Defending the Commander Social Contract

Author: Patrick Hunter (Page 1 of 3)

Make the Banned List Great Again!

There seems to be some controversy about the EDH banned list. Should they ban more cards? Should they take cards off the list? Should it even exist?

Don’t worry, y’all. I got this.

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Flashback – A School Bus Filled With Cats, And Twenty-Two Other Things About Planechase – Mr. P

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on June 2, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again, and because none of us could be expected to produce anything meaningful today because politics and stuff. I can’t quite tell why I think the agony of wanting to like Planechase feels really appropriate on Purge Day, I mean inauguration day, but it does. Enjoy and never make your group play PlanchaseEDH.

So it was Saturday.  I went to the Planechase release event, which I organized at my local game store because I knew that Planechase was coming out, and I knew there was a promo card, and I know that no one would do anything, so I talked my guy into calling his distributor to get the promo card, because I knew that Wizards wasn’t going to promote this since they’ve only got like three more weeks of promoting Avacyn Restored before M13 comes out, and I knew that was a silly idea, but I don’t work for them, right?

This article is not starting well.  Let’s try a different approach.
Planechase the first one came out in September 2009.  I was really excited about it, because I like new things and because I will buy anything and because I have a tiny brain.  On the day it streeted, I walked into every game store in the area looking for it, and not one of them had the first clue what I was talking about, or that such a product even existed.
Planechase the first one had 4 preconstructed decks which I opened, took the rares out of, and never played once not ever.  We played a bunch of games of EDH with it, because it was new and shiny and we have tiny brains.  In one game this dude went: turn one roll Chaos, WUBRG, roll Chaos, WUBRG, Sliver Overlord">Sliver Overlord, activate, tutor, Crystalline Sliver">Crystalline Sliver, go.  In another one we were stuck on the Nothing Untaps Plane for like five turns until someone went land, roll, Planeswalk to the All Creatures Get Coat of Arms">Coat of Arms Plane, pass to the player who untaps and crushes everyone.  These were two of many.
One time we played Archenemy Planechase EDH.  That was the worst game of Magic (or anything, really) that I’ve ever played in my entire life.
I have a box containing all 45 of the original planes (and now the 41 new ones) sitting on the table next to my computer.  I used to bring it with me to Mondays at Off the Wall or to Wednesdays at Worlds Apart, and eventually I just stopped because nobody ever wanted to play with it.  When we did ever play a game with it, afterwards everyone was always like, “This format sucks, let’s play normal EDH!”
(That box also contains about 100 Archenemy schemes.  That format is an abomination.)
Here’s the thing about Planechase; it’s an awesome concept.  I’m not one of those people who is primarily into Magic because of the fantasy flavor of putting on your robe and wizard hat and dueling against a rival wizard, but I am a sucker for cool pictures and some of the planar artwork is just dynamite.  Likewise, there’s something to the idea that different planes have different properties and characteristics that effect how magic spells work there…OK, so maybe I am one of those people who does want to put on his robe and wizard hat.  I really truly want to love this format.
The problem with this is that, like many things, Planechase tends to be great in theory and pretty terrible in practice.  As far as I can tell, the ultimate reason for this is that once you stop to think about it, you realize that the only thing that Planechase can bring to the game is increased randomness.  And more randomness is not a good thing.
I have like 45 EDH decks.  I like to try to build decks that have a concept behind them, as opposed to just picking a color or set of colors, and then playing all the best cards of those colors (I find this profoundly boring.)  ANYWAY, I have a deck that I think of as “5-Color Friendship.”  I like to tell myself that 5-Color Friendship is a helpful deck, but really it just makes the game more random and swingy.  It gives the one player who is sitting to my left a tremendous advantage, because when I play Mana Flare">Mana Flare and Rites of Flourishing and Helm of Awakening">Helm of Awakening and then pass the turn, he’s the one who gets to benefit from my altruism, which usually means he just wins right there.  This is not a good way to endear yourself to people.
