Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Social Contract (Page 1 of 2)

How Not to Combo Off – Ghave at a Crossroads

I’m at a deckbuilding crossroads. More Bone Thugs n Harmony than Devil Came Down to Georgia. I’m pulled in three directions: tighten up curve by shaving clunky fun cards; pull out mana-intensive haymakers that often snowball out of control to sub in more “weird, wonky, fun” cards; or more or less do nothing, just keep tinkering.

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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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Leovold, the Social Contract, and a Good Time

He’s been out for a while, and for a long time I was convinced that Leovold, Emissary of Trest was actually a prank by Wizards. I had feelers out in the community for a Leovold since Conspiracy 2 was released, and nobody had one. I couldn’t find anybody who had even seen one opened. So I ordered one online, half convinced that I was just throwing money away on nothing.

But he arrived, and he was real, and much joy was had. I had pre-brewed for him, for the first time ever, and immediately set to sleeving the deck. Sadly, it was two weeks before I was able to sit down with him, and in that period of time Leovold, Emissary of Trest gained a bit of a reputation. Go to and search him up and you’ll see that almost everybody is building him the same way. The most common cards in the lists are Windfall, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, and Day’s Undoing.

77% of lists have Windfall. That’s just lazy deckbuilding, and 77% of the people running Leovold should feel bad about themselves. Of the 14 ‘signature cards’ for Leovold on, nine of them have the base effect of discarding hands and drawing seven new cards. This is awful, and makes me sad. My list has exactly one instance of the word ‘discard’ in it, and I’ll get to that later, but trust me, it’s fair. The deck is still bloody awesome though, and it is ridiculously fun to play.

Because, and bear with me here, I talked to my playgroup.

When I sat down, it was against a well-known Oros the Avenger Voltron deck (colloquially referred to in our playgroup as ‘Gary, the Racist Dragon’), Group Hug under Pheldagriff, and the LGS’s copy of creatureless enchantments under Genju of the Realm.

I know, Genju is not technically legal. It’s a casual format.

We revealed our commanders and started shuffling. I took the opportunity to state my claim about my deck, and my intentions for the game I was looking for. I said that there was only one discard effect in my deck, and that you only lose one card while getting all the others you pitched back. I said openly and with a friendly tone that I was looking for a fun game that went a dozen turns or more, and asked if everyone else was looking for the same thing.

They all agreed that it sounded like it was on par with their own expectations, and that was exactly what we got. The social contract works, folks.

The Proof Is in the Planewalker

It ended up being a great game, with power and momentum swings all over the place. At one point, Oros swung at me with 36 power, unblockable and with double strike, and the Genju player, knowing I was the only one keeping Pheldagriff under control, responded with an AEtherspouts to save me. Pheldagriff ended up winning through self-mill and Laboratory Maniac, which seems like a cheap way to do it, but he actually worked to get it and pushed through a lot of control to make it work. This happened after I tried to cast Fascination for 26 with Psychosis Crawler in play, which would have been lethal for everyone until Oros player dropped a Comeuppance on me and Pheldagriff pulled something out that pushed him above 26 life. I can’t remember exactly what it was.

It was a ridiculous game with lots of interaction, with two diametrically opposed decks (Leovold wants to stop everybody from drawing cards and Pheldagriff wants to make everybody draw cards) squaring off against each other while also holding an aggressive Voltron build and a surprisingly resilient enchantments player in check.

In Which I Detail “The Lesson”

This game, however, could have gone very differently. Had I not been up-front about my deck, people would have assumed I built the one that led to Windfall being in 77% of Leovold decks. I would have taken a ton of early aggression and likely would not have been able to survive it. Or if I had built that Leovold deck, I could have easily locked everybody out of the game as early as turn four. Drop Leovold on turn three, then Teferi’s Puzzle Box on turn four, and all of a sudden nobody gets any cards ever again. But that’s not fun, and that’s not how I want to play.

Anyone can do that, but I choose not to.

The social contract works, folks. Thirty seconds of honest conversation while we were shuffling our decks was all it took, and everybody had a great time. Even those of us who lost did so with smiles on our faces, because we talked about our expectations beforehand, and then met them. In the second game, we all decided to play a little meaner, a little more cut-throat, and changed decks accordingly. Even when I killed somebody with poison counters on turn five, they were fine with it because that’s what we agreed to.

The Gold Star

But the star of the whole day, for me, was the deck. Like I said, Leovold has a reputation, and I did my very best to move my build away from that. I even have the cards right there in my collection, and it’s easy enough to sleeve them up. Instead, I leveraged ‘symmetrical’ card draw in my favour. Cards like Howling Mine and Fascination. Or effects that tack card draw onto other things, like Fatal Lore and Damnable Pact. Pain’s Reward is a great way to make your opponents very uncomfortable in this deck, and Seizan, Perverter of Truth is ridiculous with Levold in play.

