Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of online discussion around the idea of Planeswalkers as commanders. With War of the Spark offering up so many Planeswalkers, discussion of the topic was bound to increase! After watching the lively debate on the topic, I thought it would be interesting to distill the argument and look at the pros and cons from both sides of the debate. Then a little bird said it would be far more interesting to split this into two articles, with writers on either side of the topic.
Stephen Johnson and I have been writing on Mondays together now for several months and have been waiting for an opportunity like this to come along, so we started talking and our articles today are the result! So if you haven’t read Stephen’s article for today, I recommend checking it out to see the other side of the debate. And if you have already read Stephen’s article explaining why Planeswalkers should not be commanders, let me explain my side!
Just to be clear, we are looking at the pros and cons of making unbroken Planeswalkers commanders legal. The Rules Committee would have to determine which Planeswalkers would have to be banned. If your argument for or against revolves around some broken Planeswalkers or a belief that the Rules Committee couldn’t address this in a clean manner, then we are not going to be addressing your points.
Many of the arguments that have been made in arguing for Planeswalkers as commanders are more arguments rebutting the claims against. Arguing that Planeswalkers should be commanders because they don’t actually increase the length of a game is not an argument for the point, it is rebutting a point against Planeswalkers being commanders. While I appreciate the importance of showing the weakness of the other side of the argument, I want to start with the reasons for.
It turns out that many of the people involved in the online debate never really had a reason for wanting or not wanting Planeswalkers as commanders. I know, I was shocked to find people on the internet not clearly arguing their position too! Simply wanting it is fine, but I was looking for a reason. I wanted to see how it would make Commander a better game. Why would I want to see a rules change in a game that I love if it doesn’t make the game better! When looking at it from that viewpoint, the argument in favor comes down to two arguments.
When explaining Commander to a new player, the easiest way to describe it is to say that your commander is leading the army that you have put together. Naturally, this means that your commander must be a Legendary Creature, since it doesn’t make sense to have a Mother of Runes leading your army! When the format started as EDH, you literally used one of the elder dragons as your commander! For a long time, you could not choose a commander that someone else in the game was playing!
This rule soon changed, as it demanded that players have multiple decks just to ensure that they wouldn’t have the same “general” as someone else. The rule also changed to allow you to use any legend. Both of these rules changes were made to make the game more fun.
When you look at your commander in this way, it only makes sense that a Planeswalker should be allowed to lead your army into battle! They are also individuals, so the reasoning why it could only be a Legendary Creature applies perfectly to Planeswalkers as well.
Then take the next step in the logic: Planeswalkers didn’t exist when EDH started. I don’t think there would be any doubt Planeswalkers could have been included with, or possibly replace, Legendary Creatures as commanders of the decks if the card type had existed at that point. They embody the intent and heart of the commander in the Commander format better than Legendary Creatures do. Are we really going to hold to a rule that was initially made to limit you to just elder dragons, and was then changed to limit you to just Legendary creatures? A rule that was made without ever considering the Planeswalker card type?
The second argument is variety. Virtually everyone wants to see variety in the format. Commander players eagerly watch every new card that is revealed to find anything that adds to the format. Does that card improve my deck? Does it improve a friend’s deck? Is it something worth building a whole new deck around? Variety helps keep Magic, and Commander, a vibrant game!
Making Planeswalkers possible commanders adds variety to the format! You get more options to build decks around. With more and more players coming to Commander, it can get harder to find deck ideas that haven’t been done a thousand times already by others. By adding Planeswalkers to the possible list of commanders, you increase the chance of building something brand new.
Not only does it mean more commander options, but it changes the cards in your decks too. Without a creature as your commander, spots in your deck dedicated to protecting your commander can be changed into different options. So many decks running Lightning Greaves and/or Swiftfoot Boots can look at other options to open up the variety. Perhaps you’ll choose to add a few creatures that do a good job protecting your Planeswalker. Perhaps you will look at ways to give your permanents hexproof. Perhaps you’ll find ways to add loyalty counters. All of these become options that may not have been part of your thinking before.
Adding Planeswalkers also means everyone’s decks need to change too. The likelihood that you’ll be facing Planeswalkers in decks is going to go way up, and if they were an option when choosing a commander, virtually every deck will be looking for more ways to handle the change. Creature combat can do a decent job sometimes, but for many decks, the removal package will need to include Planeswalkers and this also produces more variety with decks.
And for some of us, this is needed. I do not update my decks nearly often enough. I don’t build decks often enough. This shift is the sort of thing that encourages many of us to wake up and remember just how much fun it is to build and tinker with decks! Variety brings spice to the game and a shift like this will certainly bring the spice!
With the reasons for adding Planeswalkers as commanders laid out, it is time to look at those arguments against to see how they stack up.
Game length is a concern that is regularly brought up, and I believe that is a genuine concern. Planeswalkers can add to game length since the primary way to remove a Planeswalker is by attacking. If you attack a Planeswalker, it is damage that is not being dealt to an opponent, meaning the game takes that much longer.
This is hard to deny. Some attacks will have to go at the Planeswalker. This will lengthen games. However, isn’t the same true of any commander? If an opponent chooses to use their creatures or even one of their creatures to block, aren’t they also preventing damage to an opponent? A 2/5 creature with defender likely stops far more damage to an opponent than a five loyalty Planeswalker. The Planeswalker loses the loyalty forever. They can usually add one or two loyalty on each of their turns, but the 2/5 creature survives round after round.
The real difference is in the choice. As the attacker, you have a choice in dealing with the Planeswalker or dealing with the opponent. If the commander is a Legendary Creature, you no longer have the choice, the defending player gets the choice. If anything, choosing a Planeswalker leaves you more vulnerable, as you are giving your opponent the choice of attacking you or the Planeswalker. With a creature, you are keeping the choice to you.
Another argument against that I’ve seen lies with Planeswalkers’ inability to do damage to an opponent. A Legendary Creature can actively kill an opponent while Planeswalkers can’t. Your Planeswalker is never going to win the game for you by doing 21 points of combat damage. I would argue that many of the popular commanders are popular because of what is in their text box, not what it says in the power/toughness slot. Atraxa is not the most popular commander because she has 4 power, she is popular because of the proliferate mechanic.
Many commanders are far more aggro than many Legendary Creatures. Ajani and Elspeth produce plenty of tokens and ways to pump creatures. Gideon tends to become an indestructible creature that would swing effectively for a while.
Another argument lies with commanders being straight value engines. This argument is similar to the last one, and the response is similar as well. Some are value engines, while some aren’t. Some Legendary Creatures are value engines, while some are not.
In the end, for me the determination lies with what is more fun. Will games be more exciting and offer more crazy game states if Commander allows Planeswalkers as commanders or not. All the rational discussion is tossed to the wayside if the games are not going to be more fun.
So have my arguments changed your mind? Perhaps Stephen’s article hit on points that resonated with you. Hit me up in the comments. I’d love to hear your arguments for and against that go beyond just your preference. Did we miss a point that guides your opinion? Let’s hear it!