Welcome back to another episode of The Epic Experiment.
The worst of the pandemic seems to be receding a little and in person play is going to be a reality again soon. This is exciting news because there is no doubt that the biggest thing missing from the game has been the ability to play with your friends in person.
The trick is – with in person play resuming, how do we ensure that our casual Commander games remain… casual?
For many of us, this will be our first chance to play in person in over 16 months and that is going to be a HUGE change. Maybe you only have been playing on MTGO. Perhaps you have been playing via Spelltable. Maybe you have just been sitting on the sidelines and not playing at all. Regardless, when we return to in person play, things are going to be very different.
How The Format Has Changed
In the last 16 months, since we entered into a world of COVID, Commander has changed dramatically. We have seen the evolution of the game to where Commander is now the principal format. The R+D is reflecting that with a plethora of card designs unique to Commander.
We have likewise seen an explosion of Commander focused products from R+D. Just look at the pre-constructed decks that have accompanied Zendikar Rising, Kaldheim, and Commander Legends. These decks, in addition to the traditional yearly release that accompanied Strixhaven, have given us a heap of extra decks and a number of new staples.
Oh, and then there was Commander Legends where Commander kind of went nuts… in a good way!
In addition to new products, there has continued to be an explosion of new content all over the internet devoted to Commander. There are more and more podcasts, YouTube channels, written articles, and now numerous options for streamed Commander game play on Twitch. There is little doubt that the advances in the game have reshaped the format such that a player in 2016 would be hard pressed to construct a deck and be a credible threat at many tables.
The last piece is that there has been a reliance on playing via Spelltable with far more anonymity and with the general acceptance that you need to play at a higher power level in order to keep pace with your pod. The anonymity piece matters because you are less apt to feel guilty for having done something that has negatively impacted the play experience of your pod because it is unlikely that you will play with this individual or individuals again soon. By accepting the higher power level, and not knowing your opponents very well, you are far less likely to be concerned about how you elect to beat them. You may feel justified in doing things that you wouldn’t normally do to your opponents you know in person.
What Can We Do To Keep Casual Games… Casual
Now, with all these changes built into the Commander format, we are returning to our play groups. There may be some serious growing pains and shocks as some players now grasp that they have not responded to the changes in the format and need to scramble to tune decks. There are going to be some play groups that spark an arms race as they seek to find that equilibrium so that games are fun again.
My belief is that play groups will actually benefit from scaling back on the power levels of their decks for the first several months to allow for people to acclimatize. This may mean people play older decks. Then, once everyone is back at the table and in the swing of things, start bringing out the higher power level decks brewed while in captivity.
Another key piece to remember is that the people you play with regularly are your friends. So, I think the biggest thing to take into an evening of playing Commander is to remember that being inconsiderate is a sure fire way to sour the friendship over time. I have repeated to my friends time and time again, that fun is not a 0 sum thing and you can positively impact the enjoyment of everyone.
While we have seen prices for many cards skyrocket out of control throughout the pandemic, I believe it is still important for casual players to respect a budget and to play within your means. Yes, you might desire to play top tier CEDH decks, but those often cost a significant investment of money to be viable. You can continue to make your casual games fun and engaging by keeping to a budget. The budgetary piece ensures you can’t over-spend on your cards and keeps the power levels more even… but it also forces players to innovate and to find obscure or less well known options to solve the same problems.
Lastly, I would suggest that play groups get into the habit of brewing up weaker decks to be played against each other. There is nothing wrong with playing at a high power level, but there is also fun to be had as people play silly theme decks or poorly supported tribes. These less well known decks and Commanders can really help to make your play experience more varied because nobody expected to see Treefolk tribal helmed by Sapling of Colfenor. These less serious decks can be a great way to break the tension of a tight game played under cut throat conditions.
Well, there we are folks. I wish all of you all the best as you start to venture out into the great wide world to play once again. Hopefully you can put a few of these guidelines in place to help make playing more comfortable and a fun and inviting return to play.
If you want to hear more about my thoughts on any Commander related topic, please check out our weekly podcast, The Epic Experiment, on iTunes, Google Podcast, Spotify, Amazon, and anywhere else you find better podcasts. We’d love to have you join us!
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