Category Archives: Announcements

Low-traffic category containing changes to the rules, banned list, official site, etc.

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!

2021 Snow Battles Rules

For our March 2021 streams on http://twitch.tv/CommanderRC we’ll be playing some games with a light-hearted variant called Snow Battles, using snowy cards from

  • Ice Age (IA)
  • Coldsnap (CSP)
  • Kaldheim (KHM)

Plus these cards from other sets:

Viscerid Drone (AL)
Storm Elemental (AL)
Gargantuan Gorilla (AL)
Winter’s Night (AL)
Centaur Omenreader (FUT)
Ohran Frostfang (C19)
On Thin Ice (MH1)
Iceberg Cancrix (MH1)
Marit Lage’s Slumber (MH1)
Winters Rest (MH1)
Chillerpillar (MH1)
Blizzard Strix (MH1)
Dead of Winter (MH1)
Alpine Guide (MH1)
Rime Tender (MH1)
Saddled Rimestag (MH1)
Frostwalla (MH1)
Glacial Revelation (MH1)
Conifer Wurm (MH1)
Ice-Fang Coatl (MH1)
Abominable Treefolk (MH1)
Frostwalk Bastion (MH1)
Arcum’s Astrolabe (MH1)
Icehide Golem (MH1)

Banned:

  • Amulet of Quoz (IA)

2021 January Update

CARDS

No changes.

RULES

Clarified Rule 11.

Parts of abilities which bring other card(s) you own from outside the game into the game (such as Living Wish; Spawnsire of Ulamog; Karn, the Great Creator) do not function in Commander.

We’ve had some questions about Karn, the Great Creator’s -2 ability and whether the parts of it that don’t refer to outside the game work. They do, so we added a couple of words to remove any ambiguity from the rule. The goal is to set the default space for outside the game to empty and let playgroups choose amongst themselves if they want to fill it with anything.

ADMINISTRATIVE

Expansion of the Commander Advisory Group.

The Commander Advisory Group continues to be the best idea we’ve ever had.  The passionate and insightful advice we’ve gotten from them on a broad range of Commander-related topics has been invaluable.  We’d like more of that.  

To that end, we will be expanding the size of the CAG.  For now, we’re adding four people who represent some of the marvelous voices filling out the Commander chorus.  Jim LaPage (@JimTSF) is well known for his community-building and keen Magic mind.  Another sharp Magic brain, Rachel Weeks (@wachelreeks) is also co-host of The Commander Sphere podcast and graphic artist who has been a frequent guest on the Commander RC Twitch stream.  DeQuan Watson (@powrdragn) is a long-time Magic community advocate and activist who hosts the Color of Magic podcast.  US Army Major Greg Sablan (@gregorysablan), who we’ve been chatting with for more than a year now, represents the vast global military Commander community.  You can read everyone’s full bios here.  We’re excited to have them on board and happy to have their help taking the format into the future. 

There’s still work to be done and room for a few more seats on the CAG.  We’re aware that we still have underrepresented demographics and locations.  You can expect our efforts to search for, find, and amplify great voices around the world to continue, both for CAG consideration and to further foster the values of our great Commander community.  

Legendary MDFCs

If a Modal Double-Faced card has a legendary creature on its front face, the card can be your commander. You may cast either face from the command zone. Command tax is applicable to the card itself, regardless of which face you cast. For example, if you cast Valki, God of Lies and it then dies, casting Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor will cost 7BR and recasting Valki will cost 3B. If both faces are creatures, both faces will deal commander damage in combat.

RC Statement on secret lair: the walking dead

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:

  1. The availability of these cards is problematic
  2. The existence of non-Magic IPs on cards should be discouraged
  3. 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.

CARD AVAILABILITY

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. 

NON-MAGIC IP

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.  

NEGAN

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.   

IN CONCLUSION

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. 

September 2020 quarterly update

It has been a quiet quarter for Commander, and we are going to keep it that way. We don’t have any changes to the Rules or Banned list this time around. We will continue to monitor the format, player experience, and so forth. 

As always, we’re interested in your feedback.  You can pop around to the free RC Discord server and be pretty likely to run into an RC or CAG member in a chat (or four). 

