This week I'm going to do things a little differently than the Dear Azami norm. This time the title is there for a reason. (As opposed to, you know, every other week of course. Wow . . . two sentences in and off to a killer start.)
Here's the thing:
Since I'm as invested in the Commander format as I am (financially, mentally, physically, financially, emotionally, financially, etc.), I tend to soak up a ton of related stuff. Between playing the game, building decks, reading other articles, listening to podcasts, running a Commander blog, helping to develop a regular playgroup, screwing around on Twitter while I should be doing responsible things like "work" and "keeping my son from riding his bike into traffic," not to mention keeping StarCityGames.com in the black by spending the mortgage money on cards. (You're welcome, Pete! I know you couldn't do all of this without me.)
Well, let's just say that there's a lot going on in my head. Despite what my wife says.
I decided that this week I wanted to do a mixed bag of things instead of the standard "deck doctor" article that we do here. I mean, why does Sheldon Menery get to do what he wants with his column each week? I mean, it's not like he invented the format or anything.
Okay . . . turns out he kind of did. But it's not like he's the one responsible for making the rules or anything.
Okay . . . I'm wrong there too. So maybe he's paid his dues and has the right to kick back and post Dream Theater playlists if that's what he wants to do. Fair enough. But what's stopping me from doing the same?
Okay . . . so it turns out I have a content coordinator named Cedric, and he gets to stop me from doing the same. Fortunately, I asked him if I could do a catchall piece that discusses various Commander topics and points of interest this week. When he said no, I simply clipped the Ethernet and phone cables leading to his office, stole his cell phone, locked the door, and broke the doorknob off. That ought to buy me some time.
Without further ado (and before he gets out), let's talk about the Commander format. And maybe some other stuff.
The Con Game
I hit the jackpot on Commander 2013 release day. Since it clearly was a holiday, I took the day off from work. I started on a whim at the local Target, which almost never stocks Magic product until days after it releases. Sure enough, there was a cart with three sealed cases right by the cards and collectables section.
I walked out with a copy of the Evasive Maneuvers deck to sleeve up and keep in case I ran by any players looking to play stock precons. I grabbed a copy of Eternal Bargain for myself as an upgrade project, and a second copy to give away as a prize on GeneralDamageControl.com.
Yup . . . left all three Mind Grind decks right where they were.
One stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee later and I headed south to Amherst, Massachusetts to stop in at Worlds Apart Games, my "local" LGS. (It's an hour away from my house and in another state, but I like a challenge.) They had let me preorder a case of all five precons and gave me my frequent gamer discount off the top of MSRP. These ones are destined for the closet to be opened at a later date when my son is old enough to play.
Clearly not having any concept of when enough is enough, I blanketed the area on a whim to see what else was available. None were to be found, so I headed for home . . .
Of course swinging through Target on the way back to pick up another copy of Mind Grind and Power Hungry to add to the stock selection just in case I came across several people who wanted to play with the precons at any point.
Hey . . . it never hurts to be prepared.
Anyway, the point of this story is that I wandered back into Target a week or so later and managed to walk in on another two cases sitting unopened in the cart. This was right after the breakout of True-Name Nemesis in Legacy, but I left the boxes alone, hoping that they'd go to Commander players somehow.
Fast forward to yesterday. Mind Grind and Eternal Bargain are totally sold out. Nearly the entire rest of the bunch from release day forward are still there.
These things come from the distributor sealed in cases of all five decks if what I hear (and my own dumb luck) are correct. This suggests that these things might not be all that unlimited after all. I know that I'm not ordering another case of five decks to sell if only two actually do, so commence with the Chicken Little Protocol on this one. (For the record, do not take this advice seriously. It's totally baseless speculation, and I'm the absolute last person anyone should accept financial advice from to begin with.)
If I were a more sarcastic person, I might suggest that the "con" in "precon" is actually the premise that these decks were made for some other reason other than feeding Legacy with a new game-changing (and excitement-generating) toy. Like, for example, giving new product to Commander players.
Fortunately, I know that sounds too ridiculous to be true. And I'm not in any way a sarcastic person.
The Mailbag, Part 1
|Hey Cass! I have a really simple question I was hoping you could weigh in on. With all this talk about the "social contract." exactly how far is too far?
This is simple? Really? You're killing me here.
"What color sleeves should I play?" is simple. (Always bet on black. Or a nice moss green around Easter.)
This is akin to deciphering the schematics to a modern supercomputer written in Sanskrit.
