This entry is part 17 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

In this week’s podcast, a few speakers thought that one of the things missing from their current Commander experience was that feeling of slinging dollar rares, playing with old, worthless stuff that could be cobbled together into a decent and unique deck that would be wildly different than the next person’s.  Contrast this with how Commander often looks today, where players have ‘staples’, and there are decks that one could build, with lists available on the internet.  Sometimes, they have play guides.

To be frank, I have no such nostalgia.  This isn’t because I don’t find that ‘wild west’ sort of environment appealing, where everybody shows up with their own shtick and originality is a matter of course.  Rather, it’s because I started playing Commander a year and half ago.  By that time speculation on dollar bin rares, while not quite as crazy as it is now, was really getting into gear and internet resources were in full swing.

If you’re like me and you’ve only ever played Commander once it was mainstream, you might find yourself wondering what people are talking about, and if it’s possible to experience what EDH veterans are talking about.  Well, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is, yes, you can go back in time and play in an environment where everybody plays a unique deck, and everyone’s tech is their own.  The bad news?  You’re going to have to convince a bunch of people to do it and abandon all your conceptions about the format.  Oh, and you’re going to have to stop using the internet for Commander related stuff, while convincing your friends to do the same.

The first thing is finding a group of players that are going to be willing to really engage this process.  If you can’t get a group to pretend it’s 1995, you’re going to be in for a world of disappointment when you bring your resulting hodge-podge, and your buddies are still playing decks with staples and tried and tested finishers.  How should you convince them?  Well, there’s a lot of reasons.  First, is that it’s new.  Trying something new is nearly always a good idea.  If they don’t like it after a few weeks, they can always go back.  Sure it’s something a bunch of people have already done, but it’s something your group hasn’t done.  Second, if you’re in the same spot as me, you might have noticed something about your games.  Tooth and Nail, Insurrection and Rite of Replication may end games.  Your opponents are predictable (for the same reasons those other cards so drastically increase the likelihood of winning the game).  The contents of decks are predictable.  If these are features of your Commander environment, your environment is arguably very boring.  Finally, there is the added benefit of easy deckbuilding.  If you cut out the research, the agonizing over card choices from internet sources, and build out of your own collection and knowledge, deckbuilding becomes terribly easy.

The second task is to abandon your knowledge of the format.  This might be the hardest step for any person on this road; simply deciding that format staples are not necessarily worth running is hard for a lot of people.  It isn’t just knowledge of staples that will need to be eschewed.  A person looking to get in on nostalgia they never had is going to also need to abandon their knowledge of the pace of the format and how this relates to archetypes they do and do not play; aggro will need to be given equal consideration with combo, and opinions on vanilla beaters, creatures with entering the battlefield triggers, and the acceptability of a high mana curve will all need to be ‘reset’.  Pulling this 1984, ‘we’ve always been at war with Eastasia’ kind of mental revision is not for everyone, but there is at least a bit of good news.  Many commonly-held opinions about Commander are only relatively true, or even false.  Aggro, with the right tools, is a viable archetype at four person tables or smaller.  Many staples are simply not worth running in the absence of supporting cards.  For example, Sensei’s Divining Top is not a particularly great card if there is no common shuffling capability, such as fetchlands or tutors.  Sensei’s Divining Top is quite far from being an auto-include in any deck.  Eschewing preconceptions of the format is the surest way to test which and under what circumstances commonly-held beliefs are true.

Finally, the internet.  To complete the journey to a primordial EDH environment, you will need to renounce Commander-related internet usage.  The internet reinforces format beliefs and the idea of the staple, provides decklists, deck advice, and a broadening homogeneity in deck construction and gameplay.  If so many Magic hobby sites grew into their role as information banks on competitive formats, it is entirely reasonable to think that Commander will become more intense when given the same treatment.  This should be an easy step; the only thing you need to do is look away.

More than anything, the current Commander community as a whole seems to be shaped by consensus.  We all agree that Tooth and Nail is a powerful green card, and that Zur the Enchanter is a general for real tryhards.  This consensus affects our deck construction (‘I should play Tooth and Nail!’), our gameplay (‘I should attack that Zur player before he gets out of hand.’) and ultimately, our entire gaming experience.  It comes as no surprise that, perhaps, the chief building block of Commander players at inception was a lack of consensus; no one knew what the format was really going to be like, and the ultimate atmosphere was still a murky ‘who knows’ kind of affair.  To get to that place, should elect to go, you must leave this place.

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