This was originally meant to be a comment posted on an article from East Coast Commander, but try as I might, I couldn’t get it to post on the site, so instead, I figured I’d post my expanded thoughts here and direct some traffic towards their site (not that there’s all that much traffic coming through here. Reminder, other sites are much better than this one, and you should be reading them!
My Five Cents On… An East Coast Commander Article (“Gamesmanship”)
I hate the assumption that Commander-equals-Deck. Or that there’s only one “Optimal” way to build for a general and that all decks with that general will be built that way.
One of the great joys, at least for me, of Commander is the latitude in deck construction. This isn’t Standard where “innovation” means running only 3 copies of a card instead of 4, or other tournament formats where there are only a few viable decks, plus Rogue (i.e. couldn’t afford playsets of 150$+ cards) decks. It’s a format where there are 555 viable commanders,* and a way larger number of potential decks.
And we shouldn’t be judgmental. At least not at first.
I’ve had someone refuse to play against me because I announced I was going to play Azami. That made me really mad, and also frustrated — I spent a lot of time building an All-Creature, try to win by Inkmoth Nexus, deck that could only take a limited number of extra turns using a 4-creature, combat-based, synergy, and I got hated off the table _BEFORE_ the game even started because someone saw exactly 1% of my deck.
I felt bad for choosing to play a deck. I decided to be a bit defensive and ask why (“because it’s all counterspells and infinite turns”), but after having to explain what my deck does in advance, he let me play it.** I didn’t win the game.
It sucks for people that like to build decks and play them (as opposed to just win all the games) to have to know that they can’t pick certain generals because of stereotypes. Not all Magic players are sweaty, smelly, basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing, neck-beards with plumber’s smiles and no social skills
My Zur is Group Hug and has Near-Death Experience as its _only_ win condition (aside from 21 hits by Zur). My Hippo does massive amounts of steroids. But I hate feeling like I have to announce and explain in detail what my deck does in order to be allowed to play it.
One of the least fun games I’ve ever been involved in had me being ganged-up on for playing a Rhystic Study on turn three because it was the only play I could make without having to discard, and, being color screwed, it was an opportunity to maybe draw into a forest. No one else was Mana screwed, and it wasn’t much more than a speedbump for the other decks, but I still got wrecked for playing a card that wasn’t even going to win the game (when I was the least threatening player at the table). Now, that’s a slightly different situation, but the principle is similar: I was attacked based on assumptions rather than actual action. It’s like making assumptions about someone’s character based on what they wear.
On the other hand, I once sat down against an Azami deck whose pilot said “It’s not like the traditional Azami deck,” but the only thing that made it different was that it didn’t have any real win-condition while it was looping Time Stretches. Now, if I play THAT Azami deck, I know how to approach it.
It’s a different story when you know a particular deck, though. When I see my friend’s Balthor or Sisters of Stone Death decks, I know what those iterations do, and attack accordingly.
In the first half of “Gamesmanship” the author describes a situation where he actively directed his attacks at a player playing a (not The) Riku deck. Given the context, this made total sense. That particular deck was known to be troublesome, and the author’s deck’s best answer to it was to remove the the player (and the Riku player’s response was out of line). Where I disagree is that it was the players own fault for choosing to play “a” Riku deck. The deck in question may be a problem, but the principle that it’s the Commander’s fault, is where I take issue.
I would prefer to live and play in a world where decks are measured by their character and actions, rather than judged by the general that leads them.
*Gatherer lists 559 Legendary Creatures, minus the 4 banned ones. Yes you can use Haakon as your commander if you want. It might not be good, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying.
** the deck needs Wanderwine Prophets (plus a merfolk to champion), Seahunter, and something to make the Prophets un-blockable to get multiple extra turns. It’s not tribal, and it doesn’t run that many merfolk. The deck has creatures that can counter spells, but no hard counters or counter-locks.