Hey folks! Welcome to Lens of Clarity; the name for my regular monthly article, where we look under the morph overlay card to see whether that pesky 2/2 creature is an Akroma, Angel of Fury, a Willbender, or a Scornful Egotist!

…Okay, more accurately, we’ll look at how some of the interactions we love and hate work under the hood. I like the image of examining something by peering intently through a monocle, and somehow the art for Lens of Clarity appealed to me, so I thought it might be apt to use it as my column name.

I know that it’s been a while since I last wrote anything, so I’d like to address this (and some other stuff) before going into my article proper. I reckon it’s going to be pretty lengthy, so feel free to skip to the relevant content below, starting with “Getting in the zone”.

When I’d volunteered myself for writing with GDC, I had this ambitious vision of bringing to readers my weekly two-cents’ worth on interesting game states, rules interactions, and generally whatever questions I encounter – not just over the kitchen table with my EDH buddies, but at bigger and more organized events – Commander side events at GPs, for instance. However, due to some IRL turbulence (work is always a drag…ugh!), that hasn’t panned out to my expectations.

What’s really holding me back, however, is something which I’m thought was a bad case of writer’s block, but on earnest reflection, turned out to be more personal.

I’m not sure if I’d mentioned this before on GDC, but this is my first writing stint. Prior to now, I’d made some half-hearted attempts at regular writing – mostly blogging about my life. However, it was the same story every time; the initial enthusiasm always died down pretty quickly, and I failed to get going when the going got tough.

All my life, the only things which I’d had a vested interest in were those which stoked and inflated my ego. In grade school, I started working hard in Mandarin Chinese because of earnest compliments (and an exceptional score) from my teacher. In more recent times, I’ve been an active wadaiko drummer since 2009, not just because I have an interest in music and percussion but also because my interest put me heads and shoulders above the other learners in my class. I started taking center-stage roles, which spurred me to work harder, and which then gave me more opportunities in the spotlight – in short, a positive cycle of improvement.

Writing, however, is a different beast altogether. When you start, you’re pretty much an unknown. Even if you have a reputation somewhere else, if you’re new to writing then you’re pretty much on the same playing field as any other novice writer. Loyalty and praise from the readers have to be earned through dedication and passion – nobody is entitled to them. I can go on about how English is not my forte, I can go on about how my work as a programmer gets me down…but at the end of the day, I have to be responsible to not just myself, but also to the people I promised, to the few readers who have read my writings so far, and to everyone else to whom I want to reach out.

During a recent internal discussion, I laid out my worries and concerns to Cass, about how everyone on the team seems to have an identity…but I don’t. Far from being damning or critical, he offered me words of encouragement, and ideas on how I can develop my theme. In fact, one of the ideas he proposed coincided with an interesting discussion I came across recently, so I decided to run with that. My previous half-assed incoherent draft went into the recycle bin.

It’s time to write something which I’m happy to begin with!

GETTING IN THE ZONE

Going into 2015 this will be a monthly article, in which I talk about a theme, present interesting rules and game states, and/or muse about life in general (pun not intended!) I welcome you, my dear readers, to write in with stories about convoluted stack interactions, board states, near-death experiences, or simply anything that tickles your funny bones. I’ll share them with everyone, and provide some thoughts from my perspective as a ground-level judge.

For this article, I’d like to answer a very interesting question which Cass posed to me as a way to start the series:

“When can/can’t generals be put into the command zone?”

As we’re all familiar with, the defining aspect of EDH is that each deck has a General which is always available to us, and that Generals make their home in the command zone. It makes sense that denying a deck access to its General can have a significant impact on how it plays out.

I shall attempt to provide a logical step-by-step analysis, but before that, let me state an important disclaimer. This article focuses strictly on the implementation of the rules with regards to the Comprehensive Rulebook. The Comprehensive Rules is an entity that exists to provide a structure to the game; in essence, to prevent space-time continuum from breaking down. However, you don’t go about your day-to-day games toting a 200-page tome, because frankly speaking it’s absurd – to quote the words of Eli Shiffrin, regular judge column writer over at Cranial Insertion (and with whom I consulted on one of the scenarios in this article):

 “…If you walk into a casual game and try to demand that players do something that feels stupid because a two-hundred-page rulebook led you to an answer after arguing and emailing the rules gurus, you will be very deserving mocked and no one will play with you anymore.”

That’s right – “feeling stupid”. At its heart, EDH is a casual variant format of Magic, and nobody in their right mind (or fun-loving state) would contemplate bickering with a rules lawyer over the minutest of interactions. Instead, what we have is what we would normally term the “spirit of the format.” The way I see it, the CR is the set of laws of the universe, and variant rules, formal or not, are like the fantastic creations that can exist within these laws; hoverboards, fusion reactors, and warp drives!

With that disclaimer aside, let’s try to find out what can put a General into the command zone without any house rules, then from there we can figure out what can’t. The answer can be found via Google, but I believe in teaching a man to fish as opposed to simply feeding him fish, so here goes!

