This entry is part 11 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

As far as title questions go, this one is pretty easy to answer. It’s just “yes,” right? We can go home now.

 

If you’re still reading past this point, I can only assume that you’re interested in a deeply philosophical discussion about Command Tower, including some truly unnecessary over-analysis of card design, creator-audience relationships, and the expectations of the Magic fandom.

 

My house is divided. In terms of strategic balance, I estimate Command Tower to be way overpowered. In any other format, a land that produces all five colors with no drawback would easily be the best mana fixer available and would be among the most powerful lands in the game. This line of thinking leads me to believe that cards like this shouldn’t see print.

 

When you confine it to a casual format, though, it’s mostly harmless and has retained a relatively low price tag despite ubiquitous inclusion in Commander decks. In that regard, it makes a powerful mana-fixer available on a low budget, enabling players to compete with more traditional fetch-dual mana bases that can be much more expensive. This doesn’t totally remove the expense of creating a quality Commander deck, but it does help to lower the cost of entry in a format that has incredibly high barriers to entry. This has engendered Command Tower as one of the most beloved cards/design decisions in recent memory. This card has helped grow the playerbase in Commander and that is the essence of what’s “good for the format.”

 

Vox Populi

In preparation for writing this article, I reached out to some other members of the CommanderCast network on social media to get their opinions on the matter. Commander has united people with many different perspectives and rather than just bore you with what I think about the Tower, I want to share some of the insightful answers that they gave. Let’s check out what the crew had to say.

 

Will: “As an unrestricted way to fix mana, it’s perfect as a Commander exclusive. You can’t run a 4-of playset to play whatever you want. It scales in usefulness with the number of colors you play with. It’s invaluable in my 5-Color Slivers [deck], but isn’t worth running in Avacyn–even less so in Ib Halfheart. It’s a good land in three-color decks, but I often take it for granted in two-color decks because there are so many dual lands to use now.

 

In terms of power evaluation: sure, it’s a very good card. But it’s a land. Unless they do something other than making mana (Like Maze of Ith), or make stupid quantities of mana (Like Mishra’s Workshop), lands don’t excite me.  It’s very hard for me to see lands like Command Tower as “bad for Commander.” It makes one mana of any color you need. That’s it. It’s not breaking the format in half, causing salt fests, or leaving people with “feel bad” moments. It’s a card that helps smooth out mana so those “feel bad” moments aren’t caused by bad mana.”

 

Aaron:  “I think it’s fine. It’s a card that speeds up multicolor decks in the format, and has been the yardstick by which we measure the power level for lands for a long time. Do I think it was made and is used sometimes in ignorance? Absolutely. Do I think it’s abused? Not really. Strip Mine does well in keeping away all the busted lands.”

 

Mark: “The goal of reducing player frustration from mana screw is important enough that we can live with a land that is broken by conventional standards.”

 

A Brief History of Mana Fixing

In general, I agree with the rest of the world that Command Tower is good for the format. It was an important contributor the growth and health of Commander during a period where the format was moving into center stage for casual Magic players. Commander mana bases are–and always have been–quite expensive, but back when Commander was just EDH, the problem was even worse.

 

Let’s flashback to the Summer before Shards of Alara was released. Fetchlands, duals, and shocklands are not as expensive as they were today, but they were still the optimal manabase for Legacy and Extended, so they had the highest price tags of any land cards for EDH. The filter lands from Shadowmoor/Eventide were still being used in Standard decks alongside the future shifted land cycle from Future Sight. Top-level competitive play generally prices cards out of play in casual formats because there is a higher value use for those cards in the secondary market economy. So, for many players, these cards were out of range as well.

 

If you were looking for low budget alternatives for building an EDH deck, you didn’t have much hope: Painlands in Tenth Edition. The uncommon tap land cycle from Invasion and their associated cousins from Coldsnap. Time Spiral helped out with Teramorphic Expanse and storage lands. There are certainly others, but the roster wasn’t exactly deep. None of these options were even close in power level to fetch/duals, but you could outfit an entire deck with uncommons for the price of one Bloodstained Mire at the time.

 

But then, like a shining golden gift from the goddesses, Alara block appeared with its selection of tri lands. Every year since we’ve had a new cycle of rare dual lands and at least one cycle of uncommon mana-fixers. This has dramatically changed the composition of Commander decks and it marked a fundamental shift within design about how they approach mana fixing. To coincide with the release of more multicolor-themed sets, the average power level of fixers has been going up steadily (much to the delight of Magic players everywhere). In addition, more fixers have been appearing at lower rarities, which has offered up a plethora of options for budget conscious casual players.

 

Advocating For the Devil

So if I think that Command Tower is good for the format, why even bother going down this road in the first case? As I said at the beginning, my feelings are divided. There are definitely good points to be made for why Tower isn’t such a great idea. In the spirit of fairness, let’s take a look at some of the counterarguments that I’ve observed/developed in my many conversations about Command Tower’s place in the format.

