The 'social contract' of Commander refers to an underlying principle that all players within the game are seeking a resonant, mutually enjoyable experience, not only for themselves, but for all players at the table. As a result, some cards, strategies, or game actions that may prevent one or several players from having an enjoyable game experience may be discouraged within games of Commander. This might be an implicit, unspoken agreement, or it may be a rule or set of expectations that the group has explicitly agreed upon.
This is distinct from 1-on-1 Magic and games of cEDH, where the focus is primarily on victory, and social contracts to guide mutual enjoyment among all players are therefore less prevalent.
Examples of Social Contracts
Mass Land Destruction
- Cards that destroy all lands are commonly discouraged in games of Commander. Examples may include artifacts in play that will allow them to cast spells even after their lands are destroyed). Because the removal of enemy resources prevents others from being able to cast any further spells or respond to further game actions, this can put the player into a position that they will inevitably win the game. and . This strategy is typically employed by players who have a battlefield advantage (for example, by having more creatures in play than any other player, or having several mana-producing
- However, since this strategy prevents all other players from being able to cast spells, and because it may take many turns for one player's on-board advantage to properly end the game, this can result in lengthier games where several players are unable to engage with the game itself. This can negatively impact the mutual enjoyment of the game, and is therefore a common example of a strategy that is discouraged by a social contract.
- This is distinct from single-target land destruction.
- Stax strategies, which employ cards like or , deprive players of resources and render them unable to cast spells within the game. Like Mass Land Destruction, this can result in lengthy games where only one player may be able to mitigate or avoid resource denial, while others are unable to engage with the game.
- Some playgroups may also discourage the use of infinite combo during games of Commander. Because combos can end the game quickly, and because combos may also result in linear gameplay, they may sometimes cause a negative impact on the enjoyment of other players at the table. Because the Commander format has so many infinite combos available within its card pool, social contracts around infinite combos are often the most flexible; some groups may ask to prohibit any infinite combos of any kind, while others will ask that combos only be avoided if they directly involve a player's commander.
Upholding Verbal Agreements
- Verbal agreements and temporary alliances or compromises can be very common in games of Commander. If players make verbal agreements with each other, social contracts also discourage those players from going back on their word, even if doing so would put them in a strategically advantageous position within the game. Breaking agreements within the game violates social contracts by eroding trust between players.
- Some Commander groups strongly discourage using words to influence the state of the game, rather than casting spells and activating abilities. For example, showing that you have removal in hand and using its presence to influence an opponent to attack another player. Groups that have No Politics in their social contract would prefer in that situation that the opponent be allowed to attack, and that the player cast their removal spell.
Players seeking to avoid cards that negatively impact the mutual enjoyment of all players can refer to EDHREC's Salt Score page for a list of cards voted upon by the community that they deem unenjoyable to play against.
No Single Contract
There is no single social contract that applies to every playgroup, and cards that one group discourages may be perfectly enjoyable for another. While some groups may consider specific strategies inappropriate for the experiences they seek to cultivate within Commander games, it would be equally inappropriate for groups to leverage social contracts against specific strategies that other players genuinely enjoy. Rather, it is important for players and groups to communicate with each other before games begin to determine how they can achieve the most fun during each game.