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
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.
“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.
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…”?
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.
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.
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