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Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Commanders (Page 1 of 3)

Form Versus Function – a Partner Commanders Follow-up

I have had the privilege—or maybe the pain (depends on the person)—to work with creative designers for most of my professional career, as well as having many friends that are in various design fields. This has led me to expand my own creativity and helped me understand their workflow and how the creative process works for many of them. This has also increased my understanding of a debate that I think most designers have constantly as they work on projects: Form versus Function. Basically, it boils down to a question of, when you create something, whether it doesn’t need to look good, it just needs to work, or is it about the aesthetic the project yields? Apple has tried to create products that capture both of these elements, with devices that look beautiful and perform flawlessly. Magic could be the same way but does Wizards hi the mark?

From The Beginning.

Now that I have you thinking, let me start from the beginning. In my last article, I spoke about the C16 generals and how in my opinion Wizards missed the mark on the partner mechanic when it comes to theme. It appeared to me they focused mostly on the Function of creating great toolbox commanders and not so much on the Form or theme of the commanders. This generated a lot of great discussion (people I love comments), both on thewebsite and in my twitter mailbox, which I thought was awesome. It has also led me here to an article I think is important to write. For the rest of this article we will replace Form with theme as I feel like this is still the same discussion, but theme fits it a little better in the Magic world. Before I hop into each area, know that there is no right or wrong answers here, just a balance that you need to find to maximize your enjoyment of the game. Once you find that, use the social contract to find a group that values the same thing (or as close as you can get. Honestly it’s a lot like hand grenades, close is good enough).gg

Theme.

Players have often pushed against theme, saying it isn’t important. In fact, some players go so far as to speak against the story of Magic and how it gets in the way of just playing the game. Theme doesn’t have to be a part of the game you enjoy, but it is a major motivation for a large percent of people that play. Why else are the most popular tribes in magic dragons and angels if most dragon and angel cards never see competitive play? Theme.

Wizards is committed to the story of magic, and they do push themes and metagames to fit their vision of a set. Every set’s design starts with world development, when they determine their key characters and start build cards around the characters and interactions. For instance, look at the Eldrazi sets. There was no way of getting around playing with them and the eldrazi cards, which makes sense since the characters were the flagship images their sets. Wizards built the story around the Eldrazi (Theme) and made sure their cards were pushed to be very efficient and powerful (Function). The Magic Story that goes up every Wednesday also proves this point, as they even interrupted the standard story to give a little background story on the four-color commanders from the C16 set. If Wizards throws that much money at the story, then it should be clear that they believe theme/story/world building is extremely important to a good many people.

Function.

Function is a core reason why most of us play the game. We strive to create decks whose functions meets our goals and gives us the experience we desire. In some cases we take it so far that we feel like the only thing important in a deck is how it functions. In fact, some people take no interest in art and story; for them the key is only how fast and efficient can I make my deck. Some EDH groups enjoy this. One group I played with felt if an EDH game went more than four turns it wasn’t worth it (it cut into the amount of games you could have after all). If that is your group’s goal this is fine, just as long as everyone is on the same page.

However, restricting a deck to only focus on function limits your card pool. I call this the “25 best” syndrome. You just acquire the 25 best cards of each color and that is in effect all you play with, because if your focus is only on function why play cards that aren’t the strongest at all times. When people get focused on this style of play, decks tend to get very linear and very similar, which can lead to games feeling the same. It does have the effect keeping a collection smaller and probably cheaper in the long term, however.

All Together Now.

15d53af5646611f844f6846a0dc75785So why try to balance the two together? Why not just focus on that of function? Those are questions we chat about all the time at GDC and honestly the answer generally comes back as, “It’s all been done before.” Now some believe that every deck has been done before, but I can say without a doubt that the closer you get to having that perfectly functioning deck, or the deck that is the most optimized, the closer your deck is to everyone else’s. With a smaller card pool, even different decks start to look alike. When different generals leading “different” decks start to lose their ability to stand out, they become more a toolbox type of general and not something you use to build a story or play out the lore.

The toolbox approach is why I was critical of Wizards in my last article. Partners can be a very rich and fun mechanic, but at least the first iteration focused mainly on good-stuff generals. They are good, but they lack thematic definition. Instead of theme, they become defined by function: combat, or group hug, or card draw. They lack a theme or identity to really build around. Without this build-around theme, they lost the people who want to add a story or theme to their deck. Like in life, the key to making the game fire on all cylinders is balance, like if the Partner Commanders still maintained their functionality but also nailed Theme. You can’t have just theme or just function. Leave one out and you are leaving out a whole subset of players not interested in what you are creating. The story boards and world building are already there so why not make sure you use them.

 Wrap It up.

Give it a try. See what adding more balance (via Theme) to your decks does for you play experience, no matter which side you find yourself on. If you already do, great! I hope to sit across from the table from you and see cards played that make me stop and need to read them as you smile along. There’s nothing better than seeing something hit the table I have yet to see and to see it do work!

