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The Hybrid Mana Fight? Again?


Monday morning. A new beginning. The start of a fresh week and all new-

Oh for the love of...

Yes, this past Monday is seemed we were doing this again. Why? WHY! It seems to have started after the Commander Rules Committee posted its June update. Someone (or perhaps someones) with a large platform said, paraphrasing, "great, now fix hybrid mana", and we were right back in the mess.

I know, Maz. We're too old for this.

We've been having this fight for years. For those who may be blessedly unfamiliar with the controversy, look at these cards:

Kitchen Finks
Ashiok, Dream Render

Each costs hybrid mana to cast - White or Blue in the case of Dovescape; I can pay3www, 3wuu, 3wwu, or3uuu. In Constructed formats, Dovescape works in either a Mono-White or Mono-Blue deck. But because of Commander's color identity rules, and the fact that Dovescape is considered to be both White and Blue, it is only legal in a deck whose commander's color identity includes both White and Blue (at least).

A vocal subset of Commander players has long believed that hybrid mana cards should be playable in any deck whose color identity includes one color or the other, and should not require both. This group includes several prominent content creators and, notably, Magic designer Mark Rosewater.

However that group does not include the Rules Committee, which remains firm in its position that Dovescape is both a White card and a Blue card and, therefore, cannot go in a Mono-White or Mono-Blue deck. I happen to be in that camp. Here's what my "Hot" Daxos, Blessed by the Sun deck might look like if the rules changed:

Yeah, sorry, Waves of Aggression and Dovescape and Privileged Position don't belong in Mono-White decks.

But this isn't really about Round Infinity of the hybrid mana fight. It's about why this fight masks the true battle being waged in the Commander community - the battle over the soul of the format itself.

Strength = Weakness

Commander is different things to different people. Whatever your play style, however you like building your decks, whichever way you prefer to play, Commander is designed to be adaptable. The beating heart of this format was, is and always will be Rule 0, which is there to ensure that players can come together and have fun in whatever way they all want to.

It is my firm belief that Rule 0 is what makes Commander the best format in Magic, and the one a lot of us play to the exclusion of all else. But I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone agrees with me on that. Many Commander players, some with very loud voices, see Rule 0 as a cop-out, a deus ex machina that's trotted out to stifle discussion of the changes they believe should be made, of which hybrid mana is just one example.

It is here that Commander's greatest strength is also revealed as its greatest weakness.

The problem with a format being different things to different people is that as humans, we tend to feel that if something isn't being done our way, it's wrong. This is something all of us do at some point or another. We've all ordered a steak medium rare and been furious when it came out well done. Yes, the steak wasn't cooked the way we asked for it, but it's not as if it was inedible or poisoned. We simply didn't get what we wanted.

In any community or environment that brings together individuals of differing backgrounds and perspectives, disharmony is assured. We're never, ever, ever going to agree on absolutely everything. And to the RC's eternal credit, its mission has never been to make everyone happy. That job simply can't be done. Instead, the RC strives to best serve the format and its player base as a whole. Its members are not perfect and their decisions almost never universally praised nor universally condemned. For any action the RC takes, a certain percentage of the player base will be happy, and another percentage will not. It's the cost of doing business.

That's why the hybrid mana debate is a smoke screen. So are "should Planeswalkers be commanders?" and "do we really need commander damage?" and "ban 100 more cards/have no bans at all" and so on. Each of those rotating skirmishes hides the ultimate dividing line.



I grew up with Nintendo. Super Smash Bros Melee came out when I was just starting college, and it sucked up thousands of hours in our dorms and apartments. Almost two decades later, Melee still has a robust competitive scene, one which gave birth to one of the OG Internet memes: No items, Fox only, Final Destination.

For the uninitiated, the joke here is that in competitive Smash, items - like Super Mushrooms and Koopa shells - are forbidden, as are stages that move, change or have hazards affecting gameplay. Competitive Smash players loathe randomness and wish to test purely their own skill, so a stage like Final Destination - a single long, flat platform with no hazards of any kind - is preferred. At the same time, in any given Smash game a small subset of characters will be competitively viable while a larger number will not. In Melee, Fox has been at or near the top of the ladder since launch. Add all that together and you get "no items, Fox only, Final Destination" - in other words, "this is how competitive Smash is meant to be played".

There's quite a bit of truth to that meme. It's a joke to the Smash players who love goofing around with friends and throwing Pokballs, but to competitive Smashers it's serious business. It reveals the gulf between those who play the game the way it was intended to be played - a silly party game - and those who choose to take it to a deeper, more competitive level.

Sound familiar?

Commander was designed to be a social format, free of the pressure of competitive modes and a way for Magic players to have a fun afternoon or evening together without worrying about being the best. But it's still Magic, and since many Commander players also play competitive formats, they can and often do play Commander in competitive ways because that's how they have fun.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with playing Commander competitively. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not playing it competitively. That's the whole idea.

And it's also where the format's underlying divide comes to a head.

The Line Must Be Drawn...Where?

The debates over hybrid mana and Planeswalker commanders and the legality of Sol Ring are actually reflections of the debate over Commander's very foundation. Thanks to Rule 0, playgroups can change or ignore the ban list at will, decide that each player starts at 7,800 life instead of 40, allow wish cards to function or any number of other things.

The problem we have is when our human nature leads us to believe that our way is the correct way, and therefore any other way is wrong. We see it in the language of these arguments - that the hybrid mana rules, for example, are "bad for the format". That keeping them the way they are, out of sync with the rest of Magic, is part of what makes Commander unique and special.

We cloak it in semantics, but the sentiment is often the same: I think I'm right and, therefore, you're wrong. I've certainly been guilty of this.

That's why I reflexively groan whenever these fights reignite. It's not just because we've been round and round on them, it's because it's all just a coat of paint over what we're really saying - that we each believe we know what's best for Commander and those who disagree are wrong.

And while I know this will get some eyes rolling, that's why I always direct attention back to Rule 0. That's precisely why it exists. If you and your friends feel so strongly that your Mono-Green deck should be able to play Kitchen Finks, you can decide as a playgroup to allow either/or hybrid mana. Of course, it won't be that simple when you next sit down with strangers at an LGS or over a webcam game - you'll have to have a discussion to see if everyone is OK with it. And as has been pointed out over and over, MTGO does not allow for house rules. (Wizards of the Coast knew Commander was a flexible, customizable format when it decided to support Commander, and it's certainly not the Rules Committee's fault that the MTGO client doesn't allow for personalizing the rules.)

Commander is, was and hopefully always shall be different things to different people. For everyone who goes into a blind rage about the hybrid mana rules on one side, there are those who feel just as strongly about the opposite position - and a great many more who don't really care at all. This format will never be all things to all people.

All the Rules Committee can do - and indeed, all we as players can do - is find common ground where we can, be willing to adapt and experiment, and remember that we're all here to have a good time - in whatever shape and form that takes.

We're never all going to agree on everything. We don't have to. What we can do is be open to new ideas, allow for the reality that other players like and dislike things that we don't, and try our best not to yuck each other's yums. It's entirely possible for all of us to have fun playing Commander.

I know that because we're doing it already.

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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