Getting started with Starter Commander Decks

Getting Started with Starter Commander Decks

Chris CornejoCommander

Starter Commander Decks are coming on Dec. 2, but what exactly are they? Are they any good? Let’s dive in and take a closer look — first at the product overall, then at each deck. 

What Are These? 

The Starter Commander Decks are five, standalone Commander decks, designed to come in at a lower price point (somewhere in the neighborhood of $20-$30) than the other Commander products released alongside new sets. These decks aren’t tied to any one plane and pull from all over MTG’s history. 

Commander is the most played format in Magic right now and seems like it will continue to grow in popularity. That said, finding easy on-ramps for new players to get into the format can be a little difficult, as even the most budget-friendly Commander decks still take a good amount of time and effort to pull together. 

Previous preconstructed Commander decks were meant to solve that problem, but they tend to go up in price over time and can get hard to find. These starter decks, meanwhile, are designed to be a budget-friendly, easily accessible starting place for new Commander players to get playing with their own cards as soon as possible.

The decks are also fully composed of reprints. And with no new cards in these, that should theoretically help to keep the prices at least somewhat stable. A big driver of rising prices in previous Commander products are the exclusivity of certain cards (past examples include Flusterstorm, Scavenging Ooze, True-Name Nemesis, the “free” spell cycle from the Ikoria decks and more), so that’s eliminated from these decks. 

The other two factors that usually cause price increases are scarcity and if there’s any chase reprints in the decks. I can’t speak of scarcity yet, but we’ll cover the reprints when we get to the individual decks. 

Each deck comes with the following: 

  • 1 foil-etched, legendary commander card and 99 non-foil cards, including lands 
  • 10 double-sided tokens 
  • 1 deck box 
  • 1 insert with strategy advice for the deck 
  • 1 summary of the rules for playing Commander 
  • 1 reference card with guidance for what to do on your turn 
  • Punchout counters 

No dice or life counters with this product, but that’s certainly not a big knock against them or anything, and it helps keep the packaging and costs minimal. 

All right, now it’s time to go through the decks and see how they play. 

Are They Any Good? 

We’re going to go through each deck one by one, but here a few overall notes. First, the reprints include the Commander holy trinity of Arcane Signet, Sol Ring and Command Tower alongside the appropriate Talisman for each deck. And while the talismans are needed reprints in some cases, they aren’t likely to skyrocket the price of the decks. Throw in the on-color Ravnican Signets and Commander’s Sphere, and these decks do make for a good start in collecting the commonly-seen mana rocks in the format.

Commander land bases are usually where a lot of the monetary value of a Commander deck hides, and these decks’ mana bases are accordingly not terribly exciting. But with the Tango lands and Temples in each deck along with the aforementioned Tower, they are at least functional. If you pick up these decks and are looking to upgrade them, the mana bases are an excellent place to start — though these are perfectly serviceable out of the box. 

Now, onto the decks themselves. 

First Flight 

Blue-White skies is an age-old archetype, combining evasive creatures with just enough control elements to protect your game plan. 

This deck goes pretty light on the control half of that equation. It does have counterspells (Absorb, Counterspell, and Negate) and board wipes (Cleansing Nova and Time Wipe), but the list doesn’t overload on them. No, where this deck most mimics a control deck is in its ability to just draw a mountain of cards.

This deck is sneakily scary, able to mount a quick offense while keeping its hand full. Thought Vessel is a nice addition, ramping you while allowing you to hold onto all those extra cards. Bident of Thassa could be an all-star here, combining with all your evasive creatures (especially the likes of Emeria Angel, Faerie Formation, Inspired Sphinx and Skycat Sovereign) and token making spells like Migratory Route and Storm Herd to keep the cards overflowing. 

There’s a lot to like here, and the value is certainly one of them. If you were to put this together on your own, this deck would cost upward of $65 (at the time of publication).  

Grave Danger

Zombies! A classic tribal deck, this take on zombies isn’t the insane explosion that a deck like a tuned Grimgrin list can be. Rather, it offers a steady accumulation of undead creatures that will inevitably overrun your opponents. 

