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Commanding on a Budget

Commanding on a Budget

Commander is one of the most popular casual formats in Magic, and with good reason. With thousands of combinations of cards, Commander offers players the opportunity to showcase their creativity in a fun environment. With a 99-card maindeck and a legendary creature representing who you are and what your deck is about, Commander is one of the best ways of expressing yourself as a deckbuilder. But how does one get into Commander? Just looking at some of the format staples, it can get pretty expensive, and trying to dive in head first without planning can be disastrous. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get into Commander without breaking the bank.

One of the best things to come out of Wizards of the Coast embracing Commander is the release of supplementary products each year. These decks tend to include format staples like Sol Ring and Command Tower which nearly every deck runs, so they’re a great way to acquire the necessary cards for building other decks in the future. As well, these decks are playable right out of the box, and each have a central theme that the deck is built around. This makes it easy to tune and upgrade as you get more acquainted with the format. The Commander 2015 run is one of the best examples of this, since the Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, and Ezuri, Claw of Progress decks are all sterling examples of classic Commander archetypes, be they UR Storm, Reanimator, or “Counters Matter”. Each one is capable of holding their own against tuned and personalized Commander decks, and only require slight tweaks should you want to scale up the power level.

The pre-cons are also where Wizards showcases certain certain twists to the game that can range from just fun to utterly broken. Everything from planeswalkers as Commanders to Partner, Experience counters to Undaunted, these mechanics take what was once a clash of legendary champions and turn it into a free-for-all that’s more about the story you tell afterward rather than the balance of the game. These types of cards make you wonder what line of play is the funniest and will have the craziest impact on the game, regardless of whether it actually helps you win. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard stories of a Vial Smasher hitting the wrong target for lethal or Mayael the Anima cheating in the perfect giant creature at the perfect time. No one remembers the line of plays that get them there, but those little moments make the game memorable. That’s why the pre-cons and the crazy abilities inside are where I always steer people for their first foray into Commander.

Once you’ve dabbled enough to understand the basics, it’s time to set off into the world of building your own deck. For this, I typically recommend looking at going either mono-colour or two colours. Manabases can get incredibly expensive between duals, shocklands, fetchlands, and all the various kinds of colour-fixing that are in constant demand. With a mono-colour deck, you can get away with running all basic lands, which can do wonders for the pocketbook.

While you do lose some of the flexibility adding extra colours can give you, such as counterspells in your White deck or enchantment destruction in a Black deck, there are some incredibly powerful Commanders that are only one colour. Some of the most powerful decks I’ve built have been mono-colour. From Selvala, Heart of the Wild to Teferi, Temporal Archmage to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, each of these decks exemplified the core mechanics of what each colour should do. Selvala is all about ramping and giant monsters, while Elesh Norn is centered around tokens and anthem effects. It’s all about finding a Commander to build around and figuring out how to best use its abilities. There is strength in simplicity, and while other people at the table spend turns trying to fix their mana, you can just plod along dropping basic after basic and curve out well before the rest of your group, putting you at a significant advantage.

One of the easiest ways to streamline the deckbuilding process is to go Tribal. Tribal decks revolve around a single creature type and use the natural synergies of that tribe to dominate the board. These are typically creature-centric decks, and while some of the noncreature staples can be relatively pricey, the majority of the creatures are cheap. These types of decks also tend to be either one to three colours since, outside something as varied as Dragons, most tribes tend to stick to a few colours. As well, since there are so many different legendary creatures that different tribes can use, there is still a lot of diversity between decks even if they share a creature type. For example, a Zombie deck Thraximundar as its Commander has access to a whole slew of cards that a Zombie deck with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death wouldn’t.

Tribal decks are especially easy to build now since Commander 2017’s theme is centred around tribes. With Dragons, Cats, Vampires, and Wizards as confirmed decks, there looks to be plenty of powerful tribe-boosting effects that are coming our way. What’s important to note is that while these particular creature types are getting boosts, there are also several cards such as Door of Destinies that are universally used in tribal decks. This means there is still value in purchasing these pre-cons even if you’re opting for a different creature type for your deck.

Finally, one of the more interesting styles of Commander decks is the Pauper Commander deck. Pauper is a unique format in that every card in the deck has to be a common. While the Commander itself doesn’t have to be a common, there are a couple from the Legends-Homelands such as Ramirez DePietro and Lady Orca that are common on Magic Online, thus making them technically Pauper Commanders. This is great for when you want that extra challenge. What makes Pauper Commander so much fun is that there are a surprising amount of powerful spells printed at common, from Brainstorm and Ponder to Lightning Bolt and Geth’s Verdict. It is recommended that if you choose to go Pauper for others in your group to go Pauper as well so that the power level is somewhat balanced.

There are several ways to get into Commander, be it a pre-constructed deck or building one from scratch, but the fact remains that it is a wildly popular and fun format. There’s countless ways you can put a deck together, and the only limitation is your creativity. It’s a format for casual kitchen table players and tournament grinders alike where no two games are ever the same, so sleeve up a stack of 100 cards and play some Commander!