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

http://mtgcommander.net/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=17560

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.

This is a big change for EDH. It’s very infrequent that we see changes to rules for our format, rather than simple card bannings (and un-bannings, for that matter.) I think this is an important thing to pay attention to; when a card or two moves onto or off of the Banned list, it undoubtedly has an effect on the player base, but it isn’t an all-encompassing thing; not everyone plays with – or against – every card out there.

With a rules change, that goes out the window. There’s not a single person that isn’t effected by a fundamental change to the format rules. Everyone feels it, and no one has any choice. This is exactly why changes like this rarely happen, and why Sheldon Menery called out that this was going to be huge.

He’s right. At least about that part, anyway.

The community has asked for more transparency in the decisions the Rules Committee makes, and I will give them credit – they delivered that more than usual here. With past changes, we typically got a “Here’s the change. We’ll explain when we do.” – typically followed by something brief and typically understated in Sheldon’s article on StarCityGames that week, almost as if it was an inconsequential change that wasn’t really that important to begin with.

This time, we got it right in the MTGSalvation announcement, separated into four categories. Kudos for that – a change like this is aimed at making the community stronger, simply through better games. In announcements past, it has felt like there was a disconnect between the Rules Committee and the player base, if for no other reason than it felt like an edict from on high, with no real justification.

So first and foremost, thanks go to the RC. If nothing else, please keep this train rolling.

That said, let’s look at the four reasons offered.

1)    We want to engender as positive an experience as we can for players. Nothing runs the feel-bads worse than having your commander unavailable to you for the whole game.

I’m okay with this line of thinking at face value. We all want positive experiences with the game. The danger here is the definition of what “positive” is differs highly from player to player, but we’ll come back to that later.

I can also basically agree with the second part of the statement. I’m not sure that it’s the ultimate “feel-bads” in EDH, but anyone who’s experienced having their general tucked probably wasn’t happy about it.

So far, we’re doing okay.

2)    The presence of tuck encourages players to play more tutors so that in case their commander gets sent to the library, they can get it back—exactly the opposite of what we want (namely, discouraging the over-representation of tutors).

Here’s where I think things start to go off the rails.

Tutors are a hot-button issue with the community. Sheldon himself is very vocal about his general attempts to steer clear of them in his decks, and there are tons of people that have vocally eschewed them in favor of a “pure” highlander experience. I’m all for that sentiment at face-value; it’s nice to see honest generic swings happen in a game that aren’t fed by the inevitability of someone toolboxing up the right answer whenever it needs to be available.

My issue with this is simple; I think this is a non-sequitur at its core. The instances where tuck is the guiding reason for a player to play more tutors is closet-case at best; I won’t say it’s non-existent, because I’ve done it myself on occasion when my deck absolutely needs its general to function. But I don’t think it’s near the top of the reason list to do so, and much like the “color pie” reasoning that drives the #3 explanation below, it isn’t even available evenly or readily to all decks. The reality here is that the truly egregious tutoring happens because people want to find a win condition, or an answer to a threat. This rules change won’t affect that one bit.

This isn’t quite throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but it’s headed in that direction. I applaud the ideal at play, but I honestly don’t believe that this is going to drive the intended effect for anyone.

3)    While we are keenly aware that tuck is a great weapon against problematic commanders, the tools to do so are available only in blue and white, potentially forcing players into feeling like they need to play those colors in order to survive. We prefer as diverse a field as possible.

This simply isn’t true. There’s a lot of it in blue and white – your Hinders and your Hallowed Burials – but it exists elsewhere as well. A grand example of this is Chaos Warp, a card that was printed recently in the Commander 2014 release and was designed with the format in mind, having only seen inclusion in Commander product to date.

Now, this is a bit of a tangent from the point above, but it bears looking at. The Rules Committee has made frequent comments about how they want to stray away from card errata that stems from format-specific rules and rulings. The frequent citation is when someone suggests changing Karakas to not allow it to target commanders, or something along those lines. This causes what the RC views as a need to memorize a sub-set of rules that isn’t supported by the cards or Magic rules in general, which causes confusion among less-informed or rules-savvy players. (Read: usually new players)

Now, arguably, this is just aligning current rules regarding destruction or exile of a general. Now, it is pretty easy to understand what happens when your general goes anywhere – if you’re in control of your game when it happens (Mindslaver just got a little bit more hilarious…), you put it into your command zone if you want to.

My issue is that the rules to this point were made with a format designed to fit the cards – with this change, we’ve not got the opposite. It may be closet case (and in the long run, even inconsequential in the face of the greater good), but we’ve now got an example of a card designed for the format that doesn’t do what it should do at face value anymore.

Getting back to the color thing, I’ll simply say this; if it’s a huge deal that tuck is only available in limited colors, shouldn’t it also be a huge deal that tutoring for creatures – the supposed reason for this change – is also only widely available in limited colors? If not being able to tutor up your general was a reason to make everyone run green and black in the past, I certainly didn’t see it.

Oh, and lastly:

4)    It clears up some corner case rules awkwardness, mostly dealing with knowing the commander’s location in the library (since highly unlikely to actually end up there).

Er…huh?

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

This announcement caused the community to literally explode with response. Twitter was updating faster than I could keep up with on Monday night, and the Official Forums themselves were actually frequently unavailable due to high traffic.

People really were affected by this change. Queue the usual amounts of “The Sky Is Falling!” hyperbole and “I quit!” threats, but through it all, there really was an overwhelming amount of negative response to the change. While some cooler heads prevailed, people (and by “people”, I mean “the vocal majority”) are not pleased with this change.

The big reason for this is attributed to problem generals – specifically, ways to deal with them. There are several subsets of problem categories, ranging from hard to handle generals that drive specific strategies (the ubiquity of a cheap and problematic general like Kaalia of the Vast of Derevi, Empyrial Tactician for example, or the eternal “Zur the Enchanter” conundrum) to the extremely powerful and hard-to-remove Theros gods. Until now, tuck was the great leveling agent that gave other decks a chance to deal with these often back-breaking strategies; anyone who has faced down a Purphoros, God of the Forge token-ping deck knows how frustratingly hard it is to deal with, and tuck effects were one of the only weapons available to really give other decks a fighting chance here.

Now, that’s gone.

The jury is still out here, but I really feel like this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is simple physics – create a vacuum by removing one thing, and the opposing thing will flow in to take its’ place. If there is nothing to keep these generals in check, they’ll get used more. Ironically, the main reason that I suspect this change really happened – making the game more approachable for newer, younger players – is going to be the thing that breaks it. As it is now, there is a new guard taking over. Players that weren’t around when Jhoira of the Ghitu was originally printed are getting into EDH, and surprise – they’re doing exactly what we are asking them to, and what we all did as younger players before them:

Make “epic” plays.

These are players who don’t know the stigma attached to Deadeye Navigator, or why Sorin Markov’s minus-three isn’t much fun. These are players with a fresh eye to a wide-open format that encourages big, splashy things to happen. You all know what you did when you got started with EDH; you played Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite, and Palinchron plus High Tide. You did all the broken things that you could imagine, because that’s what the format is about, right?

And then, you really learned what the format was about. You moved on to try to find fun games, not broken ones.

Well, this is happening again with the players who are new to the game and the format. I can’t wait for them to Google “Zur Commander” and bring that deck back.

Tuck was a valid tool for handling an important subset of cards in EDH. The game is now a simpler game without it, but my fear is that we’re looking at the real potential for abuse without the checks and balances that it brought to the table.

My suggestion, now more than ever, is to utilize the Social Contract. If you hate the change, house-rule it out of existence. I know the trouble this creates for players going to GPs and new stores and whatnot, but this is in your hands to manage. EDH is casual, and where we agree with the Rules Committee is that it’s supposed to be fun. It’s in your control to make it exactly that, no matter what anyone says.

Good luck, everyone.

.   .   .   .   .

What do you think? Do you support this change? Hate what it represents with a passion? Are you building Purphoros as we speak? Sound off in the comments below.

-Cass
@GDCCommander