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The Ethics of Commander – Are you bad for playing “that card?”

There is a lot that goes into a game of Commander. For being a game of casual nature in origin there are a lot of nuances and unwritten rules that people abide by. There are ethics behind certain play styles that many players do not like and become rather salty and angry with you if you do. The perfect example of this would be playing a deck that focuses on Land Destruction. People HATE it when their lands get destroyed so I’m reluctant to recur Strip Mine 5 times when playing my Golos deck (Yet the urge pushes me to do it.) Another example is Control. People are not a fan of getting their spells counter by that one guy at the table who draws most of their deck during the end turn before theirs starts. Every meta has “that card” that people hate seeing play. It’s treated like it’s banned so when it does get played, people are left flabbergasted. What I want to delve into in this article is the ethics of playing certain styles of decks and cards and why people treat you differently for playing those cards. I want to look at if there is a right time to be playing a Stax deck or a time to cast an overloaded Cyclonic Rift that won’t result in the rest of the table wanting to slap you. Are you the bad guy for liking Land Destruction? (probably) But let’s find out in this discussion!

“In Response…”

Control is part of the circle of life in Magic. While it falls short against faster and more aggressive decks, it is needed to keep combo decks in check. A healthy balance that stops one style of gameplay from becoming too dominant and overpowering. However, people really, really, and I mean REALLY hate it when you counter their spells. People begrudge control for being the deck that stops you from playing your game of magic. Whilst I understand that some control decks can be very oppressive, I wouldn’t say that they outright stop you from playing the game. I argue that Control makes both the player and the opponent play more thoughtfully and interact with each other. The control player needs to prioritize what deserves to be countered and in turn, the opponent needs to know how to bait a counter spell out to land a threat on the table. I believe it to be a fantastic learning curve as it teaches you to play smarter. Of course, as I stated earlier, control players can be very annoying if they begin countering everything and begin denying you mana rocks to purposely slow you down. There is always “that guy” who will take it too far and will cast a Force of Will in response to a turn 1 Sol Ring. That guy is a douche. I want to highlight that it’s okay to play control. Just don’t make everyone’s experience miserable by countering everything. In a pod of 4 players, if you are the only control player, it is not as effective because it’s hard to counter everything on your own, especially if you're from a meta where people run interaction or a small counter package as protection. My take is Control is fine in EDH. Just keep the zero mana counter spells for the competitive tables.

Infectious Gameplay

Infect is another style of gameplay that gets a lot of hate. Infect automatically gets hate due to having to get a player to a total of 10 poison counters instead of reducing their life points from 40 to 0 making winning by combat damage a lot quicker and easier. However, I have always been a strong advocate of Infect in commander. That’s because it is not as good in EDH as it is in Modern or Legacy. It requires skills and consideration of when to play certain spells when trying to kill off the table quickly. While most people argue and are determined to prove that a poison count of 10 is too low for a game of commander, I say that they are wrong. If the infect count was any higher, it simply wouldn’t be viable in EDH. Getting one player to 10 poison counters is pretty easy. But being able to do that two more times to two other players is harder once they’ve branded you as the arch-enemy. There is no need for the table to collectively moan when somebody announces they are playing Infect. While you are working against a clock when facing Infect it still easy to work around and provides a unique challenge that I welcome. I understand that Proliferate powers up Infect when attacking isn’t a viable option later in the game, but is it really that hard to stop the infect player from killing everyone? No. Most infect players usually get damage in by pumping a low mana cost creature that has some sort of evasion. A simple kill spell can stop them for a turn or 2. Yes, it’s annoying in some circumstances but doesn’t stop you from winning either. Infect is very easy to work around and doesn’t need to warrant the hate it garners.

“You gonna pay for that?”

