Graveborn Musings—The Worst Rule in Commander

Excuse me while I balance myself on this wee soapbox here. Today I want to discuss a subject I feel very strongly about. In fact, I’ll be honest with you: I want to rant and roar and curse about this particular subject, because I’ve been banging my head against it for a couple of years now, and I’m convinced it’s having an increasingly bad effect on my favorite format. Still, I’ve tried very hard to restrain the burning rage that consumes me as I write this, focusing on the sort of clear, logical and brilliant argument for which I am justly famed by my mother, so please hear me out. I’m going to begin with a tirade by a much better writer than I, and use that to figure out a coherent and meaningful framework for criticizing the rules of the game, before I start spewing venom.

The Well-Reasoned Bit

The Ferrett wrote a great article a couple of years back in response to WOTC adding multiplayer to their comprehensive rules. I’ll let you read it for yourself as he makes a very persuasive argument. More broadly, The Ferrett was right that the rules contain some fairly arbitrary choices that affect not only how we play the cards, but what kind of situations we find ourselves in and ultimately what strategies are most effective. That’s why I’m in favor of lobbying for rules changes and introducing local house rules; because they allow the game to be sculpted in ways that are more fun for the Casual Tribe.

In a nutshell, The Ferrett’s pet peeve, which changed its name to avoid the negative publicity and now lives in hiding as rule 800.4a, was that when a player dies, all of their spells and effects are removed from the stack. This leads to situations where, for example, a player on two life is absolutely powerless against an opponent with a Shock—if they attack, cast a spell or tap a permanent, the Shock player can kill them instantly, and prevent them from having any further effect on the game. In contrast, old school players will remember when players died at the end of phases or turns, which meant that even if you were burned out of the game during you combat step, your critters would keep on rollin’ rollin’ rollin’. This would also allow a player on death’s door to say, “Screw you guys, I’m going home,” then cast a big sorcery like Wrath of God before getting blown out of the game. The Ferrett’s argument was that the kind of game states the new rule created (i.e. I am your bitch if I’m on two life and you have a Shock in hand) are less fun than the kind of game states that occurred under the old rules (where I at least had the opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory).

Whether you agree with him or not, I think this is exactly the kind of thing that we should be looking at when we critique the rules. Of course we need rules to make the game run smoothly, but some rules are just flat-out more arbitrary than others,[1] and we should be open to the idea of changing or modifying them. Laws don’t justify themselves, and are only useful to the extent that they make a society better. Specifically for gamers, we should look at what game states are created/allowed/prohibited by the rules, what strategies are privileged and which are inhibited by a particular rule. For example, the highlander format has an exception for basic lands, which is great. If you were only allowed one of each basic land in your deck then monocolored decks and cards that cared about basic lands would be severely inhibited (I know from bitter experience that decks with colorless commanders can be built; I’ll leave it as a challenge for the reader to see how effective a monoblack deck could be if it could only contain one swamp), and effects that cared about non-basic lands would be privileged. Once we understand how a particular rule affects the game, we can evaluate how desirable those effects are in our individual metagames, in terms of whatever values are important for your playgroup.

An example, related to The Ferrett’s least favorite rule, has a significant impact on the relative power of some very common strategies, and the options you have for responding to them in-game. I’m going to use this to give a more detailed explanation of the kind of rules analysis I’m talking about, because it is a fairly unusual approach (although, this makes the article run longer than normal; if you’re pressed for time, feel free to skip ahead to the ranty bit that deals exclusively with commander issues). The rule in question is:

800.4a. When a player leaves the game, all objects (see rule 109) owned by that player leave the game, all spells and abilities controlled by that player on the stack cease to exist, and any effects which give that player control of any objects or players end. Then, if there are any objects still controlled by that player, those objects are exiled. [As of June 17, 2011]

The two parts in bold are the most important here. A lot of players don’t realize that the rules make a (non-intuitive and seemingly arbitrary) distinction between a) gaining control of a permanent controlled by another player (e.g. by casting Threaten), which are referred to as “effects which give that player control,” and b) putting a card owned by another player into play under your control (e.g. by casting Praetor’s Grasp, Treacherous Urge or Beacon of Unrest), which is not classified as an “effect.” Here’s how these different rules work out in practice:

  1. If I cast Control Magic on one of your creatures and then you kill me, you get your creature back, because the object (Control Magic) owned by the deceased played leaves the game, allowing the creature to revert to its owner’s control
  2. If I cast Threaten on your creature and then you kill me, then you get your creature back, because the effect allowing me to control a permanent you own ends with my demise
  3. If I reanimate your creature or Bribery it into play, those aren’t considered “effects which give that player control of any objects,” so you don’t get them back when I shuffle off to meet my maker. We continue working our way through the checklist until “any objects still controlled by that player… are exiled,” and you never see your creature again.

I realize this is a lengthy digression, given that this isn’t what I consider to be the worst rule in Commander, but it’s an important example of how the rules can have unintended consequences on the game (especially multiplayer), and I’m also betting that it’s a rule which many of you are not familiar with. As a rule, 800.4a serves its basic purpose, which is to order the game so that people know what to do in a given situation and conflicts can be resolved consistently and amenably. However, it also has the unintended effect of making these thievery shenanigans more powerful by allowing the thief to say, “kill me and you lose your stuff forever.”

