Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mid-Week Update: June 16

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS

In Commander news, this week we received a long-overdue update to the Rules Committee banned list that has finally validated a long crusade by a large segment of the Commander community. I applaud the Rules Committee for making this bold decision, and congratulations to all the people who got exactly what they had been hoping for! For more on the change to the ban list change, follow this link...

Also, don't forget to enter the Season 3 Contest with your most disgusting-sick Sharpie alters! Vote for the Deckbuilding Challenge in the upper-left corner (it's really close right now)! These things are awesome and you can do them!

A busy week for my mans, for sure. But I was getting busy in the lab as well compiling another sketchy "article" for y'all to peruse and mock. In my filler series, "The Social Contractor", I'll mostly be wasting your time but hopefully on occasion dropping some jewels by accident. Don't worry, the real articles with good content will return soon and better than ever. Justin's untitled series, True Conviction, and a new series, Line in the Sand, all loom on the horizon! Stay sharp!

Anyway, sink your teeth into this garbage-juice sandwich...

The Social Contractor - The Worst Thing About Commander
By ANDY aka GHoooSTS

The term “douchebag” is the worst thing about Commander.

Commander is a format inherently loaded with problems: an ambiguous objective (try to win, but not too hard), sloppy banlist and reliance on players self-policing. But, most of the time, these problems are actually kind of fun to work toward resolving. Unless you're among the beardiest of neckbeards, you're probably not going to fly into an asthma-inducing fit of rage when your friend suggests nobody plays with Time Stretch or Exsanguinate. And, whether you admit it, you also probably enjoy sitting around bitching and busting balls after the game when your friend does something really powerful and wins. Why? Well, other than the fact that you play Magic and most Magic players love to complain, you're also actually getting to interact with people in friendly territory. Interacting with peers is fun, and can even devolve into the treacherous realm of friendship.

Many of Commander's problems actually give us a chance to develop friendships through something as stupid as overpriced cardboard. Playing the game is one thing; you're interacting with people, but there's a sort of screen or pretense keeping you from connecting too much. When the game is over, you get a new filter to talk to people through—"that game was awesome/shit"—but it's substantially more porous than the rules of Magic, and interactions permitted by text on cards. In the post-MtG phase of the game, we move into the more social phase of the hobby. We review what we like/don't like, we hug it out (bitch), and then we sit around and trade for a few hours to accumulate pieces for decks we never finish. It's life.

The awesome thing about Commander is that it's a social format. Yes, it's allegedly designed to promote this in-game, but the meat and bones of the discussion is always post-game. Things such as the oft-debated house rules, expanded ban lists, inconsistent application of the 'official' rules and what is acceptable under the ever-so-nebulous 'social contract' are what show Commander to be a deeply broken format in the purest, technical sense. Yet, as a game designed to promote social interaction, it’s a resounding success. Why? Because, without the duct tape of good will and understanding holding things together, Commander games are often a shit-stained mess.

As somebody who has played a lot of Legacy I can say--on the whole--I’ve had relatively good experiences with Magic as far as the social element goes, but the most you ever really said was some 'good game' stuff when one guy was dead; maybe commented on a cool rogue deck or card choices. The game didn't really push you to talk much, because you knew the metagame, you knew the rules, and that was that. You could even play a game without saying words to each other, something I've experienced playing against people who didn't speak English. The games were a bit different, but perfectly playable.

Without the ability to communicate with other players in a meta-game context, let me show you what Commander becomes:

For the slow, three of four players have conceded, two for no good reason... big ups to Neale aka wrongwaygoback

Commander's broken nature requires that players interact with one another meaningfully to maintain an enjoyable game environment. This is its strongest feature, as long as everyone is willing to be at least a young adult about it. But, unfortunately, the format still has a vestigial limb left over from it's earlier, unshaven, still-living-with-mom-in-her-basement-oh-snap-a-girl-what-do-I-do days.

It's the term "douchebag".

Don't read too far into it. I call my mans douchebags, douchenozzles, douchedicks, etc. all the time. It's how we roll. The term became trouble when it became an EDH-playerbase meme, representing, roughly:

"Fuck y'all for nebulous reasons I don't feel I should have to explain."

It's the EDH equivalent of "this conversation is over." Calling somebody an "EDH douchebag" has become an oddly powerful statement, loaded with implications. Anybody deeply into the format knows what is being said and what the argument is without knowing the exact circumstances; and generally the accuser was instantly dubbed a "scrub" or "got it" while the accused was a "funwrecker" or "didn't get it". Battle lines are drawn, and breakdown into nerd slapfight territory is common. All this from a single term (and its lame-ass variants).

As is, calling people "douchebags" or "EDHDBags" (made even worse with twitter tags, much like virtually anything else) is cancerous for the growing Commander community. It runs against everything that anybody interested in the growth of the format, exploration of its possibilities and socially-oriented gameplay should want. It's a fugly manifestation of the negative side of the community and format as a whole. It says "I don't want to be social and sort out the issue here, plus you're a dick." Why would anybody interested in playing a social format want to use or promote blatantly antisocial conventions like this? It boggles my mind.

