebranded) name of our format on retail boxes for the first time.  We saw boxes filled with piles of playable cards that (more or less) specifically pertained to the format.  New players got an easy ticket to entry, while older players got staples like Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum and Darksteel Ingot.

And we got some cards that were designed for us, which is the best part of the whole deal.

Now, some of the cards were a failed experiment in my opinion.  The ‘join forces’ mechanic, for example, is just like Christmas morning.  The young, hopeful players excitedly play the cards, trembling with anticipation as all the other players join in the celebration and pour mana into spells that fill stockings with basic lands and 1/1 soldier tokens for all.

Meanwhile, the jaded d-bags (like me) sit back and draw a bunch of free cards off of Minds Aglow and tell the kiddies there is no such thing as Santa.

The Vow cycle is close to the same thing.  Sure seems like a good idea, until you realize that the Uril player is getting way better value out of Rancor or Armadillo Cloak than he is out of Vow of Wildness.

But the sentiment is there.  Wizards really tried to get it right.  And if CommandTower is the only shining example to come form the Pre-Cons, I’d call it a success in no uncertain terms (even if they did also plant Flusterstorm and Scavenging Ooze for the Eternal players out there.)

DISCLAIMER – I understand that there’s a thing called ‘casual’ or ‘kitchen-table’ Magic.  I understand that not everything revolves around EDH in the non-competitive world.  For purposes of this article, I’m choosing to ignore these facts, partially because some of these points apply across the board to those formats, and partially because they kind of shoot holes in what I’m going to say, to be honest.

You’ve been duly warned.

Anyway, let’s now look at the flip-side of the coin.

Again, my thesis:

Wizards of the Coast typically can’t design EDH cards unless they’re designing EDH sets. 

Let’s look at some recent hits to try to explain what I’m talking about.

Seems like an obvious EDH plant, right?  No-one is drafting a ten-mana sorcery, and there’s not a constructed format out there that really wants to invest this much for this particular effect.

The problem here is two-fold; there’s a severe cost/reward imbalance in a format that is all about casual play (and thus longer games filled with swingy spells and permanents.)  Genesis Wave is in the same boat, as are cards like Omniscience and Maelstrom wanderer– nothing is too expensive to afford in EDH, and when these cards hit, they yield far too much bang for the buck.

Secondly, Primal Surge falls face-first into the “Build around me!” trap.  Has anyone else out there seen the all-permanents Primal Surge deck?

(It’s a rhetorical question.)

Now, has anyone seen Primal Surge in a deck not designed to dump the entirety of its’ contents into play on the back of a single ten-mana sorcery?

(Also a rhetorical question.)

It’s like WotC gets to the doorstep with good ideas that should make big splashes, and then they don’t really look at the format specifically to see how the card will effect things once it’s legal there, and they just drop everything and wander off to design Delver of Secrets.

What about this gem?

I don’t need to rehash any of the (copious amounts of) things I’ve already said about this card.  It’s in the archives for those of you who haven’t read it yet.  But we’re seeing another card that hits a similar formula as the Primal Surge team; big, splashy, costs a ton of mana, won’t see play in any competitive formats, does something outrageous.

It’s telling that this card got banned.  It doesn’t do a single fun thing…period.  Nearly the entire EDH player base is in agreement.  There’s not much else to say.

Again…someone thought this was the sort of card we EDH players want to see.  I kinda wish that someone had the forethought to check with us first.

How about some other recent-ish hits?

What do these two gems have in common?

(If you said, “They both ruin games.”, I’ll give you partial credit.)

Honestly, though, our trained EDH eyes likely see the problem a mile away.  Yup – there is an echo in here; big, splashy effects, exorbitant casting costs, effects that blow games wide open.  We’re being unfairly stereo-typed by the people who make the game we’re trying to play here.

Again, what’s the ratio of kicked versus un-kicked Rite of Replication instances?  What about Genesis Wave where ‘X’ equals three?


Honestly, I think the intentions are good.  I really do.  But the execution doesn’t seem to quite make it across the gap between inception and delivery when the cards are coming from packs of current expansions.  I can’t help to think what some of these cards would look like if they were designed for next summer’s Commander product instead of the sets they’re in currently.  I’d be willing to bet that not many would be the same.

You want to know what I think is the last EDH card to come out of a booster pack and be a good example of design that embraces the format?

That’s right.  I’m not kidding.

It’s big and splashy, packs a punch, and provides a big effect that can change the landscape of a game in a big way that also doesn’t feel terribly unbalanced.  In a pinch, it can save your tail, or it can be an offensive weapon, yet it doesn’t scream, “Build this exact thing right here!”  I’ve seen it in blue-base control decks, big creature beatdown decks, and theme decks, and it never seems out of place in any of them.

It’s simple, but it’s also elegant.  There’s a balance; it doesn’t just end the game or walk you to a singular way to do so, but it still manages to embody what the format tends to be about at the same time.

It’s clear that Wizards can design like this.  I just wish they’d do it more often for products that aren’t specific to EDH.


