There’s been a lot of rumblings lately in the Commander community about the reluctance to put Flash on the banlist. I sat down with Shivam & Jim to get an idea of just what the problem is.

Flash, Ahhh-ahhhhhh!

Not quite the savior of the universe, Flash is instead at the heart of controversy right now. Many argue that it has stifled creativity in the format—at least for competitive EDH (cEDH)—while others argue that banning a card purely to sate an audience that isn’t playing the format the way it was intended will only hurt more casual players who enjoy the card. In order to look more closely into the debate, I enlisted some Commander experts to weigh in.

First up, Shivam Bhatt, a member of the Commander Advisory Group. Shivam has been playing Commander for a very long time, and is part of the wider group of people responsible for shepherding the Commander format.  I also spoke to Jim from The Spike Feeders YouTube channel—he’s part of a group of like-minded individuals who record paper games of cEDH regularly, and upload these alongside more discussion-based episodes about combos.

How Does it Work?

There’s been a lot of talk online at the moment about Flash in EDH, and I guess further in cEDH. Would you be able to give us a succinct summary of what the issue appears to be?

One of the classic combos in magic is Protean Hulk plus Flash. Hulk says that when it dies, you get six mana worth of creatures out of your library directly into play. Flash is a two mana instant that lets you play a creature and then sacrifice it if you don’t pay the full cost, triggering the hulk and allowing a player to get any number of combo pieces to instantly win. For the average player, this isn’t a particularly worrisome combo, as it tends to make the game significantly shorter and less fun overall, so they don’t put the pieces together in decks. Hulk is most often used simply as a value engine, and Flash has some few fair uses for folks who want to do neat instant speed tricks. But, at the games of the highest power level, Flash Hulk is oppressive and homogenizing; and when the play attitude is to always play the best possible option no matter what, this severely limits choice.

For those of us who play at the top end of the format, Flash has been problematic since Protean Hulk was unbanned in April of 2017. The frequency of Flash Hulk—especially in “blind” metagames like organized events, online play, and MagicFest/CommandFests—has increased steadily since then. The underlying combo is difficult to interact with and threatens to end games as early as turn 1, which often creates gameplay environments where people feel the game has ended before they had an opportunity to play or interact in any meaningful way. There is no consensus among the Rules Committee with respect to how consistent a Flash ban would be with respect to the underpinning philosophy of the banlist. This is upsetting for a large portion of the cEDH community who feel like they are part of the greater EDH community and see the ban as a way to improve their play experience with minimal impact on the rest of the players in the format

Thassa’s Oracle

If we take the stance that Flash is a problem that needs addressing, do you think Thassa’s Oracle makes this worse, or do you think that it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back?

Absolutely. The drumbeat for flash has been rolling loudly for a couple of years now, especially in 2019 when it started to get a ton of traction and notice. The RC has not acted on this, and for the most part the cEDH metagame has managed to find other decks to play. Oracle, though, makes this situation even more perilous than before. I think the cEDH community feels deeply ignored by the inaction on the part of the RC, and Oracle simply was a breaking point. From the RC perspective, however, it’s a matter of scale. Commander is the most popular format of magic by a long shot, and has been growing exponentially over the past few years. The vast majority of the player base is on the more casual end of the spectrum and Flash isn’t even on the radar of the average EDH player.

The RC is very wary of making sweeping format changes for the sake of one small fragment of the larger player base.

The printing of Thassa’s Oracle has renewed calls to ban Flash. Oracle fits into several Hulk piles and makes the combo even more difficult to interact with, further distancing the Flash Hulk strategy from the next best decks in the format. People have been pretty consistently concerned about the homogenizing effect that Flash Hulk has had on their previously diverse metagame (relatively speaking), but they’re growing increasingly frustrated at how difficult it is right now to simultaneously play at the highest power level and be creative with new brews.

The Turn Zero Perspective

Do you think there’s a solution that doesn’t involve adjusting the ban list?