We are making one small change regarding our announcements. This is the last quarter in which our regular announcements will take place on the Monday after a new expansion’s prerelease weekend. Starting in January 2021, quarterly Commander announcements will happen the Monday before a new expansion’s prerelease weekend. The reasons are two-fold:

  1. Since new sets are legal in Commander as of the prerelease, it only makes sense that any announcement take place before then. 
  2. This will get any possible bannings/unbannings and rules changes out of the way prior to the prerelease. Commander players can attend their prerelease (well…someday), acquire cards, and not be worried about rules changes the following Monday.

The Rules Committee, some of the Commander Advisory group, and a few “friends of the format” have been playing a format variant for the last 4 month. Dubbed the “EDH Boxing League,” it has proven itself to be a very different, fun way to play Commander.

The short version is:

  1. Each player opens a booster box or a normal release expansion or Core set cards.
  2. Players build their Commander deck from this pool.
  3. Starting each subsequent week, each player can open 6 boosters of another set and add those cards to their pool. They can’t select a set for which they have already opened boosters in that league.
  4. All Commander Rules are in effect (including banned cards).

There’s a full write up of the rules here.  There’s also a dedicated channel for it on the Discord server. 

If you’d like to see the format in action, join us on the RC Twitch channel (http://twitch.com/CommanderRC) on Thursdays at 8PM EDT and Sundays at 2PM EDT.

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. Our hope is that Commander has provided some small sense of relief from the crazy over the last 6 months. See you again in January!

Gavin’s Format of the Month – August 2020: Sideboards

From the inception of the Commander rules website until about 2011, there was a section for “optional rules” which the RC felt were interesting to some, but didn’t have enough common appeal. One rule which I was always a fond of was the use of sideboards for more high-powered games.

There wasn’t much in the vein of cEDH back then; a few groups in Ottawa and Paris played cutthroat games; but there were plenty people at the next tier down and I always felt that the use of sideboards (even in one-game “matches”) made those games much more interesting. If the other players all agree (in advance), playing with sideboards is viable variation of the core rules.

There’s nothing wrong with a Fencing match, but there’s no room for a broadsword.

To explain why, we need to dig into the RC’s stance on “answers” in Commander decks. Specifically, what do we consider reasonable expectations on a deck builder?

Should you play “answers” in your deck?

Yes. Obviously.

Interactivity is fundamental to any interesting Commander game. Even if your deck’s plan is an all-out blitz, you’re still looking to thwart your opponents’ plans by taking away their time. Most of the time, interactivity comes from cards which answer or preempt an opponent’s threats… removal, hand disruption, counterspells are obvious. Bigger creatures block attackers, flying creatures obviate a control deck’s blockers. The cycle goes on, but it is the interactions between our cards and our opponent’s game state which make Magic interesting.

That’s to to say that answers have to be singular in focus. Much of the interactivity in EDH games comes from cards which answer a threat and leave some resource behind: Stomping Indrik or Flame-tongue Kavu or Contagion Engine. That’s because longer games are more likely to resolve through attrition, and answers which trade 1-for-1 are inherently dangerous in a multiplayer environment. The term “Coup fourré” refers to an answer which immediately presents a threat… arguably the best kind of answer.

The downside to flexible answers is that they’re costed appropriately… the aforementioned “killer Kavu” is 4 mana, where Flame Slash costs 1. Creature-based answers are always sorcery speed… and as decks get more faster, the window to answer threats gets smaller. Draining Whelk is great in a 10-turn slugfest, and unplayable if someone is going to combo off by turn 6-8.

In higher powered, faster, games your answers must be more (mana) efficient… but those answers do nothing else.

In higher powered games, answers must be more (mana) efficient but efficient answers usually don’t advance your plan. They don’t enrich the ensuing game state as much as an expensive answer would (albeit, they enrich the ensuing game state more than an ineffective answer which doesn’t stop the game from ending). They’re a necessary evil sometimes; moreso as the power level rises.

How many [good] answers is enough?

The second problem with “answer” cards is that you have to draw them in time… “There are no wrong threats” and all that. With a 100 card singleton deck, the frequency with which you[1] draw any particular answer is low, which means that you need to put several in your deck to reliably have one when a threat arises. (I’m discounting the efficacy of answers against specific threats, and starting with the simple model of “every answer completely negates a particular threat”… later we’ll talk about different types of answers for different types of threats).

