The following information was originally posted by the Commander Rules Committee on the Commander format forums. That site is currently facing technical difficulties, so we're reposting the information here to ensure the information remains visible.
Philosophy Document Update
The Philosophy Document update coalesces the important elements of how we think about the format into a concise and easily digestible set of ideals, answering the question "What is Commander?" We haven't changed the underlying philosophy of Commander: it's specifically intended to be something other than a tournament format in which players consider each other's experiences alongside their own. You'll notice that we've eliminated categories for banning cards. We'd found that many folks misinterpreted them as hard criteria for banning as opposed the guidelines we always considered them. There might be some common threads among banned cards, but the primary reason cards get put on the list is that they challenge the positive experience we want to promote.
Paradox Engine is a card that has proven to be intensely problematic. Not only does it provide easy wins seemingly out of nowhere, it has demonstrated the potential to unintentionally wreck games. Easily inserted into any deck, it combines with cards which players already have heavy incentives to play, generating a great deal of mana with virtually no deck-building cost. While we don't ban cards which are only problematic if you build around them, Paradox Engine has clearly demonstrated that it doesn't need to be built around to be broken.
Iona, Shield of Emeria creates a negative experience for many players without the benefit of a positive application. We had previously considered its high mana cost sufficient to keep it from getting played, but deeper investigation demonstrated many ways of getting it onto the battlefield without paying that cost. Iona, Shield of Emeria is also an exemplar as the type of card which creates an experience we wish to discourage, namely shutting players out of games.
Painter's Servant is a card that's been discussed for a long time and it's time to take off the shackles. We feel as though there are now more weird and fun uses for the card than there are dangerous ones. The card will provide deck builders with some additional paths to explore in expressing their creativity.
Many thanks to the Commander Advisory Group for the input and insights into putting together this update. Their presence continues to add great value to the format.
The Philosophy of Commander
Commander is for fun. It's a socially interactive, multiplayer Magic: The Gathering format full of wild interactions and epic plays, specifically designed as an alternative to tournament Magic. As is fitting for a format in which you choose an avatar to lead your forces into battle, Commander focuses on a resonant experience. Each game is a journey the players share, relying on a social contract in which each player is considerate of the experiences of everyone involved—this promotes player interaction, inter-game variance, a variety of play styles, and a positive communal atmosphere. At the end of an ideal Commander game, someone will have won, but all participants will have had the opportunity to express themselves through their deck building and gameplay.
The rules of Commander are designed to maximize these experiences within a game of Magic. The addition of a commander, larger life total, and deck-building restrictions emphasize the format's flavor; they increase deck variance and add more opportunities for participation and expression.
The goal of the ban list is similar; it does not seek to regulate competitive play or power level, which are decisions best left to individual play groups. The ban list seeks to demonstrate which cards threaten the positive player experience at the core of the format or prevent players from reasonable self-expression. The primary focus of the list is on cards which are problematic because of their extreme consistency, ubiquity, and/or ability to restrict others' opportunities.
No single rule can establish criteria for a ban; there are many mitigating or exacerbating factors. Some cards will represent an extreme on a single axis; others are a confluence of multiple smaller issues. The following list isn't exhaustive, nor is it a checklist, but it represents ways in which cards challenge the positive experiences players look for in Commander games. It includes cards which easily or excessively:
- Cause severe resource imbalances
- Allow players to win out of nowhere
- Prevent players from contributing to the game in a meaningful way
- Cause other players to feel they must play certain cards, even though they are also problematic
- Are very difficult for other players to interact with, especially if doing so requires dedicated, narrow responses when deck building
- Interact poorly with the multiplayer nature of the format or the specific rules of Commander
- Lead to repetitive game play
Cards which are banned likely meet a few of these criteria in a significant way; not all cards which meet some of the criteria need to banned.
We prefer to be conservative with what goes on or comes off the ban list. Commander players often become emotionally attached to their decks through play and personalization, and we value that experience highly. We only want to disrupt that bond when necessary.
Commander is designed to be a malleable format. We encourage groups to use the rules and the ban list as a baseline to optimize their own experience. This is not license for an individual to force their vision onto a play group, but encouragement for players to discuss their goals and how the rules might be adjusted to suit those goals. The format can be broken; we believe games are more fun if you don't.