EDH games are like a school bus balanced on a pillar of crumbly rock, not unlike the beginning of A Nightmare On Elm St Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (or perhaps EXACTLY like the beginning of A Nightmare On Elm St Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge.) In any game, there is already the potential at any time for someone to do something that completely swings the game out of nowhere. Every color has at least one of these spells (Green has like 15). Insurrection">Insurrection Tooth and Nail">Tooth and Nail Time Stretch">Time Stretch Living Death">Living Death Armageddon">Armageddon. At any point in the game, there is the lingering possibility that someone will do something that is just. broken. Sometimes that person is you.
This is part of why people like EDH.
This is also part of why people hate EDH. EDH games are a commitment; I’ve been in EDH games that lasted the same amount of time it would take to do a draft. Other than the ones that we remember for how utterly terrible they were, most of the games we remember are the epic, multi-hour ones where power shifts back and forth, alliances are made and broken, and everyone ends the game feeling like they walked all the way from the Shire to Mordor, and possibly some of the way back as well. Games like this are the reason you quit playing 60-card formats, and to have a game that is shaping up to be legendary suddenly just end because someone played one card and won out of nowhere is pretty gosh darn frustrating.
This brings us back to the randomness. A little bit of randomness can be fun; Cascading into another Cascade card is fairly awesome, and Gamble is always entertaining. Sometimes you roll dice to help you decide who to attack, or you activate Temporal Aperture">Temporal Apertureand think happy thoughts. A little randomness keeps the games interesting. On the other hand, a lot of randomness is exhausting. Try playing a full game with Grip of Chaos">Grip of Chaosin play; it’s miserable and confusing and awful. When you play Acidic Slime and have to roll 12 dice to choose a target, that’s when you know the game sucks. I’ve seen an entire table scoop to a Thieves’ Auction">Thieves’ Auction, just because they didn’t want to spend the next 25 minutes resolving it. Despite this, some people will continue to play these effects, usually with the justification that “It’s for the LOLZ”. If you’re talking about “the LOLZ,” you’re a douchebag. Just sayin’.
If EDH games are a balancing schoolbus, EDH Planechase is like releasing a herd of 50 cats onto the schoolbus, and filling the bus with PCP.
Planechase gives you the opportunity to play a game of Magic through a shifting world of effects, most of which either drastically accelerate the game, or drastically prevent the game from going anywhere.  Generally speaking, this is good when it is your turn, and absolutely the worst experience of all time when it is not.  Some of the planes are fairly symmetrical (the Doubling Season one and the Furnace of Rath one, for example), some are really not (the “Play all your lands” one), and some seem symmetrical but clearly benefit the active player (the “all creatures have +1/+1 and haste” one, the “creatures cost 2 less” one).  All of them have “chaos” abilities that range from kinda bad (free Goat!) to insanely good (free turn!).  Theoretically you choose some number of planes that compliment your deck (your “planar deck,” as it is), and each player in the game does the same.  We’ve never played this way; our strategy was always to shuffle up all 45 (or 86, I suppose) planes and see what happens, in order to screw everyone over equally.
What we found when we played a bunch of games of Planechase EDH was that invariably there was a moment early in the game where one player hit a plane that was substantially more helpful for them than it was for any other player, or rolled a chaos ability that gave them some huge benefit.  The game would then degenerate into everyone trying desperately to deal with that player, and/or trying to get us the fuck off the stupid plane we were on.  This would invariably lead us to another plane that gave a different player a huge lead, forcing everyone else to now deal with them instead (or as well).  Eventually, one of the players who had gotten the boost would inevitably win, and everyone would swear that the format sucked and they never wanted to play it again.
When the rules committee banned Emrakul, the reasoning behind the ban was partially that as soon as he (she? it?) hit the table, the entire game became completely focused on trying to deal with it.  This describes every game of Planechase I have ever played.
