MTG Nexus Comprehensive Commander Guide

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Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

1. Introduction - Rules and Philosophy


a) Philosophy and Social Contract

The Banned List for Commander is designed not to balance competitive play, but to help shape in the minds of its fans the vision held by its founders and Rules Committee. That vision is to create variable, interactive, and epic multiplayer games where memories are made, to foster the social nature of the format, and to underscore that competition is not the format’s primary goal. This is summarized as “Create games that everyone will love to remember, not the ones you'd like to forget.”

A player who wishes to break the format will find many tools available to them, and taking those tools away means they move onto the next tool. Taking sufficient cards away from them to achieve a semblance of balance simply removes many, many cards from the pool that casual players enjoy and diminishes the games the format is intended for. Instead, Commander seeks to shape the mindset of the game before players start building decks, pointing them in the direction of thinking socially before they choose their first card. Infusing the deck construction approach with these philosophies is important; we want a social environment where an individual doesn't want to (or, at very least, is discouraged from trying to) break the format.

It is easier to build decks designed to maximize fun than it is to pull punches while playing the game. The Banned List is a part of defining that approach.

The Banned List contains the worst of the offenders for games being played in the spirit described above, those which to us are obvious choices in steering the format towards the general style of games we’d like to promote. While we’ve tried to make it fairly objective, there will always be a measure of subjectivity since different people evaluate cards and their impacts differently. We’d like the Banned List to be as small as possible to make it easily understandable for the players, meaning we’re not going to ban every card that someone finds unpleasant to play against. It is not a problem that some cards are strong.

There are several criteria which carry weight in Rules Committee discussions on individual cards:
  • Interacts Poorly With the Structure of Commander. Commander introduces specific structural differences to the game of Magic (notably singleton decks, color restrictions in deckbuilding, and the existence of a Commander). Magic cards not designed with Commander in mind sometimes interact with those elements in ways that change the effective functionality of the card. Cards that have moved too far (in a potentially problematic direction) from their original intent due to this mismatch are candidates for banning. This criterion also includes legendary creatures that are problematic if always available.
  • Creates Undesirable Game States. Losing is not an undesirable game state. However, a game in which one or more players, playing comparable casual decks, have minimal participation in the game is something which players should be steered away from. Warning signs include massive overall resource imbalance, early-game cards that lock players out, and cards with limited function other than to win the game out of nowhere.
  • Problematic Casual Omnipresence. Some cards are so powerful that they become must-includes in decks that can run them and have a strongly negative impact on the games in which they appear, even when not built to optimize their effect. This does not include cards which are part of a specifc two-card combination - there are too many of those available in the format to usefully preclude - but may include cards which have numerous combinations with other commonly-played cards.
  • Produces Too Much Mana Too Quickly. Commander is a format devoted to splashy spells and epic plays, but they need to happen at appropriate times. Some acceleration is acceptable, but plays which are epic on turn ten are undesirable on turn three, so we rein in cards capable of generating a lot of mana early given the correct circumstances.
  • Creates a Perceived High Barrier to Entry. Commander is a socially welcoming format with a vast cardpool. These two traits clash when it comes to certain early Magic cards, even if they would possibly be acceptable in their game play. It's not enough that the card is simply expensive. It must also be something that would be near-universally played if available and contribute to a perception that the format is only for the Vintage audience.
Meeting one (or more) criteria on the banlist is not a guarantee of a ban. Some cards fit the description, but either aren't problematic enough to justify a ban, are largely eschewed by the casual community, or possess other redeeming factors. Cards are evaluated by their general use, not simply their worst-case scenario. Similar cards may have just enough difference to put them on opposite sides of the line.

Additionally, other Commander styles (such as 1v1, Duel Commander, or more competitively-oriented groups) are not taken into consideration when evaluating how problematic a card is. Groups who seek a different experience are encouraged to discuss local changes to optimize their play experience. This Banned List is for players who are looking for the traditional Commander experience when they're not interacting with their local social groups.
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b) Format Rules

These are the current format rules as of June 2019. For the most up to date rules visit the official site.
  • Rule 0: These are the official rules of Commander. Local groups are welcome to modify them as they see fit. If you’d like an exception to these rules, especially in an unfamiliar environment, please get the approval of the other players before the game begins.
  • Rule 1: Commander is designed to promote social games of magic.

