Commander, arguably Magic: The Gathering’s most popular format, often dominates the conversation among players. New expansions are often graded by their viability in the format and the most sought-after reprints are nearly always EDH staples.
If you’re on the outside looking in, Commander sounds like a great format and a lot of fun. But is it? We sat down with renowned researchers who have been searching for the answer to that question. Their findings may surprise you.
“We found that the game itself isn’t actually all that enjoyable. The variety of power levels of decks requires careful planning on the part of players to self-regulate balance, leading to most games being dominated by a deck whose power level was misrepresented or poorly understood. This process is intricate and requires high levels of communication coupled with universal comprehension of the power level scale. With so many variables it’s easy to see how much this can impede satisfying games of EDH. Keep in mind, all this needs to happen before a game is even played. That’s not even the entire pre-game process. Additionally there’s a concept called “rule 0″ in which players then need to unanimously agree on rule changes before the game even begins. If it sounds exhausting it’s because it is. It’s all very silly.”
Josh Wallabe set up a series of tests to gauge and record players enjoyment levels throughout the process of a game of commander using lasers that gauge the players mood. The H.A.P.E.N. 15 system gives real-time feedback the levels of intensity of those moods.
“Once it’s all sorted, players then take their respective turns. However, with four players this means waiting is a big part of the game. Especially for players going last, a distinct disadvantage the format does nothing to address. There are far too many cards in each deck. Most people can barely shuffle 100 cards, which is ironic since we found players spend nearly 40% of each game shuffling. Games can take hours, and sometimes the majority of that time is spent with one or two players on the sidelines watching and waiting for the game to resolve after they were defeated. Sometimes players aren’t even able to play if another players deck works like a game of solitaire.”
We were curious how a game as bad and boring as this could be so popular and Wallabe had the answer.
“As much as they don’t want to admit it, players are actually conflating enjoyment of the game and the satisfaction that naturally comes with meaningful adult interaction, socializing, and forging new friendships. Our study found that players had the most fun when they were merely talking between games or having conversations about things other than the actual game. Often that conversation was surrounded by talking about new cards, or decks they’d like to build or about how their existing decks could be improved. Only 11% of the time did anyone actually comment on the game itself.”
“Reports of players building ludicrous amounts of decks without actually even playing the format come as no surprise and match up with our data.”
Shocking stuff to be sure. What do you think? Is commander actually fun, or are people just enjoying the social and shopping aspect of it? Don’t let us know and keep your opinions to yourself.