Imagine if the rule said instead that when a player dies, all of the permanents that they control but don’t own revert to their owner’s control. In that way you would weaken the power of theft relative to other (arguably more fun) strategies, and create interesting game states where the victim of the larceny was encouraged to go after the thief in order to get their creature in play ‘for free,’ while other players would have to choose which player they’d prefer to control the stolen merchandise. For example, do you want the blue mage with very few creatures to control a stolen Stalking Vengeance, or would you prefer to return it to the Kresh player with the 34/34 Hamletback Goliath and the Lord of Extinction that is so massive nobody can be bothered keeping track of how big it is? Even if your biggest threat is the blue mage, you might have to intervene to protect them in order to prevent Kresh from being able to kill you when they regain their creature. That’s the kind of strategic complexity that I would love to be involved with, but as it stands the rules don’t let me—my best play is always to kill the blue mage in order to remove a scary player and ensure that Kresh can’t use Stalking Vengeance on me.

When we as casual players analyze the rules, we need to consider what game states are produced and what mechanics/cards/colors/strategies/etc become stronger or weaker, and how this can shape our metagame. As the example of rule 800.4a shows, you might actually improve the quality of your games if you modified the way you handle it when players join the choir invisible.


The Ranty Bit

I’m on such a Commander high at the moment (and that’s unlikely to change any time soon) that I want to talk about a rule that only affects Commander, and the mechanic that it empowers. The rule is:

903.11. If a commander would be put into its owner’s graveyard from anywhere, that player may put it into the command zone instead.

903.12. If a commander would be put into the exile zone from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead.

In other words, whenever a commander is killed or exiled, you can put it in the command zone. Astute readers will have noticed that this is actually two rules, but these two rules imply a third—whenever a commander changes to any other zone, you can’t do anything—and that is the decision that I would like to challenge.

There is a class of removal spells that put a permanent into its controller’s library, either shuffled in (Oblation), put on the bottom (Condemn, Hinder), or in some cases, put on top of a library in response to a fetchland activation that will result in it getting shuffled randomly into the library. The nickname for these is tuck effects, which is a good name, because it rhymes with what I say when my monored commander is sent to the bottom of the deck, never to be seen again. Because moving your commander into the library doesn’t give you the option to put it into the command zone instead, this type of removal is vastly more powerful than any other in this format—even though in any other situation, exile is the most powerful form of removal. Rather than allow an otherwise cutesy mechanic to be uniquely powerful in our format, I propose a simple solution: allow the owner of a commander to move it to the Command Zone if it would be moved to the library.[2] After all, a commander typically gets exiled or killed by an opponent’s removal, and you’re allowed to respond to that by putting them back in The Zone; why should it be different for this other form of removal?

The debate about tuck effects has been played out on the message boards more than once, but there are two compelling reasons to take up the discussion here. Firstly, have you ever noticed how nobody changes their mind during flame-wars on the forums? They just get more entrenched in their positions, until logic turns into repetition and respect turns into trash-talking. A site like Muse Vessel is a far better format for hashing out the issues, and I promise a fresh, or at least more coherent, perspective than you’ll see in the forums. Along the way I’m also going to address the main arguments in favor of being able to tuck commanders. Secondly, the MTG: Commander set release presents us with some new developments that tilt the argument more heavily in favor of changing the way that tucking works. Let’s start with the effects that tucking generals have on the game in terms of what games states are created, what is privileged, and what is restricted.

From the days before EDH became Commander, a lot of the appeal of the format came from ready access to your favorite legend. I’ve heard it said that the very earliest iterations of the game didn’t involve being able to recast them, and they were just treated like any other card in your deck; that may be true, but it’s also true that by the time EDH started to explode into the world’s number one casual format, accessing your general from some variation on the Command Zone was a big part of the magic. Tuck effects limit or even eliminate this most fundamental aspect of the game—quite simply, 100-card Highlander without Elder Dragons is much less entertaining.

Let me say that again, because it often gets mixed up in message board trash-talking: access to the commander is undeniably a significant feature of the commander format. Whether it is the main feature or not is a subjective matter—for me it probably is, but for others it isn’t a selling point at all—and I am NOT saying that everyone should be able to have their commander in play at all times, or always be able to cast it without any restrictions. But denying someone access to their commander for a significant part of the game does undermine the format to a certain extent. I’m happy to argue about the extent to which this may be true, but saying “I don’t even care if I play my commander, therefore access to your commander isn’t part of the format” is a waste of time and contributes nothing to the discussion.

Invariably, someone will say that if your deck can’t win without your Commander then it’s a bad deck, but that argument is pretty weak; the fact is that if you don’t have access to your commander and your opponent(s) do, then you are at a significant disadvantage. The +2 mana cost limitation is an excellent balancing mechanic, and I’ve lost games from having my commander being killed too many times to be able to recast them (although I once paid 18 for Teneb). But when your back’s against the wall and all you draw is land, even being able to chump-block with your commander can save your life—especially when your opponent can recast their commander at will.

