Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: CK

Lens of Clarity – April 2016 (Shadows Over Innistrad Edition)

I’ve never had the chance to live in a country that enjoys four different seasons, but I’m sure it doesn’t take much to understand what a wonderful season spring is. The harsh cold of the winter makes way for the crisp chill of spring, life starts to flourish again…and the smell of fresh new Magic cards is in the air!

Yes, the much-hyped Shadows Over Innistrad hits shelves Friday, and though I can’t say the same for the people of Innistrad, I’m so looking forward to it!

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Lens of Clarity: March 2016 – The Grand Pinata

I’ve been surfing a lot of Tumblr and Reddit recently, and I’ve noticed two variants which are similar to each other in some ways. The concepts seem quite interesting, and promising, so for this article, I’d like to channel my judge mojo and see if I can marry the two and create a fun variant!


Here’s quoting the original writeup:

This is quite possibly my favorite EDH variant. Each player plays their deck as usual, but players can’t attack each other and can’t deal damage to each other, but they can block each other. In the center lies a Piñata. The Piñata begins the game with 25 life for each player in the game, and whoever deals the final blow to the Piñata wins the game. It’s an interesting combination of teamwork in the early game and sheer terror in the late game.”

– “EDH Variants: A Guide” by generally-edh (


I’ve always been enamored by the concept of Archenemy, and this variant has that feel to it – just that instead of everyone teaming up to defeat a common enemy, this time it’s every man for himself, looking to land the fatal blow for all the honor and glory.

This variant looks very promising, because it’s simple to understand and can scale up very easily. The author put the number of players at 3-8, but there’s no reason why this cannot be increased, albeit with the trade-off of turnover time between turns.

Unnamed Three-Player Variant

I took my reference from this Reddit thread which itself is an attempt to codify the rules for this variant first brought up in another Reddit thread.

Essentially, each player has his/her designated punching bag to deal damage to, and can’t deal damage to the other players. Instead of reducing the life totals of other players to zero or below, the aim is to pulverize his/her punching bag by reducing its life total to zero or less, or by dealing sufficient Commander damage to it – pretty much the same as a normal game of EDH.

Having looked through the discussions in both threads, I’ve come to the conclusion that this one would be much more challenging to codify, and then certain categories of cards might work unintuitively. That said, some of the replies that tried to write up a ruleset were quite well-thought out, and I’ll be borrowing from some of them for this article.


Here’s my attempt on what I would call The Grand Pinata, paying homage to the name from which I drew inspiration.

The rules are essentially the same as in Commander, with the following exceptions:


  • The Grand Pinata (GP) starts with 40 life for each player in the game.

Remember that in classical free-for-all, your objective is to reduce everyone’s life total to zero or less, so this is essentially similar to what everyone would be trying to do to the table as a whole. Feel free to adjust this life total to suit the needs of your group!


  • You win the game if the GP’s life total is reduced to 0 or less by a source you control that would affect another player’s life total. You also win the game if you deal 21 points of Commander damage to the GP. All other rules for ending the game also apply.

The first line looks complicated, but what it’s trying to say that you can’t suicide your way to victory with cards like Ad Nauseam, or Sign in Blood with the GP at one life. Let’s say Cass grabs a bunch of cards with Ad Nauseam, dropping GP to -10. He doesn’t win on the spot; instead, the game continues. Then, Dave casts Healing Salve, targeting Cass. GP’s life total becomes -7…and Dave wins, because his effect caused the GP’s life total to become less than zero, even though it was a life-gain effect! Interestingly enough, if Dave were to target himself instead, then the game would still continue!

Weird stuff eh?

Overall, it’s one step up, one step down from your normal free-for-all, in the sense that although you now have to reduce “your” life total to 0 as well, but at the same time you just have to deal lethal Commander damage to one target.

And of course, you can always beat the table by milling everyone out, or dealing 10 poison counters to the GP, or…well, you get what I mean.


  • Any life cost that you pay would come from the GP’s life total. You can’t pay a life cost equal to or greater than the GP’s life total.

