Hybrid Mana, Revisited

Back in February of 2015, there was a big debate about hybrid mana on MTGSalvation. As a semi-regular poster back then, I eventually waded in because it was getting quite heated on both sides and I figured an RC perspective might calm folks down. Since then, I’ve found myself pointing folks back to that post quite often when the subject comes up and people ask about the RC stance. Seven plus years later, the points remain relevant, but the examples – and some secondary references (such as the old color production rule) – are pretty dated. I figured I should rewrite it to be more up to date and put it somewhere where I didn’t need to dig it out of ancient discussion-board postings.

People sometimes ask why we discourage discussions about hybrid mana on the Commander Discord server. It’s not that we refuse to tolerate dissenting opinions; it’s that there’s no new ground being tread and recycling the same arguments over and over doesn’t actually make for an interesting server for folks to be on. If someone came in with a brand new take on hybrid that wasn’t “designer intent” or “mechanics of Magic” it’d probably be an interesting and welcome conversation.

Yes, designer intent was to make hybrid cards easier to play than traditional multicolor spells. Designer intent is a deep rabbit hole. Phyrexian mana was designed to make some cards easier to play in exchange for life. Force of Will was designed to be played without blue mana. In the early days of Magic, many large creatures were designed with no goal of casting them; they were reanimation targets and the actual cost of the card did not matter. There’s lots of designer intent in the game.

Yes, hybrid cards are unquestionably multicolored cards at all times. Mechanically, they function in-game exactly as they do in the rest of Magic. If you gain control of a creature with a hybrid activation, you can activate it, even if the cost contains a symbol not in your color identity. With the elimination of the color-production rule several years ago, you can even activate it using a color of mana not in your color identity! It’s always true that a Blade Historian can be Hydroblasted, whether you cast it with WWWW, RRRR or something in between.

Neither of these points are all that relevant in our calculus, because they are based around gameplay, but rule 3 (the color identity rule) is not a game play rule. Rule 3 is a deckbuilding rule. It matters when you are putting your deck together, not when you sit down to play. A deckbuilding rule is a restriction, designed to keep you from just throwing whatever you want in your decks. All formats have them – what sets are legal, how many you can put in your deck, etc, etc. They are used to shape a format. Many of them are mechanical. In Commander some are also aesthetic, which is something that helps distinguish Commander from other formats.

Commander cares about color, and always has. Yes, the rules have evolved over time, but that’s largely in parallel with the rules getting written down and slowly becoming more formalized in the first place. Trying to go originalist isn’t terribly useful – the rules were a somewhat contradictory hodge-podge when we started. But, from the very beginning deckbuilding has been based around restrictions that care about color, and “you can’t have mana symbols in your deck that aren’t on your commander” is elegant, easy to explain and aesthetically pleasing to us. (Yes, that only covers 99.9% of cases, so there’s another rule for color indicator because that obviously applies and yes, Extort is a little unfortunate. But, reminder text just can’t matter.) Given that rule, it’s very easy to see where hybrid falls. “Fixing” hybrid requires messing with that fundamental rule and the alternatives are more complex and less aesthetically pleasing (folks are welcome to disagree on that last one, obviously).

Making a change would require a compelling reason to violate that aesthetic restriction. Making cards available to more decks isn’t a good reason. Any change to the deckbuilding criteria would make more or fewer cards available, and making more cards available to decks in a format with so many cards already available is certainly not something we’re seeking to do. We think the format is better if mono-U decks and U/R decks might have to find different answers to problems. In general we like to be more restrictive in deckbuilding and more open in game play and that’s the philosophy that underlies how we handle hybrid mana.

Unfinity UPDATE

We promised an update on Unfinity, because of all the crazy new things that have been introduced in the set.

In short: There are no rules changes. What this means is:

  • Cards from Unfinity without acorn stamps are legal to play by default in Commander. Cards with acorn stamps are not.
  • Stickers can be played; if you don’t have any, our understanding is that there will be an online tool to let you generate some sheets. A reminder that you can only sticker your own cards (or sleeves, in most cases).
  • Attractions are legal. This caused the most internal debate, as attractions really play in some spaces we are wary of in Commander. However, attractions are not defined as traditional cards, and don’t live outside the game, so they do work within the rules framework we have. Making them illegal would have required changing the rules quite substantially (or banning the entire class of cards), and we don’t think they are problematic enough to justify a change.
  • Squirrels still rule.

Enjoy Unfinity!