What's In A Name? Commander vs. 1v1 Commander

Feature Article from Bruce Richard
Bruce Richard
6/6/2017 11:00:00 AM
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I attended a small elementary school where each grade had only one class. My class had between 28 and 30 students each year. In spite of the small number, there were four girls in the class named Lisa. My teachers used a variety of methods to distinguish between each of the girls; nicknames and last names were the most commonly used while one teacher opted to sit them at the four corners of the room. The students were less kind: pretty Lisa, happy Lisa, fat Lisa and other Lisa were all used at various times and often for different Lisas. Whatever happened, there was always some confusion around which Lisa was involved.

Commander is suffering from the Lisa dilemma right now, and sitting 1v1 Commander and Commander in opposite corners of the internet is not going to help the situation. Put simply, there needs to be a name change and it needs to happen soon. As 1v1 Commander grows in popularity, the confusion will get worse and worse, and changing the format's name will become more and more difficult. I'm going to lay out the differences between the formats, the problems the confusion is causing, and why it is serious enough to demand a name change. What I won't be doing is saying one format is better than the other, or suggesting 1v1 Commander isn't the way to go for an online singleton format (ala Corbin's article from last week. Check it out!). Let's focus on the task at hand.

Differences

While the formats use similar deckbuilding requirements (100-card singleton decks with a commander in the command zone), the similarities end there. 1v1 Commander is the default version of Commander for Magic Online, while Commander is the default version of Commander in paper Magic. Commander tends to primarily be a casual format, while 1v1 Commander is primarily a competitive format. Each format has its own banned list, which makes sense when you consider the primary difference between 1v1 Commander and Commander: 1v1 Commander involves only two players, while Commander is best played with three or more players. A multiplayer game gives some Magic cards far more power than a Magic game involving only two players, so it is not surprising that cards that benefit from this might get banned in Commander, but be legal in 1v1 Commander, and vice versa.

This difference produces a dramatically different game. With multiple players playing in a casual setting, games run longer and players get a chance to try out less optimal cards. The games tend to be informal with somewhat relaxed rules enforcement. With 1v1 Commander, the rules are strictly enforced and the decks tend to be more streamlined.

Problems the Confusion is Causing

Casual versus Competitive

We are already seeing casual Commander players joining MTGO leagues, believing their decks with be suitable for 1v1 Commander. This is producing games that aren't fun for either player, since there is little challenge for the 1v1 Commander player when playing against a deck designed to encourage group interaction or play for a long game that isn't going to happen. And as the 1v1 Commander format grows, we'll start to see those decks appearing in casual Commander games. This will only produce feel-bad moments for those involved, as they all were looking for a different play experience but didn't understand that “Commander” meant something different to each group. This is a problem we are already seeing within paper Commander itself and it is only going to be exacerbated as 1v1 Commander grows in popularity on MTGO and in side events at tournaments.

Commander Content

With such similar names, it is up to the consumer to understand that a pro player's article about Commander has nothing to do with a four-player game involving Dragons as commanders, or that my Vorel article is not going to improve your Vorel deck for 1v1 play. I have had readers get confused in the past about some of my casual content. Since then, I have tried to ensure that I make it clear in an early paragraph what to expect, but with a competitive Commander format available, simply saying that I'm looking at a new Commander deck is not enough. What about writers like Bennie Smith or Chris Lansdell, who are talented enough to write about tournament-level decks while still enjoying casual Commander games with friends? They will have to be particularly attentive when discussing 1v1 Commander or multiplayer Commander games.

Banned Lists

Similar names cause confusion over what cards are banned. Players for each format will look online to determine which cards are banned and which cards are playable. Someone new to either format can mistake one banned list for the other and produce a deck that may not be legal in the format they actually want to play.

A Google search finds this Banned List on Wizards' site. The second hit sends you here.

While these appear obvious, the first link never mentions that the banned list is only for paper Commander. The second link seems more obvious until you scroll down the page and see in bold letters: “To be perfectly clear, this banned list is only intended for Magic Online Commander.” Is that 1v1 Commander, Commander or both, but only when played online? They have since cleared this up, but you can see the confusion involved.

Data production issues

EDHrec.com is one of the few sources available to show what cards are popular in Commander decks, but the data is getting more difficult to use as 1v1 Commander decks become more popular. Is Cyclonic Rift really in 69% of Baral Commander decks, or is it in 90% of Commander decks and only 40% of 1v1 Commander decks? Sol Ring currently shows up in 78% of all decks. How many of the 22% of decks that don't run it are 1v1 Commander decks where Sol Ring is banned? The data isn't separate, so we can't know.

Why Change?

Even given the various issues, there are still many who don't think the names should be changed. They argue that the deckbuilding rules make both versions simply variants of Commander.

This is a compelling argument, but consider Standard and Modern formats. Both are formats that involve building 60-card decks with 15 card sideboards. The only difference in the deckbuilding restrictions lies with which sets are legal in the format. Put another way, Standard is the same as Modern, except the list of banned cards includes all cards from sets over two years old, while Modern lets you use most cards from sets printed since Eighth Edition.

When you look at it that way, Standard and Modern are far more similar than 1v1 Commander and Commander. Standard and Modern both involve Magic with only one opponent, while 1v1 Commander and Commander have different numbers of opponents! This is a fundamental difference, producing very different games. Defeating your opponent wins the game in 1v1 Commander, while defeating an opponent is a good start in Commander.

Yet, despite the fact that Standard and Modern are more similar than 1v1 Commander and Commander, no one argues that they should be called Standard and Big Standard. We all understand that having different names is key, since we wouldn't want players with Standard decks to play against a player with a Modern deck because it wouldn't be fun for either player.

Name Change

Given the money Wizards of the Coast has put into branding Commander as Commander, it only makes sense to change the name of 1v1 Commander to something else. Since the format still has deckbuilding similarities to Commander, a name that inspires comparison while being distinctive makes sense. While you can't go back to Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) for corporate reasons (it is partially derived from the Highlander movie series), my personal preference would be to rename it Generalissimo and use the term general when referring to your commander. There is a reasonable comparison between the format names, while making it clear these are separate formats. I like it because it also pays homage to the original EDH name, which referred to your commander as your general. I've also heard Commodore as an alternative name, with an admiral as commander.

My friend Brandon suggested something like Command Zone Legacy as an alternate name, keeping commanders as commanders. While I prefer something more distinctive, Brandon's suggestion allows MTGO to keep the command zone name and minimizes how much programming would have to change to make it happen. It also wouldn't take long for players to be referring to the format as CZL, which would give 1v1 Commander a short, catchy name that would be very distinctive from Commander.

Simply put, the crux of the argument lies with fun. Changing the name of the format ensures less confusion and reduces the chances that a 1v1 Commander player will be playing against a Commander player. If a name change results in more Magic players having more fun, then changing the name just makes sense!

Bruce Richard
@manaburned




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