Thanks to everyone for making last week's mailbag a success. We'll jump right into this one.
What direction would you like the color pie to go in? Would you like to see anything specific to a certain color? Do you perceive an imbalance between the colors? If so how do you think they should be addressed?
I don't. If the scales are tipped, I think it's toward green because I think that the color has cards that do nearly everything. If I were to choose a direction for the color pie to go, it would be back toward the narrowing of what each color does instead of an expansion. That's personal taste, and it might be better game design for that expansion to happen.
Second question, what are your thoughts on mass land destruction when it is used to seal the game for the caster? Say casting Armageddon when you have a dominant board position compared to the other players?
As an immediate win con, I think it's fine. I'm not a fan of taking the game away from other players, and personally, I'd rather win when they have a board full of resources instead of when they can't do anything. The latter always feels somewhat cheap to me, even if I was the person who cast Obliterate.
Lastly, why haven't the other members of the RC done similar Q&As?
Probably because they don't have the same weekly soapbox that I do. Or the same propensity for getting up on said soapbox. I'm the front man; Scott Larabee is the guitarist with mystique. That's the dynamic we agreed on.
What is your opinion on the Commander's Arsenal release? Are you satisfied with its contents? Do you think it should have been made less limited? Do you think the MSRP should have been enforced on it? What do you think of the generally negative reception it has received?
I think the contents were pretty cool. I think they did a nice job of picking cards, and I know that narrowing it down to the number they did had to have been REALLY painful because I know the folks who made those decisions are fans of the format who love cool cards. I'm fine with the limited release and understand that when you're doing stuff like that that figuring out exactly how many to produce is really difficult. I'm not sure who you think would "enforce" the MSRP, especially since the "S" stands for "suggested." I think I'm going to reject your premise of "generally negative reception." Sure, I've seen a fair number of complaints about both availability and price, but I've also heard a fair amount of positive feedback about the product. I'd be happy with a similar thing on a regular basis.
Do you ever feel like giving the finger to people who endlessly attack your (RC's) decisions? I ask this because lately I have seen a lot of comments where people act like they 'deserve' your attention and service, as if they are paying you. Maybe some people don't know the RC is not a part of Wizards.
I'm a human being, so sometimes what people have to say gets under my skin, but I don't really take it too personally. I understand that sometimes people are just miserable and want to extend their misery to others. That said, I also understand that it's part of the price one pays to be a public figure of any kind, even this micro-niche celebrity. Fortunately, most fans of the format are completely awesome, going out of their way to say nice things and demonstrate their appreciation, which more than makes up for the bits and pieces of hate.
Would you and/or the rest of the RC like to see four-color wedge generals? Is this something that may one day see existence from Wizards?
I can't speculate on what the fine folks in R&D have planned. I've been whispering "four-color legends" to them in passing for most of the last six or seven years. For completionists, not having them is certainly a hole. For the rest of us, I'd say we only really want them if they're cool. If they're just four-color to be four-color, then I think they'd be pretty shrug-worthy.
Do you regularly do tests where you assume card X is banned or card Y is unbanned to see how games go?
No. The Kokusho thing was a bit of a perfect storm. I see real scientific testing as both unnecessary and unable to provide enough meaningful data even if we thought we might want it.
If you had to choose an animal as the mascot of the RC, what would it be?
The armadillo (ref. Spinal Tap). I'll let you enjoy discovering why.
What are some problem cards that are on the RC's watch list? Have you been reading the banning and unbanning polls in the MTGS forum? If so, has that affected the RC's choices?
Are you trying to trap me into saying that there's a watch list??? :) Toby and I and now Devon read nearly every post on the MTGS Commander forums. We're fans of reasonable arguments. None of those polls actually made any of us think, "Yeah, there's a card we hadn't considered." Those polls have no real correlation to anything we happen to be discussing.
Do people purposely seek you out at tournaments/conventions/events just to play EDH with you in the hopes of beating you?
Not as many who turn up to simply have fun, which I thoroughly appreciate. Win or lose, as long as we're having a good time playing and socializing, I don't care about much else, but yeah, it happens all the time. Doing coverage, I seem to have even less time to play than when judging, so I unfortunately don't get to do too much of it.
And would you be opposed to having shirts/coffee mugs/shot glasses made saying "I beat the father of EDH" to give to the winner if they did indeed win?
I wouldn't be opposed to some kind of swag. I kind of like the shot glass idea. I wonder if Pete (SCG President and Ambassador of Good Will Pete Hoefling) would spring for it. Pete?
