Mechanical Engineering - Play More Interaction (no, not that kind)

Hey folks, I'm Chris, and I'm YOUR Commander Mechanic. You may recognize me from my YouTube Channel or from guesting on major streams around the community - I'm a deckbuilder and brewer with a very analytical view of the format of Commander.

Some have said I take a competitive mindset and apply it to casual Commander, but I prefer to think of it as taking an efficient look at deckbuilding. More of the game is played before you ever sit down at a table with other players.

There's a lot to be said about other players' impact on play experience. Expectation mismatches, lack of communication, and differing opinions on what constitutes 'fun' can all play a part in how much you enjoy Commander.

Throughout this series I want to take a look at how you can improve play experience - your own and that of others - before you ever play a game. Avoid not being able to play the game due to deckbuilding issues, avoid imposing poor scenarios on others, and ensure you have concentrated efforts in mind when deckbuilding.

But, as always, Commander is about having fun YOUR WAY; don't let anyone tell you there's a right or wrong way to play this game.

Putting the 'Action' in Interaction

'Play more removal' is a classic meme at this point. To put it broadly, run more interaction. This is classically defined as something that messes with someone else's stuff: counterspells, artifact removal, land destruction, etc. But that kind of interaction doesn't necessarily make for a good or fun game, as too many board wipes may drag things out too long, or no one being able to resolve a spell or fearful to resolve a spell can make the game a slog.

But there's a different kind of interaction you could be putting into your decks. And that's the kind of interaction that allows players to interact and get involved. To make choices and feel like they have agency over the game.

What does this mean?

The kind of interaction I'm talking about are cards that get players involved on everyone else's turns. Gets them to think carefully and gets them engaged even when they aren't the active player.

Think cards like Sin Prodder that get the table talking and discussing risk versus reward. Who wants to take the damage? Is it worth having a player get that card? I'll let you have it if you don't use it against me...

It's THAT kind of back-and-forth interaction that turns a game from mild to wild!

Taking Turns

Commander has many disengagement points; that is, points in the game or during gameplay where someone can "tune out". Unless I'm acting I could care less about your untap/upkeep/draw. Largely someone will only care when a spell is cast, which means otherwise they could be chatting across the table or checking their phone. Not actually invested in what's going on.

This can be fine, sure; not everyone needs to be 100% focused on everything going on... but what if they had a personal stake in it?

If I'm tapped out and shields down and it's not my turn, what if I still get to make decisions? What if I still have an impact on the game?

We joke about hitting the F6 button--a throwback to Magic Online and auto-passing all priority--but there's fun to be had in the wheel and deal. In choosing, and in helping others make choices.

A classic here is Fact or Fiction. Making piles with a FoF is something the whole table can be involved in. "What if we put that in pile one and that in pile 2?", "Do they want THAT card more than anything else??", "We absolutely can't let them have THAT!".

That's a card that you didn't cast, and you may not have even been chosen to make the piles, but I'll be damned if everyone's not nose-deep in those 5 cards the moment they're revealed. THAT'S a kind of interaction!

Who's At The Wheel?

Fortunately we're getting more and more of these cards that give non-active players a choice, or a chance to bargain, like Doctor Strange and Dormammu. Commanders like Tivit, Seller of Secrets is a great new example, incentivizing voting-style cards and causing players to choose when he enters the battlefield or connects to a player. It might not be YOUR Tivit, and you might not have been attacked, but you get to do something!

Same can be said for the new Gluntch, the Bestower: he may initially see very group hug-y, but giving gifts to opponents can allow for a lot of interesting cost-benefit analysis, threat analysis, and player choice. "What can I give you to get those two Treasures??"

It's not your turn, it's not your card, but you can have a say in what's going on!

A classic example of a card like this is Orzhov Advokist, allowing players to choose the benefit of two +1/+1 counters at the cost of not being able to attack the Advokist's controller. It's a devil's bargain that many are willing to take. I won't attack you today, but tomorrow's another question entirely!

The new Background Noble Heritage does nearly the same thing AND can live in the Command Zone, ensuring that you can be wheeling and dealing for fun and profit from the word 'go'. Make your creature bigger but I get protection from you until my next turn... more than not being able to be attacked, this means no more being targeted by spells, either. Planning on using that Comet Storm? Better think twice about taking those counters.

A Deal with the Devil

There's more than just Faustian bargains to be made here too; it's not all "damned if you do, damned if you don't". Take new legend Bane, Lord of Darkness for instance. Do you take the gamble of letting them put a creature from their hand into play? Do they HAVE a creature that meets the criteria? Is it really THAT bad to let them draw a card? These are questions to ask, but that could involve skill, knowledge, and discussion with the table.

A classic example is Athreos, God of Passage. Is that dead creature worth 3 life to you? Probably not, right? Do you have 3 life to pay to prevent it from going back to its owner's hand? Again, choices that you, as a player whose turn it currently IS NOT, has to make.

The Monarch mechanic, like on Custodi Lich, is another excellent example of getting players involved and engaged. It gets people paying attention to who may be on the throne or wearing the crown, making deals and bargains to take a point of damage here or there to pass the crown and get an extra card, or to avoid things like Court of Ire from triggering for massive damage, uniting players against a common threat in some instances.

The new Initiative mechanic, as seen on White Plume Adventurer, while a little different, is largely the same. Passing from player to player the same way the Monarch does, you get the benefit of exploring the super dungeon, and some cards trigger additional benefits if you've completed a dungeon OR if you've still got the initiative by the time it's your turn again. Again: get players involved in deciding where the Initiative is, where it's going, and where it shouldn't be.

Get Out and VOTE

I mentioned Tivit, Seller of Secrets earlier: this in-the-box Commander of the still-recent Obscura Operation makes players vote, usually for the benefit of the sphinx's controller. But he also incentivizes voting cards, like Coercive Portal, as the controller gets an additional thumb on the scale.

These voting cards are all about getting players talking about what the best decision is, so what if we warp the entire precon to be about these player-choice-matters cards?

Commander (1)
Creatures (28)
Enchantments (6)
Lands (36)
Artifacts (15)
Sorceries (9)
Instants (5)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

THAT'S a different kind of interaction that makes a game more ENJOYABLE. Give players things to do when it isn't their turn and they'll suddenly be interested in the game AT ALL STAGES rather than when it's just their turn.

Incentivizing Paying Attention

For players with issues with attention this is important. Being involved at all stages--or at least more stages--keeps heads in the game and off of phones, or from wandering away, or from tabbing out to check social media. In a social format; the last thing you want is someone doing anything other than interacting. Not everyone has the capability to be invested in what's going on at all times, and we should be empathetic of that, but if you know there's a player in your group that would be more engaged with the game if you gave them a reason to be engaged in the game, this may be right up their alley.

Do you enjoy a game better when you're involved? Do you prefer compartmentalizing involvement, putting the cards down when it's not your turn? Is it your NIGHTMARE to have to keep track of the board, or to be pulled into a discussion about what's going on?

Is it a matter of threat assessment, or is it a matter of social engagement?

Let me know what you think and more importantly how you feel about the subject. Do you appreciate Wizards printing more cards that get players involved, even when it's not their turns?

Let me know in the comments below and, as always folks, good luck & have fun!

"I'm Chris and I'm YOUR Commander Mechanic!" A die-hard Commander player, Chris is a brewer, deck builder, and player experience advocate. Check out YouTube for Tune-Ups, Twitter for hot takes, and catch him on streams all over the community!