Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: rules committee

Exploring a New Batch of Wizard’s Finest – The EDH Ban List

What’s a format again?

One of the things that I enjoyed about EDH (or Commander if you are part of the new crowd), is that no matter where you go you can at least expect a baseline for which cards you won’t see at the tables. Whether you agree with the Ban List the Rules Committee (RC) cultivates or not, you know you can rely on this consistency everywhere: at a local store, with people I invite over, with people in a different city, or even online. Or that is the way it used to be. But on May 3rd Wizards announced MTGO would adopt a new ban list for all EDH games online, both 1V1 and multiplayer. The Internet instantly exploded, mostly with pretty intense rage, although there were some that applauded this change. I mean there is something wrong with those people, but that is beside the point. 😀

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Black Sheep – Hybrid Theory

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 to the letter. The rules were written to give an example of how to keep the intended flavor and casual level of Commander.

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Boot It and Toot It

The rules committee recently changed the Tuck Rule. You may have heard about it.

I personally don’t give two hoots about the new Tuck Rule, although I do think the part about how if your General would be bounced it can now go back to the Command Zone is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

What. The name has “boot” in it. Deal.

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What Sheldon Got Wrong – A GDC Response to “The Social Contract”

Recently, Sheldon Menery posted an article on about what the Rules Committee (RC) is trying to do with the format as of late. We would like to thank Sheldon for taking the time to try and clarify goals of the committee, and the theory behind how decisions are made; without his willingness to be open, we couldn’t have a proper conversation on the topic of the role of the RC as it applies to the current state of Commander.

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Examining the “Tuck Rule” Announcement

The Dragons of Tarkir Banned and Restricted announcement has hit, and for Commander, it’s an absolute game-changer. Here’s the announcement:

The pertinent info is here:

“If your commander would go into the library or your hand, you may choose to put it into the command zone. It’s as simple as that. Just like with the graveyard, if you want it to go into the library/hand, you’re more than welcome to let it. Note that this is a replacement effect, but it can apply multiple times to the same event.”

“Tuck” has left the building.

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All Over The Place – M15 Spoilers Begin, the New Stable in Action, and When Casual and Competitive Collide


God, I love spoiler season.  It used to be the thrill of the chase; getting the inside track on new cards and new tech, seeing the explosion of internet forums as people race to uncover new interactions and builds, and the hype going into the Prereleases.  I read everything I could, wrote out lists, and prepared for a host of upgrades to the stable.

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The June 2012 Commander Banned Announcement (Alternate Title: Huh? Sundering Titan?)

