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Staple Is a Nice Way to Say "Boring"



In the down-time between set releases, I have been trying to assess why I play Magic the way I do. I want to figure out the why to gain any insight that might help other players who feel stuck in a similar way. Last week I explored how I was maximizing my dopamine acquisition from a game I am hard medium at because I play my pet cards and relics whether the situation warrants it. I know it's a habit I need to break if I'm ever going to get better at Slay The Spire and I'm fine with that. I realized I don't approach Commander that way, but maybe should. If you're still lost after that recap, click the link and get caught up before we move on.

There is an argument to be made in favor of abandoning format staples because of the cost factor. As people begin to agree on a list of cards you should always play, cards on that list become harder to obtain and some are essentially priced out of the format. I'm not going to make an argument that you need a Gaea's Cradle or that you don't. I have Gaea's Cradle money. In fact, I still own one from my Maverick-playing days and it's sitting in a toploader. To me, the decision not to play Cradle never felt financial, I just think the card is kind of boring. It's fun to get that much mana, sure, but a Cradle sticking around on the table always seems to bum someone out, either because they can't afford one or it's going to warp the game around it. I'm not telling you to run it or not, I'm saying it's a bummer and Commander is supposed to be fun.

Rhystic Study
Cunning Rhetoric

It's rare, but I was on the receiving end of someone taking my spells for once and they got my Rhystic Study with a Cunning Rhetoric I couldn't resist triggering. Once Rhystic was introduced to the game, I was sort of miserable having to play around the card, but it was my fault that it was in the game at all. I realized that had I drawn it, I wouldn't be happier about it because I had a bunch of fun cards in my hand and didn't want to have to keep track and pester everyone else about paying the 1.

It feels like players who started in more competitive formats and migrated to Commander have a harder time letting go of min/maxing and playing de facto un-not-playable cards like Rhystic Study, whereas players who start with Commander (yikes) like what they like and play those cards. I put cards that bore me in decks out of reflex, or because "the community" knows they're good. The community also has this absurd collective delusion that somehow running fetches in a mono-colored Burn deck was necessary because the deck thinning was so significant. Frank Karsten had to try and disprove that one with big boy math that I didn't understand because I stopped at Calc 4 and considered myself lucky.

I started to think about cards I think are kind of boring and suggest a list of fun alternatives. I'm not going to spend my word count griping about good cards. I'm not trying to teach people that playing badly is fun; I'm trying to teach people they don't have to play cards they aren't excited about because they think they're too good to exclude. I don't think playing good cards is bad, I think you're allowed to put whatever you want in decks and I'm really tired of everyone acting like you can't. People say "Sounds great!" when someone wants to Rule 0 one of the My Little Pony Commanders, but they don't say "sounds great" when they're in the deck-building stage and considering cutting Smothering Tithe to run a card they actually like that won't make people roll their eyes. Take it as easy on yourself when you build decks as you take it on other people.

Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands

There's only one time I want to ask people "Did you pay the 2?" and that's on Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands. I recommended cards that do things on other people's turns as a way to keep yourself invested in long game where you don't get to do anything for 15 minutes at a time. It doesn't have to be Esper Sentinel or Mystic Remora, though. Unlike those other cards, Wandering Archaic offers players a real choice - you have to play the spell immediately and they might be willing to help keep the farthest-ahead player back if you can get more value out of their spells. It's more fun than Rhystic Study and it makes you pay attention just as much.

I know that drawing cards is important and a lot of the cards I think are "boring" are boring because they "only" draw cards, but wouldn't you rather have Cunning Rhetoric than Phyrexian Arena? Sure, you don't draw as many of your own cards, but I feel like Sun Tzu will back me up on the math here that it's better to get one of their spells than draw 5 cards. I realized Phyrexian Arena bored me when I couldn't find one and used Underworld Connections instead and ended up mostly tapping the land for mana. That's "wrong" and "bad" or whatever, and I'm sure everyone on team "play tight" has already stopped reading, but it's just so boring to have a Phyrexian Arena to me and if it takes more effort than triggering automatically, I never want to do it. Card draw good, yadda yadda, I get it. I used to put Trading Post in every deck and I used that to draw cards that won me a game. Trading Post is a bad card and Phyrexian Arena is a good one but I am really kind of fatigued pretending that matters to me. You know what taps to draw like 5 cards' worth of value? Helm of Possession. Why draw a boring card from your dumb deck when you can have a whole creature. What are you hoping to draw? Is it better than having their best creature and them not?

How I play Commander, trying my best to take their cards and use them, is fun to me, but it's not the only way to have fun. Far from being a point I almost missed, that is, in fact, my entire point. I am not giving you a list of cards to cut and what to replace them with, what I am giving you is far greater. I am giving you permission to run cards you like. You might think you don't need me to give you permission to have fun playing Commander but, maybe, if you're like I was, it helps. It's not a disapproving glare, it's an affirming nod. I want you to put stupid cards in your decks. I'm not saying replace Rhystic Study with Cosima, I'm saying replace Rhystic Study with a card you like. I like Cosima a lot, and no one can stop me from triggering it, I don't have to bother anyone with it, I draw a lot of cards, it's hard to remove and it gives me a body. But you don't have to say "Right, Study bad, Cosima good" say "Rhystic Study kind of bores me, I want to play something more fun." Commander is the last format where we're allowed to say "this is a deck I made based on David Lynch's Dune" and while I don't think we need to abandon all pretense of having a deck that's capable of winning a game of Commander, I do think we need to take some of that Rule 0 energy and use it to give ourselves a break. I'm not saying Rhystic Study is objectively boring, even, I'm saying you probably have cards that bore you in your decks right now. Please remember no one made you put them there.

That does it for me this week, readers. Thanks for walking through my thoughts about the format with me these last few weeks. Remember to share this on social media. Until next time!

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