So after hearing Graveborn Muse and Seedborn Muse argue so elegantly against and for tuck, it seemed to me that the natural role of my article would be provide the written judgement. I would be step out of my attorney day job and into the role of judge, weighing the arguments and deciding in favor of one party or the other.
Instead, I am going to choose the road less traveled. Too often the court-provided solution is no solution at all. The judge provides the decision but if both sides don’t agree with the result, then trying to make that decision work is often impossible. Mediation is the key here!
I am going to try to offer a solution that would be palatable to both sides. I am a big believer in mediation. The idea that two parties with what are, on initial review, opposite viewpoints are often able to come together and produce a solution that works for everyone involved, is a wonderful thing. Let’s see if we can work together towards a mutually agreeable result.
My playgroup is better than yours! Nyah!
Before we get into the heart of the matter, I wanted to tuck this sidebar in here. Lest you think I have a bias either in favor or not, I consider myself very lucky: my group has no issues with the tuck rule. This isn’t to say that we are okay with the tuck rule, it is more like the tuck rule has almost never come up with my play group. Only half of us have used tuck cards and I believe I’m the only one who has tucked anyone’s general. When I tucked the general, I did it because I knew he had the ability to tutor for a card, and I wanted him to use up that tutor to find his general over searching for another particular card. Hinder was the only tuck card I had in the deck, and I happened to have it at the right time.
Since my group is basically a “virgin” to tucking, I don’t have the bias of someone who believes tuck is needed or who has suffered the loss of their general to tuck.
When Tuck is a problem, or a problem needs Tucks
Before you can offer a resolution to a problem, you need to analyze the problem. While looking at the result of tucking, I started to ask why players tuck. If you discover why a player would tuck someone’s general into their deck, you begin to see the root of the problem. This may lead to a solution that no one had considered before.
The reason someone would use a tuck effect in a regular game is to stop a recursion engine that is using the graveyard to bring cards back again and again. A tuck effect hides the card in the library where it can be harder to find. In Commander, when dealing with a general, the library is the best place to hide him. Removing it from the game just puts it in the Command Zone, ready to cast again. Putting it in the graveyard just puts it in the Command Zone. Putting it into its owner’s hand just means it can be cast from there as well. The library is the only option.
At this point, I made a faulty assumption. I thought that the reason players were using tuck effects was due to problematic generals. Perhaps the best way to remove the issue of tuck cards was to try to make everyone’s group like mine; a nirvana where tuck is not an issue. The best way to do this would be to simply avoid playing the nasty generals. If the Zurs and Azamis of the Commander world weren’t being used, then there would be no need for tuck spells, so players would no longer have to worry that their general was going to be tucked.
When I ran this by Graveborn Muse, he showed me the error of my ways:
No, none of the killer generals [were being used in his play group] except Skithiryx, and we solved that the right way. Akroma was nasty, but nastiest to those of us playing the colors without tuck. Plus, my group isn’t really THAT big on metagaming, so they play the cards because they’re generally strong, not in a reaction to killer generals.
Another great theory tossed onto the garbage pile! In the end, tuck is used because it is a handy way to deal with ANY general or any deck that uses graveyard recursion as part of its strategy. Cards with a tuck effect are handy in games and even more useful in Commander.
When you are stuck with tuck
So we’ve analyzed the problem, so what sort of solution can be offered? What are ways to resolve the dilemma when tuck becomes an issue with your group:
1. Do nothing.
This is less a resolution and more just covering all possible options. If tuck is causing a problem with your group, doing nothing solves nothing. You might be surprised to discover just how often this is the resolution to these kinds of problems in many casual playgroup.
2. The rise of tutors.
This option looks at the results of tucking and tries doing something that makes tucking less desirable. If you can easily get the general back in play through tutors, the usefulness of tuck effects are reduced.
While this is an option, I don’t see it as a good one. There simply are not enough tutors to nullify the usefulness of tucking over the course of a game. Using tutors in this way demands that you have a tutor in your hand and that you not use it. A tuck effect can be used on the general or any other card essential to your strategy, so it isn’t sitting as a dead card for most of the game.
3. Counters for tuck spells.
If you can’t dig your card out of your library, then stop them from successfully casting their tuck spell! This strategy also has problems. Very few colors can successfully counter spells over the course of an entire game, so many decks will be unable to use this defense against tuck spells. The second problem is that some of the best counterspells to stop tuck effects will be counters that tuck cards! Hinder and Spell Crumple would then become a way to stop tuck spells? This doesn’t appear to be a successful way to deal with tuck spells either.
4. Stop casting your commander when tuck spells could be cast.
You don’t attack if you think your attack will not be beneficial to you. You don’t play Insurrection if you think someone can counter the spell. Why are you playing your general when tuck spells could be cast? Why are you attacking with your general when Condemn is a threat?
