All posts by Toby Elliott

January 2023 Quarterly Update

Cards

No Changes

Rules

No Changes

Lots of new toys, Phyrexian and otherwise, to play with, and we aren’t seeing anything that’s currently threatening our goals for the Commander experience.

Some folks have been asking about the number of poison counters in the wake of Phyrexia: All Will Be One. We’ll obviously keep an eye out, but at the moment we don’t see a need to raise it; the mechanic has not historically been all that strong due to the need to go it alone in killing people. Once everyone has had a chance to play with the new cards and mechanics and the immediate enthusiasm for the current set has faded a bit, we’ll see if action is needed.

While Sheldon’s article may have raised some eyebrows about Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, the RC has had no discussions about banning it. Some of us had concerns about the design: stapling a casual-popular mechanic onto a casual-dangerous mechanic comes with some risks that are unrelated to power level, but there’s absolutely no way that would lead to a zero-day ban, and we doubt any action will be needed in the future. 

We’ve publicly had our eye on Dockside Extortionist for a while now, and have ultimately concluded that, unless there’s a sudden surge into more casual spaces – where it hasn’t really thrived due to the lower density of cheap, fast mana – we don’t anticipate taking action on it. It’s a ridiculously powerful card, but scales with the rest of the table, and at the point it becomes broken, plenty of other broken stuff is already happening.

We’ll be back with our next update on April 10th, with March of the Machine. Until then, come hang out with all the great people in the MTGCommander.net discord to talk about the format!


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!

UNFINITY PREVIEW CARDS

Our friends at Wizards of the Coast have provided us with a couple of free preview cards for the Unfinity set. When they asked us what kind of card we would like to preview, we said “Well, we’re big fans of Clones.” Somehow the email seems to have gotten garbled, because they sent us

We wrote them back that there had been some confusion and we were talking about copies. They apologized and sent us another card.

<Clown Extruder d_EN.png>
Clown Extruder, art by Marco Bucci

Buncha jokers over there in Renton, I tell you.

But Wait, There’s More

We have a special bonus card today!

Command Performance, art by Kirsten Zirngier

I think they kind of missed an opportunity to make the Scryfall folks cry (well, another opportunity) by not naming this Very Cryptic Command. Looking forward to the textless version in a few years!

Unfinity brings some crazy new cards to the Commander table, some of which you’ll need to have pregame discussions about. Remember that cards with the acorn holostamp are not legal by default, but the rest (including the ones above)… go crazy. It’s clear that the folks at Wizards did.

Announcing New RC Members – OLIVIA GOBERT-HICKS and JIM LAPAGE

Please join us in welcoming Olivia Gobert-Hicks and Jim Lapage to the Rules Committee!

After multiple rounds of interviews with some fantastic candidates, Olivia and Jim demonstrated a deep understanding of the Commander Philosophy, the right outlook for successfully managing a format, and a bunch of great ideas that we’re looking forward to exploring further. We’re excited to have them onboard and helping to shape the future of Commander.

Olivia was on the leading edge of webcam streaming of Commander, nearly a year before the pandemic and well before it caught on across the community, providing a positive blueprint for the practice.  This is just one example of the kind of foresight and insight into the format that she brings to bear.  Infused with the spirit of the format, her passion and power make her a significant representative for Commander to the groups that she will interface with as an RC member, from the wider community to design teams in Studio X. She is a leader in the truest sense.

Jim possesses one of the keenest minds in Magic.  His ability to understand, dissect, and articulate difficult ideas, thoughts, and processes is unparalleled, uniquely qualifying him as one of the format’s primary architects. His work demonstrates a belief in the power of Commander as a social format and force for positive change. He is equally at home interacting and communicating with diverse groups, offering the opportunity to distill input from across the broad Commander player base. He is the type of thinker who will help chart a smooth course for steering Commander into the future.  

We could spend a whole lot more time going on about Olivia’s passion for the format or Jim’s ability to break down a problem in great detail, but let’s have them say a few words about themselves.

Olivia:

I played my first game of Magic in an eight player two-headed giant Commander pod in 2014 and have never looked back. My enthusiasm for the format and love of creating cool things has led to me cosplaying Magic characters at events, streaming on my Twitch channel, co-hosting my own Commander show, and serving on the CAG since 2019. 

