We’re not going to bury the lede here. We’re not banning the cards from Secret Lair: The Walking Dead. We understand that this won’t sit well with some folks; we have spent a lot of the last few days listening to a wide variety of opinions, and we want to thank everyone for taking the time to share their thoughts. It was, at times, quite overwhelming. It’s clear that this is an issue that many people are passionate about.
Our decision doesn’t reflect an endorsement of these cards, but what we believe is best for Commander in the long run. If you’d like to understand how we arrived at this decision, we encourage you to read on.
We identified three major concerns during the course of these discussions, and we’ll address each and how they relate to Commander below. They are:
- The availability of these cards is problematic
- The existence of non-Magic IPs on cards should be discouraged
- Negan is a dubious character.
There’s no support in the Commander Philosophy Document for banning these cards. They certainly present no mechanical difficulties, and taken simply as cards, don’t come close to fitting any criteria we have for banning. However, as we are always seeking to improve the document, we discussed whether banning these cards could fit under new philosophical criteria and whether using the banlist in this way was appropriate.
A concern of many players is that these cards would not be widely available, and for some countries, only available through third-party sellers. They worry that this model will be repeated in the future. We’ve heard you loud and clear on this issue. Because the cards are mechanically unique, this is the major problem most folks have. We wish that all of our friends around the globe had access to these cards. However, the RC of its own accord can’t solve that problem. What we can do—what we already have done—is add our voice to yours. Since this issue broke, we’ve been in contact with well-placed people at Wizards of the Coast to make sure that they understand your displeasure and where it comes from, as well as urging that they work towards a solution.
While we understand why people are concerned about such limited availability, we don’t believe that the problem applies to Commander in the same way it does to tournament formats. Successful tournament formats require generally equal and complete access to cards. But, one of the themes that we’ve reiterated since the earliest days of the format is that you don’t need access to every card in order to have fun playing Commander. The focus of Commander being on non-tournament play, plus the enormous cardpool available where almost everything goes, means that unique cards floating around don’t present the same kind of problem. The stakes in a Commander game is the fun of the participants, and that doesn’t require all the cards.
A problem we see with adopting a ban philosophy based on card availability is explaining it down the road. If, a year from now, someone stumbles across a copy of one of these cards, tries to use it and discovers that it is banned in Commander, they will ask why. And the explanation is unsatisfactory: people didn’t like how they were allocated. This does not make a lot of sense to the person who is holding the card, and who doesn’t own many other cards that may be out of reach for them. We want people to be able to play the cards they own, and only resort to bans when it’s problematic for the health of the format, not the wider ecosystem.
These cards are in no way a threat to the health of Commander. In fact, we see it just the opposite. We’re the only format that could bear the weight of this kind of experimentation. This is the format in which Crab Tribal is just as valid as Blood Pod. Adding a few quirky cards that aren’t ubiquitously available doesn’t threaten that.
One of the calls from the community was that we should ban these cards to “send a signal” to Wizards of the Coast for a “blatantly commercial act”. First of all, we don’t think it’s appropriate to tell them how to run their business; that’s way outside the scope of our charter. Second, the banned list isn’t the appropriate vehicle to voice our displeasure over something, nor is using it as punishment. The banned list is an abstract construct to corporate decision-makers. The right path to walk is the one we’ve gone down: real change happens from having real conversations with real people, which we have been doing since the news broke. Finally, attempting to send such a signal would be doomed to failure. It will not have the effect that people hope. The primary goal of these cards is almost certainly new-player acquisition. Wizards hopes to lure some Walking Dead fans into Magic and any interest from Commander players is just a small bonus. Banning the cards until functional reprints are available doesn’t do much either.
Some folks simply don’t like the idea of The Walking Dead crossing over into Magic, a modern IP breaking an immersion barrier. We understand that feeling (none of us care at all about The Walking Dead), but also realize that almost everyone has some universe for which they’ve dreamed of having Magic cards. We don’t think it’s productive to try to gatekeep that. If you dislike it, we support you not playing with the cards. Introduction of a different IP opens Commander to audiences who might not have ever heard of Magic or the format; we welcome the new friends we haven’t yet met.
We’ve also heard some displeasure over the Negan character being on a card, given his (fictional) history of terrible actions. We are sympathetic to this, and did give some consideration to banning just that card. We chose not to because Negan is a villain, plain and simple. There’s no implied endorsement, sanitation or glorification of his actions. In that, he’s no different than other villains already in the Magic universe, even though as portrayed by an actor it seems closer to “real world” discomfort. No one is suggesting that by putting him on a card he should be idealized, any more so than Nicol Bolas or Yawgmoth. We will use this as an opportunity to remind each other to respect other players’ boundaries. Being empathic and accommodating is vital for a healthy gaming community; being considerate of other players makes us all better.
The community outcry over these cards did not go unheard. We used our relationship with people inside Wizards of the Coast to have an honest conversation about how and why so many of you felt betrayed by this process. One of the outcomes of that conversation is that they were supportive of whatever decision we made. We believe that conversation has had influence and they clearly understand the concerns. Thank you to everyone who has weighed in with their thoughts. We tried very hard to keep up with all of them, even as the Discord became overwhelming.