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Dear Renton: Leave Commander Alone


We're good, Wizards. Haven't you done enough?

Last week I ran a poll on Twitter to see which mechanic Commander players would want to wipe from existence.

I knew what the answer would be.

It's Eminence. Of course it's Eminence.

It's been three years since Commander 2017 unleashed Eminence upon the format. I was mad about it then and I'm mad about it now.

Edgar Markov

Edgar Markov takes the brunt of the Eminence backlash and deservedly so. This card is quite literally broken. It allows players to have an incredibly powerful ability in effect from the opening draw and actively discourages players from ever casting that commander. If you don't see the problem with this by now, I'm pretty sure nothing I say will convince you, but it's a big problem.

Edgar Markov | Commander | Dave Kosin

Perhaps chief among the problem is that decks like this one tend to get hated on the table every single time they're played. This is my best friend's Edgar Markov deck. He loves it. He's proud of it. The commander is legal, the cards are legal. But whenever he shuffles it up, he's the automatic target. That sucks! (When I asked Jon to use his deck for this article, I joked that I would be giving him credit for being a horrible person. He replied, "That's fine, I just want to be recognized for what I've done." This is why we are friends.)

The thing is, though, Eminence isn't actually the problem. It's just the embodiment of the real problem, one that's only getting worse.

Pay No Attention to the Format Behind the Blue Gathering Point

Wizards started printing Commander preconstructed decks in 2011. At the time, Commander was still a somewhat niche format, a "casual" (I hate that word) alternative to "real" Magic. This was long before I got into the game so I can't speak first-hand to how it was received. But looking at the card lists for the first few Commander products, I don't see much that's inherently troublesome. Sure, there were absolutely some powerful cards:

Kaalia of the Vast
Animar, Soul of Elements
True-Name Nemesis
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

None of these seem to be too far out of line with what Wizards would print into a Standard set (even if these specific cards might be too much for them). In fact, one of them - True-Name Nemesis - has long since found a home in other Eternal formats. Neat!

It's in Commander 2014 that we begin to see the problem take shape.

Teferi, Temporal Archmage

Refer back to the results of my Twitter poll and you'll see Planeswalkers - not even a mechanic, a whole card type! - are high on the "please yeet" list for a lot of Commander players. I have no idea exactly when the debate over whether all Planeswalkers should be legal commanders - broadly speaking, no, they absolutely should not - first began, but it's hard to believe that Commander 2014 didn't spur it into overdrive at the very least. If they didn't plant the seed for this ongoing and divisive debate, these Planeswalkers poured gasoline on the fire.

Let's jump ahead to Commander 2016. Behold:

Thrasios, Triton Hero
Vial Smasher the Fierce

Remember that Twitter poll? We've discussed two of the three things players wish had never happened, and Partner is the third. This was the first Commander product to be released after I began playing Magic and at the time I remember finding Partner quite novel. It allowed for four-color decks in a way that the face commanders didn't always permit, and the ability to create so many different combinations seemed like it would spur diversity and innovation.

Four years on, Partner is widely regarded as a mistake, and I'm inclined to believe Wizards agrees given the shift to the much less problematic "partner with" in Battlebond and subsequent products. Partner is the newest scourge of the cEDH community; players who'd hoped for more diversity in cEDH after the banning of Flash are now disappointed to see Partners have become overwhelmingly prevalent in the meta. Because cEDH is Commander's competitive variant, winning is everything, and the consensus is that if you want to win, you should probably be playing Partners. That kind of sameyness is no fun in any corner of Commander's world.

Eminence. Planeswalkers as commanders. Partner. What's the common theme here? Wizards made them all just for us.

Thanks, We Hate It

The past few years have seen Wizards heavily shifting toward designing more cards, mechanics and products specifically for Commander. We're in the middle of the "Year of Commander" right now, a ride I'd personally like to get off, and it's hard to believe the Commander marketing and design blitz will stop when the calendar rolls over to 2021.

But here's the thing. Yes, Commander is Magic's most popular - and, therefore, its most lucrative - format. It makes nothing but sense for Wizards to capitalize on that. However, Commander became popular in large part because Wizards had nothing to do with its creation or governance. This was the format where players could dig out the weirdest, most random cards from their collections, put them into a deck and have fun in ways they never thought possible. Commander players take pride in discovering interactions and combos that were never meant to happen, using cards from four different decades to produce absolutely bonkers results.

Commander is the ultimate players' format. Players created it, players run it, players make it, players break it. But the idea that Wizards has no influence on the format is dreadfully naive. Sure, Wizards may not ban cards from Commander, but now it's making an awful lot of cards specifically for it. We as Commander players can build all the decks we want but we don't design the cards.

"Hey Dave," you might say, "isn't that what Wizards is supposed to do? Don't you want fun new cards and mechanics?" Of course we do!

Problem is, Eminence is not fun. Planeswalkers as commanders are not fun. Partner is not fun. The problem is that someone or someones in Renton thought they'd be fun. They thought wrong.

Late last year, Mark Rosewater made big waves in the Commander community when he spent weeks doing his signature "head to head" polls on things that should be changed about the format. Choices ran the gamut from eliminating commander damage to reducing starting life totals to, yes, the infernal hybrid mana question. For the record, I did not vote in those polls because I am in favor of precisely zero of the dozens of so-called "potential changes".

A significant number of players, myself included, were concerned with the implication that Commander should, or would, undergo radical changes to bring it more in line with what Wizards thought it should be. Both Rosewater and the Rules Committee worked hard to put out that fire... though I'm not sure it won't always be smoldering a little bit.

That kind of thing worries a lot of players because we've seen the havoc Wizards can wreak upon the format just by printing cards. Imagine what could happen next.

If You're Gonna Do it, Do it Right

I'm not arguing that Wizards should stop making cards with Commander in mind, or Commander precons. (I am terrified of whatever Commander Legends turns out to be, but I'm sure we'll cover that in due time.) What I am arguing is that if Wizards is going to ramp up the attention it pays Commander, it needs to do better. A lot better.

Commander precons are fantastic. They're by far the best entry point to the format for new players. Wizards also claims they're an outlet for needed reprints, though the last few years' worth of precons have been massive disappointments in the reprint department. Take the Battlebond land cycle, for example:

Luxury Suite
Morphic Pool
Sea of Clouds

These were the best thing to happen to Commander mana bases in years! Sure, they were ostensibly designed with the Two-Headed Giant Battlebond draft format in mind but of course they were made for Commander.

So, where the hell are they?

These lands haven't been reprinted once. Not in Commander 2018, Commander 2019, or in Commander 2020. On top of that, the cycle remains unfinished. This is incomprehensible. These should be staples of Commander products, which instead continue to be filled with awful taplands aren't worth the cardboard on which they're printed. As of this writing, the Battlebond lands range from $10 to $20 each.

Why hasn't Wizards made these auto-includes in every Commander product? Beats me. But it's illustrative of the problem with designing cards and products specifically for Commander.

The problem is that Wizards of the Coast can't seem to do it right. And if it can't be done right, I wish the company would just stop doing it altogether. We get things like Partner and Eminence that strike at the very heart of the format, while not getting the things we actually need. You want to really, truly help us? Give us the Battlebond lands. Teferi's Protection. Cyclonic Rift. Doubling Season. Land Tax. If Sol Ring can be printed in every single precon, these can be, too. Why aren't they? Only Wizards knows.*

What *I* know is that Wizards doesn't have a great track record in designing things just for Commander. If it can't do better, it should get out of the way until and unless it can.

*It's money. Of course it's money.

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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