Anyway, we're talking about the core of the "social contract" here. One of the great things that has happened recently is that by and large the collective body of Commander enthusiasts has come to roughly agree that the definition of the social contract is "try to create games that are enjoyable for everyone involved." This is a step up from when I started playing; at that point, it was roughly defined as "kill the Rafiq player as quickly as possible." Still, even now the subtle nuances of this statement can get lost in the heat of the moment even within a contained playgroup.
Let me explain with two scenarios that recently happened to me.
Scenario one involved a play that I made using a highly modified version of Sheldon's Ruhan of the Fomori "You Did This To Yourself" deck. (Without going into too much detail, it's a project deck that I'm using to fuel a bunch of self-serving articles over on my blog—take the Sheldon build, modify it to fit my metagame, make a bunch of people angry, call it a day.)
The play in question involved a midgame interaction with an Anax and Cymede player. After attempting to destroy a copy of Propaganda I had in play with Oblation (which I met with Radiate for maximum humor value, not paying attention to the fact that there was a tokens player at the table), he rebuilt with Mirran Crusader and Crown of Flames. In one big turn he played Mana Geyser to fuel Gratuitous Violence and a huge Crown pump to swing at me for a bazillion damage. I had a blocker but instead chose to again go for the maximum humor value by casting Reflect Damage.
Long story short, the Anax player left very angry, several other players questioned the play, and it turned into a two-week blog argument. Good times.
Scenario two featured the same deck. This time a mono-green player cast Chord of Calling for Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary in order to fuel a huge (and way too early) Genesis Wave for about seventeen. It found Hydra Omnivore and also Eldrazi Conscription. The other players started to scoop, but I told them I had an answer.
I tapped five lands and cast Mirror Strike.
Long story short, the mono-green player left angry, and the other two players quit anyway.
The moral of the story? Don't steal decks from Sheldon.
Since that really didn't explain anything, the answer to Maurice's question is pretty simple—"too far" is wholly defined by your playgroup in the same way that the social contract is. There is no single correct answer here because every group has a different dynamic. If your group loves all-out, pedal-to-the-metal, win-as-quickly-as-possible competitive games, the answer should be clear. Conversely, if your group tends to hate infinite combos, general damage, poison, extra turns, mass discard, mass land destruction, the color blue, and playing under a full moon that lands on the second Tuesday of the month, then the answer should be pretty clear there as well.
Actually, maybe not so much on the second one. But you get the point. Play to have fun and make the games fun for everyone involved, and the lines will make themselves clear.
If You're Not Doing It This Way, You're Doing It Wrong
For the record, the correct order for commander options is as follows (from best to worst):
-Foil set version
-Foil promo version
The only variation is for commanders that were never released in foil (i.e. Legends commanders). These need to be just as Mr. Garfield intended: untouched, old, and slightly play worn.
If these are not options, don't play the deck until they are.
You're welcome. (Please proceed in an orderly fashion to the comments section. Everyone will get an equal chance to take a shot.)
Let's spin off into the topic of table manners for a second here.
- DO properly announce your lands when you play them. This seems like a simple idea, yet I can't begin to count how many times I've come across a situation that plays out as follows:
Player 1: *whistles, looks away innocently, slides Maze of Ith onto the table when no one is paying attention*
Player 2: "Move to attack and send all of my guys into the red zone in a last-ditch effort to swing the tide of the game in my favor while leaving myself conspicuously open to a debilitating combat effect."
Player 1: "Tap this Maze that was hidden under a pile of basic Forests. Your big dude does nothing."
Player 2: "@#$^*@#%$&!"
Player 1: "I thought you were going to have some way to play around this." (Spoken in well-faked honest tone.)
Player 3: "Attack the tapped out guy for lethal?"
Don't be that guy. Or that one. The third one is fine though.
- DON'T use dice for tokens. Commander is complex enough as it is; don't make the rest of us guess what three six-sided dice with "one" facing up, two with "three" facing up, and five more with "five" facing up are. The table will get rage flipped when you explain that two of the "ones" are 3/3 Beast tokens, the other one is a tapped 3/3 Beast token, one of the "threes" is a Graveborn token, the other is an Angel token, and the "fives" all represent how many times Cathars' Crusade has triggered (and not how many counters were placed on the other tokens for some insane reason.)
- DO petition Wizards of the Coast to get with making the required missing tokens they haven't done yet while we're on topic. Golden opportunity, guys and gals—the Commander 2013 product features a card that makes a black 1/1 Snake and a 5/5 trampling Beast. Where are the tokens?
Now I'm forced to deal with the guy above and his dice instead. I think I'm going to have a stroke.