The new Planechase product is clearly marketed directly to the EDH crowd.  That’s awesome.  I love getting shiny new things with which to play.  Between this, and the creation of the “Join Forces” mechanic as the flagship “EDH mechanic” from last year’s release, it’s not that big of a jump to infer that someone at Wizards thinks that EDH players love big random “group hug” effects, which is to say that someone at Wizards thinks that EDH players like bad games.  Other than the Join Forces Dragon, I’ve never seen one of the Join Forces cards do anything good in a game ever.
If I ever start updating my blog regularly again, I will write more about this.
I had hoped that the Planechase release event would be different, with the idea that the relative underpoweredness of the precons would create a game that was less prone to big swings.  Wrong.  The fact that the decks were all lower powered just meant that when one player hit the devour 5 plane and summoned a 17/17 on turn 5, no one had answers.  Other than the bad decks, the game was exactly the same as every other one.
So now what?  I suppose the obvious answer is to put the box of planes back on my computer table, and leave it there until Planechase 2016 comes out.  However, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I am still not ready (or willing) to give up on Planechase.  One theoretical solution is to try to actually play the format the “correct” way, with each player bring their own planar deck that corresponds to the particular nuances of their deck.  Off the top of my head, I can think of about 4,000,000,000 reasons why this is a bad idea, chief among them that this does nothing to address the issue of the format being swingy and broken, and in fact substantially amplifies it.  Creating a situation where the player who comes to the table with a Sharuum combo deck now has a supplemental deck of 20 additional combo cards…where do I not sign up?
A better solution might be to play with one of the existent variants for the format, most likely the “Eternity Map” variant.  Full details of this format can be found here; I’m not going to go into it fully, but suffice to say the main difference is that instead of just rawdogging planes off the top of the deck, players can “navigate” which planes they go to (somewhat).  This decreases the randomness somewhat, and adds a more strategic element to the planar die rolling instead of just being “get us the fuck out of here!”
I’ve played a few games of “Eternities Map” that were actually pretty awesome.  The caveat here is that there are three notable downsides of this format, and all are fairly substantial.  The first downside is that it takes up a considerable amount of extra space: when we played it at out LGS, we had a separate card table for the Eternities Map.  This led to the second downside: players who were not highly familiar with both the static and Chaos abilities of each plane spent an awful lot of time shuffling over to the other table, reading the plane cards, shuffling back, etc; this probably added at least another hour to the game.  I would only suggest this variant for players who are all fairly familiar with the planar deck.
The third problem with the Eternities Map circles back to one of the other issues with Planechase in general; it adds additional considerations to the board state.  Let’s face it, EDH board states are fucking complicated.  The ability to evaluate a board state and know what everything does, which things are problems, and how to deal with them are skills that take a lot of work to develop, and asking players to process even more information is often intimidating and frustrating for them.  If you’re going to play Planechase at all, do so with people who are ready and willing to accept challenges.
So it was Saturday.  I went to the Planechase release event which I organized at my local game store, played the deck that nobody else wanted and won by being the second most threatening player at the table.  After the game everyone was like, “this format sucks, let’s play EDH!”  The end is the beginning is the end.
I will continue to try to trick people into playing Planechase with me.  I continue to feel highly ambivalent about the format, because I still want so much to love it and still have absolutely no reason to actually do so.  I do sincerely appreciate that Wizards wants so much to give us nice things to play with, and look forward to endlessly pontificating on this until the release of Archenemy 2k13.
In the meantime, would you like to play with my herd of 50 PCP-addicted cats?
Everything you have heard about Mr. P is probably true.

