Opinion: Why Magic: The Gathering: Commander's Rule 0 Is Essential

Greetings to the players, collectors, and fans of Wizards of the Coast's premier trading card game, Magic: The Gathering! In the past, we have gone over what decks are in vogue in Commander, along with a few ways to upgrade them, through abridged deck techs and content reviews. Rest assured, these will not stop, but today we wish to discuss a different matter: Rule 0. This topic can be met with some contention by a few people, so if you are one of those people, try to read this piece with an open mind and draw your conclusions afterwards. Are you ready? Here we go!

The full art for Yore-Tiller Nephilim, a card that many people have expressed a desire to make their commander, despite it being illegal for that role. Image attributed to Magic: The Gathering by Wizards of the Coast, and illustrated by Jeremy Jarvis.
The full art for Yore-Tiller Nephilim, a card that many people have expressed a desire to make their commander, despite it being illegal for that role. Image attributed to Magic: The Gathering by Wizards of the Coast, and illustrated by Jeremy Jarvis.

So, to begin, what exactly is Rule 0? Many players have tried – and failed – to adequately express what this concept is. While we won't profess to say we can do it perfectly, we will try our best to explain it:

Rule 0 is very similar to a Session 0 in Dungeons & Dragons. Players in a Session 0 express their interest in what they expect from the role-playing game campaign, and also explain what they aim to do with their characters so that all players have a better understanding of the group dynamic. So too with Rule 0 in games of Commander. In a Rule 0 pre-game conversation, players explain in the best terms the following concepts that they plan to enact with their decks:

  • What their deck aims to do, in broad or more specific terms alike,
  • What they wish to see in their games and what they wish to avoid
  • How competitive the deck is
  • How quickly the deck can win
  • How the deck will likely interact with the other decks in the game, and
  • Any modifications that their deck applies to the general rules of the format

The Professor of Tolarian Community College fame and Joe Johnson of I Hate Your Deck summarize the expectations set in a Rule 0 discussion pretty well in a recent video on YouTube, which we will be linking at the bottom of this article. We encourage you to watch it when you get to it, because they both raise great points altogether.

Now, we have indeed covered Session 0 in the past, and a fair few readers had expressed their disdain about the concept. To be fair, it's a bit divisive, but it should be normalized, and that's the point. Both Session 0 conversations and Rule 0 discussions need to be more normalized so that players and playgroups can stay satisfied in their games. If not, it's always a possibility that games will crumble and groups might dissolve.

In the end, we are our own Dungeon Masters when it comes to playing Commander socially. Magic: The Gathering is not that different from Dungeons & Dragons in a similar vein. Players not abiding by a Rule 0 conversation is quite similar to a player entering a D&D campaign long after a Session 0 has been enacted, except instead of just one player doing so, everyone is late to the party. And nobody likes to be late to the party.

What do you think about applying Rule 0 discussions in Commander? Let us know your thoughts on this phenomenon in Magic: The Gathering in the comments below!

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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