First, if we examine section 9 of the CR, we find these rules that reference zone changing and the command zone:

                903.11. If a commander would be put into its owner’s graveyard from anywhere, that player may put it into the command zone instead.

                903.12. If a commander would be put into the exile zone from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead.

                903.13. If a card is put into the exile zone face down from anywhere, and a player is allowed to look at that card in exile, the player must immediately do so. If it’s a commander owned by another player, the player that looked at it turns it face up and puts it into the command zone.

 Here we can draw the following conclusions:

1) Putting a commander into the command zone is optional.

As represented by the word “may”, this implies that the player has a say in where the commander goes. We can assume that a player will always make the best decision for himself, with regards to where he wants the commander to go. For instance, if I have a reanimation spell in hand (e.g. Reanimate…duh!) then I might instead choose to let my commander stay in the graveyard so that I can resurrect it for another jig.

Notice that the first two rules explicitly mention “its owner” – the decision of where the commander goes lies with the player who owns it. This is why Child of Alara is so flexible; if I have a dominating board presence, I will most likely send it back to the command zone so that it doesn’t wreck the board, and the converse holds true as well.

However, what if the player is unable to make the best decisions for himself? Effects that let you take over the player’s turn – think Mindslaver and the ultimate ability of Sorin Markov, you can set things up such that you let that player’s commander stay in graveyard or exile instead of going to the command zone. In the previous example, if you’d hit me with Mindslaver, you’d make all my game decisions for me, so you can decide to blow up my uber-oppressive board by dictating that my Child of Alara die instead of hitting the command zone, despite my obvious protests!

Deliciously evil, I’d say 🙂

(I think there was a Cardboard Crack comic about gaining control of someone’s turn and making them do silly things.  It’s worth a lookup if you can find it.)

2) Putting a commander into the command zone is a replacement effect, as represented by the template “If X, do Y instead.”

Being a replacement effect means that it can’t be responded to, as one would with triggered abilities (i.e. “When/whenever/at”). More importantly, it also means that it doesn’t make a stopover in wherever it was supposed to go, so death triggers like that from Vicious Shadows and Blood Artist won’t trigger. Sorry, Child of Alara, you can’t blow up the world if you don’t go to the graveyard!

That said, I bring up this point because there is an interaction that many players, if not most, seem to take for granted. Let’s say you blew up the world with Child of Alara just now. It is now in your graveyard, and you control Whip of Erebos. During your precombat main phase, you lash the Whip at your commander, and it rises from the grave for a last banzai. Come end of turn, you casually put it into the command zone, because you choose to replace going to exile with going to the command zone. Fair, right?

Think again.

Consider the Oracle text on reigning Standard scourge, Whip of Erebos:

“Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. It gains haste. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step. If it would leave the battlefield, exile it instead of putting it anywhere else. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery/”

When the end step comes, the delayed triggered ability goes on to the stack. When this ability resolves, the commander is put into exile if you let it be. If you apply the replacement effect immediately after that, the replacement effect represented by the bolded text above kicks in, putting it right back in exile! This same template can be found on Dreams of the Dead, Gruesome Encore and Kheru Lich Lord, and the unearth ability granted by Sedris, the Traitor King. To circumvent this, you will need some way to get rid of the commander before the incoming end step – for instance, through sacrifice outlets.

3) If a card is put into the exile zone face down from anywhere, but nobody is allowed to look at that card, then it can’t be put into the command zone even if it is a commander.

Applying CR903.13 has some interesting implications. For a start, let’s consider the cards that put a card into exile face down with no explicit instruction allowing anyone to look at it:

Bottled Cloister

Clone Shell and Summoner’s Egg

Ignorant Bliss, Suppress

Knowledge Vault

Kyren Archive

Magus of the Jar and its ancestor, Memory Jar

Mangara’s Tome

Moonring Mirror

Necropotence

Parallel Thoughts

Pyxis of Pandemonium

– The cycle of Lorwyn hideaway lands – Windbrisk Heights, Shelldock Isle, Howltooth Hollow, Spinerock Knoll and Mosswort 

Some of these cards can be easily messed with. Take Clone Shell, for instance; all it takes is non-destruction removal to leave whatever was imprinted permanently in limbo – [card]Path to Exile, Cyclonic Rift, etc. Others require jumping through several hoops, some of which aren’t even played that extensively in EDH (maindeck Stifle anyone?). Still, these are the cards that you shouldn’t mess with where your general is concerned; doubly so if you know you’re going to be playing with one or more(!) rules lawyers.

***

So there you have it! I hope I’ve managed to answer your burning questions on how to derail a Child of Alara deck commanders can(‘t) go to the command zone. Do you have a rules interaction question you’d like to see answered here? Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter or send an email here. I’d love to dig in.

Until next time!

@mtgtaikomint