I want to use my time on the RC to help assist players in having the best possible experience, provide resources and ideas to players to keep things fresh and engaging. My hope is that I can help others find the same sense of community, discovery, and most simply, fun, that the format has given me over the years. 

Outside of Magic, I’m trained as a master jeweler – which may explain my love for artifacts! I have also worked on numerous political campaigns, and facilitated fundraisers for charities and causes close to my heart. In my free time, I enjoy playing Path of Exile, lifting weights, and making too many cool props for LARP.

Jim:

I started playing Commander in original Innistrad when I discovered that Shield Sphere wasn’t legal in Modern, and that pretty well sums up my deck-building style. I value the freedom of exploration that Commander provides in Magic, specifically when building extremely unusual and sometimes powerful decks. In 2018 I started a Youtube channel showcasing a mix of casual and competitive social gameplay, combo explanations, and analysis of the strategic and social aspects of the format.

In the past I’ve used my platform to help destigmatize high-powered play and to showcase the unique experiences available in underexplored corners of the format. This often involved communicating my own motivations for playing the game. I’d like to continue this work by creating concrete tools and methods that event organizers can use to communicate realistic expectations about the play environment they’re creating. I want to use my role in format leadership to help others explore and appreciate the full breadth of experiences available in Commander. 

In my spare time, I enjoy cooking and baking; crossword puzzles; escape rooms and logic puzzles; and camping and hiking. When not playing Magic I’m playing Slay the Spire, Diablo III, or any game from the Legend of Zelda series.


If you want to hear more of their thoughts – and you should! –  they’ll be in the channel #rc-expansion-welcome on the RC Discord server starting at 11:30 AM Eastern for an hour or so.  You’ll be able to find them, along with the rest of us, regularly in other channels on the server, always happy to talk about Magic’s Greatest Format.

Unfinity and the Acorn Symbol

Today’s Unfinity announcement included the introduction of the acorn watermark as the new method to distinguish what were previously silver-bordered cards.

We will be updating the rules for card legality to make the acorn symbol equivalent to silver-borders; they’re not allowed by default (but should be encouraged among playgroups!)

We considered allowing them – Commander is not a tournament format, so philosophically it aligns with Mark Rosewater’s points about un-cards – but while some of the classes of cards that get an acorn symbol would be fine (art-based abilities, for example) others are not (physical dexterity cards) and further trying to split would descend to specific card lists. Those might be viable as an optional addition, but not something we would look to make default.

Set looks like a ton of fun, though. Looking forward to it! As always, you’re welcome to join us on the RC Discord server to chat about it.

2021 April Update (Strixhaven)

No Changes.

Commander is in a pretty good place right now, considering waves hands at everything, and we don’t feel the need to take any action.

We do have our eyes on some cards, but want to wait until we have more in-person play to get a sense for how they would impact the format. While webcams have been amazing for getting through the pandemic, the online environment isn’t the same as traditional paper play. As it looks like things will start to reopen over the coming months, it makes sense to take a wait-and-see approach.

While there are no rules changes, we do want to highlight a couple of features that Strixhaven brings and how they interact with the Commander rules.

1) Any card that has a legendary creature on its front face can be your commander, but in the case of Modal Double-Face Cards, you can cast either side. Both sides are subject to the same Commander Tax; it looks at how many times you have cast the card, regardless of which side you chose to cast. Strixhaven introduces Legendary creatures with sorceries on the back side. For example, you may cast Search for Blex, but it’ll cost two more mana if you cast Blex, Vexing Pest earlier in the game. Perhaps you shouldn’t have lost him the first time!

2) Learn cards cannot retrieve Lesson cards when they are cast. We are not interested in introducing sideboards into Commander, and are not comfortable with defining outside the game as all cards you own (it was defined this way years ago and led to a lot of problems and arguments.) However, the alternate mode of discard and draw works fine, as the restriction is limited to the part of the card the looks for a Lesson. Playgroups that want to make Lessons work are encouraged to define a set of rules that works for them.

We’ll be back for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. In the meantime, we’ll continue to stream twice weekly on the RC Twitch channel (http://twitch.com/CommanderRC) on Thursdays at 8PM EDT and Sundays at 2PM EDT. Come hang out!

