“Lost time is never found again.”
When you’re growing up, it seems that everyone almost instinctively latches on to the identity of some person – real or imaginary – whom they focus on as a child with much aplomb. Whether it’s filling the mold of a role model or merely a fixation of their burgeoning sense of self, kids invariably find someone to emulate besides their parents. There is always something about this other person’s identity that resonates in such a way that it sticks with them for quite some time.
Maybe for you it was a generalized profession, such as a veterinarian or an astronaut, perhaps because their callings fascinated you. Or maybe you focused on a major sports star or Hollywood celebrity (as many nowadays do). Or it was one of the many memorable characters of the music, television, and film industries that have been bestowed upon us over the years.
For me, I had two. The first was Indiana Jones. I loved the idea of a badass archaeologist traveling the world and saving the day. Sure, he wasn’t the first persona to embody this – Indy himself being an homage to the 1920’s adventure serials. But as a child, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that here was a history professor that recovered lost artifacts, fought Nazis, and rocked a pretty cool hat, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Much of me still does.
The other person was Benjamin Franklin, whose quote leads us off here today. Ben Franklin was a remarkable person: writer, inventor, scientist, statesman, businessman, ambassador, and one of the most iconic Founders the country had. While he is now and will forever be associated as a Son of Philadelphia, his early life was actually in Boston – less than an hour from where I grew up. He too came from a large family (although he had like three times the siblings I do), he came from modest means, and was largely self-taught in most of his endeavors. For me, everything about this guy was interesting, and I still have a great admiration of all he managed to achieve from such simple beginnings.
Ben also had an acute interest in time management. In the annals of historical quotes, today’s is but one of several that addresses the idea of time directly. Franklin was hardly against leisure activities, but he was a big proponent of avoiding wasting time. For anyone with as a rapacious desire to learn about and do as many of things that he did, it makes sense.
It also begs the question: if one such as Ben Franklin wasn’t wont to waste his or other people’s time, even in the pursuit of leisure, why would you?
Lesson Four: Wasting Time
Gaming is a fantastic thing to do with friends and family. It’s a social exercise, it’s a fun form of entertainment, it’s often mentally stimulating, and it’s an all-encompassing activity. There is, quite literally, a game for every type of person out there.
However, gaming also takes its fair share of time commitment. Playing games is fantastic, but it also requires you to purposefully set aside a block of time from your normal (and often hectic) schedule to accomplish that.
For some, they only have a short window with which to play a particular game, and so they’ll opt for shorter title choices. Others specifically carve out a larger chunk of time on the premise that they’ll get to dive into a game that has some more meat and substance to it, although even then their time frame is finite.
Magic is an interesting anomaly within the gaming pantheon because how much time you need for it varies wildly. If you’re just looking to play One vs. One, a game of Magic: the Gathering could be over in minutes. By contrast, multiplayer games – particularly Commander games – can stretch into hours. This is perfectly acceptable.
In fact, it’s down right expected.
What isn’t acceptable is trying to forcefully impose your own timetable onto these formats.
For instance, it’s not unheard of for two-player Magic games to last an hour. Ideally these cases involve two evenly matched players with a constant back-and-forth over board advantage. What you don’t want to hear about is how one person had the game sewn up but took 45 minutes to kill his or her opponent like a cat does with a mouse. Naturally, some decks take time to get set up, and not every person who designs a slower deck is out to drag the game to a halt. However, if your primary motivation is to stretch a game out simply because you can, then no one actually wins in that case. If you wanted a longer game, there are better options.
In Commander, this is vital. When playing games of EDH with friends, colleagues, and / or sentient apes, remember that each of you made a socially-agreed upon decision to engage in a format that is supposed to take a long time to play. That’s part of the appeal. Thus, be sure to follow two unwritten rules to avoid wasting the time of other people. Hang on tight, because these are pretty complicated.