If your house was on fire and you could take one thing out of it, what one thing would you take out of your house?
I'll make two assumptions here. First, I'll assume that my wife and the cats are not "things" since they are clearly more important than material stuff. Second, I'll assume that "one thing" is one thing that I could actually lift. If not, my answer would be "the wine cellar." Otherwise, it'd be my laptop, which pretty much has everything I need to live on it. We have some cool stuff, but none of it is irreplaceable. Hopefully my Skyrim games are backed up online somewhere.
What is always fun no matter how many times you do it?
This is a family website.
What aspects of your life would be improved if you were a fish?
I wouldn't have to get out of my chair to use the restroom.
Which do you think is most oppressive: being forced to discard your hand or having someone destroy all of your lands?
The lands. Sure, losing your hand is awful, but just not being able to cast spells really sucks. You can always topdeck or cast stuff out of your graveyard. Add to that that your commander is always available to you and it makes the discard less oppressive.
What is your honest opinion on the longevity of the format? Do you think it is a staple casual format that will last as long as Wizards? Or will it fade away like Five-Color and Extended?
I'd argue that all of my opinions are honest. One of the main missions of the RC is to ensure the longevity of the format. We've seen the lessons of other formats and what hurt them in the long run. We're pretty sure that keeping it social and avoiding making it competitive is the primary thing that will give the format legs. That and avoiding a multiple-page banned list.
1. Do you think Primeval Titan's banning has really changed the format in any way?
Yes. From what I've observed, decks don't vomit lands onto the table as quickly like they did when everyone was either casting or Cloning Prime Time. It lets games develop more slowly and, to us, more interestingly. Speaking of which, a few friends/Armada regulars and I have developed a "no turn 1 Sol Rings" stance even in non-League games (in the League, it costs you a point).
2. Would you be offended if WotC used the French banned list for tournament level Commander?
2a. How would you feel if Commander were a tournament format?
Like the end was near. Perhaps that's what the Mayans were predicting.
3. Have you ever traveled to get a feel for other Commander metagames and the overall health of the format?
The only way to get a feel would be to travel to visit local groups, so no. I've done extensive traveling and playing of EDH, but playing with the judges at a PT or gunslinging with the great folks who attend events like Gen Con isn't really a window into local metagames.
4. What do you think of the Armada Games point system for league play?
Um…in conjunction with Armada owners Aaron and Michael Fortino, I invented it. That means I think it's awesome. A stroke of genius, if you will.
4a. Is it really an effective way to determine the winner or is it just a way to ensure that the same guy doesn't win every week?
It does what it's intended to do, which is shape the play environment into something social as opposed to competitive. I think it's for the most part an unqualified success, but that's in no small part due to the attitude and sportsmanship of most of the 70-odd regular players at the shop. The idea of a points system will likely work anywhere, but I think you have to adapt the system to each individual league and player base. What works for us might not work for you.
What do you think is the set that sees most play in Commander?
I don't have any hard evidence, but off the top of my head I'd say Ravnica. Thinking more about it, I might say Lorwyn or Shadowmoor or even Scars of Mirrodin. Of course, folks love to play the new cards as well. That's what I love about the format—there is such diversity in decks that it's tough to pin down.
1) Are there any elements to the rules of the format (not banned list) that have been getting discussed more seriously among the RC of late?
No, we're pretty happy with the way things are. We chatted quite casually about mulligans, but I don't think we've talked about any rules things in quite a while.
2) How is Commander as a format sitting currently in your eyes? What changes would you like to see for it going forward?
I think the format is pretty healthy right now. I don't see any major changes in the future, just minor course corrections as we need them. The banned list is the primary agent of change, and that's how we're likely to keep it.
Do you see Commander as the end all of all casual formats? How can casual formats or even MTG as a whole go any further when Commander already seems to encapsulate everything epic and amazing in MTG with a Vintage card pool?
Nothing is the end all. Cube is having a good run as a casual format, and I'm happy that folks are having some fun with it. I may even build one myself. Commander will stay around a long time for one reason: people have fun playing it. Once that goes away, it will wither, which is why we're dedicated to keeping it fun (avoiding competitive play once again being the primary plank in that platform).
Do you (or do you gentlemen) see a distinction between the types of players as well as what is being played now that WotC "officially" supports the format as "Commander" versus when it was non-official and known as EDH without dedicated product regulated towards it?
We have to see the difference. Otherwise, we couldn't say that we don't cater to the competitive player. To us there's no moral or ethical distinction—we don't see one type of player as better than another, but we do see one type as our target audience, if you will.
