November 24, 2015

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Revisting the “Rofellos Rule”

Welcome back everyone! This week we’ll be looking back into the format’s history and seeing a proposed way to resolve the issue of aggressively costed commanders, nominally the Rofellos Rule. Named after Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, the rule was implemented by the Rules Committee in their playgroup to avoid early blowouts. Essentially, it’s stated as follows:

“When you cast your commander, if it costs less than six mana, it costs six mana. Any additional time you cast your commander from the Command Zone, it costs an additional two mana.”

Interestingly, while this might appear to solve the issue of some decks being too aggressive out of the gate, what it might instead do is cause its eponymous commander to just turn into a one-shot kill engine. Consider the following scenario: You are piloting Rofellos and know that you cannot cast him until turn six. You spend the early game aggressively ramping into more mana. How many forests can you expect to get on turn six? Close to ten or twelve isn’t an exaggeration. If you get the “broken” turn one of Forest, Mana Crypt and Cultivate, you have four mana already, including two forests and the Crypt. If you follow that up on turn two with Forest, Skyshroud Claim, you’re at seven mana including five forests and one Mana Crypt. You should easily be able to reach upwards of ten to twelve mana by turn six, as well as finding a haste outlet for Rofellos. At that point, you are just entwining your Tooth and Nail into Craterhoof Behemoth and Avenger of Zendikar and winning. So...why even think about bringing up the rule? Let’s find out.

Contextualizing the Rofellos Rule:

When the group of judges and friends that would later become the Rules Committee started out with the format’s initial iteration, a structure was needed. Initially you had to use one of the Legends elder dragons (such as Chromium) and build around it. Some took to the task of making it “truly” highlander by not having matching basic lands while others stuffed cards they had on hand in the hopes of making the decks work. The casting cost limitation wasn’t baked in, but it’s easy to see that some legendaries would prove too rapid for the format, so doing this would house rule some brakes onto the format.

It makes sense for Rofellos to get the treatment, as he’s been on and off the banned list forever while not adding a whole lot to the format other than MOAR MANAZ (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). It might have been an interesting rule inversion, however, if they had instead obviated the Commander text "if your commander had an excessively high cost" , thus rewarding players that might want to try out wacky plays and flagships. That being said, whom would the “Rofellos Rule” benefit and who would it imperil? Let’s take a look at some of our more popular command zone inhabitants...

At the lower end of the curve...

From two to four mana we have a bevy of aggressive generals, including Zur the Enchanter, Krenko, Mob Boss, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Of the four, Thalia obviously becomes worthless if she costs six mana. You want her out on turn one to cripple your opponent’s early ramp and plays and that simply isn’t happening in the late game. Zur isn’t completely crippled at six mana, but it isn’t pretty. What’s happening here is your signets and early lock or power pieces like Necropotence or Bitterblossom and Contamination start grinding down your opponent’s hopes. Krenko doesn’t want to wait that long to churn out goblins and Pope needs to hit the field early to hold off his opponents with a variety of counter-magics available to do the rest.

As we can see, the rule isn’t particularly helpful to most of our friends and outright banishes more aggressive strategies. Since none of these are using green, their early games are spent in accumulating a mana base that will get aggressively countered or overwhelming in smaller threats to wear down the opponent before finally getting there with their commanders. The rule still doesn’t look overly beneficial though, and looks to just help control based strategies slow the field down before they drop the hammer. We’re just seeing an artificial ceiling set that doesn’t really achieve its desired goal of an early safe zone, instead giving us a false equilibrium that leaves all parties unhappy and dissatisfied.

And now the “late” bloomers...

Once we get to the five plus mana range, the effects of the Rofellos Rule become virtually insignificant. If you are piloting Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (and please don’t, those tokens really add up to a lot of damage with all that equipment around 🙂 ) his initial cost of five being bumped to six isn’t great, but it lets you set up a few more pieces of equipment for his inevitable arrival. A commander with innate cost reductions like Tasigur, the Golden Fang is just going to laugh at the limitation and empty his graveyard to begin the recycling process anew. Even something as (potentially) casual as Sliver Queen doesn’t benefit in any conceivable way from needing to pay one more mana to enter the battlefield for the first time.

So where does this hodgepodge of a rule leave us? Let’s summarize quickly:

  • The Rofellos Rule doesn’t make commanders any less lethal and obviates some archetypes and tax strategies, such as Thalia
  • It is likely better to just ban an offending commander, or if that proves too extreme, to houserule a commander as unfun
  • Hilariously, the commander in question isn’t particularly harmed by the proposed rule, just delaying its fundamental turn by two or three and putting artificial brakes on things
  • Lastly, the format should not be making rules for corner cases of abusive commanders. That should be up to tables to manage on their own, and would seem to go counter to the “Banned as a Commander” rule which was expunged not long ago.
  • All in all, the Rofellos Rule should remain a curiosity and footnote in the format’s rich and growing history. Crippling a variety of fun commanders for the benefit of ridding us of Rofellos isn’t helping anyone, it forces players into a resentful stalemate where they should be using their commanders for either combat, combo or control shenanigans and simply does not add anything of value to the format. Ban Rofellos? Sure, he’s broken acceleration that can lead to arbitrary large amounts of mana with other cards in the format. Make all my commanders cost more because of one card’s issues? No elfin way, man.