But the real stars in my list are things that allow me to draw cards using the second ability on Leovold. The one that nobody pays attention to. “Whenever you or a permanent you control becomes the target of a spell or ability an opponent controls, you may draw a card.” Now, my permanents are probably drawing a little bit of hate anyway, just due to the nature of what they do and my playgroup’s knowledge of what shenanigans I like to pull. But I can leverage this a bit, as well, with Spellskite, Misdirection, Redirect, and similar effects. Yes, you can put Eldrazi Conscrption on your Scryb Sprites, OR you could just put that right here on my Urborg Elf, thanks. Oh, and I’ll draw a card to replace the Misdirection I used to make that happen.

Missdirection Not a Directions Miss.

Admittedly, there are not a lot of these abilities in the deck. There are not a lot of them printed in these colours. But there are enough that I can easily swing a game heavily in my favour with them. But the point is, the deck is FAIR. I’m not trying to lock anybody out of the game, and I’m not trying to take your hand away. I want you to keep playing, so I can spring my Willbender on your win condition. When I cast Damnable Pact on you for 12, I want you to have the option to kill Leovold in response to get the cards. I’ll draw first, and hopefully rip a Counterspell off the top, but that’s the kind of play that makes for amazing EDH stories. Nobody cares about the time you locked the board out on turn four and made everybody sit on their thumbs for an hour while you drew into your combo. But casting Chaos Warp twice in a game, and having the Warped target be the card revealed post-shuffle both times . . . that makes for a great story.

(Yeah, that happened to me a few weeks ago. Chaos Warp is now cut from all decks.)

In Summary…

The only card that makes you discard anything in my Leovold deck is Memory Jar. The way it works is, I pop it and you exile your hand. Then you draw one card each while I draw seven. I durdle away my cards, then at the end of the turn you discard your one card, and return your original hand. It’s a way to pop Memory Jar without being awful about it. It just makes sure that you probably can’t stop me from using the cards I draw off the Jar. If I can get you to draw a single card ahead of time, even better – then you get no cards off it, and you don’t have to discard anything. That, right there, is the heart of what I want my list to do. Advantage is all to me, but you’re not locked out of the game. You can still play, because that’s why we’re here.

If I wanted to sit around a table and not have fun, I’d stay home and work on a grocery plan. Instead, I want to have a good time, and sometimes that means my finely-crafted death machine gets stomped on by a Hippo token.

Is It Commander Enough? (A Guest Article)

Hello everyone. I’m Kyle Carson, or Cowboy Kyle at events, and this is my first EDH piece. By day I’m a lover of metadata and dedicated family man. By night, well I’m exactly the same. I play commander generally once a week at my LGS on the Space Coast of Florida, but think about the game more than I would like to admit. I recently attended Gen Con 2016 and had an absolute blast. After bumping into a lot of the GDC crew at Gen Con, this guest article happened.

Most people who attend Gen Con play a large diversity of games, try demos, cosplay, and compete in events. That’s not me. I come with my cowboy hat on and I play commander. I do this for four days from 9AM-Midnight, only getting up to eat and drink if/when I remember. Some days I even forget to go in the vendor hall. I play with anyone who I can find, or find my cowboy hat as is often the case, and enjoy the diversity of the format. This year I brought eight decks. One, Maelstrom Wanderer dragons, I built for and gave to my brother who plays once or twice a year. The other seven I rotated daily, carrying 3-4 each day. I had a ton of fun, but left the weekend with a problem. Only two of my seven felt commander enough.


What Is “Commander” Enough?

Commander is often called battlecruiser Magic–A format where you can play big, splashy cards, create crazy board states, and have ridiculous amounts of synergy throughout your deck. You can also explore crazy areas of deck building; see KaKa’s Philosophical Commander series or JamesD’s No-Black Dimir. Decks should be able do epic things or feel epically silly. I’m looking at you S tribal.

Only two of my seven felt that way. Lorthos went big and controlling like he is supposed to do. Sedris, with my Lich King alter, got to do his cheat mode shenanigans. These two felt great. I always felt like I was in the game, made big plays, and even occasionally won.

sedris alter small

Alter by Jaclyn Foglia @JaclynFoglia


The rest felt some combination of flat, uninteresting, and completely out of the game. My Jori En, Ruin Diver list is supposed to be a blue moon/mill style deck, but almost never had anything relevant on the board and regularly got run over. Glissa, the Traitor recurred less than five artifacts all weekend and felt like it was just missing something. Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper is filled with synergy like a Jund cockroach deck should be, but took so long to get his feat set that he was always 1-3 turns behind. Dragonlord Ojutai didn’t even make it out of the hotel room. One game on Wednesday night with my roommates and the deck just did nothing. I couldn’t justify carrying it around all day.

The biggest disappointment was my Oros deck. The deck plays efficient threats, a lot of removal, and is often incredibly resilient to whatever my opponents are doing. This year Oros just didn’t feel epic enough. It was still gaining life. It was still attacking. There were even small flashes of brilliance. Thanks Gisela. But the deck just didn’t feel good. My creatures, Gisela aside, weren’t powerful enough to tangle with opponents. My removal and recursion didn’t line up right.


