It occurred to me that while I try to say everything that's on my mind about Commander there might be questions that don't occur to me and answers that some folks in the community might like to hear. When questions crop up in the comments section on articles I try to answer all of them but I'm sure some stuff slips through the cracks. To that end I solicited questions from the format's fans hoping to get enough over the next few weeks to answer them post-release. I got more in the first two days than I could include in a single article so I'll share them with you right now. They came primarily from the Official Forums and MTGSalvation to my knowledge the two sites with the greatest amount of forum traffic.
I got so many questions so quickly that I'm breaking this down into two separate articles which will be separated by next week's Return to Ravnica set review. Here's part one.
Gaka asked: "What general do you feel has made the most impact on the format than any other? Be it positive or negative. Actually answering both would be nice too. How about sets? Favorite drink? And lastly... Why didn't you ban Norin? "
On the positive side Phelddagrif because it set a tone for the format so long ago. I chose it because I wanted to play Bant colors (we of course didn't call it Bant way back then) but because I was playing with a very casual group of players with small collections I wanted a general that wasn't all that good. It turned out that it can be lots of fun. On the negative side Erayo since her only purpose in the world is to make people miserable.
I certainly don't think there have been any negative sets. The Commander precons had a great impact on getting new players in the format (which we'll talk a little more about later) but I'd say that Ravnica block was the perfect storm of awesome cards coming out as the format was hitting its stride in popularity.
My favorite drink is wine. We have two cellars in the house with a total storage capacity of about 750 bottles. I'm a big fan of Pinot Noir of all kinds (California Burgundy and Oregon) the great Cabs we make in the USA (slightly preferring Washington State to California) Australian Shiraz and Grenache and the big daddy Bordeaux (particularly Pauillac and St. Julien). We also have three different bourbons in the house: Wild Turkey 101 for mixing with ginger ale; Blanton's for making mint juleps; and Pappy van Winkle for just sipping. The drink I drink most is coffee which I get from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland Oregon after being turned on to it by friend former L4 Judge Portland resident and author of "The Beer Trials" Seamus Campbell.
Finally on Norin the ACLU has informed me that he's protected on religious grounds.
RWF_Less was the first of several folks to ask some variant of "Where do you see the format five years from now? Specifically where do you see the social vs. competitive trending to and/or do you see the format continuing to develop toward a combo-centric game?"
I see the format quite healthy and well supported by our friends at Wizards of the Coast. I don't see much of a change in the way we play—it will still be battlecruiser Magic. Things will get splashier and more epic. If Commander were a D&D campaign it'd be that super high fantasy one with a 20th level wizard behind every rock and heroes with golf bags full of magic swords.
As far as that divide goes I think we'll see the competitive-only player get increasingly more disillusioned with the format as we firmly adhere to our philosophy of catering to the social player. I think the attrition rate will continue until there's a small core of them much like the Vintage crowd which I think is just fine and to some degree healthy. There's quite some value to a small but passionate group of fans of anything. Even though we're not going to directly support the competitive players I don't begrudge them the type of fun they want to have (so long as it's not at the expense of others).
As far as "combo" goes the term is pretty ill defined. Some people take it to mean combinations of cards while others think that it's decks centered around assembling those cards. Nonetheless the game isn't developing toward a combo-centric game. It's already there with the competitive folks and by definition combo will stay on the periphery of the social crowd. Sure there will be the social players who come up with their janky combos but in play they're more likely to result from happenstance than focused design.
Massive Marc hit us with two: 1) Do you think with Wizards' current philosophy of power creeping creatures that Tooth and Nail will eventually need to be added to the banned list?"
It's true that creatures are getting better or at least cheaper. That wouldn't be the direct reason for looking at Tooth and Nail although it might certainly be indirect. The reason for looking at it would be what it's doing to the format but I'll concede that even better creatures might be a contributing factor. As we've mentioned before a card's "power level" won't get it banned; it's the impact the card has on the format that makes us start looking at it.
2) Who usually comes out on top when the RC plays together?
It depends on what you mean by "on top." Scott Toby and I are the ones who play together most often. Although he rarely wins Toby seems to always be having the most fun being the most Timmy of the group. He also often hamstrings himself by being a total slave to theme. ("I have a B/W deck based on the geography of Central Africa. I can't play Caves of Koilos because there are no caves on the Serengeti."). Scott's Vampire deck is pretty savage and has a reasonable shot of dominating any game it plays in but I'm going to have to say that I generally come out on top because I continue to adhere to the "value of second best" philosophy letting whoever is going to come out of the gates strongest do so then letting other folks expend a lot of resources in taking care of them.
Elvish Sniper wondered "Has anyone in your group that helps decide what gets banned/unbanned ever used their insider knowledge to make a profit? If you are going to unban Recurring Nightmare would you guys stock up before they double in price? If you were about to ban Bribery would you sell all of yours first before they go back to $5?"
