* Commander-specific mulligan rules are removed
* Rule 4 (mana generation restriction) is removed
* Prophet of Kruphix is banned
We promised in the last update that, with the advent of the Vancouver Mulligan, we'd be evaluating the mulligan process in Commander. This announcement is the culmination of that research. After examining several popular options, and coming up with a few of our own, we've concluded that the Vancouver Mulligan (with the standard first-one-free in multiplayer and a scry once you go to 6 or fewer) is the best option. The RC continues to use and recommend the Gis ("Mulligan 7s to a playable hand. Don't abuse this") for trusted playgroups, but that's not something that can go in the rules.
Ultimately, the goal of mulligans in Commander is to ensure that you start the game with enough lands to be a participant. With Commander games running an hour plus, it's unfortunate if you can't play anything because you miss land drops and get run over quickly.
We didn't want to solve the problems of Magic itself - mana screw and mana flood are part of the game - and players need to make a reasonable effort with their land counts, but we wanted a mulligan rule that tried to minimize unplayable opening hands. So, we brainstormed, and ran computer simulations. And what ultimately came out was... it didn't much matter. Nothing provided a clear enough upgrade to justify having additional rules for mulligans. For example, with 37 lands, Partial Paris was "successful" (which we defined as playing a 4th land on turn 4) 89% of the time versus Multiplayer Vancouver at 86%, but it came at a cost of about a fifth of a card on average. On the whole, 86% success is a rate that seems reasonable.
If you find yourself playing 1v1 (perhaps while waiting for a friend to show up), you should still use the free multiplayer mulligan. With a deck this size, variance is high enough to make not having the free mulligan potentially punishing - without the free mulligan you drop down to about 80% success rate, which, combined with being the only opponent to focus on, leads to too many unfortunate games.
Finally, it’s not an official rule, but we recommend setting aside the hands you're mulliganning away until you get a keeper. That saves shuffling time, and we're all for minimizing shuffling 100-card decks.
We still love Rule 4. It's a nice piece of flavor and reinforces the idea that this format goes beyond simple mechanical restrictions into a deeper philosophical approach around color and mana symbols. Its effect on the game was pretty small, but that flavor message made it worthwhile to preserve.
However, the mana system of Magic is very complicated, and trying to insert an extra rule there has consequences in the corners. Harvest Mage. Celestial Dawn. Gauntlet of Power. And now, colorless-only mana costs.
Being able to generate colorless mana more easily in Commander wasn't going to break anything. But, it represented another "gotcha" moment for players, who were now likely to learn about Rule 4 when someone exploited the colorless loophole. We could paper over it (both "mana generated from off-color sources can only pay generic costs" and "you can't pay a cost outside your color identity" were considered), but a lot of the flavor would be lost in the transition, defeating the purpose. Without the resonant flavor, Rule 4 was increasingly looking like mana burn - a rule that didn't come up enough to justify it's existence.
We don't expect removing the rule to have a big impact. Some Sunburst and Converge cards might get a bit more of a look. Sen Triplets works more like you'd expect, as does Praetor's Grasp. The clone-and-steal deck, already one of the most popular archetypes, gets better, but less than you might think. It turns out there really aren't that many impactful non-blue activated abilities on cards that commonly get stolen in Commander. It's OK if you can regenerate that creature you just stole, and you'll need to work for it a bit anyway.
One side benefit to the removal of both the color production and mulligan rules is that, in terms of game play, Commander becomes a normal game of multiplayer Magic with a higher life total and a set of additive rules to bring a new piece (your Commander) into the game. That's good streamlining in terms of teaching people the format and reducing gotcha moments while still preserving the essential flavor of Commander.
Prophet of Kruphix:
This was challenging. Prophet is not a traditionally obvious problem card for Commander, so we chose to take a conservative approach and see if casual groups could adapt. In the past, we've seen unpopular cards generate a lot of outcry, but be handled reasonably well. Powerful cards existing is OK and exploring them responsibly is an essential part of Commander.
This didn't happen with Prophet. Casual groups haven't been able to work around it and problematic play has not dropped off in hoped-for ways. Instead, the primary approach has been to steal it, clone it, run it yourself, or get run over. Ultimately, it seems the card is too perfect - it does everything U/G Commander players want to be doing and it does it in a way that makes counterplay difficult. With traditional boogeymen such as Consecrated Sphinx, you're forced to expend a lot of your mana to cast it and will have a challenge protecting it as the turn goes around the table. With Prophet, it has virtual protection built in, negating that disadvantage almost immediately.
Prophet becomes only the second multicolored card on the banlist (after the structurally-problematic Coalition Victory). It's telling just how pervasive Prophet is despite such a restriction. Yes, U/G is the most popular color combination in Commander, but we've reached the point where Prophet is driving U/G deck choice, rather than vice-versa. That's centralizing in ways we can't ignore, so it's time for Prophet to take a break.
Whenever we decide to ban a card, we take a long look at the current list to see if any cards can come off, as we believe a casual format is better served by a minimalist banlist. After extensive discussion, however, we concluded that everything on the list served a purpose, so we won't be unbanning anything. It's been two years since the last (non-consolidation) card got banned, which is an acceptable growth rate!