Another reason that losing your commander puts you at a disadvantage is synergy. Commander decks fall along a spectrum from ‘good stuff’ decks that only play that commander because of their color identity and rarely cast them (typically, a five-color Atogatog deck) to commander-centric decks that rely on casting and winning with their commander in most games (typically, a five-color Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck). There’s nothing wrong with either type of deck, although we each have our preferences. For my Kresh deck, almost every card is chosen with him in mind. Kresh is by far my most commander-dependent deck, although it can still take the table without him. All of my other decks expect to cast the commander and are generally stronger with the commander on the battlefield (like the vast majority of decks I have seen), and therefore part of the process of choosing the best cards for each deck is seeing how compatible it is with your commander. Because card choices are influenced by the commander, I can look at every single decklist I have (over 20 of them) and point to cards that are included or omitted because of my commander. Naturally, every deck has wincons other than that single legend, but for almost any commander deck it is inevitable that some or many of the cards you draw will be suboptimal or flat-out wrong for you if you don’t have access to your commander for an extended period of time.

One of the oft-repeated arguments in favor of the status quo is the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” argument, but as I said last week, we have to consider the how our opponents will respond to the kind of environment we create. It’s not a question of “If you don’t like tuck effects you should play them yourself and put more countermeasures in your deck,” because if everyone uses them, the game will become worse for all of us. If everyone is using tuck effects, every game will devolve into 100-card highlander games, which are so much less fun than Commander, and every turn will become about playing around that same small subset of cards—don’t cast your commander into untapped Hinder mana, don’t attack into a possible Condemn, and so on. People will play their other 99 cards, but when it comes to their commander they’ll just sit back and do nothing until they can play it and boot up immediately, and if you eventually get your commander in play without getting tucked you’ll be living in fear of a Hallowed Burial. Speaking on behalf of the Timmies, that’s not what I signed up for—I wanna cast my Commander and swing with it!

Another major problem with tucking is the fact that it is limited to two or three colors: white has the most, blue has some good ones, as well as Tunnel Vision, the cheesiest way to win a commander game, and red has Warp World (which can be so much fun I don’t necessarily mind it) and the color pie-busting Chaos Warp (which is now wallet-busting too!). Primarily, though, you’re looking at white and blue having the majority of tuck effects. Put that another way, white and blue have access to the best commander removal in a format that is often defined by its commanders; do you really think that isn’t going to warp the format? Over time, I predict that we will see more decks using the tuck mechanic, and therefore more decks using these colors specifically because of the advantage of tucking. Eventually, the power and prevalence of tuck effects (or alternately, the relative impotence of having no access to your commander while your opponents bash you with theirs) will reduce the variety that is at the core of the format.

And if the problem is going to get worse, which game theory tells us it will, what about the solutions? Tutoring is the main way to solve the challenge that tucking presents,[3] but there are two problems with creating an environment that privileges creature-search. The first is that once again, only certain colors have access to that effect—there are a handful of exceptions, from Planar Portal and Citanul Flute to wizardcycling, but basically you’re looking at green and black. Put it all together and it’s not hard to foresee a time when Bant or Esper colors have a huge edge in controlling the board due to their ability to wipe the board, tuck the only creatures that are left, recur the tuck effects and tutor for your own commander if anything should happen to it.[4] In the meantime, anyone who came to play with their favorite legend is left looking forlorn and hoping they can draw into enough business to make up for the loss of their centerpiece.

The second big problem with an environment that privileges tutoring is that it runs contrary to the spirit of the format—and if that sounds too subjective for you, remember that we’re talking about 99-card highlander decks. Can you really tell me that the EDH wasn’t designed from the beginning to promote variety? Access to your commander is usually the only predictable part of this otherwise über-random format, but if you force people to include multiple ways of tutoring up their commander then you’re going to see a lot more consistency and a lot less of the edge-of-the-seat excitement that you’ve come to expect from the format. Take it from someone who used to play against a deck with 15 tutors: that makes the games a lot less enjoyable.

In all the time I’ve spend thinking, talking and arguing about this issue, I’ve only heard one argument in favor of tucking that makes any sense—perhaps because it was the argument by Genomancer, one of the Commander Rules Committee guys. In essence, he said that a form of long-term removal was necessary to keep troublesome commanders in check. Getting Kresh tucked is, as he explained, a necessary evil because there will be times when you need to tuck a really abusive commander, like a Zur, the Enchanter deck that locks you down with Erayo’s Essence and Rule of Law on turn four. In theory, this is a compelling argument, but it overlooks a couple of key points. Firstly, commander is a broken format; Sheldon has said as much on numerous occasions. There are any number of ways to build crazy-broken decks, and rather than rely on banning cards the RC decided long ago to rely on social contracts to control abusive behavior. In other words, if you’re a casual player then you have other means beyond tucking to keep Zur and his ilk from ruining your fun.

Secondly, folks are dropping Condemns left, right, and center, and the innocent, red-zone-living, fun-loving Timmy commanders are getting hit by tuck effects just as much as the stone-cold killer combo-enablers. In fact, an abusive deck like Zur is much more likely to be able to deal with a tuck effect than a something relatively non-abusive like Kresh. As a casual player with a fairly well-respected social contract, it seems to me like allowing non-abusive commanders to get sent away semi-permanently by tuck effects is a lot like allowing smoking at a restaurant in order to scare away mosquitoes;[5] you’ll achieve your goal, but the collateral damage may be worse than the original problem.

