There’s been a lot of talk about this new Commander tuck rule, with people arguing back and forth over whether it’s good or bad for the format overall. Newer, less competitive players seem to like that they’re guaranteed access to their commanders. More cutthroat players complain that their commanders are now on the chopping block. Personally, I don’t like it, but then, I don’t like any official changes to my format, which I play in part because it’s more casual and fun-oriented.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the new rule is basically that, if your commander would move to any zone other than the battlefield, you can choose to send it to the Command Zone instead. This is a change from the old rule, which only covered commanders going to the graveyard or exile. The main consequence is that now, if you try to shuffle a commander into its owner’s library, that player can choose to send it to the command zone instead, in order to maintain access to it.
That being said, let’s look at the actual impact of this ruling, and the reasons it came down. First, the reasons. According to what I’ve heard, the reasoning is twofold: they wanted to make the way commanders behaved when changing zones more consistent, and they wanted to discourage the use of tutors, because players were just tutoring for their commander when it got tucked. The first reason explains why this rule applies to the hand as well as the library, and is completely understandable. We want the rules to be as elegant as possible, to make them easier to learn, remember, and comprehend. Whether or not you think that warrants making a rules change, it’s difficult to argue against that reasoning behind it.
The second reason is on a far less solid footing. While it’s true that players will tutor for their commanders when the commander gets tucked, that’s an example of correlation not demonstrating causation. I run tutors in my Olivia Voldaren deck, and while I did once tutor for my commander when she got tucked, that’s not why they’re in the deck. I run them to tutor out Havoc Festival, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is my favorite card in the entire game, and possibly Urza-tron to accelerate my mana. Other decks I run tutors in are Garza Zol and Damia, which are combo decks and thus require me to tutor for the remaining pieces of my combos once I get the first one out. (On a side note, I actually played Damia last week. I got down Inexorable Tide, Ring of Three Wishes, and Seedborn Muse, and had a nice little combo going where I could tutor for a new card on each player’s turn. If someone had tucked my commander, I probably wouldn’t have bothered tutoring for her, since I had better things to dig out of my deck.)
When I’ve played against people who ran tutors, probably 95% of the time they used them to tutor for their win condition, rather than their commander, because their commander was already in play, or still in the Command Zone. The truth is, tuck just doesn’t happen often enough for it to be a major factor when constructing a deck, at least not in the metas in which I’ve played. So, as noble a goal as reducing the number of tutors to preserve the purity of the singleton format may be, imagining that changing the tuck rule will accomplish that is nothing but wishful thinking.
Now for the impact on the game. This boils down to the opposing arguments of “I want to be able to play my commander in a particular game” vs. “I want to be able to play my commander at all.” Immediately after the ruling, several commanders were discussed as being potential candidates for the banned list. Prossh and Narset were already on the chopping block, so if they make the cut it may be due to forces in place even before the new rule. Skullbriar, of course, is a prime candidate, because the two main ways of dealing with him, bounce and tuck, effectively no longer exist. (My favorite way of dealing with Skullbriar remains a combo with Dominus of Fealty and Zedruu the Great-Hearted: Steal Skullbriar on your upkeep and give him to another player. The Skullbriar player then used his one kill-spell to kill his own commander so it couldn’t be used against him, and failed to draw any more removal for the rest of the game. Since he knew re-casting Skullbriar would only lead to a repeat of what happened last time, he never re-cast his commander. Incidentally, this is also why running multiple removal spells is a good idea—see my previous post—although in this case a board-wipe would have worked just as well.) Other names have been bandied about—Zur the Enchanter comes to mind—although I think the only people who will be upset if he gets banned are those who actually run him as their commander, and anyone who would run Zur is a terrible person who deserves to suffer. (As I recall, Uril, the Miststalker and Derevi were also potential bans.)
A lot of people are drawn to Commander because it’s a casual format, which makes it less susceptible to the deck-destroying ban-hammering that plagues formats like Modern. Even when a ban does affect Commander, it’s usually one card in ninety-nine, easily replaced without significantly affecting the play of the deck. In any given game, you probably weren’t going to see that card anyway. (Unless you’re running a bunch of tutors specifically to tutor out that specific card, which is your win condition, in which case that probably explains why it got banned.) Where we see problems is when the commander itself gets banned. Since most people build their decks around a particular commander, suddenly their entire deck is useless, and they sank all that money into it for nothing. That’s not to say commanders should never be banned. Cards are designed with formats other than Commander in mind, and sometimes you get another Rofellos who’s just broken in the format. Narset is shaping up to be an example of that. (Although that fails to explain Prossh and Derevi, who were specifically designed to be played as commanders.) The point is, sometimes commanders need to be banned. It’s when the reason for the ban is a rules update that things get sticky. At that point you need to consider whether the change is causing more problems than it solved.
One post I read put it rather well. The writer said he’d rather run the risk of his commander being tucked, which happens maybe one in six games (from which I’d wager he plays a powerful commander in a competitive meta, since it’s probably been twenty games or more since my commander got tucked), than not be able to play his commander at all. I would say the desire to continue playing a deck in which you’ve invested a significant amount of time and money trumps the desire to avoid the risk of losing access to your commander. That risk will always be there. Several months ago, I was playing against a Kaalia deck, and simply killed Kaalia every time she came down. Eventually I leveled up a Guul Draz Assassin, and the Kaalia player stopped playing his commander, since I’d just kill her again on my turn. Even if he’d been running removal and had managed to kill my Guul Draz Assassin, I’d have just kept saving my own removal for his commander until she became too expensive to cast. He became very upset, because his deck did not function without the commander. But that was his choice, to build a deck that needed its commander in order to do anything. If I choose to make a deck with fewer lands so I have more room for powerful spells, I don’t get to complain when I get mana-screwed. Yes, you should have a reasonable expectation of being able to cast your commander, and building a deck with your commander in mind is a viable strategy. But if your deck needs your commander to function, it’s not the rules committee’s responsibility to protect you from the consequences of your own decision.
Therefore, I come down firmly on the side of those who are upset by this decision. It makes it more difficult to interact with certain decks, and doesn’t actually do what the new players want, which is guarantee them access to their commander. In the end, nobody’s really happy.
However—and this is important—it does tighten up some inelegance in the rules. While the immediate impact—the potential ban of certain commanders—is undesirable, the long-term impact is most likely to be positive. It makes the game make more sense, making it more accessible to new players. Tuck spells still tuck everything but the commander, just like kill spells kill anything but the commander, and exile spells exile everything but the commander. A tuck spell will still get Avacyn off the battlefield, leaving an opening for a boardwipe. The existence of tutors means the only commander really affected by this is Skullbriar. (No matter what color your commander, you can run, at the very least, Ring of Three Wishes.) And, specifically because this is a casual format, players have the option of deciding how or if to implement the rule. If some commanders do get banned because of this ruling, players wanting to continue playing those decks could offer to promise to choose to send the commander to their library or their hand, rather than the command zone, if such a situation arises, in exchange for being able to play a technically banned card. Alternatively, they can try to find a replacement commander for their deck—I was going to use Narset as a commander for my Jeskai deck, but upon reflection Shu Yun would probably be a better fit for what the deck wants to do; and Angus Mackenzie would hands-down be a better commander than Derevi for my pillow-fort deck. We’ve whethered rule changes before, and we will again. This one isn’t nearly as bad as the naysayers are making it out to be.
And hopefully they don’t actually ban any commanders. Except Skullbriar. That card is just unfair.