Why Play Commander

Commander is a player created format for the always popular and fan driven game Magic the Gathering.  Originally called EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander) it has gone from a kitchen table of friends to arguably one of the largest and most popular formats in the game. The format consists of a 100 card deck. Out of that 100 card deck you have 1 commander and 99 cards, now there are a few major catches. Your deck may only have 1 copy of any non-basic land and may only be the same color identity as your commander. Meaning if your commander is a Blue/Black commander then no card (even lands) may have a colored mana symbol other than Island or Swamp aka Blue and Black. Your life total is 40 in Commander oppose to the normal or 20 and there is and added damage of Commander Damage.  If a player take 21 combat damage from a single Commander (even their own) in a game then its game over regardless of any life total.

So why play Commander? There are many reason why we play Magic, some play for fun, some play to release stress, some play to compete and some play to enjoy time with their friends. Now no matter why you play Magic, we all do it because we enjoy the game. Commander was designed with the social aspect of the game in mind, to be able to sit around with your friends or your play group at your local game store and have fun. Not worry about “Am I going to place top place today?” (You by all means can play like that even in Commander) But if you are looking for a great time with the people and friends you know, then this is the format for you. Crazy card interactions, funny plays, 2 or 3 hour-5 player games around a big table of snack and drinks and some music. All of those random things you would not ever normally see by playing other formats. That is what is great about it, the social atmosphere behind. It is just as important as the card themselves.

The other big reason why people play Commander is because they have been playing Magic already for a long time so for a very long time and those players who have been playing for 3 months and bought a mystery box of bulk cards at a yard sale or offline or from a friend. Those players have something common and chances are most of them don’t even know it.  That other reason to play Commander is deck building, that player who just got all those cards bulk cards off line? Probably can’t use them in the standard format and they probably don’t work very well for modern format either, they are just starting out and play with their friends at home or off to the side at the game store. That long-term player?  They have 15 years’ worth of cards that don’t see play anymore, collecting dust and wishing they could use them instead of just sitting there. Now there is a format where they can play all of them and use all those great cards from the past and add the new ones of the future and still play for fun or competitive or somewhere in the middle and still just have fun while playing.

Now the question is where to begin on building a deck? There is no clear-cut right or wrong way to do this. Some people build a deck on a theme, some based on color, some base theirs on a creature type, some base it off of the funniest, goofy and the insane card interaction that make people say what the…? Others make it so they are in control and shut their opponent’s down. Whatever the reason is the Commander chosen will give you access to the cards within the colors of your Commander. So normally that is where it starts. Picking the Commander, now throughout the 20+ years Magic has been around there are well over 700+ legendary creatures for you to choose from. So read some of them, see what ones you like, what ones appeal to you or the ones that you think no one around you is playing and wants to try to build it! Remember is supposed to be fun, no matter if you are playing casual or competitive with your playgroup.

Once you have decided on what deck you want to make I would start to think about two things. Is this a 1v1 player deck or a Multi-player deck? This will help you look at cards differently and help you make a decision if a card is good or better in a 1v1 situation or a multi-payer situation. The second is how you will win with the deck, what is the deck’s purpose or win condition? Is it attacking creatures, draining life, a swarm of tokens or something else? That way you have a goal in site for your deck. A lot of times, a deck can have many great cards in it, but after a few turns it just doesn’t go anywhere. It sits there and losing focus and then your opponent makes a comeback to defeat you. Doing and remembering this is a great way for you to keep your deck on point. Something I always tell people in general is that consistency beats value. You don’t have to have a deck of $40 cards each to play or win, stick to what you made the deck for and don’t be afraid to try a card that might not be the best fit, worse case is you take it out and try something new!

From there I usually recommend starting with your mana base aka your lands. With a 100 count deck I recommend starting out with 38-40 lands if you are unsure how the deck will do with mana. As you build the deck and add things than can add mana or not you will have a better idea on if you need more or less lands. A rule of thumb I follow is for every 3 mana rock/dork (Artifacts/Creature that produces mana) you can justify cutting a land if you need to. But I don’t personally never like going below 35 lands in a deck, some people do it because as I said there is not right or wrong way to build and they may have other way to get a lot of mana in their deck. But 38 is a good starting placeholder so you know you have 61 cards remaining (38 lands + 1 Commander = 39/100). After that I look for what fits your theme and or goal, I find what cards work together to fit my idea. You want to always try to pick cards that are fitting to what you want the deck to do. This will help you to stick with it that goal to make sure your deck does not go all over the place and lose focus. Every card you decide to put in the deck, ask yourself. Does this work with my goal of the deck?

There is never a set number of how many spell should be in a deck. You can have any number Instants, creatures or anything else than can go into a deck. As you become more familiar with the game you will learn what you should or want to put into your deck and know if you want to run 30 creatures with 10 instant’s for your creature deck or 5 creatures and 25 instant’s for your deck of spells. But if you are just starting out building your deck from scratch, I recommend an even mix. That way you could have something like 22 creatures, 15 artifacts, 10 instant’s, 7 sorcery’s, 5 enchantments, 2 Planeswalkers  and that’s your 61 cards plus your 38 lands and 1 Commander and you have your 100 cards. You don’t have to go by something like this, but to give you an idea. Something like this might help you have a lot of options and versatility for you to use while playing for your deck.

The other way you can make a deck, and this is especially easy, simple and great for newer players to the format or those who don’t have a lot of the older cards or any cards if they are brand new to Magic like the veteran players may have is to buy a starter deck. Commander starter decks come out every year about November and MSRP for $34.99 which is fair for a 100 card deck. They have become rather impressive for a starter deck. They come with 3 different potential Commanders within the deck all within the colors of the starter deck shown on the box and they are built 30%-30%-30% for Commander A-B & C and the remaining 10% is just universal cards that are good for most decks. You can easily pick one from them and then add to the deck as you go and taking out a card that makes sense for the other Commander that came with it, but not the one you are making. This is an easy and great way for making upgrades as you get more cards for it. These are also great for the veteran players to be able to try out the new commanders and build up that collection.

No matter why you decided to play Commander, or how you decide to build your deck. It is supposed to be fun. Sometimes people say one way is the way to do it, or if you don’t do this that way it will be wrong or bad and that’s not the point. The point is to enjoy the game the way you want to. As long as everyone is getting out of the game what they want they it’s a true win.  Thank you for reading and I hope this helps!

-Andrew Webber

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Andrew Webber

Andrew Webber

I am a 15 yr CCG player of many games and for the last 6 years I have been playing Magic  the Gathering and I am also the Creator and Admin of


I work as a Desktop Support Technician full time and I also work at the local game store. I  am the store’s Tournament organizer aka a TO for our Magic community and I have run FNM  every Friday for the last 4 ½ years.

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