Tempting Contract | Illustration by Tomas Duchek
You may already know this if you’re a Commander player, but you’ll find that there’s more to the rules than what’s written on the cards as you dive deeper into the game. The game has a social aspect that can make or break your Commander experience. These unspoken rules, or the “Social Contract,” make the game enjoyable for everyone involved.
From respecting your opponents to avoiding toxic decks, understanding the Social Contract is essential to having a positive Commander experience. Today I’m examining some of the most important social rules and how they can make your games more fun and engaging.
Intrigued by what these are? Let’s jump into it!
What Are Unspoken Rules?
Rules Lawyer | Illustration by Sean Murray
In essence, unspoken rules are informal sets of guidelines and expectations that players adhere to without necessarily being explicitly stated in the official rules or guidelines of Commander. These rules are often based on tradition, social norms, and a shared understanding of what constitutes fair play and good sportsmanship to create a positive, fun, and social experience for everyone involved.
While they may not be explicitly written down, unspoken rules are widely recognized and understood within the Commander community.
Having a pre-game conversation with your playgroup is an important step towards having an enjoyable game. This conversation can help set expectations and clarify any rules or restrictions your playgroup may have.
First and foremost, it’s important to discuss power levels. Players at the table should communicate the level of competitiveness they’re comfortable with, as this can vary widely from casual to highly competitive. I’ll cover this in its own section, but it’s one of the most important things you should be aware of as this helps ensure that all players are on the same page, preventing any unpleasant surprises during the game.
For example, one of the unspoken rules may be to avoid playing the most hated commanders of all time. These commanders are often associated with overpowered strategies that make the game less fun for everyone else. Similarly, toxic commander decks, or decks that aim to create a negative experience for other players, are also frowned upon.
Also, be aware of the saltiest commanders or commanders that tend to cause frustration and anger among players. These commanders often have abilities that are difficult to deal with or require specific answers to remove.
There’s no problem if your table is okay to play against those commanders or cards, but that should be a talk the table has to have before the game starts. Nobody wants to blindly run against a Necropotence/Thassa's Oracle combo that can win on turn 1.
It’s also important to discuss any house rules your playgroup may have. These could include things like in-house banned cards or special restrictions on certain types of decks or strategies. It’s important to establish these rules before the game starts to avoid any misunderstandings or disagreements during the game.
Another topic to discuss is the use of proxies. Some playgroups allow them, while others don’t. Clarifying your playgroup’s stance on proxies before the game starts is important, as this can significantly impact deckbuilding and gameplay.
Finally, everyone should discuss any personal preferences or pet peeves they have. For example, some players may not enjoy long turns or excessive shuffling, while others may have certain cards or strategies they find particularly frustrating to play against. Knowing these preferences can help the table participants to be more mindful of each other’s enjoyment during the game.
Respect Other Players
Respect for other players is a key aspect of the Commander’s social contract. This means being courteous and respectful towards other players, regardless of their skill level, age, gender, ethnicity, or background. This includes refraining from derogatory comments or engaging in behavior that may make others uncomfortable or unwelcome.
This also means avoiding toxic strategies and commanders (Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, pun intended) and creating a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone at the table.
Be Mindful of the Power Level
As I’ve mentioned, one of Commander’s most important unspoken rules is avoiding overpowered cards or cards that lead to one-sided games.
Take Channel, for example. There’s a reason why it’s banned in the format. Channel’s considered too powerful because it allows players to ramp up their mana quickly and cast spells that would otherwise be too expensive. But other cards may not be banned but cause the same effect on the game (I’m looking at you, Necropotence!)
Also, remember that Commander is a format that allows for a wide range of power levels, from casual to competitive. Be mindful of the power level of your deck and try to match it with the power level of the other players at the table.
This can be done by evaluating factors such as the mana curve, card draw, and win conditions. Knowing the power level of a deck is important to ensure that games are fair and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Play to Have Fun
Players should focus on enjoying the game and creating a positive experience for everyone involved. Remember, this is a multiplayer format where each player will have their own unique decks and strategies, and while the goal of the game is naturally to win, it’s also important to remember that the game should be enjoyable for everyone and not just the person who comes out on top.
This means that everyone should respect their opponents and their decks and be willing to accept losses, and not take the game too seriously. They should also be willing to make decisions that may not necessarily benefit them personally but can help to create a more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
Ultimately, playing to have fun means focusing on the game’s social aspect and building relationships with fellow players rather than just focusing on winning. When everyone is having a good time, the game becomes more enjoyable for everyone, and it can create a positive environment that encourages players to continue playing and exploring the world of Commander.
Don’t Be Overly Disruptive
This means you should avoid playing cards or making moves that excessively interfere with other players’ strategies or ruin their ability to participate in the game. A clear example of this is cards like Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to win or play powerful cards. Rather, you should do so in a way that doesn’t completely shut down your opponents or make the game unenjoyable for everyone else.
