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All Good Things


Welcome to my final article for CoolStuffInc. This is a sentence I would not have expected to be writing as recently as a couple of weeks ago, but life works in mysterious ways. Without boring you with too many details, I'm making a career change that will leave me precious little time to even think about Magic let alone write about it every week. That kinda stinks, I won't lie, but this is a long overdue opportunity for me to put my big boy pants on and finally do some things I probably should have done years ago.

So, I'd like to wrap up my time here with a final reflection on Commander and on Magic at large.

Adapt and/or Die

I think it's fair to say both Magic and Commander have undergone massive change over the past year and change. At this time in 2020, we were days away from our collective lives changing forever - even if most of us had no idea how soon that would happen and that we'd still be living in this bizarre alternate reality after all this time. Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths was the next main set on the docket. It had no set boosters, there was no "The List". What we did have, however, was Magic's first real steps toward the cross-property licensing spree that's dominated so much of the conversation since then.

Image of the Magic card Zilortha, Strength Incarnate/Godzilla King of the MonstersImage of the Magic card Luminous Broodmoth/Mothra, Supersonic Queen

Many of us raised our eyebrows at this development. Yes, it made sense from a flavor perspective given the themes of Ikoria, and ultimately it all amounted to "skins" which didn't change the fact that these were well and truly Magic cards underneath the Godzilla decorations. This was an easy case of a kind of product that could safely and easily be "not for you"; if you didn't want the Godzilla skins, you could just play the regular versions of those cards and be just fine.

But in retrospect, I wish I had done something I do a lot more now, which is to say to myself, "OK, well this isn't so bad, but it makes me wonder what Wizards of the Coast will do next".

Silly Davie.

Image of Glenn, the Voice of Calm from the Magic Secret Lair Walking Dead Series

Ahhhhhhhhh yes. Secret Lair: The Walking Dead, the crossover I'm pretty sure nobody asked for but which properly excited a great many people, enough that Wizards claims it sold like wildfire. We've been told it brought so many new players to our game and that, naturally, they'd be likely to find their way to Commander given that a new player probably isn't jumping straight into Legacy or Vintage.

I'm not sure that's the case. I'm willing to bet a bunch of The Walking Dead fans bought the product, and I'm willing to bet a small percentage of them have either actually learned and begun playing Magic, but I'm also willing to bet the bulk of these people bought it as a collector's item and nothing more.

At the time I wanted these cards banned in Commander; I'm not sure I feel that way now. Yes, it would have been an opportunity for the Rules Committee to "stick it" to Wizards and admonish the company for launching our format into an existential crisis for the sake of the almighty dollar, but as time has passed I've realized that's not really the RC's job. The RC has tasked itself with trying its best to represent the interests of all Commander players - even the ones who want the RC abolished and the format handed over to Wizards, which would be the worst thing to ever happen to Commander - and it was, and remains, clear that a significant portion of the community tolerates these cards if not outright loves them.

This time, though, I was very much aware that Wizards wouldn't stop there. And I was right. Now we're going to be getting Magic product based on Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings, the launch of a "sub-brand" Wizards is calling "Universes Beyond". Again, we're being told these will bring new players into the fold and grow our game. Warhammer is even getting Commander decks.

But just as with The Walking Dead, is it really reasonable to expect Lord of the Rings fans who've never had any desire to play Magic before to jump in with both feet just because they've received the proper pandering? Some will, to be sure, but how many will stay around for the long term? And how many existing players will decide this is their chance to exit stage right? Some already have. I have a feeling even more will.

That's largely because those of us with no affinity for those licensed properties don't have the luxury of saying these products "aren't for us". They're going to contain new cards for Commander, in all likelihood very powerful ones - there can no longer be any questions that Wizards is juicing up new cards to move product - and it's entirely possible these crossover products will contain instant Commander staples.

Remember, always, that Wizards is under Hasbro's umbrella, a company which has made its bones by weaponizing nostalgia. With Marvel, Star Wars, and Power Rangers among its most notable IPs, Hasbro knows there's profit in fan service. Speaking of Marvel, now in the post-Infinity War/Endgame era, big silly crossovers are it. As I write this, it's been less than one week since WandaVision's finale and some people are still complaining that not enough Marvel characters showed up.

So perhaps it was inevitable that Magic would succumb to crossover mania. The only question now is whether this is a pivot that sets the game up for another three decades of prosperity, is it simply naked greed and nothing more, or is it an act of desperation for a company and a game that's perhaps not adapting as well to the times as we've been led to believe?

