Windborn Musings – The Problem with Command Tower

I don’t like Command Tower.  This card was a mistake.  It should not have been printed in this set or any other set.  This card sets a dangerous precedent.

Let’s get this part out of the way.  Is Command Tower a good card?  Absolutely!  It taps for any color of mana that you could need, and there are no drawbacks!  You aren’t paying life.  It doesn’t come into play tapped.  You don’t have to reveal a card in your hand.  You just play it like any basic land, and tap it for the colored mana that you need as soon as you play it. 

When it comes to mana-producing land in an EDH game, there is none better.  Yes, if you are running a two-color U/W deck, perhaps Tundra is better.  But if you have a Command Tower, why wouldn’t you run Tundra and Command Tower?  This is a card that fits into most decks.  If your metagame goes after basic lands (Flashfires, Boil, etc.),Command Tower is even a good card for mono-color decks.

While I don’t like this card, you can bet I’ll be playing it.  What kind of a lunatic would not play this card?  This is arguably the best color-fixing available in Magic.  While it is not searchable by cards that let you look for swamps or other basic land types (Armillary Sphere, Civic Wayfinder, or Pilgrim’s Eye for example), it produces every color of mana that you need.  If my Commander is two or more colors, this card is an auto-include in my deck, and should be in your decks as well. 

In spite of all this, I don’t like this card.  Before I tell you why I don’t like this card, I want to go through the reasons other people like the card then rip up their arguments.  This is the joy of an article:  no rebuttals.[i]

Reasons why other people like Command Tower

Commander needs cheap manafixing.[ii]  The format needs Command Tower to let people play the game.  Command Tower helps to stabilize mana bases.[iii] 

These are all reasons for Command Tower that I heard while listening to episode 29 of Commandercast. While the podcast is great, and the podcasters made excellent points, I don’t feel that this is one of them.  Magic’s color pie is probably the biggest reason for Magic’s success.  The color pie gives each color certain benefits and limitations.  Each color has some overlap, but generally this creates limitations within each color.  If you are building a mono-color deck, you learn to live with the limitations and hope the strengths of the color you are in are strong enough to overcome the weaknesses. 

Many players choose multiple colors for their deck as a way to get around these limitations.  Using cards from two (or more) colors allows players to build decks that no longer have weaknesses, as the colors assist each other to cover weak spots.  The downside to playing two or more colors is a more tenuous manabase.  Playing one color means that every land that is drawn from your library is the correct type of land for the cards in your hand that you want to play, or vice versa.  This allows you to play fewer lands and get the land/spell ratio very close.  With more colored spells, you need lands of each color.  You likely need to increase the number of lands in your deck, forcing you to remove spells.  You have to determine the proper ratio of Plains andIslands, for example.  While mixing colors takes away the weaknesses, it makes the deck’s manabase more precarious.  This is why multicolored cards tend to be less expensive:  it is harder to get the appropriate mana to cast those spells.

A card like Command Tower tips the balance towards multi-colored decks and limits the effectiveness of the color pie.  Cheap manafixing like Command Tower damages the color pie.  The reason that Command Tower helps stabilize mana bases isn’t a reason to have it in Commander, it is a reason to not have it in Commander.  If players want multiple colors in their decks, they should expect to have to deal with awkward mana bases.  Handling these mana bases is part of playing the game. 

Barrier to entry.  You want new cards to be better than the older cards that are hard to find/expensive.[iv]

This is a reason that I can get behind.  Legacy has a limit on its popularity since many of the cards used can not be reprinted, and anything new will either only add to the cost or be even more broken, so they will not be reprinted.  No lands will ever be better than dual lands for Legacy.  If you want Commander to grow, you will want to make new cards that can make up for older cards.

Why not print the Shards lands for the wedges in Commander?  The lands are good, excellent in certain decks actually.  You would not have had to put the Commander restriction on the card.  The enters the battlefield tapped restriction is little restriction at all in a format where land counts regularly go over 15 lands, and play tends to start slowly.  These lands achieve everything Command Tower does, and they can actually be used in other formats.

The cost issue is also solved.  The lands would certainly be cheaper than Command Tower since Command Tower should be in every deck, while the Wedge lands would only need to be in the appropriate deck.  The Wedge lands can also be reprinted in a future set that is matching wedge colors, while the Command Tower can only be reprinted in another pile of cards that are designed for commander players only.   

