Welcome to part 2 in what’s become Tuck Week here at MV, our for-now-definitive Muse takes on the controversial Commander subject of putting opposing commanders in libraries. Monday’s article threw down the gauntlet (don’t throw the NES game, though – just play that one, since it’s awesome), so I’m following with my view.
I’m fine with tucking in Commander. Graveborn Muse isn’t, at least not as it currently works. He had a brilliant discussion on the subject though, so I hope my rebuttal does justice to the intended dialogue. Well, maybe he didn’t intend dialogue so much as a once-for-all convincing monologue, but I’ll force it into dialogue! Ha!
*Clears throat* Okay, um…right. Article. Anyway, Graveb. framed the tuck/zone change issue as a Timmy discussion, perhaps Timmy v. Spike. This is reasonable but it’s also incomplete. The correct initial frame is through Vorthos. Commander started as Elder Dragon Highlander. Why? Because the Elder Dragons were the baddest dudes of their kind. Highlander existed and exists in other shapes and sizes; a singleton format does not by itself imply a psychographic, as for every Spike that’s disappointed at deck inconsistency, Timmy doesn’t get to see his favorite play too often while Johnny can’t assemble oddities as easily. But put in Elder Dragons? That’s probably a Timmy nod, but it’s auto-Vorthos, so we’ll start with Vorthos in discussing zone changes.
Vorthos, Commanders, and a Cluster of Things That Don’t Make Any Sense
A commander has unique properties that don’t show up in a normal game. This is in itself a Vorthosian idea. Your commander:
- Restricts the type of magic you can use based on his or her essence and what he or she can do with mana;
- Lives in its own zone, emblems aside, commanding your spells; and
- Deals special irrevocable combat damage.
In most other formats, the flavor idea is that you’ve got various creatures and things; you’re the master of your destiny. To some extent, in Commander you’re second in command. You chose the cards, but you’re fighting your commander’s battle, not strictly your own. In a 60-card deck, a legendary creature is the on-site manager while you’re giving orders from headquarters; in Commander, it feels like a role reversal, as you’re getting the battlefield ready for when the commander comes to inspect it.
As a Melvin-Johnny, I don’t take trips to Vorthos-Timmy without a purpose; it’s a strange land and I barely know the language. But my point is that Commander is unmistakably a Vorthos format and possibly an automatic Timmy format as well. If changes are made, it makes sense to me that those changes should reflect the original intention and vision of the format. A commander is somewhat similar to how WotC has conceived planeswalkers fighting with you, except that commanders do it better.
With that in mind, here are all the ways in which a commander can change zones. Let’s see how much sense each of them makes to see if they’re in-flavor. First, though, a list is appropriate:
- Command zone
There are many combinations of these. Here are the important ones for commanders:
Command zone to stack to battlefield. You’ve paid the mana, you’ve summoned your commander, and there he or she is commanding things. Perfect.
Command zone to stack to command zone. A more powerful mage prevented the commander from finding the forces. This is a flavor and utility replacement for command zone to stack to graveyard/exile and is both sensible and right given the specialness of the commander.
Command zone to stack to hand/library. Given my interpretation of the notion of a commander, these don’t make sense to me. A commander is superior to his or her spells in terms of flavor. The commander isn’t just one of seven equal things or of a hundred equal things. It rises above the other cards.
Battlefield to command zone. Sure thing. Part of the vision of the format.
Battlefield to hand/library. Same flavor problems as from the command zone.
Battlefield to graveyard. This one’s existence bothers me on the same level a planeswalker card in the graveyard bothers me. A planeswalker is always alive; he or she is just either with you or not with you based on availability. A Lightning Bolt at Jace Beleren isn’t killing Jace the way it’s normally said; it’s causing Jace to find another part of the plane in which to walk about. I realize I’m retrofitting planeswalker flavor into commander flavor, but when you choose a commander, you’re announcing a sort of “super friend” for your battle, and if the friend’s that super, why would it be dying all the time? More to the point, why would you be fine with it? The extra mana for each commander summoning implies to me that a commander’s death is more like unconsciousness. It takes more effort to get the commander whole again, but they never fully go away. So what’s the flavor behind accepting the death of your boss?
Graveyard to the command zone. Now this is the one that bothers me to no end. Simply put, this makes no sense at all. It also provides absurd utility in a game. If a player has Necromancer’s Covenant in hand, then there’s no reason outside Dovescape not to put your commander in the graveyard. If anyone tries to mess with it, it’s probably going to the command zone anyway, where it suddenly went from dead to alive by the flavor.
Graveyard to hand. This one makes sense as basic Magic flavor, but for reasons I’ve discussed doesn’t make sense as Commander flavor. I’m not yet convinced commanders ought to be in the graveyard, and they certainly don’t make sense in the hand, so why can it go from one to the other?
And that’s the problem.
Now you may be wondering how a commander going from the graveyard to the hand has anything to do with the tucking discussion. It’s simple from my perspective. This is my thesis statement, why I’ve been fleshing out the flavor wonkiness of all sorts of normal Commander occurrences. Ready?