- DON'T leave your deck box in the middle of the table. I'm happy that you run a tight and tidy ship, but building a deck box wall between you and the next player means I have to invade your personal space just to assess the board. And also stand up, and that's more effort that I want to exert after a long day. You know what the best way to handle that situation is? Attack you with everything. Always.
- DO keep your soda, bag of chips, and Subway sandwich off the playing surface.
Not because of the mess really—that's what sleeves are for. But it's making me hungry.
- DON'T curse like a drunken sailor if you're playing at the shop. You'll look like a jerk when you bust out your finest Alec Baldwin-meets-paparazzi impression only to turn around and find a mother and her three school-age kids who just stopped in to try to find a copy of Candy Land.
Remember . . . no revenue, no shop. No shop, no Commander night. You've been warned.
The Mailbag, Part 2
How do you feel about proxies? Do you care if people use them? Do you have any you use? What do you think is acceptable? What about quality?
As with everything I do, I'm of a dual mind on proxies.
Personally, none of my Commander decks have a single one in them. (I believe the current count is sixteen decks if you were wondering.) I'd like to believe that it's a matter of personal pride, but it's probably closer to a misguided sense of completionism. I own a Mana Drain and an Unlimited Timetwister that are in my Melek, Izzet Paragon deck. I have played this deck about three times. There is no good reason to have that kind of card value tied up in something that never sees the light of day, but I'm an obsessive person so it happens.
(Note that there are limits. I used to be so ridiculous that all of my multicolor decks needed to have the correct Revised dual lands, fetch lands, and shock lands before I'd consider playing them. Fortunately, I partially wised up to the fact that, lo and behold, most decks work just fine without them and that I could do things like, say, pay my bills with the money I was saving. Life has been a better place since, if not a little uncomfortable mentally.)
Now, this doesn't apply at all when it comes to other people playing them. Before we continue, it is important to note that these are my own personal opinions and do not reflect those of StarCityGames.com or its employees, owners, and so on. Also note that I believe the current Wizards of the Coast stance on proxies is roughly "DON'T."
That said, I've come across the following situations before in games that have not bothered me in the slightest:
- Several players who own and have the real cards in one deck but can't afford duplicates and in order to save time proxy them in another one to prevent having to spend a half an hour swapping them in and out of different sleeves.
And this one that did bother me quite a bit:
That's the line, folks. It's a card game, so own the cards you want to play. Commander has the benefit of an enormous card pool, so if you need a specific effect and it ends up out of your budget chances are better than not you can find something much cheaper that works nearly as well.
Oh . . . and one more thing. There are what could be termed "reasonable" proxies, and then there's this:
That's an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The card name clearly says so, and we can see that it is "LGendry" as well. The bottom reads "ALL LANDS ARE THIS" with an arrow pointing to a skull.
Yes, this was sprung on me once. And yes, it was underneath a pile of actual Forest cards that were in play.
In Search Of Strategy
Last week in response to David McDarby's fantastic Dear Azamiguest slot, a small conversation about competitive strategy popped up.
This was the initial response:
|I'm so sick of people saying Commander is a format where it doesn't matter if you win. The objective of Magic in general is to either get your opponents to zero life or make them not have any cards in their deck to draw. I understand that this particular format might have a social designation attached, but in my opinion it's more fun playing two or three games in the time you can take to play one game.|
This is a valid point, and I replied in saying as much. There were several others that made the correct points about what the social contract means and how it should be applied to make sure that people share your views to insure fun games.
The follow-up took me a little off guard though:
|I know I'm not alone in feeling this way, but no one writes articles about legitimate Commander strategy and deckbuilding; everything is casual and focused on flavor. I wish there was more focus on competitive Commander even in multiplayer formats, although diplomacy is very close to unsporting conduct in many examples and situations.|
This was interesting, especially in response to an article series that is literally about Commander strategy and deckbuilding. I was at a bit of a loss as to what we were missing, so I asked for some dialog to expand on. This was the reply:
|I definitely understand all aspects of Commander; I also understand that "competitive" is a dirty word when it comes to multiplayer formats in general because they are designed to be anything but. I guess what I would love to see is just an article series based on deck design in regards to efficiency. I've definitely deviated away from infinite combos over time, and I love the state of my deckbuilding thus far. I build decks that are fun and challenging to play but are still built as efficiently as possible. It's the side of the spectrum in Commander articles that I don't see. I see lots in regards to budget choices and lots in the middle areas about flavor but almost none on deck design to make the fun and flavorful decks run as smoothly as possible . . .
