It’s Time to Tuck the Rules Committee

This week, the EDH Rules Committee announced a change to the format that set my Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook feeds abuzz: players are no longer able to deal with pesky enemy commanders by shuffling them into the opponent’s deck. Any time an ability would cause a commander to return to a player’s hand or be “tucked” into their deck, there is a new replacement effect that allows players to simply return it to the safety of the command zone.

This change will have a pretty big impact on the format (not to mention the price of several cards) and its justly getting a lot of attention from the community. Most of the feedback is negative, and rightly so. The reasons the committee gave for the change are embarrassingly bad, poorly argued, and inconsistently applied. And as a game developer myself, this reeks to me of the kind of bad game design I witness studios make when they try to simplify a game for new players, but end up going about it all the wrong ways.

Bad Arguments

First, the Rules Committee posits that nothing feels worse than having your commander unavailable for the whole game. While I’d agree that having a commander tucked can be a feel-bad experience, I’d also say that I’ve had much worse feelings during an EDH game. Having my commander get tucked may be annoying, but at least I can keep playing the game. There are plenty of individual cards and broader interactions that force me to either concede or sit there and not play until someone else finds their win condition. So kicking off their justification with hyperbole is a pretty bad place to start.

armageddon

Second, they suggest that the threat of tuck leads players to run more tutors. This is an outright falsehood. Players run tutors because this is a singleton format. Period. Full stop. Conversation over. Players want access to their favorite cards and win conditions, so they run tutors. I’m aware that Sheldon has written about going tutorless in his own decks, but that’s not the reality for the majority of the players in the format. Tutors exist and they are used at all levels of power and competition. This change will not reduce tutor usage by any meaningful amount.

Third, the argument that tuck only exists in blue and white and thus potentially forces players to run those colors is just plain silly. Magic is a game about a color wheel with unevenly divided power and mechanics. Saying this needs to get banned because of the color wheel is like suggesting we should ban land ramp spells because they are only available in green. Do players feel like they must run green for mana? Or blue for draw spells? Or black for tutors? Each deck you build is bound by its color restrictions. That’s an essential feature of this format, not a problem for it. This argument is entirely a nonsequitor and sets a truly dangerous precedent.

Fourth, the idea that this clears up some rules fuzziness is perhaps the worst statement of all, especially if the Rules Committee is trying to make this game more accessible to new and casual players. There is now an entire class of cards that doesn’t do what the card actually says, including cards like [card]Spell Crumple[/card] that were designed specifically for the Commander format. [card]Terminus[/card] now reads something like, “Put all creatures except for commanders on the bottom of their owner’s libraries. Players may choose to put their commander onto the bottom of the library or into their command zone. The command tax applies for this return to the command zone.” [card]Chaos Warp[/card] is even more confusing, since you could cast it targeting your own commander and just put the top card of your library into play without the drawback of targeting your own creature.

 chaoswarp

Do we really believe this is easier for casual players to understand? Should we have to explain even more rules intricacies to these players for them to follow the rules of the format? I would argue this is absolutely not the case. One of my many playgroups is a trio of work friends who only play with preconstructed retail decks. They can already barely keep the stack straight when more than a few spells are cast on the same turn. Adding in more special rules will only make the game more obtuse to them. Oh, and this rule doesn’t clear up any fuzziness about commander identity anyways… because you can still choose to put your commander into your deck, right? So this fails, and only fails, to make the rules more simple.

Time for a Change

So this rules change is bad. It’s bad for new players and absolutely will not achieve its stated purpose for improving the format. It’s a terrible decision and its being thrust onto a massive, dedicated community of players that overwhelmingly didn’t want this change. All this only highlights a long-running problem and one that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time: the Rules Committee has outlived its ability to meaningfully manage this format.

misinformation

Yes, I’m suggesting that the Rules Committee shouldn’t be governing the format anymore. Yes, I’m saying the guys who had a hand in creating EDH and guiding it to become the format that we know and love today are the wrong ones to keep leading it. The issue is that this isn’t a niche format played in hotel rooms by judges and Magic insiders anymore. It’s gone commercial, it’s reached the masses, and it’s too big for the Rules Committee to keep effectively managing.

The Rules Committee has demonstrated repeatedly that it is not representing the majority of the players in the format by the way the members inconsistently apply their own guidelines when banning cards or making changes to the format. The committee suggests that their guiding principle is to “create games you’d love to remember, not the ones others would like to forget.” But the format is still host to any number of cards and strategies that throw that notion right out the window. [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card] could create a pretty unhappy board state if a player was fortunate enough to ramp into it quickly, but is that any less fun in those limited instances than a consistently powerful Stax deck locking down the table and playing solitaire? Or a Narset deck blowing up lands over and over while gradually eking out a victory through inevitable commander damage?

