Beyond Rule Zero: Creating Better Experiences

Amanda Stevens • July 21, 2022

A few weeks back, before DreamHack Dallas, I was at one of my local game stores for Commander night. I had just finished putting together my newest deck - Ognis, the Dragon's Lash - and was hoping to get at least one game in with the deck before heading out to Dallas. After being sorted into my first pod for the evening, someone asked, "So, what power level are we looking to play?"

If you've spent any amount of time on EDH/Commander Twitter or consuming any amount of content, you'll have probably heard this discourse about power levels. What once felt like a pretty standard way of pre-game conversation has become a bit too confusing nowadays, because, and you already know this, our understanding of our decks and what they are capable of are tainted by our own perspectives and play experiences. What is considered a weak mid-level deck in your at-home playgroup may feel like cEDH-level to the folks who play lightly tuned up precons at your LGS.

"Power Level" is Dead

I think we can all agree that the term "power level" is dead. Sure, if you want to cling to the ancient Command Zone video, you are more than welcomed to, but trust me: your definition of tuned and my definition of tuned are not the same, and I think the one experience we all want to avoid is when we all think we're on the same playing field but while some of the table is playing with water pistols, someone else is locked and loaded with a grenade launcher.

So, then, what is the solution? How can you attempt to make sure everyone at the table has an equitable play experience? Try this question when you roll out your playmat and look through your deck boxes:

"What type of game are we looking to play?"

I've been trying this more as a pre-game discussion-starter. It started a year ago when my playgroup realized we were stuck in an ever-escalating arms race. Games and decks were getting consistently faster. Ever more cutthroat. One day, someone just asked if we could deescalate. They felt as if they couldn't play their silly decks anymore and that, while we were getting more games per hangout, the actual quality of game had decreased. They weren't wrong either. Each game had mostly devolved into whose interaction-resistant combo deck went off first, usually ending by or around turn five.

Be Honest

Our solution was simple: be honest about the type of game we were in the mood for. If Val wanted to play her black deck that more often than not killed her, I was going to play my go wide Márton Stromgald deck to see just how low we could all go. Before each game, we just made sure to be honest with one another about the type of experience we were chasing.

Even with my LGS group, this has started to become the norm. When I said to my pod that I wanted to play my Ognis deck, I was as honest as I could be about the type of game I was looking for. "I just finished this deck, it's haste tribal, and I don't think I'd enjoy playing against a heavy control or midrange deck because I won't be able to handle too much removal."

Not everyone else in the pod expressed what they wanted in a play experience, but they were at least accommodating to what I was looking for, and we had a great first two games. Sure, people had mana issues, or didn't draw the right cards at the right time, but that didn't matter. We were laughing, excited by plays, making bad political decisions, and having fun playing together.

Participating in the Give and Take

For our last game of the night, someone said they wanted us to go as high punching power as they had. Everyone agreed to pull out their nastiest decks. Player one was able to play a turn one Etali, Primal Storm. I saw this and did a double take. My Sefris of the Hidden Ways deck's opening hand had no removal. I honestly forgot how player two's first turn went. I was lucky to draw a Swords to Plowshares, so I slammed down a Vault of Champions and cast it immediately, targeting and removing Etali. The table cheered; even player one had a chuckle.

Player four, not to be outdone, played a turn-one Winota, Joiner of Forces. The cheers stopped. Fast forward to my turn, and, as if I had the power of the heart of the cards, I was able to top-deck and cast a Damn to off the Winota. Again, everyone laughed. No one could believe I top-decked removal back-to-back.

I remember someone came by our table and saw a Jeweled Lotus in a graveyard and multiple pieces of fast mana in play. She came over to see why we were so rowdy and what type of Magic we could be playing. When she saw how high-powered our table was, she was shocked. She thought we were playing the ultimate jank based on how much fun we were having.

And that's the reason we all play Commander, right? To have fun. Because we were all on a similar page and expressed what we wanted out of our pod experience each game was enjoyable. Remember, Commander is a multiplayer format. The more you communicate with your opponents earnestly the better all your pods will be.