Category: Editorial

The State of the Union: is the format healthy?

A quick glance at Commander message boards will probably reveal a couple of threads on the topic of whether the format is getting stale, whether it’s healthy, whether the competitive and casual crowds will ever get along, and from players who are frustrated with the format and are giving it up.  Is this cross-section of what people are talking about a fair representation of what’s going on in Commander circles these days, or is it a case of the complainer phenomenon?  The complainer phenomenon is that people will often go out of their way to complain but rarely go out of their way to pay compliments or express contentment.  It might have a flashier name, but I don’t know what it is.  Regardless, that there is any discussion on this subject means it can be argued that the Commander format is suffering from a bit of stale air, and could perhaps be very unhealthy at the moment.  I’d like to pontificate on why I think that is (what else is new).

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Casual vs. Competitive: What’s Going On? and, A Proposed Solution

I imagine there are not many playgroups out there that haven’t suffered some conflict based on the casual and competitive division in this format and the debate that arises therefrom.  Like it or not, this format attracts about the widest variety of Magic players you can find, both in terms of style and of play skill, to an arena where their relative styles and play skills have no bearing on who plays who.  To make matters worse, the card pool is exceptionally large and some very expensive and hard to find cards can make their way into decks; those players who have the benefit of having played for a long time and have a large collection have a massive advantage in card quality over players newer to the game.  On top of all this, there’s little way to tell ahead of time which player is which and which deck is which — people don’t come with glowing neon signs saying “15-year Magic vet with $2500 Commander deck”.  It’s a situation ripe for conflict, and will remain so unless the format is dramatically altered by changing the banned list.  (That’s a subject of another article, but I’m really fucking sick of playing with and against Primeval Titan and Cabal Coffers.  Anyway.)

While Commander is often branded as the “fun” format, or the anti-competitive format, it should be pointed out that neither play group has a legitimate claim to “ownership” of the format, and neither group has an advantage on who deals with the situation in a more positive and constructive way.  A format that allows you to play Mana Crypt and Imperial Tutor cannot honestly call itself “casual only”, but on the other hand, a format that expressly resists any formal competition cannot honestly call itself competitive.  As it stands, judging by the air space this topic receives and the sheer volume of complaints from one side about the other, both sides can take an equal share of the blame for not meeting in the middle.  The competitive crowd (like me) belittles the casual crowd either aggressively or passive aggressively (like I do), for lacking deck building skills, card selection skills, and Magic play skills.  The casual crowd passively aggressively promotes an atmosphere and tone of debate that “EDH should be fun“, and commonly points out the competitive crowd has many other formats to direct their competitive spirit toward.  To them, the casual crowd “just doesn’t get the format”.  One side tries to win, the other side claims they don’t.  Both sides insinuate or just come right out and say that the other should conform or GTFO.

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Casual vs. Competitive metagaming: Or, why aren’t you playing Stranglehold?

Hey everybody.  After taking last week off for a little vacation and to spend some time with my folks after a loss in the family, I’m back!  While on my long drive out and back, I immersed myself in the world of Magic podcasts (specifically, the Eh Team and CommanderCast, both of which are fantastic.)  I have volumes of upcoming new material for you guys, so pull up your sleeves and dig in!

This article stems largely from a conversation I had with my longest-running Magic buddy and fellow Thwomper Brad.  He was over at my place after some time at the driving range and hadn’t brought his decks, so he was shuffling up my decks against me.  He immediately reached for my Captain Sisay stax build and said something along the lines of, “I need to know what makes this thing work.”  He told me that of all my decks, he most loathed to play against that one, which I was certainly surprised to learn.  He then qualified that and said, it’s not the least fun to play against — that honor belonged to the U/B Dralnu infinite-turns monstrosity that I built here — just the scariest.  I was surprised to learn that what I thought was my best deck, Arcum Dagsson, is neither the scariest or the least fun.

I wanted to understand why he felt this way about these two decks, and the ensuing conversation ties very much into the long-running casual vs. competitive Commander debate that rages on still to this day.  It was particularly interesting to me as I consider Brad more toward the “competitive” side of the Commander coin than just about anybody else we play with, save yours truly.

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Why Sideboarding is Stupid

There are certain playgroups that make use of the optional sideboarding rule as outlined on, which reads as follows:

  • Sideboards

    Rather than filling every deck with banal responses, it is preferable to allow some flexibility in the composition of a deck.

    • Players may bring a 10 card sideboard in addition to their 99 cards and 1 Commander.
    • After Commanders are announced, players have 3 minutes to make 1-for-1 substitutions to their deck.
    • Any cards not played as part of the deck may be retrieved by “wishes”.


    Highly tuned threats piloted by skilled opponents mandate efficient answers. The minimum number of response cards required to ensure they are available in the early turns can easily overwhelm the majority of an EDH deck’s building space.

    Sideboards allow players to respond to the “best” strategies in a timely fashion . They should be strongly considered as a necessary defense against brokenness and degeneracy in an environment where no gentlemans agreement on style of play exists.

Sir, I disagree.  Here’s why.

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No take-backs!

(Due to a scheduling snafu, this article failed to appear yesterday.  Sorry about that!)

You’ve been there.  Your game isn’t going so well.  Everything you do gets blown up, countered, or stolen.  You’re mana screwed and haven’t had good cards in hand all game.  You’ve got three opponents who all seem to have better chances of winning the game than you do, and one guy who’s clearly in the lead.

Dude to the left taps out and Mind Twists your hand away.

“WTF, man?!  I’m not your threat!” you implore, begging him to direct it at somebody else — somebody who actually has a chance of winning and who is actually in competition with the guy.  All Mind Twisting you is going to do is make the game even more boring for you.

Your opponent briefly considers.  He says, “you’re right — I’ll Mind Twist you instead,” pointing it at the next player around the table.

Uh oh.  Now that guy’s complaining about take-backs.

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