I don’t actually want to spill much ink arguing over one ban or another, though. Perhaps [card]Sylvan Primordial[/card] was the worst offender in the format at the time. Perhaps [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] doesn’t centralize the game around itself quite as much as [card]Primeval Titan[/card] did. That’s not really the point. The point is that a very small group of players, however intelligent and influential, are making very big decisions that impact tables all over the world, and they are doing it wildly inconsistently.

sylvanprimordial

The Big Delusion

The Rules Committee attempts to hand wave this issue in a few places in their statement on philosophy. First, they say that they attempt to avoid “cascading bans” because it leads to an unmanageable list. The idea here seems to be that they ban the worst offenders in any given category, but leave it up to the players to understand how these bans should guide their deck-making process to keep the format social, fun, and fair. This is smart-sounding way of saying, “We’re going to be inconsistent and we don’t care. We’re leaving it up to the masses to figure out.”

Piggy-backing on that idea, they point out that they believe “local groups” and the official rules can peacefully coexist. They encourage players to engage with the game how they want, being aware they may need to make adjustments when playing with different groups. This may have been a really great statement before Wizards of the Coast began printing official Commander products, but since then, the format has grown tremendously and it’s become increasingly hard to apply in reality.I play at my office, at two local card shops, a kitchen table game, and at various official Magic events like grands prix. Does the Rules Committee really expect me to manage a shifting ban list across all my decks to match the philosophy of each group? This is a painfully disingenuous statement at this point in the growth of EDH. We’re largely stuck with the official rules and they know it.

giftsungiven

The Solution

It’s time to hand the format over to Wizards and start applying more consistent, data-driven rules changes. The format is huge now and players are engaged in so much cross-group play that its no longer viable to hand-wave inconsistencies and expect people to just swallow them. Its unfair to the community to expect us to just roll with the changes determined by the whims of a tiny, semi-official group of players who think the social contract is a good enough solution for the format’s problems. There needs to be accountability in place that drives the format towards a more healthy balance and doesn’t result in ridiculously bad rule changes like this week’s announcement about tuck spells. That’s not going to happen as long as the Rules Committee continues to own the format.

As for the tuck change? I predict it ends up being reverted. It will not meaningfully change the number of tutors players run. It won’t change how players pick the colors for their decks. And it certainly isn’t going to make the format more accessible for new players. It’s only going to make strong commanders stronger, force players to run more removal instead of additional fun threats, and ultimately make for a less interesting format.

It’s unfortunate that we’re being forced to endure this experiment in bad game design until these things are made apparent. It’s inevitable that Wizards eventually takes over stewardship of the Commander format. It’s just too bad it didn’t happen before this week’s announcement.

About the Author
Jason is a creative director in the video game industry. When his crippling Commander addiction isn't consuming his thoughts, money, and free time, Jason can be found hiking the beaches, hills, and forests of California or climbing mountains in Utah. If you'd like to contract him as a writer or designer, he accepts payment in the form of EDH staples. He can also be followed on Twitter at @jasonthinks.

28 comments on It’s Time to Tuck the Rules Committee

  1. Timmy says:

    Amen. I agree to everything you said in this article.
    I wonder how this change ‘passed’ through WotC (as it affects their previous products).

  2. u'rewrong says:

    EDH, as multi player format can be really tweeked by your local group. It’s not a competitive format. If you are not happy with this rule dont apply it. Period. Full stop.

    If you want to be competitive, play with ‘french’ rules (they inclure this roule from ever by the way). Otherwise, play with the rules you want !

    1. NoYou'reWrong says:

      If you had read the article, you’d have seen that half of Jason’s point is that commander isn’t being played just by judges in hotel rooms, that people have multiple playgroups with varying power levels, and essentially banhammering tuck spells informs the community as a whole since a lot of people don’t play with just one or just two groups and catering to each group’s specific banned cards and rules intricacies is just a waste of time. Similarly, just because you’re able to convince one group to use tucks doesn’t mean you can convince another group and at that point you’re then running two different versions of each deck with tuck effects, with and without.

      As you say, ‘french’ rules are meant for competitive play. Main issue with what you said, is that ‘french’ edh is meant for 1v1 not multiplayer.

  3. Jon Culver says:

    I love your work on brainstorm brewery and your 75% articles but I’m afraid I disagree wholeheartedly with this. Tucking commanders always felt like an oversight in the original rules and it has never gone down well in my very casual play group.

    I imagine it matters more in more competitive circles with higher powered decks. But if people are running enough tutors to reliably go and find it again then is this change really a big deal?