June 7 Announcement on Dies Triggers

As you may have heard on the CommandFest charity stream, we’re changing how commanders go to the command zone, effective with the quarterly Commander announcement for Core Set 2021. The short version of it is:

If a commander has an ability which triggers on it dying or going to exile, it will trigger before heading to the command zone. 

The long version (including how we got there and the technical details) is below.


First, new rules (specifically, a new state-based action):

If a commander is in a graveyard or in exile and that card was put into that zone since the last time state-based actions were checked, its owner may put it into the command zone.

If a commander would be put into its owner’s hand or library from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead. This replacement effect may apply more than once to the same event.

Commander death triggers are a subject that came up over the years, but didn’t get much traction. It’s not that any of us objected, it’s that none of us felt all that strongly about it. The current system worked fine and was elegant. We were happy with it and obvious possible changes had a lot of downsides. There were people out there who thought it was a good idea, and people out there who thought it was a bad idea, and no groundswell for change. You’ll find us defending positions we feel strongly are correct (like hybrid mana color identity during deck construction), but we generally didn’t engage much on Commander death triggers beyond pointing out that the rules to make it happen weren’t nearly as simple as people thought they were. We just didn’t have strong feelings either way.

The tipping point came last October when a CAG member was talking about their Elenda, the Dusk Rose deck and we had to break it to them that it didn’t work the way they thought it did. Turns out a portion of the CAG didn’t understand that commanders dying didn’t trigger death triggers and were quite passionate about the subject. That was motivation to see if we could do something with them that wasn’t a mess.

We came up with a lot of possibilities. Each had various levels of impact on the game. We had a list of a bunch of notable cards so that we could consider the implications of each approach, including Rest in Peace, It That Betrays, Oblivion Ring, Banishing Light, Grave Betrayal, even Skullbriar! If it had a weird interaction with a zone change, we probably talked about it.

In the end, we presented eight options to the CAG for discussion, all of which had different plusses and minuses:

  • Do nothing
  • Redefine the term “dies”
  • Inherent trigger on the commander
  • State trigger on a commander in a graveyard
  • State-based action (mandatory)
  • State-based action (optional)
  • Special action
  • A really crazy one where the Commander made a token copy of itself that went to the graveyard.

And then we talked a bunch. How much weirdness was acceptable? How much were we willing to change core Commander game play? Was not being able to leave your Commander in the graveyard acceptable for a very clean state trigger? For example, the special action (essentially “0: put your Commander into the Command Zone. Activate only in the graveyard, exile or library”) meant it was usually correct to have your commander in the graveyard when it wasn’t on the battlefield. Redefining “dies” to mean “is put into the graveyard or command zone from the battlefield” was super-clean, but meant that blinking a commander would trigger death triggers. Everything had tradeoffs.

After a lot of discussion, we proposed to Wizards the following state-based action:

If a commander is in a library, graveyard or exile, and doesn’t have a choice counter on it, it’s owner may put it into the command zone. If they do not, put a choice counter on it.

That worked intuitively with basically everything (shhhh, Skullbriar).

Rules Manager Eli Shiffrin (because he’s smart and good with the rules) pointed out that we could steal a little technology from, of all things, Deathtouch, to avoid using a counter (yay, Skullbriar):

If a commander is in a graveyard, library or in exile and that card was put into that zone since the last time state-based actions were checked, its owner may put it into the command zone.

We loved this, but there was one small problem. Could this apply in a hidden zone, especially with the existence of Chaos Warp? Chaos Warp targeting a Commander would put the commander into the library, shuffle it, then reveal the top card. Tracking the commander through all of that is stretching the Magic rules, and while I think we could have made it work, it was tricky both rules-wise and physically. In the end, we left the replacement effect in place for hidden zones (hand and library) and now use the state-based action for graveyard and exile. Commanders that go to hand rarely want to be moved, and commanders going to the library is a rare event; wanting to take further action before the State-based Action kicks in is rarer still. Those events working differently won’t matter most of the time.

And that’s how we ended up with the final rules above. Note that the Commander still has to go to the graveyard in order for a dies ability to trigger. If that is replaced by some other effect (such as Rest in Peace), it won’t happen, just as it wouldn’t happen on any other creature.

We’ll obviously be keeping an eye on some of the more powerful commanders with death triggers – looking at you Kokusho and Child of Alara! – but think it will be OK and opens up a few more interesting options. And Elendra the Dusk Rose now works like the CAG and a bunch of other people think it does.