    It is played in a variety of ways, depending on player preference, but a common vision ties together the global community to help them enjoy a different kind of magic. That vision is predicated on a social contract: an agreement which goes beyond these rules to includes a degree of interactivity between players. Players should aim to interact both during the game and before it begins, discussing with other players what they expect/want from the game.

    House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.
  • Rule 2: Players must choose a legendary creature as the "Commander" for their deck.
  • Rule 3: A card's color identity is its colour plus the color of any mana symbols in the card's rules text. A card's color identity is established before the game begins, and cannot be changed by game effects.

    Cards in a deck may not have any colors in their color identity which are not shared with the Commander of the deck. (The identity of each card in the deck must be a subset of the Commander's)
  • Rule 4: A Commander deck must contain exactly 100 cards, including the Commander.
  • Rule 5: With the exception of basic lands, no two cards in the deck may have the same english name. Some cards (e.g. Relentless Rats) may have rules text that overrides this restriction.
  • Rule 6: Commander is played with Vintage legal cards, with some exceptions (see official ban list for complete list). Cards are legal as of their sets' prerelease.
  • Rule 7: Players begin the game with 40 life.
  • Rule 8: Commanders begin the game in the Command Zone. While a Commander is in the Command Zone, it may be cast, subject to the normal timing restrictions for casting creatures. Its owner must pay 2 for each time it was previously cast from the command zone; this is an additional cost.
  • Rule 9: If a Commander would be put into a library, hand, graveyard or exile from anywhere, its owner may choose to move it to the command zone instead.
  • Rule 10: Being a Commander is not a characteristic [MTG CR109.3], it is a property of the card and tied directly to the physical card. As such, "Commander-ness" cannot be copied or overwritten by continuous effects. The card retains its "Commander-ness" through any status changes, and is still a Commander even when controlled by another player.
  • Rule 11: If a player has been dealt 21 points of combat damage by a particular Commander during the game, that player loses a game.
  • Rule 12: Commanders are subject to the Legend rule; a player cannot control more than one legend with the same name.
  • Rule 13: Abilities which refer to other cards owned outside the game (Wishes, Spawnsire of Ulamog, Research, Ring of Ma'rûf) do not function in Commander.
Additionally, the following cards are banned in multiplayer games:

c) The Mulligan Rule

The London Mulligan is the official mulligan rule in Commander:
103.4. Each player draws a number of cards equal to their starting hand size, which is normally seven. (Some effects can modify a player's starting hand size.) A player who is dissatisfied with their initial hand may take a mulligan. First, the starting player declares whether they will take a mulligan. Then each other player in turn order does the same. Once each player has made a declaration, all players who decided to take mulligans do so at the same time. To take a mulligan, a player shuffles the cards in their hand back into their library, draws a new hand of cards equal to their starting hand size, then puts a number of those cards equal to the number of times that player has taken a mulligan on the bottom of their library in any order. Once a player chooses not to take a mulligan, the remaining cards become that player's opening hand, and that player may not take any further mulligans. This process is then repeated until no player takes a mulligan. A player can take mulligans until their opening hand would be zero cards.
It is important to remember that because Commander is a multiplayer format, the first mulligan is "free". Also, remember that because Commander is an unsanctioned format and the Rules Committee encourages making house rules (with prior agreement from the group, of course), so if your group prefers using a different mulligan system you are welcome to do so. Just keep in mind that the London mulligan is the default and you are expected to use it in public settings or in sanctioned play.