So in a nutshell, the existence of a qualitatively superior form of removal will have a significant long-term effect on the game. Specifically, I predict that we will see more players choosing the colors and cards that allow tucking, and more players choosing the colors and cards that allow tutoring, and as the threats and the answers conform to the dominance of tucking, the variety of strategic interactions in each game will become less and less as you spend more and more time playing around tuck effects, or merely ignoring your commander altogether. Of course I could be wrong, but consider that we just saw two new tuck effects printed in the MTG: Commander set; tucking is already a problem for many commander players, as evidenced by numerous forum discussions, and that problem is only going to get worse as the number and quality of tuck effects increases. That’s why I have argued that casual playgroups need to change the way tucking works now, before your metas are warped by this unique, and uniquely powerful, form of commander removal. In the mean time, you can feel free to ignore the problem and enjoy the cool new commander cards—just make sure you don’t play with your oversized foil Karador as your commander, because you will end up putting him on the bottom of your library sooner or later.

[1] As an example, consider the way the Stack works in multiplayer. The active player has priority, and can put any number of effects on the stack. When they’re finished, priority passes clockwise to the next player, and when all players have passed priority, the effects on the stack resolve in LIFO order (Last In, First Out). Now, I love the Stack; I think it’s a brilliant solution to a lot of the game’s earlier problems. If effects on the stack resolved in FIFO order (First In, First Out) then the result would be a completely different system, and those original problems would remain; LIFO seems like a necessary rule. On the other hand, priority could just as easily pass to the next player in counterclockwise order; that’s an example of an arbitrary rule. Changing that would not seem to have a negative effect on the game, and if there was a good reason for passing priority in reverse order, that would be fine with me.

[2] A simpler wording would be “If a commander would change from one zone to another, its owner may put it into the command zone instead,” which I believe would allow you to return it to safety if it were bounced as well as tucked. However, SBM pointed out that under this rule, if your commander was in your graveyard and an opponent animated it, you could opt to put it in the command zone instead of letting them have it. This would have the unintended consequence of privileging reanimation strategies (more than they already are), because black and green mages would be able to let their commanders go to the graveyard and wait safely there, while nobody else could touch them, thus getting around the +2 ‘command tax.’ Changing the rules is tricky business, but that isn’t an argument for not changing them; it’s merely an argument for changing them carefully.

[3] Sacrifice outlets are vital in a tuck-heavy meta, and are generally a good idea anyway, but your opponents can answer them easily enough. More importantly, Hinder and Spell Crumple make those inadequate solutions.

[4] I’m tempted to build a Dakkon Blackblade deck that does just that: tuck their commanders, exile everything else, and march inevitably to victory. However, I’ve argued against tuck effects in my playgroup for so long that it would be far too hypocritical, even for me.

[5] I’m assuming of course that mosquitoes are deterred by smoke; if I’m wrong, just humor me.


About Graveborn Muse

Daryl Bockett has been an avid Magic addict since Legends/Revised. He lives and breathes deckbuilding and casual play. "The more the merrier" is his creed! In those brief moments when he isn't playing, reading or thinking about Magic, he teaches at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. He has a Ph.D. in International Relations, which is basically only useful for helping him to understand the strategic interactions at a multiplayer table.
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32 Responses to Graveborn Musings—The Worst Rule in Commander

  1. kyzneg says:

    Ah, the tuck rule, favorite target of Zur players and Oakland Raiders fans.

    On a serious note, overall I do like the existence of tuck effects, and there’s clear evidence WotC does too (Spell Crumple is a pretty clear signal). I think the rule is a necessary evil at this time for dealing with “trouble commanders”, but it does unfortunately hit a lot of undeserving Commanders. I wish there was a better solution, but until one is available, I feel like keeping the tuck effects available is a good option to have for when the group spike discovers Zur, Sharuum, et al.

    I am glad you seem to primarily be suggesting that this be handled on a local level, I really don’t want this to be something that gets changed in the Commander rules, largely because the extent to which it’s a problem can vary greatly by group, and ideally can be handled by the playgroups where it is a problem. Obviously that doesn’t help much in pick-up games at a LGS/event you’re visiting, and that’s unfortunate, but overall I think the cure is worse than the disease in this case.

    My reasoning for that opinion boils down to one thing, that in both the case of trying to deal with problem commanders/combos, and in trying to house-rule tuck effects, changing things on a group level is unlikely to run into heavy opposition unless someone is running something broken and doesn’t want to change. If that’s the case, and that person isn’t going to be swayed by anything short of a change to the official rules, then that group likely has bigger problems than just a broken deck or two, and those need to be addressed or the broken decks will just be changed/replaced with something equally broken.

    In the end, I can live with either option for changing the actual tuck rule, and I’m much more open to this option as opposed to banning the tuck effects, which fortunately I’ve only seen suggested by a very small minority. Unfortunately, much like other recent issues, there isn’t really an ideal solution. In the end, my view is determined by my preference to see things handled as locally as possible.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      I agree with most of what you say – i certainly don’t think tuck effects need to be banned. Under my suggested house rules, a Hinder still counters a creature, a Condemn still stops an attack, and so on.
      I wonder if you see a little friction between your comment that if “someone is running something broken and doesn’t want to change” and the argument that tuck effects are necessary to control troublesome commanders. One way of looking at that is, if someone really isn’t trying to abide by your group’s standards of what ‘casual’ means, then you can tuck them, but they’ll just get around it somehow because that sort of player is all about perfecting their wincon. As an example, the turn 4 Skithiryx kill deck that was terrorizing my group was also the deck with the 15 tutors, so if you tuck it once, you only buy yourself a turn or two. Meanwhile, my poor Urabrask deck has absolutely no way to get him back when he gets tucked, and Kresh has maybe three tutors in the whole deck, but I’m still getting hit by the anti-broken general tech.
      Maybe my playgroup just has more griefers than the average…

      • kyzneg says:

        I do see where there is potential for friction between those two statements, but looking at my decks I don’t think that’s the case with my viewpoint. The first part of that statement was directed more at the decks playing the Commanders which are used as arguments in support of keeping tuck effects, rather than at the decks full of tuck effects. I do agree that without other action the combo-spike may just turn to more tutors to counteract your tuck cards, but at that point out-of-game interaction would seem to be needed to get the meta back to a point where everyone can have fun no matter what.

