Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Playgroup Evolution

Playgroup Evolution: Strength is Weakness

I first came across this idea in my Psychology Seminar course in college. I was reading Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal, a primatologist who focuses on chimps and bonobos; he discussed how strength can damage the ability to form alliances with those who are weaker. Many in the class struggled with this concept. They continually thought about how allying with the strong protects you. It does – when you are not playing to win. But it makes you a lackey, second in command, or an advisor. Not great. Not glorious. Not best for survival where you want the best choice of mates.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: EDH Politics

This focus for Playgroup Evolution came about from a discussion with Cass at the GDC house during GenCon 2015. We talk a lot about decks, tactics, tech, and the social contract, but we rarely talk about politics in EDH. We’re going to change that today.

If you’ve been a reader for the entire time I’ve been on GDC, or if this is your first article, I’ve talked about a lot of things with this series; now, I’m about to cover a very contentious topic in the EDH/Commander community.  Ready?



In a game, there are no “politics” – there are simply strategies to use and threats to assess. You can make open strategies – “I’ll let that resolve, but you can’t attack me on your turn.” – and this may be the only “political” thing in EDH. But it’s really just bargaining. More importantly, it lets the whole table know to kill your colluding butts before you start 5-0 splitting Fact or Fiction for each other.

Now, sure – you can use flim-flam and rope-a-dope to throw opponents off, and you may even win that way. But unless your group is terminally unintelligent, that only works once. (I’m only half sorry for that insult.) If you can lie low and pull off an out of nowhere victory multiple times, your group is demonstrating a strong ability to not learn from past experience.



What does work? Not using any scheming – instead we use strategy. Prioritize threats, and make plays that matter. If I am facing down a huge Eldrazi that has been plaguing the board but I have Pognify in hand, I don’t really care about it. If the whole table is banding together to kill the titan, I’m not helping.

I am NOT in allegiance with the Eldrazi player; I am simply making a strategic decision. I can handle the Eldrazi, so other things are more threatening to me (like the token guy with Aura Shards when I really want to play Loxodon Warhammer to gain some much needed life) that I prioritize.  Now, I don’t know if the Eldrazi player has some way to prevent my Pognify from working, but based on the information I have, I am making the best play I can.

In EDH, we really need to think longer about the actual details of the games, and one strategy to think about is getting in your opponent’s mind. I recently played a game with roommates; one (Hudson) cast a huge Heedless One early. I kept using a Thundersong Trumpeter to prevent it from attacking. I was his biggest threat, but after two turns I did the usual “I have an effect when you enter combat” – and I stopped Jacob’s (another player) only blocker from blocking. Hudson looked at me and went for the attack and killed Jacob (Jacob had a Moltensteel Dragon that could kill Hudson before I had a turn to act in between). From there, I used a topdecked Day of Judgement and got back in the game.

I did not collude with Hudson; I did not even make a suggestion for his attack. For three turns, I had an effect on his combat phase. I simply just changed targets and hoped that Hudson would go for the kill. He could have attacked me, and we made no deal. Another roommate Eric (I lived with an Eric in college. It sometimes got confusing) thought we cheated until both Hudson and I explained that he could have attacked me with no blocker, and Hudson just figured I had a kill spell and wanted to stop Jacob’s dragon from killing him.  

What is the take away? Use Strategy!


Sure – alliances can be formed and some players work together, but your goal is always the win. A huge question to ask is
“Can I beat this player in a duel?”1 My example above has me losing to a huge gobbo for much of the game. I stalled it, and when when another issue came up, I encouraged an enemy to remove a threat to both of us. If Hudson hadn’t removed Jacob from the game, I may have been wrecked. Jacob’s dragon could put a hurt on me too, after all. Just wiping the board wasn’t a good enough answer, because Jacob had a huge grip of cards- He likely would have recovered faster than me and then finished me.

(Note: this question broadens to “Can I win this game?” when a player is eliminated. Going from a four to a three-player game can radically shift the game’s favor. This advice all applies…just adjust the lens a bit.)

Winning the duel is very similar to the famous “Who’s the Beatdown?” by Michael Flores. If you cannot win alone, you may not want to eliminate a player. Using a Fog to save the control player from the token guy is not a bad move when you have no Wrath of God and the control player is the only source of one.

This is not some crazy kind of collusion. This is a simple scenario where there are mutual enemies.
The flipside is that when you can win the duel, you should strike like lightning! Open a can of whoop-ass on your opponents and leave no mercy. You can freely drop one foe and focus fire on the remaining enemy. Again, not collusion – no alliance, no bargain. This is making a strategic decision. Sometimes you are right and launch into victory, and other times your decision doesn’t pay off (or someone else capitalizes on the situation faster than you can.)  My point is that you are making decisions for strategic gains and calculated risk, and not making a choice because you are making a “political” move.