d) The Rules - Expanded

Rule #2: The General
In addition to any legal legendary creature, certain planeswalkers have additional rules text which makes them eligible to be a general. This is the exception, and the default stance is currently that planeswalkers cannot be generals. If you would like to build a deck with a planeswalker or other card not legal, you should first get the permission of your playgroup.
Rule #3: The Color Identity Rule (Expanded Definition)
Lands whose type includes Swamp, Island, Plains, Forest and/or Mountain (e.g.: basic lands, shocklands, dual lands, Shadowmoor special-basics, etc.) also have the corresponding color identity. As such, they may not appear in a deck unless the Commander is also of the appropriate identity. While hybrid mana symbols may be played with either color mana, they contribute both colors to the card's color identity. Therefore they may only be played with a Commander whose identity includes ALL of the hybrid symbols' colors. Basic land words (Swamp, Forest, etc.) in the text box of a card do NOT represent a colored mana symbol. They are not restricted to a Commander of the same color identity. (Example: Flooded Strand would be legal to run in a Kemba, Kha Regent deck) Reminder text is not included in the color identity of a card. (Example: Pontiff of Blight is legal in a Thraximundar deck).

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Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

2. Deck Building 101


This section is broken down into what I consider the order of importance for building a balanced Commander deck. It might seem counter-intuitive because you are focusing on the boring cards first and then the flavorful cards that likely are the reason for the deck in the first place. My reasoning for this order is that it doesn't matter how great the synergy is between your cards and what bombs you add if you can't cast spells, you fall behind in mana, or you can't stop your opponents from eliminating you from the game. Therefore, I first think you should figure out what your theme is in order to help guide your card choices, then ensure you reserve adequate deck space for your lands and utility cards, and then figure out what cards you need to make your deck do it's thing. Finally, when you're ready to make cuts because you have a stack of 150 cards, you can start looking at things like synergy and mana cost. By doing this you should end up with a rough deck that can play well enough to give you an idea of what changes you need to make.

a) Power Level of Decks

Decks can generally be broken down into four different tiers:
  • Casual - These are your most basic decks of the lowest power level. Typically, they are built with whatever you have laying around, and you just threw cards in without a lot of thought. Not much attention is paid to mana curve, color balance and ratios, or having a focused plan. Often times cards will be added just because they're pet cards, even when they don't have synergy with the deck or help advance it during a game. Precons, either stock or barely modified, also fall into this category
  • Focused - At this level you are starting to consider card quality, mana curve, ensuring you have the right color balance so you can cast your spells, and including utility in order to be able to interact with your opponents. Tuned theme decks are usually in this category, because you'll start with restrictions but then build the best deck within those restrictions and your budget.
  • Optimized - At this level you have cut most of your pet cards, and trying to increase your win percentage drives most of your cuts and inclusions. Paying close attention to mana curve and your mana base is critical, as well as utility cards to keep you in the game. You should expect to win a fair percentage of your games against other optimized decks, and can still win games of archenemy against casual and focused decks teaming up against you.
  • Competitive - A truly competitive deck will only be asking itself one question when selecting cards for a deck: will this card help me win the game faster? The mana curve of these decks are often extremely low, and decks often win off of a combo. Higher cmc cards need to have an immediate impact on the game in order to be considered and are usually cheated into play rather than by hardcasting.

b) Deck Design Skeleton

Most people offering advice on a deck building template will have slight variations, but that's ok because the general design is the same. Also, as you build and play more decks you'll find that every deck wants to do something different and will therefore have slight variations. Playgroups also differ and that can create meta changes as well. So take everything with a grain of salt, but if you follow this or any other design skeleton you should have a decent starting point. Please take note that because this guide is aimed towards casual and focused deckbuilding, as your deck becomes more tuned you will find that the generalizations suggested don't necessarily apply to your deck. My goal is to help build a Commander deck that gets to interact in games, achieve its goals, and win a fair share of games in similarly powered groups.
  • around 38 mana producing lands - Most decks typically run anywhere from 36-38 lands, depending on the average cmc of the deck. Starting off with a new deck, you should err on the side of a higher land count so that you can consistently hit your land drops while testing the deck. It's easier to cut lands than it is to cut spells.
  • around 10 ramp and/or mana-fixing cards - Prioritize cards that put lands directly into play, as well as cheap artifacts or creatures that tap for mana (artifacts are more resilient than creatures and usually tap for mana immediately).
  • around 10-15 card draw effects - Assuming you make a land drop every turn and cast at least one spell a turn, you'll empty your hand in no time. Card draw keeps your hand full, helps you make your land drop every turn, and gives you options.
  • around 10-15 removal/counterspells - You need to have a way to slow your opponents down or else they will probably beat you.
  • around 25-40 support cards - Support cards are the meat and potatoes of your deck that achieve the goal your deck is trying to accomplish.

