Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mid-Week Update: April 21

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Mid-week update coming in fast.

This week, we're doing a special crossover feature with my man Dominik from He's got his article posted on this piece, and mine on his. We're discussing the banned list in Commander; should it be shorter? Longer? Maybe it should dress nicer every now and then? In any case, you can find his dissertation below: for a glimpse at my perspective, be sure to peep this link. This is pretty much the first time I've ever written anything and I have to say, it's hard to do and kind of boring. It also makes me feel crazy because it feels like talking to yourself. I don't know how some people do this every week.

But wait, there's more! Mistveilplains is BACK IN ACTION, rappelling through the Internet's skylights and dropping another Commander deck primer on y'all. This month, we're putting his Rasputin Dreamweaver deck in the spyglass!

Be sure to check back in on Monday when my cheap promotional crossovers continue, as the entire Muse Vessel is on board for next week's CommanderCast! Three straight updates with nothing but crossovers as far as the eye can see... I'm such a dirty sellout.

Check this:


Now you can be a part of PODCASTING HISTORY with CommanderCast's first live call-in show! Do you like Commander? How about talking? Then this is right up your alley! Think "boring AM radio show" meets "colossal explosions" and you should have an idea of what this episode will be like. Maybe YOU can be one of those explosions, or at least some shrapnel!

This episode will be recorded starting at 9:00PM EST on April 30th, 2011.

How can you take part in this? Instructions below:
  1. You need Skype (free to download up in this piece) and a microphone that works reasonably well. Bruce used a Rock Band microphone to record and sounded pretty sweet, so if you have one of them, try it (it also makes you feel like a rock superstar, always useful).
  2. Make sure you're available April 30th, 2011 for 9:00PM EST. If you have engagements like sleep, weddings, or liquor store robberies, I'd recommend rescheduling.
  3. E-Mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com and express your interest with the subject heading "LIVE EPISODE". If you know you will be available, provide me with your Skype name.
  4. BRACE YOURSELF and await instruction.
  5. We will be accepting callers on a first-come, first-serve basis. There might be four of you, there might be four hundred (probably not)! We're going to cap it at a reasonable number, so don't wait to e-mail me! Also, if you've already been on the show, be advised we will be giving priority to those who have never made a CommanderCast appearance (though prior guests will be more than welcome to join the host panel).
Finally, a huge thanks to the whole Quiet Speculation organization for hosting CommanderCast! You will be able to find us over there every week. As promised, CommanderCast has begun to flood the internet, much like the crack cocaine of MtG podcasting. My insidious reach knows no limits whatsoever! While you're over there be sure to check out my man Neale and his ridiculous scribblings on Commander.
Anyway, here's the article from Dominik. To see my side of the argument, click on this bitch.

Cross-Over Article: Should There Be More Banned Cards in Commander?
Article by DOMINIK
Not only did Magic: the Gathering become wildly successful over the last few years since Hasbro took over and unleashed their marketing guys upon the brand; their marketing research showed that the broad audience of Magic players were those Kitchen Table Guys nobody ever payed attention to in the old days. Now not only do we have highly sought after mythic rares to tickle our inner child - sorry, have to correct myself there - inner Spike, but growing numbers of players all around the Multiverse. Most of these players are of the well known Kitchen Table Guy variety, and that is part of why alternative formats are on the rise. Of these formats, their poster child is EDH, now called Commander, holding the banner up high. So as the format becomes more and more played, there is one inevitable conclusion: it will become more competitive. Now people like me, who are casual players at heart, are asking themselves one big question:
Do we have to ban more cards to keep everything in check?

The most important thing we have to consider in my opinion is the first principle of MtG: Commander as stated by the Rules Committee. It is known as the "rule of social interaction" and is stated on their official homepage right above the "official" (at least as official that can get when you abide the following principal) banned list:

“[Commander] is founded (and dependent) on a social contract, otherwise known as a gentleman's agreement. Unsporting conduct (whether extreme or simply "being a jerk") should not be tolerated by players. Refusing to play with antisocial persons is the fastest way to better EDH community.

However, because players have varied opinions of what constitutes fair and/or fun play, a recommended banned list is maintained to help guide players towards a good social experience. House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.”

I think this is in theory totally the right mindset to have when playing Commander. I wrote an article some weeks ago, upholding this principle and reasoning why it is valid. But still I believe this does not legitimize the fact that certain cards remain unbanned. Further bannings may seem rather unnecessary if you and your playgroup follow the first MtG: Commander Principle, but this fundamental principle is already undermined by the simple existence of a banned list. Despite the fact that this list is only ‘semi-official’, it is backed by the authority of the Rules Committee and the most widely accepted set of guidelines followed by most Magic players all over the Multiverse. Many build their decks with this list in mind to ensure wider acceptance among their Magic peers, or when playing with strangers. Having this kind of authority to enforce an accepted banned list and telling us to follow the "social principle" would be strangely idealistic, but fine. Instead they sneak in this ‘semi-official’ banned list, therefore betray their very own first principle of MtG:Commander.

