Revising The Rules - Wishing For More Wishes

Jake FitzSimons • August 31, 2021

Wish by Ekaterina Burmak

No, I'm not trying to trick a genie into giving me more wishes. Everyone knows the smartest thing to do is wish for more genies anyway. What I am trying to do is make a case for why these cards should work in Commander, even if it is no more than wishful thinking. 

Named after the original cycle from Judgment, a "wish" in Magic typically refers to anything that brings a card into play or into your hand from "outside the game." For kitchen table players who pay no heed to constructed conventions, this really is what it says on the tin: you pore over your collection looking for an appropriate card that meets the requirements of the wish.

While this is an awesome experience when you're new to the game, it doesn't take long to note the problems with wishes working as such. It rewards the player with the largest collection but the logistical issue is even greater - nobody wants to lug every trade binder and every cardboard box of draft chaff around with them just so their Mastermind's Acquisition works properly. 

Thankfully, in typical formats, "outside the game" only refers to whichever cards you have in your sideboard. Herein lies one of the problems: the total absence of a sideboard in Commander. Even if we had sideboards, rule 11 states "parts of abilities which bring other traditional card(s) you own from outside the game into the game do not function in Commander." 

The introduction of a specifically designed wishboard would be the simplest solution, but the larger problem is the RC - or at least Sheldon Menery - doesn't want them to work in the first place. As he says, "wishes breed homogenisation" and create an association with competitive formats, which the RC is adamant about distancing themselves from.

Why It Should Change

From my perspective, it's hard to square this complaint of homogenisation off against the reality of the format. Commander has access to the full suite of the finest tutors ever printed, even the ones restricted in Vintage. Debating the value of tutors is an article for another day - I don't see eye to eye with Corbin Hosler on this one - but you'd be hard-pressed to argue that wishes came close to the "homogenising" effect tutors have on the format. For one thing, they have more constraints and more restrictive casting costs than the common tutors, and require far more careful curation of your wishboard in order to be actually useful.

I'd also argue this rule already has changed, as it did with the rewording of rule 11 after the release of Ikoria to make room for the introduction of the Companion mechanic. The official line regarding this change is that Companions bring themselves into play whereas wishes bring other cards into play, but it seems like a distinction without a difference. It remains a difficult to grasp exception that just... is? Particularly given the absolute chaos companions wrought on 60-card constructed Magic, the exception that allows for their presence doesn't do much to distance the format from the competitive ones. Sheldon concedes Companions exist in "this weird liminal space in Commander" but I ask, why can't wishes exist in their own liminal space?

So, what if Rule 11 were done away with entirely? What would the introduction of a wishboard actually bring to Commander? I think they would allow for more interesting deckbuilding decisions, and it seems I'm not alone. Gavin Duggan of the RC contends that sideboards would likely make Commander more interesting, even if he thinks wish effects would be too strong regardless.

We are starting to see more and more cards with wish-esque mechanics. By the usual definition, there are 17 Commander legal "wish" cards and eight of them have been printed since Eldritch Moon, which is to say nothing of the Learn mechanic from Strixhaven, which introduced a whopping 21 cards that pull a card into play from outside of the game. None of these cards are banned, but the majority of them simply... don't do anything. Having 38 legal cards that don't do what they were intended to do isn't necessarily a huge problem (Squadron Hawk is legal, but may as well be a vanilla flyer) but given WotC seems determined to keep exploring the design space, it would be a shame not to let them shine in the game's most popular format.  We'll be seeing more wish effects in the future, so why not embrace them?

Less from a mechanical perspective and more from a flavor one, wishes also just feel like something that should work in Commander. This format is an inherently casual one and despite certain wishes having competitive pasts, they're truly only as troublesome as the wisher makes them. Gavin Duggan speaks to the fear of reducing the cost of "feel-bad silver bullets", pointing to players bringing in Chokes and Boils with their wish effects, but I feel like the types of players liable to do this are already playing at a power level where such a thing is par for the course.

Take Spawnsire of Ulamog for instance. This is the one format where it could truly pop off and feel like the cataclysmic eldritch monstrosity it was designed to be. To have such a flavorful and flashy effect doing absolutely nothing seems a crying shame. If I sit down at the table and my opponent manages to put together the 30 mana needed to make Spawnsire happen, I applaud them. A handful of Eldrazi cards coming into play from outside of the game would feel like a host of interdimensional beings descending from the blind eternities, and that's just the sort of experience I come to Commander for. In the same way, AFR's Wish should feel like the player calling upon the gods for an effect so powerful, so incredible and audacious that there simply wasn't room for it in their mainboard. 

I also see value in allowing players more modality in their threat/answer dichotomy. "Run more removal" is repeated ad nauseam when it comes to deckbuilding advice, and while this leads to stronger decks, it doesn't necessarily lead to more enjoyable decks. Wishes can help bridge this gap by allowing players to run a mixture of proactive and protective cards in their wishboard, and pulling out whichever one seems more appropriate for the situation at hand. 

How It Could Change

Like any change though, the question of just how to implement it is crucial. I think everyone can agree an unlimited pool of cards to draw from would be impractical, so what about the typical 15-card allowance that competitive formats use? The RC doesn't want Commander to feel like a competitive format, and I agree that 15 cards would be too reminiscent of sideboarding, so going lower is likely better.

What about 10 cards? Still sideboard-esque, but a little more restrictive. While not on par with the raw power of an unconditional tutor, ten is still an awful lot of choices and may lead to decision paralysis. Choosing 100 cards is hard enough already without taking it up to 110, although this issue is easily circumvented by just, you know, not putting any wish cards into your deck. None of them are strong enough to warrant mandatory inclusion. Ten would also be enough to make fitting every card in a traditional deckbox a tight squeeze if not impossible. 

I think the sweet spot would be just five cards. Not so much that a single wish card is as powerful or flexible as it is in a typical format, but still enough that wishes actually work, and you get to play with such unique and flavorful cards. Yes, silver bullet answers would be available, but I think this would actually lead to healthier deckbuilding. Giving players the ability to answer cheesy strategies without forcing them to dedicate precious deckslots to narrow solutions strikes me as a good thing. I'm always in favor of encouraging interaction! 

An especially flavorful alternative would be a wishboard of just three cards. Unlikely to create any issues from a power or cognitive load perspective, and best of all, dripping with flavor. I've never heard of a genie or a djinn offering any more than three! Adding just three cards would also be no trouble for the vast majority of deckboxes, even with double sleeves. Triple sleeves are another story.

What It Would Mean For The Format

However, even a tiny wishboard, would create a fairly large problem in the form of Karn. For more cutthroat players, the temptation to run Karn, the Great Creator with a copy of Mycosynth Lattice in the wishboard would simply be too great. With a single deckslot you'll have access to a game winning lock-em-out combo. An expensive one no doubt, but one that would cause problems wherever it reared its metallic head. If a wishboard were ever implemented, I think Mycosynth or Karn would have to be first on the chopping block. However, I think it would also be the only card that needed chopping. Nothing else strikes me as problematic.

But as usual dear reader, I'm just another Commander player. I've no sway over the rules, I'm just here to foster discussion and give you my two cents on what I'd like to see from my favorite format. What matters much more, is what you specifically want to see from it. So let me know what you think below! 

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.