c) Deck Theme

Your deck theme is whatever inspired you to build the deck in the first place. Did you see a cool effect on a general and want to build a deck around that theme? Do you really like a particular card and want to turn that into a deck? Are you building a tribal deck? Every card is a certain letter? Whatever the reason is, you want to have a very clear idea of that theme. Additionally, if the theme doesn't include how you want to win the game, you should know that as well (I prefer to include multiple different ways to win the game because it doesn't make my deck feel like a one-trick pony that I get bored of after the first time it wins a game). At regular intervals during the deck building process, but most especially when you are trying to make cuts, you should ask yourself if the card in question supports your theme and how you plan on winning the game.

d) Lands

Generally speaking, don't skimp on your land count, because if you don't draw lands you can't cast your spells. Also, with a new deck you should run more lands rather than less. you can't properly test a deck if you can't cast the spells, and it's always easier to cut a land for a spell than to cut a spell for a land. I emphasized mana producing lands, because I always count cards like Maze of Ith as a spell, not a land (not even if I also am running Chromatic Lantern). There are some very good enter the battlefield tapped lands that you'll probably run, but do not run very many of them if you can help it. You want to avoid a tempo loss by not being able to cast a critical spell because of your land drop, and if your opening hand includes all ETBT lands you will be at a severe disadvantage. Additionally, be mindful of the number of colorless lands you play. I try to avoid playing more than five or six in a deck, and the heavier your color requirements are, the less you want to get an opening hand that has two or three colorless lands. I also try to run around one-third basic lands, upwards of one-half, depending on the rest of my deck. This is more dependent on your deck (do you run lots of basic land tutors?), and it is also meta-dependent, such as if Ruination or Back to Basics are cards which get played. Lastly, you'll want to run fetches if you can afford them. Deck thinning is a negligible benefit, but even a card like Terramorphic Expanse will help ensure you get the colors you need. With fetches, you can look for additional synergies that take advantage of shuffling your library (most notably Sensei's Divining Top or Brainstorm effects.

e) Ramp and Mana-fixing

Bluntly put, if you only make your one land drop for turn you'll quickly be outpaced at the table by someone ramping. So you'll want to make sure you have a way to ramp as well. After all, even if you get unlucky draws and miss land drops you can effectively keep pace of "one mana drop per turn" with some ramp. There are three categories: land ramp, other ramp, and mana fixing. Land ramp like Rampant Growth and Cultivate are the most preferable, because lands are the safest type of permanent to play. Other ramp includes mana rocks like Sol Ring, Signets, and enchantments such as Carpet of Flowers. Mana fixing includes cards such as Land Tax and Farseek which put lands into your hand, since they will help you get the particular land you need, but not help you play more than one land per turn. With all of these, you should strive to play the lowest cmc card possible, meaning play Signets before Commander's Sphere, and Rampant Growth before Cultivate. The reason for this is that you can potentially keep a two land hand that includes Rampant Growth, but not if it contained a Cultivate. The higher the cmc of the card the less it should be considered ramp, and you'll also want to look for any synergies or overlap that make it a better card, for example running Map the Wastes in a deck that cares about creatures having +1/+1 counters.

f) Card Draw vs. Tutors

In Commander you are playing against multiple opponents, and the ones who make the best use of their mana by casting spells are the ones who usually win. So without a way to draw cards, you should quickly run out of cards and be in top-deck mode. If you're not, that means you're not casting spells or you're missing land drops. So you'll want to include ways to draw additional cards. Many spells have been printed with cantrips attached (such as Dismiss), so even when you cast a spell you're not down a card. There are a number of playable draw spells in every color, so you shouldn't have a difficult time adding some card draw to your deck. Scry effects are also good additions, since they can filter potentially bad draws. I don't like to count them as a full draw, but they are excellent additions, particularly the Theros block Temple lands.

