This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series The Social Contractor

By ANDY

If you weren’t already convinced that what I write is filler until we have a new writer, then I don’t think this piece will leave any doubt in your mind. A note: I will be referring to ‘breakdancing’ from here on in by it’s appropriate term, ‘breaking’, and it’s practitioners as ‘breakers’.

This week we’ve got two things you never imagined comparing going directly head-to-head; a casual variant of a fantasy trading card game and an athletically taxing, informally-developed dance style. This is something that I think has been creating a deep rift between the collectible card gaming and hip-hop dancing communities, which I think we can all agree is unacceptable. I’m hoping that this comparison can help break down barriers and maybe even mend this hurtful divide that we all seem unwilling to confront.

So, we’ll be comparing these bitter rivals through a couple of categories before finally judging which we consider superior. We’ll begin with the origin story of both: their histories.

HISTORY

Commander:
The history of Commander, or originally known as EDH is well-documented. Some guys were bored in Alaska working in a remote research station. Typically, they amused themselves by trying to figure out who was The Thing or playing Magic. However, tragedy struck when Thunderbird 2 was rendered inoperable by DOD budget cutbacks, and cutting-edge Magic sets like The Dark were unable to be airlifted to these Alaskan MtG players. They were forced to come up with new ways of amusing themselves using the resources available, especially when they were shooting powder.

In a MacGuyver-style maneuver, they decided to weave together a format based around the five olde tyme Elder Dragon Legends. While the format was severely warped (no doubt a reflection of the isolated minds responsible for it’s creation) and included new, bizarre concepts that would later be transformed into recognizable mechanics like General Damage, it proved to be popular within a group of crazies. Eventually some guy with a goatee said “yo this is sick let’s push this shit to the streets like crack” [recorded quote] and brought it to the mainstream. I’d continue with more depth but I’m bored of this already so I can only imagine how you feel.

Breaking:
In the primordial soup of hip-hop culture during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a new form of dance emerged. Unlike Commander, its history is shrouded in lore and mostly lost to time. The generally decentralized nature of its evolution also virtually ensures a comprehensive history of breaking will never exist, but in broad strokes, breaking (and its practitioners, “b-boys” and “b-girls”, or “breakers”) was one of the four core elements of old-school hip-hop. Next to the MC, DJ, and graffiti artist, these four cornerstones formed like Voltron to create largely new forms of expression that combined instrumental, lyrical, and visual arts.

Breaking was elevated as an art form by groups like the Rock Steady Crew, now-renowned individuals and hundreds unaccounted for because of its inherently underground nature. Breaking continues to be widely diverse, with huge variations in styles but a core of maneuvers that have been somewhat codified as breakers around cities, countries, and eventually the world were connected by the rise of globalization.

WINNER:
A surprising number of similarities exist. Consider the following:
– Commander was created as a variant of an existing game by people separated from the authorities governing the primary methods of playing the game. While it retains core elements of more traditional MtG, it has been undeniably made into something new and different, without losing sight of it’s origins. Breaking is dancing’s equivalent; it borrows from varied styles of dance like ballet, capoeria, and even ballroom, but flourished away from the influence of more ‘traditional’ dance institutions.
– Breaking has no centralized authority or criteria for evaluation on ‘correct’ forms. It is an organic style developed and tailored to the individual. Attempts to make it highly central and convert it into a more competitive, formalized style with universal judgment criteria have categorically failed. Instead, it remains primarily a form of expression with enormous room for variation. Commander is the Magic equivalent; while games are often competitive, they are unsanctioned. Rules vary widely, and there are authorities but no truly unified set of rules.

While both histories are interesting, the clear documentation of Commander’s origins gives it a win by default. I don’t doubt that the guys who started doing six-steps and headspins are a lot cooler than the guys who started putting Elder Dragons in a special area outisde their decks, but since we don’t know exactly who started the headspinning or where they were doing it, it seems unfair to give the prize to a nebulous group of breakers somewhere out there. Commander gets the nod.

MAINSTREAM PERCEPTION

Commander:
“What the fuck do you think you are, some kind of cardboard Harry Potter or some shit? Oooh, this is your little lieutenant? Get a life nerd.”

“This looks awfully complicated. Wait, that piece of cardboard is worth $30?”

Breaking:
“Oh snap, that guy is spinning on his hand and probably has less than 35% body fat!”

“I think I saw this in a Jay-Z video or something.”