Without a doubt no and if I found out that it had happened I would probably rage. If any one of us engaged in such behavior it would not only be a violation of the trust we have in each other on the committee—it would be a violation of the trust in our friendships. The type of person who would do such a thing is not the type of person who could end up on the RC in the first place. For example I'm currently sitting on six foil Primeval Titans that I could have pretty easily unloaded a few weeks ago and chose not to. There are far more important things to us than making a few dollars.
Prince Tristan asked "When did you first realize that Wizards had been designing cards specifically for the Commander format? It became quite obvious to the larger Commander community around Alara block. And what was your reaction to that?"
It was certainly earlier than that although I'm not sure I can put my finger on it. I know that Aaron Forsythe has long been a fan of the format. It's hard to tell whether a card was a nod to multiplayer in general or Commander in particular. I'll see if I can eventually get an answer from Aaron.
GFireflyE followed up that with: "Do you see Wizards continuing to release cards specifically designed for the Commander format despite the increased bannings of newly released cards we are seeing from the RC?"
I don't think the two thoughts go hand-in-hand. While they make the occasional card with Commander in mind that doesn't necessarily mean that they avoid cards because they operate poorly with the format; Worldfire is a good example. Cards from two sets in a row ending up getting banned isn't quite a trend—it's a coincidence. Our friends in R&D many of whom love the format will definitely continue to make cards with us in mind even outside of Commander products.
TheEvilCliff continued along that line with: "Have they (WotC) consulted the RC on anything? Or to rephrase has the RC been invited out to WotC HQ for anything official-like?
Since Scott works there he gets invited every day :) Remember that nearly all of us currently hold or have held high positions in the Judge Program. It's not unusual for us to get invited out there. I got invited out to talk about the Commander product with Aaron and Rules Manager Matt Tabak among others at some point (I think it was in the development stage by then). Toby spends a fair amount of time consulting with both Scott and Tabak. It amuses me when some of the malcontents say "Wizards should take over the format." The RC is probably as close as any non-employee there is. Except for Scott we're not employees but I'd definitely call us "insiders."
xlich wondered "Is there still talk about changing the life total?" and "Favorite moment playing Commander or watching a game?"
There hasn't been talk about changing life totals since we actually changed it from "200 divided by number of players" to 40. We're quite happy with it exactly where it is.
There have been so many awesome moments in the lifespan of the format that it's really hard to pick out one. Recently playing Reflect Damage when artist Eric Klug activated Heartless Hidetsugu was pretty funny. In fact Klug immortalized for me the moment with a piece of his work.
The whole Murder of Rofellos incident is certainly right up there. Finding out that celebrities like Vikings' punter Chris Kluwe and author Brandon Sanderson are Commander fans was pretty special. The moment that perhaps struck me most was one night a year or so ago looking over the Thursday night crowd at Armada Games where 35 or so players were slinging the 100-card decks and having a great time and being both humbled and pleased that this is something I had a hand in creating.
d0su had two outside-the-format questions: I know you have good taste in music. Do you play any musical instruments yourself?
I play the piano/keyboards and sing. I still have my Roland D-50 from the early 90s. Back in the late 70s and early 80s I played in a number of rock bands and I continued to play after I joined the Air Force. I haven't played professionally in quite some time. I have the idea for my next milestone birthday (turning 55 in 2016) to put together an all-star team of the best musicians I've ever played with for one final show. We'll see if I can actually make it happen.
Who would win in a fight: Rich Hagon or Brian David-Marshall?
BDM easily. For one Rich is a teddy bear. For two although I wouldn't call him "tough" BDM has a certain amount of street smarts that big-city Americans develop. Even with BDM currently in a boot with a broken foot Rich would be in trouble. That said if it's a karaoke fight Rich would dominate.
Xaios won the Most Questions Award but they're all worth answering:
1) "For any players who are interested or just getting into Commander do you recommend any particular generals and/or overall deck strategies?"
I recommend starting with the precons. They're a great window into how to build a reasonable deck and then the new player can start fiddling with them. If they're going to build from scratch I'd recommend starting with a two-color general (to make the mana base easier) and a straightforward strategy. Obviously an experienced "regular" Magic player can start farther along that continuum.
2) "Personally does it ever frustrate you when people complain about RC decisions in shaping the format particularly with regards to the ban list?"
First of all I'm not naive enough to think that we'll get 100% consensus on anything. Even so it's not the disagreement; it's the real vitriol that some people spew that really gets me. I suppose that I should be happy that people are so passionate about the format that they're willing to get really angry when they don't like something.
3) "Do you have an all-time favorite general and/or deck for Commander?"
Not really. I go through phases with decks. Currently Karador is my favorite. I don't think I could pick one from the last however many years and say for sure it's the one.
4) "Outside of Commander what's your favorite MTG format?"
I've played the Standard the most but that Cube seems like lots of fun.
5) "What's your favorite Dream Theater album?"
The album I listen to most frequently at the moment is their latest A Dramatic Turn of Events. The music and musicianship are both completely off the charts. If it's also not my favorite then it would be Images and Words which features "Pull Me Under" one of the most well-constructed songs in all of music.