Tutors are even better than card draw, for the obvious reason that they will get you a specific card that you need, rather than requiring a lucky draw. The downside to tutors is that they usually are more specialized in what they can search for, they can draw undue attention to you during the game, and they also increase the overall power of your deck. So if you are trying to make your deck less powerful without actually watering it down, consider replacing your tutors with card draw.

g) Removal and Disruption

If you don't have a way to meaningfully interact with your opponents then you will be at the mercy of them and the game will just be a race to see who can play their cards first (hint: it's probably the player who runs ramp and card draw). There are considerations when selecting your removal:
  • Spot removal - Your one-for-one removal. Think Doom Blade or Counterspell. These are controversial card choices because in a multiplayer game if I cast a spell and you respond with a Counterspell then we are both down one card and the two other players have lost nothing. So effectively you are now down three cards. However, spot removal (especially instant speed removal) has some things going for it. Most importantly, it's usually cheap so you can do what you want during your turn while still holding up a small amount of mana for reacting to your opponents. Secondly, card quality has improved and spot removal can often times have incidental value attached, such as Disallow or Deathsprout.
  • Sweepers - These spells usually cost more than spot removal, but can hit more than one card at once. Doing this all at instant speed costs even more on top (Rout is a perfect example). But in a multiplayer game sweepers have much more value and card advantage than spot removal, which is why they are advocated more often.
  • Variety - Threats come in all shapes and sizes. Don't focus solely on creature removal, because there are many threatening artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers, and even lands in Commander. Threats can also come from graveyards or hands, so removing cards from those zones will preemptively keep a threat away or keep it from coming back. If you have access to broad removal spells such as Vindicate then the extra mana investment is often worth it, since one flexible card can be worth two narrow cards.

h) Support Cards

Support cards are ones which directly support your overall goal of achieving whatever it is you want your deck to do (as opposed to the cards previously mentioned which help your deck to function or slow down opponents). There are two types of support cards: active support cards and passive support cards.

Active support cards are cards which do whatever it is they're supposed to do without needing other cards in play. For example, if you were building a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck and your goal was to make people draw a lot of cards and deal them damage for doing that, then a card like Fate Unraveler or Psychosis Crawler would be an active card, because even without assistance from other cards it will still deal damage to your opponents.

On the other hand, passive support cards do something, but they do something even better with assistance from other cards. Continuing with our Nekusar deck, Wheel of Fortune and Windfall are very strong cards and usually considerations in any deck that can run them, but when your general and/or the two active support cards mentioned are in play then these cards also deal damage to your opponents while refilling your hand.

i) Synergy and Overlap

Synergy between cards is the concept that two individual cards which do each do something can have a stronger effect when used in conjunction. Take fetchlands, for example. These are very good lands which act as a tutor to help smooth out your mana by getting whatever color mana you need right at that moment. Running these will greatly improve your deck's consistency over just playing basic lands or even the dual lands that you could search for. Now, look at [card]Sensei's Diving Top[/c]. On its own, it can help set up your next draw by rearranging the top three cards of your library. But after you do this once, you only get to effectively see one extra card. But when you use a fetchland and shuffle your library, you now get to see three fresh cards, making Top even more useful. If you then add Crucible of Worlds to the mix, you can not only continue to replay fetchlands from your graveyard and get the mana smoothing benefit, but you also get to see a much higher number of cards from Top than you would with just the fetchlands you drew naturally. Whenever you are evaluating a card or building a deck, you should be constantly asking yourself what the theme of the deck is and if a particular card synergizes with that theme. If you have a deck that wants to make +1/+1 counters, you should prioritize cards that use or manipulate counters, for example.

Overlap is including redundant effects to increase the chances of drawing one of them. Running Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, or Cultivate and Kodama's Reach, for example. Tutors can loosely qualify as overlap as well, because in a pinch you can use a Demonic Tutor to search for a Naturalize.

j) Mana Curve

The mana curve is a deckbuilding fundamental which can make the difference between winning and losing the game in competitive Magic. In casual formats this isn't as much of a concern, but you should still strive to adhere to this principle. The idea of a mana curve is that your deck is built such that if you make your land drop each turn you have something to cast using all your mana. To do this, you prioritize lower cmc cards and not higher cmc ones. When you lay out your cards in piles by cmc, they should generally form the shape of a bell curve.
Sample Deck Mana Curve
Approximate Total Cost:

Looking at the sample above, when you draw your opening hand you should mostly be drawing lower cmc cards and maybe one or two cards with 5+ cmc. Therefore, in the first few turns of the game you are keeping pace with the rest of the table and not just playing a land and passing the turn.

