About a month back, Sheldon Menery of the EDH rules committee released an article on the Star City Games website. In it, he listed a few cards that would likely elicit a groan in a typical EDH game. He dubbed these “Commander Cards You Shouldn’t Play,” which, as he admits in the article, is a bit provocative.
When I first saw this title I, like many others, was a tad miffed at the implications. “You’re telling me how I should have fun? Sir, you insult me!” However, Menery makes it clear he’s not on a fun-quisition or trying to strangle casual play. Within the listed cards are some notable names and themes… Armageddon, Winter Orb, Back to Basics: all resource denial. Palinchron and Paradox Engine: infinite and, in some opinions, degenerate combo enablers. Even a few oddballs that, while not game-breaking, certainly are powerful.
But are they so bad?
Playground of Titans
EDH is, at its core, built for long-form casual play. It’s the Royal Rumble to tournament MTG’s chess. A board game with some friends as you sip beer on Friday night. Wild swings and crazy reversals. Painfully stretched comparisons aside, it’s meant to be fun. But therein lies the issue with governing a casual format. What’s fun for me might not be fun for you, and vice versa.
At SCGCon this past summer, I played in a Commander tournament with prize tickets on the line. In that event, many people brought out their most powerful and competitive decks. Land destruction, combo, stax effects, and more were out in force. And in that arena, we were fine with it. In a competitive setting, those effects will be there. But even at the casual commander zone, people were doing the same things. And when they did, they would probably win that game and never again for the rest of the day. The nature of multiplayer gaming often balances out individual power, leading to players policing their format. And with it being a social game as well, people recognize and, hopefully, adapt accordingly.
But What If… You Didn’t Have That?
There’s a lot of debate on whether EDH/Commander is a more casual or competitive format. In my experience, the games are high-powered but usually not cutthroat. There’s laughter, there’s politics, there are deals and alliances. Sometimes a card hits the battlefield and we make a joke about it. And then someone drops, say, Defense of the Heart. Immediately the table responds: “does anyone have a counterspell?” “I can look for some removal.” “I got it.” And it’s gone. The game continues. It’s a call-and-response interaction, or maybe posing a question and having it answered. And if there is no response, shuffle up and go again.
Experienced players have learned how to deal with threats and deck-build accordingly. No card in the game’s 25-year run is unanswerable, no (legal) deck unbeatable. And, I would argue, that back-and-forth is one of the best parts of the game. Adapting to and overcoming a new challenge is exhilarating. If cards don’t work, politics come into play. The beauty of multiplayer is being able to make deals and alliances, and too many people overlook that. Someone else might have a response. And if not, and the game ends, step back, shuffle up, and go again. Play for the next game.
I respect and admire Sheldon a great deal. He helped create one of, if not the most, popular MTG formats ever. He’s a much better player than I am and knows the game much better than I do. Having said that, I believe that nearly any play style, strategy, or card (outside of the ban list, and even then I have opinions) has a right to be played. Just be prepared for the rest of the table to react accordingly, and probably not win that game.
It’s fine that both opinions can exist and both people play together. One major difference is that I’m not in charge of maintaining the ban list for the whole format. And the fact that Sheldon of all people released this opinion piece isn’t insignificant. It’s one thing for some person at the game store to tell you what you should and shouldn’t play — it’s something else entirely when the boss gets involved. However, as he says in the article, “they’re cards we choose not to play with and would invite you to consider the same,” so there’s no harm being done. The Rules Committee has done a great job so far, and they’ve expressed a desire to keep the ban list as small as possible.
Still keeping a couple untapped islands open, though.
Moving to Discard
Do you play EDH? Are there particular cards you hate to see in a game? Do you agree that the list of cards just shouldn’t be played, or feel they aren’t all that bad? Anything you think I missed? Let me know in the comments!