Commander Format Rules in Magic
Ah, commander, one of Magic's oldest and most beloved formats. It tasks players with building a 100-card deck led by their "commander," a legendary creature you can recast for two extra mana each time it dies and whose colors dictate which cards you can put in your deck.
Unlike standard, you don't have to worry about set rotation; cards from any expansion are legal, leading to insane combos, but you can only have one of each (other than basic lands) in your deck. But for all its triumphs, commander isn't perfect—here are five flaws that can deter EDH players in Magic: The Gathering!
1. The Color Balance Is Off
In standard, all five colors are relatively balanced. Some will be stronger in certain rotations, but it's a small difference and quickly evens out. But in commander, control colors (especially blue) are simply better than aggressive colors.
This is not only because blue was overpowered in Magic's early days, but also because it's hard to win via aggro when everyone has 40 life—red decks have quite the obstacle to overcome. White's lifegain strategies are also less effective because everyone already starts with a lot (making gaining more less needed), plus amassing loads of health won't matter if you lose to commander damage (when you take 21 combined from the same general).
I'm not saying red and white don't have their uses, but often only as support colors.
2. It Creates Long Waiting Times
Higher starting life can present other issues, too. It means games often drag (well, until someone goes infinite), and this itself means most players only do one commander match a night. In fact, the format doesn't even have a sideboard, so there's none of the adjusting to opposing decks that standard's best 2-of-3 allows.
Bigger deck sizes and lots of tutoring mean shuffling also takes a bit longer. Worst of all, most commander games involve four players, which can be fun, but that also means it's going to take a while to get back to your turn, especially if someone develops a case of analysis paralysis.
3. First Player Has the Advantage
I generally prefer going first in standard as well, but at least there, it's somewhat balanced by the first player not drawing on their first turn (whereas the second does). In other words, the second player is behind on the land curve but at least has some card advantage to compensate.
In commander, everyone draws on their first go, so really, the earlier you luck into turn order, the better, and vice versa—it's kind of lame to go last (though, to be fair to commander, this issue is present in any non-1v1 format). It might not sound like a big deal, but one turn can make a huge difference, especially with competitive decks that exploit.
4. It Has a Weird Ban List
Commander's ban list is strange, to say the least. Colored ramp spells like Fastbond are forbidden, as are more-mana-taxing drops like Paradox Engine (which costs five), but early-game ramps like Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, and Ancient Tomb are all legal.
These cards provide insane mana with almost no downside (they deplete life, but who cares since you have so much). This also makes commander pay-to-win to an extent because Crypt and Jeweled Lotus, both staples in competitive play, are going to run you hundreds on their own.
To be fair to Wizards of the Coast, they're in a bit of a tough position, because banning cards that players dropped a fortune on will make the buyers mad since they've now basically wasted their money (as happened with Hullbreacher), but not doing so can unbalance the game. This is made worse by the format's free mulligan; players can and will drop a perfectly workable hand just so they can luck into drawing an early Sol Ring or Crypt and shoot ahead in ramp.
True, stragglers can team up against leaders, but even this tactic has flaws.
5. Some Cards Are Broken in Commander Format
Simply put, you can tell how some cards weren't made for commander's rules. Take Serra Ascendant, a one-cost creature who gets +5/+5 and flying while you have 30 or more life—not an easy feat in standard (where you start with 20), but ridiculously simple in commander.
Or, try Seedborn Muse, who does at least have a higher buy-in cost of five, but untaps your permanents on everyone's upkeep. This basically gives you full mana four times a round; I've had games where my allies (fellow opponents who teamed up against the current leader) were honestly more harmful than helpful simply because, by existing, they gave the leader more Muse mana refills and draws from Rhystic Study.
So, at the end of the day, what do I really think of commander? Honestly, despite these gripes, it's a ton of fun. Deck-building with different spells means every game feels unique, I like the political aspects in play, and it's great not having to worry about your cards rotating out.
While building a competitive deck is definitely possible, I like approaching EDH from a more casual perspective, where having fun eclipses the need to win. If you're like me and appreciate a good deal, there are several great budget commanders to explore, but for now, share your favorite format, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2021 Jeremy Gill