As is evidenced by an article on this very site, and to anyone who is near me for even the shortest amount of time, my favourite way to play Magic: the Gathering is in the Commander format.
I’ve already talked about it before, but I’ll quickly recap the rules:
- Legendary Creature(s) or Legendary Planeswalker(s) as your “Commander”
- 99 card singleton (one copy of each card) deck (You can have duplicate basic lands)
- 40 life starting life
- Being dealt 21 points of combat damage by a single commander is an automatic loss
- Traditionally played multiplayer but is viable in 1v1
So, same as last year, I picked up a box of the latest core set from Magic, because while Throne of Eldarine looks very pretty, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to draw me in past the hydra-turtles. Usually for me that’d be enough, but finances are what they are.
M20 has a very particular theme. Actually it has several, elementals, goblins, birds, wolves, knights, the recurring leylines and cavaliers, a conspicuous return of Theros favourites and temple-lands, and a definite lean towards the commander format, all shine through in the setlist, but there’s a bias here that’s impossible to ignore, especially when you reach the list of red cards.
While each colour has a Planeswalker to represent it, red has three, all of whom are Chandra Nalaar at varying stages of her rise to power. Four of her key spells immediately follow in the set list, and much like with the return of the Theros cards, it rather feels like a nod to Magic’s future, as the upcoming TV series by the Russo brothers is expected to be heavily centred on the pyromancer.
Here was my first draw:
Unusual to grab a land as your first card, but scrying is a useful mechanic no matter the deck, and it does set the colours for my deck… so I was hoping. Unfortunately both of my opponents were keen on white and black, seemingly both throwing in a healthy dose of green just to scupper me. No one went blue… at all, until I started coming up with some beguiling options:
Ok, so I guess I’m building an elemental-heavy deck, I’ll put these with a collection of my red picks, heavy on the goblins to supplement the goblin deck I’ve been assembling. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to assemble a synergistic draft based on the Temur colours: red/blue/green, and something that does what those colours do well. The deck I ended with filled the ground with creatures that support and feed off one another.
Lavakin Brawlers make the Creeping Trailblazer far more daunting, Scorch Spitter and Scampering Scorchers make it cheap and easy to bulk up the bonuses on each, and having drawn a Ripscale Predator and some goblins, it wasn’t too hard to make a rather daunting red-heavy deck, with green and blue supporting heavily.
I’d like to say that I won… we played four games between three players, of which I think we each won a game, but most of my experience was brief moments in which all of my horrible elementals worked together to swing for tremendous amounts of damage… before losing it all after one glorious push and dying horribly before I could rebuild. Overgrowth Elemental helped give me a drop of durability, and those Cloudkin Seers made it easier to keep a hand together and make plans round to round. But it took a genuine balance of good luck on my part and bad luck for my opponents for me to squeeze out a meaningful win.
Feral Abominations held me at bay, giants with deathtouch always blunts someone’s will to dive in to slaughter, and Griffins made it hard for me to slip flying through to their life totals. I was also facing down some green giants like Silverback Shamen and Thicket Crashers that dealt with a lot of my bigger nastier horrors, and while they left the battlefield for trying to get in my way, they took some of my teeth out as they fell.
I like M20, and while I didn’t see many of the more interesting cards come out of my booster box I did pull Gargos, Vicious Watcher for whom I have the perfect deck, and Yarok the Desecrated who I immediately fell in love with for the sake of the mechanics, lore, and the colour combo that suits my playstyle to a tee… and yet still very easily traded away. While Yarok was right for me, one of my opponents pulled this:
Based on the colours I’d just put together, how could I not?
Now, Omnath howls Commander to me, and while I have about half a deck built in front of me, I still have a long way to go. I think there’ll be some awaken spells from Zendikar added to bolster the ranks of elementals from my land pool to make Omnath all the more powerful, maybe some flicker mechanics to have him bouncing in and out, some more land-draw effects to ensure that landfall ability of his comes into play.