More elegant

“I was predicting tri-lands, like the Shards of Alara lands, but for the wedge colors (the colors of the three-colored Commanders). But Command Tower took care of that issue much more elegantly. You can have one land fit into almost all decks rather than a set of five that can only fit into six decks (their wedge color and a five-colored Commander).”[v]

Apparently, elegance is in the eye of the beholder.  While Robby sees Command Tower as the elegant solution, I see wedge color Shards lands as far more elegant.  Consider the benefits: 

(1) The wedge lands fit together perfectly, offering symmetry with the Shards tri-lands, as well as each other.  The symmetry with each other land, as well as with a set of lands printed previously is far more elegant than a single card.

(2) The wedge lands offer a minor drawback for Commander players while maintaining the balance the color pie has created.

(3) They would not include the clunky phrase “your commander’s color identity.” That phrase forces the card to only be good in Commander.  Wouldn’t a set of lands that can be used in any format be far more elegant? 

Andrea Schubert on Twitter suggested a single alternate land for Command Tower:  Legendary Tower, T: Add to your mana pool one mana of any color of a legend you own in any zone other than your hand or library.  While I think this card has the drawbacks in relation to the color pie I discussed earlier, it too is more elegant than Command Tower, in that it can actually do something in another format.[vi]

 “Some might complain that this is useless outside of Commander, but this is a Commander product.”[vii]

While I agreed with most of Robby’s picks in his Top 10 Designed Commander Cards article at mtgcolorpie.com (you should be reading all of his work there, at http://www.gatheringmagic.com and at http://99edhproblems.com), this argument is short-sighted.  All products have a target audience, but if they can draw in other players, why wouldn’t Wizards do this?  Every special set of cards Wizards produces is designed to have some appeal to every audience.  Tournament decks include cards casual players want.  Foil cards are included in various products to draw collectors and players trying to pimp out their decks.  Why should a Commander deck package be any different? 

You want your product to draw audiences from different crowds to draw them into Commander.  A problem with this card is that it is actually fragmenting the target audience.  Many people seem to have forgotten that there are casual players out there who play with decks that don’t have a commander!  I know, I was shocked by this too.  Those casual players are no different than the casual players who play Commander.  Why would Wizards make a product that any casual player can enjoy… with the exception of this one card.  If I don’t play Commander, I can put this card with my Timmerian Fiends,[viii] Bronze Tablet and Chaos Orb as “cards I can’t use.” That is a shame, particularly when there was another answer available. 

The real concern behind this argument is back to the cost of the cards.  If you put a land as good as Command Tower that was available for play in eternal formats (for example, a Legendary Land that taps for one mana of any color), the fear is that the price would fly through the roof.  There is a chance that this is true, although I expect Wizards will eventually produce so many of these decks that they will be littering the floors of WalMarts and Targets for years to come.  After the initial press for the decks, expect them to be available in abundance.

Why I don’t like this card 

Commander only

I covered most of this issue above, so I won’t rehash it again.  It just seems a shame that a big share of the casual crowd is left out in the cold here when there were better solutions.  After all, as big as the Commander audience is, it’s only a fraction of the size of the casual tribe.  With all the ways that Wizards came up with to take advantage of multiple players, they couldn’t find a workaround for this card? 

This is the dangerous precedent I mentioned at the start of the article.  If cards are permitted for these particular niche format, soon we’ll be seeing cards that only work in other niche formats.  I don’t want to see this kind of fragmentation when it comes to Magic cards.  A card made for duels may not be good in multiplayer, but you can use it.  If it is okay here, when will we get a Cube set that includes cards that start, “if your deck has only forty cards in it…”?

Auto-include

What I am saying is that Command Tower is simply too good.  Any card that belongs in practically every deck, is simply too good.  Sol Ring doesn’t belong in every deck, but it does belong in most decks.  Sol Ring also is too good.  Command Tower doesn’t belong in every deck, but it does belong in most decks.  It is too good.  It is an auto-include in most Commander decks.  This is my problem.

Before I can explain why I have a problem with auto-includes, I should specify what an auto-include is, and show how Command Tower is an auto-include. An auto-include is a card that belongs in most decks because it is the best at what it does in most situations.  Sol Ring is probably the card most commonly referred to as an auto-include.  For one mana, you can tap the artifact for two mana.  There are very few other options for adding to mana available to you that are as cheap and effective as Sol Ring.  In most decks, you are providing an extra mana every turn, speeding up by a turn what you can do with your deck.  There are very few decks that would be better without Sol Ring in them.

A card is not an auto-include if it is the best at what it does in situations with limited applicability.  If you had a card that was an instant that said, “Target opponent must sacrifice a creature they control of your choosing,” that would appear to be an auto-include, but if the casting cost of the card was BBBWWW, it would have a very limited applicability. 

Command Tower is useful at pretty much any time in any situation where your deck has at least two colors.  I understand that Ruination destroys it.  I understand that some specialized decks don’t want nonbasic lands.  I’m not saying that Command Tower is strictly better than every other land available in Commander.  I’m saying that its applicability is so wide-ranging and it is the best at what it does in most situations. Command Tower is an auto-include. 

