The new year is upon us, and that means it’s time for new year’s resolutions! They’re almost always centered around self improvement, and can be difficult to maintain. While the more difficult ones are certainly possible (I’m now 6 years smoke free!), they can feel like an uphill battle – especially as the new year comes directly after the most indulgent time of the year.
I have the utmost respect for those that can commit to hitting the gym for more than just the first two weeks of January, but that kind of change can be hard. Thankfully, lifestyle changes don’t have to be huge or high effort, and they don’t have to take up a lot of time. More importantly, they can be about anything you want!
I’ve got five new year’s resolution suggestions for Commander. These are small changes you can make to the way that you interact with the game, from the way you approach deck building, right through to winning.
Improve Your Power Level Discussions
We’ve all heard the typical responses to power level discussions: “My deck’s about a 7,” or “I’m playing mid.” If things were that simple, there would never be any Twitter discourse. But unfortunately, the Commander community is engaged in a constant conversation on the bird site. It may seem like these conversations are almost solely about power level, but it’s a little more nuanced than that: it’s about communication.
Using a number scale to describe something as subjective as power level is an exercise in futility. For example, a deck could be seen as a “4” if it’s composed solely of commons, but it could easily have several infinite combos. If players aren’t made aware of this, the miscommunication could sour the experience and lead to a worse overall experience.
I talked about the improvements in communication that I’ve seen happening with friends in my recent article on Spelltable, and it’s led to a huge increase in game quality. Rather than just giving a number from one to ten, describe the deck! Tell them what your deck wants to do, how it does it, and whether it has any combos. And perhaps more importantly, explain your intent. Let the other players know what kind of game you’re there to play, and how fast or seriously you want to take it. Some people fear that the surprise or fun is lost if they divulge too much information about their deck, but if you make sure you’re all on the same level beforehand, you’ll have a great game no matter what (even if you show them the full 99)!
I’ve talked at length before about intent in Commander, and it still rings true as one of the most important aspects of the game. It’s why the cEDH community tends to get on so well: everyone knows exactly what each person’s intentions are in every game!
Cards become staples in Commander for one of two reasons: they’re either the best at what they do, or they’re one of very few cards that fulfill a specific role. The latter can rarely be replaced in specific strategies, like Crucible of Worlds or Aetherflux Reservoir, but the former are often much more replaceable. If you’re playing casually (i.e. below high power and cEDH), then there’s no real need to play the very best version of every effect in your deck.
Staples can be great for quickly putting a deck together, but they can hinder creativity, particularly during the brewing process. If you’re always reaching for Swords to Plowshares or Chaos Warp first, then those slots are forever removed from the conversation; not only does this restrict the number of decision points to build from, but it also prevents you from considering alternatives.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing with universally powerful cards, but there’s a world of alternatives out there. There could be more synergistic options for your commander, or just some cards that could be more fun to play with. Instead of Chain of Vapor, I’ll run Run Away Together. A good friend in my regular playgroup adores Leadership Vacuum, and he runs it wherever he can. These small changes can be the difference between a decent build, and a deck with its own distinguished character and play style. If you find your decks are missing a certain something, try identifying the cards you always put into every deck, and challenge their place in the 99; you’ll be surprised where it might take you!
If You Play For Fun, Build For Fun
This is somewhat related to my last point, but it’s a little more nuanced. The deck building process requires us to make several decisions about our decks: the theme or play style, the power level, and the cards needed to achieve these goals. But there’s another question that I think more people should ask themselves during deck building: How fun do you want the deck to be?
It might seem like an obvious consideration, but if the focus is on optimization rather than the level of enjoyment, it can lead to unfun results. Take my old Talrand, Sky Summoner deck as an example. I built this to be a powerful yet affordable control deck with a combo finish. It’s extremely interactive, it has a combo that I intend to use only in the late game, and it has weaknesses that can be exploited by opponents if necessary. This all sounds very reasonable, but there’s one problem that I didn’t even notice until I had played a few games with it: it’s not very fun at all.
In hindsight, it seems obvious that a counterspell-heavy control deck wouldn’t be the most fun at a casual level, but back when I built this deck, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. Sure, it was fun for me to pilot, but other players at the table didn’t appreciate only getting to play their cards a fraction of the time. I decided to disassemble the deck and turn it into what is now my beloved Octavia, Living Thesis deck, and it’s now one of the decks people love playing against most.
I’m not saying that hard control decks should be avoided, but it is important to consider the play environment when you build a deck, and how it’s likely to impact it. This applies much more to casual Commander, which feels more like a 400-card format than a 100-card one at times. By that, I mean that everyone should be building and playing as though their deck is one quarter of a full pod, rather than an individual 100-card deck. It might seem like a small difference, but it can have a huge impact on the cards and archetypes you play. If you don’t like the idea of playing against my Talrand deck, for example, it’s probably best to avoid building something similar; if you’re not wild about playing against it, chances are others feel the same.
Try Something New
Many new year’s resolutions involve trying something new: hitting the gym, taking up painting, starting a vegetarian diet, or learning to cook. New experiences are crucial to growth and development as a person, and we’re never too old to start! The same applies to Magic players: trying a new deck or archetype can be an eye-opening experience, and one that makes you a better, more well-rounded player.
Three years ago, I was solely a control mage. I despised combo decks, and saw them as a cheap way to win. But eventually, I made a new year’s resolution to learn a combo deck so that I could understand them more.
I bought into Gifts Storm in Modern, and I quickly learned that there’s much more to combo decks than I initially thought. Many combo decks are like a puzzle, a sort of mini game within the game of Magic you’re playing, where you’re trying to line everything up just right to win. There was much more nuance and decision making than I realized, and it wasn’t long before I turned into a full-on Modern combo player!
I had stuck to the same couple of decks and archetypes for a few years, not knowing the joys of everything else out there. I quickly learned the error of my ways, and found out that there were many different ways that I loved the game, all thanks to that new year’s resolution.
You don’t have to pick up a Modern combo deck, but I highly recommend trying something new. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try Pauper, or cEDH? Why not try and build an Artisan Commander (commons and uncommons only) deck? Has Group Hug always been an interest you never got around to? Now is the time to try it out! Who knows – maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself along the way.
Have More Fun
Okay, this sounds like a silly suggestion, I know. All of the other suggestions so far may seem like the end goal is to have more fun; that may be true, but there’s much more to it than just building decks differently or trying new things. A change in attitude and intent towards the game can have a greater impact than the deck or cards you choose to play with.
During any given game, you’re often presented with a decision tree. Most players will find the optimal line and follow it to the next branch and the next, until victory is achieved. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. There are times when I’ll be presented with a choice between the best play and a wild play – and these are the moments in Commander that I think matter the most. I will almost always make the wild play for the memory, not the best play for the win. At the end of the day, the win doesn’t really matter in most social games of Commander, but the incredible memories you make will live on for years to come.
As you may have noticed, most (if not all) of these resolutions involve improving your Commander experience. They can have much more of an impact than that, however. If you enjoy more of your games, chances are others will feel the same, especially when playing with you. This could lead to a positive domino effect, where your community becomes even more warm, welcoming, and enjoyable. It might seem like wishful thinking, but it couldn’t hurt to try!
Have you made any new year’s resolutions? Do you think you’d like to try any of these yourself? I’d love to hear your plans for Commander in 2022; let me know on Twitter if there’s anything you’re doing, or if you have your own suggestions for some resolutions!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.