When evaluating your mana curve, you should not simply look to see that you have a rough bell curve, you should also look at the average cmc of the deck. Many deck sites will calculate this information for you, but you can do it as well by adding up the cmc of all nonland cards in the deck and dividing by the total number of cards you added together. A good rule of thumb is that the faster your deck wants to be the lower your average cmc should be (below 3). Even with slower decks, you'll want to stay at or below 3.5, and definitely below 4.

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Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

3. Advanced Concepts

a) Over-Reliance on Your Commander

More than any other rule of the format, the General is probably what most greatly defines the format. You don't ask what deck (archetype) someone is running, you ask who they're running. The general is so central to the game that it has its own zone where it sits, ready to be summoned from. So it is only natural that when you build a deck you're going to want to include as much synergy as possible with your general. Before the March 2015 announcement generals were affected by tuck effects so it was important to have a contingency plan for if it got tucked. Now that the rule has changed and it is almost impossible to get your general shuffled back into your library, players sometimes rely too heavily on their general. This is still just as wrong as it was before the tuck rule change. Whenever you build a deck, especially in a singleton format, you want to have redundancy and you want to have a back up plan.

First, your general is almost always going to be subject to the general tax for recasting him or her from the Command Zone. At some point after enough deaths it will reach a point to where it is not advantageous to recast your general. This is especially true of both aggro generals who rely on attacking, as well as generals with high casting costs, but also any general that needs to stay on the battlefield for an extended period of time. Board wipes are common so you should not expect your general to survive for more than a few turns if posing a threat. Similarly, when your general cost a lot to initially cast, spending your entire turn just to recast it can be a costly move.

Second, effects such as Pithing Needle, Faith's Fetters, and Darksteel Mutation sometimes see play, and can either neutralize or downright prevent your general from being played.

Lastly, sometimes other cards can offset the benefit your commander provides. If someone has Urza's Armor in play, they could care less that you're running Nekusar, the Mindrazer. And if you're running Norin the Wary you won't be very happy when someone plays Æther Flash|weatherlight.

b) Threat Assessment

Threat assessment is the idea of constantly paying attention to key factors throughout the game and determining which player is most likely to win the game. These factors are: player style, strongest general and/or deck, and board state. Some of these are fixed variables during the game, while others are fluid and can change at an given time.

The type of opponent is the easiest and most common method of determining threat assessment. Does this player frequently build strong decks? Do they win a large proportion of games? Do they play powerful cards? Do they like to include instant-win combos? The more of these questions you can answer yes to, the more likely that in the absence of additional information that player is the biggest threat.

What general is the opponent playing, or what type of deck is it? Stronger generals or established decks may require more attention than others. A Narset, Enlightened Master deck is typically a large threat regardless of their board state, since it only needs to attack once to generate lots of value. Also, do they typically include some sort of instant-win combo in their decks? If so, you must be prepared that they could win at any time if their opponents let their guard down.

Finally, the board state needs to be taken into consideration. Factors such as hand size, available in play, and other threats in play should be looked at. With lots of cards in hand or available mana, even the seemingly most innocent player could suddenly make a play which swings the game in their favor. Also look at what they have in play, and how those cards are likely to interact with other potential cards.