Until next time, focus on balance, this is EDH.Ghost out!

Editor’s Note:
On a personal note, I feel somewhat conflicted running regular EDH content today, when there’s so much heavy stuff happening in the United States. After discussing it with the team, I was convinced of the value people get from having a place where they can stop thinking about serious issues to recharge. I am not a fan of separating one’s political & moral/social stances from their professional or personal lives, but I respect that others find a break for the political barrage useful. If you want to talk about what’s going on, or have any questions (fair warning, I’m relatively liberal), I’m on twitter: @MdaveCS. Thanks for reading and understanding.

Follow the Leader – Exploring a New (C16) Batch of Wizards’ Finest!

Since many of you are fresh of Aether Revolt prereleases, and now we have the benefit of a few months’ of wisdom, let’s take a look at Commander 2016. With every new product Wizards releases, we need to take a deep and critical look at the cards and ideas within the set as a community. You probably know that the set hosts two separate sets of commanders, the four-color Legends and the partner sets that are themselves a new mechanic. Let’s dive in and start taking a look at what is and what could have been.

Partners

The Partner mechanic was debuted as a way to build four-color decks using two-color creatures, and thus not break the color pie. Mark Rosewater said the problem with creating four-color commanders is they end up more about the color missing than the colors present, so this is an interesting approach for sure. But the question is, do two-color commanders that can be combined lead to good Commander decks, or even a good play experience? I honestly think that partners could be a good mechanic, but I don’t think the direction Wizards went was the right one. My second question is, “Will it be a mechanic like experience counters or the planeswalker commanders that get made and then seemingly will never be supported again?”

partner-300x200

We are StockPhotoCaptainPlanet!

Theme

Theme is in my opinion the biggest fail to the Partner mechanic as implemented. Let’s take a look at a few of random pairs. First, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Tana, the Bloodsower – what theme could these two have together? What do they do to complement each other? How much cooler would it have been to get a whole storyline, like the Weatherlight crew, instead of just random figures throughout the lore? Or what if one of the pairs could be Stitcher Geralf and Ghoulcaller Gisa[/card}, how much of a flavor win would that be? The Partner mechanic has so much design space. Maybe if we ever see it again, the fine people at Wizards will see fit to push themes…or will we they miss this opportunity again?

Function Vs. Toolbox

You can find plenty of debates about the good and bad of Wizards designers pushing into the Commander space with “made-for” cards being so tailored for the format they become a must to play. See, for example, [card]Command Tower These Partner commanders are less about the function of a new commander that brings a new angle to the game, and more about commanders that are a toolbox. Need card draw? Great. Play Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus. Need recursion? Then play Ravos, Soultender. The generals seem to me to not be exploring new ground, but more just will make it easier for the format to homogenize. Maybe Wizards thinks there’s no new ground to explore in EDH?

4-Color Generals

Let’s take a look at the four-color generals, as I feel like these hit the mark a little better than the partners.

Atraxa-Praetors-Voice-C16-Spoiler-216x302Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice is the most popular of generals so far. She has skyrocketed to the top of sites like www.edhrec.com. Why wouldn’t she, as she has a lot going for her? 4/4 body for 4 CMC, flying, vigilance, deathtouch and lifelink. Not to mention she is an Angel, one of the most prolific of tribes, with some kick-ass art. With Proliferate at the end of every turn, she is a general that can be pretty linear but still has the ability to helm different types of decks.

In fact, I have her at the head of an Angel tribal deck that also plays with ways to hand out +1/+1 counters. The only complaint I have with her is I really don’t see the green influence. Yes, some of the abilities can be found in green, but they are more primary in her other colors. Many have been complaining that she is broken, and it’s true she can take counter themes and infect over the top very quickly, but I don’t see a broken commander, just an efficient one within her wheelhouse. I give her a solid B but nothing higher.
Breya, Etherium Shaper, oh how I hate thee! In a lot of ways this is the thopter queen everyone wanted. She creates thopters, can sac for profit, and create more thopters. The artwork is amazing (I should know, because I have it hanging on my wall). The card also hits each of its four colors better than Atraxa does, and has relevant abilities. So why do I hate it, you ask? Because it will always lead to broken artifact decks. No matter how you build them, you will look down and realize you can go infinite, even without meaning to (right Dave?). I have seen many builds and every one of them, even though many try to do something different, always function the same way. Will Aether Revolt add enough thopters so this deck can be a sweet tribal? Probably, but you won’t see those decks. You will only get the broken ones. I give her a D as I think she becomes this year’s Nekusar, the Mindrazer.

