Definition of Fun
Fun for All
There are some truths that I've learned about Commander. I was going to call them "laws," but then I'd feel people would believe that I was talking about laws in terms of police/regulation instead of science, and they'd get a bad taste in their mouths. I have quite a few, but I'm only going to mention a couple today.
Your Commander deck is never finished.
Like a wise man once said, "I say, never be complete. I say, stop being perfect. I say, let's evolve." Because nothing ever rotates out (it only gets banned), it's very easy to sit on your deck until something better comes along. There's nothing wrong with not changing your deck, but with a new set coming out four times a year, there's bound to be maybe one card in that set you might want to throw in there. Unlike Standard or Extended, you don't have to do a major overhaul every three months; just be open to the idea that something may be printed that's just perfect for your deck.
But it's not only new sets that effect deck change. What if you wanted to try out a new angle, or you don't like how something in your deck is working? Change it up. There's nothing wrong with constantly picking apart your deck to try and make it efficient. No, this isn't Spike-y; there's a difference between making sure you lock the game down by turn three and wanting to hit your tenth land by turn eight.
This truth ties very heavily into the next one (the main focus of today's piece):
Fun is relative.
Since this isn't XKCD, nor am I a scientist, you're going to have to excuse this crude explanation of Einstein's theory of special relativity. Say there's you and your friend; you're traveling on a train and your friend is outside the train. You look out the window and see your friend pass by on the ground, waving at you. On the other hand, your friend waves at the train as it passes by him.
From your perspective, it looks like the outside is moving by and you're being still; for your friend, it's just the opposite. You have different perspectives of the same situation. Each assumes that the other is moving.
Hooray! I just explained point of view in semi-geeky terms.
With an open format like Commander, everyone has his or her own idea of what fun is. The realm of Magic has so many ways to keep everyone entertained and have a good time. Some players draft, others enter into tournaments, others (like you) play Commander. It's within this large area of Commander that having undefined rules makes this format great, yet is a huge issue.
The main goal of Magic is to win the game. It's a very simple concept in a competitive, constructed environment. When you enter a tournament, you want to have the best deck possible, not necessarily the most fun deck there. You can have fun playing in that environment, which is a huge part of the draw. It's a feeling like none other.
But it's when you take that into the uncontrolled environment of Commander that it's much different. It's like the Wild West; there are some sheriffs out there (the banned list), but other than that, it's pretty wide open. Suddenly, your city-slicker ways are frowned upon when you interact with the cowpokes and the natives. You get confused about why people complain when you cast certain cards and wonder why, if people don't like them, the sheriff doesn't just outlaw them?
To some people, winning isn't important when playing Commander; it's the fact that you're playing with friends that is important. That doesn't mean that everyone likes losing all of the time, it's just the opportunity where you can get away even for an hour or two from daily life to play a game that you like. Then, the city-slicker comes in with his fancy cards and destroys everyone; you might get a little angry, and he doesn't understand why. "We do things differently out here" isn't a good enough answer for him.
Everyone has a different definition of fun and what should be considered fun. I believe there are two different types of fun: (1) personal and (2) social. Personal fun is what most people think of when fun is mentioned. It's whatever you do that makes you happy. It doesn't matter what else is going on; as long as you're having fun, that's all that matters. That's where you see a griefer deck where its pilot prevents anyone from doing anything and laughs at countering your spells. His fun comes at your expense.
There is nothing wrong with this way of playing; you can have a selfish motive for why you play. The second type of fun, social, is also a factor you should concern yourself with. But why is social fun important? Social fun helped get you into the game of Magic in the first place. If you have fun with other people while playing the game, it creates an atmosphere where other players want to join in as well. I'm sure that happened with a good number of Magic players as well. That social fun that you're experiencing can certain turn into personal fun, overlapping the two.
This is where deck construction comes in. This doesn't mean that every Commander deck you build needs to be fun for everybody; just keep it in mind when building your deck. There's an archetype called Group Hug that does try to create the best social fun for everyone involved. It has cards that allow all players to draw, gain life, get creatures, etc. Its player gets personal fun by helping out other players, creating social fun.
If you construct your deck to where only you have fun, other players might not want to play with you. Using Crystal Shard to bounce back your Eternal Witness to recast Time Warp is not fun for anyone else. That's not because they're being crybabies or anything; they have the right to some personal fun as well. This is different from the players who complain about having anything of theirs countered or destroyed because you're "being mean," then play a combo deck to kill everyone at once and wonder why no one likes playing against them.
Interactivity is key to keeping Magic fun. People have more fun playing a video game than they do watching it. Why do you think no one liked being Luigi in the Nintendo Super Mario Bros.? You never got to play when the other player was Mario. When you have a combo deck that doesn't allow the other players to play, it's not fun for them. You've taken away the social fun, and the people who are watching don't know if they want to partake in this format.
All right, that's a little extreme, but it does happen. The flip side is also true. When no one does anything, afraid to make a move, it does become boring. I've played games on both sides, and I wish I could avoid those. However, in a world where there hardly is any oversight, it makes the format wide open, and that's part of its appeal. Being able to play with cards that not everyone sees from day to day, or finding certain synergy with cards to help you win—that's what draws people into the crazy life of Commander.
In all, no one should be able to tell other people what the definition of fun should be. Like the Wild West, how the format should progress is wide open. Some want more control, others don't. But saying "You just don't get it" doesn't help anyone, ever. I have encouraged having house rules with your playgroup and constructing multiple Commander decks for different styles you might play, and I stick by the decks and house rules. Your personal fun is just as important as social fun.
For next week, I thought I would do the tried-and-true column of a mail bag to see how it goes. Of course, this all depends on your participation. Feel free to leave a Commander question in the comments or Tweet them to me (@mtgcolorpie) and I'll answer them next week. They can be from deck construction (I won't help you build a deck, but I'll answer general questions), to speculation about the new Commander product coming out this summer, to whatever you want. If I don't get enough questions, well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Until then, may you have fun with Commander, whatever that may be!