By Andy Pemberton
Imagine yourself, a mighty Planeswalker standing across from a sea of fire and combat. Your mighty forces leap into battle against your foul enemy, his forces obviously unable to take the might of your charge. Victorious chants begin to rain upon the battlefield as steel meets steel and claws rake against fragile flesh. You charge into action, seeing your victory but one combat step away, until a blue flash overtakes the battlefield. You stand, idle and unmoving, as your opponent seems to make time stand to a halt, and his own machinations come to life, reducing your forces to mere ash before your very eyes. Grand automations rise at his feet, as you stand, time stretching forever in front of you as they charge, your last trick, last hope, thundering onto the field to meet in one last clash of power...
Commander, a format of intricate deck building and powerful, game-ending spells. A format in which literally anything is possible. From the tournament player to the casual beginner, Commander is a format in which anyone can find enrichment and fun, and I hope I can show you a few ways which have captured me in this format.
1, The rules.
Commander, formerly known as Elder Dragon Highlander, is a format based around building a deck of 100 cards. Within these 100, you choose a Legendary creature to be your “Commander” or “General.” This general is the forefront of your deck, and can be used for many purposes: You can build a theme around a specific general, or use him for his (or her) powerful ability. This Commander sits outside of the play zone during a game, in a zone called, rather fittingly, the Command Zone. Commanders can be cast at any time for their mana cost. However, every time he returns to the Command Zone and has to be recast, he costs an additional 2 mana to cast.
As far as your other 99 cards are concerned, they have some restrictions as well. As a Highlander format, you are only allowed one card of any type, not including basic lands. That means you have to choose incredibly carefully when deciding what to add, as you only get one copy! This also means that any intricate combos have to be formed upon the basis of having to search through those 99 cards in order to assemble it. In addition, cards of these 99 can only be of the colour of your Commander, and lands you play can only produce colours of mana that match your Commander.
E.g.: I am playing with Intet, the Dreamer as my Commander. I can play cards such as Call the Skybreaker and Hull Breach, because all of the colours of these spells match the colour of my general. However, I cannot play a card such as Kitchen Finks, because a colour in its mana cost does not match my Commander.
E.g.: I am playing with Iona, Shield of Emeria as my General. I'll be quite happy playing with Basic Plains and other white mana-producing lands, but I cannot play Glacial Fortress, as it produces a colour of mana that does not match my General.
2, Commander is not just a multiplayer format.
Now, I would be the first to admit that the most fun I've had with this format is with four or five players all sat around a table, having fun casting gigantic spells and throwing Goblins at each other. However, Commander is not just for the multi-player in mind. You and a buddy can duke it out one on one if you please. This adds another layer of strategy to the format: It allows you to make card choices based on what you play more, or even build separate decks based on how you play. It also allows you to see how certain cards interact in certain settings: A card such as Blatant Thievery obviously gains more power with the more players you have, but other cards may be much better in a 1-on-1 game.
3, General Construction Guidelines.
In any format, there are certain guidelines that you can follow in order to get a consensus on how to build your deck properly. The old guidelines tended to be 20 Land, 20 creatures and 20 spells, and to be fair, this is close to how I'd recommend building your first deck. I'd look towards this as a rough estimate of cards;
35-40 Land / Mana sources
30 Other Spells
This can vary widely depending on what sort of deck that you're building. In some decks, you may be pushing towards ending it with a milling strategy, or an alternate kill condition, in which case, the number of creatures can be reduced in order to add more tutors (Cards that fetch other cards of a specific type from your deck) in order to create your combos more easily. However, if you're Aggro (Read: Green :D), you'll generally want more Creatures, and balance the rest of your set-up between ramp, pump spells, etc.
What I will say is that this isn't a be-all, end-all formula. My Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck plays between 37 and 45 Lands in order to abuse her as much as possible during the early turns that she is on the field, whereas my Intet, the Dreamer deck runs on 36 with some ramp, and a lot more powerful spells as a result. Creating the right balance is part of the fun and intricacy of the format, after all!
4, Commander is an ever-changing, diverse format.
Commander decks can be built from any cards that are tournament legal. From Alpha and Beta cards up to Scars of Mirrodin, you can use many cards from previous eras. You may discover new combos, or brew up interesting interactions between similar cards. Also, as cards are released, they become legal in the format upon pre-release. That means that you can play with your new cards a week earlier than in the older formats such as Standard and Extended!