It's harmful because it does the exact opposite of what social formats should do: it closes doors. It excludes people in an unpleasant way, instead of trying to meet them in the middle. And this is just what it does to people who are already familiar with the Commander community. Do you know what it looks like to non-EDHers?

"I'd like to play Commander, but I don't want to have to navigate what everyone finds fun or not."

"Commander players are scrubs who play a broken format and get mad at good players."

"It seems like a lot of Commander players are kind of dicks."

It's a niggling trend that makes us look bad to others, and feel bad towards other Commander players. It's harmful internally, as the Casual Inquisition and closed-minded players use it as a shield against people with different viewpoints. It's harmful externally as it gives outsiders who aren't playing Commander a really weird idea of what a 'social format' looks like. So why can't we all agree to drop it?

Granted, the terms 'douchebag' and 'douchebaggery' accusations alike are actually important parts of Commander, as social regulation is all that holds the game together. But 'douchebag' is institutionalized rudeness at this point, and often used as an excuse to be mean-spirited and exclusionary. It stonewalls positive, insightful discussion in favour of an off-the-cuff insult. It's like replacing "no thanks" with "eat shit."

So for the good of everyone--your local playgroup, trolls on the internet, strangers you meet at an MtG event--remove the term “douchebag” from your Commander vocabulary. Replace it with some more open-ended, friendlier statements. Consider the following:

"Maybe we're looking for different things in this game."

"I don’t think our decks are a good fit."

"It’s not you, it’s me."

Nah, but seriously, y’all know what I mean.

Instead of looking like a bunch of whining, infighting haters, why not genuinely be social? Just throwing it out there for you douchebags to consider.


  1. go blow up some lands about it

    PS: I approve of ragging on friends/acquaintances for their terrible taste in EDH games. Like, sometimes you just want to shame someone out of playing a really banal deck, or for doing things which make your games boring.

    On the other hand, an EDH group coheres because of compromise. You shouldn't expect everyone to agree on anything in particular when it comes to approved mechanics, approved combos, whatever. There is no comprehensive "spirit of EDH" which can be articulated and agreed upon by all rational parties. You *should* expect that the group agrees *enough* to have interesting, mutually satisfying games. And sometimes, that requires a change in perspective as opposed to a change in tactics, card choices, or deck choices.

    As these Commander decks come out, it's especially important for the new players who will be entering our format to understand and work out the tension between getting along with the group and exercising the freedom of expression which brings so many folks to casual formats in the first place. Rather than resorting to terms like 'douchebag,' I recommend that both older and newer players discuss issues of taste in a frank and honest manner, much as art critics or film critics might discuss their own media (and we know that reasonable conversations about these things can be screamingly witty without devolving to simple name-calling).

    While a polite deferment like 'maybe we're looking for different things in this game' can start a conversation, it's important to continue the dialogue so that players understand the social context of their plays, and adjust if they choose to. Oftentimes people will port competitive deckbuilding tropes directly to Commander, and might not be familiar with the 'social playability' of their concoction, or might be stuck thinking that's the only way to build decks or play Magic. A player who just enters Casual encounters a bewildering, perhaps paralyzing amount of freedom. If all he's played is competitive Magic, he might not even be aware of *what he likes;* y'know, the themes, plays, mechanics, or situations that deep-down give him joy. Competitive Magic subjugates these likes, these tendencies and tastes, it subjugates them to the all-consuming goal of winning. Some gifted deckbuilders like Conley Woods can work around this and build their own amusements. Most are not so lucky, and discover little of the many things they love (or would love) about Magic.

    An expansion on these thoughts can be found in my soon-to-be-released text, "Peacekeeper: The Upkeep of a Successful Commander Group", 2011, Tryhard Publishing Co.

  2. The best thing about the format, to me, is simply the social aspect of the game. I have heard players talk about the “social contract” that exists for Commander and then interpret this to mean “it doesn’t matter if you don’t win”. That just simply isn’t true. I play commander every weekend with a local play group to win. But the reason I am playing is so I can hang out with friends. So if I lose no big deal. I just shuffle up and target the guy who took me out last game on the next game, I tend to be a little vindictive like that. However, it didn’t cost me anything to lose since there was nothing at stake for winning like store credit or some great prize. The social contract then heavily influences how we build our decks in my local play group. Sure we could build some decks that could combo out on turn three, but that is really only fun for the guy who just won and it gets old fast. Instead we like to interact more with the battlefield and those with whom we are playing against.

    This format allows you to see some great plays with cards that may never see play in other formats. Cards like Woodfall Primus, Angel of Despair or just about any dragon that has been printed almost all make their way into a Commander deck eventually. One of the most fun plays I was ever able to be a part of was I had just cast my Genesis Wave, conspired, for 18 (so 32 after conspired) and it was then Reverberated by another player. We then watched as 54 cards were flipped over. Was it insane? Absolutely, but where else can you see a play like that happen?

    People cannot control others attitudes; however, they do have complete control over their own, even if they don't exert that control. If someone is bringing the mood of a group down then someone else needs to step up and remind everyone that it is just a game and if they want something more serious to play standard or legacy. But if they want to just have fun and enjoy life then sit down, shut up and play.