        In the end, tuck effects are an answer, and I do think that they would see less play on average if the problem they’re answering were dealt with through other means. If your playgroup is still loading decks with Tuck with no Commanders that truly merit it, and holding their tuck cards to exclusively hit Commanders, then it does sound like the playgroup has more griefers than average (though it is possible that I’ve just been lucky enough in the past to play in low-griefer environments, but Brandon or Buddy could give more up-to-date answers on that.)

        Side Note 1: 15 tutors in mono-black seems rather ridiculous, this sounds like the kind of deck that should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot (Note that less drastic action is suggested for the owner. I suggest leaving him in a locked room with Urabrask for 5 minutes)

        Side Note 2: While preparing this comment, I went through my decklists and counted tuck effects and tutors (not counting land search or cards that look at the top x cards of a library). Numbers are below, which may provide some insight into where my views are coming from:
        Mono-Black (Marrow-Gnawer) – 0 Tuck effects, 3 tutors
        Red/Green (Rosheen Meanderer) – 0 Tuck effects, 0 Tutors
        Black/Green (Sapling of Colfenor) – 0 Tuck effects, 10 Tutors (8 of which are restricted to creatures)
        White/Red/Green (Mayael of the Anima) – 1 Tuck effect, 7 Tutors
        White/Black/Green (Ghave, Guru of Spores) – 0 Tuck effects, 1 Tutor
        Blue/Red/Green (Riku of two Reflections) – 2 Tuck effects+Warp World, 0 Tutors
        WUBRG (Horde of Notions) – 0 Tuck effects, 2 Tutors

  2. Aiden says:

    I think tucking is something that has to be handled much like turn four combo kills or mass land destruction or prison locks. Each individual group should decide how much tucking they’re willing to put up with and in what circumstances. Some times you are going to ruin someone’s night by tucking their general, other times it’s going to be the one thing that allows you to finish up the game or save everyone from a miserable experience.

    I don’t think the actual rule should be changed, since this is something that could easily be managed on a local level and is just one of the many, many hazards of venturing into a foreign group. Your end rant about the format spiraling out into people playing tuck vs. tutor seems outlandish unless you’re playing with the spikiest of spikes.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Outlandish? Perhaps I exaggerated a little to make my point, but i don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration. Of course, other forms of removal will still be necessary, and no-restrictions removal like STP, Maelstrom Pulse, etc, will always have an advantage. But I know that my white decks would be stronger if I included Condemn and my blue decks would be stronger with a Hinder and Spell Crumple. I removed all tuck effects from every deck when I realized how much being on the receiving end reduced my enjoyment, but if I only wanted to win, I’d put them back – they’re that strong!
      Unless a group comes to an understanding, I don’t think we’re very far from the point where every game will see at least one general getting tucked. I had one week last year when my commander was tucked in every game, and I’m getting tucked something like every second week at the moment. Honestly, it is already a massive pain in the ass for me, and my playgroup hasn’t gotten “out of control” yet…I can’t see the number of tuck effects going anywhere but up if ‘market forces’ prevail.

  3. Devin says:

    Excellent post. I think you are right on the money here. A subset of cards overpowered in a format for which they were never originally intended to play should not command the kind of fear and loathing they do. And the fact that Wizards made a couple more in the Commander decks does absolutely nothing but speak to how they love to a) mess with people and b) create broken cards for the hell of it. Personally I think the Commander decks were outright awful in their designs (Yeah, let’s add a new demon to the Kaalia deck with an ability that won’t trigger with Kaalia… Was that a joke? One of many, imo.) and they should not be held up as examples of what should be acceptable in the format.

    My playgroup uses the exact rules change you suggest (tuck as replacement effect for Commanders) and it is a hell of a lot more fun. We also openly encourage people NOT to play broken generals that would essentially ruin the fun for the table (we’ve banned Erayo and Zur, specifically, and Momir Vig has gotten the evil eye of everyone). If the only argument FOR tuck effects is to keep 1 or 2 commanders in check, then I think it’s a completely, incomprehensibly imbalanced argument to suggest that the many tuck effects should be allowed to ruin many a game just so we can keep those broken Commanders in the game. Maybe those Erayo and Zur players, could, I don’t know, not play like assholes? Just a thought.

    Obviously this kind of regulation is up to the playgroup, but like you said, tuck effects, by their nature, run counter to the spirit of the format. I agree completely that the Commander is the bread and butter of the format (they become your team captain!) and that most people who are not on board with that idea just aren’t doing it right.

  4. I’m really starting to lean towards the direction of “losing the tuck”. I was a die-hard fan of it early on. It is true that they are the nuclear option when things get out of control. But if things never get out of control, you are still left holding a nuclear missile in your hand…and everything starts looking like a good target.