Grinning Demon asked "1) How many hours a week do you spend on MTG on average? (This includes everything MTG related such as talking about the format posting playing etc.)
The short answer is "less than when I was an active L5 Judge." I play 8-10 hours just about every Thursday heading up to the shop in the early afternoon for some casual games before League starts. I probably spend another 15-20 hours messing with my cards reading and posting about the format and then another 10-15 hours or so reading and talking about Magic in general—mostly research and education for being a member of the Pro Tour coverage team.
2) Do you play sports? Which one is your favorite? If you don't play any sports which one do you like to watch best?
I don't currently play any sports. In my time I've played baseball (and softball) and basketball then golf as I got older. I was a pretty serious weightlifter in the mid-late '90s until I got derailed by a shoulder injury.
I love baseball. Being an Orioles fan has been a trial for the last fifteen years (until this season!) especially since I grew up with them being one of the greatest teams of all time (from 1969-1971). I'm a fan of NFL football although I don't have a favorite team since the Colts left Baltimore. I'm actually watching NFL Red Zone as I'm typing. I love hockey as well and I think it's the best of the spectator sports because of the non-stop action.
3) What is your favorite computer game?
I love me some Skyrim (and Oblivion before it). I also still—after more than a decade—play Heroes of Might and Magic III (mostly due to the fact that there's a scenario editor and I can write my own epic adventures). If anyone wants a copy of my scenarios ping me via email. They're just files that you drop into the Maps folder.
Viperion wanted to know: "Do you think Arsenal is the type of product that should be aimed at the Commander market? In my opinion it misses the vast majority of Commander players and that is not a Good Thing.
Any product aimed at fans of Commander even a subset of them is a good thing. If you're suggesting that the MSPR is too high thereby pricing it beyond the reach of some of our fans I reiterate my stance. "Commander Bling" won't appeal to everyone just like other bling doesn't. That's no reason to avoid producing it. It's not as if the things contained in Commander's Arsenal are required to play in the format—it's just cool pimpy stuff. You don't stop producing Audis because what most folks can afford is a Honda.
Klazam asked "What is your stance on Commander side events such as those at SCG Tour™naments where you can get prizes for being hyper cutthroat?" and "If you had to choose what is the single card that best shows the ideal of Commander?"
I love and hate them. I love that they represent the popularity of the format and that they help our friends the TOs who do a great deal to support us. I hate that they're either collusion-fests or races to combo out fastest since those things are representative of what the format definitely isn't.
Fellow RC member Alex Kenny known as Ban Ki-Moon said: "Whenever someone agrees with a decision that we've made they're always like 'Good choice well done RC!' but whenever they disagree it's always 'I hate Sheldon I'm going to burn his house to the ground.' So my question is: What did you do to these people?"
Haters gonna hate.
Along those same lines Cryogen asked "How do you feel being the "Face of Commander?" How do you de-stress from everyone blaming you for everything that's wrong in Commander?"
It's not really all that stressful. Being the face of the format isn't my first leadership position if you will and sometimes being a leader means taking the blame. I think a great leadership message is "If we succeed it's because of what you guys did and if we fail it's because I screwed up." The blame is also mitigated by all the great support from fans of the format everywhere which more than makes up for the few discontented voices. The upsides of where I sit are way greater than the downsides and I think that in order to gain the benefit of the good stuff you have to be willing to put up with the bad.
It'd be awful. It'd be awful for us to administer and awful for you to keep track of. We'd spend time poring over lists of card combinations which would then generate a great deal of hue and cry over any decisions. We'd have to make rulings like what would happen if you had Iona in play and then took control of someone else's Painter's Servant. You would have to keep a long list of banned combos with your decks or commit them to memory and there would be inevitable confusion on whether it was this card or that. I'm actually getting a little queasy just thinking about it.
Obsidiandice asked the perfect finishing question: "What is the biggest current threat to Commander's long term health as a format?"
Competitive play. If we head down that road we're lost. As a competitive format Commander is completely broken. Trying to make it into a competitively balanced entity would ruin it beyond repair. The banned list could easily exceed 100 cards. The things that rang the death knell of Prismatic would ring again for us. I think any sundering of the format (meaning a split into one social version and one competitive version) is equally dangerous. Fortunately I don't see this as a likely possibility. So long as the RC stays true to our vision and philosophy and local groups feel the empowerment to adapt to their own needs we will endure.
Thanks to everyone for the great questions. I'll return in two weeks with part two of Reader Mailbag. Next week tune in as I review the much-anticipated Return to Ravnica.
Interestingly enough my Magic play style and my personality seemrather different. I'm at heart a Jund player so I half expected that I might end up Golgari.I took the Guild test answering as me the person not me the Magic player.Turns out...
I am Azorius.I suppose that reflects my strong sense of justice (white) and that I know better than everyone else how to bring it about (blue)."I serve only justice. But through that duty I serve all of Ravnica."