Rule One: Accept that the game is going to take at least an hour. Wipe off the rage spittle and check the ego and embrace this as canon. You can normally smash someone’s face in with an aggro deck in ten minutes? Great. Kudos on building a speedy death machine. But don’t try to inject that same mentality into an EDH game.
When people opt to play a game of Commander, they want the slower pace and more nuanced gameplay. You can build an aggressive-styled Commander deck fairly easily, and that’s perfectly acceptable. But just like stacking broken combos or choosing an overused General for their power level and speed at which to dispatch enemies, playing hyper aggressively has its downsides.
Forget the in-game politics that happen when you come out of the gate swinging too hard and the inevitable gang-up that happens if you kill someone too early. That’s a guarantee. Instead, consider the ramifications of what that means for that losing player. How fun is it if they get knocked out 20 minutes into a two hour game? Do they sit around for the remaining 100 in the hopes that people will be up for another game, or do they ultimately cut their losses and move on to something else?
For someone who specifically slotted their valuable free time to play a Commander game, neither of those choices are ideal. Sure, EDH is like any other game of Commander and there can only be one victor. Players must be eliminated. But give them at least a chance to feel like they’re in the game.
Rule Two: Accept that grinding the game to a halt is not an acceptable answer either. The best games of Commander are when each person feels like they have a solid contribution to it. That doesn’t mean they have to win per se, or even deliver a killing blow. To be able to stake claim to a timely board wipe, a necessary counterspell, or triggering a powerful effect that disrupts the current state of the game though? Then they feel important. They feel like them being at the table had a purpose, had an impact in some small way. This is much harder to do if you’re playing the kind of deck that takes those kinds of decisions away.
Be mindful when you’re constructing decks if they have a habit of bringing a ribald game of EDH to its knees with little difficulty. I have little issue with forced detente due to some effect preventing major spells from happening, such as a Gaddock Teeg or an Ensnaring Bridge. Rather, the issue is when every card in your deck is effectively a Stasis-like variant.
Games of Commander can easily exceed two to three hours as they ebb and flow, but they move towards some form of conclusion. With a deck designed to stall and prevent anything from happening at all – even advancing the board position of the person causing it, it sucks the fun right out of the room. The last thing a bunch of people at the table want is to sit there collectively twiddling their thumbs.
Lockdown decks aren’t the only culprits either. You think you’re being clever repeatedly casting Beacon of Tomorrows? Guess again.
Extra turns are always tricky. Taking an extra turn or two here and there doesn’t generate much vitriol in most circles. However, if you decide to take an extra ten or ‘go infinite’, it proves to be very anticlimactic. With that amount of time invested into the games, people want to see a big payoff of some kind. Lots of extra turns are in many ways even worse than infinite combos, because they don’t come with immediately showing you how you’re going to lose. Instead, you either have to play it out or just assume they’ll win, and neither are particularly exciting prospects.
And there you have it. Commander is already a complicated format within a very complicated game, and so I’ve aimed to keep the points here simple. These lessons may seem straightforward; most of them involve separating the alpha need to win with common sense approaches to having fun. You can play tough, challenging, and powerful EDH decks while not resorting to being a jerk about it. Indeed, these issues arise because many people don’t think they even are being a jerk.
The need to win does not have to have the addendum of “at any cost”. Our Commander group prefers to use point-based achievement systems to that end, for instance, which gives players the ability to win without simply annihilating everyone. It also opens up all sorts of other styles to be played such as prevention and redirection decks, which aren’t designed around directly killing your opponent. (Here is one such example of an achievement system.)
Avoid douchey Generals and two-card win combos. Embrace the flavor side of EDH more, and, above all, enjoy the time you spend playing and the people you are playing with. Not only will you be better off for it, it’ll increase the vibrancy of Commander as an approachable and casual-friendly format on the whole. And that sounds like a win to me. Until next time, may your Commanders be bold, your decisions wise, and your tables full of people having a good time.
Do you feel your Commander group could benefit from these lessons? Do they do these already? Tell us over on our social media or by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org