Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Flashback Friday

Black Sheep – A Difference of Opinion

New Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on October 17, 2013. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. It feels like we’ve known and loved Sean (@SwordstoPlow) for ever, but there was a time when Cass and I (Dave) debated if he was too competitive to be a good fit. Now he’s a big, feel-good softy working at Card Kingdom and an essential spirit animal at GDC. 

(Editors’ Note-

Today, we’re officially welcoming a new writer to the GDC family.  Many of you already know Sean Patchen (@SwordsToPlow) from his time writing for, or his own Serious Tryhard Podcast on  As you’ll see, Sean has an outlook that is a bit different than what most of us here possess, but nonetheless, we’re glad to have him onboard, as he is as fiercely proud of defending the social contract as we are. 

Sean brings a perspective that will challenge us as much as we intend to challenge him, and I have no doubt that we’re looking at an exciting broadening of our horizons as a whole.  It’s good to challenge the status quo, as it can be easy to forget that no matter the perspective, we all love the format at the end of the day. 

Sean, welcome to GDC.


The problem I have with most information sources is inbreeding.  People naturally want to work with friends, and this doesn’t escape the online avenues for information.  It leads to people writing articles and posting stories where the only disagreements they see are in the comments sections.  Those disagreements often get written off as ‘trolls’.  If no one ever challenges an ideal, there is no real way to tell if the ideal is true or not.  Without challenge, someone could go their whole life believing in something that simply isn’t true. is run on the principle of upholding the social contract. Most of authors here have beliefs on what plays in Commander can be considered to be fair, and which ones tear apart the social contract.  I have a contrasting belief.  I honestly believe that there isn’t a single card by itself that ruins the social contract.  Cards don’t kill playgroups, people do.

The reason anyone plays Commander is to have fun.  The ideal of a social contract for Commander is the ideal that everyone playing has an equal right to have fun in the format.  This means while it may be important to one individual that they are having fun, disregarding how anyone else feels will break the idea of a social contract.

Denying players’ fun out of the game is just as bad as denying players’ fun in the game.  Let’s take land destruction for example.  Many people (not all, regardless of what angry internet people say) dislike mass land destruction as part of a tactic.  They advocate having no one play it, ever.  Taking that tactic away is like pissing in the cornflakes of a player who likes Armageddon.  Telling someone not to play a tactic they enjoy is really telling those people not to play at all.

What could be less fun in Commander than not playing?

If a social contract is supposed to be something where everyone is treated equally, why is it that most advice given is about stopping people from doing something they like?  When a player in your group uses a tactic you didn’t enjoy being beaten with, you need to come to a social compromise that can keep both players happy.  Maybe find a way that he can continue to use the tactic, but less often.  Or, try and figure out what it is about mass land destruction that really makes you upset.  I guarantee it’s not just the loss of mana resources by itself.

From what I have observed and heard complaints about, the situations people like the least are:

  • Games where nothing happens for a long time
  • Games where one player is playing and the other players are just watching
  • Games that are over before a player got to do anything.

In general, mass land destruction is hated because it can cause all three situations.  If someone plays it at the wrong time, the game restarts and takes a long time to pick back up.   Played at the right time, but with an only slightly advantageous board state, it can turn into watching the player who cast it slowly kill the board over many long turns.  Played early on, it can possibly end a game before it has even begun.  However, if later in the game someone casts Armageddon and then continues to win the next turn, people usually don’t mind.

Even though I will be advocating tactics that many other authors on this site may be against, I want you to know where I am coming from.  I am 100% for people having fun and keeping with a social contract in Commander.  I just don’t believe that tactics need to be thrown out for that to be possible.

I’m glad to be here as a part of GDC, where we uphold the social contract.




Flashback Friday – When “Social” Breaks Down – The Ugly Side Of EDH

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on September 17, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. We’ve been talking about the Social Contract vis-a-vi the banned list a LOT internally. Here’s a great look back into some of the site’s earlier thoughts about the Social Contract. 

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Flashback Friday : All Your Saproling Tokens Are Belong To Us

Editor’s Note: Erik’s choice this week. We’re taking it way back. Anyone else remember me referring to myself as “DJ”?

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Thursday at GDC: Thraximundar Test Drive

Hello, loyal readers, and welcome to GDC.  Just as a quick FYI, I’m giving thought to moving the regular Wednesday update to Thursday in order to be able to better leverage reporting on my regular mid-week games.  (I *could* save the reports for Friday, but I’m old, and if I don’t type up results as soon as they happen, I’ll end up leaving out about 90% of what happened.  No bueno.)  What say you all?  Let me know in the comments if you absolutely can’t go without a regular Wednesday fix.

