Could cEDH ever be a Pro Tour Format?
A while ago, Martin Juza tweeted the following:
Given how popular Commander is, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a cEDH PT or some other big event in the near future with the competitive players.
Would be pretty funny if the broadcast viewership instantly skyrocketed from the usual ~15k to 50k.
Next year cEDH PT Prague?
This raised some discussion and I was asked for a comment. I didn’t think Twitter was the right place to try to get into it, so here we are.
Competitive Magic seeks to drive player behavior, but it also follows from player behavior to some extent. The more popular a format is, the more support it should, and usually does receive. There are some formats Wizards of the Coast is inherently interested in keeping successful, so they try to promote them more beyond simply following player behavior, but to some extent, Modern as a format came out of Gavin Verhey’s independent initiative before he was at Wizards of the Coast. Printing Commander product at all is another huge example of Wizards following player behavior, as it was also originally a player-driven format, in the form of Elder Dragon Highlander.
So, it would certainly make sense for Wizards to support an independent competitive format that became very popular, but they also might try to make their version as they did with Modern, if, for example, they felt like the regular Commander Banned List were inappropriate for such an event.
The biggest obstacle is the multiplayer aspect of Commander, of course.
Wizards has attempted a multiplayer Pro Tour before, so that’s not a dealbreaker. However, there was exactly one Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour and the fact that there was only one should tell you something about how successful it was.
Also, critically, while that was multiplayer, it wasn’t free for all, and that’s a huge difference.
The issue is concerns about collusion. It’s very easy for two or three players to win a four-player game if they’re working together, and very hard to know when and to what extent it’s happening.
You can make a rule that says collusion isn’t legal, as is normal in cEDH tournaments now, but if two players privately have a split going into an event and they happen to get paired at the same table, it’s very hard to tell if they’re colluding or not in the game if they want it to be.
Even bigger than the practical issue this causes with actual collusion happening in games, the perception of the possibility would be an absolute disaster. Everyone would be afraid that any mistake they make that favors another player would lead to an investigation or even just an accusation of collusion, and everyone would be afraid that all the existing pro teams would be colluding.
Even if it never happened, and every player tried their best to win every game they played for themselves, I can’t imagine the pro community having a good time through these concerns.
The other issue is that while cEDH is incredibly popular, it’s popular as an experience that people opt into. I love cEDH, I’ve been playing paper cEDH more days than not over the last few weeks, but it isn’t for everyone. The table politics make it a very different game than regular Magic, and “forcing” serious competitive Magic players to play it by making it part of a larger tournament series (a “tour” like the Pro Tour) means compelling people who aren’t interested in that to play those games.
Playing a multiplayer game with someone who doesn’t want to be doing that is always horrible, which is another reason this tournament would be a disaster.
So, I’m going to say no, I genuinely think there’s no chance, no matter how successful independent cEDH tournaments get that multiplayer cEDH should or will be part of the Pro Tour as long as it’s anything like it is today.
Martin Juza understood that. He followed up by saying he meant something more like Duel Commander and that there’s no way multiplayer could work (even though to be clear, I do think multiplayer tournaments can and do work, just not on the Pro Tour, somewhat because of the stakes, but even more because of the player base and “tour” structure).
So, could that happen?
First of all, Duel Commander is, as I understand it, nowhere near as popular as cEDH, and I don’t think they have a lot of crossover appeal. If the goal is to capture the Commander audience by featuring “Commander” on the Pro Tour, I just don’t think this would help with that goal. Players love Commander for the social gaming aspect of playing multiplayer games, and Duel Commander simply doesn’t offer that. Viewers love watching games for the personalities at the table, and we’re not going to see those kinds of interactions in any two-player Magic game regardless of how decks are constructed.
Some players are excited about watching the Pro Tour to see what decks pros will play, but Duel Commander is a different format than cEDH regardless of whether the same banned list is used, Thoughtseize would be a staple black card, and Mystic Remora wouldn’t see play–nothing would translate to multiplayer Commander player’s interests.
This is to say that when making the case for running such a tournament, you should ignore fans of any multiplayer Commander format as projected fans of this event, so this would only happen as a reflection of the popularity of Duel Commander.
I don’t have any solid data on how popular that is. My perception is that it’s roughly as popular as Canadian Highlander, but I could easily be way off on that.
To my mind, Canadian Highlander and Duel Commander have roughly the same advantages and disadvantages as a competitive format with slightly different rules. I don’t think either is popular enough to demand high-level tournament support, and both would pose serious card availability concerns for competitors. More importantly, both would be horrible for showcasing new cards or generally selling Magic cards to viewers, so I don’t see any reason Wizards would want to embrace such a format at that scale.
So my answer to this entire thing is a firm no, that gets firmer the more I think about it.
With all of that said, I do think it’s worth mentioning that I do think it’s possible that cEDH could eventually see direct support from Wizards of the Coast.
Command Fests still seem to have replaced the Grand Prix circuit, and I could imagine Wizards experimenting with a high-stakes tournament series at these events if there was interest, I just think this must happen entirely separately from the individual Pro Tour.
Given that Wizards hasn’t gone back to running GPs, it doesn’t look like they’re looking to expand their tournament offerings, but if cEDH were sufficiently popular and independent events demonstrated that events could be run in a way that was very unlikely to cause major negative experiences at events, I can imagine Wizards deciding that this is something they want to support.
However, card availability continues to be a huge concern, as a lot of successful cEDH tournaments allow proxies, and Wizards isn’t going to do that–the more popular the competitive format is, the more prohibitive the prices of reserved list cards become, and the less viable this tournament series is. Maybe there would be a spinoff format that bans reserved list cards, but that’s a whole new format that would potentially need grassroots support to show that it’s worth Wizard’s attention.
This raises the question, why should they bother? If they’d only get involved after independent organizers were successfully doing this thing, how does running their competing events help anyone?
So again, I find myself largely thinking that even though I love cEDH, have enjoyed the cEDH tournaments I’ve played, and I’m generally optimistic about the future of cEDH tournaments, I don’t think Wizards of the Coast as a tournament organizer is a likely part of that future.