The only real difference since EDH was name changed to Commander is that there are now WAY more people playing the format now. The style and feel of games themselves haven't changed much save for the change that awesome new card sets bring.
How do you personally perceive the boundary between the types of EDH players? The Spikes vs. the Timmy/Johnny Vorthos players. And what sort of play types would you like to see EDH players gravitate towards, as the format does seem to be warping ever further into the "who can spend the most money on a 99-card Vintage/Legacy deck and combo out or control the board the fastest."
I think my views here are pretty well known. Those boundaries are fuzzy at best. What I most want to see are players who are interested in having fun and helping others have fun as well. Too many people talk about this format in terms of the cards when I think they should be focusing on the people. I disagree with your point on the direction of the format. From what I've seen, most folks are coming around to see that you don't need to do that in order to have fun.
Lastly, do you feel like WotC is taking the right direction in regards to product for the EDH/Commander community (see big of flops Arsenal [too few available], FTV: Legends [not a good release], and FTV: Realms [too few available]) as well as recent sets catering to ever larger, more grandiose effects (Omniscience, Mikaeus, and a few others come to mind).
They're absolutely taking the right direction. There are people there making Commander products who love the format. If the distribution details aren't perfect, it's hardly a sin—I think they're honestly trying to find a good balance. Once again, I reject the idea that Arsenal was a big flop.
Are any of the newer print legends causing any trouble in your gaming circles? In addendum, what are your thoughts on WotC printing such bigger and badder legendary creatures?
Not yet. Jarad is pretty spicy, but you can combat that with an extremely high life total. I have no problems with bigger and badder, although bigger, badder, and cheaper might get problematic.
How willing are you to visit Canada in the middle of winter? (Vancouver and southern Ontario don't count as they get cushy weather.)
I'm going to the Pro Tour in Montreal during February, so I'd say "unquestionably willing."
When doing your thing as a judge, where was it that you looked forward to going the most?
Anywhere with a direct flight. I've seen enough of the inside of Atlanta and O'Hare airports to last a dozen lifetimes. San Diego is a great convention city, as is Indianapolis. I like the proximity of the hotels, good restaurants, and the hall. Rome was awesome too because we took a twelve-day cruise through the Med starting in Venice to get there. Places, however, were never what I looked forward to. It was the people, including the judges, WotC staff, and players.
From The EvilCliff:
Is your favorite Armada League rule the one about taking too long in a turn?
That one's called "Look At Me, I'm Aaron Fortino." I think my favorite might be the point for killing someone in response to them trying to kill you.
Shel, who is sitting at your "if I could play with any group/players" EDH game and what decks are they playing?
The decks aren't important, the people are. I'm fortunate enough to get to play with all the people I want to. I think the only folks I can think of that I haven't played with but want to are Chris Kluwe, Seth Green, and Wil Wheaton.
How would you explain the "social contract" to a player new both to Commander and casual Magic in general?
I find this to be more and more what the format is about. Finding players that "get" Commander or casual in general is so hard and sharing the awesome experience while teaching them is harder the more experience they have with the game. I know the "social contract" has been said to mean different things to different people, but that is a load of hogwash and everyone knows it. Everyone has their own ideas and views of what is fun, yet they fall into two groups: those that put their fun first and those that put the group's fun as a whole first. The latter are the only ones capable of grasping a "social contract" but are becoming rarer and rarer, and I feel you, as the figurehead of the format, set the tone for the "social contract" whether you want to or not. I know the question is a biggie, perhaps too big for the article, but I wanted to explain my thoughts behind why I think it needs to be answered in more than a sound bite.
You're right; it's more than I can answer deeply in a sentence or two. Sound bites (like "build casually, play competitively") are useful in that they can convey a broad meaning quickly and be a nice jumping-off point. They fail at helping provide depth of understanding.
The social contract of EDH comes down to giving more weight to the enjoyment of other people and the group as a whole than one normally would in another game. I'm not advocating that neo-philosophical "everyone is a winner" claptrap, I'm saying that we can create games where everyone enjoys themselves to some degree regardless of which player wins.
What's the weirdest board situation and/or play you've ever seen in an EDH game?
Not long after I started going to Armada Games, I was playing in a game where someone had played Paradox Haze on himself and someone else had played Timesifter. We eventually lost track of who was getting upcoming turns. We all agreed to shuffle up and start over.
What's the largest amount of players you'd feel comfortable playing with in a free-for-all EDH game?
