Stidjen's Magic

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Last year, my friends and I birthed the Commander Lite-format. Today, we are at a crossroads that could define the format again. Read on to see why.

Wait for it…

It’s no secret that Commander Lite works with a restricted card pool, and that those restrictions are part of the format. We wanted a cheap format where people could easily jump in to, and where you can build a deck and have a lot of fun with it. This steered us toward the mother of all casual formats, Commander, but with one caveat: no rares in our decks.

You pick a Commander, build, play, and have fun. But we quickly discovered that some Commanders (looking at you, Uril and Elesh Norn) where too powerful in a format where mass removal is at a premium. Some Commanders are basically unplayable: Zedruu, Bosh, Jhoira and Khaalia hardly work without rares.

To make up for this, my friend Rick suggested we allow rare and mythic rare creatures as our Commanders. I did (and do) not agree, and started listing my arguments of keeping things the way they are, in advance of the discussion we are going to have this weekend. Here we go!


1. Flavor

For me this is the biggest argument. Flavor is fundamental to the format. The Commander defines your color identity and how you build your deck. The Commander is someone with a name, an identity, a storyline. In a format that sprouted from flavor, I think you can’t negate that aspect. Adding other creatures diminishes this, diminishes the ‘specialness’ of legendary creatures.

2. Restrictions breed creativity

Yes, I’m paraphrasing Mark Rosewater again. The man is a design genius and I’ve learned a lot from him that I could apply to my profession and hobbies alike. I tried to build a deck with Pia and Kiran Nalaar, but that failed. I switched to Kurkesh and haven’t looked back since. I’m glad I built the deck; it feels immensely rewarding to have built something where I could’ve just stopped. Allowing (mythic) rare Commanders diminishes the challenge of deckbuilding, and takes away the reward you’d otherwise get.

3. Scarcity

Legendary creatures are hard to come by. That’s logical – they’re legendary! Wizards can’t go printing legendary creatures and Planeswalkers alike – they’re unique and are special. They should feel special. Having them as your Commander should feel special.

Every player likes Planeswalkers and full-art lands. Should they print 10+ Planeswalkers in every set, and full-art basic lands too, their overall beauty would quickly subside. Wizards makes an effort to give these cards a special feel; we should do the same with our Commanders. The designers of the format pretty much nailed it.

4. Uniqueness

This ties in to both #1 and #3. Legendary creatures are by their very nature unique. You can control only one. They are unique and special, and they should continue to be so. Looking at spoilers for a new set should reflect this. Every set gives us a handful of options we can explore. Legendary creatures offer special abilities that are rarely found on other creatures. I like how you can conclude if a card is Legendary or not just by looking at the rules text.

5. Plenty of choice

Still, even when you add a few cards every three months (and once per year for the annual Commander release), you have a large and ever-growing catalogue of options present. There are a lot of gems waiting to be explored. No street is paved with diamonds; you have to take a harder look to see them.


6. The bird of paradise and the fly

In our discussion, I compared birds of paradise to flies. The beauty of the birds is in part defined by their rarity. How beautiful is the Mona Lisa when all paintings are Mona Lisas? The Commander is much more than the card that defines what colors you can and can’t play. I feel we have to keep this aspect of Commander, like I said one of the pillars, in tact. Allowing (mythic) rare creatures would be like allowing football players (what Americans call ‘soccer’) to play the ball with their hands too.

7. The lake and the ocean

Rick said that the lake from which we are fishing is drying out. Obviously, I disagree (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this). I like how our format is easy to explain: all uncommons and commons are allowed (we added Vintage Masters recently), bar a few; all Legendary creatures are allowed, bar a few. Yes, we would get a lot of new potential options, but a lot aren’t relevant. Still, they’re there. An ocean is much harder to scale and explore than a lake, which still holds lots of precious gems under the surface.

8. Format identity

Changing this rule would be changing one of the pillars of the format. I think we are moving on a slippery slope should this new rule pass through. The football-metaphor applies here again. What’s next? Legendary enchantments? All enchantments? Vanguard cards?

9. The power

So far my arguments have been mostly about flavor and identity. This one is about the power level. I feel we have to ban a lot of stuff when rares get added. Some creatures are obviously too powerful, more so than Legends are. It sucks to have the Commander you wanna build around be judged first by your friends to see if it’s allowed. Quickly, the list would grow.

Yes, it sucks I can’t put Prophet of Kruphix in my Riku-deck. But having it as a Commander would probably see it banned in short order. (I could try to break it, and I know I will.)

10. Current card design

This ties into #9. Wizards started consciously making cards for Commander a few years ago. They make Legendary creatures with this format in mind – specifically, with the fact that they can be your Commander.

By the same reasoning, (mythic) rare creatures aren’t designed to be played as a Commander. A lot of them are broken when cast multiple times in a game. It’s too much power to fight with uncommons and commons. It would lead to a lot of banning, and a big ban list is never a good thing.

(Mythic) rare creatures are designed to be 1-ofs in Commander decks or X-ofs in 60-card decks. We shouldn’t test this equilibrium.


11. Planeswalkers

I can see Planeswalkers being allowed as Commanders. In fact, this was my counter-offer I suggested. We get more options each set, but not too much; and we still have cards that feel Legendary, both because of their card type and their unique list of abilities and options.

I hope we can settle on Planeswalkers as the middle ground of this whole debate. In fact, I think I already have a spicy little number in mind should Planeswalkers be legalised.

But we’ll have to wait and see what this weekend brings. Find out what happened, next time!

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