We have arrived. Commander will now be a sanctionable Friday Night Magic format (along with nearly every other Magic format you can think of). If you haven't seen the announcement, here's the video with Helene Bergeot.
What does this mean to us? First, it means I'm excited about the possibility of FNMing with the 100 card decks. Second, it means potentially more exposure as people learn about the best Magic format ever. Today, I'll take a look at some ideas (some I like very much, others quite a bit less so) for how Commander FNM might shape up.
While long-time readers know that this isn't my favorite instantiation of Commander, I recognize that there are others who love it. It certainly becomes an FNM possibility. 1v1, or "French Rules," is the easiest structurally for shops who are used to running two-player tournaments. From a rules standpoint, it's a little trickier. While we on the Commander Rules Committee (RC) are happy to let the French folks take care of the 1v1 list, they don't enjoy the same blanket recognition that we do. I know there are house rules in "normal" Commander. I have to imagine that there are even more pockets of unique 1v1 banned lists around the globe.
If you take away one thing from this, it's that the Commander RC will not be getting into the business of creating separate 1v1 and multiplayer banned lists. From our perspective, 1v1 is a viable variant and we're happy that there are folks out there who are having fun with it, but there is a single, unified banned list. We're not going to change our philosophy, which heretofore has not addressed cards in light of their power or brokenness in 1v1. Philosophically, we will proceed forward as we always have.
The simplest setup is the cutthroat pod. Players are randomly seated in four- or five-player pods (organizers will have to decide what to do with awkward numbers of players, like 11 which is either a 5 and a 6 or two 4s and a 3), and then either the person with the most kills or the last player standing is the winner. From a structural standpoint, this is the easiest for the shop running the event. All they need to do is post the seatings, collect the names of the winners, and distribute prizes. Most FNMs can easily support running two Commander rounds, so the organizer might consider an escalating prize structure. The winners from Round 1 are all seated at the same table in Round 2, where they play for the whole ball of wax.
The clear caution here is that we know the style of play that this will promote. In most of these pods, players will spend longer shuffling than actually playing the game. Early "kill the table" combo decks will dominate. The silver lining here is that I suspect that these games will be so fast as to potentially allow the shop to run three rounds in an evening.
A secondary caution is that given the relatively small number of pods, collusion will be a concern. Even randomly seated, there is a good chance that co-conspirators will be in the same pod together. While this is less likely to be an issue in events of a similar size with a flat prize payout, when there are serious prizes on the line, players are going to team up. It's easy to see a large number of feel-bads coming out of this.
This setup is viable for a shop that has a large number of highly-competitive players who want to get their Commander on. I suspect that it is also the one that will have the shortest shelf life. The Cutthroat Pods setup may be viable if the prize structure is flat. Without the lure of larger prizes, players have less of an incentive to simply win and are more likely to explore interesting, thematic, and social avenues to express themselves.
Players are seated in four- or five-player pods and play as normal. At the end, each player votes for the winner. Votes can be as simple or complicated as you want. It could be that each player writes down the other player (not themselves) who they had the most fun with, made the most creative deck, or whatever the criteria the shop wishes to promote is. Taking this a step further, there could be a ranking of each other player (4 or 3, depending on the size of the pod, being the best, then 2, then 1) on whichever criterion, and then tabulating the results. Taking that idea another step further, one could create a matrix of multiple criteria on which players are voted for:
The criteria could be as crazy as you like and once again reflect the attitudes and styles that the shop wishes to promote. This can lead to some gamesmanship, but when the prizes are low, then it's far less likely. It's also more administrative work for the organizer. It's not difficult, but in busy shops where there are many things going on-the D&D game over in the corner, the miniature battles at the big tables, and that six hour long game of Twilight Imperium-it might provide more stress on organizers than they want (although probably far less than Standard FNMs).
INTERLUDE: Hot Karador on Karador (on Karador on Karador) Action
In the week leading up to Grand Prix Orlando, Spanish Level 3 Judge David de la Iglesia visited us here in Tampa. In casual conversation during the week, he told me he had built a Karador deck. Knowing that Armada owner Aaron Fortino, shop regular and Monday Night Gamer Shea Rutenber, and I all had Karador decks led to the inevitable conclusion that we do it.