I also foolishly passed on the Lightning Stormkin as a friend would benefit from having her in a wizard deck, and I’ll need to keep an eye out for a Thunderkin Awakener, and there’s a host of other mechanics that I’ve been mulling on that could really support a Commander. Apparently the Yarok deck I pitched against myself is already completed… guess I have some catching up to do.
“How To” videos for Magic are in high demand right now, with Arena being featured as a sponsor for a lot of YouTube series right now. Well here’s one I’ve yet to see, one we’ve yet to address, and one that’s actually quite interesting.
The basic rules of Magic are astonishingly easy to learn. Your opponent(s) and you have a life total, and from your deck you draw the resources and tools you need to get rid of the opponents’ life and keep your own, and the last of you with anything left to fight with, wins. For most people that works fine, but some of us have opened a booster or perused set lists and noticed a card along these lines:
Except without a date attached to it, thanks MTG Goldfish… I guess.
Doesn’t matter that your health is firmly in the single digits, your field is practically empty, and your opponents are about to clear you out of the way so they can start the real fight… you just beat them all. How did you get there? Why weren’t they paying attention to where your Hedrons were going? There are dozens of these cards, meaning that there are masses of different ways to win that circumvent the need to pay attention to your life total.
Many of these require you to build your entire deck around them, or offer a backup plan to your major tactic. Take Hedron Alignment as an example, how does it work and how does it help:
It’s a blue card with a simple blue mechanic, Scry which allows you limited control over what card you draw next.
With it in hand, and two untapped mana on the field, your opponent will always wonder if you’re about to counter their next spell, or dismiss one of their creatures, destroying a valuable play; a cruel but valuable psychological tactic that also contributes to the alignment.
Blue decks are very well suited to manipulating the cards, including ways that allow you to discard cards to power better spells, or take some of your deck, remove unwanted cards to the graveyard, and leave the cards you want on top. With these cards somewhere in your deck, it’s not all that hard to put them where you want them.
And with all of those abilities to move and shift cards around with only a handful of cards, you can also create a deck that does other things. Cards that play from exile, feed from graveyard content, or benefit from controlling the content of your hand, which brings me to the card I found recently:
More manipulation of cards, another possible win condition… actually the two could really bounce off one another… I think I need to be building a deck.
These are not the only paths to victory. Some cards function as countdown timers, relying on a certain number of counters being placed on them, others rely on achieving certain states of play, like having twice your starting health total, being able to pay certain mana combinations, or running out of cards altogether.
Finally, there’s one more win conditions that requires no single card to tell you that you’ve won. Nevertheless it still requires a deck dedicated to it. If a player’s deck runs out of cards, that’s (usually) it.
The term Milling refers to a card called Millstone, but has come to refer to any card tat forces players to put cards from library to graveyard, but thanks to far more vicious cards like Traumatise and Consuming Aberration, the tactic has become a viable, if risky thing to attempt. Most players suffer greatly as their best cards pour from their deck and out of reach, while some only grow stronger and gain more options with a swollen graveyard. And if your primary goal is to see your player cardless, it can leave you open to faster, more aggressive tactics, or vulnerable to the bigger creatures amassing on the other side of the field.
That, and no one likes a mill deck. If you enjoy painting a massive target on your back then go ahead.
What is Commander?
Commander is one of the most popular formats for Magic the Gathering and, like most good things in Magic, it started because of bored judges.
That’s not entirely true, but it’s an amusing thought.
Commander – or Elder Dragon Highlander, named after the early ‘Commanders’ being creatures with the “Elder Dragon” type – is a format thought up of within the Magic community. It quickly spread to being played by judges after officiating a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, which soon spread to staff at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) themselves.
Despite this popularity, official Commander pre-built products weren’t created until 2011, and it wasn’t until 2013 where these pre-built decks became an annual fixture in the release schedule.
How is Commander played?