While I suppose this is an option, it really isn’t. By that I mean that playing a strategic game is fine, but tuck spells set out so many limits that the game would grind to a standstill if you were playing around them. If you never attacked with your general when someone had a card in hand and a white mana available, you would probably never attack with your general. This burden is a ridiculous limiting factor on gameplay. It just goes too far.
5. Stop relying on your general.
If your deck runs perfectly without your general, tuck stops being a problem. Let them hold their tuck cards, waiting for you to play your general, as you pound them into the ground with your finely tuned 99.
This would be fine, but last I checked, this format was called Commander. If you can’t cast your Commander without risk of tuck, then this is just fun destruction.
So where do we go from here?
The Bigger Picture – Keep on Tuck’n or Not
We’ve been looking at the trees; perhaps we need to spend some time looking at the forest. In Sheldon Menery’s recent article, judge and noted Commander player Kevin Binswanger said, “One of my central tenets for a good EDH game is that everybody gets to have fun and cast their spells. If a card is hindering this in some way (mass LD usually, or some quick infinite combo), I cut it.”
Sheldon mirrors Kevin’s comment with one of his own, “I guess the other thing I try to do with my decks is “help foster an environment where everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Adam Styborski recently laid out his belief for Commander games in his recent article for gatheringmagic.com: “You should be able to cast the spells you want. You should be able to create interesting situations. You should be free to explore Commanders and the decks you can build around them.”
Each of these players view Commander as a game where you can cast your spells. The format is about huge plays. If a play results in an explosion of laughter and raucous high fives, then you can be pretty sure you are doing it right. One of the best received plays in my playgroup involved Harry stealing a monstrous Kavu Predator and killing its owner with it. Admittedly, this alone doesn’t sound all that spectacular but Josh had been winning games regularly with that card and to see him take it on the nose (which he did with far more good graces than I ever would have had) was just so sweet for everyone in the group.
Now, there are times when a well-placed tuck spell will result in those cheers and high-fives. Had Harry played a Condemn, he still would have received the cheers. Unfortunately, far more often a tuck spell is the reason that someone slumps in their chair, as opposed to launching it backwards when they jump for joy.
If this is beginning to sound like I’m heading towards something that limits the use of tuck spells, then let me tell you now, that’s not where this is headed. If you are looking to limit tuck spells because they limit your ability to play your general, then you should be looking to limit counters, creature removal and other cards that destroy permanents, because all of these cards limit your ability to cast your spells (and effectively use them). That game stops being Magic and turns into something far less fun. Limiting tuck spells means that Commander is a game where you can cast your spells… except tuck spells. The phrasing goes both ways.
You STILL haven’t provided a solution – tuck this issue to bed
Yes, I’m getting to that. Since I haven’t been able to come up with a solution, I looked at how other disputes were solved in relation to the Commander format. My personal favorite is a solution that everyone has to a rule that most people don’t even know exists. Check out 903.8 in Comprehensive Rules:
903.8. The Commander variant uses an alternate mulligan rule. Each time a player takes a mulligan, rather than shuffling his or her entire hand of cards into his or her library, that player exiles any number of cards from his or her hand. Then the player draws a number of cards equal to one less than the number of cards he or she exiled this way. Once a player keeps an opening hand, that player shuffles all cards he or she exiled this way into his or her library.
Does your group do this? I’m betting your group didn’t even know this rule existed. My group gives a single free mulligan, then all further mulligans reduce your hand size by one. I mean really, we’re playing casual Commander. If my mana isn’t perfect in my opening hand it will likely be better in a few turns. No worries.
Do you see how we came up with our own solution to the problem? This resolution works for our group. Perhaps it won’t work with the group your playing with, but it doesn’t have to. I’m sure your group will come up with a solution as well.
So why not deal with the tuck rule in the same way?
If tucking is becoming a problem with your group, address it with your group and work out a resolution within your group. Maybe it is just Condemn that is the problem in your group, and you decide to ban it or limit its use. Maybe you’ll find that players will be willing to give up using tuck effects if players give up using Zur. It may be that you are the only one in the group who has any problem with tuck effects, in which case you may just have to pull on the big boy pants and live with this unhappy situation. I personally despise Insurrection, but it isn’t going anywhere in my group because I’m the only one.
Each of our groups already do this. Many groups have their own banned and restricted lists, their own mulligan rule, or have changed the rules as far as what happens when a player quits a game. Talk with your group and see if you can come to a consensus. Perhaps this will become part of the social contract that governs your group, rather than a hard and fast rule. A solution your group comes to is bound to be better than solutions from above.
 You didn’t really think I was going to let the possibility of a bad tuck pun pass by did you? There will be many more before you’re finished!
 Many groups’ metagame run plenty of tutors, so oftentimes the library is a worse place to put a card than in exile.
 Keeping a general phased out is technically another option, but I can’t recommend it. This is annoying and rarely a good way to spend your mana every round.
 I love that he used Hinder and wasn’t talking about tuck effects! He was discussing Commander players who end games after 4 turns with carefully tuned combo decks.