Anyway, the coffee has kicked in, so let’s do this!

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Flashback Friday… er SATURDAY: The Danger of Nice Things – Intet and the Problem of Good Stuff, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on May 21, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday (Saturday this week…), because what’s old is new again. In honor of Cassidy re-buying into the format yesterday, with his sole deck being the quintessential Cassidy-UR-Judo experience, we thought it would be fun to go back to some of the earliest “anti-goodstuff” thoughts from Team GDC. 
I’m a bad person.
No, really.
I’ve been lying to you all this entire time.  You come here twice a week to hear me tell stories and complain about improper threat assessment.  (Okay, maybe you come in spite of that last one.)  I try to be honest with you and give you interesting, engaging, and funny things to read.  After all, I want you coming back every time I post something.
But I put on a show as well.  I like to talk about the things I don’t like about EDH.  I don’t like infect or mass-land destruction.  I talk about my dislike of Mind Twist effects, and I don’t play with the “general damage” rule.
I rail on “good stuff” builds.
The problem is that sometimes…just sometimes…I head up to my man-loft (dirt-floor basement, people.  The humidity kills my foils down there…), lock the door behind me, dim the lights, and start dreaming up new ways to accelerate into a turn five Tooth and Nail for Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar.
Good people do bad things.  Sometimes they just can’t help it.
I admit that I’m frequently guilty of falling prey to “good stuff.”  Let’s face it…if you run green, it’s really hard not to slot Eternal Witness or Primeval Titan into your deck.  Consecrated Sphinx is too strong to pass up.  Have you seen what happens when you resolve Rite of Replication targeting it?  To be fair, it does suck to have someone immediately resolve Insurrection afterward…
…See?  It’s really easy to slide comfortably into the ‘goodstuff’ trap.  It’s like a nice warm bed on a cold winter morning – once you’re in it, it feels way too good, and it’s really hard to force yourself to get back out of it.
 When I build, I try really hard not to fall into the trap of auto-including cards like this just because they’re solid cards, but I do tend to pepper in a few here and there across my various deck lists.
But with Intet, I run them all.  And then some.  The deck is a powerhouse based on the sheer volume of game-altering card choices contained within it.
Yup.  Huge hypocrite.  Nice to meet you.  Guilty as charged.
Before you show up with pitchforks and torches at my front door, though, let’s look at the “how” and the “why.”
As I’ve said before, I was drawn to Intet not for the colors, but because of the ability.  I’m a sucker for all things free, so I couldn’t resist building around Intet’s “bring a friend” trigger.  As I spent more time in the format, however, I came to realize that this particular enemy color shard is defined just as much by what it can’t do as by what it can.  The single-most important thing that a deck loses if it has no access to both black and white is removal independent of damage.
This is actually huge.
Without the ability to run sweepers like Wrath of God and Decree of Pain, we lose the ability to reasonably answer a mass grouping of creatures.  Red can deal mass damage, but Protection from Red shuts off Disaster Radius; pro-white doesn’t touch Akroma’s Vengeance.  There are conditional targeted options such as Beast Within, but the only true sweepers (Oblivion Stone, Nevinyrral’s Disk) can be shut off due to required activations by various cards like Stifle and Null Rod.
(To be fair, I’m discounting the inclusions of cards like Obliterate and Decree of Annihilation.  Sure, they wipe creatures off the board, but at the expense of all lands as well.  This is a whole different ball of wax, but on a basic level, you’re still paying a minimum of twice what white does to take out an army.  As we’ll see below, eight to ten mana should – and can – just win the game instead.)
Additionally, there are options in red and green that deal with all artifacts (Creeping Corrosion, Pulverize), and ways for green to handle enchantments (Back To Nature), but white corners the market on doing both (Austere Command) in one package.  If you lack white, you’re running two cards to do the dirty work of one.  Good luck making sure you’ve got the correct one at the correct time.
There are some other things that go missing as well (such as raw tutor power from black), but the critical differences are large hurdles.  They force Intet to compensate, and usually the way to do that is by over-compensating in other areas.
As we looked at before, being in green, blue, and red make for availability of some intensely powerful card choices, making it really simple to achieve a deck that can simply out-gun white and black removal.  Let’s look at what we have access to:
-Green offers unbridled mana acceleration that can’t be touched by any other color.  This starts early with Sakura-Tribe Elder and starts to push into stronger options like Kodama’s Reach, before exploding into the top end with Primeval Titan.  R&D has also seen fit to toss us a few over-the-top bones like Tooth and Nail and Genesis Wave over the years.
-With blue, we also have a lock on the best card draw (Consecrated Sphinx, Rhystic Study, Fact or Fiction) as well as some of the better synergistic tutor options in the game.  (Trinket Mage, for example.)  Blue also offers up some equally-absurd high-end effects, such as Rite of Replication, Bribery, and Blatant Thievery.
-Red is a little more refined, but we get the best haste options (Urabrask, Anger), along with some borderline-broken synergistic enablers like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Insurrection.  Good times.
But it’s the combination of these options that really pushes the deck over the top.  Tap out for Tooth and Nail for Avenger of Zendikar and Prime Time.  If you have In the Web of War, win on the spot.  If not?  You’ll want mana-up so you can Hinder the wrath effect that’s coming.  Fortunately, you can play Seedborn Muse and not have to worry there.  In a pinch, Insurrection probably breaks the game open for you alone.  If not, Kiki Jiki and Pestermite can do the same thing, or you can Crystal Shard your Eternal Witness to recur Time Stretch all day long.
It just keeps going and going, folks.  White and black look absolutely pedestrian in comparison.
When you combine an ability that promotes getting expensive things for free for the low price of three mana and a combat phase, you end up with a deck full of broken cards and broken strategies.  I’ve spoken recently about Generals that are designed with a very narrow “build around me” theme or strategy in mind; I won’t quite put Intet into this category because the ability doesn’t suggest a specific avenue to go down card-wise, but it sure suggests a certain subset of cards at least cost-wise.  (Let’s face it…you’re not trying to get a free Fires of Yavimaya…you’re trying to get a free Ulamog.)
It’s a slippery-slope strategy strapped to the back of a legendary dragon.  I don’t condone (or enjoy) falling this heavily into “good stuff” territory.  It’s not somewhere I ever want to end up when I build a deck, because it leads to very linear, un-fun games.
It’s not what I had in mind when I first set out to build an Intet deck.  I had good intentions.  I swear I did.
But you know what they say about good intentions, right?
.   .   .   .   .
Stay tuned for next-time, folks…there is a light at the end of the Intet tunnel.  We have a special guest coming onboard to look at part two for some solid alternative strategies and mechanics that can take us away from the “good stuff” trap – as well as much good stuff you can get away while still maintaining a fun play environment.
Also – For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I took the reins for another installment of “Dear Azami” over at StarCityGames again today.  Please take the time to hop over and check out “Numot: Enter the Dragon”  I appreciate the continued support!
Thanks again,

