CheshirePlaysGames's picture
By: CheshirePlaysGames, Albert Caynes
Apr 30 2019 12:00pm

Sheldon "the Godfather of EDH" Menery, was responsible for bringing the commander format into the public eye and soon it became a fixture on the Pro Tour circuit being played by judges after long event days as a way to wind down, eventually an article on it was published on StarCityGames. In 2005, the format began to take hold and the Rules Committee was formed to manage the format, starting out as a small group of judges and eventually inviting some online community members and other Magic professionals. Sheldon is still a very active member of that rules committee and EDH player.
Nicol Bolas
CHESH - What kind of relationship does the Rules Committee have with Wizards, what sort of input does your group have with Wizards with commander precon decks and themes?
SHELDON - We have an extremely strong relationship with WotC and R&D in particular.  Obviously, Scott Larabee is a pretty important person in Magic, so he’s our direct link into the company.  Otherwise, we have open communication with them regarding what’s happening in upcoming sets.  We’ve gotten to playtest the last few Commander sets while they were still in development and they’ll toss ideas at us with some regularity.  Scott’s been on a few design teams as well.
The banned list is pretty long at the moment and it's understandable given the nature of a “legacy” format, but are there any plans to revisit the banned list and remove anything that was once considered too powerful, but is mostly just an annoyance now such as Gifts Ungiven?
We actually do a mental exercise during our quarterly meetings of arguing to remove a card from the banned list, whether we think we’re going to or not.  We think that making sure our arguments continue to be sound are worth the effort.  I will tell you that once a card is on the banned list, it has a higher burden of proof to come off than other cards would have to go on.  We’d hate to have a revolving door on the list, which is why we’re relatively conservative when it comes to banning things in the first place. 
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
You stated in your SCG article that planeswalkers as commanders wasn't an idea you were looking at, nor testing because it's a slippery slope, yet Wizards have engineered planeswalkers as commanders in preconstructed decks. I understand we are spoiled for choice, but with the ongoing story based around the planeswalkers, doesn't it make sense from a flavour point of view to allow players to play as their favourite planeswalker officially?
I can see the flavor argument for planeswalkers, but there’s also the flavor argument that only legendary creatures (and not artifacts or enchantments) be commanders; the thing about flavor is that it’s quite subjective, and what makes flavor sense to one person doesn’t always make sense to another.  Even if it had a stronger resonance, the flavor argument is far from the most important or only consideration.  Planeswalkers as commanders have quite a bit of baggage.  Save for the ones specifically created as commanders, planeswalkers weren’t designed with the possibility of being in the command zone, so there was no effort in design and development to make sure they wouldn’t be busted from the command zone.  We believe that too many of the existing ones would need to be banned, swelling a banned list that we want to keep as trim as possible. 
Mana Vault
Given that cards such as Sol Ring, Mana Vault and Paradox Engine are legal and haven't been banned, how does the rules committee collect data from players in regards to what the metagame is worldwide and what should be on a watch list?
The first part of the question doesn’t go with the second part.  What cards are banned or not don’t have anything to do with how we collect data.  This seems like a simple question, but the answer is pretty complex.  First of all, “data collection” is a vast overstatement of what we do.  There are no statistical analyses going on.  In addition to our long years of experience, I’d say that we rely on “impression collection,” that we gather from being in person at events, talking to people online, listening to podcasts and reading websites, and most significantly, recently forming the Commander Advisory Group to help us further collect those impressions while expanding our outreach.  They’ve done a great job so far, and you’ll be seeing the results of their work in the near future. 
I’ll also mention that I don’t think there’s such a thing as a worldwide metagame.  There are many pockets of metagames which may be drastically different from LGS to LGS, from region to region, and so on.  Finally, there’s no such thing as an official Watch List.  We used to have one, but it created an expectation that the Watch List was a stepping stone to getting banned, and when that didn’t happen, it confounded expectations.  It was much cleaner to do away with it.  If you ask me what cards we have our eyes on, the answer is two-fold.  First, all of them.  Second, the cards that people are talking about, which we’re aware of. 
With the general discourse of commander players seeing commander for a Casual format meant for showcasing long form decks, and competitive players seeing it as an introduction to Singleton speedruns being ever prevailing, how does the rule committee see cards like "Selvala, Explorer Returned", "Stasis/Stax", or even fan favorites like "Necropotence" within the community, and has there been a push to keep the speed of commander slower or allow precon commander decks more room within a different type of environment? -Arrolis
There is a vision for the format as the anti-tournament format.  It’s the one we support, encourage, and tilt the banned list towards.  The heart of Commander, which is unlike any other format, is considering the experiences of the other players you’re sitting down with.  To that end, we discourage cards and strategies that take the game away from the other players.  We still recognize that all play styles are valid.  Even though there’s a style of Commander that we think is the most fun for the broadest audience, and that’s the one we’re supporting, we recognize all play styles as valid.  The most important message, and the one that bears repeating over and over, is making sure everyone’s on the same page before you start playing.  If the four of you want to race to a Turn 3 kill, more power to you.  If you want to durdle for two hours, have at it.  Just try to make sure that the streams aren’t crossing, because that’s where most of the feel-bads come from.
