Hello, player! My name is Chase (also known as ManaCurves), and I'm going to talk about my favorite format in Magic: Commander. Also known as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), Commander is a multiplayer format that involves building a 100 card singleton deck around a legendary creature, often referred to as the commander or general. I know what you're thinking...
"But there are so many legendary creatures to choose from! How do I know which is the best?"
There's the beauty in Commander! It's the format of creativity and self-expression. Everyone builds what brings them joy, and no two decks are alike. If you like Faerie tribal, there's a commander for that. If you like Stax, there's also a commander for that. It is an incredibly diverse format with over 1,000 Legendary creatures to choose from! Even then, if you and another player have the same commander, it's more than likely the deck themes are completely different. This is what allows the format to continue to grow so fast and remain so healthy (that and the Rules Committee which handles bannings separately from Wizards of the Coast).
So why play Commander? I love Commander because it's such a social, communal format. Creativity truly thrives and flourishes in this community. Never in my life have I felt comfortable talking to strangers, and yet, I can sit down and ask someone about their deck and how their game is going without knowing a single thing about them. Commander allows for an incredibly fun and communal atmosphere I haven't experienced playing other formats. To me, it's truly the people's format. But how do you play it?
Commander is unlike any other format in Magic. For starters, it's multiplayer. You can have as many or as few opponents as you would like (I've played in a pod of 12 before). However, it is definitely recommended to play in groups of four-to-five, due to the lengthy nature of the game.
Another interesting fact about Commander is it doesn't use playsets of cards, and the decks are larger than other formats (almost doubled). Rather than running a playset, you only have one copy of each card (excluding basic lands). This is why it's called a singleton format. Life totals are also different. Due to the larger nature of the player's libraries, life totals are bumped up to 40 rather than 20. I know this seems like a lot. To be honest, I was confused when I first heard the rules of Commander. Thankfully, there aren't any changes to the actual phases of the game, so if you're familiar with Magic, then you already have a great grip on it.
When it comes to combat damage—one slight addition has been made. Normally a player wins when the opponents' life totals drops to zero, or by alternate win conditions. But in Commander, there's another way to defeat opponents: Commander Damage. This refers to the damage your commander does to an opponent's life total. Combat still functions the same, but if an opponent has taken 21 damage from your Commander, that opponent loses the game. This form of damage is tracked through the entire game and cannot be altered or undone.
I know this is a lot to throw at you all at once, but this is where the communal aspect of Commander comes into play. Learning the inner workings of a new format takes time and practice, and Commander players are more than happy to help teach the ropes. Always ask questions, and never be afraid to ask for a take back when you make a slight misplay. The beauty of a casual format is that fun and everyone's enjoyment is at its heart.
I'm what the cool kids call a professional deck builder, and I want to help you master the art of making a Commander deck. Let's start with the socks of the deck: the mana base. No one likes socks, but everyone needs them. Without a mana base, your deck is only a collection of cool cards. So let's get to it.
Typical Commander decks run around 36 or 37 lands (this can vary depending on the theme of the deck). You can run as many basics as you want, but nonbasic lands must follow the Commander singleton rule. The color identity of your commander determines the types of lands and cards you can run (if you're playing a Selesnya deck you can't run blue cards or lands that tap for blue). The number of creatures and noncreature spells you want to run ultimately depends on the theme of your deck, but there are specific types of cards needed in almost every deck.
This is completely different from "auto-includes" (a concept I try to avoid when deckbuilding). For a Commander deck to run fluidly, you'll need card draw, ramp, and interaction. These are integral for victory.
Card draw gives you card advantage. A deck without card advantage means you can run cool things, but you can't play them if you don't draw them. The more cards you can draw into can drastically increase the odds of winning. Examples of such cards include: Blue Sun's Zenith, Sign in Blood, Rishkar's Expertise, Knollspine Dragon, and Secret Rendezvous.
Some colors have a harder time accessing card draw, which is an unfortunate aspect of Magic's color identities. So let's say you're able to draw into your game winning spells, but you don't have the mana to cast them. This is where ramp comes in. Ramp in Commander can be anything from tutoring for lands to generating more pips of mana in a single turn. The more land you have, the more spells you can play! Some examples of ramp for each color include: High Tide, Crypt of Agadeem, Mana Geyser, Smothering Tithe, and Cultivate.
Interaction is a bit of a larger area to explore as opposed to our previous pieces. It can range from removal to affecting our opponent's in-game actions. While this margin is big, there's still a way for us to find balance within our deckbuilding. Starting with removal, we have both single-target and global removal. This means we can either get rid of a single thing or many things. Good examples of removal are Damnation, Krosan Grip, Abrade, Path to Exile, and Pongify! Each of these pieces either destroys or exiles something from the battlefield, ultimately making the game a lot easier for us or our opponents.
This doesn't mean we're done with interaction. There are many ways to play interaction within a game of Commander. In fact, the term is so broad I'm afraid we can't cover it all in this one paragraph (though perhaps this is me foreshadowing a future piece...). Other forms of interaction can be negation effects such as Pacifism, protecting your own boardstate with Heroic Intervention, and preventing our opponents from casting their win cons with Counterspell. Even political cards that make everyone vote are a form of interaction.
Not only is interaction healthy for games of commander (they help them progress faster), but it also encourages you to interact with your opponents as opposed to hiding behind a wall of creatures (unless you're playing pillowfort).
I think Commander is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest formats to learn. Learning from others is what makes it easier.—learning by yourself can be a bit of a challenge. While this introduces you to the basics of the format and how to play, there are still so many unanswered questions.
To help answer these and any other questions, I want to hook you up with some of my favorite Commander-oriented resources and content.
When I first started playing Magic, EDHRec was an absolute lifesaver. This website breaks down popular commanders, salty cards, and various deck themes. When you choose a legendary on this website, it shows you other popular cards that have been used in other people's lists (while also providing links to those lists).
I recommend this website for beginning players, because it helps ease you into searching for a commander, understand popular deck themes, and can be a great jumping off point for your own brew. Note: You don't have to copy the cards listed on this website to build your commander properly. I prefer to use this resource as a way to gain inspiration for deck building.
I've been through my fair share of deck building websites, and I have to say Moxfield is by far my favorite. Whether you're brewing a commander deck or keeping track of a Modern list, Moxfield is incredibly streamlined and easy to use. It utilizes Scryfall's search engine and provides a clear visual breakdown of the decklist.
The reason I use it over other sites is because it provides a bar graph of your deck's mana curves, and also breaks down the percentage of color pips in your list. I find this to be an incredibly helpful tool when working on editing manabases, and couldn't recommend this resource enough.
Official Commander Website
Of course we have to talk about the official Commander website. Created and maintained by the Rules Committee members, this website has a plethora of resources. It links to content made in the community, official bans with details, and rules on how to play the format.
Lastly, after much contemplation, I decided to make my final resource an umbrella resource. Youtube is one of the best places to gain information and a handful of my favorite creators and resources post regularly to YouTube. Are you interested in fun gameplay? Game Knights is one of the best examples of fun and exciting recorded Commander gameplay. Want honest reviews about legendaries, new sets, and Magic products? You can't go wrong with The Professor. Do you want inspiration for decklists? Commander Mechanic is a great channel that creates lists in one video! These only scratch the surface of what you can find on YouTube, making it Commander's ultimate resource.