The blue in the deck is a very light touch, dipping into the Blue-Black zombies from Amonkhet (Gleaming Overseer, Spark Reaper) and Innistrad (Havengul Lich, Diregraf Captain, Champion of the Perished), as well as a handful of counterspells (Sinister Sabotage, Undermine) and card draw (Distant Melody, Deep Analysis). 

The rest of the deck is fully on theme, as even a good amount of the removal in the deck creates a zombie in one way or another (Enter the God-Eternals, Syphon Flesh, Cruel Revival). Filled with recursion, token making, various zombie lords and advantageous board wipes, this deck is enough to make anyone who likes black-based, war-of-attrition decks smile. 

And with the individual cards clocking in at just under $55 to assemble outside of this package, it’s another that’s well worth the investment. 

Chaos Incarnate

Usually when people think of Red-Black decks, they think of a quick, aggressive, low-to-the-ground style of play. This deck goes the other way, building up resources over time, keeping the board clear with removal and then just slamming down big demons and monsters to overwhelm your opponents after they’ve been drained of resources. 

This is a surprisingly spell-heavy deck, but a lot of those spells are haymakers. Board wipes (Blasphemous Act, Deadly Tempest), reanimation (Dredge the Mire, Rakshasa Debaser), removal (Terminate, Soul Shatter, Feed the Swarm) — this deck does everything a black-red control deck should do before throwing in a good amount of ramp (Mana Geyser, Burnished Hart, Worn Powerstone) and card draw (Theater of Horrors, Ambitions Cost) on top of that.  

That way, once you’ve amassed enough mana, you have something scary (nearly all the creatures in the deck that cost four or more mana) to play that can take over the game. For those that miss battlecruiser Commander of old, this deck can give you that feel while still keeping up with the faster format we have today. 

Coming in at over $70 for the individual cards, the value here is undeniable.  

Draconic Destruction 

We’ve got another tribal deck, but this time we have dragons! Green/red is a color combination particularly suited to getting big threats out quickly, and with a laser focus on the scaly flying monsters (only three of the 28 creatures in the deck are either not dragons or make no mention of dragons in their text), this deck does that quite well. 

This deck is so focused on dragons that even some of its ramp effects are tailor made for the tribe (Atarka Monument, Dragon’s Hoard), along with a good number of the other noncreature spells (Spit Flame, Crucible of Fire, Dragon Tempest). Cards like Hunter’s Insight and Shamanic Revelation will keep your hand full of more and more threats, and the selection of those threats you have to choose from are pretty wild.

Also, the value of the individual cards is over $80, making this aggressive deck well worth the effort to pick up. 

Token Triumph

As far as dedicated token decks in Commander go, Token Triumph is relatively tame. But that doesn’t mean it’s underpowered compared to the other decks featured here — just that it’s actually playing a fair version of a token strategy. 

The cards in this deck fall into three main categories: cards that make tokens (Hornet Queen, March of the Multitudes, Aura Mutation, a lot of the deck, honestly), cards that boost your team (Trostani Discordant, Collective Blessing, Loyal Guardian) and everything else. 

Everything else encompasses board wipes that miss your tokens (Hour of Reckoning, Citywide Bust), removal that works well with a small army (Devouring Light, Conclave Tribunal), card draw which again uses the army (Camaraderie, Collective Unconscious, Overwhelming Instinct) and just generally good utility cards (Eternal Witness, Path to Exile, Reclamation Sage). The deck just offers a good, sturdy game plan with a lot of interlocking parts. 

The individual cards for this deck would come out to over $60 to put together yourself, so yes, all of these decks are a good deal packaged this way. 

End step

My overall grade for these decks as a whole? A+, without a doubt. These decks are fantastic on-ramps for newer players, or even an easy choice for entrenched players who just want an extra casual deck or two to bring to a table in case whatever else they have is a little too high-powered for the group. 

I’ll likely be picking up at least a couple of these myself, as having these around to teach friends how to play Commander could come in quite handy. As noted above, these come out on Dec. 2, with Card Kingdom’s presale for them starting in early November.