Hey, folks!  Soapbox time.
The buzz leading up to the Banned Announcement for EDH this season was at a full-on fever pitch.  While there are always tons of forum threads active on the topic of cards that deserve banning (or un-banning), it seems like there was a hype this time around that had people really worked up.
And I think the actual announcement this week met the hype on equal ground…just not in the way that anyone expected.
In the first place, Sheldon Menery had been regularly detailing various attempts to work with house bans and testing for actual banned cards in the Armada Games EDH League on his StarCityGames articles.  Fueling all sorts of speculation was the fact that the league had both house-banned Primeval Titan, and also opened testing on allowing Kokusho, the Evening Star back into the format.  (Recent updates seem to indicate both that no-one particularly missed Prime Time, and Kokusho is a non-event.)  On the Official Forums, heavier-than-normal discussions were very active surrounding Painter’s Servant, and (to a lesser extent) cards like Staff of Domination.
And, of course, Griselbrand.  Lots of internet shouting matches surrounding him.
And so it was that thousands of EDH fans stayed up, refreshing their browsers and Twitter feeds around midnight on the 19th, waiting for the axe to fall (or, I suppose, someone to break out the scotch tape…) and the format to take a giant step in a new direction.  Fresh air, and all of that.
And the announcement hit.
And there was a giant sigh of relief.
And then…a lot of heads being scratched in confusion.
Griselbrand surprised no-one.  Even those (misguided) souls who blew up the comments section on Sheldon’s regular Wednesday StarCity article with comments on how wrong it was to get rid of Yawgmoth’s Bargain On Legs seemed to understand where it was coming from.  Let’s face it – if you saw this thing in action, you understood.  I managed to experience it in one game from two angles; the player to my left dropped it into play and was gang-beaten for it, but not before drawing twenty-eight cards first.  I followed up by playing it myself, getting gang-beaten for it, but drawing twenty-eight cards first.  Even if you’re not specifically trying to break the card in a combo engine, it was horrifically unbalanced. 
(My apologies to those of you who disagree with this, and lost your favorite new card-drawing powerhouse.  Oh…and you’re also out of your minds.  But I digress…)
The reaction to Sundering Titan, the only other change to the Banned List, was vastly different.
First off, there’s a fantastic thread on the Official Forums here that specifically discusses the Sundering Titan ban.  Among other things, two of the EDH Rules Committee – Sheldon and Ban-Ki Moon – have weighed in on the decision.  I would advise first hopping over there and reading up on the current state of things.  
In a related note, however, both that column and the afore-mentioned comments section of Sheldon’s StarCity article this week seemed to divide into two camps with relation to the Titan:
-Those who feel it shouldn’t have gotten the axe because it is a useful role-player in certain decks
-Those that are glad to see it go, because it only seems to ruin games.
I personally fall into the second category.  As you’ll see in the forum discussion, I can’t remember the last time I saw this card played in my local metagame, and that’s strictly because it never did anything fun when it hit play.  Some players experienced a hit to their mana bases strong enough to shut them down, while others essentially dropped the current game of EDH in favor of a massive tug-of-war with the Titan in the middle.  
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to see it go.
But the other reaction – one I share as well – seems to be one that encompasses both camps.  Confusion.  Not based on ‘why?’, but rather ‘why now?’
Sundering Titan first saw print in the Darksteel expansion; Darksteel hit in February of 2004, making the Titan more than eight years old.  For a good many of us, it probably pre-dates our involvement and/or exposure to EDH.  I certainly recall many a heated discussion (and possibly some actual violence) surrounding the card as EDH started to gain a public handhold.  I included the card personally in the first version of my original Sharuum deck before learning a bit more about the spirit of the format and working to remove ‘griefer’ cards that just seemed to wreck games.  There’s certainly no question that Titan has always been on the “un-fun” radar as far as cards like this go.
The big issue with this ban seems to be that there aren’t many people that are screaming about it right now.  The announcement Sheldon made seems to indicate otherwise:
Sundering Titan has long been a card on the edge. The decision to get rid of it came from the combination of two points. One, it simply created undesirable game states. It was too easily both intentionally abused and unintentionally game-warping, especially since its ability triggers on both entering and leaving the battlefield. Two, there has been a fair amount of community distaste for the card, and we agreed that the card overwhelmingly creates a negative experience for players. Listening to the ever-growing and ever more-involved community is important to us.”
However, looking at the forums, you wouldn’t necessarily know it.  There’s no doubt that Titan has been included in recent discussions on the official forums, but it seems drastically overshadowed by other cards that always rise to the top – things like Primeval Titan, Consecrated Sphinx, and Tooth and Nail.  These (among others) are cards that have a very active impact on nearly every metagame; cards that are mentioned like this:

“…Well, I know it’s a crazy card, and I hate it personally, but it’s too good not to include.”


You don’t hear that in regard to Sundering Titan too often.  More likely, you’ll see this:

“God, that card just pisses everyone in my playgroup off.  I cut it completely”
As a result, there feels like a slight disconnect.  Why is a minor player that many people steer clear of at this point anyway being hit instead of some other fresh contenders that arguably break games much more?
Looking at the criteria the Rules Committee uses doesn’t seem to help either.  I’ve taken a look at the list in the past, but to refresh everyone, here’s what they apply when deciding on whether a card should be banned or not:

