Recently, I’ve been getting out to my local shop’s Commander night more frequently. While playing more Commander has been really fun, there have been some moments that reminded me why Commander’s not my favorite format to play out in the wild.
In this post, I’d like to discuss one moment in particular and how it ties in to two of my fundamental beliefs about Commander.
Last week, a friend and I ran into a situation that brought two of the tenets I try to apply to Commander into conflict with each other. The situation resulted in a questionable play from yours truly and some hurt feelings for another player.
In our last game of the night, my friend and I jointly decided, without any actual verbal communication, that we were going to eliminate another player who we felt wasn’t contributing anything positive to our game. The player felt targeted (rightly) and was upset as he left the table.
I think our decision was correct, because the player was violating what I consider to be the first tenet of Commander:
The First Tenet of Commander:
Pay attention to the game you are playing and the people you are playing against.
If I am playing a game of Commander with strangers, and one of them violates this rule, it irks me to no end. If someone walks over to my group, asks if they can sit and play a game with me, and then proceeds to spend most of the game soliciting trades or talking with some other friend of theirs at the next table, then I wonder why they sat down to play in the first place.
Commander isn’t just a multiplayer format, it’s a social one. Games take a good amount of time. If you play a game of Commander with someone, you are taking up a good amount of their time. You should be at least slightly invested in making sure the people you are playing against are having a good time.
The player that my friend and I eliminated violated this rule. He paid attention to the game during only his turn. As such, he took a very long time to play his turn, even with limited options (he had kept a one land hand and complained about his mana, even while being assisted by my Oath of Lieges). Even worse, he complained about the player to his left (also a stranger) taking a very long time to take her turn, when she actually had a number of complex decisions to make and was doing fine. The only other notable thing that this player contributed to the game was a bunch of false bluster and bravado that wasn’t any fun and trended into the “You fools, you played right into my hands!” trope.
So my friend and I decided to eliminate this player, even though that decision ran contrary to my second tenet of Commander:
The Second Tenet of Commander:
Try your best to make sure everyone is having fun.
I briefly mentioned this idea above, but it’s worth exploring in further detail. I really think it is the second most important thing to consider when you sit down to play a game of Commander, and it’s something I’ve been trying to get better about holding myself to.
I am one of the more quote-unquote mean players in my normal playgroup. If you’re playing a Red-White deck, and you have only one Mountain down, I’m normally not shy about blowing it up and stranding spells in your hand. If you play a fun thing, and I think that fun thing is going to threaten my chances to win, I will usually Counterspell it, regardless of it being random or whatever. Over the last year, my typical Magic experience has moved to being 1 v 1 matches inside of tournaments, so I’m getting used to Magic being a more competitive game where you should always be looking to make the “correct” play. But, that mindset is just not always useful in Commander.
So I am trying to reorient my play style in these situations. Because, as I said above, Commander is a social game, and letting everyone participate and get something out of the game is an essential part of the format.
So what do you do when these two tenets bump heads with each other? When a player is participating in the game, but only just barely, and not in a way that’s making the game more fun?
Last Thursday, my answer was to eliminate the player. My friend attacked with a Master of Cruelties, and the player attempted to kill the Master with a Go for the Throat. I could have stayed out of it. Instead, I used a Dissipate to counter the removal spell, because I wanted the delinquent player out of the game. My friend and I made this decision on the fly, and I still think we were correct to do so. Here’s why:
- As I’ve mentioned throughout, the player was not contributing anything positive to our game.
- The game, accelerated by the aforementioned Oath of Lieges, was already approaching the critical turns where everyone was going to start dying. The guy who was least invested in the game deserved to get eliminated first.
- At least two us had decided, separately, that this was the right decision. In a four-player game, that’s basically a majority vote.
I felt bad about our decision afterwards. I still feel bad about it, thus the blog post examining it. But I’d do it again.
However, when this situation comes up in the future (because it will, it always does in Commander with strangers), I will first attempt to do something different that doesn’t result in any hurt feelings. It will likely be as simple as asking the player to actually pay attention to our game, or trying to engage the player in conversation so that they don’t feel the need to look elsewhere while playing. If that doesn’t take, then the elimination option is still on the table.
The social factor makes Commander one of Magic’s most complex and trickiest formats to navigate (and that’s not even counting all the crazy card interactions). Until next time, may you have more success with your social graces than I have.