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BMoor's Magic The Gathering Deck Garage
"Commander! Commander!
Contest Announcement!"
February 10, 2012

Welcome back to the Deck Garage! No decks being fixed today, my friends, as my inbox has been strangely quiet these past few months. I suppose I have only myself to blame, as it was only a matter of time before my readers lost interest in my fickle update schedule and stopped sending decklists in. For that I apologize, but I’ve got some news for you all that should help bring some new life into this lonely old garage.


For quite some time, I’ve been meaning to write about a new casual format that’s taken the world of Magic by storm. It’s called Elder Dragon Highlander, or EDH, or Commander, and I suspect most of you have already heard of it.


It was originally created by a group of judges a few years ago. Remarkably, the rules have barely changed since then—a testament to its founders. When Wizards of the Coast decided to officially recognize the new format by re-christening it Commander and releasing a series of preconstructed decks built for it, they made no official changes to the rules. For reference, here are those rules:


  1. Decks must be exactly 100 cards, including a legendary creature to act as the deck’s Commander or “general”. Decks are limited to no more than one copy of each card other than basic lands. (I’ll talk about Relentless Rats later.)
  2. The color identity of your Commander determines what colors you are allowed to play. Color identity includes the colors of any and all mana symbols appearing anywhere on the card. You can not play any card that contains a mana symbol of a color not in your Commander’s color identity. Hybrid mana counts as both its colors for purposes of determining color identity.
  3. Players start the game at 40 life instead of 20.
  4. Each player’s Commander starts the game face up in the Command Zone. The Command Zone has never been directly referenced on a card, so no card can affect a Commander in it. Players may cast their Commander from the Command Zone as though it was in their hand. If a Commander in play dies or is exiled, or is countered as it is being cast, its owner may send it back to the Command Zone. For each time a Commander has already been cast from the Command Zone from play, it costs an additional 2 to cast.
  5. In addition to all the normal win conditions, a player loses the game if he or she takes 21 combat damage from a single player’s Commander. This is an exception to the “objects changing zones become new objects” rule, as the game remembers which card is your Commander even if it dies and comes back, and the “21 damage” count does not restart if a Commander leaves play.


The biggest change to these rules is the “color identity”. When EDH was first created, it used its general’s mana cost to determine what colors a deck could use. This created a strange situation in which legends like Memnarch or Thelon of Havenwood were banned as generals, because they themselves contained mana symbols of colors other than those in their mana costs and were thus illegal in any deck they were general of. The color identity rule eliminated that nettle, and Memnarch and Thelon decks now function as monoblue and black/green decks respectively.


The other main change was what happens if two or more players in a game (most games of Commander are multiplayer, but 1-on-1 exists as well) have the same general. In the beginning, the rules were very strict on prohibiting this. You just weren’t allowed to show up at the table with the same general as anyone else. Enforcing this rule proved problematic, however, and now there is no official rule against it. Commanders are legendary creatures, however, and the “legend rule” is still in effect, so most people are reluctant to build a deck around a legend that their local playgroup already uses. It is recommended but not required that a Commander deck contain a “backup” legendary creature that can be easily swapped with the general in case of such a scenario arising. The Commander preconstructed decks all contained two.


But the “legend rule” isn’t the only reason people don’t want to duplicate generals. Having 100-card decks that can’t run more than one copy of anything creates a high variance of gameplay experience. In my garage, I’m always telling new players that they need to get rid of the singletons in their deck if they don’t want their deck’s strategy to be at the whim of Fate. In Commander, throwing this philosophy to the wind is all part of the fun! A good Commander deck never plays the same way twice, and will keep its pilot surprised and entertained game after game after game. While a Standard Pro Tour deck has been carefully designed to be as predictable for its pilot as possible to minimize misplays and manascrew and win as reliably as possible, a Commander deck is a casual deck built for a casual format, and is built to be fun and unpredictable for everyone at the table. Any winning that results is just icing on the cake.


Commander decks also owe a lot of their entertainment value from the sheer number of cards they let you play. A Standard agro deck only requires the existence of four to six solid creatures, and three to five support spells like instants, kill spells, or what have you. Four copies of each of those, and the lands, and you’re done. But a 100-card deck should run between 60 and 70 spells, and they all have to be different. Remember Card X, that looked solid but you never got to use because there was always enough better cards in the format? Well, unless there’s 70 cards better than it at what it does, you finally have a chance to play it! Much like Limited, Commander forces you to take a second look at cards that may not be good enough for tournament play. We’ve all got shoeboxes full of cards like that somewhere that we haven’t looked at in ages, right?