  5. Shoe says:

    Not tool long ago I wrote an article that mirrors this on almost all fronts. Tuck is bad for the format. if you care to read my version here is the link:


  6. Malhaku says:

    “If a commander would be put into a library from anywhere, its owner may put it into the command zone instead” It doesn’t seem that hard to throw into the rules in my opinion. I have a bunch of thoughts, but I’ll try to be brief.
    – Zur is always the first mentioned as a tuck target. Best Tuck Effects? W & U. Best Tutors? B. Zur’s colors? WUB. I’m still a new player and it’s taken me a little bit to fully dive into and realize the power of blue. EDH is easily broken and blue is the easiest avenue if that is your aim. Blue doesn’t have much creature destroy and exile, it does those things in other ways. So we greatly enhance the power of one of blue’s weapons so that it can… stop… degenerate… blue… decks? Wha?!
    – “Tuck is a way to handle problematic generals.” Isn’t the 2 mana penalty rule there for a reason?
    – It’s been said, but your commander/general/Elder Dragon is the centerpiece of your deck. I wholeheartedly agree with this. You don’t have to build around him/her/it, but it’s becoming general knowledge that you shouldn’t (“If you rely too much on your general, it’s a bad deck”) This leads to more general “good stuff” deck, which leads to more and more staples in each deck, which now includes both tucks and ways to deal with tucks, which leads to deck homogenization. EDH is awesome because of the variety and “tuck” as it is runs counter to that.
    – Finally, “Problematic General”. How do we define that? I just finished a new deck. I’m really excited to play it. It’s very focused around the general. If he gets tuck(ed), I am a sitting duck. Sure sounds like someone would be well off to tuck this guy, right? (Raise your hand if you agree) Now keep your hand raised if you think Ruhan is a problematic general. And there’s the problem, I believe tuck is doing less in handling truly problematic generals and more in propagating that building your deck around your general (your centerpiece) is a fool’s errand.
    I don’t think my group will resort to tucking Ruhan, but other players I’ve seen playing EDH would not hesitate once they see that without him, my deck has nothing. {{ The deck is all flavor. To randomly choose his target, opponent will pick from cards I made up. One has a picture of ruhan with the green turned up and the words Ruhan Smash!! The other cards include kittens hugging, puppies playing, a dove, a heart, a handshake. The rest of the deck buffs Ruhan, protects Ruhan, or does general fun stuff (radiate, reiterate, redirect, acquire). The only other creatures in the deck are Dust Elemental, Stonecloaker, Voidmage Husher, False Prophet, and Azorious Guildmage. }}
    I don’t know if that all made sense, but then “move to zone” affecting destroy & exile, but not tuck doesn’t make sense to me.

  7. Vrag says:

    We play the “players die at the end of the phase” rule and when they die any permanents they don’t own are exiled. I think this is fair. You get a chance to go out with a blaze of glory. I honestly don’t like the possibility of “I should kill him so I get my creature back”. I do think it’s wrong that there is no balance between what type of control effect it is. That’s why we just base it off what you own.

    I have an Atogatog deck that’s actually a tribal deck 😛

    As for tuck effects, I have them in my decks. Even when I play online though, I don’t use them on people’s generals. Though I think if I see an abusive general I might use it or if it’s my only play to prevent dieing. Haven’t encountered abusive generals much online yet. Sadly many people online don’t even cast their general.

    I think that the rule should just be “If your general would be placed anywhere but the battlefield you may move it to the command zone instead”. If tuck effects are necessary to “keep abusive generals in check” the same can be accomplished by killing it till they can’t cast it. So, I think that is a lazy argument. Or you just do what we do, and the whole table gangs up on that guy every time he plays “that deck” till he gets tired of being the target before the game starts. Thankfully we don’t have to do that often.

    There’s always going to be an abusive strategy, and you can always say “just load up on answers to prevent it”. Casual isn’t a format where you should have to be constantly tweaking your deck for the metagame. This isn’t a tournament. In casual you should be able to build your deck and just update it when cool new cards come out. You should obviously have more open-ended answers like disenchants or creature removal. Trying to build for answers to very specific threats doesn’t work in EDH like it does in tournaments. You don’t sideboard usually. Therefore you have to have them in your deck from the beginning. In EDH this would mean put in cards with madness to avoid discard, put in shadow to block it, put in poison to counter huge lifegain, put in sweeps to kill creatures, put in land destruction to stop problem lands, put in counterspells for problem sorceries, etc. Do all this and there isn’t much room for an actual deck. EDH is supposed to be the format where you play your stupid but fun cards, not where you constantly tweak your deck for the metagame so that you can actually play your deck.

    The better solution is for your playgroup to avoid the jerky combos, and you building your deck the way you want to with a few open-ended answers. As for playing in a pickup game with people you don’t know, I would just leave the game if I thought they were playing like a jerk. My reasoning? If you have no problem ruining my fun by playing that stupid deck that any moron could build, then I have no problem ruining your fun by making the game collapse before you finish your combo.

  8. sarroth says:

    I definitely agree when you called tuck effects “cute” effects. Tuck effects are supposed to be less powerful: Unless you’re playing against a graveyard recursion deck, it’s better to bin the creature or exile it completely than to give your opponent a chance to draw into it. So it’s odd that what is supposed to be kind of a downside most of the time is all-upside against commanders.

    I used to run Condemn because I had a copy, but I’ve changed that policy. My playgroup is probably fine with tuck effects, just as I know Citanel Flute into Blightsteel Colossus is acceptable, but those aren’t fun to me, so I avoid them myself. “Everyone’s doing it” is just not the attitude players should take; it’s that attitude that makes casual formats unfun.