Of course, Commander has a banned list of cards deemed too powerful and against the flow of the format. For the longest time, the format grew from community support, and banned lists shifted depending on what people deemed fair. While this is still the case in some circles, as of December 20th there is speculated to be a fully standardized and supported Banned list by Wizards. The current list is as follows;
Grindstone (Unbanned as of 2009-12-01)
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Library of Alexandria
Lion's Eye Diamond
Mox Sapphire, Ruby, Pearl, Emerald and Jet
Sway of the Stars
Staff of Domination
The list is updated every 3 months, and with Wizards' rules team taking the helm, there could be significant changes towards cards being banned, or even cards becoming unbanned for play.
5, Commander is not just a game of skill, but a game of politics.
Now, I know what you're thinking... “I just want to cast my spells and win!”. However, in Commander there can be serious repercussions from your actions. I've been on the forefront of an attack many times due to trying to win the game too hastily. In some situations, I'll be able to pull back enough to stabilize, or I'll be stomped over and literally crushed. The one thing I hope you take away from this is to remember that there's not only you who wants to win. You could have two, three or even four other players each exacting their own plans. In addition, alliances form and break just as easily as in any multiplayer format, so your friend could be your enemy come your next turn. That's not to say that you have to be a pro to win; I've certainly gotten gratification out of just stopping certain players from winning if they decide to bring out a broken combination of cards.
6, The mood of play
Depending on who you play with, the games can take a large variance in tone, either with the player or the deck. One player may gravitate between fun decks such as a RB Goblin build, while one builds towards a more competitive 5-colour build depending on who he plays against. Sometimes, this can result in a player becoming serious about his line of play, in the quest for winning. Other times, that same player playing a fun deck can do things just because it makes the table laugh. One thing I have taken away from the format is that the optimum play to win is not always the most fun play. I once played a game in which I played a combo to draw a lot of cards, but due to the nature of the combo, allowed my opponent to take advantage and force me to draw my deck. It made me lose, sure, but losing to your own combo can be just as fun as winning with it, in my opinion. If it brings smiles to the table, it's definitely worth it.
7, Wizards' support and what it means for you.
As of December 2nd, Wizards has announced that it will be producing 5 Decks for release in June, each representing a different Wedge (A three colour combination with two allied colours, and their shared enemy colour, i.e. URG; WUR, etc). Within these decks, there will be 51 new cards designed specifically for the format itself, of which there will be TEN new Legendary creatures suitable to become your next Commander. This not only gives you an easy way into playing, but also a very inexpensive way to get into the format.
8, Commander is as expensive as you want it to be.
I'm sure this is one area within which the casual players will seek solace. This isn't Standard, you don't need 4 of every expensive Mythic going to compete. In fact, most decks I've seen are mainly built from commons. There's enough uncommon and common land to make two or even three colour decks viable, but also allow you to spend over a prolonged period if you see cards you like. In fact, even some of the rares are cheap: I'd say 10% of the rares I use go about £2 or £3 in value, but who says you even need to use rares? MTGSalvation has a Thread called 'Hidden Gems', within which people post cards that they have used that are 'off the radar'. It's how I've found cards like Stunted Growth – Green hand disruption for 3GG and all of 50p in value? SOLD!
9, Commanders don't have to be so... General.
Sorry for the pun, EDH-lovers. What I'm saying, is that you don't just have to have your Commander be there for his colours (i.e. the 5 coloured generals). There's currently over 450 Legendary Creatures in Magic, the vast majority of which can be used as Commanders. The best way to get value out of these is as follows;
a, They have an 'Enters the Battlefield' ability that you like to use
b, Their colours gives you access to cards that you enjoy playing (This is doubly true if you have pet cards, like I do.)
c, You wish to use them thematically as part of an overall theme you wish to support throughout your build.
Whichever way you want to go, know that there's plenty of support for whatever you want to do, and there's plenty of cards to experiment with to compliment your General. It depends where you sit on the argument: Do you want to be able to cast your General all the time to get the most value out of him, or do you want to just cast him once to help you win the game?
10, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
Guys, just have fun. In whatever way you seek to, just make sure you have fun with the format. If you want to be a power player and strive to win, go for it. If you just want to make a lot of tokens and swing for a billion after an Overrun, I not only approve of it, but I say go for it!
The format is so diverse that anything is possible. If you want to do something, chances are someone has done it and has had fun, so that you can try it yourself. There's over 11,000 different cards in Magic: Chances are, you could discover something amazing.
Well, those are your ten Command-ments. As always, if you have any questions, or you're interested in starting up and want to chat about the format, you can hit me up on the Facebook group, at WNM, or over MSN Messenger at Mirage_Knight@Hotmail.co.uk.
Take care, and have fun discovering new tricks!