Obviously, this becomes difficult in tournament play, which is why we suggest understanding what you’re getting into when cash and prizes are on the line.  We suggest playing the style of Commander that best suits your goals and desires, and gathering like-minded people to do it with you, which is not something the broad base of Commander players are going to find within the bounds of a tournament. 
What would you say is the main reason why you’re opposed to letting EDH and C-EDH be separate formats, when you’ve acknowledged that they pretty much are gameplaywise? All codifying that into the actual rules would change (and possibly some extra bans or unbans/rules changes between them) is preventing bad games where competitive players can go in and stomp casual players and technically be allowed to (despite the social contract supposedly preventing it) especially at places like LGS’es or side events at a MagicFest where you sometimes can’t choose who you play. - Mardu D
I believe that you can always choose who you play with.  Sure, if you sign up for a side event you can’t, but there are also open play areas at larger events.  It’s pretty easy to find a pickup game that’ll suit your style.  Smaller environments are a little trickier due to the limited number of players.  Still, there’s room to negotiate, even within your LGS, a style that fits and isn’t no-holds-barred competitive.  Work with the management of your LGS to craft point systems that reward or punish the styles of play you want to encourage or discourage.  I’ve seen reasonable evidence of it working.
As to the initial part of the question, cEDH is a small but vocal subset of the Commander player base.  If they want to organize themselves, like the Duel Commander folks did, we won’t stop them.  Otherwise, we’ve been quite forward about the core audience to whom we’re catering.
Many players believe that the RC to be very hands-off with the format which led to variants to develop such as French commander and oathbreaker. This fear of stagnation is a serious concern for a format that has fast become one of the most commonly played for all skill levels in magic. What can you offer in the minds of many commander players who believe that the format would thrive, even grow, in the hands of WOTC over the RC? -Jin
The format has thrived and grown to unprecedented levels in the hands of the current RC.  I wouldn’t say we’re hands off, we’re simply somewhat conservative when it comes to change.  We’d prefer slower, surer course correction due to the challenges of messaging to such a large player base.  Back to the point, I’d argue that what you call “hands off” is a significant reason for the format’s success.  I think people enjoy a level of consistency that comes with Eternal formats that they don’t get with Standard or Modern, whose landscape shifts quite dramatically.
As far as “in the hands of WotC” is concerned, we have a high-level WotC employee, two former Level 5 Judges, and a former Regional Coordinator and NetRep on the Rules Committee.  We’re already pretty close to the inside.  That closeness offers us both opportunity to see what’s coming down the road AND to maintain a level of independence.  It’s an idea situation.
Do you think that cards designed specifically for Commander, such as the Eminence mechanic, sometimes end up going against the spirit of the format? Similarly, when those end up being too powerful such as how Derevi, Edgar, and Vial Smasher are banned or banned as Commander in other Commander variants does it become more difficult to ban them in the base format by virtue of being the face of Commander products? - Ash
I appreciate R&D’s efforts to craft cards for the format.  What keeps Magic healthy is pushing the envelope, and sometimes the envelope gets broken.  We don’t have a philosophical difficulty in banning a card that was specifically made for the Commander product.  The good news is that we’ve had some conversations over the last couple of years with R&D about the kind of cards we’d like to discourage them from making; we hope that will pay long-term dividends for all of us. 
It feels like the biggest challenge of managing the Commander format is the banlist. You’ve mentioned in the past that a 200-card banlist is a way to kill the format, which is true for sure, but also the banlist sometimes seems like it's trying to police three format at once and not doing an amazing job of managing any of them. Cards that are problematic at the super-casual tables (like Sway of the Stars) are side by side with cards that are an issue at the pubstomp tables Primeval Titan or cEDH tables Painter's Servant but because there is a lot of pressure to keep the banlist concise cards that have a similar power level to some of these things in some of these formats (Sol Ring, Paradox Engine, etc) don't end up on the same list. Is this an issue on your radar, and do you have any personal ideas on how to address it? -Redmage
This issue is indeed on our radar.  Look for our April 2019 Banned List Update statement for more details.
I'd love to see detailed reasoning for bans. Doesn't have to be huge earthshaking discovery, just something like why is Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary still banned when for example, Selvala, Heart of the Wilds exists? Is it because despite having a lower ceiling, he just has to safe and high a floor? Is it because he would be too powerful and secure for a ramp deck and needs an easier set up vs people like the aforementioned Selvala or Ghalta, Primal Hunger?
You can check out the philosophy document or the announcement for when a card was (un)banned for details.  We don’t go down the rabbit hole of comparing one card to another (unless, of course, they’re functionally identical).  Following the logic of “if this, then that,” the cascade of bans would get to that untenable list of 100+ cards, which no one wants.  Most folks think there are single factors that go into banning cards or not banning them, but that’s sometimes not the case.  There is often a confluence of factors; again, check out the philosophy document for some deeper insight.