Flashback Friday: Market Research – The First (Probably More Than) Annual Questions Edition

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on January 11, 2013. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. Cass hasn’t been posting much, but we’re all getting hyped for GenCon (in approximately infinity months) so why not pose a bunch of questions to you, per Cass’s “Market RESEARCH”?

The response to the Blightsteel">Blightsteel Colossus question from Monday really threw me for a loop.  I was hoping for some feedback, and I certainly got that and then some.  That’s really fantastic.

It also got me thinking. I enjoy speaking my mind when it comes to EDH (and I have to assume that you all enjoy reading it to some degree), but I’m as guilty as the next guy of falling into the “ivory tower’ syndrome.  I have a pattern of beliefs, and I like to complain loudly when someone steps on my poor little toes.

So, then…the Blightsteel thing.  This is important.

The reason that I posted the questions stems from a conversation I was having with my co-conspirator here at GDC, Patrick.  I’ve been starting to dive in again to the “metagame-breaker” deck theory-crafting that drove my GenCon exploits last year.  I’ve got a two-part article in the works for that will get into very specific details about developing such a deck, what it should expect to face, and how it should be built and played to overcome the gauntlet of an ‘EDH-for-prizes” event.

Long story short, I was trying to figure out how to win with a deck designed to shut down the infinite combos that permeate environments like that without succumbing to the dark side and just playing them myself.  After all, that’s the point – break the broken metagame with a deck that stays true to the core of the “social agreement” at the heart of EDH.

The problem I had last year was that my Riku deck was designed to say, ‘No!”, but it didn’t know what to do from there.

That’s about when I stumbled onto the foil copy of Blightsteel Colossus I had in a box.

I managed pretty quickly to justify One-Shot Robot as a legit win-con.  It was a creature, and it still had to attack in order to defeat an opponent.  The specs of the card just meant that it probably only needed to attack once.  But really, how different is this from swinging with Kresh the Bloodbraided?  Or Moldgraf Monstrosity?  Or Mons’s Goblin Raiders one-hundred or so times in a row?

Patrick called me an ass (in so many words) for playing a card that I’ve professed to hate for so long.  He pointed out that this is essentially joining the dark side anyway.

So I posted the question to you, the dedicated readers of GDC.  In my (thick) head, I still thought I was going to get some justification for doing what I was planning on doing.

That clearly didn’t happen.  Most of you hate the damn thing as much as Patrick, and some of you think it’s worse than combo.  I learned something about you all in the process, and that’s that there’s a whole world out there that I need to learn a little bit more about.

That’s what I think I want to do today.


Below are a series of situations and questions.

What I hope each of you will do is to read through them, and find one (or two or all) that resonates with you somehow.  Head down to the ‘comments’ section, and answer the question.

While you’re there, see what others are saying.  If those thoughts resonate, comment there too.

Patrick and I will be doing our best over the next several days to drop in some replies and engage in some good, solid EDH conversation.  We may drop in some answers for ourselves as well…who knows.

Either way, you know who we are, and we want to see the world out there.  Show us who you are.

1.      Blightsteel Revisited

You know have the context that you didn’t have on Monday.  You’ve sleeved up your blue-base control deck and jumped a flight to Indianapolis, ready to lay waste to the field at the Thursday night EDH Constructed Championship Qualifier.  You’re planning on seeing Hermit Druid combo.  There’s going to be some Temple Bell-Mind Over Matter action.  Someone is going to use Palinchron to make a boatload of mana to hit you with a Stroke of Genius big enough to kill you.

You’re not concerned, because you have answers, but you do need one final, solid win-condition for the deck.  You find the Blightsteel Colossus in your binder.

Knowing that your main plan is to ‘take the high road’ against the combo decks you’ll face, do you play Blightsteel Colossus?

2.      When Is The Game Really Over?

This is an example from this past Wednesday that I’m trying to wrap my head around, if for reason other than I still feel conflicted about my feelings, and the other player is a regular reader and good friend.  I’d love to clear the air and see what the feeling is here.

You’re playing in the regular Wednesday shop game.  Buy-in is five dollars; you get a pack for participation automatically, and play for ‘points’ that determine a pick order at the end of the night.

The prize pool to pick from is an additional pack for every two people (so half of the field will get a second pack), as well as a selection of foil promos; the difference between coming in first for two packs or last for a pack and a promo card is pretty negligible.  It’s a really flat payout to promote fun games.

You’ve killed off another player and amassed five points, enough to guarantee that you’ll  get a second prize pack no matter what happens.  Suddenly, the player across the table cranks out a series of cards that will kill you on the spot.  You can’t save yourself.  He’s about to deal you exact damage, which will net him three points; one for eliminating a player, and two more for doing so with exact lethal damage.

You have a Goblin Bombardment and a creature in play.

Knowing that you’re getting a prize pack no matter what, do you sacrifice your creature to Goblin Bombardment to deal yourself one damage, preventing the player who is about to kill you from getting two extra points for the exact damage kill?