    I’ve only had a commander tucked twice. The first time was at the Precon Release, and getting my commander Spell Crumpled massively cut back on the fun I would have had. I love to build my decks around my commander, so it’s certainly worse when they get tucked, but I have definitely done a better job at making my decks fun to pilot even without a commander, as the second time I barely noticed its absence.

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  11. Vrag says:

    Just wanted to point out that it looks like Wizards unintentionally printed an answer to some of the tuck cards, at least the ones that tuck to the bottom. Check out MaRo’s preview card today, Cellar Door. I’ll be putting this in a few EDH decks because it’s a cool card that has the added bonus of helping prevent tuck. I like that it’s not a “search your library” effect, because it solves some of the tuck problem without making your deck play the same way every time. It actually adds more randomness.

  12. Graveborn Muse says:

    True! Unfortunately, Cellar Door is several notches below Condemn, Hinder, et al in the power department. Still, using the bottom of the library as a resource has some potential (although easily abusable with Scry, Abundance, etc), so we may see more, and more broadly playable, answers to tuck in the future.

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  14. edhguam says:

    Lately playing with Hinder/Condemn like effects has been a drag. As you’ve articulately put it, these effects are not fun in a format where the emphasis is using a legendary creature. When playing in commander recently, I’ve gone as far as begging people to avoid using Hinder to stop my commander from coming in. Like you, I’ve seen how antagonizing it is to play without a commander; when you’re without your general for that long, it doesn’t feel like the format we all love.

    However, I do agree with Genomancer that there needs to be a way to deal with troublesome commanders. People need access in their toolboxes to deal with such threats. But that doesn’t mean those answers have to be permanent answers. Like instead of simply allowing tuck effects, we should make commanders cost an additional 4 extra colorless than your traditional 2 for spells or abilities that would put them into the library. This allows commanders to avoid being put away completely but still allow tuck effects to be powerful.

    This may not be the most ideal or elegant solution to the issue (and I agree this is an issue that can potentially warp the format) but I think it takes the step in the right direction.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      EDH Guam? So close! I’m EDH TOkyo, soon to be EDH Seoul. Sorry you’ve encountered the same problems I have. If you haven’t also encountered the problem of abusive combo-based commanders, I recommend that you solve it with house rules. If nobody goes for it, build a Dakkon Blackblade deck that tucks everything and restricts non-commander ways to beat you (eg infinite life, hand control, etc), and I think they’ll come around 🙂

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  16. Jan says:

    I largely agree with your arguments against tuck (and tutoring) spells, especially in the light of what you’ve said in your post on ‘What is casual?’ – i.e. a format (or style of playing, rather) that takes into account the fun of playing for the whole group. And no, having your commander removed on a routine basis is no fun, even if the the deck can work without him.

    That said, I do use both kinds of spell in my group (as do the others) on the understanding that they are used very sparingly – say, a single card of each per deck. This way, they do still add a certain amount of tension, which I think is good, without becoming overbearing (plus, Karador so deserves to be tucked away 🙂 ).

    I realize that this really works only in a group where players know each other and each other’s decks pretty well and therefore have no problems giving each other feedback, without one or the other walking off in a huff. We have similar house rules for other stuff too (land destruction comes to mind). If playing with new people I’d possibly take out the tucks as a simple matter of courtesy.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      I think you’ve said it so well that there’s nothing left for me to say! I could probably just about handle it if I knew there was no more than one tuck effect per deck, but as you say, that’s hard to do unless you’re in a very established group.
      Regarding tutors, I think they are easier to use in moderation, but if every long game ends with Tooth and Nail for the same 2 creatures, or every turn six sees Primeval Titan on the board, and so on, that does become tedious. I think casual decks should plan for variance, and only in very long games should they expect to fall back on the same wincons – but that’s just me.
      Fortunately my playgroup has avoided landkill, altho I ran into a Bloodmoon for the first time in a long time last week and it utterly f**ked me – one green mana away from going the distance, but as it was I was helpless against a doubleteam…not being able to play the answers in your hand is just not fun!

  17. trancebam says:

    First and foremost, I’d like to commend you for a very well-written article.

    Secondly, and also as important, I’m a Zur player. I originally ran him to build a toolbox deck that could have a different win condition with every game (i.e. Bloodchief Ascension or Luminarch Ascension, etc.). Unfortunately, every player I’ve run into is terrified of Zur from any past experiences, and that’s forced me to streamline my deck into a honed planeswalker-killing beast.

    That said, my usual playgroup is very diverse. I find that tuck effects are a good thing in larger group games where there’s a huge gap in experience between players ( myself being the most experienced player, and generally the biggest threat because of that skill, whether I’m playing Zur or Riku.) I still purposely have left out tutoring effects and tuck effects, as well as most forms of removal entirely from my Zur deck, mostly because I want all players involved to enjoy the game. Basically what I’m trying to get at is that your playgroup should try to keep things casual and fun for everyone. I don’t like tuck effects myself either (part of why I don’t use them), but I can see why they’re necessary, and I’d rather see the rule stay than my favorite Commander banned because he became unbelievably impossible to defeat thanks to a rules change.

