Who’s Your Daddy?: Diplomacy — Who Needs It?


Before we delve into today’s tirade, allow me, on behalf of our esteemed Wampire Lord, to explain why there will be some delays with our regularly scheduled column “Rags to Riches.”  At the moment, Marin is overseas visiting his family, most of whom live in the shadow of a dormant volcano covered in dead tigers.  This means his access to the web is sometimes limited, making trading and documenting for the purposes of said column quite an endeavor.  But fear not, readers; he shall return!

For now, I will entertain you, or, at least, try, with some vilified musings on Commander.  It’s been awhile since I put finger to keyboard and did something structured, so bare with me; I’m an old man in a sort of old man’s body.  I only want to scratch the surface here with the hopes of provoking some chatter in the comments below, so let’s take our thongs off and get crazy with the cheez whiz!

The “C” Word

It is a common tenet amongst the Commander/EDH community that the format was intended to be exclusively Casual. In this article I will sojourn into a hail of conversational gunfire in an attempt to curtly dissuade you from feeling this way, but while I strap on my Kevlar lobster bib let’s take a look at the word itself:

casual – adjective

1.) chance; fortuitous: a casual meeting.

2.) without definite or serious intention; careless or offhand; passing: a casual remark.

3.) seeming or tending to be indifferent to what is happening; apathetic; unconcerned: a casual, nonchalant air.

- antonym: planned

The above is a simple and unbiased cut and paste job from dictionary.com (with obvious omissions for the sake of context).  On the whole, I feel these are an apt description of how some people approach the format from this “Casual” perspective: “indifferent,” “without serious intention.”  For some people, Commander is just a social experience, the outcome of which is entirely irrelevant and seemingly beyond their control.  For others, like myself, it’s a challenge that evokes a more serious, competitive spirit upon which notions of “fun” are checked at the door like some ill-fitting clown wig at a job interview.

The immortal question remains: just what in the hell does “Casual” actually mean?  Is there a quantifiable means to determine this, some increment of measurement, or is it simply a bellyachers best and only excuse in a moment of frustration?  Let’s break it down like De La Soul: quick and on the real.


Speaking from experience, the first person to pull the “Casual” card is usually whoever is losing (and losing the worst).  The air sometimes becomes fouled with reactionary slander; attempts to assassinate the character of those straying beyond the implicit boundaries of “fun” happen and happen often.  Be it complaints about play style, the quality and/or rarity of cards, or the manner in which someone has played those cards, having a good time is an awfully serious business for residents of the Casual world.

My favorite rebuttal is: “Well, Commander is found in the Casual Rooms, right?”  And at long last, we something remotely tangible: casual players to the right, competitive ones to the left.  But does this, in any way, mitigate the intermingling of the two?  God, no.  How could it? Do we give the ORCs yardsticks to swat the hands of Tourny-loving bullies with their netdecks and unrelenting and unapologetic bloodlust for victory?  Or is it all just semantics; a last ditch effort to save face in the midst of competitive odds when unprepared and outgunned?

Until that prophesied day comes when The Patron Saint of Casual Gaming spills forth from the Heavens in an irradiated pillar of pure light and Febreze wielding a first edition copy of the Casual Gamer’s 1098 Commandments, I stand by the idea that any format can be played to a lesser or greater degree of competition.  Acknowledging and accepting that there are people out there that play decks that have an agenda and execute despite adversity is just a reality.  It’s why Star City hosts prize events.  It’s why WoTC chose unified deckbuilding as a format in this last Community Cup Challenge.  If there were no Competitive scene there wouldn’t be Player Run Events, right?  In the paper world, EDH is a sickeningly cutthroat environment.  Nearly anyone and everyone I know that plays the format in the material plane plays it like they’re in Thunderdome.  Remember, just because it’s an “alternative format” doesn’t mean it can’t be played at an elevated level.

Here are some of my personal philosophies on just how to do this.


Shall we begin with the obvious?  In this format, one must defeat two additional opponents ““ that’s right, they’re opponents, people, not bosom buddies.  That’s two more decks full of answers, full of problems, and 120 life in total that has to be somehow breached in order to attain victory.  Even if you opt to “close entry” at the minimum amount of players and go for a three-way (yeah, yeah), these are quite staggering odds for any player to navigate successfully under any circumstances.

Allow me to take this a step further and say I, in no way, espouse the notion that this is a “political” format.  More often than not, I find myself fighting my through failed attempts at revenge for prior transgressions against the sanctity of “fun” than I do for being a threat in the current game state.  You can hope to amble through the game harmlessly piggybacking on the bolder strides of your new-found frienemies, but why not succumb to the reality that in the end you have to kill everyone last one of them to be the victor?

