This entry is part 22 of 23 in the series (Social) Contract form Below

By Nole Clauson AKA MtGNole

90x90 noleHello and welcome to another edition of (Social) Contract from Below. As always, I am your Demonic Attorney Nole Clauson.

I apologize for missing my slot two weeks ago. All of the writers for Commandercast were recording until late that night and I did not have the ability to write an article (and have it be coherent) in 45 minutes. Instead, you guys got some sweet guest content and I got to go to bed at a reasonable time. However, enough about the past and onto today’s topic.

There is an interesting tension in multiplayer, free-for-all magic that does not get talked about enough, and that is the forming and disbanding of alliances throughout the course of a game. One of the things I enjoy about Commander is that these alliances and unofficial teams shift throughout and that, despite the fact that there can only be one winning, you are required to at least somewhat pick sides throughout the course of the game.

However, this is not a strategy article, nor an article on game theory (though both of those could be fun, hmmm…). You’ve come to this article to hear about how the social contract plays into topics (or to look at my sexy judge picture. Mmmm, sexy judge Nole). I feel that this issue goes along a scale, from table politics and a little mutual reciprocity (which I find totally acceptable) to flat out collusion (which obviously violates the social contract). To further elaborate, let’s look at three different scenarios and if they are ok.

Scenario 1: The EDH “mafia”

Mafia-behind-the-dogs(Sidebar with myself: You are really gonna use a 5 year old forum flame war as your first example? Yes I am. Also, does anyone ever use the term “flame war” anymore? Also painting obnoxious trolls as puppies probably does not help make your readers hate them.)

There a lot of reasons the EDH tournaments don’t work. I’ve written about those other places so I won’t repeat myself here. However, one reason I never touch on was collusion between players. I invite you to take a look at this thread on the official forums. (Note: the thread is locked for a good reason, please don’t try to continue beating this dead horse over there.):

In it, a person brags about taking down a series of commander tournaments using a team to collude and make sure that one of the mafia members won. Greatest hits from his post include gems like:

{Name redacted D-bag #1} played Fact or Fiction, {Name redacted D-bag #2} of course giving him the 5-0 split.

{Name redacted D-bag #2} then Time Stretched {Name redacted D-bag #1}, giving him two extra turns.

And so forth. The tread goes on to about 8 pages of accusations of D-bagery as well as a philosophical conversation about the nature of competitive commander. I personally feel that the people involved in the mafia went too far and easily broke the social contract, not only in the decks they used, but in the preplanned collusion and politics.

Scenario #2: LoadingReadyRun’s “The Alex Initiative”

lrr(Sidebar with myself: Seriously, you are going from an old forum post to a comedy bit? You have a college degree! Where are your “credible” academic sources and examples? I get that this is a sketch bit, I’m going to talk about it as though it were real life. Also, more suits? these guys look more like a Mafia than the last example.)

The next bit involves a corner case of collusion (try to say that 5 times fast). If you haven’t already, go check out LoadingReadyRun video “Friday Nights- Politics” at this link: You do not need to actually watch the whole video (though you should as it’s hilarious). For this discussion, you only need to watch the first couple of minutes. This has one of the players outside the place they are going to play, actively politicking for allies. While this is obviously over the top, the sentiment of what e is doing still gets my hackles up. To me, commander is a free-for-all format for a good reason, to have secret allies that start before the game give a huge advantage to those players.

I often see this with new players, if there is a new player in the group, or if someone says the words “I have a new deck”. Because there is an unknown element in the group, people often feel scared of the unknown and band together. While I have little problem with that developing in game, planning with other players to “take out” a player before it begins seems dirty.

Scenario #3: The one where I get called a Jack@ss.

suit(Since it’s apparently “guys in suits week” on SCfB, here is me in a suit during my completely serious and thankfully short time as an amateur magician.)

This was a local game and the inspiration for writing this article. It was a four way game and a player cast Fact or Fiction, choosing me as the player to split the piles. The five cards he flipped were two bombs, a combo piece that worked with one of the bombs, a basic land, and a Krosan Grip I split Bomb #1 with basic land and Bomb #2 with combo piece for Bomb #1. As I’m trying to decode what pile to put the K grip in, I keep looking at the Torpor Orb that is keeping me in check. Finally I look up at him and say “I will put this in whatever pile you want if you’ll use it to blow up Orb.” He immediately says deal and point to the pile he wants it in. He grabs that pile and uses grip to blow up the orb.

The person who had the orb lost it. He immediately starts raving how “the two of us were working together, that he was being ganged up on, that I was a “politics playing Jack@ss” etc. The rest of the table was various stages of OK with what I did, but this guy kept going on and on. Eventually I knocked him out of the game (pro tip: calling me names is a great way to make you a target of mine.) and he stomped out, muttering implications that I fornicated with my relatives.

To me, what I did was socially acceptable, as I parlayed a situation into my advantage. I have no problem with some table talk and at times every commander game has to turn into a game of archenemy. If anything, the person who should be upset is the player who cast fact or fiction, as I basically manipulated him into letting me choose a target for one of his spells through the illusion of greater value.

I’m curious to see where other people fall on this line. Do you disagree with my play in the third scenario? How about pregame teamups like in scenarios 1 and 2? Let me know in the comments below.

In two week is the season finale and I will be getting the Shattergang Brothers group decklist (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Brian’s article from yesterday). I look forward to removing most of the cards that Eric puts in it as I make sure the deck does not violate the social contract. If you have questions/comments for me, feel free to hit me up in the comments below, on my email, or on Twitter @MtGNole. I’ll see you all in two weeks.

Series Navigation<< (Social) Contract from Below 21- Why people Don’t play Commander.(Social) Contract from Below 23- The Long Goodbye >>