Flashback! Not-a-Guest Post: Political Cards

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on January 5, 2015. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. It’s always worth thinking about how to “play your opponents,” even if you happen to believe that “all politics is really just managing and distorting threat assessment.” So what do you think?


Have you ever met a person who wins most of their Commander games? And by ‘most’, I mean they win more than 50% of their games, despite playing at four-person tables, where, given a roughly even distribution of wins among participants they should only win around 25% of the time. Some people chalk this kind of win ratio up to having a more complete collection or having built technically superior decks with stronger win mechanisms. Or, more likely, they’re actually just a blowhard and don’t really win 50% of their games. Perhaps they count “wins” in terms of their personal body count instead of as “technical victories” (which is being the last player standing). Some people even count kingmaking as winning, but there’s no accounting for another’s ambitions.

But, okay, some people DO win most of their games, and they don’t necessarily have superior collections or unflinchingly use ungentlemanly tactics and stratagems. Rather, these players not only know how to play Magic, but also know how to play their opponents.

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FLASHBACK – Double Down: Lands Gone Wild

“I attack with my general and activate my Cabal Coffers to make 16 black mana, put it into my Kessig Wolf Run and kill you with general damage” – Prossh player

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on August 20, 2014. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. Lands are always worth giving a second look in EDH, and every set makes that even more true. Here’s how to keep the tierra down in the dirt.

Only three non-basic lands are banned in Commander: Library of Alexandria, Karakas, and Tolarian Academy out of the possible 482 non-basic lands ever printed. Outside of the color identity rules in commander, the availability of non-basic lands means options are abundant.

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