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.

In Commander, “winning” doesn’t mean what it usually does. If one person has a bad time, you all lose. Even if you manage to be the last person standing, if one or two players are legitimately unhappy, you just failed to win. [note]Being salty because you misplayed or are just not great at losing is different than being genuinely unhappy with the experience. It’s not the same as scooping up your cards with a new bad beats story. It’s, for example, that game where you popped Genesis Wave for X = 12, spent eight minutes resolving it, found Archaeomancer and more mana, cast g-wave again, resolved a ton more triggers, and then drug the game through three, vice-gripped rounds of turns before you finally put it out of its misery, during which every other player ceased having fun, and at least one became actively more disillusioned with EDH as a format.[/note]

Sorry bruh.

I’m going to give that a second. Because it has a lot of ramifications. It’s a bold statement.


This means you have to choose who you play with somewhat carefully. The most cutthroat, competitive player, running the nastiest, fasttest, tuned-est deck can totally dominate EDH and win under this definition – if she plays at the right table.

Assuming you generally agree that anyone really unhappy [note]Let’s be clear, one last time. If you manage to kill everyone else and “win” the competition part of the game, and do so in a way that is generally fine with everyone, that shouldn’t be grounds for someone to be genuinely unhappy. If that happens, everyone still loses, but the action shouldn’t be change your deck or something stupid and enabling like that. It should be a conversation, or a hearty gut punch and some macho words, or a decision to changes groups, or whatever else; the point is it’s an issue with that person, not your decisions in the narrow sphere of Magical cards.[/note] = lose and everyone at least content = win, there are a few paradigms we can use as common ground.

The only ally who isn’t an ally, but grows due to his… allies.

Paradigms (or something)

  1. The Social Contract requires that you consider the fun of everyone at the table at every stage of the game, from deck building to play.
  2. It also requires that you think about your fun. But that means thinking about what you actually enjoy-cards, strategies, in-game moments-instead of just autopiloting.[note]Perhaps duh. But it’s worth emphasizing. Don’t ruin your own fun either.[/note]
  3. “Fun,” while patently subjective, can be battered down into a narrower range if you know the tastes and expectations of the people you (will) play with.
    1. It probably doesn’t mean pulling punches. The whole “Build Casually. Play competitively” line may be beat to death, but as Sean would say, you shouldn’t insult the people you’re playing with by saying that they couldn’t keep up if you played your deck to its limits.
    2. But it also probably doesn’t mean depriving them (or yourself) of the play experience they were looking for.
  4. You need something to guide how you evaluate cards and strategies so that you can think about all this stuff while you build your deck.

And it’s to that last point that I want to turn my attention.

Why Do We Need a New Theory?

Jason says (paraphrasing), “Imagine the most powerful, busted version of your exact deck, then swap out cards until the build is 75% as powerful as that, and you’ll probably get things about right so everyone can have a fun, competitive, strategic, back and forth of a game.”

I’m sure I didn’t get it quite right, but for my purposes, broad strokes are ok. There are lots of reasons why I think this approach, while great on a personal level, is not a good perspective or tool to communicate as the foundation of the theory you’d have all of EDHers pick up, but Swords to Plow will probably cover this.

And like I said, no potshots.

I’ve got an alternative that I think is better, even though it doesn’t do exactly the same thing, and it does have some shortcomings relative to 75%.

My tool is less concrete (bad), but more flexible and adaptable (good) to a wider range of contexts, experiences, and levels of confidence about others’ expectations(good); and oddly, more achievable because less is lost to hidden subjectivity (good).[note]I’m pretty sure this point doesn’t make sense unless I get into some of the specific shortcomings I see in the 75% theory, but I’m not going to. So just take it as fluff that I included because I like lists with three items.[/note] And it’s mega mega simple.

The Tool

Whenever you evaluate a theme, strategy, card, or group of cards, evaluate it in terms of this table, which offers two options for how each party in a game could feel when the card resolves. Both you and the others at the table can either feel happy or unhappy.[note]o technically that’s mega wrong – a huge portion of cards will elicit neutral feelings. But that’s boring and also those cards don’t matter either way, so we can ignore them.[/note]


It’s simple. Shoot for the top left quadrant.

An Example

All this came about when I jammed together a Riku of Two Reflections deck full of random cards I like that I hadn’t been able to find a spot for in a while. I wanted to clone all the things and do what Riku does. I thought it would be amazing. Then after two games I realized that we were firmly in the upper right-hand quadrant. I was winning or whatever, and no-one else was particularly perturbed (although when I resolved Tooth and Nail forked there may have been some grumbling until the targets were relatively inoffensive. Guilty.), but I wasn’t happy with the games.

If I had really thought about it, and considered game play involving copying Boundless Realms and cloning Clones of Oracle of Mul Daya to out-mana and out-value the table in snoozingly obvious ways, I would have known upper-right was the ultimate outcome.

End Step

So that’s it. That’s all I’m suggesting you do. It’s not about relative power levels or strictly banning any land destruction. It’s about two simple questions: “Will playing these cards in this deck make me unhappy or not, and better yet, happy? What about my playgroup?

Now go forth and defend The Social Contract: fun for all.