c) Politics

Politics in Commander take all different forms. From table talk, deal-making (and sometime breaking), to forming alliances, multiplayer games can be deeply enhanced with various forms of politics. However, it is important to know your players because what one group of players may enjoy another may not. Let's go more in-depth with the various forms of politics:
  • Table talk - This can range from threatening another player ("I'm holding removal so you better not attack me if you want to keep that creature"), to showing another player your card(s), but in most instances it comes with revealing hidden information. This can be used in conjunction with with other politics. Some players don't like this because they feel that hidden information should remain hidden, and whoever is on the losing end of table talk could potentially feel ganged up on.
  • Deal making - This is exactly what it sounds like ("If you can wrath the board I'll target you with my card draw"). Essentially, it is encouraging an opponent to help you by doing something to their benefit. The concern with making deals with opponents is that at some point you will have to end your deal, so make sure that deals are clear and have a termination to them ("If you don't counter my general I won't attack you with it" might be difficult if you find yourself heads-up against that opponent)
  • Alliances - Alliances are tricky, because at some point they have to end. Much like making deals, it is important to know just how steady your alliance is with an opponent and at what point one of you are enough of a threat that the alliance needs to end.
Along with politics, I have some personal guidelines that I follow whenever I attempt to use politics in a game:
  • Never lie - This cannot be stressed enough. Whenever I say something unambiguous, I am telling the truth, and my opponents know that I won't lie. Now this doesn't mean that I'm telling the entire truth or omitting something, but I'm not being intentionally dishonest. For example, if I tell the white mage that if they don't wrath the board I can Insurrection with the promise that I won't attack them, I'm being honest. I just didn't tell them that I have Goblin Bombardment ready to kill the final player off.
  • Do not make empty threats - If you make a threat, you should be prepared to follow through unless something has changed and whatever threat you made is now a horrible play (for instance you were going to Doom Blade a Serra Avatar but now Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur just hit play). Along the same lines, you should be aware that if you threaten to use a removal spell if it threatens you, it might be in your opponent's best interest to put you to the test and make you waste that removal spell.
  • Don't over-politic - This one is tricky. I don't like relying too much on politics, and I also don't want to give the appearance of trying to coerce the other players, because that person can get annoying. Sometimes playing politics is something as subtle as playing a rattlesnake card, or one that sits on the battlefield and quietly makes your opponent's want to focus on other players.

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Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

Appendix A - Format Staples ('Best of' Lists)

Removal
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Removal
Approximate Total Cost:

Card Draw
Show
Card Draw
Approximate Total Cost:


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Titles & Recognition

Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

Appendix B - Building for a Social Format


Commander is a much different format than any of the 60 card formats. Without attempting to make too much of a generalization about them, 60 card constructed formats are designed and managed for tournament players whose primary goals are winning the game against a single opponent, whereas Commander is intended for social play where you should measure the success of your game by the enjoyment of everyone involved and not just by how well your deck performs and your win rate. (Note: Although I may at times mention the ban list and competitive versus casual play, that is not the purpose of this thread nor the place to discuss them. We have official threads here and here, respectively.


What is a 'Social Format'?

The official site brings up the idea of the social contract as "a gentleman's agreement which goes beyond these rules to includes a degree of interactivity between players. Players should aim to interact both during the game and before it begins, discussing with other players what they expect/want from the game." Sheldon Menery, Rules Committee member and public face of the format has summed up the idea of the social format as "build casually, play competitively".

Magic has a rich history full of a variety of cards, interactions, and play styles to suit players of all types. Because Commander makes use of almost every card printed, there is something for everyone to enjoy. And the Rules Committee wants you to enjoy Commander because it is a great format. But because the format is a social one, you need to understand that what you may find to be fun another player might find miserable, and vice versa. This is where the social contract steps in (and why the format is a social one rather than a casual one). If you want to build a Stax deck full of mana denial and hand disruption, talk with your playgroup and make sure they are going to enjoy playing against that kind of deck. If they don't enjoy that sort of thing, build a new deck or find a more accommodating playgroup. This goes for any deck, from a stompy deck that turns creatures sideways, to Hermit Druid|stronghold combo decks, and anywhere in between.


Some Pointers for Deck Building

Although every player is different and has different preferences and tolerances, there are some universal things to consider when building a Commander deck. In these lists I will be under the assumption that you plan to take this deck into an unknown playgroup. As you find a more stable group of players you will start to notice trends that your group tend to follow and you will be able to tweak your deck towards their play.

