It’s Magic’s most popular format, but Commander can be pretty intimidating for new players. The sheer number of cards on offer, all those combos, all those obscure rulings, and trying to deal with three other players at once is enough to put anybody off. And yet, once you’ve dipped your toe into Commander, you’ll likely find it quickly becomes one of your favourite ways to play.
What is Commander?
Starting out in the ’90s as Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), Commander is a fan-made, fan-governed format that focuses on creativity, accessibility, and social interaction with the other players on your table. To that end, Commander has a few unique rules that make it very different from the formats you might already play, like Standard, Vintage and Modern.
Firstly, your deck has to be exactly 100 cards. No more, no less, no sideboard. One of those cards has to be a Legendary Creature, your Commander, whose colour identity (every coloured pip on the card) defines which cards you’re allowed to run in your remaining 99. For example, my favourite deck is based around Kwain, Itinerant Meddler, meaning every card in the deck is either white, blue, (or colourless), while someone running Tazri, Beacon of Unity could run all five colours.
Unlike the rest of your cards, your Commander won’t get shuffled into your deck. Instead, it sits in its own spot on the table, the Command zone. If your Commander is destroyed or exiled, it will instead return to the Command zone, ready to cast again (for the slightly increased cost of two extra mana for each time you play it from there). This means you can safely build your entire deck around your Commander if you want, knowing it’s ready to play as soon as you need it!
The second thing about Commander is it’s a Singleton format; you’re only allowed one copy of any card in your deck, except for basic lands. While this is often the most daunting thing for new players, just one copy of a card often means you can make multiple decks from your collection without them hogging up all your best cards. Commander also allows you to use almost any card from the game’s history, giving your cards a new life once they’ve rotated out of Standard!
From there, you and multiple other players (usually games are 4-player, but it can support an almost unlimited number of people) start at 40 life and it’s a complete free for all. A player is considered ‘out’ if either their life is knocked down zero, they run out of cards in their deck, or if they’ve taken 21 damage from any individual Commander creature, usually referred to as Commander damage.
Why is Commander Fun?
Commander is an excellent format because of how different every game is. Where other formats have their own predominant strategies, like Dimir Rogues in Standard or Boros Burn in Modern, Commander gives you the freedom to explore the mechanics, strategies or themes you want.
Want to make a draw-heavy deck that will dissuade the table from attacking you? Go with a group hug Commander like Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis. Want your opponents to beat each other up and not you? Kardurr, Doomscourge is there. Or maybe you want a really silly theme, like the famous ‘Chair Tribal’, where each card features a chair in its art? Oloro, Ageless Ascetic would be perfect for it.
Commander is all about looking at the cards you own, and figuring out how to put them to their best use. That use might be a super-optimised competitive deck, or it could be a silly, meme-filled deck you have a laugh with friends about. As long as you discuss with the other players before the game starts about what each person is bringing to the table, there’s no judgement on what you play!
How to Get Into Commander
The absolute best way of starting with Commander is buying one of the pre-constructed decks. The last few sets, Strixhaven, Kaldheim, Commander Legends, and Zendikar Rising have all had fantastic pre-cons that are playable straight out the box and easily upgraded for that little extra bit of punch. They also come with a little reminder sheet on how to play Commander, so you’ll never get lost for your first games!
If you feel like building your own deck, take a look through sites like Scryfall, Moxfield and EDHRec to find a Commander that appeals to you. EDHRec in particular is a fantastic way to build your decks, as it gives you recommendations for which cards go well together, and which ones are most commonly played with any particular Commander.
Once you’ve got your decklist sorted, Magic Madhouse is a great way to grab the singles you need. Whether it’s format staples like Sol Ring, Arcane Signet or Mana Crypt, or those more obscure, synergistic cards that only work your Commander in a way only you truly understand, it’s Magic Madhouse that will be able to help.
Commander is easily my favourite Magic format, but it took me months to give it a try. Hopefully with this you and your friends (or even people online) will be building around your favourite Legendaries in no time!