As long as a commander can go to a graveyard or a hand, it must be able to go in a library.
I didn’t understand that tucking balances the hand and the graveyard until Daryl fleshed out his reasons against tucking. It’s not immediately intuitive, but all three zones are connected as a way of balancing each other.
I went through all that Vorthos stuff to show that nothing really makes sense with a commander except the command zone and the battlefield. Unless bringing in a commander becomes a special action (which wouldn’t be a terrible thing), you have to have the stack, but the command zone and the battlefield are the format’s twin pillars of vision, of brand, and of uniqueness. If you do anything else with your commander, it starts to get weird.
I agree with Daryl that paying 2 extra mana for each command zone summon is a fair way of doing things. But for every deck where that’s fair, there’s a deck that isn’t going to bother with it. If you have a Debtors’ Knell, your commander can be free each turn. How is that the intent of the format, and how does that balance things?
Tucking Is in a Few Colors, but Mostly in Colors Opposite Those that Cheat the Command Zone
The colors that can cheat the command zone cost most frequently are black, green, and white, with blue occasionally able to get in on bounce. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a deck heavily in black or green (i.e. fewer than three colors) that didn’t abuse the graveyard to some extent. My stance is that reanimating commanders to hand or battlefield goes against the idea of a command zone in the first place. If I use Genesis to return Radha and you Remand my Radha, it doesn’t cost anymore to recast her than it did when you countered it. If I cast Radha from the command zone and you Cancel it, she costs more next time. Why is this true? Is she somehow easier to summon because she’s in my hand rather than a special place that’s her home from the beginning of the game?
So black, green, and white get to in varying degrees cheat the command zone casting rule. This makes those decks more efficient at what they do by a long shot over blue and red mages who (and this is an adjective rarely used for blue) will have to more often than not cast their commanders the “honest” way. What’s the balance to something so potentially format-warping?
It’s the antidote to the too-close relationship commanders can have with the battlefield, graveyard, and the command zone: taking/tucking them elsewhere.
If commanders could not be put into libraries, it rarely would be correct to put them back into the command zone. The command zone represents safety from being messed with, a safety that nothing else gets. When other zones – graveyard, hand – are approximately as safe as the command zone, the slight tradeoff in safety is worth far more than having to pay extra mana every time.
Again, the weak link here is that a commander exiled from the graveyard can go to the command zone. Were that not true, the graveyard would be a thoroughly unsafe place to put a commander. The same logic applies to the hand. But both are almost completely safe if commanders can’t go to libraries whatsoever. Now I agree with Daryl that some ways of putting commanders in libraries make more sense than others (I don’t think they should move from the stack to the library, for example), but Commander flavor breaks down quickly after the initial bits anyway; we won’t get much help from flavor.
So we’re stuck with how the games actually play out to look at these rules decisions. In basically specific response to Daryl’s concerns, I will attempt to rebut or allay them below.
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.
Yes and no. This depends entirely on the commander and the synergy with the deck.
Another reason that losing your commander puts you at a disadvantage is synergy… 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.
Maybe this is true for someone else, but it certainly isn’t true with me. A good synergy deck can do most of what it needs to do without one piece. Very few of my Commander decks have the power level associated with the format; if I want that power level, I’ll play the at-least-nine-singleton Vintage format and maybe win some prizes. No, I build for extreme depth (having plans B-Z) and flexibility (offensive responses to opponents’ A-games). My Radha deck shell is the poster child of my philosophy, constantly destroying artifacts while drawing an endless stream of mid-sized fatties. Yes, my deck is dependent on Radha, but not after about turn 4 unless I draw Epic Proportions to flash onto her for a quick clock. While I’m here I’ll list my decks and their tucking concerns:
Sen Triplets: I often forget to cast it. It’s basically a mascot.
Radha: Once I have 4-8 mana Radha can do whatever she feels like. Destroying Radha the turn she comes out does about as much damage to me as tucking does; they set me back during the crucial turns I’m trying to build a midrange board.
Tariel: This is an open-ended good stuff deck, consisting mostly of enchantment/creature/artifact sweepers and using Tariel at some point to find a finisher from someone else’s graveyard. I’ll certainly stay alive for a long time without Tariel.
Animar: This one’s fairly commander-centric, but my commander also has protection from half the tuck effects. (If more people could give protection from white or blue, that would be a superior response to tucking; tutoring would be second.)
Karador: It’s Spirits with soulshift. Karador makes it run properly, but the soulshift package can get there. And since Karador tends to come out so late and rarely attacks, the Hinders of the world are used up while the Condemns go on the things I’m bringing out with Karador because they’re frightening.
Zedruu: My build doesn’t rely on donating nasty permanents to win; it’s using Zedruu to keep the cards flowing for my web of Prison-style control and eventual flying win. I still draw those things without Zedruu, just a tinge slower.
Mimeoplasm: This one’s so nasty it deserves to be tucked. But since the plan is to have awesome creatures in the first place, guess what? My deck has awesome creatures. They can win just fine on their own.