FLASHBACK – Cards That Should Be Banned In EDH

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on August 6, 2014. Because we actually have a lot of interesting content on the site that has been out there forever, occasionally we’re going to unearth something like this that is germane to current EDH conversations. If any of you read Sheldon’s article on SCG (go google it), it may have gotten you thinking about the banned list. So here’s Mr. P delivering some serious truth with his usual, snarky brilliance. 

Hey y’all!

Here’s a list of cards that should be banned in EDH:

Hey, that was fun!

XO, ->Mr. P

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And Now, Mr. P Reviews the New(ish) Generals from Shadows Over Innistrad (with Bonus Oath of the Gatewatch content!)

I think people have Innistrad all wrong. Everyone seems to think that it’s a “horror themed” plane, overrun by terrible things and tropes and cliches from Hammer films. How conventional!

Here’s my interpretation; Innistrad is actually the #1 party destination in the multiverse. I mean, look at those people! They know how to party! 

Party vampires

Let’s party!

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Every Deck Doctor Ever

Hi! I’m hoping you can help me with my rando theme deck I made. I really like this particular General, and I had this cool idea for what to do with it. Here’s my decklist:

[spoiler title=”Rando Noob’s Deck”]Copy/Paste results of general search here[/spoiler]

I really like these particular cards, because I like the way they interact with the general and/or I think they have cool art.

Can you please help me make my deck cooler and more interesting?


Rando Noob


Hi Noob-

EDH is a format that is all about finding something cool, and doing it.  It’s a chance to play cards that normal people would think you are insane for playing.  It’s all about originality, creativity, and doing what you like.

That sounded sincere, right? Ok, good! So anyways, from looking over your list, it’s really clear that you are missing three key components of all Commander decks:

  1. Ramp
  2. Tutors
  3. Staples

Let’s get on it!

So first off, let’s cut these ten cards that you chose because they connected with the “theme” of your deck. That’s nice and all, but let’s replace them with Ramp. After all, you are going to want to cast your spells! Are you in Green? If not, let’s add in Green so that you can Ramp. Sure, you’ll have to change your General, but who cares? It’s not like you chose it for a reason or anything.

Cool, so now we’re going to move to the Tutors. Looking over your list, I see a substantial dearth of Tutors, so let’s cut these twelve cards and replace them with Tutors. Are you in Black already? Black has the best Tutors, so let’s put that in. Cool? Cool!

Finally, I see a depressing lack of Staples in this thing. You aren’t even running Exsanguinate! Exsanguinate is a common sight at Commander tables, and for good reason. You’re not going to ramp to 40 and kill people from full health, but it can be brought back again and again with Seasons Past, and even firing it off for a relatively small number will give you an enormous life buffer while weakening your opponents.

So anyways, let’s cut these twenty-two cards and replace them with whatever the 22 most played out and overpowered GoodStuff cards possible are. Rise of the Dark Realms? Insurrection? Tooth and Nail? Toss ‘em in, baby!

With regards to the lands, let’s put in every fetch land, every shock, Revised dual, and Winding Canyons. Boom! Manabase!

So anyways, now you have a Commander deck that you can be proud of.  Sure, it will do the same boring thing every single game, but you’ll be too busy grinding wins to care! After all, that’s why we play this format!

See you next time, when I give the exact same advice to some other Rando Noob!


->Mr. P

And Now (6 Months Late), Mr. P Reviews the Generals from Battle For Zendikar…

Oh hey!

So it’s been a while, and I’ve been slacking like a boss.  I believe the last one of these atrocities I dropped on the world was back when Magic: Origins was the new set, and then Cass’s life went pear shaped and Dave had a baby and GenCon happened and I bought a house and then it’s February and I still haven’t even said anything snarky about the Experience Counter Debacle of 2015.  Let’s start to fix that, shall we?

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And Now, Mr. P Reviews the New Generals from Magic Origins

White Jail Man

What is the most obvious thing you can do with it?

Wow! Nice starting point! This thing is terrible!

How does it compare to previous generals?

Mono white has a long history of terrible Legends. Meet the newest member of that pantheon.

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EDH Winner of the Week: Being Nice!

(DISCLAIMER: This is not personal. I am not talking about you specifically. The only person I am talking about specifically in this article is Mr. P. Don’t take this personally unless you have reason to.)

Hey, did you read Cassidy’s article from Friday? Go read that!

Ok! So, maybe some of the things he said don’t apply to you. Maybe some of the things he said offended you. It’s all good. Mr. P loves you, baby!

(For reals! I was originally going to write this article as a comment on Cass’s article, but I don’t want to deprive any of y’all of this gold! Lookout!)

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EDH Winner of the Week: Standardized Testing!

Here’s an Open-Response Question, just for you!

You are playing a game of EDH against your pet goldfish, Chuck.  Chuck has no cards in hand, and has just sacrificed all of his lands to Zuran Orb, ignoring that Forsaken Wastes is in play (He’s a goldfish, after all.)  There are no creatures in play.  

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Boot It and Toot It

The rules committee recently changed the Tuck Rule. You may have heard about it.

I personally don’t give two hoots about the new Tuck Rule, although I do think the part about how if your General would be bounced it can now go back to the Command Zone is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

What. The name has “boot” in it. Deal.

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