My problem with Command Tower is that I don’t want more auto-include cards in Commander.  Every situation has to have a card that is the best in that situation.  The problem is that an auto-include is a card that is the best in so many common situations that you have to include it in your deck, or you are purposefully making your deck worse.  Improving your mana fixing is such a common situation that having a card that is better than any other any time you need mana fixing is problematic.  Part of Magic is going through the process of building a deck. If you pick a General with at least two colors, at least one of your 99 cards is already determined.  How is this good for Commander specifically and Magic generally? 

This level of power suggests to me that the card represents a lazy effort from Wizards of the Coast.  The wedge lands were there, but Wizards chose to make a poorly designed card instead. 

Conclusion

I really enjoy the set and love the cards in it.  The Commander decks are great and I’m thrilled to already own one of each deck.  Don’t look back at my last 2000 words of ranting about a single common to mean I despise everything about the set.  It is more a case of the single black mark on an otherwise perfect release.  Command Tower didn’t have to happen. 

Bruce Richard
@manaburned
bnrichard<AT>hotmail<DOT>com

P.S.  My thanks to everyone who discussed both sides of the issue.  Getting other points of view is always valuable and was appreciated when I was discussing this on Twitter.


[i] Well, maybe rebuttals in the comments section, but for now, I reign supreme.
[ii] Just to clarify, I’m defining “cheap manafixing” as cards with minimal mana cost.  The next reason addresses the financial burden of buying cards to aid the mana base of your decks.
[iii] These are all reasons in favor of Command Tower that I heard while listening to episode 29 of Commandercast. While the podcast is great, and the podcasters made excellent points, I don’t feel that this is one of them.
[iv] This was another reason in favor of Command Tower from episode 29 of Commandercast.
[v] Robby Rothe, The Gift of Commander,  June 16 article on gatheringmagic.com
[vi] I did not see Ms. Schubert’s Twitter post, but heard this discussed on episode 182 of the Mana Pool. My apologies if I did not get the card quite right.
[vii] Robby Rothe, Top 10 Designed Commander Cards, June 20 article on mtgcolorpie.
[viii] Abe Sargent discusses this point in his June 21 article, CasualNation #37 – Casual Commander Review on gatheringmagic.com

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About Windborn Muse

If you seek limited or constructed tournament knowledge, wrapped up with excellent comedic writing, you are in the wrong place. Planted firmly at the kitchen table, Bruce (the Windborn Muse) is all things casual, focusing primarily on strategies for multiplayer games wrapped up with horrific, train wreck attempts at humour. Bruce is married to an extremely tolerant woman and has three children who will not go near him in public. In real life Bruce works as an attorney and lives just outside Boston.
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6 Responses to Windborn Musings – The Problem with Command Tower

  1. MTGColorPie says:

    Thanks for the awesome write up and shout out.

    This is going to be one of those cards that people will fight over until the end of time. I get your concerns and your points of your cautionary tale, however I think that this is a good fit for the format. It sucks a little bit that you can’t play it in other casual formats, I understand that. This, if viewed as an experiment, works great for a format that WotC is supporting. I wouldn’t be upset if Wizards finally printed a teammate helping card in a set since I don’t play formats with teammates (I really don’t play Commander 2HG, but that’s me personally):

    Friends Forever – 2UU
    Legendary Enchantment
    Whenever one of your teammates draws a card, you may draw a card.

    I think that you might eventually see more cards that cater to other casual formats. This was the first step in that experiment.

    While this is a good land, all it does is replace City of Brass in my decks. This card can’t be fetched with Fetchlands, nor tutored up easier than any other non-basic land. The tri-colored enemy shard lands would’ve been awesome (and something I think will see print someday), but like I said: they can only go into 6 decks. Command Tower allows you to put it in a U/R deck without worrying about that Black mana.

    Of course, if that rule gets changed, then it’s a whole other ball game.

    I understand and respect your viewpoints. You either love this card, or think it was a mistake. We won’t be able to change each other’s minds on this simple little land.

    • Jesse says:

      I’m all for bring Unglued themes into regular Magic (still holding out for a Goblin Bookie reprint), but cards like that don’t work as well since they do nothing on their own. You need cards like Imperial Mask (or honestly, even Organ Harvest and Team Spirit would be just fine in a regular Magic set) as a way to make cards that offer up something new and different.

      The biggest mistake with Command Tower is that it doesn’t have “T: Add 1 to your mana pool.” meaning its a land that works for every commander EXCEPT Karn, Silver Golem.

