This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series The Social Contractor

The term “douchebag” is the worst thing about Commander.

Commander is a format inherently loaded with problems: an ambiguous objective (try to win, but not too hard) , sloppy banlist and reliance on players self-policing. But, most of the time, these problems are actually kind of fun to work toward resolving. Unless you’re among the beardiest of neckbeards, you’re probably not going to fly into an asthma-inducing fit of rage when your friend suggests nobody plays with Time Stretch or Exsanguinate. And, whether you admit it, you also probably enjoy sitting around bitching and busting balls after the game when your friend does something really powerful and wins. Why? Well, other than the fact that you play Magic, and most Magic players love to complain, you’re also actually getting to interact with people in friendly territory. Interacting with peers is fun, and can even devolve into the treacherous realm of friendship.

Many of Commander’s problems actually give us a chance to develop friendships through something as stupid as overpriced cardboard. Playing the game is one thing; you’re interacting with people, but there’s a sort of screen or pretense keeping you from connecting too much. When the game is over, you get a new filter to talk to people through—”that game was awesome/shit”—but it’s substantially more porous than the rules of Magic, and interactions permitted by text on cards. In the post-MtG phase of the game, we move into the more social phase of the hobby. We review what we like/don’t like, we hug it out (bitch), and then we sit around and trade for a few hours to accumulate pieces for decks we never finish. It’s life.

The awesome thing about Commander is that it’s a social format. Yes, it’s allegedly designed to promote this in-game, but the meat and bones of the discussion is always post-game. Things such as the oft-debated house rules, expanded ban lists, inconsistent application of the ‘official’ rules and what is acceptable under the ever-so-nebulous ‘social contract’ are what show Commander to be a deeply broken format in the purest, technical sense. Yet, as a game designed to promote social interaction, it’s a resounding success. Why? Because, without the duct tape of good will and understanding holding things together, Commander games are a shit-stained mess.

As somebody who has played a lot of Legacy, I can say, on the whole, I’ve had relatively good experiences with Magic as far as the social element goes, but the most you ever really said was some ‘good game’ stuff when one guy was dead; maybe commented on a cool rogue deck or card choices. The game didn’t really push you to talk much, because you knew the metagame, you knew the rules, and that was that. You could even play a game without saying words to each other, something I’ve experienced playing against people who didn’t speak English. The games were a bit different, but perfectly playable.

Without the ability to communicate with other players in a meta-game context, let me show you what Commander becomes:

Commander’s broken nature requires that players interact with one another meaningfully to maintain an enjoyable game environment. This is its strongest feature, as long as everyone is willing to be at least a young adult about it. But, unfortunately, the format still has a vestigial limb left over from it’s earlier, unshaven, still-living-with-mom-in-her-basement-oh-snap-a-girl-what-do-I-do days.

It’s the term “douchebag”.

Don’t read too far into it. I call my mans douchebags, douchenozzles, douchedicks, etc. all the time. It’s how we roll. The term became trouble when it became an EDH-playerbase meme, representing, roughly:

“Fuck y’all for nebulous reasons I don’t feel I should have to explain.”

It’s the EDH equivalent of “this conversation is over.” Calling somebody an “EDH douchebag” has become an oddly powerful statement, loaded with implications. Anybody deeply into the format knows what is being said and what the argument is without knowing the exact circumstances; and generally the accuser was instantly dubbed a “scrub” or “got it” while the accused was a “funwrecker” or “didn’t get it”. Battle lines are drawn, and breakdown into nerd slapfight territory is common. All this from a single term (and its lame-ass variants).

As is, calling people “douchebags” or “EDHDBags” (made even worse with twitter tags, much like virtually anything else) is cancerous for the growing Commander community. It runs against everything that anybody interested in the growth of the format, exploration of its possibilities and socially-oriented gameplay should want. It’s a fugly manifestation of the negative side of the community and format as a whole. It says “I don’t want to be social and sort out the issue here, plus you’re a dick.” Why would anybody interested in playing a social format want to use or promote blatantly antisocial conventions like this? It boggles my mind.

It’s harmful because it does the exact opposite of what social formats should do: it closes doors. It excludes people in an unpleasant way, instead of trying to meet them in the middle. And this is just what it does to people who are already familiar with the Commander community. Do you know what it looks like to non-EDHers?

“I’d like to play Commander, but I don’t want to have to navigate what everyone finds fun or not.”

“Commander players are scrubs who play a broken format and get mad at good players.”

“It seems like a lot of Commander players are kind of dicks.”

It’s a niggling trend that makes us look bad to others, and feel bad towards other Commander players. It’s harmful internally, as the Casual Inquisition and closed-minded players use it as a shield against people with different viewpoints. It’s harmful externally as it gives outsiders who aren’t playing Commander a really weird idea of what a ‘social format’ looks like. So why can’t we all agree to drop it?

Granted, the terms ‘douchebag’ and ‘douchebaggery’ accusations alike are actually important parts of Commander, as social regulation is all that holds the game together. But ‘douchebag’ is institutionalized rudeness at this point, and often used as an excuse to be mean-spirited and exclusionary. It stonewalls positive, insightful discussion in favour of an off-the-cuff insult. It’s like replacing “no thanks” with “eat shit.”

So for the good of everyone–your local playgroup, trolls on the internet, strangers you meet at an MtG event–remove the term “douchebag” from your Commander vocabulary. Replace it with some more open-ended, friendlier statements. Consider the following:

“Maybe we’re looking for different things in this game.”

“I don’t think our decks are a good fit.”

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Nah, but seriously, y’all know what I mean.

Instead of looking like a bunch of whining, infighting haters, why not genuinely be social? Just throwing it out there for you douchebags to consider.

Series Navigation<< The Social Contractor 02 – A Rant Disguised As a Poorly-Written EssayThe Social Contractor 04 – Oops, I Win! >>