My take, based upon a buttload of dedicated playtime over these last few months, is as follows: always assume you’re the greatest threat and never ever depend upon the kindness and mercy of those who you must inevitably mosh to win.  That’s right, while everybody is shaking hands in a moment of feigned camaraderie pull out a gun and kneecap the guy closest to you just to rattle the other two gents.  It sends a message; it sends them scampering like carsick kittens to barf beneath the driver’s seat.  The inherit drawback of this strategy, of course, is being tag-teamed, but if you come prepared and play to win this shouldn’t be an issue.

For those of you with the patience and candor to sit back innocuously and bide your time until you unleash a God-sized mega fart in the mouth of each every other guy left standing, more power to you.  I am not a patient or eloquent man in this capacity, though I do admire this tactic wholly.  There is a term for this kind of person: sociopath.

It’s important to remember that grudges are moreover the prevalent “social” aspect of the game.  You will find that the better you do the worse you will be punished, even months down the road.  This is hardly a game where people are out there slamming down Tempting Wurms or diplomatically playing a Vision Skeins.  No, expect to be blocked; expect for people to discon 30 minutes or more into a game if things aren’t going their way.  In the land of dirty diapers the naked man is king”¦ whatever that means.

Okay, let’s keep on moving.

Weapons of Choice

Next up is the card pool debate, which, quite frankly, is what drew me to the format in the first place (the cards, not the debate).  Currently, the fascist stranglehold is still white-knuckle tight in 100 Card Singleton, meaning the bevy of tutors and borderline unfair cards in my collection gather digital dust for the most part.  I can’t play cards like Mana Crypt, Vampiric Tutor, and Life from the Loam, most of which I expended hard(ly)-earned resources on and have every right to enjoy abusing.

This begs the question: if the creators and moderators of the format’s express intention were to have “fun” in a “Casual” only manner why aren’t the aforementioned cards and others like it banned?  I mean, if they’re such an affront to the unmitigated spirit of the format, why do players have the option to include them in their decks?

Here’s why: because winning a game with triple the adversity and three accessible, recurring creatures that are almost always powerful is frickin’ hard, man!  I touched on this a moment ago, but for serious, think about it!  Take into account that entire archetypes just do not function whatsoever in Commander.

  • Straightforward Aggro/Weenie decks can’t deal six times the damage in a reliably thrifty manner.
  • Dedicated Permission decks are neutered by virtue of one-for-one card disadvantage.
  • Combos that only target a single player or don’t win in a single turn lack the clout to take it down more often than not.
  • Even cards like Planeswalkers have a sufficiently less reliable lifespan in Commander than they do elsewhere – throw one on the table and see how often you get more than a single activation out of it.

This is why we have these tools at our disposal.  This is why Sorin and Magister Sphinx aren’t banned, nor should they ever be.  No matter how downright nasty any one card may be, each and every player has to worry about triple the potential index of answers for it.  In the world of Commander there are little to no guarantees whatsoever.

In Closing

I want to keep this brief with the hopes that the community will tear at each other’s eyes like some Spring Break in Cancun gone wrong.  Get those pitchforks and torches together now!  I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to plumbing the depths in an attempt to assuage anyone with what I am trying to convey.  All I ask is that you understand my point here, which is this: Commander can be played in more ways than just your biased, self-serving, crybaby way where you’re rewarded for slothful and careless building/play.  That’s all, nothing more; not too much to ask, I think.

If you’re one of these people that preach “it’s about the journey, not the destination” with regard to this format, fair enough, hippy.  But do good to remember that just because you’re there to absently click through a bazillion turns with no want for anything more than entertainment doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else, is obligated to follow suit.  It’s a two way street, folks!  Get a map.

Hugs and Kisses,

Travis R. Chance: so many trolls

  1. “My favorite rebuttal is: ‘Well, Commander is found in the Casual Rooms, right?’”

    This is easily my favorite rebuttal as well, as it lets me bring up that, no, it’s found in the Multiplayer room, and that the Tournament Practice room is ALSO found under “Casual Play”.

  2. Umm I will say Aggro does work. Just not weenie-aggro. Midrange aggro does just fine as a showed in my video this week. Otherwise I completely agree with your whole politics approach, I hate it when people try to make friends. I remember one game a monogreen deck had both Vernal Bloom and Gauntlet of Power with Kamahl as his general. I try to play Hull Breach and the momir vig guy with one forest counters it so he has mana….we all died the next turn to the green players insane mana. During the cursing of the vig player’s life, family, ancestors, and his possible future children, he said he didnt consider kamahl a threat. I hate most players.