I’ve never been under the impression that foundational philosophical change would happen overnight. Part of my motivation to make content was to personalize and showcase high-powered Commander and highlight our similarities with the greater EDH community rather than our differences. I think there’s a huge unifying benefit in talking about brewing high-powered decks as a way to explore what the format can offer to people with differing motivations, rather than a way to subvert or destroy it.
To do that, though, we need to emphasize the importance of creativity and self expression in deckbuilding and gameplay rather than describing ourselves as beholden to the top-end metagame. We do this by fostering an environment that rewards creativity and doesn’t punish or stigmatize making mistakes or being wrong. We encourage people to pursue what they enjoy and learn by trying new things. That’s one of the guiding principles in our Spike Feeders community, and it’s something within my power as someone with a decently large platform.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue to respectfully engage with the Rules Committee about the things the current philosophy doesn’t allow—specifically in situations where I think it reasonably could, and ESPECIALLY those where I think it will improve the format.
There are two answers to this. The first is that cEDH is part of EDH, so they should just apply rule zero and not include cards like Flash that are detrimental to their preferred playstyle in their decks, the same way other EDH groups do with their own localized metagame bans and such. The other is that cEDH is often played at places like MagicFests, your Local Games Store, and online, where Rule 0 discussions just don’t work; the only thing that is respected is the ban list in black and white. I think that reconciling these two views is a huge challenge, and I’m not sure we’re there yet.

Do you think the Turn 0 rule could apply to cEDH too?

I’ve heard some wild things, like CEDH has its own Rule 0, which is to play the most powerful things possible, which superseding the standard EDH Rule 0. Frankly if you’ve already taken that step, you’re well on your way to making a new format. The problem is that there are players who will always want to follow the letter of the law over the spirit; and while I can assure that I won’t have flash in my deck, I can’t guarantee that you won’t in yours; and for that, a ban list update is necessary in order to keep the game fun and fair.

Look, I believe that the unfair uses of Flash far outweigh the fair uses, and that banning the card is generally a net upside for a segment of the player base without being a huge net downside to the overall player base. That said, I’m more and more convinced the cEDH player base is not going to be satisfied unless the rules are changed. Fankly, there is a concern on the RC that this will set us on a path where the competitive players drive the format, which is exactly what EDH was created to avoid.

The ban list is made specifically to ensure that casual players can enjoy their games without getting blown out of the water by cards that run against the philosophy of the format, not to try to balance an inherently unbalanced card pool. I want to find a way to help the cEDH folks enjoy their style of play, but they aren’t the only player base, and we have a responsibility to keep the format going for everyone.

Lower-power players are frustrated that the cEDH community is trying to wag the dog, and the cEDH community is frustrated that a proposal they see as all upside isn’t gaining traction among the people who guide the format. On both sides you’ve got people who feel their ability to enjoy the game is under attack, and they’re largely talking past each other. The discourse online has been vitriolic and disappointing, full of personal attacks and unfounded accusations.

There have been a few bright spots, and I sincerely hope that those bright spots are more representative of the format as a whole than the stuff I’m being tagged in dozens of times a day this week. I actually think there’s a huge proportion of the EDH community that doesn’t even know this conversation is happening. One of my more casual local playgroups doesn’t know I’m a content creator and doesn’t know who anyone on the Rules Committee is. They just jam cards when they’ve got a few hours free and avoid the academic stuff.

I think that the online discourse disproportionately favors invested, competitive players well over their true percentage representation within the broader EDH community. To be honest, I don’t think the bulk of EDH players are even aware there is a ban list at all, let alone that Flash is a card and that Flash is having a fight for its life right now.

The tenor of the online discourse is deeply negative and tunnel-visioned. “This issue impacts me, therefore it impacts everyone, as my perspective is the only perspective, and my problems are the only problems.” The thing is, Commander was designed and maintained for a casual audience and to encourage a specific type of play that is not hyperfocused on efficiency and victory. There are plenty of powerful and even broken decks in so-called casual EDH, just as many as there are in cEDH. The difference is the player’s motivation—are they trying to win at any cost, or just play cool strong cards they like?

Right now, the discourse is being dominated by the win at any cost group, but the RC is not interested in balancing a very deliberately broken format for the purpose of clean, fair competitive play. That’s just not what they want EDH to be.

In Summary

It’s been a lively few weeks for Flash, and honestly, the arguments to put it on the banlist to me are similar to the reasons given for the Iona, Shield of Emeria ban—a card that was used by many more casual players as a top-end finisher to stop being blown out by control decks, but abused by those speeding it out to lock things down.

Both Shivam & Jim have been invaluable at presenting this discussion to a wider audience, and my hope is that this can give you and your playgroups something to think about in regards to the health of both EDH and cEDH formats. Many thanks to both involved for their time and insight.

What do you think? Let us know on Twitter to continue the discussion! You can reach Jim & Shivam there too. If you have any thoughts on the topic in general, remember that the Rules Committee & the CAG are open to feedback.

Shivam has just released a new podcast called Casual Magic. You can find The Spike Feeders YouTube Channel here. I encourage you to check them both out!

Based in the UK, Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up.

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