I'm not a green player, I've only played against two of these and my fair share of Yisan, but I'd love to know where the line is vaguely drawn for a situation like this.
Again, it’s not one versus the other.  If I were to try to articulate the difference between Rofellos and Selvala, the latter would (in order to be banned) likely fall under “too much mana too quickly” (just like Rofellos), but she’s not quite as reliable as Rofellos and a turn or two slower.  Rofellos comes down Turn 2 and most likely guarantees six mana on Turn 3 (a +3 net).  Even with a mana dork to drop on Turn 1, Selvala is only going to tap for a net +1 on Turn 3 since she costs one to activate and will be looking at her own power for the amount of mana. 
But if you wanna troll (Chesh-I didn't think was a troll, it's a legit question), ask him why white's not allowed to be good and when we'll see Balance unbanned when blue gets Cyclonic Rift! - ROSS THE RED
If Cyclonic Rift overloaded cost 1U, it’d get banned pretty fast.
I'd like to know if they're looking at any more unbannings, but also if they're looking at [[Flash]] given Sheldon stated a newfound commitment to cEDH in one of his latest articles. - BOUNCEBURNBUFF
I’m not even sure what you’re referencing there.  A “commitment” to cEDH is a vast overstatement of anything anyone on the RC might have ever said.  
I'd be interested in hearing his thoughts more on whats the RC's decision-making process for deciding if a card should be banned or not. From their articles, it seems like it's mostly an ad hoc thing based on experiences from his own playgroup. If I'm wrong about this then what data to they collect and how do they interpret it? And if I'm right about my assumption about how they do things, what are Sheldon's thoughts on whether this is the best way to approach something that affects many players and play styles that might be quite different from him?
People think that my personal play group determines bans and that when I lose to a card, I ban it.  Neither of those things are true.  First of all, there are four of us on the RC, and we make decisions jointly.  As I mentioned, we spend a considerable amount of time digesting information about the format.  Second, I’m more likely to support banning a card because I won with it too often or in a fashion that I find creates an undesirable game for the table.  Over the years, I’ve been very forward about my personal preferences and I’d say there’s credible evidence that we’ve kept our individual preferences from creeping too much into the banned list.  Yes, we have a particular vision for the format, and it’s based on what we’re trying to do, but if the banned list were just cards I didn’t want to see at tables, it would look quite different.    
Blue Elemental Blast
Also, I'd be curious about his rationale for the rule on hybrid cards' color identities. Is it mostly for "aesthetic" reasons, balance concerns, or just simplicity? -VESSIL
Would the RC ever consider treating Hybrid mana as "a pip of either colour" instead of the current way which treats it as "a pip of both colours"? I believe this to be more in line with the way WOTC designed hybrid mana to begin with (i.e. you can pay mana of either colour) -LIVELAUGHLOVEREVENGE
Simplicity and sense.  It doesn’t matter what the original intention of hybrid mana was, Kulrath Knight is both black and red, full stop (as well as being criminally underplayed, btw).  If I cast it using only black mana, it’s still a black and red spell.  It’s a valid target for Blue Elemental Blast.  I can’t say “BEB doesn’t work because I paid black for it”  or “You can’t prevent the damage with Circle of Protection: Red because I only want it to be black.”  I get why people want to play hybrid cards in off-color decks, but I’m confounded by any argument that suggest it’s logical.  The RC respects the dissenting opinion here, but we are strongly committed to not changing the nature of hybrid cards in the format. 

Are you weary of the overabundance of cards in WAR that use the proliferate mechanic? The potential for busted, unfun interactions seems particularly ripe to me. As well as the likely proliferation (excuse the pun) of decks with an excessive number of triggers leading to over-long turns. -NIAONTHEGRASSYKNOLL
My excitement over the cards in #MTGWAR is still nothing but raw excitement.  We’ll see if I get tired of anything over the next month or so.  There are no cards that I’m rolling my eyes at just yet.  I’m a little over +1/+1 counters in general, but I can’t lay that at the feet of just #MTGWAR. 
Do your personal playgroups play EDH planechase? If so, do you have any additional rules or variants you use?

Examples: Some people make everyone roll a die every turn at least once. On any player's upkeep, before the plane triggers an ability, the active player can take a vote to planeswalk away from the plane. -ROCKETS_MEOWTH
When Planechase first came out, we played a fair amount, but it has been many years since I’ve played it at all.  I like a little chaos in my games, but it was too much for my tastes. 

Chesh- Well that's all the questions we have, huge thanks to Sheldon for sitting through them. Anything you want to plug?
You can find me on Twitter @SheldonMenery, by my name on Facebook, and every Thursday at writing about the best format in Magic history.  As many of you know, I’m living with cancer, and the folks at Moffitt Cancer Center have taken great care of me.  If you’re so inclined, please support them or an organization like them that helps make the difference in the lives of many people.