  18. Graveborn Muse says:

    Thanks Tranceban! It’s interesting to hear from Zur players, although I’ve never encountered a troublesome Zur deck personally (the guys who were going to break the format in my old playgroup in Tokyo built their Zur decks online, fortunately. I would be happy to play against a Zur deck that went for different cards each time, I guess, but that may make you a minority amongst Zur players.Two things I noticed about your situation – apologies for any unfair generalizations – that might be instructive:
    1) You made your deck more lethal in response to people who are afraid your deck is too lethal. This is a common reaction, but I think another approach is to accept the beats and then say “see, you would have won if you hadn’t come after me too early” when the person who ousts you inevitably dies to a stronger deck than yours.
    2) Your choice of commanders suggests a certain playstyle – those commanders are likely to be targeted on sight unless you are demonstrably the worst player at the table, and the worst player at the table hardly ever chooses those commanders. I wonder who the crappest commander you’ve ever built around is 🙂

    • trancebam says:

      Borborygmos. I’ve built a lot of Commander decks, but that deck was awful. Although it was my second attempt, and I’ve learned a lot about building for Commander since.

      Yes, it probably is kind of ironic that my natural reaction to being the biggest target is to give my opponents a reason to fear me, but it’s nice to have a fighting chance. In larger games though, I barely have time to search out Spirit Mantle and Pariah.

      I’ve actually recently been tweaking my Ghave deck, and ran across a few of the most fun combos I’ve ever happened upon. I’ve always had a soft spot for massive waves of Saprolings, and Ashnod’s Altar with Sigil Captain was too amusing to pass up.

      • trancebam says:

        I have a little update on this.

        So I was playing Zur against a friend’s Niv, which resulted in a very boring beginning game, and a very exciting rest of the game. So for the first six or seven turns, it was pretty much just “draw, go” as we were playing around eachother’s counterspells. I didn’t want to cast Zur without counter mana ready, but all I had in hand was a Mana Leak. I ended up landing Zur, and I could see the fear in his eyes. He cautiously cast Sol Ring, and confident that he would be hurt if he couldn’t get that boost in mana, I cast my Leak. He let it get countered, then cast a Time Ebb-like spell, and the card I least expected: Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Zur got tucked away at the bottom of my library, not to be seen for the rest of the game. Rather than scooping, I decided to see how it played out. He had tapped out to cause those little shenanigans, so I decided to swing back with a hardcast Reality Strobe, then pass turn with counter mana open, but no counter in hand. He decided to take his chances the following turn, and successfully cast Niv. I was quickly losing hope. I figured what the heck the next turn, and tapped out to enchant Niv with Edge of the Divinity, Spirit Mantle, Prison Term, and Pariah. I then cast Memory Erosion, and passed the turn. He was baffled. He cast Jace, milling him 2, and cast a draw spell, milling 2 more. Next turn I ran into Paradox Haze. That made Reality Strobe far more potent. I cast it and passed the turn. He was running out of steam, and casting few spells to avoid the bite of Memory Erosion. A few turns passed before I ran into Copy Enchantment. A second Memory Erosion should prove useful, and I can Strobe it if I need to. I was milling him to death (one of my favorite ways to watch an opponent die), and there was nothing he could do. That is until he finally ran into Oblivion Stone. He had the mana to cast it and crack it, and a few turns later, ended up getting a card to shuffle his graveyard back in his library. I had lost, but it was the most fun I’ve had playing EDH.

        In short, I no longer mind tuck effects. If your commander gets tucked, play your heart out. I guarantee it will be a game unlike every other that you’ve stuck your commander.

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  21. Jessica says:

    You convinced me. I had no problem with tuck effects prior to reading your essay and now I agree the rule should be changed.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Thanks for reading (and agreeing!) Jessica. Hope you enjoy the rest of the site. Taking a bit of a hiatus from magic at the moment (although the Theros prerelease was great and Thraximundar is still kicking ass and taking names), but I’m sure I’ll be back to blogging soon enough. And of course, you can catch Bruce every week at the Mothership!

  22. saiyanyde says:

    I totally agree with you about tutoring in EDH. I have a friend who has a certain deck that always plays the same. He always tutors for the same combo, every game. I always liked the idea that highlander was about randomizing the game a bit. However, I have to disagree with you on the first part about what happens when a player dies. I don’t think a player should get back cards that were not taken from play. What sense does it make for a player to get back something they never originally paid for? Yes, it might be quirky, but it doesn’t make sense. The player death rule I have a problem with is that when a player dies, I lose stuff that they own that I have taken. For example, if I use control magic and take one of their creatures, then kill them with it, I lose the creature. I took a big break in magic playing, and when I came back it seemed like everything was changed. We never used to play that when you die you take all your stuff from play. I can understand if the guy has got to leave the building or something, but if not, why not let me keep the monster I stole so I can beat on somebody else with it?

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Thanks for reading. I think that taking your stuff with you when you leave the game is absolutely necessary, solely because people have to leave. Sure, there might be times when someone could leave you their card and play another game with another deck, but there are a lot of times folks have to leave at the end of a game and take their stuff back. It could be really awkward for people to pressure you not to leave so they can continue playing with your cards, while you are worried about being late home or something. That rule just saves so much out-of-game grief I can’t imagine it will ever be changed.
      As for the zombie example, I can see your point: if your creature was dead and it was only returned through my necromantic power, then flavorwise it should die when I die. Fair enough. However, I think Brandon might suggest that he deserves to get his stuff back as compensation for dealing with my recursion shenanigans. An interesting debate to have, perhaps!

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