My conclusion on this matter is that if this social contract could work without the semi-official banned list, we would not have a semi-official banned list in the first place.

Believing in the necessity of a banned list, I of course see that there should be as few cards banned as possible, while still believing that the first principle will take care of the minor glitches. Bans cannot be applied to every abusive combo or douschebaggery, as douschebaggery cannot be attributed to a card on its own, but rather on the collective deck - which finally is the responsibility of the piloting player. Maybe excluding Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, every card currently on the banned list could be used in different decks without a broken or unfun outcome. This is where the the First Principle and the Banned List meet eye to eye and have to find a compromise. I know that the solution cannot be to banning every half-decent combo or removing every card from the format which annoys a specific portion of the player base without creating a list that overshoots its mark.

But there is one kind of card category that makes decks focused on abusive combos even better. Their exclusion from the format would not harm any casual players strategy - the only thing hurt would be some player’s nostalgic feelings towards MtG: Commander. The power these cards yield to an abusive or offensive deck is not limited to a certain combo or deck archetype, but instead makes every already uncasual abusive deck even better - if not outright broken. The kind of cards I believe should be banned in MtG: Commander are:

High-end mana accelerators.

The problem with most decks that are considered unfun in MtG: Commander and are hated by most casual players are decks which try to assemble a certain kind of unstoppable strategy as fast as possible. Either these decks create some kind of really fast prison lock or assemble their proven win-combo turn 4 or five - some of them even sooner, and reliably. The only way to enable this kind of speed are overpowered mana acceleration cards. Most of these cards are known for their power in Vintage and Legacy and are without a doubt candidates for their respective banned and restricted lists. As mentioned before, most of these cards are associated with a feeling of nostalgia for a lot of long time "Elder Dragon Highlander" players. Nevertheless, these cards are proving to be unhealthy for the format more and more each day. The following cards have been known for their power to enable crazy first or second turn starts for a long time now. Among their most famous recidivists are (sorted by power level):

Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Grim Monolith
Mana Drain

These cards might not be reliable enough to guarantee game-breaking starts in a singleton format in every game, but seem to do it every other game. Also when combined with other decent acceleration, it collectively takes these kind of decks over the top, reliably, in every game. I understand the fondness a lot of casual players have grown for their lovely Sol Rings, especially if they are premium foil, custom altered Judge Foils. But without a doubt these cards only remain in the format for one single reason from my perspective: the affection casual players have devoted to the fact that they own cards that cannot be played in any other format except for Vintage - which sadly has an entry barrier of about 3000 bucks and might not considered casual enough for most of them (compared to Commander where you can start with as little as $40).

Many argue that Sol Ring should be banned for the fact that you cannot build a deck in Commander without including one, as it is a staple alongside with Sensei's Divining Top and Maze of Ith. While I believe Sol Ring should be banned, I totally disagree with anybody using this sort of reasoning. Although it might be true that I have never built a Commander deck without including Sensei's Divining Top, this has never been an issue or problem for the format. While some people might feel bored by the obvious card choices their opponents make, most colors or even color combinations yield a similar problem, as they have certain staple cards of their own. While one can never remove the existence of "Staple Cards", they only ever become omnipresent when they are artifacts. This should not be viewed as a problem and cause a banning. One banned staple will just be replaced by its next best successor to become the new benchmark - the new staple.

I only vouch for Sol Ring to be banned, as much as I vouch to ban the other cards on the list (and other similar offenders I might have missed) for their enhancement of decks which are all-powerful already. Though only giving a marginal advantage to the average deck, that wasn't built to be abusive. While any casual deck will of cause be better off with a Sol Ring it doesn't miss much by not having it - except for invoking a nostalgic feeling for its pilot. An abusive deck on the other hand, can profit immensely by including cards like this to create a head start in the game to lock others out of it, or to end before it ever began. I understand the well established argument that there are enough answers to any given problem in Magic, even to fast mana, but sometimes these answers are not fast enough (Yes, this pun is pure irony!).

Putting this behind, there are no other cards which have to be banned immediately in MtG: Commander, in my view. This only leaves us with one card category worth putting on the Watch List. As I see it, these cards are problematic to casual Magic in general:

Mass land destruction.

