Editor’s note: This article was updated on July 23, 2019.
The release of Commander 2019 is right around the corner, and fans of the format can hardly wait to see the newest cards. But for many Magic players, the preconstructed decks of Commander 2019 will serve as their introduction to the Commander format – that first deck that they’ll play, personalize, and tinker with for years to come.
With those players in mind, we wanted to offer a quick introduction to this fan-favorite format, as well as some tips and resources. We hope this article will set you on the path to Commander mastery!
What is Commander, Anyway?
Commander is a 100-card singleton format meant to be played with multiple players. One of those 100 cards is your commander: a legendary creature around which to build your deck. (Some planeswalkers can serve as your commander if their rules text says so.) Think of your commander as the conductor in an orchestra: if you build your deck around your commander’s abilities, all the pieces will work in perfect harmony together.
During gameplay, your commander is kept separate from your deck in a special zone called the command zone. You may cast your commander from the command zone whenever you have the mana to pay its cost. Anytime your commander would be destroyed, exiled, or shuffled into your library, you can return it to the command zone instead. This means you may be able to cast your commander several times in a single game, but there’s one catch: Each time your commander is banished to the command zone, it costs an additional TWO (2) colorless mana to return it to the battlefield.
Additionally, if a player is dealt 21 damage by a single commander, they’re knocked out of the game. (That’s three hits from Ruhan, two from The Ur-Dragon, or potentially one from Animar, Rafiq, or Kresh.) We call this commander damage.
Those are all the basics! At this point, you may feel ready to leap into your first game of Commander – but first, we’d like to share a few tips with you to help you play your best.
Tip #1: Four’s Company
It isn’t a coincidence that Commander 2019 features four brand-new decks. As our friends at Game Knights can attest, four is the ideal number of players for a Commander game. With three players, it’s easy for two players to gang up on the one who has the slowest start; with five, the board can become too clogged and games can take hours. We highly recommend picking up all four Commander 2019 decks and hosting a game night with your friends to ensure you stay in that sweet spot.
Tip #2: Keep the Playing Field Level
Preconstructed Commander decks are built to be played against one another, so using all four will help level the playing field in your playgroup. Commander is a social format at its core, and most bad Commander experiences result when one deck is significantly more powerful than the other three. As you grow as a player, seek out others whose idea of “fun” is similar to yours, and be transparent about your own expectations.
Tip #3: Be Prepared to Ramp!
Unlike 1-v-1 games, which can sometimes be decided in a matter of minutes, Commander games tend to take a while, as players use their first several turns to set up big, splashy plays. If you’re building a Commander deck for the first time, you’ll want to include about ten “ramp” spells to add additional lands and other mana sources to your board. This is why most Commander decks include a copy of Sol Ring – the more mana you can produce in the early turns, the faster you’ll be able to start landing haymakers.
Tip #4: Sweepers > Spot Removal
As your opponents vie to land the biggest threat on the board, there may come a point when you need to hit the brakes. Your deck should contain at least a handful of “sweepers” – which destroy or exile all creatures – in addition to a handful of single-target removal spells. Sweepers can take out several players’ threats at once or keep a single player at bay if they’re threatening to go wide with a board full of creatures. You can find sweepers in any color (though green has the fewest), and you may choose to include colorless cards like Oblivion Stone or Nevinyrral’s Disk.
Tip #5: Politics > Power Level
Even if things start to spiral out of control in your next Commander game, there’s always a chance that you can talk your way out of it. Politicking is one of the hallmarks of Commander gameplay, and it’s possibly the hardest skill for players of 1-v-1 formats to master. While making powerful early plays will put you in a great position to win a two-player game, too strong a start may cause your fellow Commander players to join forces against you. We won’t get too into politics in this brief intro, but if you want to learn more, we highly recommend this episode of The Command Zone podcast.
Finally, if you’re looking to take your Commander game to the next level, some of our community partners should be able to help you out.
The Command Zone is a weekly podcast focused on the Commander format, featuring everything from beginner-friendly guides to high-level strategy and card evaluation. (If you’re looking to build your first deck from scratch, we suggest you check out their “Deck Building Template” episode.) Their monthly gameplay series, Game Knights, is also a must-watch if you’re looking for some entertaining Commander content.
EDHREC is also a fantastic resource for Commander players of all levels. If you’re trying to find the perfect commander in your favorite colors or round out a decklist with some useful spells, EDHREC’s database will recommend the most popular cards in the Commander community.
And, of course, we’ve also published plenty of Commander articles here on the Card Kingdom Blog! We’re here to help if you’re looking for the inspiration for your next deck or are trying to decide how you feel about land destruction. Check back here as Commander 2019 approaches – we’ll have plenty of new articles for you to enjoy!