Animar’s on the tuck-concerned end while Sen Triplets isn’t, but I don’t have any build that’s crushingly vulnerable to tuck effects. Just as it’s awful deckbuilding to overrely on your commander, so it’s awful threat assessment to waste tuck effects on commanders who don’t need it.
Yes, tuck effects are annoying, but the good ones are rare enough to be listed by name; we’re talking about Condemn, Oblation, Hinder, Spell Crumple, Spin into Myth, Chaos Warp, Warp World, Bant Charm, and Proteus Staff and whether those ought to be staples. Many of those are only truly good against commanders, and at that point opponents are taking up card slots for the off-chance that a commander ought to be tucked (and if you’re reliant at a healthy level on your commander, you might wind up glad that they didn’t use that tuck on something else).
Unlike Daryl, I’m not concerned at tuck warping the format. Importantly, I define warp as when a format is using extremely narrow/one-use cards because they’re the most efficient or only solution to a problem. If tuck starts to mess with your playgroup too much, there are several options you can take that don’t involve the rules or the normal answers:
- Play hard to counter/target commanders or commanders that don’t attack. Condemn’s a fairly bad card if it isn’t used on a commander. So is Hinder. Give them no chances to use them optimally.
- Play counterspells yourself or other means of protection. Fight Hinder with Swerve, Shunt, or Ricochet Trap. More generally Autumn’s Veil can work in green, as can Vines of Vastwood or Asceticism. (More shroud isn’t a terrible idea in the first place.) Given the white/blue mage’s penchant for instants on your turn, Sundial of the Infinite is a catch-all any deck can run cheaply while having a tinge of build-around. Some decks even could get good mileage from Not of This World. Put more instant-speed sacrifice effects in your black deck; it’s handy to have decent sacrifice outlets anyway as a response to sweepers. (Spawning Pit or Carnage Altar work if you can’t think of anything else.)
- Exile a commander from your library. Manipulate Fate and Foresight will rescue your commander while getting rid of two other cards you don’t need, all while drawing you a card. There’s no need to burn a tutor when you have cheaper effects to do that sort of thing. It isn’t elegant, but it could be good.
- Exile cards from the tuck player’s library. Black gets Bitter Ordeal, Dimir Machinations (which transmutes!), Nightmare Incursion, and the back-at-you Praetor’s Grasp as reasonable options to get rid of all the tuck at once, since again we’re only discussing a select few cards. Every deck can run Jester’s Cap if it wants. If the player’s known for running these effects, searching their library also lets you know if any of these effects already are in their hand. If you know exactly where the effects are at all times, then they aren’t nearly as bad. For that matter, even Telepathy or Lantern of Insight can aid the process.
- Make the tuck player a target every time. They’re the true threat to your deck de facto if your deck’s incurably built around your commander, so kill them early, kill them often, and let them know precisely why you’re killing them.
If a format warps around tuck effects, then it can and should be addressed with some of the above means, or maybe something else. It’s just that these cards aren’t normally thought of as good Commander cards, so you might laugh at them as solutions. But there are ways to fight back without playing the cards yourself, and most of them have some utility outside this specific use.
Commander doesn’t have a metagame warped around tucking yet. If it did, you’d see cards with no other purpose than to deal with the effect. In the dying days of recent Extended, Temporal Isolation was a real card for no other purpose than to put one on a Marit Lage token. It was a cheap, effective answer to the quick 20/20…and to nothing else in the format. That’s when things are truly warped. If your format dichotomizes to tuck-and-Thrun, then you know there’s a problem.
Until then, I’m fine with tucking as a countermeasure to commanders who abuse the lack of extra mana paid for them out of the graveyard or the hand. That might not be how you think of tucking, but a commander becomes truly broken when it isn’t being fairly cast frequently out of the command zone, whether by being too resilient or from being cast elsewhere. Tucking is an annoying answer to those things, but it’s ideally an answer to something more annoying. I don’t play those spells much because I find them to be far too narrow in dealing with the actual problems, preferring Meddling Mage and Phyrexian Revoker as more broadly applicable than Hinder or Spell Crumple. Tuck is annoying, but lots of things in Commander are annoying, and I think it’s an appropriate answer to certain sections of the format that would otherwise get out of hand.
To summarize my lengthy position:
A) Aside from the command zone and the battlefield, most of the other places a commander could go don’t make any flavor sense, i.e. a commander going to the library is as weird as going to the hand or the graveyard;
B) Tuck goes against the spirit and intent of the command zone;
C) So does casting a commander from the hand or reanimating from the graveyard, as they don’t cost extra per casting and therefore create an abusable discount;
D) A commander going from the graveyard to the command zone when exiled is a huge safety net for those who wish to recur their commander with this discount;
E) Tuck is the only thing keeping this honest;
F) Aiming for depth and redundancy in your decks, which you already should be doing, mitigates tuck’s effectiveness, demoting it to a “normal” spot removal; and
G) There are ways of getting around tuck that have other beneficial uses, thereby keeping tuck from warping the format.
This comes from a minority group of views on the format, but hopefully they make some sense.