Let’s  talk about a huge lie- Political Cards. Many people on the internet have extolled the virtues of Propaganda as being political. This is an absolute piece-of-crap argument.

  • First, it’s a lie.
  • Second, it is wrong.
  • Third – threat assessment people!

This card is not political- what it does is offer opponents a choice of attacking you or developing and attacking elsewhere. This is not politics! It is all about what someone values. I have used a Slice in Twain to kill a Propaganda because the token player couldn’t remove it, and Propaganda’s controller was a threat to both of us. I couldn’t afford the necessary attack, and I hoped the token guy would. I could easily have died in that scenario, but I took a calculated risk. The Join Forces mechanic and Will of the Council are very similar. They are not political, but allow opponents to make choices regarding what they value as a threat or a priority.


Let me know what you guys think. Am I on the right page? Good Page? Wrong Page? Wrong Book? I’ll be back soon with more thoughts on politics in Commander games. Until then, have a blast slinging spells and remember- threat assessment wins games!

Can totally use the cannons on the GDC Ship!

Playgroup Evolution: EDH Reflections, Part 1 – Deck Construction

We’re back!

In case you’re new, I’m Erik; I’ve been a regular writer here for a while (which means I get to use the cannon on the Good Ship GDC). Welcome to Playgroup Evolution; a series where we (me via writing, you via comments and Twitter) work to improve the group experience! I have a good group of articles on ‘point systems’ and how to create and evolve one for your group; check the archives for the whole deal.

For those of you coming back to us, it’s good to see you again!  Let’s dig right in.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution – Mixing it Up!

Welcome to Playgroup Evolution! Today we’re going to talk about changing up the game on everyone to improve in a different way. My group did something different this week for EDH.

We did a Deck Draft.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution – Buidling a Newbie Deck

Welcome to another edition of Playgroup Evolution. This week, I’m highlighting a new-player deck I’ve been tweaking since opening a box of Dragons of Tarkir. “My First EDH” decks are actually very difficult to build and even harder to get feedback on. People who are new to EDH have different needs from established players, so you have to think differently to build the deck right. Getting feedback is difficult since most of the friends you could ask to test the deck are probably more experienced players.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: The Group Regulars

Welcome back to Playgroup Evolution! I’m writing from a new computer… which I would be excited about, but my laptop’s CPU died the other day. Not good. So, if this is formatted a little different, I blame Google docs.

This week I’m looking at lessons learned from my group. To understand how to work with your group best, you need to understand your group.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: Preparing for the Next League

Welcome back to Playgroup Evolution! Delighted to have you. This week I’m going to discuss some changes to the point system that I have been brainstorming for East Coast Gamers (info here or here). I’ve noticed several achievements never being reached, which means one of two things:

  1. Their point values are not high enough to make it worth the effort.
  2. The they aren’t worth the points because they assist opponents too much.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: Fearless Magical Inventory

Welcome back to Playgroup Evolution! Since we are still in the beginning of the year, I thought I’d try the whole “goal setting” thing most of the other writers have been doing; See, I can be a team player!  Besides I’m pretty sure Mr. P has the lancer role covered (Here is a link to the lancer role – I’m not sorry!)

So…I was thinking about what to write for this entry in our journey to making the greatest playgroup, and I hit a wall. My group has been running really good. We even have people meeting up on different days just to get their fix for some EDH games. It’s pretty great.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: Teachable Moments

I have no Magic related resolutions! There I said it. No resolution. I’m a bad llama.

Bad Llama

Right, so back to Playgroup Evolution! We don’t need no stinking resolutions. We move at the speed of natural selection, eventually making a better species. Uh… wait…We move in leaps and bounds making our playgroup better. Yeah, nailed it!

This week, we’re going to discuss teachable moments in EDH. These moments are, as the blatant title suggests, moments during the EDH experience where more experienced players can help the others in their group get better. But you probably knew that, since it’s rather obvious. But that’s the thing – as obvious as this is, we rarely do it. Instead, we simply tell new players or less experienced players that we are correct. End of story. Done.

Read More

Playgroup Evolution: Dropping Discrimination

Welcome back, esteemed readers! Let’s talk about discrimination in our games, shall we?

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article discusses and references some derogatory and offensive terms.  Please be warned.)

Read More

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén