Kaka said it best:
…One article that really forced me to think this year was “The F-Word”. It’s one of those pieces that really forced me to think about what EDH means not just to myself, but also to others. As such I bitch less about being tanked by the red zone. But I also use that new thought to bridge a gap with others in communication about what we love about the game. It’s good mental food for thought.
Thanks very much, Kaka. I really appreciate it. This one was very near and dear to me.
Without further ado:
Is Commander Casual?
We’ve all heard the mantra by now. Or at least one of them.
“Commander is a casual format. “
“It’s the journey, not the destination. “
“If you’re playing to win, you’re missing the point. “
“Build casually, play competitively. “
“Build competitively, play casually. “
“No time for love, Dr. Jones!”
I certainly spout one or more of these off on a weekly basis, and it’s something that I’ve ingrained into my thinking. We play EDH because we want to have fun games.
We want to have a good time slinging cards. And so on and so forth, ad nauseam. (The literary one not Ad Nauseam. That’s clearly broken in this format.)
But do we really feel this way? Honestly?
VICIOUS LIES (WE TELL OURSELVES)
Show of hands here…how many of you:
1. Play at least one infinite combo in a deck?
2. Think Rofellos, Llanowar Visionary is an acceptably-powered card?
3. Have copied Pestermite with Kiki-Jiki?
4. Recurred Mindslaver with Academy Ruins?
5. Resolved Obliterate?
6. Slotted Myojin of Night’s Reach in a deck?
7. Targeted Time Stretch with Eternal Witness?
8. Eliminated another player with poison counters?
9. Run out the Sharuum the Hegemon/ Sculpting Steel/ Disciple of the Vault loop?
Don’t feel badly. I’ve done all of these. I don’t regret a thing, because each one taught me boundaries. I learned what was acceptable and what wasn’t in my playgroup. I grew as a player and a deck-builder. These are things that we all need to do in order to find our EDH identities.
Here’s a better series of questions in my opinion…how many of you have:
1. Made a snide comment to another player regarding a play he/she has made?
2. Gotten heated after being eliminated from a game?
3. Dismissed out loud a card or a general for being “bad” or “broken” or “unfun”?
4. Tried to correct a player’s “misplay” either in a game, or after one?
5. Looked around the table at other generals before picking a deck for the next game?
6. Made a “spite” play? (one that likely makes it harder for you to win, but exacts some level of vengeance against another player?)
7. Headed home after a game to add cards to your deck that will help it perform better against the decks you just played against?
This one is a little harder. And again, don’t worry…I’ve done all of these too. I’m not sure it taught me a damn thing, but it probably helped me feel better.
The question is simple, though…is this casual?
TRUTH SHINES THROUGH
I’ve heard many people say that Magic is a game that is meant to be played to win, and many of us either play other competitive formats or have in the past where this is the primary goal. How does this actually color us, though? How much of this drive, this desire to best an opponent and win a game, bleeds through into our Commander games?
I’ve talked at length about the concept of the “EDH Arms Race.” This is the idea that, in the beginning, we all settled in to the cozy spot that defines the format. We knew what was fun – playing – and what wasn’t – not playing. Over time, our groups evolved; we all found fun and obscure cards, and built around new generals. We really enjoyed the new things that came out at the table, and couldn’t wait to play again. We probably even started to eschew “staples” in order to make our decks more interesting and less “good-stuffy.”
Before long, though, the cream started to rise to the top. Certain players, through virtue of being stronger players to some extent, started to rack up wins more frequently than the rest. The likely didn’t win all the time, but percentages don’t typically lie, and it was a rare game that these players didn’t end up hanging in until the end. Suddenly, the seeds of discontent started to sprout in the rest of us. The EDH we loved was still in place, but not all was right with the metagame.
And so it was that we ran some subtle upgrades that would help our decks to handle the odds a bit better. Some choices or strategies that we may not have played a few months back were suddenly and quietly making an appearance here and there. We kept our metagames in mind when we built new decks. Our win percentages started to climb.
Others noticed, and followed suit. Before long, the new benchmark was the old benchmark once again. The cycle self-propagates, and decks are stronger and better across the board. Some people start to take advantage of the fact that other people run decks with balanced answers, and cut down on their own to open up more slots to push their strategies.
Some of the cards that used to be off-limits are now not as maligned as they used to be.
…you can see where this is going. It might take months or years, but the path is clear.
Is this casual?
YOU CAN NEVER GO HOME AGAIN
I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a thing in my current metagame. I’d also be lying if I said that I didn’t personally feed it myself. Things go in cycles, and at this point in my EDH life-cycle, I’ve seen a lot of things and done a lot of things, and the truth is that I don’t want to be that idealistic young player that I used to be. My justification is simple; life has a way of getting in the way of living. I don’t have the time to devote to playing anymore, so I want my games to count. Quality is more important than quantity. I don’t want to waste a second with a bad game or a bad experience, so I proof my decks to stand up to the things I plan to encounter, rather than just creating from a fresh, new place and seeing how it unfolds.
It’s now, “Build casual-ish, play competitive”, because the alternative is way worse.
And there are new players that color things. EDH is a big deal now, and all sorts of players with all sorts of goals are converging on the game expecting their individual visions of the format to be the one that holds true. Just last week, I overheard a young player, possibly all of twelve or thirteen, say, “Boy, I don’t like the long, drawn-out games at all. I like the ones where I win quickly.” This was both horrifying and affirming at the same time; our little boy has grown up into a man, and he wants different things than he used to.
Is it possible that we’ve gotten to a point where the idealism that fed a young EDH format is dead and buried, never to see the light of day ever again? Is it possible that we’ve all evolved, and the format has come along for the ride? Is the line between “good” and “too good” so blurry that it’s hard to see clearly? Do we all just want better games, whatever that means?
And is any of this casual anymore? I don’t honestly have a clue.
WHAT IT IS
One thing hasn’t changed. EDH is fun. Commander is a good time. Call it what you will, it’s still awesome. Personally, if the definition of “casual” starts and ends with “Isn’t played sanctioned/for prizes”, that’s totally fine by me. I still love playing the format, and I still love building decks and talking about the format, and I still love writing about the format.
Here’s what I think:
Just have fun. Forget about words. Don’t think about “good-stuff” or “staple” or “broken” or “spirit of the format”. Make a busted deck that combos out on turn two through disruption because you feel like it’s an awesome thing to make. Play Insurrection or Time Stretch or Memnarch because you want to. When someone calls you out for it, own it. There’s no reason to be ashamed if you’re having fun.
The only responsibility you still have is to communicate. Don’t spring that combo deck on other people if they’re expecting a fun, drawn-out swingy game or a lower power level. Instead of sitting down at the table and trying to second-guess other players and their intentions, instead just ask them. The “Social Contract” is nothing more than protecting the fun for everyone involved, so make sure that you do that.
If you catch a storm combo player with Trinisphere in Legacy, it’s probably awesome on both accounts. If you know what might happen in a game of EDH, it’ll likely be the same awesome. Don’t be sneaky, and don’t try to “catch” other players. Do that through your play, not subterfuge.
Just have fun. That’s what will keep this thing as fresh as it was when you started playing. It’s a game; you shouldn’t ever get pissed off while playing it, plain and simple.
You heard it here first, folks. Casual is dead. It died a while ago, and no-one noticed.
But that doesn’t matter, because EDH isn’t a casual format to begin with. It’s a fun one.