    New rule is much simpler to explain to new players and avoids feel bad moments. Overall a good thing IMO.

    1. Matt Tilling says:

      You do know that the author isn’t Jason Alt right?

      1. Jason Alt says:

        I originally posted it to WordPress because Jason had me review it. We caught it a little later and made the change, but for a few hours it had my name on it..

        1. Matt Tilling says:

          Fair enough Jason- understandable for Jon to get mixed up then :)

    2. Jason Alt says:

      Sorry for the confusion, Jon! The author of the article is Jason Rice of “Unified Theory of Commander” fame. I agree with a lot of Jason’s points if not all and I philosophically saw it necessary to start the debate by publishing the article. This preamble is my way to point out that I did not author the piece but not throw Jason under the bus. Kind of an “I didn’t write this, bit it would be OK If I had” sort of s deal.

      Thanks for reading my 75% EDH series and for commenting on this contentious topic!

      1. Jon says:

        Apologies Jasons for the mis-attribution (pretty sure I just got in a bit early before it was changed, but it’s possible I misread it…). I think it’s a perfectly reasonable debate and can quite understand that people dislike the change. It was the statement that “Most of the feedback is negative, and rightly so” that I took issue with. It’s inevitable that people who dislike it will make more noise than the people who like it, but I’m not sure that the people who shout most on twitter are a representative sample of the playerbase :)

  4. Aeryn says:

    I was on the fence about it at first, but now I agree that the tuck rule is important. We played EDH last night, and got our faces stomped in by Heliod. Not having tuck for commanders makes Gods nearly unstoppable aside from edicts. I never felt like getting my commander tucked was that much of a bad time, anyway. I’d WAY rather have my commander tucked than be targeted with land destruction, which is all kinds of legal in EDH.

    Anyway, you know it’s bad when the Heliod player even wants tuck to still be a thing.

    However, is handing it over to Wizards the best idea? Their last ban list announcement didn’t go over so well, either. Maybe it’s time to start crowdsourcing?

    1. John says:

      @Aeryn

      Heliod is not even close to an overpowered commander, even with the tuck rule change. If he ever becomes a creature, targeted exile (which at the absolute least one person should be running in your playgroup) takes him out. Otherwise, he’s a good manasink, I guess? Which he should be, since monowhite is pretty weak in commander, having next to zero ways to draw cards. If you think tuck is the only way to avoid being roflstomped by Heliod, maybe your group needs to reevaluate its deckbuilding, not lament the loss of like, three cards in your deck.

      1. Mahmood says:

        John, you missed the entire point of Aeryn’s comment. Obviously running exile is an option with Heliod, as is forced sacrifice, etc. But none of these things remove the threat of recasting Heliod with simplicity. Tuck has been the preferred way of removing a commander from play with a more decisive finality. Exile has not.

        Also, since you seem to think that an L2P reply is okay, I’d encourage you to learn how to play monowhite, because it certainly has ways of both drawing and accelerating if you take the time to assemble the cards.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Back when Primeval Titan was officially banned, I was in a similar mindset as you are now… But, after many months and games of Commander passed, I realized the sky was indeed still above me, and games were just as exciting as ever. I personally like this new rules change (as I always felt players’ Commanders should have a more stable place in the game), and think the rules committee is still up to the challenge of maintaining a solid banned list and semi-official rules guide for the format. And if all else fails, house rules is always an option.

    1. Manta says:

      I can’t even agree in the slightest that they’re able to maintain a healthy banned list. There are so many cards NOT banned while commiting the same offenses as banned cards, the only difference is the ones that aren’t banned are a LOT worse.

  6. David says:

    Thank you. You detailed exactly every argument that I made against their line of thinking for why getting rid of tucking was a good idea.

  7. Charlie says:

    This article is a great summation of my feelings and arguments towards the recent rules change. I think the RC has been doing a decent job up until now (I actually liked getting rid of banned-as-commander and bringing back metalworker) but removing tucks simply makes some generals absurdly powerful and meaningfully degrades certain strategies, cards, and plays.

  8. GerBert says:

    I don’t like the argument players make of, “well, just play by your own rules”. I think people want some guidance for something like Commander. They’d like an authority on what’s good and what’s not.

    I’ve attempted to implement rules in my play group, but it’s nearly impossible to even out everything so it’s fair for everyone. I tried to ban Sharuum as a general. My friend, who played Sharuum combo, attempted to ban Omnath as a general. It became an eye-for-an-eye situation.

    We’re not intelligent enough to consider all of the implications banning one or two cards can have. We don’t want to sit around a table, scouring all 10,000+ cards in Magic, and figuring out what’s good and what’s not. That’s what the rules committee is here for.

