Recently, Sheldon Menery posted an article on StarCityGames.com about what the Rules Committee (RC) is trying to do with the format as of late. We would like to thank Sheldon for taking the time to try and clarify goals of the committee, and the theory behind how decisions are made; without his willingness to be open, we couldn’t have a proper conversation on the topic of the role of the RC as it applies to the current state of Commander.



First thing’s first. We absolutely do not mean the following as an attack on the article, Sheldon, or the RC. But as the ‘Defenders of the Social Contract’, we at GDC felt that an article entitled, simply, The Social Contract, required our response.

When it comes to defining the Social Contract, we are on the same page as the Rules Committee. Commander is perfect for promoting social games of Magic. In the twenty-plus history of the game, there hasn’t been a way to play Magic that comes anywhere near what Commander/EDH has on the casual scale. Sheldon gets it exactly right when he says the contract should guide Commander players ” to interact both during the game and before it begins,” and after any game – that’s why it’s a “social” contract after all.

As long everyone in a game is on the same page and having fun, there really isn’t a wrong way to play Commander (or adhere to the Social Contract for that matter.) Players shouldn’t trick other players by misleading them as to what they want to play for, or ignore what they know about others’ preferences or their own.

All of what he said about this was perfect, and is great common ground to start on. From there, though, he goes into some grey areas. Sheldon states:

“We’re not telling you that you must do something. We’re telling you what we’re doing; if you like what that is, you’ll do it too.”

This is important to remember, because it suggests that the rules and ban list in Commander is meant to be subjective, instead of being something normative that they believe you and your group should feel compelled to follow to the letter.

Simply put, the “official rules” only work for playgroups that are very similar to the Rules Committee.

The issue we have with this is that this intent does not mesh with the reality of

Commander in 2015

ISSUE THE FIRST: THE ONLINE ISSUE

The biggest issue with the Commander rule set being presented as a suggestion is that Magic Online doesn’t treat it as such. As far as online play is concerned, the word of the RC is law. You can’t play with banned cards even if everyone agrees they’re fine, and you can’t bring back tuck (once they roll it out). Even if you are playing with friends, MTGO (mis)treats the RC guidelines as set in stone.

If the RC were to work with Wizards to make some of these issues selectable options for games rather than fixed rules, MTGO would absolutely be in line with their vision. As it stands now, they should consider their decisions’ impact on MTGO Commander players who are being dragged into their specific vision with no choice.

As Sheldon would say, the RC is telling Magic Online players how to drive their cars.

ISSUE THE SECOND: MAGIC: THE (PUBLIC) GATHERING

We understand that the RC doesn’t take tournaments into consideration, and that is fine for a casual format. However, at large events such as conventions and Gran Prixes, one of the easiest ways to meet up with the Commander players there is to enter a four-player pod, an event most tournaments run as official side events. From our experience, these pods strictly follow the official rules and suggested ban list. This means that while the Rules Committee doesn’t take these pods into account while making decisions, pods are completely based off those decisions nonetheless.

This relates directly to being an officially-recognized format; Wizards endorses the Rules Committee’s vision of Commander completely, with all the implications that creates; we don’t believe the RC should completely ignore these situations if they are the organization that ultimately controls the rules for them. This is the true cost of being officially supported by Wizards.

NEW PROBLEMS

The problem with a set of rules based around the premise of being merely a suggestion comes up when you play anyone for the first time. Whether it’s your first game of EDH, first time in a new store, a pickup game at an event, or a new player introduced to your playgroup, the issue is conflicting “house rules.” If you take the rules as just a suggestion, there is a good chance that your deck is built to your local set of rules and expectations, which are different than the random ew person following RC “suggestions” whom you’re now facing. Many groups follow the Rules Committee’s rules just to avoid the awkwardness of telling other players that the rules posted online aren’t the ones you like to play with.

It’s one thing if it’s just a difference of one or two cards on or off the banned list. But it’s another if you start playing with modified rules. One person who builds their deck using the MTGCommander.net rules and another following unique house rules would be playing in quite different formats altogether. If you follow the RC, you end up with a set of rules and cards that don’t fit the new group’s play style. If you don’t follow them, who knows how far off you are.

In other words, the RC’s position on the rules actually sets them up to not be all-inclusive or all-accepting. And neither can any specific group be!

Like we said at the beginning, the RC’s rules only work for goups that are very similar to the Rules Committee. That’s a very myopic view, considering how big this format has become.

INACTION: THE BEST ACTION

Every time the rules committee changes something, they run the risk of alienating more players and playgroups. Obviously, many approve of a given change, and we’re not going to turn a blind eye to the overreactions of people who love this game in response to change. Don’t get us wrong – we love screaming out in indignation as much as the rest of you, and this website was founded precisely on that crotchety-old-man principle.

But it’s naive to think that there aren’t people who honestly do throw in the towel when they reach a breaking point. It’s fair to assume some people have moved on to focus on another format (or game!) because they played in a metagame where tuck wasn’t an excuse to run more tutors, but rather something that honestly kept problem generals in check. Without that safety valve, Commander is suddenly oppressive and not fun to these people, and they’re moving on.

Fear of alienation can’t thwart all action. But all this does mean that if the RC wants to be supported by the community, the best thing they can do is nothing – unless it’s absolutely necessary. They can measure if something is necessary is by checking to see if people will continue to play and enjoy cards and rules with things as-is. The constant risk of losing community support means they should only take a risk if they stand to lose more support without doing anything.

For example, if EDH players were switching to other games and formats because a new Phyrexian invasion-themed block introduced an overwhelming number of potent infect enablers, the RC should weigh the risk of losing the support of players who don’t think it’s a problem versus players who are giving up because of it, and make a rules decision from there.

Remember the head-scratcher that was the Trade Secrets ban? Editor’s Note: Man that was when the unbanned the amazing Staff of Domination? What a swingy announcement. The recent tuck rule seems like it came out of the same left field that did. Whether or not it’s a good change, it was certainly one that an overwhelming number of players weren’t expecting, as opposed to one that made sense because people were clamoring for a fix to something that was driving them away.

That’s a problem.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Rules Committee should accept that no matter how hard they try to position it, their decisions aren’t merely suggestions. It is irresponsible for them to ignore the various ways people play Commander, idealistically hoping people will just do what they want regardless of what the RC puts into effect on an official level.

Most importantly, they should learn that they don’t need to be constantly changing the format for players to enjoy it. To wit, the profound growth of the format – the format’s growing popularity across blogs, websites, game stores, and podcasts, as well as the sales figures on official Commander product and the sheer number of new players – all happened while tuck was a thing. If it was confusing new players to the point that it hurt the player base, the numbers certainly don’t bare that out.

Changes should not come as surprises to the player base. The RC should know that the current players already love the format, and that they don’t need to constantly reinvent it to make people happy.

Call it out. What do you think about how the RC operates and their position on their rules being just suggestions. Let us know.

Swords to Plow

GDCCommaner