This entry is part 1 of 23 in the series (Social) Contract form Below

By Nole AKA @mtgnole

90x90 noleHello and welcome to (Social) Contract from Below. My name is Nole Clauson and I will be your host  (and Demonic Attorney) for this series. I’ve been playing magic off and on since Portal and when I am not playing Commander or Cubing, I moonlight as a level 2 judge (Quick shameless plug for the judge program: If you are interested in becoming a judge, get with a local judge and get involved. The people in the judge community are truly some of the most hard-working people out there and their passion for this game is intoxicating to be around. We are always looking for more people to join us).

Together, we are going to look at the community that we, as commander players, foster and build. Commander is defined as a social format and has the unique nature of being about more than just winning. This “social contract” is what makes commander such a unique format. With that introduction out of the way, let’s get rolling.

If I say “commander for prizes,” what comes into your head?


You probably said something along the line of “the devil,” “what will eventually kill the format,” or “people who do not understand the philosophy of the format taking advantage of people that do.” Regardless, it probably left a sour taste in your mouth. Commander events (both 4 man pods and larger “commander tournaments”) have turned into the overly artsy movies of the magic world, we warn our friends not to go to them, they don’t really make sense, and at the end everyone feels a mixture of disgust and disappointment. No one enjoys these things except for the scumbag who decides to build one of 20 or so decks that win on turn three so he can farm the 4mans for packs.

(BTW, if you are a person who actually enjoys farming the 4 mans with stuff like this, please stop reading this now because this article is only going to make you angrier the further down you read. Why don’t you stop ruining this for the rest of us and go play (as you call them) “real formats.” I’m sure there is an 8 man legacy queue that needs one more person.)

A lot of people say that the answer to this is to not play the events or purposely bring overpowered  decks to ruin the games so people won’t play in them. It’s time to clue you into a dirty little secret. Since there is no opportunity costs to running these events (the judges who run them are going to be there to run other things if the commander pods are empty, the scorekeepers will still be taking signups for other events, ect) these events are not going away. More to the point, we as commander players deserve to have “our” format acknowledged. We as players should be flattered in a way that our social (*cough* non-competitive *cough*) format has a big enough popularity base that TO’s think it is worth their time to run events and provide oftentimes really great prize support. (At GP Denver, the winner of the “Commander Challenge” got a complete set of RTR. That is some serious cash folks!)

Now I am not going to just sit here and complain about competitive commander (though that would be a much easier article to write). I’m here to see if I can come up with a solution to this problem. Here is the criterion (scrabble word) that I have set for myself (in no particular order):

1. Whatever system I come up with has to embrace the social aspects of the format, including the ever changing nature of the social contract as well as the desire for people to play the decks they want to play.

2. These rules have to be simple and easy to implement. If I cannot explain the main point of this system to players in a few sentences, then players will not want to play in them. I also cannot create any extra work for tournament officials, judges ect.

3. Has to be inherently fair, with safeguards in place to stop things like player collusion.

4. Must actually be fun to play.

Many of the common things that I’ve seen suggested fail my criteria. The current system (packs for eliminating players) encourages players to eliminate others as quickly and mercilessly as possible. Point systems (like the Armada Games now famous EDH league) promote the correct attitude but come with a couple pages of list of how to get points. Other systems  seem ok on paper but would require 3-6 staff to run and, to be honest, the side events are not staffed that well.

(A quick aside about point / league systems: I really like these for local communities. They let you sculpt how you want your local meta to look and they are a blast to play in, and they are. However, I feel that the fact that they a) regularly need changed and b) should be sculpted to your local communities (complete with in-jokes and personal pet peeves) make them hard to implement on a larger scale. I don’t want to bring my all creatures Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck if I cannot get my point for only casting one type of cards other than my commander. Ok, now back to the main story.)

Ultimately I want these tournaments to reflect the atmosphere that I want the games I play with my friends to feel like. I want to (as a player and an official) reward players for doing the crazy things that we love about this format. I also feel that the player in these events feel the same way. With all that in mind, I give to you what I call “fashion show commander events.”

Fashion show events work based entirely on the social contract. How it works is that, for each player, a certain amount of product is assigned (the going rate is 2 packs per player for a 4 man pod). At the end of the game, each playing is responsible for deciding who gets his “share” of the pool. However, the player cannot give his share to himself. That’s right; I’m giving the control of the prize payout to your opponents.

This has several advantages. It systematically punishes a player for violating the social contract (if you kill everyone at the table on turn 3 how likely is it that you will get packs from anyone?), it stops collusion in its tracks (even if two decide to work together and even just give each other their prizes, the other two players don’t have to give the teammates anything more), and actively punishes players who are jerks. (Soapbox: I cannot understand why a player would be a jerk at a five dollar 4-man edh pod to begin with. These are the world’s most casual side event short of the six guys drafting their cube in the back of the hall. If you’re going to try to rules lawyer someone out of two packs, you need to find something better to do with your time.)

Here are the additional rules / logistics that would need to be added for a larger tournament, such as a commander challenge with some bigger prize.

1. There will be 75-minute rounds, at the end of ninety minutes the game will end, with each player taking one final turn. (The hope here is a 90 minute, round turnaround time.)

2. Players will be in 4-5 man pods, with each pod being randomly assigned and with previous rounds finishes/points scored having no bearing on the seating for future rounds. (This makes determining seating simple for the tournament staff as well as eliminates the ability to collude.)

3. At the end of each round, each player will be given two points that they must distribute to either one or two opponents. (Two points keeps every player from giving one to each of his opponents each round)

4. Points will also be awarded for the order players are eliminated. You receive 3 points for being the last person in the pod, 2 for being the last player eliminated, and 1 for being the second to last. However, if multiple people are eliminated simultaneously, all the eliminated players receive points equal to the total points awarded. For example if a player kills the three other players in their pod simultaneously, each player receives the points for being last and second to last to be eliminated. (This introduces more points into the system to prevent ties. It also gives an incentive to actually kill each other, rather than simply peacock your deck to try to impress the players in your pods.)

5. After all the rounds have finished, the player with the most points wins. In case of a tie, the first tiebreaker will be the number of points given by opponent and the second tiebreaker will the number of players who gave the opponent points.

This system (in my mind at least) creates a system that still allows us to play for prizes while still playing the kind of games we enjoy. I will admit that this is not necessarily groundbreaking stuff (the more I think about it, the more I think I’ve seen something like this before I ran something similar in my local store*). This idea (and the attention that I hope this article brings) is a gift to the community, if someone wants to try running something like this, go for it. All I ask is that you let me know how it goes and if it all falls apart, let me know why. Maybe down the road (if I get enough feedback one way or the other) I’ll give you guys an update.

Well this article has gone on much longer than planned and I’d love to hear what you think about it. Feel free to shout out in the comments, shoot me an e-mail, or hit me up at my shiny new twitter account. I’ll see you all back here in two weeks when I talk how I inadvertently broke the social contract in a new and exciting way.

Till next time, may you enjoy your games of commander, whatever the stakes.

Nole

noleclauson@gmail.com
@mtgnole

*Post Publication Edit 1:Turns out that this tournament structure is (partially) found within the “optional rules” section of the official rules of the Commander Website (http://www.mtgcommander.net/rules.php). I had never really looked at this page of the rules until writing this piece. I encourage you to take a look at it now and you can expect me to write about these and other “house” rules further into this series.

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