For a card to be considered for banning (or kept banned), it should be causing problems in EDH games due to one of three things:
  1. Its power level in multiplayer EDH is significantly higher than both what’s expected for its mana cost AND it’s power level in other formats (due to different rules or game sizes). [Examples include Panoptic Mirror and Biorythm]
  2. it’s dollar cost is prohibitive for most players and the card usually detracts from the playing experience of everyone in the game [The Power 8].
  3. it belongs to a class of cards which can’t be consistently interpreted by all players [Silver bordered cards, dexterity cards]”

We can instantly rule out #3.  We can rule out the “dollar value” clause of #2.  Let’s move on to the rest.
-Power level seems to be debatable.  Sundering Titan doesn’t appear to be any stronger in EDH that it is in any other format; and the nature of EDH means that you have a solid chance that you’ll end up facing down a boat-load of non-basic lands that are immune to Titan, or a preponderance of decks playing the same colors, spreading the effect out a bit.  (There’s an inherent danger that there’s one poor guy who shows up with a mono-color deck that no one else is representing who will end up as collateral damage, but we’ll look at that in a minute.)
The other issue in this area is that one of the larger threats in recent EDH history is the “ramp” strategy.  Mostly green-driven, ramp decks have the ability to run out a disproportional number of lands in a very short time in order to simply overwhelm opponents with the mana advantage it creates.
There are really two issues here.  One is that Sundering Titan has absolutely no effect on decks like this, as the disadvantage it creates is offset by the fact that the ramp deck can typically out-race the land destruction, and the cost of the Titan itself means that the ramp deck is usually well ahead by the time it finally shows up. 
The second issue is that in the Primeval Titan Era, *every* deck is a ramp deck.
By the letter of the rule, this seems to be a non-issue.
-The second part of rule #2 is the “detracts from the playing experience of everyone in the game”.  This is a bit more difficult to quantify.  Sundering Titan really punishes the player who runs either a mono-color strategy that is not a ramp strategy, or the five-color player with the Revised dual land mana base.  Titan does not really bother mono-green decks or two-color decks.  It doesn’t touch non-basic land types, meaning all of those Reflecting Pools, current Core Set/Innistrad duals, Winding Canyons, High Markets, Cabal Coffers, and so on are immune.  Three-color decks start to get into the danger zone admittedly, but that’s not an absolute. 
Looking at this rule, that means that the average game is going to see impact from Sundering Titan, and potentially heavy impact at that, but it shouldn’t detract from “everyone in the game.” 
Going further, the spirit of the criteria seem to indicate that only creatures that break the game state in half and create a position of undeniable superiority for one player get the axe.  Griselbrand embodies this.  Emrakul embodies this.  These are creatures that, through virtue of their design, simply cannot be played fairly. 
Sundering Titan?  I’m not sure that it belongs in that company.
Thinking about it, I’m essentially in an extremely awkward position of being happy about a banning of a card that I don’t believe fits the criteria put forth by the Rules Committee, while also being confused as to why it got banned long after it stopped being an issue to begin with. 
I think the real question here is that if we’re going to be able to support the EDH Rules Committee’s decision-making, we need to have more in the way of information on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.
As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s easy for the DCI to issue bans for sanctioned competitive formats, because there is empirical evidence to support those decisions in the form of tournament results.  If a specific card dominates a specific format and tournament attendance dips in result, it’s clear why that card had to be removed from the format.
In EDH, we don’t have that luxury.  While the RC is very vocal (well, some more than others) about their feelings and motivations, at the end of the day, we’re forced to take the word of a very small independent body of people when it comes to decisions that affect one of the most popular Magic formats out there.  Since the body of players in this format make up thousands of small local metagames around the world that see their own rules and preferences and sometimes don’t have the luxury of intersecting with other metagames elsewhere, it can be quite a system shock when a ban like this overlooks a more problematic card for one that may not even see play at all. 
It’s for that reason that I echo a challenge that I’ve already issued to the Rules Committee on the forums.  When there’s a change to the rules or the Banned List, give us details!  Lots of details!  You guys are responsible for shaping the format we all love here – I’m sure one of you can lay out some more content in times like these.  You love the format clearly – You should be able to talk about it in a bit more depth so that we can understand why things happen.  We need more than just a canned line or two:
-Has something put the card back on the radar recently?
-Talk about the community input.  Are there specific forums that are up in arms over a card?  What about regions or countries? 
-Are there personal anecdotes that have driven you towards the decision you made? 
-Why did X card get hit when card Y and card Z seem like bigger threats to the format?
Honestly, I think the Rules Committee does a fantastic job of making this format as wonderful as it is.  I think it would go a long way in the eyes of the community to hear a bit more detail when something like this comes down.  Without a doubt, the Sundering Titan ban has garnered more confusion than any other I’ve witnessed since following EDH, and I think the vast majority of it would not have been present with a little more information. 
Enough said.  I’m off to unload my copies of Griselbrand.  Any takers?