This rule might easily be the most controversial, simply because of cards like Necropotence. I mean, who’s to stop you from paying 75 life to put 75 cards into your hand?!

The way I see it, with any variant, there are bound to be some cards that are overpowered at worst or holy-crap-this-is-broken at best – Serra Ascendant comes to mind as one such offender. That said, I believe that there’s no good way to police the format, other than our trusty Social Contract.


  • If you would gain or lose life, instead the GP gains or loses that much life. You can choose the GP as a target for effects that would affect a life total.

Cass casts Banefire for X = 10, targeting the GP. The GP takes ten damage, simple.

Dave casts Fall of the Titans for X = 10, targeting the GP and Kaka. Kaka doesn’t lose life; instead the GP takes ten and ten, for a total of twenty.

Kaka casts Exsanguinate for X = 10. Cass and Dave don’t lose life; instead the GP loses twenty and gains twenty. Kaka is a sad panda.

For that last scenario, I meant for it to be this way because a spell like this is zero-sum, but I’d be happy to hear alternative takes on this.


  • During the declare blockers step, each other player may declare blockers. To do this, follow the rules for declaration of blockers. Once a creature is designated as a blocker, it cannot be undesignated. Declaration of blockers is complete when each other player passes without designating at least one blocker

For instance, Cass attacks the GP with two 8/8 Kraken tokens, with the GP facing lethal damage. Unsure if Kaka will declare blockers, Dave chooses to play safe, and uses one of his 5/5 Dragon tokens to chump-block. Kaka then chumps the other with his 3/3 Elephant token. Seeing this, Dave decides to instead block the Kraken that Kaka’s Elephant is blocking.

“No more blockers, “ says Kaka, and Dave echoes.

Now Dave and Kaka discuss whose creature to put in front of the firing line first. Once the order is decided, declaration of blockers is completed, and Cass gets priority to continue doing his nasty things.

Now, let’s talk about two specific categories of cards (that immediately popped into my head) and how they might work in this variant!

Propaganda VS Norn’s Annex VS War Tax

  • Propaganda is pretty much a dead card in this format since you can’t be directly attacked by creatures.
  • Norn’s Annex will still retain some of its functions by taxing anyone that tries to attack your planeswalkers.
  • War Tax works very well because of the way it’s worded. Stop the attackers cold in their tracks even before they move out!

Purphoros, God of the Forge and other cards that affect “each opponent”

In the interest of consistency, since the GP and your opponents can be targeted for life loss, the GP will be counted as an opponent. In a three-player game, one Purphoros trigger will deal 6 damage to the GP!

So there you have it! If nothing else, this was a wonderful thought exercise for me, and I hope it’s been the same for you. Feel free to leave comments for me, tell me what you feel needs improvement, and most importantly, give it a shot! Who knows, this variant might turn out to be more fun than you thought!


Lens of Clarity Two: The Afterlife

Hey there everyone! CK the resident Man In Black is back with this latest installment of Lens of Clarity. I’m not one to write lengthy intros so without further ado…hang on tight, everyone, it’s going to be a wild ride down the rabbit hole!

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Lens of Clarity – Examining the Command Zone

Hey folks! Welcome to Lens of Clarity; the name for my regular monthly article, where we look under the morph overlay card to see whether that pesky 2/2 creature is an Akroma, Angel of Fury, a Willbender, or a Scornful Egotist!

…Okay, more accurately, we’ll look at how some of the interactions we love and hate work under the hood. I like the image of examining something by peering intently through a monocle, and somehow the art for Lens of Clarity appealed to me, so I thought it might be apt to use it as my column name.

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2015 Resolutions – Hatching My Plans

Hello everyone!   It’s the start of a brand new year…that time of the year when everyone makes grand plans about the next 364 days to come. Hatching Plans

You may have a short list, or you may have a long list; on New Year’s Eve 2016, you might look back at this year and reflect on the resolutions you’ve made, and on those that you’ve missed. Whatever the case is, I strongly believe in having a set of goals to achieve, because then you have a direction in which you proceed. 

With that, I’d like to share my MTG-related goals for this year!

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