      The idea of making a Magic card that is usable only in a single format just feels dirty to me. Commander should have gone all out and introduced MORE lands like EnemyCIPTapped and Wedge Lands in addition to Command Tower, who could have easily been fixed by adding one extra line of text.

  2. Seedborn Muse says:

    For other casual formats, the wedge lands would be an automatic 4-of in decks that wanted them, having a lot of people buy 4-of Commander decks or warp the singles market over these things. I don’t think either is healthy. If there are 1/4 the players who care about them v. Command Tower but they want 4, then it’s still the same amount of demand, just concentrated in fewer players.

    Also, it does violate the color pie somewhat when enemy colors have too good of mana-fixing. Certain sets have done away with a lot of this, but there’s still supposed to be some point to enemy colors having more problems getting mana than allied colors. (FWIW, Legendary Tower is clunky too, especially as it’s templated to allow your legends to be from outside the game if I’m reading correctly.)

    I don’t have nearly the issue with Command Tower that you do, but given the issues, here are some early-morning top-of-the-head solutions that don’t involve wedge lands (which I wouldn’t want printed in these BECAUSE of the casual demand, which I don’t think is appropriate for this product):

    Invasion tap-lands in enemy colors
    Rupture Spire with another name (lazy as well, but gets around other issues)
    Not printing Command Tower

    The ultimate issue to me isn’t the printing of the card; my love for odd rules text gets over my concern of niche cards (then again, many cards are EDH-niche practically speaking; see Spin into Myth or Oblation these days). The issue to me is that one nonbasic land is hard to find, especially in the preconstructs without Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying. One land of this type doesn’t fix mana bases, and hopefully newer players don’t believe that it will. As a practical matter the Signets and Ravnica bounce lands will do more of the heavy lifting than Command Tower, but Command Tower will get all the press. It’s the power v. consistency issue, and despite the Legacy-Vintage crowd that popularize this game at the writing level, mana bases ought to be more about consistency than power (looking at you, Sol Ring). I’d be fine selling my Command Towers to people because it’s only one land among 38 or so.

    I meet all this with more of a shrug than you do, but I believe of course that it’s important for someone to articulate sides of stuff, so good on ya.

  3. Kyle Fritz says:

    So why is the precedent set by a card that is only playable in a particular format “dangerous”? Is it that much of a problem, really, that Wizards will print cards that are only playable in certain formats? EDH has hundreds of niche cards in it that are practically unplayable in other formats anyway, and vice versa. Is it really that terrible that a card finally comes out and makes it official, while at the same time opening up a world of new design space?

    I see format-specific cards as an opportunity to expand the game in a positive way. Sure, maybe this one is a bit too powerful, but that is mitigated anyway by several factors, including the 100-card singleton limitation and the existence of other five-color lands like City of Brass and Reflecting Pool. I don’t see a reason to believe that every and any format-specific card printed by Wizards in the future will be this much of an auto-include just because this one is (and note that this land is pretty terrible in mono-color decks, a non-trivial portion of the decks out there).

  4. Sarroth says:

    Command Tower was made useless in other formats because most likely if it were not useless in other formats it would not be a cheap alternative to other lands, so it wouldn’t do its purpose, which is being a decent land for players to pick up instead of the expensive ones. Edric, Spymaster of Trest is playable in other formats, and he is $20 right now – Command Tower would at least be $10 if nonCommander players were grabbing them up.

    The legendary option would have been terrible – I know many players dislike auto-includes, and this would help against that, but considering the precons were designed to be played out of the box against each other, if all of the precons had a best land that could get blown up on an opponent’s turn at a moment’s notice, that’s not a good thing.

    Finally, I’ve thought about the tri-lands issue myself. You’re right in that it would have been a better idea for card design and playability outside of Commander. I believe there is a very good reason to not have printed Wedge tri-lands: Flavor. If and when they do a Wedge block, they will almost certainly print Wedge tri-lands. When they do, those lands will be flavorful representations of whatever area (be it plane, shard, society, whatever) uses those 3 colors of mana and only those 3 colors. Think about it: The Shards tri-lands were this way. For instance, Crumbling Necropolis is the old city left over from before Alara was ripped apart, the city Sedris was king within. If they made these same cards for Wedges in Commander, they would either A) be locking themselves into flavor for a set years down the line, or B) have to then make 5 different cards because they blew their chance on a storyless product that doesn’t need much flavor to it. It just wouldn’t be a good idea from a design perspective – you don’t print something just because you can and that it hasn’t been done, you print it when it fits, and those cards will fit much better in a set that can use flavor for their art and names and have them resonate more with the other cards.

  5. Pingback: CommanderCast S3E9 – Real Talk Redeux « CommanderCast

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