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A Plea for Commander Unity


And we thought last week was nuts.

Friends, so much has transpired since last Friday. At virtually the same moment my previous article was published, the Rules Committee announced it would not be banning cards from Secret Lair: The Walking Dead. As I wrote back then I was - and, in a vacuum, remain - in favor of a ban, but I absolutely understand why the RC opted not to ban, and as I always have I stand by the RC fully and without reservation.

We quickly learned not everyone felt the same way. 24 hours after the non-ban announcement, we learned about an attempt to create an alternative format to Commander, which... was Commander, for all intents and purposes, just without the RC. I'm not going to spend a lot of time belaboring this point (if you missed the whole ordeal, you're better off), nor am I going to engage in finger-pointing or blame-placing. The individual responsible for starting this erstwhile resistance movement shut it down a little over a day later, which was the correct move.

Why? Because now more than ever, we Commander players need to come together.

Us Against the Multiverse

In some ways, Magic still doesn't know what to make of Commander. Seems unconscionable given how long the format has been around and its astronomical surge in popularity over the past few years, but here we are. It's the (cursed) "Year of Commander", an entire set designed specifically for Commander is on its way - eventually, we think, because of course it's delayed - and Wizards just recently shared the shocking breaking news with WPN stores that, gasp, lots of people like playing Commander.

At the same time, and as I've covered here almost ad infinitum, Wizards continues to make decisions that have potentially catastrophic implications for Commander. Desperately needed reprints continue to elude us; at least, they continue to elude those of us who can't afford massively expensive premium products like Collector Booster boxes and heinously overpriced Secret Lairs. Double Masters brought some relief to iconic Commander cards -

- but we all know that relief won't last. It almost never does. Reprints from premium products such as Double Masters always seem to find a way to creep back up in price before too long. I hope you've gotten your singles by now, or are grabbing them soon.

And then there's The Walking Dead. I covered this last week and I won't rehash it, but it's safe to say that we do not yet know all the ramifications this model of printing mechanically unique cards with black borders in Secret Lairs will have on Commander and, indeed, on Magic overall. They'll sell, of that much I'm sure. That worries me for what Wizards may throw at us next.

So, in the end Commander remains what it has always been. We are the quirky cousin format, the one most people like, some people love, and others resent for... reasons. We're independent, free from the serial bumbling that plagues officially sanctioned, Wizards-controlled formats, but we're far from perfect. We all seem to love this format for the same reason while simultaneously being unable to reach anything approaching a consensus on anything.

We are what we are. And if the instability of the last week and a half or so has taught us anything, it's that we need each other.

The Things That Unite Us

Ask any ten players what they love most about Commander and I bet you'll get ten similar but not identical answers. I've always found that to be a point in Commander's favor and I still do, but in turbulent times those healthy differences in opinion have a nasty habit of transforming into hard lines. We each have our own ideal vision of Commander, what it would be and how every single game would go if it were up to us. We each tinker with the ban list in our heads, removing this and adding that. We muse about what we would do if the power was in our hands.

Varied perspectives are good. Differing ideas are healthy. These are just some of the things that make Commander unique. There is, at any given time, only a handful of viable decks and strategies in formats like Standard; right now, it seems, there's only one viable deck, but I'll leave that analysis to the Standard gurus. Commander will never have that problem. Each of us could play a thousand games - a million - and never have the same experience twice.

I don't think I'm reaching too far when I say that diversity in perspectives, deck-building styles and strategies is one of the prime reasons so many of us love this format. And sure, there are always going to be differences of opinion that can't be resolved, circles that can't be squared. But those aren't fault lines. They're healthy borders. We're each entitled to inhabit our own space, like what we like, dislike what we dislike and still coexist and have fun with each other.

For as many times as the pantheon of undying Commander debates will cycle - hybrid mana, commander damage, wish effects, et al - in the end we're all much closer to agreement on most things than not. We have more in common than we don't. The things that unite us truly are greater than the things that divide us.

The Stormy Present

I won't pretend this is the rosiest point in Commander's timeline. We've had more than our share of strife these last several weeks and months. In many ways, the format is emerging from its adolescence into young adulthood; if you're older than about 25, you know exactly how turbulent those years are (if you're not, buckle up).

We're assuredly in a weird place as a format right now. Consumer confidence in the company that makes the cards we use is shaky at best. A portion of the player base, maybe small but may not, feels as though it's been abandoned by the RC - again, a notion with which I couldn't disagree more. I'm seeing more and more Magic players, from all corners of the game, losing touch with the joy they once got from it.

It hurts me. Truly.

But the thing about storms is that they pass. They can be awful and destructive in the moment and sometimes come with residual effects that never go away. But the storms themselves do pass. The sun comes out again.

So it shall be for Commander. I have no doubt.

The Sky's the Limit

When that storm does pass, the future is bright for Commander. As much as I wish Wizards would pump the brakes on the unceasing onslaught of new product, each one brings new toys for us Commander players, for better or Walking worse. People continue to discover this format each and every day, from long-entrenched Magic players to those still learning the basics of the game and everything in between. We make new friends, unlock new perspectives and come together to make new memories that last long after the game has been won or lost.

The key words there are "come together". Commander is not a solitaire format. If I've said this once I've said it a billion times: The goal for Commander is for everyone at the table to have fun. Commander is at its best when it's a place for players to exhale, to unburden themselves from the angst and pressure of competitive formats, and to just be themselves. This is a place where we get to express ourselves through our decks and our plays, where we get to make memes out of our nonsense and laugh ourselves silly over truly silly things.

All of this only happens when we're united. If one person at a table doesn't have fun, nobody has fun. We've tried to make 1v1 Commander a thing a few times now. Those who love it really love it, but the vast majority of us can't envision it as anything other than a multiplayer experience. Getting four people to align on anything can be difficult to impossible, but somehow we Commander players manage to succeed more often than we fail.

I don't think there's any big secret there. By and large Commander players are here for a good time. We're here to enjoy the game, but really and truly we're here to enjoy each other. It's hard to have a good game experience if you don't enjoy the company. And you can have all the best cards, build all the most fun decks and none of that would mean anything without being able to play them with others who can appreciate what you've done. Nothing feels better than when the rest of the table is impressed and entertained by our decks or our play style.

Commander has always been and always will be about a communal experience. We are each of us bound together by our love for this format. Storms will come; they always do. They won't destroy us if we stay together.

One of the new legendaries in Zendikar Rising has the right name for the right time: Tazri, Beacon of Unity. Check out this decklist below from my pal Sinmadaura on Twitter.

So please, my Commander friends, I beseech you all - unite. Come together. Ignite the beacon and fulfill the promise of this thing we all treasure so much. We can do this.

Uniting Commander | Commander | Sinmadaura

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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