  3. Of course you touched on contiguous issues concerning casual-players’ complains, but the question I always find myself asking is, “If you’re here to enjoy a social, non-competitive experience, why do you care so much that someone just Armageddon-ed?” I mean, big deal, right?

    After some mild observation, the conclusion I’ve come to concerning EDH-player psychology is that EDH exists primarily as an outlet for the display of player vanity. It’s a place where children come to beguilingly fan their unwieldy peacock feathers in a lame attempt to impress each other — where they stand around grunting and sharpening their horns while never even butting heads over a mate. But since everyone always does exactly the same thing as everyone else, none of the players in the game actually has the audience they think they have. Instead, each sits mulling over their grip, excited that everyone else will ooh and ahh at their next Main Phase A play. Finally, when their combo piece gets trashed, or their 21/21 shroud guy Wrath-ed away, they’re confronted with the harsh reality that no one was actually there to watch their cute deck in the first place. Their efforts unnoticed, they either run away crying or irately decree, “Ye who playeth disruption or removal shalt be banished!” and they go back to jerking around in the oddest display of non-committal shallowness since Zoolander introduced closeted adolescents to the runway walk-off.

  4. I thought I specified Aggro/Weenie, as in rush decks: Gobbos, WW, etc. Of course Midrange works. Conventional damage is the method dujour in this format.

    BTW, Fenix: I dedicated eating an apple while taping a vid for you today. Heh. The sound is… realistic.

  5. Jesus, AJ. You actually trumped my crapathetic rage fifty-fold! Elegantly and violently put, my pigmentless friend. To think it was a mere decade ago that you team drafted with me and said, with tears nearly brimming in your eyes: Dude, I only have four creatures; and three are Dwarven Grunts!

  6. Well maybe in your world slashes indicate that you meant aggro and specifically weenie aggro but in my world slashes stand for and/or….

    And we all know whose world we are living in…

    Elton John’s.

  7. This is probably the first time I have seen you write something instead of a video post with no words. I think it is refreshing. I agree that every format can both be competitive and casual, and lack of tournament support for one does not imply that it can not be competitive. Without further ado, ON TO THE TROLLING!!!

    “That’s right, while everybody is shaking hands in a moment of feigned camaraderie pull out a gun and kneecap the guy closest to you to just rattle the other two. It sends a message; it sends them scampering like carsick kittens to barf beneath the driver’s seat. The inherit drawback of this strategy, of course, is being tag-teamed, but if you come prepared and play to win this shouldn’t be an issue.”

    I think if you show strength then people will start trying to take you out because nobody is under the illusion that you will be their ally forever, as it is after all, last man standing. Since it’s a game and not real life (where the kneecap scenario is effective), I would assume most of the time people won’t play scared (and if it seems like they are leaving you alone it is either because they can’t do anything to stop you anyway, or have the answer so they don’t consider you important enough to stop immediately). Additionally, I think showing strength naturally leads to a kind of “tag-teaming” against you, so as per your article, I advocate being a sociopath.

    @ShardFenix: Then it becomes a matter of whether or not what the player does is considered as strength. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of politics going on there (unless there was some chat going on in game that we don’t know about), the momir vig guy probably wanted a chance to abuse the extra mana (I assume his mana base didn’t only consist of 1 forest) so he countered it. Countering something that didn’t target one of your own spells or permanents does not automatically count as trying to make friends.
    That being said, the player was just stupid for thinking that such a large amount of mana and a commander to use it with was not going to be a threat.

  8. This format, unfortunately, is fueled by grudges. In fact, I have never witnessed such ridiculously selfish (but I thought it was a social game) acts of holding other players hostage until they are ejected as I have with Commander. Sadly, this is why I opted to head back to 100CS (that and I need to generate some positive Ticket flow). My dreams of a reliably consistent, steady competitive Commander scene are dashed against the rocks of consternation. Sigh…

    And thanks for the comments, folks. It’s been a good long while since I wrote something; I spend all my time fixing other people’s stuff, inserting HTML and jpegs that need resizing. Admittedly, I only touched upon this issue, but consider this an open mic; mount the soapbox and let us know how ya feel!

  9. I think it sucks when you do ally up with someone and in one main phase your board position gets wiped out by your so called ally, even though you had planned to do it to them on your own main phase, sad face.

    Yeh I wish commander had some premier events or daily events. Maybe that would change the view of it being a casual format online.

    My daddy was a womanizing alcoholic with high blood pressure.

  10. Mr. Deeds, clean off your black feet and your blacker heart; you’re making people sad-sick.

  11. To be fair, that deck had 7 bodies in it, and while a couple of them were Dwarven Grunts, I also had some Woodland Druids and Pardic Swordsmiths.