Four is ideal, five is okay, six is my limit. If there are seven people who want to play, that's a four and a three. Mostly, I want to see the whole table engaged most of the time, not drifting off to check their Facebook statuses. Giant games with double-digit numbers of players are t of those things that sound way better than they turn out.
Have you ever considered building a Mayael deck?
Strangely enough, no. I've always been happy with the Rith build I've had at the time, and that's my Naya deck.
Which of the EDH rules do you think is most likely to be changed at some point?
I'm reasonably happy with all the rules right now and don't envision any of them changing. I suppose if we were forced to change a rule or the kidnappers would shoot the hostage, I'd briefly think about changing the number of poison counters to fifteen before telling them, "We don't negotiate with terrorists."
Has any thought been given to lowering the starting life total to 30? At 40, you get quite the buffer which tends to augment blue-based strategies or at least allow a steady amount of ramping and preparation until players combo or at least overwhelm their opponents. Perhaps at 30, you'd see more aggressive play and red would be less of a redheaded stepchild among the colors.
No, we think 40 is perfect. In my experience, there's plenty enough aggressive play.
From Tim Proctor:
What would you say are the five most abused cards for EDH that are being looked at for format warping?
Someone else trying to trick me into saying there's a watch list! I'm on to you, mister.
Questions like this have started endless threads of cyclical discussion. Iona, Kiki-Jiki / Splinter Twin, Dead-Eye Navigator / Mystic Snake, Karmic Guide /Reveillark and such are some of the more dreaded combos at kitchen tables today, but only a few combo-centric cards are banned (Recurring Nightmare, Hulk, etc). It's not practical to ban all combo cards, so what gets a combo on the banned list?
Combos don't get on the banned list, individual cards do. The closest thing to a card getting banned for its combo potential is probably Painter's Servant, which is mostly inoffensive by itself but creates some really bad situations with other cards.
When you started Elder Dragon Highlander, you probably didn't imagine that the format would thrive as it has presently. Besides that, which development of EDH caught you off guard? In other words, what didn't you see coming with regards to the format?
I was pleasantly surprised when someone from WotC told me there was going to be an expansion. I also underestimated the passion with which the 1v1 community took to their particular flavor. There was a time when I was kind of anti-1v1, but then I came to the realization "who am I to say how people enjoy themselves?"
1. When you indoctrinate new members to the RC, do you have them perform any rookie initiation ceremonies (e.g., feast at the 'rack of gnarl' and hold it down [Dixie cups full of loathsome things like used toothpaste or restaurant grease]; recite the names and mana costs of every instant and sorcery from Homelands; or stick them with the check at restaurants)?
Where were you a month ago? This would have been an awesome idea, especially the Homelands thing.
2. Do you use any paper tokens like those found in booster packs? If you use anything other than those, what do you use (or 'in addition to')?
I use the booster pack tokens. I love them. Someone made me a 3D Zombie token out of about five of them, and it's always the first one on the battlefield. My carrying case is one of those big six-slot Ultra Pro jobs. One full slot is dedicated to having all the tokens that all my decks create. Another slot is dedicated to having all eighteen commanders in top-loaders (plus the dice bag). That leaves only four slots for decks, but it's pretty unusual to play more than four in a day anyway. I think they need to make more pimptastic tokens like foils and hard-to-get ones. Or tokens that have little windows in them for stuff, like Advent calendars.
3. Have you ever played a game against Mark Rosewater personally?
I have known Mark Rosewater a long time, and I'm pretty sure we've never played a game of Magic together. We've certainly talked a lot of Magic over the years, but to my recollection, we've never slung spells. I do remember a 29-Judge Level draft way, way back in the day (PT Chicago 2000, I think) when I was the lowest-level judge at the table. I remember Mike Guptil, Nat Fairbanks, and Rune Horvik being in that draft and it's possible that MaRo was there, but it's a pretty fuzzy memory at this point.
4. What wine would you recommend for anyone using Merieke Ri Berit as a general? (California varietal if possible.)
I'm a California Pinot lover, but Merieke might need the big punch of a Zin. I'd suggest Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County, around $25.
5. And do you have a pet card that you collect just for the heck of it?
Not anymore. I used to collect Vebulid just because I liked saying the name. Veb-u-lid.
Thanks again to everyone who asked great questions. We'll run Reader Mailbag again some months down the road. I'll be in Toronto this weekend for the Grand Prix, so if you're onsite, please drop by the GGsLive booth to say hello.