My Dungeons & Dragons group has a lot of Magic players in it. It’s how I met the group, actually; one of the guys noticed my geeky t-shirt at FNM one day (I think it was my “+20 Shirt of Smiting“) and asked if I played D&D. I said that I used to, but hadn’t for some time. His group was looking for more players, and he invited me to join them. That was about three years ago. Since then we’ve all hung out a few times to play Magic, and we’ve started playing it to pass the time before everyone arrives for our weekly session.
I’d never really played much “kitchen table” Magic before, having really only played at game stores previously. As such, the first few times I joined them I wasn’t sure what deck to pack. Should I show up with my Modern deck that I’ve been tweaking for the past year? Would it be better to use one of my old Standard decks? How about Commander? It was tricky getting a sense of how powerful their decks would be; I didn’t want to show up with some top tier deck and be THAT GUY who crushes every game, but at the same time I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get crushed myself.
Regular readers will know that I don’t generally build top-tier decks, so I didn’t have to worry too much about dominating the table. What’s more, the group likes to play casual multiplayer games, so even my Modern deck felt pretty fair; I didn’t get to use my sideboard, and I had to fend off several other players. Being quick and mana efficient would give me an edge, but it would only get me so far. Politics, and a strong late game would be far more important than a good turn 1.
Playing with my friends, it didn’t take me long to realize that board sweepers like Planar Outburst were really good at the table, and that slower control decks generally did better. The battlefield would often get gummed up with creatures, and my friends were clearly reluctant to make attacks in case it left them vulnerable. This resulted in a lot of card advantage generated from a single board sweeper, and plenty of time to set things up for the for the late game.
The D&D group’s decks feel like fleshed-out draft decks or the sorts of casual Standard decks I’ve played against for fun before an FNM. The decks pretty much all focus on a single mechanic or tribe, like the Discard deck or the Werewolf deck, and while none of the decks are especially optimized, they are all very cohesive and well put together. Each deck has a clear game plan, and packs enough interaction to keep things interesting, though the interaction is often suboptimal. Nevertheless, I see a lot of cards that would be overlooked in a competitive setting doing all sorts of cool things.
The group’s card pool mostly consists of older cards, too, which I find very refreshing. A lot of the decks feature cards from around the original Zendikar block, and some even have cards from back around the Odyssey era. It means I get to play against cards I either haven’t seen in years or haven’t ever seen at all. It’s really a delight, and makes for a unique play experience.
Recently, though, my friends have recently started building Commander decks. I’m honestly not sure what to think of this change. On the one hand I like Commander a lot, and I have several decks to choose from for game nights. On the other hand, I already miss the casual sixty-card multiplayer games we were playing just a few weeks ago. It was a nice opportunity for me to blow the dust off of my old Standard decks and some of the other, weirder casual decks I’ve put together over the years. I have a lot more opportunities to play Commander, and to me it’s just such a different beast. While I still enjoy playing with my friends, my personal history with the format has certainly coloured my experience, and our games have lost a little bit of the uniqueness that I felt before.
The main problem I’m running into with the D&D group switching over to Commander is their approach to deck building. My friends actively try to avoid any sort of “power creep” with their Magic decks, opting instead to stick with the cards they already have. I absolutely respect that decision, and I don’t want to disrupt the balance they’ve struck by showing up with decks made from my own ever-expanding collection of cards. That said, it’s difficult to restrain myself when it comes to Commander. I’ve been tinkering with my decks for so long that constant improvement and optimization is a major part of that format for me; I’m always trying to make my Commander decks better so that they can hold their own at almost any table (there will always be some play groups whose decks are far better than mine, after all). I can’t imagine just leaving my Commander decks exactly as they are, or intentionally limiting what cards I include in them. Do I swap out my deck’s Sol Ring when playing against my D&D group, for instance, or do I just accept that in some games I’ll get off to a much faster start than everyone else?
When my friends and I were just playing with casual sixty-card decks I didn’t feel this tension at all. My Standard decks and other casual sixty-card builds are usually one-and-done: I make a list I like and then tweak it once or twice before I consider it “done”. This is especially true of my Standard decks, since once they rotate out of the format I prefer to preserve them as they were. I’ll keep the deck together, but I almost never make any more changes to it. My Modern deck is very much the exception here, not the rule, since my goals for that deck are radically different from my usual builds.
So where does that leave me? If my friends want to get into Commander I’m certainly not going to stop them. I might miss the old style of casual kitchen table Magic games, but maybe I just need to relax. Their old decks aren’t going anywhere, so we can always dig them out and use them again, just like my old Standard decks. Plus, my collection of Commander decks is extensive; I’m sure I have a deck or two built that are a fair matchup against my D&D group’s decks. I might not want to show up with my Isperia fliers deck, for instance, but something like my janky Zedruu deck would probably be fine, if even a bit underpowered. It might take some time to figure out what decks I should and shouldn’t use, but I’ll get there, just like I did before when we were playing with sixty-card decks.
Plus, who knows? Maybe this is just the opportunity I needed to brew up something new.