On 1v1 Commander: An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast

Last week, Wizards decided to launch a new format on Magic Online, with 1v1 Commander going live on May 10th. Anyone who’s talked to me or watched my stream in the last week can tell you that I was pretty caught up in the hype of this format and want it to succeed. However, I do have some concerns and things I’d like to see done, as well as things that I hope do not happen. The format is new, and WotC could very easily do too much, too fast, pushing players out or dissuading them from picking it up altogether.

While 1v1 Commander has had a quick surge of success, it has also become close to “solved” in its current state. Over the first few days there was some diversity in the 5-0 decks, with a couple lists each day putting up results priced at 200 tickets or less. Unfortunately, as the undefeated decks trend toward more and more blue spells, prices have also gone up.

But let’s dig into the pros and cons of the format, and some things I think we can do to keep 1v1 Commander healthy long-term. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of the more important issues currently.

Pros

It’s fun.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some degenerate things happening in 1v1 Commander, and the format has quickly become hostile to untuned decks, the change of pace is nice from traditional Magic.

Although there may be a disconnect from the more traditional multiplayer or Commander enthusiasts, people need to realize that this is a separate entity. It’s more of a throwback to the old Singleton format that predated Commander and actually used to be supported by Magic Online. It’s still more competitive than casual, and with active support to help get it off the ground, this could easily become a compelling enough reason on it’s own to play Magic Online.

It’s diverse.

Okay so I’m going to contradict myself a little on this point, because the format is starting to stagnate, but this should change once the banned list comes out next week. In fact one of the cons I had written into this article had to be removed, since the announcement was made yesterday (WotC: please crosspost announcements to your main website, please and thanks) that there will be some changes made next Wednesday, only two weeks into the format.

In the first few days before blue became king, there were a lot of decks doing a lot of different things. You didn’t really know what you were going to play against. Now it’s gotten to the point where maindeck cards like Carpet of Flowers, Choke, and Boil will work out a lot more than they won’t. But, with a banning on the horizon, which shouldn’t be feared (more on that in a second), deckbuilding decisions shouldn’t be so automatic and we can get closer to the diverse meta we saw right away.

Cons

Mulligans

This is the elephant in the room for 1v1 Commander currently. Since only one game is played, mulligan decisions are super difficult. You can easily mulligan into oblivion using the normal rules for the game, and this needs to be addressed immediately. It feels really bad to lose your entry fee without a game actually being played.

My suggestion would be that you get two tries at each hand, so your first mulligan would be back to 7 cards, then two mulligans at 6 cards, and so on. I think being able to scry when you go below 7 cards is still acceptable since this format is very tempo and card count based, but there is a chance that it could be too easily abused at that point.

Art by Cynthia Jackson

Hopes (and Dreams)

Active Involvement

With yesterday’s announcement WotC put their foot down, showing that they want to be involved and will be aggressively making changes if things start to stagnate. Active bannings are not something to be feared for a new format – they’re going to be necessary to stop things from becoming stale eventually.

While it’s true they aren’t going to be following their normal timelines for bans, and that this could scare some players, I’m hopeful that they’ll instill some ground rules to give everyone some faith in the format.

The second part, is hoping that they listen to the community. Duel Commander has been a community run format for a long time, and although they run at 20 life now, (and that is a huge difference) they can learn something from them. There’s also an offshoot of Duel Commander known as Leviathan that does use the 30 life format. I fully believe all of these communities can, and should, learn from each other.

Wizards can’t be afraid to let the community get involved in this format. We can all work together to build it into something great.

Ground Rules for Bans

There are a few things I want to see when it comes to active bannings since these won’t occur during normal B&R announcements, and it seems with at least this first one that they will actually be announced the day they are implemented. Here is what I’m hoping for:

  • A minimum amount of time between bannings. Even if it’s at little as two weeks, some insurance would be nice. Especially if you give warnings on cards that could be banned in the future. Which leads me to…
  • A watch list. Give us a warning! If there are cards that you think aren’t quite bannable, or may have a reduced power level if another card that must be banned goes, the prime example being Baral. It’s a high win deck but things like Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn will change the deck immensely. It doesn’t mean that Baral, Chief of Compliance should be banned if the other cards are already going. Get rid of them and see how Baral is doing afterwards.
  • A trade-in system for banned cards. Alright so first things first, I don’t think this should be in place for every format, but you are asking people to buy in to something new, and they are getting these cards from the secondary market, so you need to provide a parachute. Perhaps something based on market price (WotC doesn’t discuss secondary market, blah blah blah) before you make an announcement could translate into Play Points, Treasure Chests, or Legendary Cube prize packs, or something in exchange for the card that got banned. Being able to get some value back would encourage more people to jump in.

Incentivize Things

The format is new and great. Celebrate it. Offer special treasure chests for 1v1 Commander for a limited time, similar to the Legendary Cube prize packs that happened a couple of years ago. Run some special events giving out staples!

