Removing colour identity from MtG Commander/EDH

(This post is about the popular Commander/EDH variant for Magic: the Gathering.)

Commander has two rules that prevent players from using cards that aren’t of their commander’s colour(s): a deckbuilding rule and an in-game rule.

  • Cards in a deck may not have any colours in their identity which are not shared with the commander of the deck. (The identity of each card in the deck must be a subset of the General’s.)
  • A deck may not generate mana outside its colours. If an effect would generate mana of an illegal colour, it generates colourless mana instead.

In this post, I would like to discuss the possibility of removing the first rule, and relying entirely on the second rule to keep decks colour-segregated. I will merely list all consequences I could think of, and let the reader come to their own conclusion.

I will not discuss flavour. Some people say that it “feels wrong” for e.g. a W commander deck using a WB hybrid spell, and some people don’t. But a. that’s not an empirical question so I can’t argue that point either way, and b. I personally couldn’t care less; I’m into this format for its gameplay, not its flavour.

I will name-drop Mark Rosewater, who would be in favour of that change. On the other hand, Rosewater did admit that some hybrid cards and phyrexian cards were designed with more colour bleed than he’d like.

This list is up to date as of Born of the Gods and will be updated. It is intended to be comprehensive; do tell me if I’ve missed a case or a really good example.

If we remove colour identity deckbuilding restrictions in Commander…

On the whole, it would reduce variance in Spike-ish groups. You’d see a lot more copies of powerful but currently colour-restricted cards. On the flip side, many fun and interesting cards that currently see very little play would become more accessible.

Teaching the rules to new players and building decks would be much simpler. The colour identity rule isn’t trivial, and it has corner cases (basically everything below).

On the other hand, there will probably be a few cases of newbies who will miss the “mana production” rule and show up with a deck containing cards they can’t cast. When you’re building your deck, deck construction rules are more salient than in-game rules.

The following cases would become legal and viable:

  • Cards with optional casting or ability costs that you’re unable to pay (Bringer of the Green Dawn, Arctic Nishoba, Spider Spawning or Rhys the Exiled in G).
  • Cards that can produce wrong-coloured mana (Noble Hierarch in G). They would finally join similar cards that are legal because worded without using mana symbols (Coalition Relic in G).
  • Hybrids with one wrong colour (Deus of Calamity in G).
  • Colourless hybrids of the wrong colour. Of those currently in print, I think only Beseech the Queen might be worth paying twice as much mana for.
  • Double-faced cards whose backs have the wrong colour identity (Garruk Relentless or Elbrus, the Binding Blade in G).
  • Split cards with one half of the wrong colour (Down // Dirty in G).
  • Phyrexian mana cards of the wrong colour (Phyrexian Metamorph in G). Of those, a few might be good enough to see significant wrong-colour play: Birthing Pod, Hex Parasite, and Phyrexian Metamorph.
  • Wrong-coloured bombs in decks that can “cheat” (with Zombify, Elvish Piper, Isochron Scepter, Polymorph…) to avoid hard-casting them. The cards are dead without the cheater, making this an unappealing choice unless the deck is very reliable (for example if the “cheater” is its commander, like Jhoira of the Ghitu). Note that every colour already has access to a good number of bombs (though admittedly not the most powerful bombs), including artifacts and eldrazis.
  • A few wrong-coloured cards which can’t be hard-casted but have a valuable alternative use (Faerie Macabre or Vedalken AEthermage in G).
  • A few wrong-coloured nonbasic lands with valuable special abilities. Of these, Bojuka Bog and Gaea’s Cradle are by far the most powerful, so much so that I’d expect them to become wrong-coloured staples. A possible fix might be to change the rules so that an effect that would generate mana of the wrong colour generates no mana (instead of colourless mana), though this comes with side-effects. Or Gaea’s Cradle could join Tolarian Academy on the ban list.
  • Wrong-coloured basic lands (Island in G). This would be great news for colourless commanders. Right now they have to hunt Gatherer and trade binders for colourless lands that are useless but legal, and they get utterly destroyed by the first piece of nonbasic hate. (Also useful in weird tricks that few decks will play, such as filling up Domain to cast Allied Strategies for 5).
A Quenchable Fire card with a blue-red border.

from The Magic Lampoon

And, just to get the strawman out of the way, the following cases would become legal – but not viable:

  • Randomly stuffing a few wong-coloured cards in your deck with no intention or ability to do anything with them.


And now for something completely different

For those of you worried about increasing overlap between commander decks as the format becomes better understood: what if colourless cards were restricted to colourless commanders? No more turn 1 Sol Ring into Signet! No more Solemn Simulacrum brawls! No more playing Leyline of Singularity ironically and accidentally blowing three swords! And there will finally be a good reason to play Ulamog as a commander! No joke, I would like to see this variant attempted.


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