Don't:
  • Run mass land destruction such as Armageddon|portal - Used effectively, MLD can quickly close out a game, but there is a huge stigma attached to it. Opponents often feel like they have gone from player to spectator and do not enjoy the game turning into draw-go. There are also a fair number of players who simply don't know how to play it properly and cast it at the wrong time.
  • Combo decks - For the purpose of this, a combo deck is essentially a one trick pony. If you have one real win-con in your deck and every game you play is focused on assembling that combo to win, your opponents will probably grow tired of playing against the deck.
  • Resource denial - I'm lumping this into one category, but I consider resource denial to be things like hand disruption (Nath of the Gilt-Leaf), Stasis effects, and tax effects.
  • Counterspell decks - A counterspell|tempest is a powerful tool for the blue mage and when timed properly can create a huge tempo loss for an opponent. Taken to extremes, the permission deck makes games for your opponent very dull because they do not feel as though they are participating any longer.
  • Board wipe decks - Wraths are an important part of the game and can clear a cluttered battlefield, protect yourself from attacks, or create a favorable battlefield for your side. But there is an extreme to this when you are wiping the board so often that your opponents stop casting spells because of the inevitable wrath.
  • Be a jerk - It's not just a deck that can make a game miserable for other people. Be a conscientious player and don't do or say things that will create a negative atmosphere. This could be anything from bragging, mocking, criticizing, complaining, or even inappropriate jokes or language.
Again I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with any of these strategies in a group that is fine with these types of decks. And even in an unfamiliar group some of these things are generally ok in moderation. But they are things you should be aware of.

Do:
  • Run more spot removal - Often times a Doom Blade|commander 2011 is just as effective as a Wrath of God|tenth edition, and having a broad arsenal of removal available will make for a memorable game where there was an ebb and flow of table strength.
  • Build a varied deck - Have a few different paths to victory. Not only will this make your deck more resilient against folding to something like Extract, it will make your deck more fun to play against.
  • Everything in moderation - Don't go overboard on effects, whether tutors, ramp, card draw, removal, etc.
  • Become familiar with your deck - Games go longer because there are more players involved. Longer turns are expected once board states get complicated, but try to keep your turns short. You probably don't have to agonize too often about how you're going to Top, and how often do you need to wait until right before your untap step before you crack that fetchland (when I play Sakura-Tribe Elder|champions of kamigawa on turn 2 I'll often crack it on the spot, announce the land I'm getting, and then state that I'm doing this to speed up time but pretend I did this right before my untap step for blocking purposes). When you tutor try to have a general idea of what you're looking for, instead of taking five minutes to decide on a card.
  • Think about the other players - Consider how you would react to facing your deck being played against you. Is it still fun when you're the one fighting the deck? One time this really drove home for me was when I was piloting a budget Brago deck. I didn't think too much about it because after all, it had an extreme budget so how bad could it be? In one game I landed Vedalken Plotter early on and started blinking him to switch out better lands and giving my opponents lands outside their color identity. I added the card because I obviously wanted to blink it, but I didn't think how brutal it would be in the first few turns of the game, and it turned out to make the one player I targeted very upset.
  • Create a welcoming environment for other players - Be a generally friendly person. Strike up conversation, discourage rudeness and things outside the game which make other players feel unwelcome. As long as players are having fun playing, they're more likely to enjoy themselves even if they're losing the game.

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cryogen
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Titles & Recognition

Post by cryogen » 2 months ago

Appendix C - External Resources and Other Links


MTGCommander.net - Official website for Commander, where you will find the most up to date rules and ban list, as well as their own forum.

Gatherer - Wizards own card database and search engine

Commander FAQ - Frequently asked questions about Commander, maintained by site moderators

Commander Forum Resources - The Commander forum's resource page, full of links to useful pages on and off-site

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Post by benjameenbear » 1 month ago

Hot damn, @cryogen . You could sell this as a book! My sincere compliments and support on this. I'll reference it everywhere I go!
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Post by toctheyounger » 1 month ago

Yeah, happy to share this too. Great resource, well written. There are a couple of card links that need fixing, but the meat of this article is really great stuff. Very nicely done @cryogen

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Post by cryogen » 1 month ago

Thanks! I've been meaning to do this for quite some time to replace a previous one that was no longer being maintained, but the timing worked out perfectly to bring it here. I hope to expand it at some point, so any suggestions are welcome.
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