5, Jun, 23

Controversial MTG EDH Interaction Divides Player Opinion!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Article at a Glance

Since its inception, Commander has had plenty of specific rules and situations that are unique to the format. These can even alter the base principles that Magic: the Gathering is built on. For instance, while Priority works the same in Commander as any other format, because it is multiplayer, there are consequences to how it works.

One of those consequences? Mana bullying, which is a subset of priority bullying. Regardless of if it’s accidental or intentional, this bullying interaction is unavoidably prevalent throughout the competitive Commander format. The question remains, however, is this interaction actually a bad thing?

To answer that, let’s talk about priority bullying in general and dive into some specifics on when, where, and how this social mechanic affects gameplay with a very real-world example.

In Response

These two words separate Magic: The Gathering from practically every other CCG. No other game has anywhere near the amount of potential interaction or strict timing rules. On top of that, not every CCG even has multiplayer.

Magic is doubly unique in the fact that the most popular format, Commander, is a four-player free-for-all. Due to the litany of cards released throughout MTG’s life, the number of potential situations is near infinite. As a result of this, Magic’s rules about who can do what and when need to be rock solid, or else everything would fall apart.

This, of course, begs the question, what are the base rules of priority and how do they differ with more players?

Well, thankfully, the rules don’t change at all. The active player has priority until they are finished activating abilities and putting things onto the stack. Then you go around in turn order until no one wants to respond. Simple, elegant, consistent. Or is it? Because of the way multiplayer priority works there are consequences of a highly strategic nature. This is where priority bullying comes into play.

It’s a Free for all…with (Timing) Rules

Consider this example. Player one has priority and wants to play something then they pass priority. Player three has a response in hand, however, priority passes to player two first. Maybe player two acts and therefore player three changes their mind. Commander games are full of scenarios just like this. Additionally, table talk and diplomacy are incredibly important components of play. So far, very normal, right? Let’s add in some wrinkles.

In the previous example, the first player to act is at a pretty large disadvantage based on information. Once they have committed to a course of action and put something on the stack the rest of the table gets to evaluate the impact of that decision. Should they want to, these players can, potentially, collude to deny that play.

Obviously, the final player in order has the most information to work with and ultimately the “final say” on what happens… except not, because it’s Magic! After all, if any player does do something, it starts a whole new round of priority. As you can see, interaction is always possible. Subsequently, using strategy to reduce the amount your opponents can interact against you is a great move.

Now, player one is about to cast a devastating spell that will help secure them the win. Player two claims they cannot do anything about it so they pass priority. Player three can interact but wants to test the waters and see what player four will do so they also pass. Unfortunately, player four has no interaction, so it looks like the game is over. For better or worse, that’s not the case.

Somewhat bending the spirit of the rules, player three can ask four to do anything at all, such as tapping a land. This action forces another round of priority for everyone, allowing player three a chance to act and save the game! This is a good example of how diplomacy can be absolutely critical to resolving game-ending situations. The only problem? What happens when you weaponize the priority rules or request players to tap their lands? That’s what is known as priority and mana bullying.

Read More: Underexplored Two-Card MTG Combo Dominates Major Format!

Tap Your Lands or Else

Going back to the previous example, what if, instead of asking for cooperation, player three threatened the other players at the table? There’s a vast difference between “tap one land to help reset priority because I was testing the waters” and “both of you tap all your lands or I won’t play my counter.” This is where we go from a diplomatic solution to a bullying tactic.

At the end of the day, every player in a Commander game is looking for the win. Having your opponents be all tapped out on your turn is a great way to achieve this. After all, without mana, they’re going to have a hard time interacting with your plans. Due to this, coercing opponents into these bullying situations can be incredibly beneficial.

Beyond just saving the day, you can always tell your opponents you’ll help if they do what you ask, and then simply lie. Thankfully, however, if the game doesn’t immediately end after you do this, there are usually consequences to your actions. Furthermore, if you’re planning on playing more than one game, this act can lead to additional consequences in the future, with players no longer trusting you.

Most of the time, lying, cheating, and stealing are simply not worth it. Developing a bad reputation will hurt both the quality of your games and your chances of winning. Lie and coerce players too much and you might just find yourself being the archenemy at every table.

Commander is a Social Format…Even in Competitive

The recent fallout from the finals of the Mox Masters tournament in May is an example of where erring on the side of diplomacy would have been the right play, but, it didn’t quite happen.

In this scenario, the active player is about to resolve a Grand Abolisher. Obviously, once that hits the table, interaction becomes virtually impossible and it’s game over. At the same time, one of the other players has Mindbreak Trap in hand. This card was revealed to the table earlier so everyone knows they have it. Here’s a video of exactly how it went down.

Regardless of if you think the player with Mindbreak Trap should have tried to grind out further advantage, ultimately they did not cast their answer. Instead, this player declared they would simply do nothing unless another player acted. While this may seem like a tactical in-the-moment play, as we mentioned, this decision is fuel for the next interaction.

Whether it comes on the next turn, or even in the next tournament, there are consequences to this action. You cannot escape the social element of a multiplayer format like Commander, especially not if the moment is captured on the internet for all time.

In this example, it wasn’t a cleverly concocted bluff, at least, as the table knew Mindbreak Trap was available. Instead, this decision was more akin to pushing your chips into the pot while playing with your hand partly revealed. Since this is a Magic: the Gathering game we’re talking about, however, the situation is a whole lot more complex.

Since the Mindbreak Trap was public knowledge in this station, it’s likely the active player had a plan up their sleeve to beat it. Subsequently, the other players around the table needed more interaction over the top. Even if this was the case, however, not playing the first part of the hypothetical two-part answer is still a blunder.

Why? Well, if the only two outcomes for that game were to play Mindbreak Trap and lose, versus not playing Mindbreak Trap and still losing, the better option is to play. In this instance, you’re showing that you’re a reliable and diplomatic player rather than a greedy and combative one. Sure you may have lost the game, but you’ll gain social credit that will carry through the next match or even the next tournament.

Read More: Wizards Releases New MTG LotR Promos Starring Elijah Wood!

So Which is it? Strategy or Bullying?

At the end of the day, if everyone is trying to priority and mana bully one another, you’ll run into the Mox Masters situation very often. Here, you may be able to gain a small potential advantage, but it’s not worth losing the game or gaining the enmity of the other players.

Ultimately, it all comes down to outlook and framing. A lot of players think that when they sit down at a Commander table, they have three enemies. Not true! Other players can either help you win or hurt your chances. A player who only looks out for themself? That’s an opponent. The other players? Well, they could be helpful and even save the game from being over if it comes down to it.

Finally, while it’s possible you only ever play with a group of players a single time it’s much more common that you play with the same players more than once. Making future battles unnecessarily harder is a losing strategy in the long run!

Read More: MTG’s Most Disappointing Format Could Be So Much Better

*MTG Rocks is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more