It may have been the grindiest three and a half hours I've ever spent having fun playing Magic. Aaron got an early advantage by having his Gamekeeper turn into Artisan of Kozilek after Shea played Damnation. I had gotten the cheap creature start, with Wall of Omens, Silverchase Fox, and Blood Artist, and I was okay with the Damnation since it meant that I could cast Karador and recast all of them. When it came to my turn (Shea was right before me), however, I got a little greedy. Instead of casting Karador and the little creatures, I was seduced by drawing Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Aaron (sitting to my left) then chose to attack me, hoping that I'd choose it as one of the sacrifices to annihilator. I instead chose two lands, since I still had enough to cast Karador, although the other creatures would come out more slowly. Unfortunately, Shea hit me with Bojuka Bog, meaning Karador was back up to costing me eight. It and my subsequent draws kept me as a spectator for a fair portion of the middle of the game.
After big, swingy board states, resets, and more swingy board states, Aaron decided that he graveyard was good enough for a big Living Death. He saw that the numbers in our graveyards were kind of small and made the mistake of not taking a good look at them. He cast Living Death and put about 30 creatures back onto the battlefield, to include Avenger of Zendikar and Restoration Angel. Unfortunately for him, the two relevant things in my graveyard were Netherborn Phalanx and Restoration Angel. Even before his triggers putting a zillion plant tokens onto the battlefield resolved (remember, his went on the stack first, then David's, then Shea's, then mine, resolving last in/first out), the two Phalanx triggers were enough to kill him (since in all those creatures, he somehow didn't have a sacrifice outlet).
After Aaron was out, we went back and forth for another hour and a half. Shea hit a pocket of weak draws that got him behind, leaving David in the position to kill him. Then it was just two. And then I punted. Seriously punted. I could blame being tired, but in the end, it was just bad play. It was failing to RTFC, failing to remember what my cards do.
David was keeping me at bay by reanimating my Elesh Norn. I couldn't really develop much of a board state with the utility creatures, but I had a few larger ones. His defenses were such that I couldn't really punch through. The Sudden Spoiling in my hand would keep me from getting killed by any of his larger creatures, but with Elesh Norn giving them +2/+2, they'd still do damage (see where the mistake is?). When I drew Massacre Wurm, I swore out loud. Damn that Elesh Norn! I played it anyway, just in case I could play Wrath of God at some point. I never got into anything else good. When I staved off getting killed one turn by playing the Sudden Spoiling, he kind of looked at me strange. He asked "Why didn't you play that when you played Massacre Wurm?" I responded "Because Elesh Norn…DAMN IT," finally realizing that Sudden Spoiling removes abilities from creatures too. I facepalmed, he chuckled, and the next turn, I died.
Participation Prize Pods
Set up like the two before, there are no prizes save for what players get when they sit down at the table. We do a version of this in the Armada Games EDH League. Everyone gets a pack for signing up. Table winners can have a pick from the promo binder if they want, but since most of the regulars already have already gotten the promos in other ways, they either forego their choice or give it to someone who wants something in the binder. This is nice to add to a league structure, since players don't have to participate in every week of the league to get something.
Participation prize pods most likely encourage the most social play. When the only thing on the line is having fun, there is little incentive to kill everyone Turn 3. Sure, there will be people who don't care about anyone else's fun but their own, but it's been my experience that this kind of setup points those folks toward more competitive events. Without the positive feedback of prizes to balance out the negative social feedback of people disliking being at the same table with them, then they'll find out a different outlet for their skill set.
Two and a half years ago, I featured the Armada League points system on these very pages. The system has undergone many changes, being fluid with the needs and the desires of the players. At first it was an administrative nightmare. There were pages and pages of points. Players spent more time reading than playing. Eventually, Armada owner Michael Fortino came up with the idea of getting all the points onto a single sheet. It's been way better since.