 

Kynaios-and-Tiro-of-Meletis-Commander-2016-Spoiler-216x302Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is built to be a group hug card that helps games along and it does that effectively; however, this is a card that I also don’t care for at all. First, I am not a group hug player, so symmetrical effect cards are never high on my list. You can build your deck to take “better” advantage of it, until another deck takes just enough advantage of it with better quality cards to beat you. Secondly, these two dudes don’t represent their colors well? Where is the white or red influence in the design? There is nothing that says red to me, or white except Solider. Let’s be honest, that is weak indeed. The card does have amazing art but overall I grade the card as a C.
Saskia the Unyielding, hits on a lot of cylinders here. It has a relevant creature type in Human Soldier (much like Kynaios), very good damage output, and is built in way to affect politics at the table. Just imagine, “Hey. Let me hit you for 3 to kill off the threat at the table.” The effects seem to match the game plan of attacking and dealing damage, and even though the target is selected on cast, it can be reset as the game develops. Again, Saskia lacks identity in one of her colors. Where is the influence from black? I give a C+, mainly for not hitting all four colors. In fact, many of these generals feel like three-color commanders rather than four. This could be the result of fearing of making them too strong, so instead they held back a little.

 

Yidris-Maelstrom-Wielder-Commander-2016-Spoiler-216x302Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder lives by one powerful ability, cascade. Cheating mana cost is always a strong play in Magic, and being able to do it with every spell on a given turn after doing combat damage can be huge. Since Yidris functions based on combat damage plus cascade, the card isn’t linear and can helm many different decks. That being said, stopping combat really stops this commander. Again, it doesn’t reflect all its colors well and has the feel of a three-color commander stretched to four colors. Like Atraxa, I give Yidris a B.

 

Closing time

For years, we as a community have been asking for four-color commanders, and Wizards listened and provided them this year. The reason it took so long was Wizards was trying to get it right. The question is did they hit it and give us the toys we have been wanting all along? Yes, we have some decent four-color commanders now, although I would argue they are more like three-color than four. But they do have four colors in their casting cost. Yes, we have a great mechanic that can be expanded in partners. Though the execution this time around was weak, they have a lot they can build on in the future. Though these commanders quality is mixed, Wizards is developing decks that are more out-of-the-package playable, and this year’s have an ability to play a good game.

You also can’t overlook the fact that Wizards is listening, even if they still haven’t reprinted my damn Damnation!

Until next time, keep your head down, this is EDH.Ghost out!

Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation – Selesnya Update 1/2/2017

seanblacksheep

Editor’s Note: If you’ve been keeping up with the setting for this project and want to jump right into what Sean has to say about Selesnya, just scroll down a bit. 

“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

I’ve been working on this project on and off for over a years now, all thanks to an email I received in early May of 2015, requesting an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

Today, we’re updating the Selesnya section of hated generals who deserve their bad reputation.

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Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation – Update 12/28/2016

seanblacksheep

“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

I’ve been working on this project on and off for over a years now, all thanks to an email I received in early May of 2015, requesting an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

Today, we’re updating the Azorius section.

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Lens of Clarity 6: I think It’s Catching

Disclaimer: every now and then, I run out of rules content to cover, because there’s only so much space for that in EDH. I believe I hit the ball out of the park in the beginning, with articles which I thought really helped answer some doubts frequently raised during EDH games. But just in case, I prepared a stockpile of ideas for when the well runs dry. This seems like one of those times.

I’d love to answer your (EDH Rules) questions, so feel free to hit me up at ongchinkai AT gmail DOT com if you have any. For now, enjoy!

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Returning to Grenzo

I ran Daretti, Scrap Savant last week in a four-man game including two people I had never played with before and an old friend of mine who I know well. Daretti did not perform well, mainly because I built him with my older playgroup in mind: grindy, swingy, big plays. Instead I got guys who just wanted to have fun and cast spells that made us laugh as kids.

Things like Jokulhaups. For no reason.

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Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation – Update 6/2/2015

seanblacksheep

 

“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

In early May, in the midst of a flurry of public debate about reputations and Magic players, I received a request for an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

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Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation – Update 5/26/2015

seanblacksheep

 

“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

In early May, in the midst of a flurry of public debate about reputations and Magic players, I received a request for an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

Read More

Generals That Deserve Their Bad Reputation

seanblacksheep

 

“Ugh, Arcum? OK Fine. Every body kill him first.” Ever heard something like that?

In early May, in the midst of a flurry of public debate about reputations and Magic players, I received a request for an article about Commanders that have bad reputations, how those generals earned the rap, whether it is deserved, how to fight against these commanders, and ideas to play differently using them to improve their reputation.

Read More

Mental Cesspool 5 – Command and Conquer

Hey there everyone. It’s Unkle Kaka time; once again I’m vomiting out my own blend of madness. Last time we took a quick interlude as I needed to rave and rant about being an older and experienced player trying to play nice with newer and less-experienced players. Today, we’re sliding back into the realm of storm decks and Commander. Specifically, I want to look into the viable Commanders for a storm strategy.

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