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.
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