Am I Just Bummed I Lost So Often?

To be honest, that’s entirely possible. My old LGS in the western burbs of Chicago had a solid group, but my decks were something to be reckoned with there. This weekend I won five games that I’ll count, out of about 30 to 40 games. Four with Lorthos and one with Sedris. Erik Tiernan paid me the compliment that my decks were some of the better he saw. Austin, a Gen Con attendee, said they were strong and often forced some form of allied effort to take down. But I’m not used to a win rate below 40%-50%.


Are You Saying My Deck Isn’t Commander Enough?

No. I’m not saying that your deck needs to come apart. I’m not saying you need to stuff your deck full of commander staples like Tooth and Nail, Bribery, Rise of the Dark Realms, Insurrection, and some big white card. What I am saying is that I wasn’t having fun. This site is about defending the Social Contract so that everyone walks away happy with the game, win or not. I regularly ask what kind of games people are here for, but I try to go one step further. I like to ask if my deck was fun to play against. Did I go too far? This is especially true in Lorthos, who can lock up a game if left to his own devices.

This weekend I only had to ask that question three times… Instead I kept asking myself if I went far enough.


So What Next?

First thing is I’m shelving the five for a week or more. Beyond that I’m honestly not sure. I’ve started a running list on my phone of decks I have and those I would like to build. My Magic time is limited and relatively precious to me. I want to feel like I’m a real player in every game, and, If I’m being honest, I want to be at least close to winning. I also don’t like to have more than six decks. I just don’t have time to play them, and tweaking and tuning is a lot of fun for me.

Maybe it’s time for a massive rebuild. I hear that’s a popular choice here on GDC. Maybe I just sit on them and start trying them again at my LGS to tune the problems out or grow the sample size. Right now, I can say I want to build, but it’ll be days or weeks before I can do any real deck building.

So I don’t have a lot more to say about that question – did I go far enough – yet… But I have been thinking about two other questions to help me figure it out:

  1. Is what I’m trying to do worth talking about later? I play EDH because of the stories.
  2. Does “this card” make me smile? Would I enjoy seeing it across the table from me? Those are my goals.


I’d love to hear what you think here or you can find me on Twitter @KyleCCarson.

P.S. Wasn’t There An Eighth Deck?

My brother’s Maelstrom Wanderer deck was definitely ”Commander” enough. The deck is devoid of combos and contains simply ramp, dragons, and Warstorm Surge. He ramped, smashed face, and always felt like he was in the game. He did comment that while it was fun, it felt a bit cheesy.

Cowboy Kyle

Black Sheep – The Benefits of the Social Contract



This March, I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to head to Texas for a couple weeks for work.  I don’t travel for work often, and I jumped at the chance to get a fresh perspective on things.  The only downside is that I would be traveling alone in a city I’d never before visited – sitting in a hotel room alone at night eating takeout and watching TV (with full commercials) sounds pretty dreadful to me.  In a situation like this, it really pays off to be a gamer nerd; aside from knowing to pack my Chromecast so that I could use my streaming video services, it also meant that I could rely on the ever-present network of gaming, comic, and technology enthusiasts to both find things to do and find people to do them with.

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EDH = Format Solved. (You’re Welcome.)

I did it. I solved the format. Throw in the towel, nerds. Get ready for endless Affinity mirrors, because Commander is solved. We can all go home.
FYI – I’m Dave. I manage some stuff for GDC – mainly prodding our team of miscreants to write stuff on deadline. Two weeks in since the relaunch, and it’s going gangbusters. Hooray for us.

So… let me let you in on a little secret.

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This Is Not the 75% Theory

Nor is it a pot shot at Jason Alt. I love his intentions (give people an explicit methodology to protect The Social Contract So Everybody Has Fun). This is about a tool for thinking.

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The Problem With New Commander Players (From A Grumpy Old Players’ Perspective)

There’s a very real learning curve that most Commander players will follow as they become acclimated with the format. It’s safe to assume that most everyone reading this will be somewhere on this timeline right now; put simply, everyone starts with a preconceived notion of what Commander is, and that view then changes the longer they play the game.

Usually, this vision is most affected by what is and isn’t acceptable to those people a player shares a metagame with; put simply, the longer you play Commander, the more you develop a feel for what you want out of a game, and that should shine through your communication, deck construction, and actions, until everyone in your metagame reaches a rough parity. This is the Social Contract at work.

That said, what happens when a new school of players enters into an older metagame? Well, it can often be problematic. (Ask me how I know.)

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Cider, Porkrolls, Boardgames and the Social Contract

Hey again gang!

I’ve been thinking. Thinking is, of course, great…however, sometimes it gets me a little off topic, so you’ll all have to wait for the next instalment of Mental Cesspool.

Since you are all here however, I guess I should get on with jabbering about the epiphany I’ve had today.

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