And there’s another merit to Commander. In building Commander decks, you get to revisit all your favorite old cards and strategies, and rebuild decks like you used to play back in the good old days. Remember that Goblin deck you played back in Onslaught block? Well, dig it out again! Only you need a lot of different Goblins to make it work, so sift through your old commons from Lorwyn block too. Mirrodin was full of cards that care about artifacts. Now you have a chance to fit all of them in one deck! Kamigawa is often remembered as a terrible block, but now that we have a whole format built around legendary creatures, you’ve got a chance to look at Kamigawa cards with fresh eyes.


Which brings us to Commander’s namesake feature. Choosing a general for a Commander deck is more than deciding what colors you can play. Your Commander sits in the Command Zone right from the start, ready for you to play it. It tells everyone else at the table what you’re about, and how afraid of you they should be. It also provides the constant—the one card you know you’ll get to cast each and every game you play. There’s a lot of potential to exploit there, and so most Commander decks build their strategy around their Commander. Brion Stoutarm isn’t just a red and white creature, he’s repeatable removal if you’ve got enough big creatures, and a deck that uses him as a general will be chock full of high-power creatures for Brion to throw. Seizan, Perverter of Truth lets everybody draw extra cards, so when people see you flip that over, they might be more inclined to forgive the Mind Shatter you pointed at them last game. If your opening hand is six lands and Ophidian Eye, well, you might want to keep that if your general is Niv-Mizzet, since you know you’ll have a creature to throw the Eye on soon enough. Being able to replay your general from the Command Zone just makes it easier to recover from board wipes or maintain your combo… though the extra cost will add up faster than you think if the rest of the table is determined enough to keep your Teysa, Orzhov Scion off the table.


But you’ll all have plenty of time to think about how to build a Commander deck, because it’s time for that announcement! Once again, I’m hosting a deckbuilding contest, and this time, it’s a Commander Contest! I’m inviting you all to submit your attempts at a Commander deck, just as I’ve done in Februaries past.


Normally, I put a bunch of restrictions on these decklist contests, but since Commander’s deckbuilding restrictions seem in line with the kind of restrictions I usually impose, I don’t quite feel the need to make this trickier. I do have two rules I’m going to impose on top of Commander’s rules, though.


  1. Uril, the Miststalker and Kemba, Kha Regent are banned as generals. They may seem like fun, but in practice they defeat the variance of experience that Commander prides itself on. Choosing one of these as your general, filling your deck with Auras or Equipment, and loading them all up on your general just plays out the same way every game. You can still use these two cards in your deck, if your general is the right colors to allow them, but they can’t be your general.
  2. In your e-mail, you must describe two strategies your deck has to win—one with your general and one without it. It’s important to take your general into consideration when building your deck, as it’s the one card you can depend on being able to cast, but depend on it too heavily and you get a deck that wins when its general stays in play and loses once somebody thinks to point a kill spell at it. For this contest, I’ll count “attack with general” and “attack with other creatures” as two separate strategies if I feel like the deck really can do what its builder claims it can do.


The contest will run until April 1st. You have the rest of February and all of March to submit entries. I’ve never received any Commander decks for fixing under normal circumstances, so you don’t have to put anything special in the subject line of your email beyond the usual “deck garage”—if your deck is a Commander deck, it’ll be entered. Only one entry is allowed per E-mail address. No sending me two or more decks in one E-mail, and if I receive multiple E-mails from the same address, only the latest one will count.


The winners will be announced the first week of April. There will be five winners, one featured in a deck article each weekday. Each winner will receive as their prize three Dark Ascension booster packs. Since Commander is a casual format, the only real criteria I’ll judge the entries on is how much fun they look like they’d be. In past contests I’ve insisted on originality and would disqualify submissions for being too similar to other submissions, but not this time. I’m even willing to declare multiple winners who used the same Commander, if they look like they’ve earned it. So don’t hold back—start dreaming up deck ideas!


Oh! I said I’d talk about Relentless Rats, didn’t I? Well, I haven’t been able to determine if it is also subject to the “no more than one copy” rule. It seems like it shouldn’t be, since if that were the case, the “no more than four copies” rule in sanctioned formats would also override its ability and it wouldn’t work as intended anywhere. But it predates the existence of the format, so maybe the rules of the format have a more recent timestamp? Most people I’ve talked to are of the opinion that you can’t build an EDH Relentless Rats deck. For this contest, I’m going to say Relentless Rats is banned. I don’t want to have to get into an argument over whether or not you can use it. Besides, I’ve been talking about how Commander is great because decks always play out differently. A deck with 65 Relentless Rats and a Thrumming Stone would be anathema to the spirit of the contest. So I’m adding Relentless Rats to the banned list.


Did I mention? The format does indeed have a banned list. A few legendary creatures are banned as generals, and about two dozen cards are banned completely. I’ll be posting a follow-up article in the coming weeks to talk some more about Commander deckbuilding strategy, and I’ll go over the whole banned list then. In the meantime, your search engine of choice should find it for you. This article is running on too long at the moment, so I’d best wrap up here and let you all get to work.


Good luck!





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