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Commander Just Changed (Forever?)


Kaldheim is aggressively "meh" for me. I don't love the set, I don't hate the set, I get why people are excited, I get why others aren't. So instead of faking my way through a set review, I want to talk about something specific from Kaldheim.

Wizards of the Coast has - yet again - fundamentally altered the Commander format right under our noses.

Toralf, God of Fury

I can cast the back half of this card from the command zone. Anytime I want. Toralf's Hammer can be my commander. An artifact can be my commander. Not an artifact CREATURE. A damn hammer.

As we see above, Toralf's Hammer can deal commander damage if it becomes a creature, is subject to "commander tax", and can be shuttled to your hand with Sanctum of Eternity. Remember way back in the good old days of LAST MONTH when your commander had to be a legendary creature or a specially designated planeswalker?

And it's not just inanimate artifacts that can be our commanders now, you see.

Esika, God of the Tree

An enchantment in the command zone - a really good one.

So, what do I think about this? I don't know, fully - and we'll dive into that. But we do need to acknowledge that, for better or worse, being able to cast non-creature, non-planeswalker spells from the command zone is a seismic shift in the very fabric of Commander. It might turn out to be a positive thing, it might not - but it absolutely does represent a significant change in our format. There's no way around it.

Change is Inevitable

It would be hopelessly naive to suggest that Commander, as a format, should be an unalterable monolith, and that it was perfect at the moment of its conception and should never change or evolve. That's precisely why I'm not saying anything like that.

As I've discussed at length, Magic as a whole continues to grow and change and evolve as it barrels toward its thirtieth year of existence. And while there have been massive drawbacks and boo boos along the way, that evolution is also, on balance, good and healthy. A game like Magic can't make it 30 years without it.

So, when it comes to the modal double-faced cards, or MDFCs, of Kaldheim that do, indeed, allow us to cast artifacts and enchantments from the command zone, it's fair to view them as an intriguing exploration of new design space both for the game and for Commander in particular.

Exploring new design spaces is good and, honestly, necessary. Just as the game takes us to new planes and introduces new characters, it must continue to take our minds to new places and prod us to rethink the things we think we know about Magic. Without this kind of growth, the game would have died a long, long time ago. MDFCs are just the latest in a long line of such examples.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Put simply, unintended consequences are the things that happen because we didn't think about the possibility that they might happen. Because our format is eternal, what has happened in the past is just as influential as what's happening now and what will happen in the future. And in the case of the Kaldheim MDFCs, it's the future that gives me pause.

The MDFCs in Kaldheim bend the definition of what can and cannot exist in the command zone. They have legendary creatures on one side - obviously, legendary creatures were the original residents of the command zone and remain the dominant ones to this day (sorry, planeswalkers that say they can be your commanders). But on the other sides of these cards we have artifacts and enchantments and, in the case of Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, a planeswalker. In each case, the back side is something tied directly to that creature - a weapon or relic that belongs to them, a thing they guard or use for the greater good, or a hidden persona. It's flavorful in a good way, and I don't have any problem with that.

My concern, however, comes from the consequences of opening this particular door. In Kaldheim, that door contains reveals things in the command zone which wouldn't normally be allowed there. We know Wizards of the Coast likes to revisit and expand upon concepts like these. Is it, then, not unreasonable to assume that their return and further evolution is a question of "when" and not "if"? The next Standard set up on the calendar is Strixhaven, the so-called "Harry Potter" set. Would anyone be shocked if it includes MDFCs with creatures on one side and instants or sorceries on the other? It would make sense from a flavor perspective - these legends would presumably be paired with their signature spells. So, what happens if a Blue legendary creature is paired with a counter spell? It would mean that we'd be able to have a counter chilling in the command zone, ready to be cast at any time. The same would go for a burn spell in Red, a removal spell in White, reanimation in Black or ramp in Green. Perhaps the mythic legends would have even splashier spells attached to them, like board wipes or tutors.

That, for me, is where the bend in Commander's bedrock would turn into a dangerous break.

Of course, I'm merely speculating here - it's as likely as not that the Kaldheim MDFCs are the last we'll see in a while, and maybe they'll never return at all. But since the moment I saw the first MDFC with an artifact on the back, I haven't been able to stop wondering what might be next.

If Wizards does indeed go further down this road, that won't have been an unintended consequence, it'll have been the plan all along. The unintended consequence will come if and when players express concern about having counter magic or ramp or tutor spells in the command zone and start talking about whether the rules should change to have only the creature side of MDFCs be accessible in the command zone. And let's be clear, if Wizards prints a card with a legendary creature on one side and an efficient, powerful instant or sorcery on the back, I will be screaming for a rule change from every rooftop I can find.

I'm already concerned, to a degree, about Tergrid, God of Fright // Tergrid's Lantern and I know for sure I'm not alone. Both halves are powerful and would see play, together and independently, if they were two distinct cards. Seeing them stapled onto one double-sided card has, I think rightfully, given many of us pause. It's a lot of power for not a lot of mana, two very good extra cards in our hands.

After all, easy access to too powerful, too efficient effects in the command zone is the chief argument against allowing all planeswalkers to be commanders. No one is eager to see an Ashiok, Dream Render reliably hit the table on curve every single game and turn off everyone else's tutor effects. Does anyone really want Oko, Thief of Crowns to move his throne to the command zone? How about Teferi, Time Raveler? Does anyone want to see that card as an opponent's commander?

That's the danger we face here. Acceptance of the Kaldheim MDFCs right now could very easily carry the unintended consequence of forcing the Rules Committee into a Kobayashi Maru situation down the line if more problematic MDFCs show up. If it makes the anti-MDFC crowd happy, it'll anger the other side and vice versa.

So, does that mean I'm calling for the RC to change the rules around MDFCs? No. Not now, at least.

With exceedingly rare exceptions, I tend to be in favor of allowing new things to have a chance to play out before taking drastic action. I'm inclined to do just that with the Kaldheim MDFCs, with an important caveat. The rare and mythic god MDFCs in this set are already commanding some fairly hefty preorder prices, which will only go up post-release if they find a strong foothold in at least one format, whether it's Commander or Standard or something else. If players spend a lot of money to build around these cards now because they want to cast the back sides from the command zone only for the rules to nullify them later, there's going to be a tidal wave of resentment that won't be easily dismissed.

Faced with taking action now based on what might happen in the future or taking no action because there's no imminent threat, I'd advocate the latter. Just as these MDFCs may set a dangerous precedent, preemptively neutering them would do the same thing - and may not even turn out to be necessary.

So, for the moment, I'm content to sit tight and watch what happens. And to ponder things like the absolutely glorious pile of five-color nonsense you see below.

But make no mistake. Commander has changed. Whether it's a change for better or worse, just for now or for eternity... that all remains to be seen.

Esika, God of the Tree | Commander | Dave Kosin

Dave is a Commander player currently residing in Reno, NV. When he's not badly misplaying his decks, he works as a personal trainer. You can bother him on Twitter and check out his Twitch channel.

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