When we introduced the Commander Advisory Group (CAG) back in January, many of you wondered what specifically they were going to do. I briefly laid out the idea back then; this week, I'd like to discuss it with you in more detail, especially since we've gone live with the CAG Charter. Keeping in the spirit of simplicity that has defined the Commander Rules Committee (RC) over the years, it's not heavily prescriptive. We'd rather the CAG have quite some wiggle room within reasonable parameters instead of locking them down.
The short version is that while the RC will remain the format's decision-makers, the CAG will be heavily involved in influencing those decisions. The Charter offers them a guideline which we suspect will let six very smart people find their own footing and mode of operation as a unit. As you'll see, the whole process is meant to be heavily collaborative. I'll break down for you each individual section of the Charter with some thoughts on what motivated us to lay it out this way (a process that the joint RC + CAG were involved in).
That's the 10,000 foot (3048 meter) view, and it's pretty straightforward. Decision-makers, at least smart ones, get the advice of highly skilled, highly motivated, and articulate people. They also get the advice of people who don't necessarily agree with them on how to get to a particular goal. The second part of the CAG's purpose speaks directly to the popularity of Commander as a format. We can only filter and disseminate so much information. Expanding the group that fulfills those purposes (to a reasonable limit) can only be good for everyone involved.
We're not reshaping how we think about Commander, but it's still important that we hear as many different voices as possible. The members of the RC aren't the only people who have a great deal invested in the format. By adding diverse representation from the people who are, we can better understand what their concerns and desires are.
One thing that I hope the CAG can truly contribute to is eliminating some of the polarization that's happened within the format, the longstanding competitive versus casual argument. I confess that in the past, I've fanned those flames, and that was a mistake. We can't make Commander all things to all people, but we can certainly find a place in which we respect each other. That begins with the recognition that there's more than one way for people to enjoy themselves. Like with anything with fans, our core audience is going to demand the lion's share of our attention, but we don't want anyone to feel excluded (save for haters; hate has no home here).
Like nearly everything we will do, this is a two-way street. It will be us asking the CAG if they think a particular person is a good fit, and it will be them telling us that there's someone we really want to add. Operationally, the CAG won't get particularly large, but there's a little bit of upward room if the CAG or RC feels like there's an undeniable candidate.
This statement exists so that there are no disappointed expectations while keeping open the door. N+1 syndrome exists, especially among highly skilled people. I saw it in operation in the Judge Program, and it occasionally impacted both morale and motivation, which we'd prefer to avoid. We already consider being on the CAG a pinnacle of achievement, so there really isn't anywhere "up" to go. That said, when and if it's time to fill a role on the RC, it seems reasonable that someone who has distinguished themselves on the CAG to be a prime candidate. We simply want to avoid the implication that the CAG is RC-in-waiting.
The most significant word in this sentence is "ongoing." The RC isn't a body that convenes only at certain times; sure, we have a formal quarterly meeting, but that's not the only time we interact. We have rolling conversations. We expect this to be the same with the CAG and the joint CAG + RC.
We're hoping to offer a little more transparency into operations by allowing the CAG members to freely share what they've recommended to us, even when theirs is a dissenting opinion. It's our preference that each individual discusses their own choices or reserve the right to not discuss them if they choose. We selected people for the CAG that we hope render the second and third sentences irrelevant, but when you form organizations, it's a good idea to clearly lay out expectations and boundaries. Dissenting opinions are actually healthy, especially when presented in a positive fashion.
You'd think that we wouldn't have to explicitly say it, and I know we didn't have to say it to any of the six folks on the CAG, but again, this is just some boundary-setting.
It's extremely important to us as a group that the integrity of the people influencing the format is beyond reproach. For me, it is of the utmost personal importance. Our record on this is crystal-clear. This one doesn't need to be said to the members of the CAG; it needs to be said so that all of the fans of the format and all of the folks who have a financial interest in the format know that it's true.
It's extremely likely that CAG members know how individual RC members vote on things, and we still want to reserve the right for that to be private. We will continue the formula which has worked for us for so long. We individually vote; we present our findings as a group. If you want to yell at anyone for what you think is a stupid decision, then you get to yell at me. We find this extremely liberating for the other members of the group, and I'm happy for it to stay that way.