    So I agree that Wizards should have some hand in this process. Whether they just have a representative included in the committee or whatever, they should have some control over what’s ‘legal’ and what’s not. I was curious why Trade Secrets was banned when it was printed in one of the commander-specific sets. If Wizards had a role, they would probably not ban it. They would also probably consider not banning Sol Ring, since they’ve been pushing it so much.

  9. Ladiesandgentlemen says:

    “First, the Rules Committee posits that nothing is worse than having your commander unavailable for the whole game”. I can’t be the only person who sees this.

    I agree with a good chunk of this article (it provides well-detailed explanations to the RC’s position on the tuck update, especially the “nothing is worse” feeling point) until he starts talking about his solution and the banlist. Firstly, it’s a grossly myopic thinking process. The RC is a group whose policies are derived from high-level MTG players with enormous understanding of the game and format, one of them being a retired level five judge. They carry the format whether or not we accept their suggestions just as Wizards does with the controversal legendary rule change. Without the RC, what should become of their dissolvement? Also, with regards to the banlist, there were no changes to it in the past two updates. IS it possible to get real research data to determine which cards are unhealthy for the format? It’s hardly an option and is it expected the author is more knowledgeable than the RC regarding the condition of the format? I give the RC the benefit of the doubt because of the extreme views of ordinary players. If no one can see why the banlist exists and cards not banned like Consecrated Sphinx and Iona aren’t, don’t expect those cards to get banned anytime soon. If no one is testing to see if the tuck rule destroys the format, why should the RC dissolve? Suggesting the RC is bad for the format because of a recently untested ruling is biased by definition. I suggest reading more on these controversies before taking this person’s advice. In addition, I recommend to those who haven’t heard it, to listen to The Five Commander’s episode feat. Sheldon Menery and their upcoming episode. http://fivecommanders.com/…/episode-39-sheldon-menery…/

  10. Jugbeast says:

    The whole point of Commander is to play with your commander. If I wanted to run a deck that played perfectly fine without one I’d go play any other format. This change corrects the inconsistency in the rules that for some reason allows exiled or destroyed generals to return to the command zone but not tucked ones. All this new rule does is encourage people to focus their decks around their commander even more.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I was with you until you said to hand it over to Wizards.

    I’d much rather stick with the current rules committee, despite the tuck change.

  12. Anonymous says:

    You’re an idiot. This article is dumb. Shut your fucking mouth.

  13. vortexgrey says:

    At first I was upset by this rule change, but now I’m starting to feel this article is just another example of human stubbornness and resistance to change, typical MTG player behavior of blowing things way out of proportion and never being satisfied, or perhaps a bit of both.

    When I first started playing Commander/EDH, like it was a huge oversight that destruction and exile offered the option of returning the commander to the command zone, but spinning it to deck was unavoidable. What’s more, I’m not sure his argument holds up. After all, the effects of each color should be limited equally. Red and Black have destruction spells, while Green makes huge, plentiful creatures that can simply run over a commander, whose destruction is limited by EDH rules. White has exile, where the commander is also protected. Blue (and a bit of red) has the tuck/spin/counter spells. It only follows that the commander should also be protected in this instance too.

    All the spells are still just as powerful as they have always been. They still do what they do to every other card. But the format is called Commander, not “Commander only when your opponent can’t tuck it,” and the commander has “immunity” in every other instance, so this ruling actually seems more consistent and in line with the spirit of the format. The rules committee is not being inconsistent in saying that other people can choose their own formats and rules, because that’s what players already do. They’ve made the final word and said, “take it or leave it.”

    That said, I’m all for data-driven rules changes, so if there is a logical and supported reason that an exception should be made for “tuck” cards, then I’m all for it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Tucking always felt wrong to me. Sure, I did it. It was a valid strategy. But the fact that tucking somehow avoided the special rules regarding your commander, just didn’t make sense flavorfully. And it was inelegant. That inconsistency alone is enough reason for the change in my opinion. I don’t even care if the other arguments are flawed. I had fun before the change, and I damn sure will have fun going forward. Now I won’t be as afraid to play my Shu Yun deck.

  15. Bull says:

    Sheldon’s interview on Commandcast really proves this articles highlights.

  16. Kevin says:

    I STRONGLY disagree with every reason you provide for the rule change being bad. Every card that says “destroy” or “exile” has always excluded commanders, and I’ve actually seen many more people confused as to why tucking WASN’T included in that rule. Now we can just say, if it would change zones except going to the battlefield, you may have it go to the command zone instead.

    All that said, I agree with the rest of the article. The format is too big, they’re not getting enough data to make ban decisions, and players are more often playing with multiple play groups. The easiest thing for a play group to do is just use the official banned list, so it needs to be well-managed.

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