Most of my rant was in regards to proper deckbuilding and deck design, utilizing powerful card advantage engines, and not just playing decks that your main goal is to play a big fatty and stick it . . . That's the beauty of this format; it's so wide open that there may not be any correct choices. A lot of it is entirely dependent upon your metagame and how you feel playing your build. I think that's why I've become so passionate about this format—there are so many options! I just want everyone to know that there are probably better options than what they're using and to show them what those are. Those are the Commander articles I would love to read.
It was at this point that I realized that we were talking two different things. Sean and I both attack this column in different ways, but the overall goal is the same—we're looking to help to improve the deck that ends up in our hands on any given week. To be fair, Sean is a far greater strategic mind and deckbuilder than I am, so he likely hits closer to the mark here than I do; I tend to look at an angle or a potential strategy to go for, sprinkle liberally with humor, and hopefully end up with something that works.
In either case, though, what we do and what the commenter wanted to see are not that far off. The devil is in the details.
First off, true competitive Commander decks are way more focused than average decks are. They are usually developed with a very specific goal and are engineered with redundancy and speed to execute the goal every time. From there one of two angles of protection are usually included: cards that prevent opponents from executing their game plan or make the deck fast enough to "go off" before any do.
This is anathema to a vast majority of Commander players out there; by and large, we have these cool designs or great ideas and a bunch of neat cards that we want to play. When it all works out, it's awesome, but it's nearly always going to be fun getting there no matter what. We play Austere Command because it's good, and then Return to Dust because it offers a second wave of removal, and then Fracturing Gust because it's just plain awesome.
The competitive deck has likely won (or cemented an avenue to winning) at that point, but they're more likely to choose the best protection and run tutors and other card advantage to offer multiple lines of play that can accomplish the same things and a bunch of others in lieu of that need.
It's a simple shift in mindset that sets things apart here, and therein lies the problem.
Simply put, there aren't a lot of articles written about competitive Commander because there isn't much to say about it. The theories that drive deck construction and strategy are the same ones that are good in sanctioned competitive formats like Standard and Legacy. Moreover, because Commander is unsanctioned, casual, and flavor first, most people aren't interested in trying to do things the best and most efficient way every time.
They want to do things the fun way, whatever that personally means.
What does this mean? Unfortunately, it means that competitive players tend to get the short end of the stick in the written world. Most players want to see things that make them think in new ways and try new things rather than be told that card X is better than card Y and their mana curve is too high to reliably set up before turn 4. And realistically, all it takes is a Google search for "competitive Child of Alara Commander" to come across a discussion on optimal Hermit Druid combo in any number of forums.
In short, we always try to show people what we think are good options, be we rarely want to label them as "better" options because in this format the window is wide open on that definition. Whether you want to combo out on turn 3, run out a prison lock, or have a three-hour game that swings all over the place and creates epic plays, we want to make you think about what you're doing and playing so that you can have more tools available to meet your goals, whatever they are.
Hopefully, you can take something from that end no matter where you stand.
And since we're here:
The Mailbag, Part 3
Staples . . . should I play them? I'm getting mixed messages here.
Yes. Or no.
Believe it or not (and if you regularly read forums dedicated to Commander, you probably fall towards the latter), staples aren't that bad. Think about the core of the word; a "staple" is a staple because it sees a ton of play. It's good at what it does, and therefore lots of people use it.
How does this make it a bad choice exactly?
Really, the heart of the issue lies in overindulgence. Personally, I'm a fan of building for a specific goal and using whatever tools are available. If one of the goals of a specific deck was to exploit the creatures my opponents play, Insurrection seems like a good choice. If, however, I include it because "Insurrection is good" in every red deck I own, it may be a bit offensive to staple purists.
In short, use them if you feel like they fit the bill; the criteria is all yours.
The corollary then becomes simple: what do I replace them with if I choose not to play them?
This is easy too. Find a fun card. Find something you think is cool. Find something that when played will surprise people and leave a positive impression. At the end of the day, this is going to be way more interesting to everyone involved than watching a kicked Rite of Replication resolve for the five hundredth time.
I will offer one particular caveat; if you find yourself in a metagame that precludes this because it will often make your deck unable to stand up to the level of competition, I would suggest running answer cards instead. This will give you more options to keep up with the game, and you'll still be doing so on your own terms.
All Good Things
With that, folks, I'm off. The locksmith is here, and I don't want to be standing around when Cedric's door opens. I hope you enjoyed something a little bit off the beaten path this week. Stay tuned for Sean's return next week.
I'll see you in two!
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We're always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Daniel's Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck or Levi's Avacyn, Angel of Hope deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azamiincludes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
Email us a deck submission using this link here!
Like what you've seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here! Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook; sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week's column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here or check out his Commander blog GeneralDamageControl.com!