Before Covid I was blessed with having the opportunity of playing commander every Friday at a local game store. Playing in such an open environment exposed me to more players, more decks and helped keep me vibrant and my skills sharp. Sometimes, the store closed early depending on interest in sealed events that they run later in the evening. It’s then that we were blessed with the East Penn Diner right next to the store. The diner is open twenty-four hours and the owner, Gus, has been very accommodating allowing us to grab some food and then play to the wee hours of the morning.
It was one Friday that we found ourselves embroiled in a six-player midnight marathon at the diner. We were in the opening turns of the game and I was able to get a Rhystic Study on the board. As the play moved around the table play got to a friend of mine Josh. I forget who but a conversation started between him and another player about paying for Rhystic Study. His response was, “Are you kidding I have learned to not mess with Chad’s card draw.” The table laughed and I along with them.
There is a lesson in this little vignette. Everybody has a reputation at the table including yourself. The question is what are you known for? We build our reputation as we play commander. It’s not bad to choose a facet of the game and dish out a little punishment if someone disrupts it. Mana Ramp and Card Draw are two facets of the game this can be easily applied to. Really it could be anything including using tap abilities of creatures. There are a couple of things to keep in mind as you begin to build a reputation.
Keep It Reasonable
Reputations, when done right, are an advantage. They will cause other players to pause and let you gain some value out of your cards. Rhystic Study eventually needs to be dealt with. Otherwise it will lead to card advantage to win the game. We should never expect our opponents to hand us the game. This leads us to be reasonable about what we want to accomplish with our reputation.
In the case of card draw, I look to draw one or two cards extra than the number of cards I spent on the card draw. I also look to draw a few cards extra than the rate of 1.5 mana per card. If I accomplish this I will often let the offense pass with no reprisal. I, personally, point out that I was allowed to draw cards and understand the action. However, if I am denied any cards, then that is when I will look to disrupt that opponent’s board whether or not it is tactically sound. The same can be done with mana ramp. In this case, use the standard of how much mana was spent to ramp and how much mana produced.
When you start to build a reputation players, will need to make the connection between how you are playing and what is important to you. Like with most things in life communication is key. If you are playing someone new or starting this strategy with your friends for the first time. Tell them what is important. Then inform them you are willing to make sure it will not go unpunished. Point out you’ll do this even if it is not the optimal play or may cost you this game.
Also, take note of the example above with Rhystic Study when it was destroyed and I had drawn several cards off of it. Notice I clearly communicated there would be no reprisal. By setting clear boundaries and communicating them you begin to become consistent. In the casual environment, players will begin to accommodate you when reasonable because of that consistency. You can be like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean if you are playing blue. Communicate that you have a counterspell and you will use it on the person that disrupts what is important to you.
Reputations Aren’t Built Overnight.
A game or two will not build a reputation. Players will test our statements. When they do you need to rise to the test and disrupt something on their board. If you do not have immediate disruption go ahead and fire it off when you get it. Just make sure you express that this action is for when you removed my card. You may be tested multiple times. The important thing in politics is don’t break. Maybe you will lose a game here or there. Do not let it concern you. All things being equal a player should win roughly 25% of their commander games. This means in many cases you will lose more than you will win. Losing a game here and there to gain a tactical advantage in future games is a solid strategy.
Many players will say “I don’t do politics.” Politics is more than making deals. Commander is a social game and some form of social interaction will occur every game. These interactions themselves are a form of politics. This is why it is good to build a reputation. It allows you to use every aspect of the game to the fullest to help you win more games. You do not have to be a Spike to enjoy winning and it is not a bad thing to want to win so give it a try to gain an advantage. Keep in mind even if you never attempt to build a reputation. The decks you play, the answers that are in your hand all feed into your reputation at the game table. Your action or sometimes inaction will build a reputation for you as well.