However the CAG operates is fine by us (so long as it's not illegal or immoral, I suppose). We don't want to influence what they say to us or how they say it. We're not going to micro-manage anything.
It's the 21st century, after all.
If we trust the opinions of the people on the CAG, there's every reason to invite them to the quarterly meetings. Since it's nearly impossible to meet the schedules of ten different people, we're not going to require them to attend, just to enjoy the invitation to both attend and be part of the ongoing discussion.
Harkening back to the first of the Responsibilities, we want the door to always be open. We also don't want the process to feel overly formal. The Discord channel is always open, and we've already started using it.
Again, this is spelled out more so that the community knows it's happening and not to box anyone in. Most things will be handled in those ongoing conversations. Occasionally, there will be a time when we ask, "We're thinking about doing this thing. What's your opinion?" If the CAG gets together and presents something, it will take on heightened significance.
This is about getting specific answers to specialized problems without leaving them open-ended. For example, we might task the CAG with coming up with a specific recommendation to cut the Banned List to fifteen cards or to expand it to 100. They might say, "We're not touching that, no way, no how," and we'd respect the answer. If they said, "Sure, we'll give it a shot," we'd give them a date by which to make the recommendation. Like with all CAG interactions, the individuals would enjoy the liberty of discussing (at the appropriate time) the results of their recommendation.
I'm not a fan that we live in a world where such legalese is necessary, but I'm also not naive. We don't want hostages, we want willing participants, but there are parameters to operate under for the greater good. Like with many of the items listed here, it's as much for the community as it is for the individual members. We trust that the people on the CAG are above board or we wouldn't have invited them to join; we also want you to know that we're always watchful.
I trust that this look into the CAG Charter has given you good insight into how we hope and expect the group will operate. We expect great things from them, and we know that they're up to the task.
Question of the Week
This one comes from cryogen on the official forums, and once again deals with the number of planeswalkers in the upcoming War of the Spark.
My biggest one is interacting with emblems. While planeswalker ultimates are difficult to achieve and are thereby reasonably powerful, it feels like empty space to not be able to affect them in any way.
I get that just the wording on such a thing would be kind of awkward and, more importantly, a huge move in the direction of being able to affect things which reside in the command zone. There's design space just waiting to be explored, but writing a blanket effect to cover all emblems would be pretty tricky. Lots of them have triggered abilities, so there's the opening.
I simply wonder what there is that's interesting that isn't either countering the trigger or triggering it again. The templating of affecting triggers is generally about the event, not the triggered ability itself, such as creatures entering the battlefield like on Torpor Orb. "Triggered abilities of emblems don't trigger" gets kind of circular. Straight-up removing an emblem would (and should) be reasonably expensive. I also thought about "delay" counters for emblems ("Target emblem doesn't function for X turns"), but finding a wording that works and within meanings of terms within the game might be quite difficult.
We have plenty of things which add counters (adding them easily to planeswalkers can get dangerous, though), so I'd like to see more things like Aether Snap which remove counters, perhaps only from planeswalkers. We already have a pretty effective way of doing that (via combat), but I'd like to see some spells and abilities do it as well. They'd have to be stapled to something else to be worth playing, like a modal spell or ability or a cantrip. I suppose there's also room for extra damage to planeswalkers ("If damage would be dealt to a planeswalker, it deals that much plus X instead").
To summarize, there's plenty of design space waiting to be explored vis-a-vis planeswalkers, and I suspect we'll see some of it in War of the Spark.
Lavinia Blinks; Obzedat, Ghost Killer; Aurelia Goes to War; Trostani and Her Angels; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind; Zegana and a Dice Bag; Rakdos Reimagined; Glissa, Glissa; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever.
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox; Angry, Angry Dinos; Animar's Swarm; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point; Ikra and Kydele; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky; Demons of Kaalia; Merieke's Esper Dragons; Nath of the Value Leaf; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign; Muldrotha, Speaking Primely; Queen Marchesa's Knights; Rith's Tokens; The Mill-Meoplasm; The Altar of Thraximundar; The Threat of Yasova; Zombies of Tresserhorn.
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over; Animar Do-Over; Glissa Do-Over; Karador Do-Over; Karador Version 3; Karrthus Do-Over; Kresh Do-Over; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over; Mimeoplasm Do-Over; Phelddagrif Do-Over; Rith Do-Over; Ruhan Do-Over.
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."