Changes to Commander!

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To say that I’m a fan of Commander is understating how much I enjoy the format.  The changes announced previously made me giddy with excitement. The rules announcement yesterday bolstered my confidence in the Rules Committee many times over.

If you, too, are a fan of Commander you should be thrilled about these changes too.

Bringing Down the House

There were two parts to the rules announcement: let’s cover the less fun one first.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is banned.”

This is pretty awesome for the community at large.

Let’s put this into perspective: if you play with Emrakul, why do you play with it? Is it the intense concentration of the most powerful black-bordered creature in Magic? Is it the fact that casting it gives you an immediate turn to leverage fully? Is it that there are scant few solutions to Emrakul, many of which aren’t particularly useful in general in Commander?

I can understand how some of you really like Emrakul. I can appreciate that there are many more potential reasons to like a creature that can just end games (as I sometimes work the “time to end this game one way or another” angle myself). But Emrakul was nothing but trouble from the start.

It isn’t that there aren’t answers to Emrakul, or that having some of those answers (Oblivion Ring, Duplicant) aren’t an okay thing for Commander, but that decks were increasingly being built around abusing Emrakul and if your deck didn’t have an answer handy you simply rolled out. Comboing out Emrakul as quickly as possible just isn’t healthy for a social format.

A quick tour of Commander in Magic Online reveals a very awkward world of “Ramp to Eldrazi!” and “Gotta stop you from doing anything!” The idea that Emrakul wrecking games repeatedly isn’t a concern is silly. Complicating things is when Emrakul sticks around (after wrecking one player’s board) and it becomes to focus of every player: stealing, exiling, borrowing–anything to use, abuse, and lose the mightiest Eldrazi.

It’s like watching a group of shoppers trample into a store at the crack of opening on Black Friday: people get hurt, lose sight of the shared human experience, and only the most well-planned and greedy of individuals get everything they want. Emrakul is the kind of card that perverts and twists the experience of Commander in a subgame of “Have Emrakul and win.”

It’s boring, trite, and frankly disgusting.

And if you thought Bribery was rough before Rise of the Eldrazi then you know all too well what it’s like to have the five-color “blue” mage steal here with defensive back up. On turn five or six. Nearly every game.

Which is why Emrakul is now gone. Some of you might miss her but most of us are glad the wicked witch of the Eldrazi is dismissed. (And for those of you wondering why Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre is on this list I’m sure the Rules Committee is well aware of the problems that one can cause as well. If there’s more Eldrazi to lay the ban hammer down on you’ll have to wait a little longer.

Raise the Roof

The second part of the announcement deals with the most fun piece of rules change to happen since December 2nd: there are more Commanders available.

The rules change is a redefinition of color requirements through the lens of a “color identity” that Sheldon spelled out clearly:

When building a Commander deck, the mana symbols in the text box are just as important as those in the cost of a card. The Commander’s color identity restricts what cards may appear in the deck.

  • The color identity of a card is the colors of all mana symbols on the card, along with any color defined by a characteristic-defining ability (CDA) in the card's rules text.
  • Cards in your deck may not have any colors in their color identity not shared by your Commander.
  • Mana you produce of colors that are not in your Commander’s color identity is colorless instead.
  • Mana symbols in reminder text are not part of color identity.

The major impact here is that there are a few Legendary Creatures who no longer invalidate themselves as Commanders: Memnarch, Bosh, Iron Golem, Thelon of Havenwood, Daughter of Autumn, and Rhys, the Exiled. It means that you can have these creatures as Commanders, and you can generate mana of their color identity (so if you’re playing Memnarch, you can generate blue mana, or if you’re playing Thelon, you can generate black and green).

Exactly as Sheldon spelled out, all of those weird legendary creatures that “couldn’t be your Commander” are now available. Further, the color identity of cards is slightly different than previously thanks to the CDA portion of this update. Kobolds are now red. Transguild Courier is now all five colors.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Thallids, Saprolings, and Thelon. I can’t wait to whip up a fun Saproling/Thallid deck with the greatest Commander for it. And if you’ve been waiting to try out Memnarch (Pro Tip: He’s slow and artifacts are weak to removal.) or Bosh (Pro Tip: Fling effects are always a hoot!) now’s the time.

Speculate it, Baby

I would be incomplete here if I didn’t point out that these changes are part of the results from designing and developing the upcoming Magic: The Gathering Commander decks. Having a legendary creature with an off-color activated ability is an excellent way to increase the “number of wedge colored Commanders” without necessarily having to design a purely multicolored creature.

I point back to Thelon of Havenwood and Rhys the Exiled as great examples of what off-color activations can do. The feel and themes can be correct even with enemy colors in the mix. While there’s no basis for any speculation, consider some of these cards with interesting enemy color activations:

There’s a lot of cool wiggle room to play around when you start dealing with enemy color pairs. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if many of the upcoming Commanders let us do weird things with off colors in addition to being giants of awesome like Karador, Ghost Chieftain.

R&D was keenly aware of Commander before the big collaborative Commander effort: to assume that the “new technology” won’t be put to use soon is being in the boat of those assuming the emblem update to Elspeth, Knight Errant for her Duel Decks release was just for shits and giggles.

The only thing I’m giggling about is who insanely awesome things are coming our way this summer.

What do you think? Are you ready for even more Commander?

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