Commander follows specific deck building rules compared to regular constructed play:
- Your deck must have a Commander/General, which has to be a Legendary Creature (2 Legendary Creatures if both cards have the “Partner” ability) or a Planeswalker containing the specific line of text “*this Planeswalker* can be your commander”
- All the cards in your deck must be within the colour identity of the Commander (colour identity is determined by the colours in the card’s mana cost and rules text)
- The deck can only have one copy of each card (besides basic lands)
- The deck must be 100 cards total, which includes your Commander card(s)
- The only non-specific rule is that cards from all of Magic’s history can be used, aside from the ban list
Commander is traditionally a multiplayer format, with games between 3-4 people, though 1v1 Commander is popular in some circles. Players start on 40 life (30 for 1v1 games) and if a player is dealt 21 damage by a single commander, they lose automatically.
The commander card(s) themselves are kept in a separate zone of play called the “command zone”, which can be cast anytime you could cast a creature. Each time a commander is cast from this zone, the next time it is cast from the command zone it costs 2 colourless mana more (an effect often referred to as “commander tax”.)
Why do I like Commander?
I started playing Magic seriously about a year ago, but never started playing constructed formats until the start of this year, where Rivals of Ixalan ignited my passion for Standard Merfolk and Commander Dinosaurs. Due to time and motivation the Commander deck didn’t get taken out that much and was eventually de-sleeved.
However, a few months passed. I had grown tired of Standard and had more cards at my disposal with which to build a deck (thanks past Murray!). So I invested in some Eclipse sleeves with which to start this project, and my Dinosaur deck was revived alongside a completely new creation, taking after my Standard deck: the Axolotl Paradox (named after a card which I didn’t have at time of construction).
Playing with these decks with friends and at my Local Game Shop (LGS) managed to revitalise my spirit for playing Magic, as well as igniting my spark for wanting to build for Commander more often. I have kept a full list of deck ideas hidden amongst .txt files on my laptop and my brain seeing cards thinking “That could work really well in Muldrotha/Asmadi/Shu Yun”
I will admit as well…
I kinda like playing politics in Commander?
A large aspect of a multiplayer format, like Commander, is being able to make deals/pacts with people in exchange for immunity from effects, or attacks. This can sometimes draw scathing looks from the rest of table if you side with someone already in a good position.
Personally, I like making a deal with someone not to attack them… and then just cast burn spells and removal on them! Because that’s not attacking them, I never said anything about casting stuff.
How easy is it to get into Commander?
As mentioned in the intro paragraph, WoTC offer pre-constructed commander decks on a yearly basis. Debates about quality aside, these are the easiest way to get into the format. Just unbox, sleeve, shuffle and you’re ready to go.
If you’re a pre-existing Magic player, it’s likely you already have the components to build a pretty good deck, so you could go down the pre-built route, or you could make your own custom creation.
Struggling to make choices? EDHREC has your back. In my opinion this is the best resource for anything relating to Commander, from card choices to theme ideas and in some cases finding out about cards you never realised existed, but would be perfect for your deck.
If your LGS has singles for sale and a Commander community, go pay a visit. Not only will you be doing an important service by supporting the store, you’re also going to find out more about potential deck ideas, possibly from someone who plays a similar deck to your concept.
A huge thanks to Murray for his contribution today – And if you’re a fan of EDH/Commander, or if you’d like to share your experiences, then let us know in the comments. Are you a fan of the format, or do you prefer a different Magic format? Share yur thoughts and opinions below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.
Last week, Wizards of the Coast were looking for people to stress test their latest video game endeavour. Many people were granted access to a closed beta, to which Wizards gave out keys to the beta testers, which they can hand to 5 other people. I was fortunate enough to have Jake give me a key, so I was able to take part in the stress test. Before that though, I got to know the game a bit – So, here are my first thoughts of Magic: the Gathering Arena.
Rarely does a block in Magic: the Gathering cause me to think twice about it – Pirates vs Dinosaurs in Ixalan? I’m way on board. Vehicles in Kaladesh? Sounds exciting! Oh, a new Un-Set? Even better. However, this is one of the few rare moments when Wizards of the Coast have caught me off guard – and for once, I don’t know whether I like it or not. Naturally, I’m on about the newest block, Dominaria.
Drafting is a great format for entry level play and veterans alike, it gives all players a functioning deck without the advantages of having spent a fortune on their collection. It’s also a great way to try out a new set, grab some great new cards and get more from your average pack of random boosters.