We'll find out. Since I'm scaling back my Magic activity and, specifically, my Magic spending to almost nothing I can say with confidence I won't be buying any of the Warhammer or Lord of the Rings stuff. Maybe they'll be blockbusters...maybe they won't. I'll be watching.

The Future is Yours

None of this would mean anything without us, the players. Commander players have kept Magic alive for the past year. That's not ego, that's a fact - if this game only had Standard, Modern, and other purely competitive formats I don't think paper Magic would have survived 2020. We Commander players have power here. A lot of it.

This is a player-run format and always will be. I can't imagine the Rules Committee will ever toss the keys to Wizards and, frankly, I don't see why Wizards would want them. Commander is a win-win for Wizards - our format makes them their money without them having to spend a cent of salary on a dedicated team to manage it. The Rules Committee - and all of us, by extension - are essentially working for Wizards for free. I'd be shocked beyond shock if this arrangement changed anytime soon, if ever, so let's proceed under the assumption that this will remain a player-governed format.

We need to wield our considerable power responsibly. And when I say "we" and "our" please know that I mean Commander players, from the young kids who got a single precon for their birthday to the diehards with hundreds of decks and trade binders that could buy and sell me ten times over. We run this format. It's incumbent upon all of us to continue to make Commander a vehicle for positive social interactions, a place where anyone and everyone can sit down and have fun with friends or with strangers, a means of self-expression. Commander must remain welcoming and fun. That's on all of us.

This game is not perfect. This format is not perfect. This community is not perfect. None of them ever will be. But each can always be better. There is still far too much division, too much enmity among players over things that really couldn't matter less. For as open and friendly and inclusive as we like to think Commander is, it's still not nearly as inclusive and friendly as it needs to be, especially toward women, queer players, and players of color who all deserve seats at the table as much as anyone else does. The work of continuing to throw open our doors ever wider must not stop. It must intensify.

I could line up dozens, if not hundreds, of people to talk about how much Commander has positively impacted their lives, especially over this past year when many of us were, and in many cases still are, completely cut off from actual human contact. Commander has done a lot of good, and can do so much more - we just have to make it happen.

That's because at the end of the day, this format is not really about its rules or its ban list, or about the Rules Committee or the "big deal" content creators. Commander is about its players, and will only ever be as strong and healthy and positive as its players allow it to be. Wizards is going to keep doing things that infuriate us, the RC will make decisions not everyone loves, and some content creators are still going to trade in hot takes and clickbait and all the other things that are part and parcel of making your living on the Internet.

We can't control those things. What we can control is how much power we allow those things and those people to have over Commander. Healthy, lively debate will always have a place in this community, but it's time for us to collectively rise above the nasty habit of going at each other's throats over nonsense. We need to move beyond the same five or ten divisive "debates" - hybrid mana, planeswalker commanders and off-color fetchlands, just to name a handful - and talk about things that actually matter to each of us. I don't care at all that your basic lands don't all match - mine certainly don't - but I care an awful lot about whether or not I'm creating a fun, welcoming environment for someone who's about to play Commander with me for the first time.

Hot take artists are gonna hot take, Wizards is gonna Wizards, but we don't have to be beholden to all that. We don't have to feed a destructive cycle that has, I'm sorry to say, driven people away from this game and this format as everyone has found themselves more "online" during the pandemic. We don't have to be that toxic fandom that makes people feel afraid to share an unpopular opinion or suggest a new idea. We can be so much better.

I've said all along that the thing I've always loved about Commander, and always will, is that it is what we make of it. The cards we choose, the decks we build and the way we play are up to each of us. The same is true for the community that has made Commander into Magic's premier format. We can either make this yet another fandom dominated by a small handful of prohibitively loud, divisive voices, or we can make this into a place where everyone's voice matters and no one is made to feel insignificant, unworthy, or unwanted. I sure as hell hope we choose the latter.

So, that's it. In just a couple of days I'll be packing up my car and moving across the country (again) and Magic will become my every-once-in-a-while hobby. I look forward to the eventual return of big, in-person events so I can catch up with old friends, meet new ones and play this game and this format we all love together. I'm sure I'll still have things to say about Magic on Twitter from time to time, but this marks the end of my content creation career.

Well, for now. Never say never.

In the meantime, I would be remiss if I didn't extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone at CoolStuffInc for allowing me this platform for the past 53 weeks. I'm proud of the work I did here and I hope they are too.

And to all of you: Thank you for reading, whether you read my work once or every single week. It's meant the world to me and always will.

Now I pass the torch to you. Go take care of our format. We're all counting on you.

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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