I don’t know if it needs to be said, but the title of this week’s article in no way, shape, or form condones harming another human being. Every person contains a spark of the divine, and as such an injury to another is an injury to oneself. But this column isn’t a diatribe about comparative theology, as much as that’s a conversation I often have. No, the subject of this week’s column is when it’s okay to pull the trigger on an opponent in a friendly, multiplayer game of Commander.


One of the reasons I so abhor prize support for Commander games is because it perverts the usual incentives. If you stumble out of the gate and we’re playing for packs, I’m probably going to kill you. It’s a tragedy of the commons issue: someone’s going to kill you for that pack, so it may as well be me. That’s like the 9th Rule of Acquisition.


Yes, Commander prizes turn us all into Ferengi.


But when it’s a friendly game, it’s usually a dick move to take out the player who hasn’t had a chance to set up, and rightly so. Unless you have people waiting to form a new pod or you’re playing with the rules that allow people to buy back into the game, killing a player before they’ve had a chance to have fun is a waste of an hour of that person’s time.


Those who know me may spot the fundamental contradiction in what I’m about to say, but… I don’t believe in wasting my friends’ time. (The tension here is between my sincerely held belief and my inability to be punctual for social engagements, which traces back to a different issue.)


I mean, I’ve been the first one eliminated before, although less than you’d think, and it’s no fun whatsoever! You end up watching your friends play like a dog watching a human prepare food. You’re hungry for what they’re having, but you’re shit out of luck. It’s unpleasant. It’s wasted time and energy. And it’s a terrible thing to do to a friend.


But you have to be okay with killing people sometime, otherwise the game is either going to (a) never end, or (b) last well beyond the point at which it’s been decided. Both are also wasted time, although (a) is logistically impossible and (b) is sometimes difficult to assess. You can try just never being the one to coup de grace an opponent, letting the other people in your pod make that decision for you, but the truth is that sometimes, people have to die and you’re going to be the only one positioned for the kill.


So here’s a non-exhaustive breakdown of when I think it’s okay to pull the trigger on someone.


First, and perhaps more obviously, I feel comfortable killing players who I either know or suspect are drawing towards some sort of combo finish. If a person is running a more interactive deck you can generally keep your shields up and take things at a more leisurely pace, but the ability for a combo player to just end a game without notice means they can’t be given the opportunity. Even if there’s a chance of you stopping the combo player, the safest bet is to kill them with extreme prejudice. When they make there move, it creates a weird minigame where the rest of the table has to band together to avert certain death, and that’s just annoying. I’ve tried non-lethal solutions for those people, but generally to limited success. For example, once, in a prize-pack-pod, a player combo’ed off about turn seven, having saved his combo from two different attempts to disrupt it. As I was salty, I got the rest of the table to continue as though the combo player had self-terminated; the rest of the game was moderately fun for us, but the combo player was less than happy with that outcome.


I mean, what did the fucker expect though? “Infinite turns” is an irritating victory condition.


When not playing against an interactive deck, it’s acceptable to draw conclusions about future turns from the past victories of a player at the table. For example, the player with the 50% win percentage in your past multiplayer Commander decks should probably be a priority on your kill list, since that person has most likely killed you upon more than one occasion in the past. It’s not because you’re bitter, though, although I suspect it may have seemed that way in the past. It’s because that person is going to be the one most likely to kill you and the rest of the table, and sometimes you want to be the one with the power of life or death over your pod.


The flip side of this is that if a player doesn’t have a long history of victories pulled from the brink of catastrophe, you should be very hesitant to be the one to end their run. It’s not cool to punch down, and that person can potentially be a valuable political asset against the real threat at the table.


If a person writes about Commander on the internet, they are almost always the real threat at the table. This is true whether they’re writing articles on the subject or just commenting a lot about it on The Facebook.


Similarly, don’t snipe the person on a losing streak, even if they’re theoretically the most dangerous threat at the table. So long as they’re not going to combo off and suddenly end the game before you got to have fun, it’s okay to let other people snag victories from time to time. It’s about being friendly. Don’t be a dick!


Of course, there’s one other time when it’s okay to kill off someone at the table, and that’s when they’re locking you out of doing the things you want to do. For example, when I’m playing a Dimir graveyard deck and my opponent drops Rest in Peace, I’m going to kill that player or die trying. There’s no other way for me to remove Rest in Peace in that type of deck! If you have answers, sure, try to get them, but killing your opponent is the universal solvent. You kill them and all their troubling permanents dissolve away. This is one of the reasons I’ve moved away from Grave Pact and Abyss effects in most of my decks. The only way to keep people from killing you when you’re running those types of permanents is to keep them locked down, and that makes for a shitty play experience. After all, these people are supposed to be your friends!


One somewhat irritating thing you can do is put a person under your thumb. What you do there is you knock them down to a life total at which you can effortlessly kill them on board, like to two life against a Tymaret, the Murder King deck, and then threaten to kill them should they ever go against your explicit wishes. If a person has done that, it’s usually a good idea to kill one or both of them. I mean, obviously it’s more reasonable to take out the master player in this situation, but barring that it’s usually worth shooting the hostage to make sure the master doesn’t get the benefit of their meanly political decision.


I mentioned above that this list is non-exhaustive, and I stand by that. I’m sure there are plenty of other legitimate reasons to kill a person at the table; the key is to have some empathy for that person outside of the mere confines of the game. Commander is supposed to be a fun format, and it’s hard to have fun if you’re dead or otherwise prevented from doing anything.


And if you really want that style of play, don’t do it with your friends. Just enter literally any competitive Commander event, and watch as the prizes at stake turn the three other reasonable people in your pod into Ferengi greed monsters. Either you get off on that, or all it will take is one or two experiences with those people to turn you off from Commander with strangers for all eternity.


Jess Stirba speaks from experience.

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