This is probably the biggest pipe dream but imagine something like “Commander Points” as prizes that are redeemable for commander packs or even specific cards in a “Commander Points” store. It feels like they’re trying to make this format something unique to Magic Online, so make the experience unique as well. They want us to invest into something new, a little incentive could go a long way.

Art by Mark Tedin

Fears

Bannings That Go Too Far

This was addressed briefly earlier, but look at every part of the problem before you make a banning. Baral, Chief of Compliance and Vial Smasher the Fierce are both doing very well, but if you get rid of key Delve cards, or in Baral’s case Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, the decks will see lower win rates. From there we can move forward with more information and look at addressing specific cards if problems persist.

If you implement a watch list we will know that these cards are on thin ice anyway, and it won’t be a surprise if they go away after part of the problem is addressed.

Bannings That Don’t Go Far Enough

Okay hang with me for a minute, I’m not trying to contradict myself again. When considering a ban, you have to address the problems based on, “If this card goes away, is there a replacement that isn’t much worse that may need to be addressed too?”. This could be done by immediately putting that card on a hypothetical watch list, or if need be, getting rid of it immediately.

My example for this would be Tasigur, the Golden Fang getting banned, and Leovold, Emissary of Trest immediately taking its place in the same shell with little to no other changes being made. Leovold could be just as bad if not worse for the format. It’s certainly not a pleasure to play against that card and there is a chance that it may be the subject of a banning in the near future if it isn’t taken care of. Being proactive and smart about these things will be difficult, but necessary.

Not Listening to the Community

We’re all this together. We want this format to work out, you want this format to work out. Listen to us, ask us questions, ask us about cards that are coming out in new sets if there is potential for a problem, maybe implement part of the community in your beta team to help them test these possibly issues. We want to help, let us.

Banning Predictions

Since we know that we are going to see some changes next week I have some guesses at how this might go down. I’m going to use a watch list too but there are things that need to be addressed immediately.

Banned

  • Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Delve is strong, a large commander at a cheap price and you can delve through the tax of having to play it multiple times. Simply causes a lot of problems and there are in color replacements that are less impactful to a game on their own.
  • Breya. While not putting up as many 5-0 results Breya is a pain to play against because she is a fee way to kill a lot of other commanders. It leads to focus on the deck instead of synergy with the commander and this takes away from the heart of the format.
  • Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. So far, every card I’ve mentioned is also banned in Duel Commander. These two are just too powerful and we have seen them addressed in every competitive format. There is no exception for them here.
  • Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Green ramp decks are the only thing in the current iteration of the format besides blue that are really close to competitive. They use Emrakul, but have other options if they were to lose her. However, if you play against green with the Polymorph version of Baral (no creatures besides Emrakul) you can get a draw that they can never beat that goes turn 1 Mystical Tutor/Personal Tutor for Polymorph. Turn 2 Baral, turn 3 Polymoprh into Emrakul. There are other examples of why Emrakul isn’t healthy for the format, but the easiest thing would be to just take care of it by taking action against the card immediately.

Watch List

  • Leovold, Emissary of Trest. I could see this one just getting banned right away too, especially since buying a 40 ticket commander that could get caught up next (after Tasigur) would feel pretty bad. This is the best example of why we need a watch list.
  • Vial Smasher the Fierce & Baral, Chief of Compliance. I’m lumping these together for the reason I voiced earlier. I don’t think they are too good on their own. I simply think they have access to cards that are too strong, and once those are gone more information is needed.
  • Strip Mine. Another one that could just be banned. Provides a lot of feel bad moments especially if you lose a basic to it. There are a lot of decks that lean on Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine for that lock, but they aren’t really seen often since they are kind of lost in the shuffle currently. I still think it needs to be addressed.
  • Mox Diamond and Chrome Mox. I honestly feel these are fine and necessary right now to compete with some of the other degenerate things going on, although the degenerate decks are using them too. I don’t think they need to go right away, but as things get reeled in there may be a point when these need to be looked at.

So I rambled on a little more than I had intended but I feel that there are a lot of important little details that need to be handled correctly to keep this format healthy and thriving. I love this format and do not want to sound like I’m ragging on it.

Wizards wants this to succeed, The Community wants this to succeed. Let’s make it happen together.

I’ll have some videos online soon over at our YouTube channel featuring 1v1 Commander so keep an eye on that. You can also catch me on my stream throughout the weekend spreading the good word of 1v1 Commander. I’ll also be streaming the 1v1 Commander Challenge Event starting at 2PM Central Time tomorrow, come and show us and the new format some love! We would appreciate it. You can follow me specifically on Twitter @smalltownmagic for any streaming announcements.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Mike Bryant

Mike learned to play Magic from a cousing at the age of 10 and has been hooked ever since. He’s put together a number of good runs at the GP level, an SCG Open top 8, as well as a couple of Pro Tours, finishing top 64 at Pro Tour: Magic Origins. He’s currently retired from actively traveling to play, choosing to focus more on Magic Online and the community aspect of things.

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