The Commander’s Chair – Why Everyone Should be Playing Commander
I have heard a slightly disturbing rumor; there are people out who walk among us who play Magic the Gathering, but they do not play Commander. As hard as it may be too believe, I still hear people saying they do not play and that they do not have any interest in playing. In general, these people are “competitive only” players who treat Commander and any casual format as a waste of time.
Today, I am here to tell you that while Commander is a casual format, Commander is not just for casual players. Everyone who plays magic on any level should find a way to get in a few Commander matches every now and then. Hopefully after reading this article, you can start playing yourself, or convince some of your spikier friends to start playing.
Reason 1: Commander games are long and complicated
Competitive players who are trying to get onto the Pro-Tour and have not yet qualified are forced to qualify either on rating or by winning a Pro-Tour Qualifier. This process of going to multiple qualifiers and larger events in the hopes of qualifying for a particular Pro-Tour is called grinding. Grinders and any professional players need to be able to keep their mind sharp over the course of a game that lasts past a round time limit and stay focused over the course of a day or days.
While Friday Night Magic events are great and I encourage everyone to go to them as often as possible, they do not fully prepare you for the grinding environment. Think of playing long games like weight lifting for your brain. You can condition yourself to handle a small amount of weight over a long period of time by going to the gym and building muscle by repeatedly lifting large weights. Long engaging multiplayer games will condition you to have an easier handle the grind of heads up games that you play during a long PTQ without feeling worn out by the end of the day.
Reason 2: You learn how to play Magic
When you play tournament Magic and when you test for a tournament, you end up learning match ups. Learning match-ups and best-plays is very important for being successful in a tournament environment. The problem is, you only get significantly better at known match ups. If you play against a rogue deck you can lose unnecessary games or matches.
In Commander you have to deal with cards you have never seen and new interactions every game. In this way, you better learn the entire complex interworking of the Magic the Gathering rules. You will find it easier to understand interactions when you see them for the first time, and therefore it will be much simpler for you to interact with them. If you have ever been frustrated by losing to a terrible deck because you were not expecting it, playing Commander can help reduce those loses.
Reason 3: Commander forces you to think outside the box
If you do nothing but grab the “best deck” list online from a pro player, you are always a step behind the current metagame. If you ever want to catch up you need to know how to build your own decks and continually modify and improve those decks.
Most competitive formats have a relatively small pool of viable decks. As a result, there are relatively few good decks that can be built. Commander is completely different. When you build a Commander deck, you are forced to find new cards and new uses for old cards do to the deck size and singleton nature of the format. Practice makes perfect. No format lets you truly build as many decks or modify decks as often as Commander.
Commander decks are constantly changing and evolving. Your competitive decks should be doing the same. If you are relying on pros to do this for you, Commander may be the way to get those skills for yourself.
Reason 4: Commander makes friends
No man is an Island. When you want to get good at a particular format, you need to find a group to playtest with. That bigger and better the group, the more you can get done.
I have moved around a bit since I started playing Magic and I find it slightly difficult to become integrated into and be respected by a group of players just by showing up to a FNM level event. I do not blame people, it takes awhile to see if someone is worth testing if you maybe play 2-3 games once a week.
If you start playing Commander with a group, you make instant friends. Most competitive play groups have at least a few members who already play Commander. If you want to get in to a playtest group or start your own, Commander is one of the best options you have.
Reason 5: Card prices make more sense
I am not a big trader any more, but every trader I know plays Commander. The reason they do this, they are smart. They know that the competitive scene is actually just a fraction of the total Magic the Gathering community.
Most casual formats do not have large impact on prices, but Commander is different. As a result of only needing one of each card for a deck, Commander players are more likely to spend extra on a specific card. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look up what a foil Jhoira of the Ghitu costs. It doesn’t see play in any other format. If you want to pay for Magic by trading for value, you need to have your finger on the pulse of the community. Since Commander is the heart of the casual community, you will need to be playing Commander.
Reason 6: Commander is the cure for tilt
The first time I ever saw the term Tilt was when I was still in elementary school. One of the larger kids who went to the same daycare center as I did was playing pinball. When his second ball went straight to the gutter, he got angry and tried to shake it out before it was lost. The machine let out a loud CRACK! The words TILT red in the light display and he never got to see his last ball.
We use the term tilt in poker and magic to describe when an opponent does something to make us irrational and start to make suboptimal plays, or quit altogether. Almost everyone who has played at a tournament level beyond FNM has experienced this at one point or another. The trigger is usually some crazy play that you could not imagine anyone would be able to make. The funny thing is that people play Commander hoping to see these kinds of plays. When you learn to laugh at these situations, the effects of tilt fade away. As a result, your day is less likely to be ruined by a tilt causing play.
The same plays that would have put me on tilt before I started playing Commander bring a smile to my face now.
Reason 7: Your cards do not become useless after rotation or banning
What did you do with your Survivals after they got banned from legacy? What are you doing with the Prismatic Omens from last extended season? You know all those cards you bought for your tier one standard decks that just gather dust now? Well you can dust them off and use them again. Playing Magic is like running a retail store, if something is sitting on the shelf it is losing you money. Commander gives you an option other than selling cards for less that you bought them for. You can give your cards a second life.
Reason 8: It is cheap to get into
The Commander precons are not like regular preconstructed decks. These decks are playable and very affordable at $30. What is $30 to make you a better magic player?
Reason 9: Commander keeps you sharp
When you plant the same vegetables in the same field year after year, the soil has a decrease in fertility over time. Eventually, little to no crops can be planted into the fields and people begin to starve. Soil can regain fertility if you spend a lot of money on fertilizers or you give it a break and let it replenish itself. To prevent the depletion of fertility over time, most farmers employ some form of crop rotation. By rotating the crops to be planted in fields, the soil only loses certain nutrients each year and will be less likely to need outside help to be prosperous.
Professional Magic players are like fields of crops. We have seen many players play for a few years then are forced to take a break before returning again. If you only focus on one aspect of Magic you will eventually burn out. If you would like to continue to play, you need to find a way to rotate the style you play between competitive and casual formats. As the most popular format for casual players, Commander is great for rotating into your Magic schedule.
Reason 10: Commander reminds you why you started playing magic
Almost no one gets into magic just to break into the competitive scene. We got into magic so we could hang out with friends and have a good time. We wanted to see dragon being dragged to the ground by a hoard of ravenous zombies. We wanted to make the earth split open before us and devour our enemy’s forces. Commander brings you back to why you got into magic, the fun and the absurd.
No one is asking you to give up your competitive decks (unless they contained Jace and SFM). Grab some friends, some beer, a 100 card deck and start playing Commander; you will not regret it.