Stax decks are considered to be some of the most annoying decks to play against. Whether you are consistently wasting mana to deny your opponents' card draw or mana, struggling to untap your lands thanks to Stasis or praying somebody deals with that Smokestack before it gets too out of hand, you’re gonna have a rough time against Stax. Stax gets a lot of hate due to the deck oppressing other players by denying them mana, resources, and the ability to untap, theoretically, locking them out of the deck. People really hate paying for Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe costs because no one likes to waste mana on those triggers. (But you know I’m gonna be running them in every U/W deck just to spite everyone. Yes! Yes! Give me my free resources! Keep your precious mana!) However, not all Stax cards are evil and some do see a lot of play outside of Stax decks. The two prime examples are Propaganda and Ghostly Prison. A lot of players consider playing these cards against creature heavy decks to make combat towards them unfavorable. Both Propaganda and Ghostly Prison force your opponent to waste mana to attack you, yet they are not seen as oppressive as other Stax pieces. Smothering Tithe is also a favorite in more casual decks because of its’ amazing ability to net you mana in colors that aren’t strong in ramping. It’s fairly obvious as to why these cards get a pass and others don’t. Most Stax decks are going to be optimized 7/8-10 power levelled or Cedh decks due to how refined and oppressive they are usually built. So unless your opponent doesn’t discuss this with the table and plays it without telling you, not giving you time to prepare and utilize resources in an effective manner, I don’t have a problem with Stax. For me, when it comes to gameplay I enjoy the challenge of overcoming oppressive decks, the thrill of playing against something out of my local meta and learning to adapt and defeat it is triumphing for me! I understand that Stax is not everyone’s cup of tea. Stax can, and usually is a dull deck to play against if you cannot prevent them from getting their engine set up. But, do consider that not all stax cards are bad and are worth trying out in your decks!

“I don’t wanna miss a thing”

Armageddon is a universally hated card in Commander. I have seen many people scoop after someone has resolved it and usually hate that person for the rest of the night. A lot of people call for its’ ban and a lot of local meta have it as a house banned card. In general, people don’t really like land destruction; and for good reason. It slows down the tempo of an already accelerating game and adds additional time to a game that has become long and tiring. I find that land destruction in moderation is fine. A simple Strip Mine that targets powerful lands like Gaea’s Cradle is seen as a saving grace that stops people from becoming a threat too early. However, when you start to recur your Strip Mine and begin to blow up 3/4 lands a turn, that becomes a problem. Players, especially ones with casual builds, have a hard time recovering from aggressive land destruction. There is a social stigma surrounding land destruction which has led to obscurity in its’ play. Nobody likes their lands getting destroyed, especially when it keeps denying them colors they need to achieve what they need to do. No one plays any Stifle effects in EDH so the ability to halt lands that destroy other lands is slim to none. Apart from using a Ghost Quarter or a Strip Mine as politics to wage someone from not attacking you, I don’t think there is a casual or optimized way to run land destruction in Commander without people getting upset with you. Which is a shame because I really want to build a Zo-Zu the Punisher deck without getting immediate hate. I personally believe that Land Destruction, while annoying to play against, isn’t that bad of a deck type. Like I’ve mentioned before, I personally enjoy playing against obscure decks that do not see regular play and I respect that people prefer not to play against certain decks. Land Destruction certainly has no place in a casual meta, and you should always check with your meta before busting out your Numot, the Devastator deck.

EDH is a behemoth of a format in Magic: the Gathering that plays host to a variety of playstyles and decks. There are a lot that are loved and tolerated and a lot that are not. I hope that through this article, I have removed a piece of the stigma surrounding some of the more opposed styles of play and have allowed you to consider trying out of these playstyles knowing that they aren’t as bad as people tend to make them out to be. I feel like a lot of good cards get passed over because people are scared of getting shunned for playing them (But that’s a topic too long to fit into this article). Of course, I do not advocate for you to go away from this discussion and build the most disgusting land destruction deck with a control package to protect your spells with Infect as a backup win con. I merely wish to show people that these playstyles are not the boogieman of the format and deserve to be given a chance. What do you guys think? Do you think I’m wrong for defending Control and Infect? Should Land Destruction be played more often? Let me know in the comments below. I want to hear what you think about these playstyles in Commander!

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