Commander has a problem. It’s a problem no other format has, and it’s not easily solvable. The problem is that there are two distinct mindsets in the playerbase, and their play styles are not compatible. Some people prefer to play with high-power cards and decks, and others prefer to play more casually.
When four casuals sit down and play a game, the game goes to turn fifteen, someone hardcasts an Eldrazi Titan, someone gets to draw sixty cards in a turn, and the game is glorious. When four of the more competitive players sit down together, it’s an intense struggle over resources, and the game could end at any point, making it an interesting, tense game with lots of skill and diversity. When one spikier player sits down against three casuals, the casuals are denied their battlecruiser, Timmy-esque games, the competitive player is denied her skill-testing, intense game, and goes for an easy win. Everyone walks away dissatisfied.
There is a proposed solution to the problem - the “points system.” For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, a points system is essentially a codified way to incentivize “feel-good” plays. Points systems assign you points - typically you get some number for winning a game (or killing a player) and some number for other in-game actions, like “Cast an X spell with X in the double digits” or “Blow up a Sensei’s Divining Top.” You can also disincentivize feel-bad plays, like “Take more than one extra turn” or “Blow up more than one opponent’s land in a turn.” Depending on how feel-good or feel-bad you think the play is, you can assign it a higher or lower point value.
The first problem with this, in my mind, is that you’re trying to codify “fun.” Some people have different ideas of fun. Personally, I love playing against stax and mana-denial decks, or generally games where resources run low. That’s fun for me. It makes each play more important and each misplay more severe. It rewards you for playing to your outs and playing conservatively. But for many other people, especially the more casual crowd, stax isn’t fun. If I were to go to a meta with a points system that punishes you for playing cards like Trinisphere, you’re actively making the game less fun for me.
But the problem runs deeper than that. Remember, points systems exist as a solution to the competitive-casual divide. This won’t work. If you present a points system to a competitive player, his goal is to get the most points, and he will exploit it. It’s not particularly hard to exploit a points system, especially against casual players. If I get a point for casting an X spell in the double digits, I’ll go ahead and generate infinite points by looping my library with Blue Sun’s Zenith. Oh, I lose points everytime I execute an infinite iteration? Let’s find another way to break this rule. I’ll go find a non-infinite way to generate massive amounts of mana, like Ad Nauseam + Skirge Familiar, then cast all the X spells in my hand for points. I get a point everytime I resolve a burn spell targeting a player? OK, how does sixty copies of Tendrils of Agony sound?
I once saw a player cast Knowledge Pool with a Mindslaver in play, control their opponent, and force them to Jokulhaups, completely destroying their point total. Once the rules were amended such that Slaver only affected the player actually making the decisions, he bonded Riftsweeper to Deadeye Navigator and denied you any cards off the Knowledge Pool - if you try to cast something, he’ll sweep everything but the Jokulhaups, once again destroying your point total.
Even if you give harsh punishments for things like winning quickly, the spike will adapt to that too. Maybe he’ll play a soul-crushing control deck, concede that he’ll lose a few points to various unfun things, but take the game long, performing many of the positive-point actions and walk away miles ahead of the players who didn’t have resources all game. He might even purposefully not win when he has a way to win, getting the game to go as long as possible, so he has more time to gather up more points while you’re under a soft-lock.
Another proposed solution is straight-up banning cards or tactics. Some playgroups, for example, ban infinite combos. Let’s say you create a metagame without any infinite combos. Now, any spiky player is going to want to know exactly what he can or can’t do, so let’s give a definition for “infinite combo.” “An action which produces a gamestate identical to one earlier this turn except for an additional resource, like an extra floating mana or an extra card in hand, and can be repeated any number of times.” Seems like a fair definition, right?
Wrong. Many of the best combos in Commander don’t actually go “infinite.” For example, Necrotic Ooze in play + Triskelion and Phyrexian Devourer (in graveyard) is not infinite, since it’s bounded by the number of cards in your library. Any win involving Laboratory Maniac, like the infamous Hermit Druid deck or Doomsday decks, isn’t going to be infinite. When you eventually do ban all the best kills, we’re just going to find the second-best ones that for some reason don’t qualify under your definition of combo. These kinds of combos obviously go against the spirit of the ban, but that’s just the point.
Spikes aren’t concerned with the spirit of the rules. They’re concerned with the rules. The problem is at a fundamental level - the spikes want to do something different from what the casuals want to do. When I sit down with someone playing Ally Tribal, we have very different goals. We are not finding fun in the same thing, and more than likely any game which is fun for one of us will just frustrate the other.
There is actually a very simple solution to this problem. Don’t play with someone who isn’t the same kind of player as you are. It may sound harsh, but games where casuals play against spikes are simply not interesting. You wouldn’t sit down at the kitchen table across from someone playing Slivers and play with your legacy Goblin Charbelcher deck - it’s not fun, interesting, or productive - and frankly, it’s a little rude.
The points system method, house-bans, and other artificial ways of trying to make competitive players more casual do not address the underlying divide between players. Using these methods just creates a new sub-format in which the casual players will always play the way they want to, and the competitive players will find the best and most efficient way to accumulate more points. It doesn’t change the underlying psychology of the two groups, so it doesn’t solve the problem. With points systems in place, you will have frustrated Spikes who want to play the format in a more raw, undiluted way, and frustrated casual players who are now playing against Spikes who are warping their format and still doing unfair things. Don’t play with people who don’t want to play the same game you are. Changing the rules doesn’t change the players.