Balancing Out The Fun Factor of Commander

So a few years back, I played a format in Magic: the Gathering called Commander. Commander is different where a deck comprised of 100 cards, featuring a General to determine a color identity, and a restriction that all cards must be unique other than basic Lands. To oversimplify the game, you use Lands to produce Mana which lets you cast creatures and spells. You use your cards to enhance your position and defeat your opponents. More copies of the same card in your deck increases your odds of your preferred starting hand.

Personally, I never liked Commander despite the fact that every deck I casually made with decent success was always five color singleton, including basic Lands. The motivation of my modern deck design came from Time Spiral block which I loved because it was a blast from the past; having mechanics I remember seeing many years ago and it even has functionally identical cards in different colors. Granted, Time Spiral was also one of the worst-selling and least popular sets for the general public, supposedly all the throwback mechanics lacked focus and wasn’t enticing for new players to get into.

When playing a multiplayer casual format, there’s a lot of cards, a lot of people, and a lot of politics. There’s also a lot of potential fun due to the various combinations of interactions and cards. Generally there will always be big creatures, big spells, combos, and a lot of destructive action. No matter what, the point is to have fun. Ultimately you still want to win the fun battle when the opportunity is there, even though it’s hard to balance fun and enjoyment sometimes.

A commonly known Commander issue is in regards to the frowning of Land destruction. Now, if we are talking about a card called Armageddon, the most efficiently costed card to destroy all Lands, I can understand how that card can make people groan. What I’m curious about is Land destruction that takes out more than one Land or ones that fall under specific limitations. There is an incentive for destroying all Lands: either you have the best board position with the biggest creature threats, or you gave your own Lands indestructibility. However, the seemingly large advantage comes with a cost: you’ll be socially isolated from playing with people depending on how you use it.

I used to use a card called Global Ruin. Since this card was a very inexpensive rare, it does not outright destroy all Lands. Instead, it sacrifices every Land except for one of each Basic Land type. This actually makes the card more oppressive as it rewards five color mana bases and dual Lands where up to five Lands can be spared, whereas monocolored will usually have only one Land will survive at best. I realized the issue that people had wasn’t the fairness of the card, but rather losing more than one Land to the point of being effectively stifled. While the frowning is justifiable, having such destruction phased out only serves to benefit players who ramp more, or simply have stronger nonbasic Lands. I’ve since then phased out the card to reduce the groaning, but I liked it a lot because it builds around all the different Land types and was fun for me to play. With all the analysis about card advantage, you would think sparing your own Lands while destroying others would seem like a good card to consider. I like to think of Land destruction as a hurdle to overcome when facing it, but I find it unfortunate that players will prefer a longer game when they think that Land destruction is slowing down the game when that’s not necessarily the case.

I see the logic in frowning on Land destruction; I left out even greater issues such as cards that destroy only one specific type of Land which really looks like hate, but it’s not as degenerate as other possible combos or lockdown. First off, since destroying Lands globally consumes a card, technically the user is down a card. Also, since everyone knows who did the destroying, it naturally pulls aggro to the user. Since Commander uses such different strategies than traditional 60 card decks, it also spawns opportunity to use obscure cards; cards that hit every opponent, and cards that would attack specific colors. Most importantly, Land destruction is a means of winning when you construct your deck to have a bigger board position and want to stave off opponents destroying your creatures or coming back with a big spell or combo. Also, without Lands after destruction, the immediate subsequent turns theoretically go faster with less choices to make. If anything, Land destruction is not a surefire win, while a combo or a lockdown is much more decisive and frustrating in a multiplayer environment. There are even cards and Lands that have abilities that occur when destroyed and Lands that aid in fending off attacks among a myriad of other possibilities. No matter what, it’s always fun to see clashing interactions between cards that existed throughout the history of Magic: the Gathering. Lands just happen to be the fruits of bringing out most of the possibilities which people don’t like to be denied the use of.

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