Examples of overly disruptive play could include repeatedly destroying someone’s lands, preventing them from casting spells, using their commander, or using cards that stop everyone from doing anything. While some level of disruption is part of the game, being overly disruptive can lead to frustration and cause other players to feel targeted or excluded.
To avoid being overly disruptive, you should balance your desire to win with the game’s enjoyment for everyone involved. This might mean holding back on certain plays or using cards in a more strategic way that doesn’t completely shut down other players.
Always express your intentions and actions in a way that’s easy to understand by everyone at the table. This includes announcing what cards are being played, what abilities are activated, and what targets are chosen. You should also explain any complex interactions and how they work. Remember, clear communication helps prevent confusion and misunderstandings among players, and it also helps to create a more enjoyable gaming experience. It’s also implied that players should take the time to ensure everyone at the table is on the same page and understands what’s happening.
Honesty plays a huge role; you must be transparent about the game state and your intentions. This means you shouldn’t try to deceive or mislead others with ambiguous or misleading statements. Building trust among players is key to creating a more positive environment for everyone.
Ensuring everyone at the table feels welcome and valued should be one of the highest (if not the highest) priorities of every Commander table. It’s important to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable playing, and no one is excluded or made to feel unwelcome.
You should also be understanding and patient with others new to the game or still learning the rules. It’s important to help others when they ask for it and to avoid being condescending or dismissive of other players’ ideas or strategies.
Additionally, being inclusive means avoiding language or behavior that could be offensive or hurtful to others. This includes avoiding sexist, racist, or other discriminatory language and avoiding making fun of or belittling other players for their mistakes or decisions.
Being open to playing with different types of decks and strategies is another way of being inclusive. It’s important to remember that Commander is a social format and aims to have fun and enjoy the game with others.
This may not be discussed much, but it’s also an important game aspect. Personal hygiene practices and social etiquette are something players should observe while participating in a game. Nobody likes to be near someone with poor hygiene, so be mindful of it. This includes things like taking regular showers, wearing clean clothes, and refraining from wearing strong perfumes or colognes that could be distracting or bothersome to other players.
In addition to personal hygiene, social awareness involves being mindful of the people around you and how your behavior might affect them. For example, be mindful of your language and avoid offensive or derogatory comments that could make other players uncomfortable or unwelcome. This also includes respecting other players’ personal space and not invading it or making them uncomfortable. Also, be aware of any cultural or historical references that may come up during the game and any current events that may be relevant to the players at the table.
Respect the Social Contract
Everything I’ve covered so far has been about how players are expected to abide by an unspoken set of rules known as the “Social Contract.”
So, whether or not you agree to play commanders considered toxic, saltiest, or even annoying, remember to respect that everyone agreed upon these rules before the game started. As such, unpleasant behavior should be avoided.
Other parts of the game should be respected, like “alliances” or “non-aggression pacts” that have been set.
Of course, if you disrespect this social contract, you may win the game, but you may also lose friends or the ability to play with other people, because no one likes to play with someone who isn’t trustworthy.
Common House Rules
It’s important to remember that not all playgroups follow the same social rules, so it’s a good idea to discuss expectations and preferences with your playgroup before starting a game. Let’s go over some popular house rules.
No Mass Land Destruction
Some playgroups frown upon using cards or effects that destroy multiple lands at once, as this can greatly disadvantage certain players and make the game less enjoyable. This rule helps maintain the game’s social contract by preventing players from engaging in disruptive behavior that could ruin the experience for others.
No Infinite Combos
Another strategy that tables often avoid is infinite combos, where a combination of cards creates an endless loop of effects that can lead to an instant win. This is because it can feel like an unfair or non-interactive way to win the game.
Stax is a strategy that involves using cards that tax or hinder your opponents’ resources and options, making the game more difficult for them. Some playgroups avoid this strategy as it can create a slower and less enjoyable game experience.
Rule of Law | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer
While Commander has its official rules, you’re now aware that there are also unspoken social rules that players should follow. These rules ensure that games are fair, enjoyable, and inclusive for everyone involved.
Remember that it’s also important to be aware of the most hated and toxic commanders, like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, or cards like Stasis. You should avoid using them in your deck, or at least ask if your table is okay with them. And strategies like mass land destruction are generally not desired and should be avoided.
By following these socially acceptable rules, you and everyone at a Commander table will have a positive and enjoyable MTG experience. What do you think? Did I cover every unspoken commander rule, or have I left some important ones out? Let me know in the comments below, or find us over on the official Draftsim Twitter.
As always, it’s been a pleasure writing stories and exploring all corners of Magic. Take care, and we’ll meet again next time!
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