Commander is such a popular format that sometimes we forget that it is completely casual. This means that unless we are playing online or at events, we are free to try out variations on the game. No Commander Rules Police will show up and slap the cards out of our hands and mace us for not following the rules on mtgcommander.net to the letter. The rules were written to give an example of how to keep the intended flavor and casual level of Commander.
For the most part, I believe that the rules committee has hit their target in that respect. One section I believe they have missed on is color identity, specifically in regards to hybrid mana. Currently, hybrid cards can only be played in decks which have a color identity of both colors of the hybrid mana. I believe that we could have more freedom in building Commander decks if the color identity rules changes to view these cards as either color instead of both.
There are two types of hybrid, or split, mana. There are cards with two mana symbols such as Unmake and Kitchen Finks. Then there are cards with colorless mana and colored mana such as Flame Javelin and Beseech the Queen. Usually included in this discussion is Phyrexian mana from cards like Tezzeret’s Gambit. My opinion is that all of these should be treated in the same way, a new way; they are fine.
This isn’t a new argument. I’ve been discussing this with players for as long as I have played Commander. My biggest argument for allowing these cards is, “why not? It’s a casual game and you can still only produce mana in your color identity, right? So hybrid should be fine…”
Addressing the Responses to “Why not?”
There are a number of arguments against allowing hybrid mana to be used in Commander, so let me address them.
- Hybrid cards allow colors access to cards and/or abilities that don’t belong in those colors.
- Hybrid mana has both mana symbols, so represents both colors on the symbol. It represents hybridization so to speak.
- Allowing hybrid cards would increase the prevalence of these spells and would create a larger list of staples.
- Allowing hybrid mana in mono color decks takes away from the special feel that multi-color decks have.
Hybrid cards allow access to abilities outside of that color.
There are hundreds of hybrid mana cards so it would take a while to defend them all. Let’s go back to 2005 and take a look at what Aaron Forsyth had to say about hybrid mana:
As you will read in the article, they are very concerned with the color pie when making hybrid cards. They make sure that every card fits with both colors on the card, at least philosophically. For example, Privileged Position was the first white card to provide troll shroud, hexproof, in white. Since then we have seen Leonin Abunas, Leyline of Sanctity, Spirit of the Hearth, and Imperial Mask. Even if a hybrid card gives a color an ability it never had before, you can be assured that Wizards R&D believes that it fits in that color.
Should cards like Flame Javelin be allowed in any deck? There are only five cards with colorless hybrid mana. Let’s see if any of them would be a problem or don’t belong in a colorless color identity.
- Reaper King
- 10 cmc for a 6/6 artifact creature? It would cost seven or more mana outside a five-color deck. Has a Vindicate ability? It looks a little like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, costs a ton, and continually destroys stuff. Seems like this wouldn’t be a problem in any given deck.
- Beseech the Queen
- Advice from the Fae
- Flame Javelin
- Tower Above
- See Advice from the Fae comments. Even if this wasn’t a combination of abilities available on equipment cards, it’s not good enough to actually play in any deck.
Hybrid cards represent a mixing of the two colors so should be considered both.
The response to this criticism is essentially the same as the first one. It is simply a misinterpretation of the card design. People see Unmake and think Swords to Plowshares or Path to exile and forget cards like Eradicate, Dark Impostor, and Ashes to Ashes exist. There is a reason why you can effectively play these hybrid cards in decks with no mana production of the other color; that is how they were designed.
Allowing hybrid cards would make a larger list of staples and make more decks look alike.
We see shared staples a lot with artifacts and that is where the fear comes from. There are a ton of decks running Sol Ring, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Solemn Simulacrum. Commander appeals to many players because your deck can feel uniquely your own. The more decks start to look alike the further from that ideal we would drift.
My personal observations on this have been that the more options available to decks, the less likely the decks are to need to lean on staples. Decks with restrictions or strong themes tend to be more similar than decks that have more options. Put one Kaalia of the Vast, Sliver Overlord, or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed deck next to another with the same Commander and you will see tons of cards in common. Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, Progenitus, and Balthor the Defiled decks, on the other hand, will probably vary greatly from deck to deck.
For cards being used across different decks, their overall prevalence would increase. However, people tend to use artifacts to fill those gaps. I’d rather see a split of Unmake and Duplicant than see Duplicant present in so many decks that are looking for that exile removal.
Hybrid mana would take away from the special nature of multi-color decks.
This is absolutely true. Giving mono-color decks access to a larger card pool would reduce some of the relative advantages of running a multi-color deck. But I think this is a good thing. I see so many more gold decks than mono-colored decks. However, mono-colored decks are less expensive by their nature. It would be nice to make the format more accessible and see more of the mono-colored Commanders in use.
The Rules Committee tends to err on the side of caution when it comes to rules. They are afraid if they give players too much freedom the game will lose what gives it flavor and the unique feel of Commander. Hybrid mana, restrictions on what cards can be Commanders, and a robust ban list are all examples of the RC trying to guarantee we have more fun. I believe Commander is a casual format that doesn’t need a lot of extra restrictions to be fun. The aim of the Rules Committee should be to try and trim down the restrictions to the simplest set of rules possible to still maintain the feel of the format. And allowing hybrid mana is one way they could do that
What are your thoughts on hybrid mana? Leave comments below or message me @swordstoplow on Twitter.