    And also, I went 1-1, beating Dan, allowing us to win the draft.

  12. I think you sustained a head injury while playing Mario Kart; none of these things happened, nor did you have that many bodies; this was an epic fail and I remember distinctly.

  13. When is the first 100cs article gonna be online, I’m gonna set a reminder on my Google phone.

  14. Tonight!!! And there are a buttload of games! The second installment is me Top 8ing!

  15. Ah, you’re so many trolls! You’ve had some interesting, and brutal, decks.

    You are very correct about Commander games being very grudge driven. You will see people going all out against a fairly week opponent and ignoring a bigger threat as a result of being attacked by a Llanowar Elf on the third turn. People play with their emotions usually, which also leads to the complaints when their combo/monster/game ending play is disrupted. I think the length of the games and the amount of time invested in each of them also leads to people acting stupidly.

    Fun little rant. There are a lot of cards out there that aren’t played (Obliterate, Decree of Annihilation, etc.) due to the social contract, but they aren’t banned and they serve a purpose. So feel free to use them. Just be prepared for the hate when you run into the same players in another game.

  16. i honestly couldnt tell you how i decide who i kill first. In the last game i just saw an easy target early and took him out first since he had nothing to stop me at all. Then my choices were Uril or Kaervek, and I took out Uril next to avoid his general, then ending on kaervek.but except gof picking uril over kaervek i didnt really care.

  17. Just to play devil’s advocate:

    First, as a competitive format, I think commander would quickly be overrun by decks that eschewed interaction and simply focused on using the liberal tutor/fast mana allowances to power out some fairly degenerate combos even with the inherent limitation the Singleton rule places on combo. Why? Commander has no sideboard… answering combo requires maindecking situational cards like Yixlid Jailer. Further, control decks are dis-incentivized from playing bread and butter anti-combo strategies — e.g., counterspells, discard, spot removal — due to the multiplayer nature of the format. 40 life and the mid-rangey nature of aggro in the format offer significant protection from non-control decks. Are you comfortable with commander becoming a combo-heavy format or do you disagree that this would result from people playing as you envision.

    Second, competitive formats require expensive cards (there’s a reason they are pricey). Think about all the opponents you face that don’t have access to dual lands. If you want to persist in thinking this is a competitive format, you probably should not be posting videos of you beating up on people playing terramorphic expanses. A small addendum to this: Consider the idea of bringing a competitive classic tournament deck to an afterschool MTG tournament. Of course the tournament is competitive, but there are functionally norms about crushing everyone with a vastly more expensive and therefor faster deck.

    Third, I was under the impression that politics was one of the reasons people like the idea of commander. I see that you don’t like this, but it seems inevitable in a system where bandwagoning/alliance formation can be advantageous. Politics is inherently meta-game, as people can’t help but think that someone who was nice to them in a past game might be similarly helpful in the game about to unfold, or vice-versa. It’s almost a condition of competitive play in my book that one should not be able to gain an advantage in match 2 by sabotaging oneself in a prior match, especially where some match 2 opponents were not present to benefit in match 1.

  18. inneutral: all your points are fair ones, in fact, they are the majority rule. I was merely stating that this isn’t the ONLY way to experience the format. Inevitably, and sadly, this article won’t affect its intended audience (or even get to them, for that matter). Just know that I am more than aware of why things are the way they are in the format. I was merely holding a mirror up the community and saying, “really?”

  19. Oh, and did anyone mention that the most prolific whiners are almost always the guys sitting behind a Zur, a Rafiq, an Uril: decks that kill players and kill them fast, their synergy usually so air tight that it functions AS a Combo?

  20. lol those players are the ones i love killing the most. I mean the deck are so blatantly similar, i t really makes me think how horrible are you at deckbuilding that you had to net-deck for commander and run one of them?

  21. It’s too bad there aren’t enough multiplayer players on MTGO to really make a seperation between ‘big money’ decks, very casual decks, nearly all creatures, no combo, free for all (deckwise), whatever.
    Everyone is mixed together and while that has it’s charm, I can imagine (like inneutral said playing devil’s advocate) that some kid having fun with a terramorphic expanse is going to be disappointed getting beaten over and over again by the guy playing bayou.

    The idea of fighting all the Uril, Zur, Rafiq and other ‘near-combo’ decks (like Travis points out) is actually what is keeping me from playing commander. I have only a small collection and would love to play some pauper commander/multiplayer (there are common legends in Master’s Edition, even :P), but I know games would take 5 hours to start so I just don’t bother.

  22. …I have to stop replying to these articles when they are at the bottom of the page ><