So, someone on reddit recently linked to an interesting article about how Nintendo's games follow Mark Rosewater's theory of Lenticular Design
, particularly Smash Bros. And that got me thinking of Alex's whole "Commander is like Smash Bros." comment. And the more I think of it, the more that really applies to the situation. Now, come with me on Mr. Sakurai's Wild Ride for a minute. We will explore the history of Smash, and lessons seemingly learned, and how that all applies to commander...
Now, the gold standard for competitive Smash has been, and seems like it always will be, Melee. There's a Smash club on my campus that only looks at Melee. Apex infamously had crowds cheering for Melee during the Smash 4 finals, upsetting many in the broader Smash community. And there's a good reason: the game is almost 15 years old, and there's still tiny little nuggets of hidden techniques being found. Even in its earliest days, people argued over message boards if Wavedashing was cheating, essentially creating the earliest divide between the competitive crowd and the more casual crowd.
It's widely speculated that Sakurai wasn't super fond of the competitive Melee scene. The whole "1v1, Fox only, no items, Final Destination" wasn't the way he wanted the game to be played, even if it's a gross oversimplification of competitive Melee. So, when Brawl came around, a lot of the hidden techniques from Melee disappeared
. No more Wavedashing. No more shield canceling. Air dodging completely reworked. But the most infamous of changes was tripping. Tripping was a mechanic where every time a character changed direction, there was a chance he'd trip and fall. This would leave players vulnerable, and you would be punished just for moving. This was added to attack the practice of dash-dancing in Melee, where you'd just dash back and forth in a single spot so that you could keep moving without committing to anything. But tripping affected players outside the competitive scene. And losing because of tripping was just such a bad feeling. Now, the competitive players would also complain about the general slower speed of the game, but if you ask anyone about the thing they hate most about Brawl, tripping will be mentioned. In fact, Brawl's probably more known in the Smash community as "that thing you need to install Project M". (Project M being a mod for Brawl that started as a way to create a more Melee-like experience out of Brawl, but has evolved into its own thing.)
After Smash 4 was revealed, news was released that said that the Smash 4 team was working with the team at Namco-Bandai that worked on the Tekken franchise. Now, no one thought at the time that this would lead to Pac-Man being added to the game, though it did, but people did see this as the beginning of an olive branch to the competitive Melee players who were burned by Brawl. And sure enough, when the game came out, there were in fact many changes that were made to cater to the competitive crowd
. For Glory mode in online play, Omega Stages, and the removal of tripping are the most visible. However, they also reduced the number of moves that relied on RNG and changed those to have set patterns. Transformations were removed due to the 3DS's hardware limitations, which allowed the people that mained Sheik to not worry about accidentally hitting down-B and switching to Zelda midmatch, wasting precious time on the transformation animation. Edgehogging was removed, but this did create a new system with a pretty surprising amount of strategic depth. And the game was overall faster paced than Brawl, even if it still isn't at the same blistering speed as Melee. While Melee purists will still look down on anything that isn't Melee, Smash 4 has certainly gathered a respectable competitive scene. On top of that, there's still plenty of the more chaotic multiplayer shenanigans that Brawl tried to encourage. Hell, they added 8-player fights for just that reason.
So, what does this have to do with Magic and Commander? Well, let's go back to the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post. One of MaRo's big principles of Lenticular Design is "Let players play the game that they want to play." With Melee, people found this deep, fast-paced fighting game hidden in what was ostensibly supposed to be a much lighter and relaxed game. And seemingly, Sakurai didn't like that. So he got rid of it in Brawl. Ultimately, this violated that principle and made Brawl a weaker game. So, he went and made some changes in Smash 4 to cater to the Spikier crowd. It didn't abandon the non-Spikes for the Spikes. It still had stuff for non-Spikes. But it was willing to reach out to Spikes.
Sheldon and the Commander Rules Committee are in the Brawl phase right now. They saw a trend in the Spikes that play Commander and sought to squash it. They saw what was happening as not the game they wanted being played, instead of letting players play the game they want to play. I see the removal of tucking as akin to the adding of tripping: something done to solve something that was mainly only perceived to be a problem by the creator, and something that will cause more harm than good. While you can argue that the creator may know best, anyone who's listened to Drive to Work will know that MaRo has learned over the years that the people who play your game are much smarter than the people that make your game. And like Brawl is largely only looked at as a tool to play Project M, you have to notice how there are now forks of Commander (Duel Commander is making headway at my LGS, and of course there's Tiny Leaders) that happen to be gaining popularity now that the ability to answer Commanders has been removed. (I will concede that the surge in popularity of Tiny Leaders isn't solely caused by the tucking rule change. But it probably did contribute a bit.)
Magic has always been good about one thing: as large of a game as it is, everything has an answer. This fact has made for a better, healthier game overall. Now the rules committee of the Commander format have went and removed answers for the trademark of their format. While they haven't removed every answer, since that would require adding a huge chunk of new rules, removing answers is probably going to cause harm to the format overall.
So... yeah. Just some random thoughts on game design and Commander. I'm honestly against the changes, and maybe that shows with my rant. (No tl;dr. Just read the whole thing.) But it is interesting to think about from a game design standpoint.