Continuity and Process
This year we’ve been forced to grapple with a lot of change and transition. Sheldon’s passing left huge holes in our hearts, and much of our work this year involved structural, behind-the-scenes things to ensure continuity. We want to honour Sheldon’s legacy through a format that remains vibrant and social.
To that end, we’re going to continue posting annual State of the Format articles in late January of each year, with two key changes. They’ll:
- be posted here, on www.mtgcommander.net rather than their traditional home on Star City Games as part of Sheldon’s weekly articles;
- follow a more structured format, focusing on accomplishments of the previous year as well as setting goals for the upcoming year
We’re hoping that this will provide a better look at what we’re seeing, where we think we can improve, and the concrete steps we’re taking in service of our goals.
Snapshot of the Format
Complexity and Diversity
Commander in 2023 was marked by an often overwhelming injection of new cards into the format. The format gained a little less than 2000 new cards (which is slightly less than 2022), and 398 of those were legendary creatures.*
*Huge thanks to @mtg_ds on twitter for helping to gather this data
This has led to a pretty drastic change in player behaviour. Ten years ago, for example, it may have been possible to maintain an encyclopedic knowledge of every new card, as well as the most common strategies associated with common commanders. Today, that’s nearly impossible. The deluge of new cards – combined with their complexity – has even the most experienced players asking what cards do multiple times per game. This has three predictable outcomes, all of which we’re seeing today:
- The format has a steeper learning curve and higher cognitive load;
- The format is more diverse than it ever has been;
- Even more gameplay is improvised on the spot rather than practiced for.
Diversity doesn’t mean that there’s a total lack of cards that land in a majority of decks – simply that the format is drastically different than it was 5 or 10 years ago, when plenty of people could rattle off the entire list of 5-colour legendary creatures off the top of their head.
When cards do land in the majority of decks, they often seem to be cards that were designed specifically with Commander in mind. This does carry a benefit in that newer cards tend to be more available and more readily reprinted, but it does run the risk of eroding Commander’s charm and personality. This isn’t necessarily a problem to be solved, but it is something we’re aware of. If you’re reading this, one way you can help to preserve Commander’s charm is to dig deep and play weird cards just because they don’t have a home elsewhere.
All the new cards make it ever more likely that you’ll find some perfect card that your opponents will have to read and try to figure out what to do with. That idea was inherent in the origins of Commander – a place to play the cards that weren’t seen in other games, giving the format a more improvisational feel. Though the underlying cause is slightly different, the net effect is similar; in 2024 you’ll need to play around cards you have to read.
Although Commander today has a steeper learning curve than it did in years past, there are no shortage of avenues to get people to start learning and playing. Widely available, well-built pre-constructed decks can allow anyone to sit down, enjoy a game and begin to grasp and learn all the concepts of magic gameplay. While Commander will never be the ideal way to learn the basics of Magic, a focus on the fun of the game goes a long way in carrying a player through that initial confusion.
We’re really excited by the idea that you can pick up a preconstructed deck from your LGS and – with a little luck and skill – be able to hang with the folks who show up to play or the friends who have invited you to join their hobby. We are conscious, though, that as preconstructed decks become more powerful, people might skip over the experience of digging through bulk boxes for niche cards to upgrade or customize their decks. As ambassadors to the format, we love to share the joy of creativity and self-expression through deckbuilding, and we don’t plan on shutting up about it.
In the past year, we’ve been thrilled to see numerous events spring back up across the globe, allowing people to play Commander in every way imaginable. We’ve seen packed Local Game Stores, CommandFests and MagicCon Command Zones filled with players representing the entire spectrum of Magic play. We love that folks are able to find like-minded people to enjoy the game with in a way that they enjoy, no matter the power level.
Feedback to Wizards
A lot of people didn’t realize prior to 2023 that we give regular feedback to Wizards R&D on card design. This isn’t new, but it’s worth mentioning because we feel it’s an important part of managing the format. Our job is not to fix problems with card or game design, nor to tell Wizards what they have to change (they have many concerns to balance, while we have only one!) We’re able to help them identify potential problems so their skilled game designers can make informed decisions. Additionally, we highlight cards we are excited by and spaces we’re excited to see them exploring. We continued to provide feedback this year, and while we can’t talk about what’s been discussed, remain very happy with our relationship with the Casual Play Design team, with whom we work closest.
Banlist Explanation Project
One of the key principles we focused on this year is documenting institutional knowledge – capturing an enduring record of the things we have in our brains, so they’re not exclusively communicated (and often distorted) by word of mouth.
Years ago, we identified an opportunity to do this by modifying the official Commander banlist page to include short, easy-to-understand explanations for why each card earned its spot on the banlist. Previously, the best way to research these topics was to dig through our old banlist announcements, or read articles written by Sheldon or the other members of the Rules Committee.
Today, we’re happy to announce that these modifications have been made to the banlist page. We drew heavily from archived announcements on MTGNexus, outstanding articles by Commander Advisory Group members Kristen Gregory and Tim Willoughby, and the collective recollections of folks who were involved at the time. We compiled the explanations with the assistance of Commander Advisory Group members Rachel Weeks, Charlotte Sable, and Shivam Bhatt. The resulting explanations are by no means comprehensive or exhaustive, as one of our goals was to keep them pithy enough for a mouseover-style interaction. We did our best to focus on important elements of each card and the play patterns that led to their removal from the cardpool.
Although we consider this project to be complete at the moment, we may modify these explanations in the future if we find that our brevity has come at the expense of clarity.
As an organization, one of our goals is to be sustainable. We have expenses such as web hosting costs, and want to make sure we compensate our Official MTG Commander Discord moderators for their time and efforts, along with anyone else who provides us with their valuable services. Historically Sheldon handled many of these expenses out of pocket, resulting in a disruption with his passing. We are taking steps to get these finances on a firmer and more structured footing. We’ve historically had people and organizations reach out to us to offer help and financial support for the things we do, but it’s important for us to avoid selling access or influence, or even the perception of doing so.
To this end, we’ve started work on establishing a 501(c)(3) – a nonprofit organization with appropriate oversight and financial transparency. Our goals here are to ensure that:
- our financial obligations continue to be met during periods of transition;
- any fundraising efforts we undertake are accompanied by appropriate disclosure;
- the Rules Committee as an organization exists independently of any of its constituent members.
We want to express our gratitude to Don Miner of EDHREC and to his staff for helping us navigate the legal waters on this project. His help has been tremendously valuable.
This project is well-underway, but there are still some administrative tasks we need to complete in 2024.
Goals for next year
In keeping with this more structured approach to the State of the Format, we’d like to share some goals we have for 2024, with the intent to revisit them in next year’s article.
- 501(c)(3) admin tasks
Complete all administrative and tasks related to the establishment of the 501(c)(3).
- Philosophy and Operations
In last year’s State of the Format article, Sheldon shared a preview of some potential changes to the format philosophy. It doesn’t represent a shift in the philosophy – we will always be the format that focuses on creativity, self expression and having fun – but see opportunity for improved articulation of our goals and priorities. This work is ongoing, and requires a bit more polishing before it’s ready for publication.
- RC Stream
Our Thursday games at twitch.tv/CommanderRC continue to be some of the most direct contact the RC has with the online player base. Going into the new year, we’re aiming for a more consistent schedule involving faster-paced games featuring the entire RC along with special guests from across the community. We’re looking for more opportunities to grow and interact with the great community who join us on these streams.