 

Not Necessary/Excessive: Commander already has the best card pool in the game, it doesn’t need anymore fixing. The highlander restriction does prevent players from overloading on a single card, but this isn’t really too much of a constraint given that there are ten fetchlands, ten original duals, and ten shocks. Depending on the commander’s color identity, a deck will be playing from four to the full thirty of these lands. Most decks will want a selection of colorless utility lands and a nonzero amount of basic lands.

 

Given this, we have plenty of material to craft a mana base for virtually any deck and there are literally hundreds of lands not mentioned here that can properly fix colors with minimal drawbacks and without the need for constant shuffling. Commander Tower is a solution without a problem. Mana/color screw isn’t a problem in Commander, at least not anymore than it is in any other type of Magic. The way to avoid mana problems is to craft better mana bases and pay keen attention to your card choices, not to print cards that make thinking about your mana base irrelevant.

 

It’s too good, objectively: Something like this wouldn’t fly in any Standard-legal set. Mana fixing has definitely spiraled in terms of power level in recent years; there’s more of it than ever before and it’s more powerful than ever. Instead of multicolor cards being an occasional rarity, they’re in nearly every set. Even Theros block, the “monocolor matters” set, had dozens of multicolor cards. This is all just too much.

 

What if R&D prints a functional equivalent in the future? What if they do the unthinkable and make a version that isn’t specific to a casual format? That card would instantly become the best land in Cube, which is more than I’m comfortable imagining. This sets a dangerous power creep precedent. Where is it going to end? When we all have perfect decks that can cast any combination of cards, it’ll devalue the strategic selection of cards in competitive and casual decks. With no restriction about playing certain types of cards together, every deck will be an identical junky pile of “good stuff.” That’s not what I want, but that’s the world that Command Tower is threatening to build.

 

Flipside of the coin: It’s a casual-only format, therefore even if the card is broken, it doesn’t matter. The previous statement is built on some specious logic. Looking past the obvious problems with such an argument, what if we reversed that thinking?

 

It’s a casual-only format, why do we even need powerful cards at all? Further, if you’re just playing for fun and don’t care about winning and losing, why is mana screw a problem at all? With nothing at stake, you could just shuffle up for a new game anytime things aren’t optimizing your fun. You could adopt more lenient mulligan rules and Partial Paris your way to perfect mana development in every game.

 

The true answer, while not readily admitted by some, is that winning and losing always matters. If you aren’t trying to win the game, what are you even doing in the game? I’d argue that you aren’t even really playing the game at all. How are you supposed to make decisions about which cards to use or the order in which you execute your plays if you don’t care about the results? That logic just doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny.

 

We all obviously want to win, and we put powerful cards in our decks in order to enable winning plays. The true fun of the game comes from competing on a level playing field. I don’t have liberalized mulligan rules. I don’t allow takesies-backsies. None of this changes because I’m playing “casually.” Ostensibly, a casual format wants to cultivate an open and welcoming environment, not create a power-level arms race where you can’t compete without bringing the industry standard land technology.

 

Staple removing: There is a prevailing wind among Commander players that influences entire playgroups to de-escalate the power level of their decks: don’t play the most played cards, even if they’re more powerful. It’s more fun to find underused solutions to a problem instead of just copying and pasting a list full of old stand-bys. Do we really want a card that could justify a spot in literally every Commander list? Command Tower stifles the creativity that we’re trying to foster in the format by essentially mandating the inclusion of this card in every multi-color deck and offering us every excuse to play it. That isn’t helping the cause of anyone advocating a staple-remover viewpoint.

 

Pandering: The printing of Command Tower was simply pandering by the design team. Wizards was looking for an easy way to cash in on the growing trend of Commander’s popularity within the Magic community. A unanimously appreciated card like this was a shameless marketing ploy designed to rev up the hype engine and build demand for the Commander product’s release. At best, it was a shallow cash grab. At worst, it was highway robbery, taking something beautiful that the community had generated on its own and then tainting it with their corporate profiteering.

 

These opinions are not necessarily reflective of my own viewpoints and I certainly don’t speak for anyone else here on CommanderCast or anywhere in the Magic community. To some degree, I do feel the veracity in all of these detracting arguments, but I also feel the call to join in unity with the chorus of supporting voices and proclaim Command Tower an unmitigated triumph. It’s a moment we all can share. I think the Tower is great for Commander. It makes me happy when I play it. Maybe, for the first time in my life, I don’t need a more logical explanation.

 

Except on MTGO where it doesn’t tap for ANY color of mana. @!#$%^$ Modo!!!

 

What are your thoughts about Command Tower? Is it too strong? Is it good for the format? Do you hate bugs on MTGO as much as I do? Share your answers in the comments below, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and be sure to support Commandercast.com on Patreon.

 

-GG

“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

Series Navigation<< [Probably more like Community]: “In General” -May The Fourth Be With You[Strategy]: “In General” – Challenge-Seeking Behavior >>