Hello, and welcome to the wide and wondrous world of all things Magic-related! Let’s say you’ve been playing for a year or less. Maybe MTG: Arena was your introduction, or perhaps you learned to play the old-fashioned way; Kitchen table casual at a friend’s house. Maybe you haven’t even started playing yet at all? No matter how you found your way, I’m going to bet that you’ve wondered to yourself where to go from here.
Sure, you can continue the daily grind of playing against the same few decks online, or even try to pick up new formats to play with friends or at your local game store.
My goal here is to introduce you to the casual, yet competitive realm of Commander (also known as EDH). Having made the transition from a complete newbie to someone that has a relative idea of what’s going on, I feel as though it is my duty to plead my case.
So let’s dive in!
WHAT IS COMMANDER, AND WHY IS IT SO DIFFERENT FROM STANDARD?
I’m glad you asked, even though you totally didn’t.
The Standard format is a lot of players’ entry point to playing Magic. It checks a lot of the boxes in a typical format, and adds a few asterisks to the mix. For instance, Standard is a 60-card, (typically) 1v1 experience, much like other popular formats such as Modern, Legacy, and even Pauper.
Each format plays relatively the same in concept, but when you start to take budget and card availability into account, you start to see the caveats of each format. One of the key characteristics of Standard is that it is exclusively played with the most RECENT sets. Pauper can only be played with cards that were ever printed at COMMON rarity, Vintage is for RICH people, and so on and so forth.
In Commander, the only restrictions are a hundred cards, a fairly reasonable ban list, and of course, your imagination. With nearly the entirety of Magic’s library of over 20,000 unique card designs at your disposal, where do we begin?
A great place to start would be a preconstructed Commander deck (also known as Precon). Since 2013, there have been yearly releases of sets of five precons.
However, in the last year, there has been a wave of even more releases, ushering in some much-needed reprints of old cards and new cards all the same. In addition to the usual five decks, each new Standard set will be accompanied by at least two Commander precons that reflect the themes and mechanics of the set itself (rather than the underwhelming Planeswalker-themed decks of the past).
Speaking as a person that has purchased and augmented some of the newer decks, I can say that what you get is much more than what you pay for. My favorites so far have been the Land’s Wrath and Aura of Courage. They played well right out of the box, and they both display a theme that begs to be built upon and refined. These decks not only serve as great foundations, but also a great introduction to all of the madness that a Commander deck can be.
SPEAKING OF… WHAT’S ACTUALLY IN A COMMANDER DECK?
Well, for starters, what sets Commander apart from other formats is the amount of cards in your deck. In this case, your deck consists of 100 cards, each being unique from each other (with the exception of basic lands). Your deck is typically built around your commander, which must be a legendary creature (and in some cases, a Planeswalker but the card must specify that it can be your commander).
You always have access to your commander, which starts each game in the Command Zone, rather than be shuffled into your deck.
The colors in your deck are restricted to the color identity of your commander, which includes both the casting cost and any activated abilities that may be in the text box of the card. The rest of the cards in your deck, whether they be creatures, artifacts, or other spells should be geared towards bringing you to the sweet, sweet taste of victory.
The beauty of this format is that there are so many ways that you can win. Sure, any deck can win through combat, but there are many other ways, including milling (making your opponents discard their entire decks), burn (direct damage spells), or triggering particular requirements where a card would result in a win (see; Mechanized Production, Simic Ascendancy, etc).
One of the coolest aspects of the format is how much of your personality you can inject into your deck. A little bit of flavor and spice can go a long way in expressing the theme of your deck. Do you like Gothic horror? What about Greek or Norse mythology-based gods? Maybe insects? Ninjas? If you can think of it, there’s probably an archetype waiting for you.
So far, some of my favorite builds have been vampires, spell-slinging, and life gain/drain. With the resources at your disposal, you can create and tinker to your heart’s content. Not only is your deck itself customizable, but so is the power level. In the context of the game, the power level determines how quickly and efficiently your deck is designed to win. You can build a slow, janky mess that rarely wins but is fun to play, or you can optimize for a guaranteed turn three win.
It’s all preference in how you want to play, or how you want to interact with the other players in your game. Some decks are built to punish everyone else, and some are made with the intent of making all players’ decks pop off beyond their full potential for an explosive game.
A LITTLE TABOO: PROXIES
The last thing that I’d like to mention is something that maybe might be a little taboo, depending on your play group; Proxies. Given how many cards exist in Magic’s history, not all are created equal. By that, I am referencing availability and of course, price.
Newer players and experienced players alike are often deterred from including certain cards in their decks because they may be too pricey. A workaround that has resulted from that phenomena is the method of using proxy cards in your deck. Many people will allow a deck full of proxies without question, because they would rather be out-played rather than out-bought. Some would prefer that you own a copy of the card in your collection before slotting in a proxy of it.
As far as sanctioned events, most rulings would allow no more than three proxies in a deck, where the total value of said proxies cannot exceed a set amount. But the benefit of using proxies (especially to new players) is that you can test a card out in your deck without having to commit to the cost of pricey cardboard.
At the end of the day, it should be about how you play, rather than what you play.
COMMANDER IS THE BEE’S KNEES!
After everything I’ve talked about, all I can hope is that your takeaway is this: Commander is the bee’s knees.
The social nature of the game is appealing to so many players to the point that it’s become the most popular way to play. Seasoned veterans of the game have enjoyed it as a break from formats where the meta can shift towards every top deck becoming the same few themes year after year (looking at you, Standard).
Newcomers can buy a precon deck from their local game store, sleeve it up, and sit down for some good, wholesome fun. The price of entry is pretty low, but that’s how they get you. Before you know it, you’ll become another degenerate like me with a hoard of cards and eight (or more) decks at your disposal. When one of my decks starts to feel stale, I’ll break it down and use the best cards for something new.
With all of the gameplay channels on YouTube and various deck lists floating around the internet, you’re bound to find something that ignites the spark in you.