Counterplay is the idea that you can increase your chances to win by foiling an opponents’ plans, as well as advancing your own, and the interesting decisions which arise from balancing the two.

Unfortunately, putting too many answers in a deck is usually a bad thing, from both strategic and entertainment perspectives. Too many efficient answers and you’re not DOING anything to advance your position… too many expensive answers and you’re probably not doing anything at all.

So, how many answers fit in that goldilocks zone? It depends on how likely the threat is to occur. If you’re going to face a particular danger multiple times every game (say, a big creatures) then you want to have answers consistently… 10-20 creatures of your own, or targeted removal, etc. “Wide” creature strategies are also pretty common, so board wipes are popular… but you don’t need to have them nearly so often. 5-10 ways to deter a creature swarm: a mix of resilient blockers, sweepers, or a good crackback threat can be enough.

There are other types of cards which can threaten to take over the game along other “axes”… graveyard recursion, enchantments (From Omnipotence to Vicious Shadows), Artifacts, strategies which don’t win by attacking, etc. Perhaps the most prevalent is Land Ramp[2]… but that’s a topic for another day.

These “off-axis” threats require more specific answers… counterspells to stop infinite mana, disenchants to get rid of non-creature stax pieces. Stopping reanimator requires Bojuka Bog or Faerie Macabre, and indestructible or hexproof creatures can’t be answered by every removal spell.

Fortunately, those threats are less common… so in most Commander games we can:

  1. Hope they don’t show up at all.
  2. Assume they show up late enough that we can play less efficient answers which also serve to advance our board state.
  3. Play a small number of efficient answers and hope that other players do the same, such that at least one person has an answer to an early problem.

#1 is sometimes viable, but you shouldn’t be salty when you let an opponent go unchecked (and most of us don’t like flipping coins so you’ll need to find other opportunities for skill play if counterplay isn’t your thing).

But what happens when resilient or niche threats show up regularly and repeatedly in the early game? That’s what we’re talking about when we say “high powered environment.”

What happens when we play enough answers for every type of threat?

The risk (as the RC sees it) with cut-throat EDH is that, to be reliably interactive in an environment with regular, early-game, game-ending threats a deck needs to contain a very large “critical mass” of narrow and efficient answers. To make sure you’ve got lands and at least one of the “right answers” before turn 3-4, a deck needs to play 40+ narrow answers, leaving very little room for cards which advance the game and do proactive, opportunity-for-interaction things. Instead, these decks play a small set of highly reliable, hard-to-interact with threats which take up fewer slots.

The risk with cut-throat EDH is that, to be interactive in an environment with regular, early, game-ending threats a deck needs to contain a “critical mass” of narrow answers.

Moreover, because of the math of drawing a small hand from a large deck, the number of answers that must be in the deck to reliably draw at least one means that you’ll usually draw more than one.

The result is games are a tight-knit “fencing” match of counterplay, seeing who can thread the needle of opposing answers to land a threat. This contrasts with the “broadsword” or “claymore” style of swordplay that most people look for in Commander game. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a “fencing matches”… they’re elegant and skill testing in the extreme. Leaning on the metaphor a bit, they’re harder for the audience to understand though and there isn’t as much room for creative expression as there is in a high-variance format[3].

The RC generally feels that creatures are central enough to Commander that players can be expected to play a reasonable number of answers to “normal” creatures… but must-answer enchantments and artifacts, indestructible creatures, and graveyard strategies are less frequent. Expecting players to pack 5-10 answers to every threat type is undesirable.

How should sideboards work? Do they help?

Hopefully, it’s obvious by this point why sideboards could make the game more interesting. By allowing game-time flexibility in deck composition, high-powered players can cut irrelevant answers and play more proactive cards[4]. The questions which arise are:

1) What’s the downside?

Regular readers[5] know that I believe every variant has a downside to go with its upside, and sideboards are no exception. The most important one is sideboards let people play cards with large caveats while often avoiding them. As long as everyone has the same opportunity that’s (probably) ok… but sideboards only work if everyone has a sideboard.