3.      Pick Your Poison

Rank the following cards from best to worst using any criteria you want:

4.      Duck, Duck, Duck…

You sit down at a table to play a game of EDH with four other players.  You’ve never met any of them before in your life, and you have no idea what the actual contents of any of the decks are.  The other four generals are Kaalia of the Vast, Zur the Enchanter, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and Omnath, Locus of Mana.

You’re the first person to find a creature.  Furthermore, no-one else has a creature in play when you untap on the following turn.  There are no blockers, and you move to your attack step.

Who do you attack? Why?

5.      A Simple Question

When I resolve a kicked Tooth and Nail, I put _____ and _____ into play.

6.      A Loaded Question

The game is winding down.  You have no cards in hand, and one left in your deck.  You untap and draw.  It is Banefire.  You can deal thirty damage with it before you lose the game.  Who do you target?

  1. The slow player who takes fifteen-minute turns every turn.
  2. The player who killed you off first in the last game for no good reason. 
  3. The rules lawyer who openly critiques your plays during the game.
  4. Yourself.

7.      Enough Is Enough

“Goddammit!  If I never see that ever again for as long as I play EDH, it’ll still be too soon!”

What was “that”?

8.   Judge, Jury, And Executioner

As a part of the promotion for the 2013 Commander Pre-Cons, you enter an arm-wrestling competition with Sheldon Menery at one of the release events.  You manage to beat him in a close best-of three match, and the prize is that you get to ‘protect’ any one card ever printed from being on the EDH Banned List.  It can never be banned for the rest of eternity, and if it’s already on the list, it immediately comes off and is legal for play.

Name that card.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


Magic, FaceTime, Coffee, and a Lonely Air Mattress: Trying To Keep It Together When Life Gets Flipped Upside-Down

Everyone loves a happy ending. Good guys win, bad guys lose, the hero gets the girl and rides off into the sunset, and so on and so forth.

This isn’t one of those stories – not yet, anyway. I’m currently stuck somewhere in the middle of act two – the “facing impossible odds and trying to figure out how to fight my way back” part.

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Reinventing The Commander 2015 “Seize Control” Pre-Con, Part 2: It Seemed So Innocent…

“Kill you, you, and you, do 28 damage to you?”

.    .    .    .    .

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Reinventing The Commander 2015 “Seize Control” Pre-Con, Part 1: Now With 100% More Sarcasm!

Just for the hell of it, I’m not going to complain about things this week.

Okay, that’s not totally true.  I’m absolutely going to still do that.  So…yeah.

Let’s try this again from the top.

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This Is What Goes On In The Mind Of A Lunatic (EDH Deckbuilder)

Whoops.  I’ve done it again.

I was trying to hang a picture up in the bathroom, and I must have slipped and hit my head on the edge of the sink.  When I came to, I found I had gotten irritated with the format (or at least my interaction with it as of late) and torn apart all of my decks.  Again.


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Because New Set (Alternate Title: Complaining About New Cards – Shadows Over Innistrad Edition)

I woke up today, hoping desperately that the Commander Rules Committee was going to do something big and sweeping to the Banned List just to shake things up, because nothing gets people talking like a good B&R update, right?

Sadly, it was not to be.  Fortunately, Shadows Over Innistrad hits shelves this coming weekend, and many of you already hit up the prereleases this past one.  As a result, my ‘Grumpy Old Man’ sense is tingling after all.

Let’s do this.

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Building For Better Commander Games: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Building

Kresh the Bloodbraided has been a pet deck of mine for a very long time.  Other than Sharuum the Hegemon, I think this has been the deck that I’ve built more than any other general out there.  It stands to reason that I’ve also given up on it more times than any other as well, and I finally realized my mistake – one that has likely put me in such a bad place game-wise for so long.

Last week, I took a chance and reversed my design preferences, and promptly won four games back-to-back.  But we’ll come back to this in a bit.

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Grating Expectations

I don’t think I “get” EDH anymore.

Maybe it’s survival of the fittest; ‘adapt or die’ is a real thing in any Magic format – even a casual one like this.  I’m starting to think that something in my head worked its’ way loose somewhere along the way, and is now just hanging disconnected in the clutter up there; while the cool kids are jamming Commander 2015 product to their hearts’ content, I’m busy lamenting poor design choices (ones that everyone else seems to love – Hey there, Experience Counters!) and sadly rebuilding Kresh the Bloodbraided for the eleventh time with roughly 85 of the same cards I used the last time I had this dance.

And then promptly getting wrecked by Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Sage of Hours.  That’s synergy, folks!

Here's what I think of your Meren/Fleshbag Marauder loop.

Here’s what I think of your Meren/Fleshbag Marauder loop.

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…Is this thing on?

Hey there.  Long time no see.  How are things?

It’s been a while since we’ve updated GDC; the last real post was in October.  Quite a bit has happened since then on all fronts, and I’d like to think that things are in a better place all around for all of us.  Sometimes, you just need to get back to the core, and strip away the rest in order to remember who you are and what you want to show the world. 

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