The power of points systems is that you can use them to shape exactly the style of play you want to promote. We currently use negative points to lead players away from certain behaviors, such as poor sportsmanship (adjudicated by a judge or staff member), killing someone before Turn 5 (or maybe 6), and taking too many extra turns. The idea of the negative points is to promote social play, where everyone has the best time possible, because the negatives are so great that they're unlikely to be overcome by piling up positive points. There is the standard point for eliminating another player, but there are other positive points, such as Michael's genius "Cool Play" point. The rest of table can simply award a player a point for doing something awesome and epic. Another of Michael's clever ideas is the bonus for not tutoring. Tutoring won't get you a negative point, but everyone who doesn't gets a positive one (tutoring for lands-and in some versions, basic lands-is an exception). It's a gentle nudge in the direction of what the shop collective considers to be a better game. One of the things I like most (and, to some extent, least) about the points system is that it doesn't prevent a player from playing a certain way. Sure, it provides a disincentive, but if the player doesn't care about the points and just wants to come grief people, it's still possible. The real lesson is that you can't legislate everything out of existence-you have to create cultures that educate people on positive behaviors. Hate crime laws don't stop hate crimes, they justifiably punish people harshly for committing them. Hate crimes are prevented by teaching people the value of not hating.
The downside to a points system is once again the administrative overhead. Keeping the sheet to a single page has gone a long way in maintaining pace of play since players aren't searching through page after page to see if they get a point for something. While it's once again less work than your normal Standard FNM, it's still another piece of paper for the staff to manage. Players have to remember what actions get them (or lose them) points, and for leagues, someone has to do record-keeping.
I think the best choice for FNMs would be to have a rotating list of positive points. Setting up the negatives to be consistent is a good idea for sculpting the environment's ethos; changing the positive points keeps things fresh. Week to week, you change some, leave others on. No one can set up a deck just to point farm (which, quite honestly, isn't the worst thing that could happen), and it keeps everyone on their toes. This is once again a little work for the staff, but hardly what I'd consider onerous.
There are probably as many ways to set up how people win Commander pods as there are people: Assassin, Wild West Hero, the Venus Butterfly, and more. I encourage you think up your own and suggest them to the staff at your local game store. Whichever way it happens, Commander being a viable FNM format provides the opportunity for a great deal more fun for everyone.
This week's Deck Without Comment is Animar's Swarm, the deck that underwent the most changes in the post-Khans of Tarkir environment. It's a deck which changes frequently to suit my mood, because there are simply so many cool cards to play with it.
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Altered Ego
- 1 Artisan of Kozilek
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Flamerush Rider
- 1 Flametongue Kavu
- 1 Garruk's Horde
- 1 Garruk's Packleader
- 1 Man-o'-War
- 1 Mercurial Pretender
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Nantuko Vigilante
- 1 Nevermaker
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Primordial Sage
- 1 Progenitor Mimic
- 1 Rage Thrower
- 1 Realm Seekers
- 1 Roaring Primadox
- 1 Rubblehulk
- 1 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 1 Slithermuse
- 1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
- 1 Species Gorger
- 1 Stampeding Elk Herd
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Ulvenwald Hydra
- 1 Vizier of the Menagerie
- 1 Wood Elves
- 1 World Breaker
- 1 Archetype of Aggression
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 1 Jalira, Master Polymorphist
- 1 Maelstrom Wanderer
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 1 Sun Quan, Lord of Wu
- 1 Surrak Dragonclaw
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Yeva, Nature's Herald
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987), ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."
Here is the latest database version of all my decks:
ADUN'S TOOLBOX ; ANIMAR'S SWARM;AURELIA GOES TO WAR;DEMONS OF KAALIA;EREBOS and the HALLS OF THE DEAD;GLISSA, GLISSA;HELIOD, GOD OF ENCHANTMENTS;DREAMING OF INTET;FORGE OF PURPHOROS;HALLOWEEN WITH KARADOR;KARN, BEATDOWN GOLEM;KARRTHUS, WHO RAINS FIRE FROM THE SKY;KRESH INTO THE RED ZONE;LAVINIA BLINKS;LAZAV, SHAPESHIFTING MASTERMIND;ZOMBIES OF TRESSERHORN;MELEK'S MOLTEN MIND GRIND;MERIEKE'S ESPER CONTROL;THE MILL-MEOPLASM;NATH of the VALUE LEAF;OBZEDAT, GHOST KILLER;PURPLE HIPPOS and MARO SORCERERS;ZEGANA and a DICE BAG;RAKDOS: LIFE IS SHORT;RITH'S TOKENS;YOU DID THIS TO YOURSELF;RURIC THAR AND HIS BEASTLY WEREWOLF FIGHT CLUB;THASSA, GOD OF MERFOLK;THE ALTAR of THRAXIMUNDAR; TROSTANI and HER ANGELS