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Do Tutors Make Commander Games Better?

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I put up a poll on Twitter about a week ago and had some interesting results:

I'm a little disappointed with the results. Personally, I run ways to tutor for lands (generally just basic lands), but have pretty much dropped every other way to tutor for specific cards from my decks. If I want consistency in my decks I try to find different cards that do the same or similar thing and run both. I still have Sunforger in my deck, but that is more due to apathy than some pent up need to search for Boros Charm (although really, most of the time you are just looking for Boros Charm, right?!). I was hoping to see that most people agreed with me, but I'm not surprised that is not the case. Let's take a look at what people were saying.

Defining Tutor

Some people questioned whether searching for a land is a tutor.

Some cards are obviously tutors. They say it right in the title. Demonic Tutor is obviously a tutor. It is a card that allows you to search for any other card in your deck. However any Magic player defines tutor, Demonic Tutor will fit that definition (unless they are just trying to be contrary, but let's not let the extreme exceptions rule the day here). Enlightened Tutor is not quite as obvious, but most still see it as a tutor. It is a card that allows you to search for any enchantment in your deck. Sure, it doesn't let you find any card, but you can find the enchantment you need. That still seems to fit.

A card that searches for any card or a specific group of cards is a tutor, but where the card puts that card doesn't matter. We have tutors that put them on the top of your library, into your hand, or on the battlefield. As long as it doesn't search and put it at the bottom of your library, into your graveyard, or into exile, it is a tutor.

However, when you search for a land, suddenly some people don't think it is a tutor. Tutors read, "Search your library for (the type of card you are allowed to find). Shuffle your library, then put the card (wherever you get to put it)." Evolving Wilds reads, "{Tap}, Sacrifice Evolving Wilds: Search your library for (the type of card you are allowed to find) and put it (wherever you get to put it). Shuffle your library."

Maybe people don't see it as a tutor because it is a land, but it is a tutor. There is just no denying it. The only real question is if searching for a land, a card that does nothing in itself other than let you play the other cards in your hand, is something that should be allowed or not? And again, let's step away from the recently reprinted Crop Rotation and cards that allow you to find specific non-basics here. Using Crop Rotation to find Gaea's Cradle, or Maze of Ith, or Strip Mine, or some land that does something more than tap for a mana) is definitely a tutor.

Are Lands Tutors Okay?

Based on the poll, only 20% of you think Commander would be better if you couldn't tutor for lands. This means that you aren't running Evolving Wilds, or Crop Rotation. It means you aren't using fetch lands. It means no Cultivate or Kodama's Reach.

This is really the crux of the matter. Stopping someone from tutoring for a card is one thing, but stopping someone from tutoring for land is fundamentally different. Land lets you play the game. Land lets you do the big amazing plays that we want to see in Commander. Most groups don't allow a lot of land destruction because it limits how you can play.

Taking away land tutors means your games suffer a higher risk of getting mana screwed. The games will more often result in someone losing because they didn't have the right colored mana to stop someone from winning or to do what their deck is supposed to do. There are times when that is on the deck-builder, but other times it comes down to luck. Tutoring for a basic land reduces those feel-bads. This isn't even just true for your deck. If someone in the game gets mana screwed, it isn't just that player that suffers. The game is best as multiplayer for a reason. It is the interaction between the players that really adds to the format. When one player can't interact, it isn't as much fun. I want my Grenzo deck to go off because I waited for the right moment to do so, not because an opponent who could have stopped it has been short lands the whole game.

Not being permitted to tutor for basic lands would bring a shift to Commander so significant, I don't think I can properly picture how the game would look without it! Players would still look to get an edge in mana production so the use of mana rocks would go way up. If you can't search for basic lands, then the need to draw cards to be sure you play a land every turn would go up. Exploration and other cards that let you play multiple lands in a turn would see more use if drawing cards would replace tutors. Or would the entire meta simply slow down and demand players run even more dual lands and non-basic lands that would give people the colors they need?

In Favor of Tutors

The part of the poll I found curious was that over half of the respondents think that tutors make the game better. There were a variety of reasons for that.

No tutors = fewer decks

When I decided to stop using tutors, my primary reason for doing so was to stop doing the same repeated action each game because it was the best option or because that is what the deck needs to do to win. However, there are plenty of players out there who run tutors so their deck can do that interesting, bizarre thing! On a recent episode of Commander's Brew, they built a deck around Spy Kit. While I don't think the deck was particularly good, it was a cool, awesome build that did all sorts of bizarre things you just don't see in most Commander games! I love that and would hate to lose it.

No tutors = more card draw.

The number of players who explained that without tutors they would be running that much more card draw was disheartening, but valid. If removing a set of cards only brings another set of cards to the fore to replace them and doesn't resolve the underlying issue, then keeping them out is pointless.

No tutors = inability to plan strategy.

Some players wanted tutors as a way to plan strategy. If your deck is aiming to do a particular thing, tutors will certainly help that to happen. When the plan is to do A, which leads to B, which allows you do to C, a tutor can help find the cards you need to get through each step. Without the tutor, the deck is easily stonewalled or you end up running a random bunch of creatures in a deck that only does its thing on rare occasions.

I think this argument tends to fall under the idea of no tutors will produce fewer decks, but I appreciated the logic.

No Non-Land Tutors

While those in favor of tutors saw predictability as a positive, those opposed used the same reasons. Commander as a format is meant to discourage predictable games with repetitive outcomes. Not running tutors means you are embracing the unpredictable nature of the format. That sense of, "what will happen this time?" wonder in the games is one of the best parts of Commander. Your plan for winning the game is supposed to change as you draw different cards. The predictability you get from tutors and excessive card draw is why I play 60-card casual, where I can run four copies of a card so my deck can do just the thing it was designed to do.

The argument that there will be fewer decks is valid, but without tutors, there will be plenty of other, new decks that would get a chance to shine! Without the ability to have specific cards that can stop decks or force decks to search, allowing games to go on a little longer, some decks that just need a little more time would get a chance to challenge in games.

In the end, whether you are running tutors is likely a product of your group's meta. Decks that intentionally go without tutors are bound to be a little slower and weaker than those decks that include them. I'd encourage your group to try something different and see what you think. There is likely a whole set of decks and ideas that hadn't been considered before!

Finally, I want to thank everyone who took part in the poll and responded. Everyone was reasonable and provided reasoned responses. While you didn't change my mind, and I doubt I changed yours, it was great to hear views I hadn't considered and the reasons for them!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

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