The “buy-in” for a draft is usually three booster packs of fifteen random cards, average price of about £10. Everyone sits around a table, everyone opens one of the boosters they brought, picks a card from it and passes the rest to the left. This continues until the pack is depleted, then everyone moves onto their second pack, passing in the opposite direction, and again with the third, at which point everyone should have a collection of forty-five cards, from which you build a deck of forty or more cards which includes the basic land cards you’ll need to add. (more…)
We’re big fans of Magic: The Gathering here on GeekOut South-West. We play it ’til there’s nothing left of it to play. From a casual game with friends to full blown lore facts, this game has it all and we love it. It frequently appears in our Top 10 articles and makes for a good article too.
But how do you get to the position of building many random decks in the first place? How do people end up with so many cards? Well you may (or may not) be surprised that I myself have over 1,500 MTG cards that I keep in a massive box. Why do I have so many of them and what do I do with them all? I have them thanks to booster boxes and I use them to make casual decks.
Sometimes the decks turn out great, with a lot of character behind them. But more often than not, they become a curiosity for a few games – Something to throw friends off with. I am best known for my white enchantment deck, which I call Keyword Ascension, but lately that’s felt like it’s too much to play with. So, I have built a good number of casual decks. From my Red/Green Werewolves to my Blue/Green ‘Kitchen Sink’, there’s a deck for all play styles.
With this said, there’s a lot of decks that just don’t work out. However, one booster box can turn that deck that just didn’t work into a real thoroughbred. For instance, when I was building my Keyword Ascension deck, I had a Zendikar block booster box. I believe it was Worldwake, which then introduced me to the Kor Spiritdancer – Who I immediately threw into my deck. Not only was she a perfect complement to my deck, she’s one of my main creatures!
This month, we bought another booster box. As a disclaimer, this is not cheap, but it is certainly cheaper than buying individual booster packs. The booster boxes can set you back typically between £70-£90 and you can probably get a better deal from a local games shop. It’s worth looking around, but a booster box contains 36 booster packs. Due to the sheer size and cost of this, I always like to buy a booster box with someone else – In my case, recently I have been buying booster boxes with my partner.
It’s a satisfying experience, opening all of those boosters and finding the rarest cards in there. This month’s booster box was from the Eldritch Moon set, which quickly revealed a card called Lilianna, the Last Hope. Just a couple of days before the box arrived, Jake and I discussed how he needed Lilianna in his zombie deck. As well as the power of the new zombies he got in the new box, he now has a pretty competitive zombie deck. There’s always a flip side to this kind of purchase though…
See, next month, a new block comes out. A block in Magic: the Gathering terms is a group of card sets which make up a theme/story. When I first got into MTG, the block was the Zendikar block, where these monstrous creatures were suddenly appearing. They were called the Eldrazi – and now, 4 years later, they’re back. They’re a lot more manageable now…
… and what about next month? I guess we wait and see what Kaladesh holds for us. Maybe we could do one more booster box..? So what do you think about booster boxes? Are they a waste of money, or is it the real way to collect Magic: the Gathering cards? What about building decks from them? As always, share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.
So, you’ve decided to finally take the financial plunge that is Magic: the Gathering and you want to know what to look out for when making your first deck. Recently, I invested in my third ever booster box which doesn’t come cheap – So join me as I look at building decks in Magic: the Gathering and some hints and tips I like to share with people.
You voted for it, you’ve got it. This week, we’re looking at some of the most blood thirsty creatures ever known to sci-fi/fantasy. No, we’re not on about a leech, nor a parasite, but they certainly could fall under these categories. We can only be talking about Vampires, a type of undead that likes to nom on your blood, essentially draining you of your very life force. What a horrible way to go.
Have you ever looked outside at the dark night (not to be confused with the film that scores better than 5/7), then romanticised about someone nibbling on your neck? These guys will be a literal pain in your neck when they clamp down on your flesh and drain you of your fluids (That doesn’t sound healthy). Join us as we count down our Top 10 Vampires. (more…)