Another downside to sideboarding is that the narrow “silver bullets” which become playable are often feel-bad cards. Chill, Choke, and even Leyline of the Void can be groan-inducing when they land well… and that’s why Sideboards aren’t part of the core Commander rules. The RC doesn’t think that they enhance most playgroup’s fun quotient.

2) How would sideboards work in single-game matches?

TL;DR – sideboard after revealing all commanders.

To make a sideboard useful (see question 4), you need to know something about your opponent’s deck. I messed with the idea of allowing mid-game sideboards, but the games which need more answer specificity need it sooner not later. Fortunately, the pregame procedure for Commander has a perfect opportunity… an opponent’s commander tells us a lot about their deck (especially in focused metagames with Tiered commanders). If we know someone is playing a graveyard deck, pulling in even 2-3 silver bullets substantially decreases the chances anyone goes off with Hermit Druid on turn

3) How big should sideboards be in Commander?

Back in the days where sideboards were listed on the website, sideboards were 10 cards… I don’t actually remember where that number came from. For simplicity’s and consistency’s sake though, 15 cards is the right number. If you’re playing a game where silver bullets are allowed and needed, that gives you 3-5 cards in each of 3-5 categories, which (assuming you have 3 opponents and a few maindeck answers each) increases the chances of someone having an answer in the opening turns to a reasonable 80%+ range.

Unlike other formats , you still have to sideboard out one card for each card you bring in. Commander has a maximum deck size as well as a minimum.

4) If I’ve got a sideboard, do wishes work?

Wishes (cards which bring other cards into the game from outside) are an interesting piece of templating technology which first arose in Odyssey block… and with the rising popularity of 1-game matches for Standard (thank to Arena) they’re seeing a surge of popularity in newer sets. Unfortunately, they come with all the same caveats that sideboards do… they drastically lower the cost for feel-bad silver bullets. That’s part of why the RC doesn’t want to see wishes in Commander, and it raises the question of whether Wishboards should be a thing in games with sideboards.

Given the time restrictions on competitive games, my inclination is that wishes are probably too slow… but I’ve leery of how burning wish was so powerful in Vintage, usually fetching Yawgmoth’s Will to end the game. Wishes, like Tutors, get around the singleton nature of Commander… and tutors factor quite heavily into cEDH games. Wishes are generally more expensive than the (best) tutors. I would probably not allow opponents to play with wishes even if we were sideboarding, but YMMV and I’m really not knowledgeable enough to decide without more testing.

5) Can we use sideboards for casual/mid-power games?

[Keeping in mind that this is still a variant, and requires permission from every opponent before it applies]

Contrary to everything I’ve said above, yes you can… but everyone (starting with you) needs to obey the same kind of social contract which makes Commander work in the first place. Use your sideboard to make the game more interesting for everyone… and that means starting with a conversation about what they find intersting. Include answers which slow your opponents down, but don’t shut them out.

Better yet, bring in answers which capitalize on opponent’s predictability, and use them to do interesting things. If you tell them you’re doing so, it will have the collateral benefit of encouraging them to be less predictable!

Footnotes

[1] Granted, one of the advantages of a multiplayer is that you can be saved by other players in a sort of diplomacy/prisoner’s dilemma way. Unfortunately, it’s a tragedy of the uncommons… the person who spends a resource to stop a threat rarely comes out ahead of the other opponents who didn’t. (Again, that’s why Draining Whelk and the like are popular, because answers which put you ahead avoid this trap). Worse, the multiplayer nature can also become a race to the bottom… relying on other players to break up combos or Path to Exile an early monster means you can put more threats in your own deck.

[2] Unfortunately, there really aren’t a lot of good answers to land ramp, short of Armageddon effects which reset everyone back to square zero and make the ensuing game much less interactive. There are a few, but it’s one of the things we hope to see more of from future magic sets.

[3] As it turns out, real broadsword fighting between experts actually involves a lot of counterplay and is extremely skill-testing. The difference is that broadsword matches between casual competitors is at least interesting… fencing between amateurs is boring for everyone.

[4] They can also play more relevant answers… again, there’s nothing wrong with playing control decks if that’s what everyone wants. But at least there’s more room to think.

[5] I’m not convinced such a thing exists, but grant me the rhetorical device :).