WINNER:
Breaking by a long shot, even if it has fallen out of the mainstream even further as of late.

IN ACTION

Commander:
As a format, Commander is different from the average game of MtG in that the objective on paper is the win, but outside that there are layers of social expectations heaped onto the game. As a result, winning a game of Commander might actually be considered ‘bullshit’ in some circles if done at the ‘wrong’ time or in an ‘inappropriate’ manner. While the format’s growth has only happened because it’s fun and accessible to wide ranges of player types, it has the unique distinction of potentially having technically interesting games being considered terrible by the participants.

In short, a good game of Commander is amazing for everyone involved; the worst ones are absolute trainwrecks, the kind that result in nerd slapfights and FORUMZ ARGUMENTS.

Breaking:
A skilled breaker results in jealousy boners. In a society increasingly saddled with self-inflicted allergies to exercise, the athleticism required to be a b-boy or girl at the most elementary level should be considered unbelievably impressive. For people with no knowledge of breaking, watching basic maneuvers is impressive; for those with an understanding of it, there is still respect to be found in the fundamentals. Even the worst kind of breaking is awesome because deep down inside, we all have a spiteful, hateful little version of ourselves that loves seeing another person fail, hurt him or herself, and look like an idiot.

WINNER:
Breaking hands down. Watching Commander can be kind of amusing for people with a knowledge of the game, but even then only for so long. Even basic breaking maneuvers can be considered highlight reel material by the average person. Additionally, Commander games have a higher probability of being sour for all involved that is compounded by the multiplayer element, while this is less likely in breaking. Given sometimes I’d genuinely prefer watching old people squaredance to watching four combo-control players in Commander, I think breaking will get a clean win here.

REQUIRED SKILLS

Commander:
The variation between Commander players is an incredibly broad divide. While this causes some people on the internet endless frustration that people they’ll never meet or play with are not good enough at Magic/too good at Magic, it’s just part of a casual format. In general, playing Magic requires a good attention span, reasonable memory, and slightly-below average intelligence to scrape by. Math skills help, although recently they have been widely replaced by iPhones. Unique to Commander is that social skills help a Commander player both in terms of in-game politics, and out-of-game with being able to find a group. This may explain why the format is so mystifying to many MtG players.

Breakdancing:
Even fundamental breaking requires a person to be in tune with music, capable of feats of good physical strength and dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. Advanced maneuvers require extraordinary strength, patience, and the rare trait of not being scared of breaking your neck doing something like trying to spin on your fucking head.

WINNER:
Tie. They’re so different, even by the standards of this comparison, that it’s too hard to say one is coming out on top.

GOVERNING BODY

Commander:
We have the Commander Rules Committee, a group of six Magic-playing/judging individuals governing the format. Their influence is limited by a lack of resources, the inherently decentralized nature of casual formats, and the inability to enforce their rules through any efficient mechanism. This is apparently not considered a problem by the Rules Committee, as they think local groups taking the game in a direction that works best for them ultimately benefits for the format. They resist sanctioning of Commander by Magic’s larger overseeing body, Wizards of the Coast. In spite of this, I’m sure this trend will end once they manage to devise some kind of mind-controlling hologram to implant in foil cards.

Breaking:
The closest thing to an officially recognized authority on the art of breaking would be individuals who are recognized for contributing to the form of dance as a whole, have extraordinary skill, and history with the art.

WINNER:
Commander by default. No, this isn’t some cheap shot at the Rules Committee, go find your drama somewhere else.

PERIPHERAL MUSICAL CULTURE

Commander:

Breaking:

WINNER:
You’re shitting me right?

CONCLUSIONS

If you’ve managed to read down to here, that’s pretty impressive in it’s own right. Am I really going to argue either Commander or Breaking is flat-out superior to one or the other? Who really gives a shit? I wrote this because at the end of the day, Magic is a game. Sometimes, we might need reminders about this. I really hope this article works as such.

The real moral of the story is lighten up. Don’t get mad at people for playing their cardboard differently from you; don’t let Magic become a defining characteristic of your identity; don’t get involved in or pay attention to any drama going on over who-said-what on the internet about whatever is ‘controversial’ in the Magic world at the time. Just play your stupid overpriced cards and have fun with your friends, and maybe learn to breakdance.

Series Navigation<< The Social Contractor 05 – Internet Tryhard League RulesThe Social Contractor 07 – If I Can Podcast, So Can You >>