The Banned List – Add One, Remove One, Approve One

In a rare lapse of judgement, you’ve been hired by the Rules Committee to audit the Official Commander Banned List.  (Everyone deserves a vacation once in a while, and the entire RC has chosen now.  Nice timing, guys…) 

Unfortunately for them, some things never change; It’s 11:55pm on the night before the December announcement is set to roll out; you’ve got to submit your changes in five minutes, or no changes take effect until the next announcement, and you’ve been too busy playing Call Of Duty: MW3 to actually work on this assignment.  Way to go, slacker.

You have time to do exactly three things:

-Add one card to the list that isn’t on there but should be.

-Take one card off that is on there but shouldn’t be.

-Placate the RC by approving a card they’ve already got on there.
The good news is that you caught Sheldon on the phone three hours into a Napa Valley wine-tasting tour, and he gave you permission to use whatever criteria you want in your decision, format-be-damned.  What do you choose?  Why?


Sundering Titan

Even when it’s just being played straight (instead of that dick with the Sharuum deck blinking it in and out of play to destroy more real estate than the San Andreas Fault), does anyone other than the person playing it actually enjoy seeing it hit the table?  And once it does, how often does the game *not* devolve into an orgy of copy and steal effects, to the detriment of anything else that had happened up to that point?  Dude’s gotta go.


Library Of Alexandria

Because I like old-school nostalgic cards, especially the ones that can slide into any deck.  And I like lands that pull double duty, tapping for mana when you need it and providing you another solid effect when you don’t.  (Screw you, Maze Of Ith and Diamond Valley…)

Besides, how broken could it be?  No-one is cracking this guy or this thing in half, are they?  If you’re doing your job correctly, every card in your hand should actually instead be in play and attacking someone anyway, so it’s really just an uber-expensive card that’s functionally inferior to Contested War Zone. Amirite?

Okay…that *might* be a stretch there.  Honestly, though, I don’t find it a back-breaking card advantage machine in this format for the average player; you’ll get a benefit out of it undoubtedly, but you have to actively not play or run a combo in order to really break it, which is anathema to what most of us want in a game.  Besides, it’s going to paint a bulls-eye on your forehead the second it hits the table to begin with. 

I think Library represents a banning borne more of a percieved threat, rather than an actual one.  Will people abuse it?  Sure…some will.  But I have a feeling that this card would end up being fair more often than you’d think for the vast majority of players.  Start saving your pennies, kiddies.


Limited Resources

This card is on my list as a representative of cards that break the cornerstone of what EDH is about- playing your cards and having fun in the process.  I’m typically a fan of getting rid of any card that effectively says:

“Players can’t play the game anymore.  While the person playing this spell goldfishes his deck, each other player picks one:  Target player takes a nap; or target player hits the bathroom; or target player makes a sandwich; or target player plays Angry Birds on his or her cellphone.”

Some of the more painful game states I’ve witnessed in recent months have included things like Dovescape locks and Erayo into Arcane Lab; I like that the RC pays attention to both things that may be overpowered, and things that just bore you into a coma.  I don’t miss Erayo, and I don’t think I’d ever want to see this in play either.

Where would you go with this?


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