A lot of cards traditionally used to destroy lands, like Violent Ultimatum, Pillage or even Smokestack, can be used with an inoffensive intent, if you built your deck accordingly. Mass LD cards are one kind of card that only has two outcomes. Outcome one: You have put some relevant threats on the board by turn 4+, while your opponents for various reasons don't (maybe they got theirs destroyed in some way or they are having a slow start). Now you drop an Armageddon on the board and your play group has to decide to show you some form of Counterspell or scoop up their cards to get another game started. Even if somebody is able to handle your threats in response, it only has an outcome equal to outcome two: any kind of board state where nobody has any real threats and somebody cycles an unanswered Decree of Annihilation (as Stifle isn't really that much of a staple in Commander). Now you have to sit through a dreadful game waiting for somebody to finally topdeck enough mana to play an Eternal Witness or something to start bashing face for an amazing two damage for the next six turns, until he finally gets enough mana to play a decent threat. By that time, probably half the players have already scooped because of boredom - or left their cards at the table to get snacks, having instructed their opponents to flip their top card and play all the lands, as their cheapest spell in hand is a five drop.

While other cards can and often are used to induce grief played in the right manner, I see no possible alternative way to play a mass land destruction spell without keeping the other players at the table from having fun. We all know that mana denial is the most unpopular threat to play against, so how can undiscriminated mana denial be considered fun? As having fun is often described as the essence of "Casual Magic the Gathering TM", I believe, that all mass land destruction effects must be put on the watch list immediately and probably should receive the ban-hammer, ultimately.

Banning single combo pieces that annoy people might seem like the obvious choice, I would rather vouch the Commander community to take another approach. Instead of taking that route, we should consider thinking about the stuff that really makes games unfun. While there will always be annoying combos, there might be an underlying cause me might be missing, while we whine about those. I'm not saying that my presented approach is perfect or universal, I'm just pointing out things I dislike about Commander and search for the underlying cause of ruined games. While I don't like abusive combos, it is mainly the fast mana that enables them to be all prominent and sometimes unstoppable. Also I dislike games that either lock you out of them or leave you with nothing to do, something that always happens when somebody plays a land sweeper. While these problems could also solved by a social contract, I do not fully believe in its functionality as a gentleman's agreement (and neither, it seems, do the Rules Committee).

While I believe that a gentleman's agreement is a great way to deal with single cases, we have to follow a general set of laws and rules. The same way Wizards tries to make Magic’s rules create a certain experience, the EDH Rules Committee should try to emulate the way most casual people play EDH, by adjusting its rules and ban lists accordingly. In a democratic nation, laws are in general not passed so people follow them, but rather to represent and reflect the societies overall accepted moral standards. This does raise the question: why does the Rules Committee not follow the same principle? And I will tell you why - because it is hard work!

I don't want to call them lazy or anything, but sometimes in life you have to step up your game. Now as Commander is getting more and more popular every day, it finally might be time to realize that they have a higher responsibility than in the good old days when people were still confused by "this strange Magic variant" all the Judges played in their downtime. But let us not jump to a fast conclusion, as I heard some rumors that they are actually working on some rules adjustments, that are still in testing. My guess is that these changes, if there are any, will be announced with the release of the new MtG: Commander product from Wizards, in June.

‘Till then keep it casual, even if there is no banned list forcing you to.

Yours Dominik S.


  1. I noticed you only mentioned banning the artifact fast mana. That still leaves all the elves that can produce massive amounts of colored mana and Gaea's Cradle. Granted you cant through Cradle in any green deck and have it be fast mana. But that still leaves you with a tier 1 combo deck in Momir Vig losing 0 cards. The point being it is a slippery slope to ban even a single card. No matter how you ban it there will still be broken decks, an easier solution to fast artifact mana would be for a play group to include several of the 1 and 2 cost artifact removals that are in several colors in several colors.

  2. pick your poison:

    mana is allowed to be plentiful and indestructible: combo decks and decks that do stupid things with large amounts of mana dominate the format.

    Mana isnt allowed to run rampant because people get to play mass mana hosing: null rod, shattering spree, armageddon, ruination etc. The result of this type of format is that people are forced to play interactive cards and cards that do things other than ramp before turn 5

  3. MistveilPlains' deck tech seems nearly card for card the same as Omar's in CommanderCast Deckbuilder's Spotlight 06. o.O Are all Rasputin decks pretty much just the same stuff?

  4. I specifically mention in my article that my list of "fast" mana is not complete!
    - this was not an attempt to find specific cards that must be banned but rather to point out a specific source of problem, with common offenders!

    While I understand that it is problematic to find out which cards are problematic enough to be banned, I still believe that the Mass landdestruction problem has nothing to do with the ramp problem and must be viewed seperatly.
    I specifically don't like arguing a problem by enforcing the acknowledgment of another. MOst problems must first be viewed individually before you can start using other problems as aruments for your side of a different problem.

    Yours Dominik

  5. Also just to follow your line of argument:
    EVEN the broken Momir-Deck gets even better by including sol ring and mana crypt! - Which just plays into my argument actually. This was exactly what I was talking about.

  6. @Michael -- no, not all Rasputin decks are the same, although the "blink" theme is by far the most popular. My Rasputin deck, for example, is massive amounts of mana ramp, massive amounts of card draw, and maybe only 4 creatures. It just depends on what sort of experience the deckbuilder was looking for.

    Good catch, though, they are pretty similar.