Why We Play: Commander

It’s time to do some more testing to see if our theory that “Magic is the most fun game” holds any weight!  This week, with the upcoming release of “Commander 2016” and its 4 colour madness, we’re going to examine Commander; in both the kitchen table and competitive varieties.


Magic players everywhere know of -if not love- the Commander format.  Since its inception as “Elder Dragon Highlander” or EDH, it’s been a hectic multiplayer format with interesting deck building restrictions and rules of play.  Wizards of the coast picked up EDH and re-branded it as “Commander”, releasing the first generation of preconstructed Commander decks, featuring “wedge” colour identities (now more commonly known as Abzan, Jeskai, Sultai, Mardu, and Temur).  Since then, Commander pre-cons have been a great way to jump right into the format, and with the new ones running an MSRP of $39.99, now is as good a time as any!


So now we’ve got our Commander 2016 deck- and say our four closest friends picked up the other four iterations- let’s sleeve up (Dragonshield 100ct: MSRP $10.69) and play some games!  Okay, five hours later we’ve figured out that a couple of these precons are more powerful than the others, and we’re going to have to spend some money on new cards if we want to balance them out.  Thankfully, the nice folks over at reddit.com/r/EDH usually put together an upgrade list for each of the decks, so you can buy what you think you need to make your deck competitive in your playgroup- for us, let’s say that’s $30.  Now if everyone does a good job of balancing their upgraded deck’s power level, we can conservatively expect to play another 5 hours the next time we sit down.

With our newly refitted C16 deck we’re going to branch out, try some commander at a local commander night! It’s a $5 entry, but you get a pack for playing two games, so if you were planning on buying a pack of the current set, we can basically call it free.  My favourite thing about Commander can be pretty evident in this sort of event- there is a lot of variety in complexity, competitiveness, and skill when playing this format.  Your upgraded precon might be about average for your group; or woefully under powered- with hyper-competitive opponents presenting a win as early as turn 4.  If you happen to find yourself in an event where the average power level of your opponents’ decks is somewhere in the realm of singleton vintage constructed, you might look to find a new group to play with- or you could jump right into the Competitive Commander scene and buy something altogether new.

Playing Competitive Commander on a budget is definitely possible, with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard being one of the cheapest decks to build while still presenting a viable threat at the big tables.  There’s this competitive Yisan deck for ~$200, which can be upgraded over time to something a lot more streamlined and lethal (setting you back about $1000).  A lot of the draw for high level Commander play is the complexity -though for some it’s more so “who has the most expensive/ shiny deck”- so be prepared to learn quickly and often about: threat assessment; when and how to interact with your opponents for optimal outcomes; and table politics.  Now, I’m not going to tell you that Competitive Commander is necessarily correct for you, and I’m definitely not going to say it’s the best way to invest your money- but if you do like a high skill, high complexity format, it’s probably something to take a look at.


Now, we’ve thrown around a lot of numbers, but let’s break it down here- we spent about $75 on our upgraded Commander 2016 preconstructed deck and played 10 hours right off the bat.  That means we’ve got ourselves down to $7.50/hour for $$$ to time- and let’s say we played at about an 8/10 fun level.  Compare that to our previous example of FNM booster draft at $1.00/hour at an 8/10- we’d have to play another 65 hours of commander with this one deck to break even with the value level of booster draft… which some Commander players know is honestly, very possible.  I play an average of 6 hours of Commander every two weeks, for an average of 156 hours a year… if I spent $1 an hour on Commander, I could buy all five preconstructed decks every year- now I’m not going to do that, but instead I pick a favourite few decks and continuously modify them for my playgroup.

My first Commander deck was a precon- Commander: Counterpunch (2011), the Abzan wedge one.  In 5 years, I’ve modified almost every aspect of that deck, turning it into a streamlined +1/+1 counters/ Saproling combo deck headed by Ghave, Guru of Spores– it has a ridiculously high win-rate and is one of the most complicated Magic decks I’ve ever piloted, but whenever I play it I have a full 10/10 fun experience.  Commander has something for everyone, at whatever budget you’ve got- and almost everyone has a deck or two, so there’s no shortage of games to be played.  I would 100% recommend getting into the format if you haven’t already- pick up a precon (I’m getting Breed Lethality: the Green-White-Blue-Black deck headed by Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice) and have some fun.

Signing off from the Command Zone,

-Steven Hamonic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.