Rule zero is one of the most defining aspects of the commander format. It used to be featured in the philosophy and rules section of the Commander website itself, however it has been removed. This is understandable, as it isn’t really a “rule,” more of a guideline. The original language of rule zero is as follows:
“Rule 0: These are the official rules of Commander. Local groups are welcome to modify them as they see fit. If you’d like an exception to these rules, especially in an unfamiliar environment, please get the approval of the other players before the game begins.”
Essentially, rule zero encourages players to freely adjust the rules of the commander format to meet the needs of their individual play groups. It wants players to openly and frankly discuss what they’re trying to get out of the game, and to make any changes to the rules that they feel benefits the play experience as a whole.
Commanding Rules Adjustments
While rule zero is hard to maintain in random groups and pickup games, which is yet another reason it is not included in the official rules anymore, it allows more familiar commander groups to tailor their experience to the kind of games they want to play. It also encourages an open discussion between players before a game starts, which helps promote healthy play.
While there are many ways that rule zero can be implemented, we want to highlight some of the most common changes to the play experience that rule zero may allow:
Competitive Commander, or cEDH, owes much of its success to rule zero. A happy cEDH group is one where all the players come into the game with a full understanding of the game’s power level, with everyone knowing that victory is their ultimate goal. Rule zero helps people come in with this understanding, and helps prevent competitive players from stomping on comparatively low-powered decks.
Many players want to run planeswalkers as commanders, or have a strong desire to run a certain non-legendary card at the head of their deck. The original example of this is the Nephilim, interesting four-color cards that (at the time) were essentially the only way to build a four-color deck. Despite their unique design and legendary feel, they didn’t get the legendary treatment so rule zero was needed if you wanted to give them a try.
Finally, the most common use of Rule 0 is the adjustment of the banlist. Bans in commander are designed to give everyone a baseline of entry into the format, without having to worry about certain powerful cards impacting play. In a more established group, you can determine what else should be added or taken off that list. Do you want to slow down games? Try banning fast mana! Is everyone sitting on some Power 9 in their trade binder? Forget the financial concerns, set them free! Rule 0 gives you all the options under the sun.